Jessi Baker is a technologist, designer, and founder of Provenance, a European startup that uses blockchain to track supply chain of products. Why is this kind of system valuable? It’s valuable for product companies in that it can help streamline supply chain issues. But more important, it’s valuable for customers who want transparency on where and how the companies they buy from source their materials.
I adore this excerpt from Ira Glass’s longer piece called “On Storytelling.” Glass points to something that he wishes he had known when starting out writing for radio: That there a gap. There is a gap between your good taste and the quality of the work that you make as a beginner. Your taste is good enough to tell you that what you are making isn’t really that good. At this point, a lot of people just quit. But Glass urges us to push through. And he says that the only way to close that gap between your good taste and the beginner work that you are making is to make a lot of work.
I’m participating in an online course hosted by MIT’s Learning Creative Learning group. Our first assignment is a lovely one: Share an object from your childhood and reflect on how it influenced you. For inspiration, we were given Seymour Papert’s short essay Gears of my Childhood.
Lucky for me, our mother filled our home with beautiful objects. I’m pretty sure this environment is what led me to study product design in graduate school. From an early age, I remember noticing the details on the objects. And as an adult, I have such an appreciation for combinations of materials in an object (like the leather+wood+brass on my baby carriage) and how they work together to deliver a functional whole.
Back in the 1980s, learning to use a computer was the same thing as learning to program one. But as computers got easier to use and more user-friendly, the distance between using a computer and knowing how it worked got longer and wider until we had extremely opaque interfaces in which you do what the program says without any idea of what’s actually going on behind the screen.
Today will be a fun art-making day. This morning I’m meeting my students at the new makerspace in our public library to fabricate their designs on a laser cutter.
And this evening I’ll start a mezzotint short course hosted by Cayuga Arts Collective. Mezzotint is a 17th-century printmaking technique in which you manipulate the roughened surface of a copper plate. The media affords soft gradients and a painterly effect unlike printmaking methods before it which are more line based. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
Saturday was a gorgeous fall day here in the finger lakes so we hopped in the car and drove up to Lake Ontario. We had a wonderful day walking at the lake and driving through acre after acre of apple orchards in full swing.
On our way home we saw a sign for the “Savannah Arts Festival” on the side of the road and we decided to pop in. It turned out to be a little community arts festival with craft vendors, DIY activities, a food truck, and a “Trashin’ Fashion Show” that was to start about 5 minutes after we arrived. We got in line.
The love and work that was put into this event moved me. It was clear that volunteers had put a lot of energy into creating the runway and the right atmosphere for the show including a fabulous MC and custom music for each model as they walked the runway.
There were about 10 entries from contestants ranging in age from kids to teens and adults. But my favorite entry is pictured above. This was created by a 9 years old. I didn’t catch her name. And I don’t know if she won a prize. But I thought her use of materials was so clever and graphic. While most entries were bubble wrap and draped table clothes adorned with hot glue and bottle caps, this nine-year-old created a look that embraced industrial materials and a futuristic aesthetic. The foil ducts as leg warmers warmed my heart!
After yesterday’s hearings, I need a good dose of Joan Jett.
Joan Jett was a pioneer in Rock & Roll. In 1970s Hollywood, she set out to form an all-girl rock band. As you can imagine, that idea was met with a lot of resistance.
But Jett survived and thrived and this month she’s got a documentary coming out that captures her story. I can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, there’s a lot of great coverage out there to read and listen to. This interview with Marc Maron is fantastic (it starts about 15 min, 50 seconds in) and this interview with the NYTs is sweet.
In these interviews, you’ll hear that Jett has this great combination of character traits. She’s strong, yet humble. She has had crystal clear vision and integrity throughout her career. She’s authentic and she f*ckin rocks. Thanks, Joan. Much love and respect.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology. Its killer feature is that it enables decentralized transactions. Example: You may have heard of Bitcoin. Bitcoin uses blockchain technology to facilitate financial transactions without banks.
There are blockchain experiments in journalism, like civil, that are exploring new business models in a field whose hierarchy was disrupted by the internet. There are experiments happening in about every sector: transportation, education, healthcare. If the internet disrupted command and control systems, then Blockchain, and it’s decentralized model, promises to be the solution to that disruption.
One application of that excites me is blockchains potential to track the social and environmental ethics that are embedded in supply chains. There’s a model in sustainable product design called “Life Cycle Assessment” or LCA. LCA can be used to measure the environmental and social impact of products and industrial systems. There are a lot of variations of LCA, but to give you a broad sense of what it tracks, we might look at the social and environmental impacts of how the raw materials for a gadget were mined; how they were manufactured; distributed;used; and in the end, reclaimed or recycled.
As you can imagine, one of the challenges in communicating LCA to decision makers (consumers, citizens, or policy makers) is that there’s a lot of variation in what and how things are measured with LCA models. The lack of universal standards is often pointed to as a challenge. But blockchain might turn that challenge into an opportunity. How might blockchain LCA be more dynamic and thus more appropriate for decision-makers? For example, in California a decision-maker might want to put more weight on how much water is wasted in a product’s LCA. Yet in upstate New York, where water is plentiful, this data point might carry less weight. Blockchain can accommodate this fine-tuning. Which can be scary if used to manufacture alternative facts. But can be quite powerful if used to make the social and environmental costs of products more visible than they are now.
If you aren’t yet subscribed to the ZigZag podcast, do it now. ZigZag reporters Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant describe and contextualize Blockchain and other tech trends with excellent writing, story-telling, and song!
There’s a lot of advice for inventors on how to do customer research. Yet, so many inventors do it poorly. They send surveys too early. They talk to the wrong people. They ask the wrong questions. And in turn, they gather misleading data.
It’s better to do no customer research than to do bad customer research. Bad research will point you in the wrong direction. It will cause you to focus on the wrong things.
Better to trust your gut, build a quick, cheap, and flexible prototype, then test that.
TAKE IT FURTHER – learn from customer research masters