Our world has gotten less and less good at listening

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4thWEB curated content from Innovation By Design
By Mark Wilson (see full article)

That’s Fred Dust, a partner at Ideo, talking, and he’s walking us through a new idea that the influential design consultancy has been developing called Creative Listening.

Among 30 attendees from our Innovation by Design Conference, I sit inside an expansive stretch of unadorned brick walls and wood floors inside Ideo’s New York studio. It seems the space has been staged as a tabula rasa–maybe for the benefit of our presentation, maybe for the protection of Ideo’s Fortune 500 clients who could have had any and all manner of corporate IP wallpapering this room a day earlier.

“Much of your life is trying to tune out the world as much as possible,” Dust continues. “That’s actually a lost opportunity in terms of design.”


In front of us sits Ideo’s first stab at a solution called the Creative Listening Toolkit, a vibrant collection of paper pamphlets that have been illustrated with a Sharpie. Each is labeled with words like Intuition, Interpretation, and Inspiration, like a collection of workouts to develop what Dust calls “better listening muscles.” With better listening muscles, we will not just have the ability to be more sensitive or recall what someone has said, but to mine and apply their thoughts to our own lives and projects, he says.

For Ideo, the Toolkit serves a practical purpose. It enables Ideo researchers, who perform countless interviews, to discover meaningful threads that inform a client’s experiences and products.

creative listening

I and the other attendees take the Toolkit for a spin. Dust and his colleague who created the Tookit, senior design researcher Nili Metuki, tell us to open the red Inspiration book called “Fuel from a Different Fire.” Inside, there are two cartoon bubbles. In the first, we’re asked to list a couple of things we’re thinking about. I jot down “Video Series” “Babyproofing,” and “Innovation By Design Panel”–a somewhat random assortment of professional and domestic concerns. To fill in the second bubble, we’ll need to start listening and take notes.

creatively listening

The Ideo pair starts playing recordings of customers complaining about their experiences with cable–think stories of installers who never show up and clueless customer service reps. I’m not sure what I should pull from this. I mean, I’m not a global design consultancy working on a project for an undisclosed cable provider. But the Toolkit prompts me to “try to jot down things you find intriguing, quirky, curious, or otherwise inspiring.” And so I really home in on the clips. One person talks about how all of these expensive upgrades in cable had become necessities. The next person laments that his service seems to get worse and worse.

In the second bubble, I write “Options become necessities. Necessities become worse.” In that moment, I believe that I’ve just summarized the entire grind of the human-consumer experience.

At the end of the recording, people in the room start sharing what they wrote down. Everyone has some observation that’s equally grand in scope, but eventually the room seemed to settle on another idea: These complaints weren’t about cable outages and mistimed refunds. They were about people’s need to connect with one another, and the frustrations that result when that core human need is unfulfilled. I find myself nodding along. Inside the hallowed walls of Ideo, it’s impossible not to nod along.
“Inside the hallowed walls of Ideo, it’s impossible not to nod along.”

Then we’re pointed back to the Toolkit. Unfolding the booklet, we’re supposed to combine that first bubble, which listed our thoughts and inspirations, with things we heard and wrote in that second bubble, to create “explosions” of thought. I think and I think, and eureka! I combine my need to babyproof with the idea that options become necessities. I scribble in a fervor: “Why isn’t the world babyproofed already?!?”

But before I even finish writing it out, I picture a home without brick, metal, or glass, in which everything you see is Playskool-approved curved rubber and plastic. I realize my idea is a dud.

I haven’t attempted to creatively listen in my day-to-day conversations since. (Listening takes enough work for me as it is.) And my instincts tell me that we already tend to filter what other people say through our own, personal concerns–maybe too much. But a handful of people I spoke to said they got a lot from the experience. And it’s hard to be too skeptical of a methodology that suggests we expend more energy opening ourselves up to the words of other people, isn’t it?

Nom! Designers Make Snacks Their Muse

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4thWEB curated content from Snacks Quarterly
By Carey Dunne (see full article)

In Snacks Quarterly, writers and designers turn snacktime into an unlikely creative exercise.

Brian Rea

Snacks are a mighty and undersung unifier: most people, regardless of creed, class, or dietary restriction, can agree that little morsels of food between meals are great. Snacks Quarterly, an online publication “for the distinguished snack enthusiast,” was launched in early 2014 by artists Brad Simon and Alexander Barrett as an outlet to share their passion for snacking. Since their launch, they’ve published snack-related essays, illustrations, anecdotes, and advice by designers like Erik Marinovich, Josh Cochran, Tim Lahan, Aaron Draplin, Jessica Hische, Brian Rea, Will Bryant, and Dan Christofferson. The quarterly’s third issue has just been released, introduced with a rousing letter from editor-in-chief “Sinclair P. Munch,” which reminds readers that designers can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, from White Fudge Oreos to Little Debbie’s Christmas Tree Cakes. The publication makes snacking seem downright virtuous: you’re not just gorging on empty calories, you’re engaging with a powerful muse.

“Snacks are inspiring because they’re always there and they do so much for all of us. Especially designers and writers,” Barrett tells Co.Design in an email “[Snacks are] there when we have to skip lunch to meet a deadline, when we just need a break, and when we need comforting after a bad meeting. But we rarely think about them creatively. It’s nice to take a moment to show them some love.”

Erik Marinovich

The inspiration for Snacks Quarterly struck in late 2013, while Barrett and Simon were in the studio printing a poster about snacks, just for fun. Somewhere on the poster, “Snack Quarterly” showed up in a New Yorker-style font. “It seemed like a real thing,” Barrett says. “Surprisingly, the url was available, which seemed like a sign.” The pair started emailing back and forth, added an “s” to the end of “Snack,” and the first issue was up a few months later.

Here, a few highlights from the most recent issue that show just how creative people can get on a sugar high:

snack designers
Mike Davis

Mike Davis of Burlesque Design illustrated an epic pyramid of snacks of all shapes and sizes, from watermelons to popcorn to Swiss cheese to whole fish.

inspiring designers
David Schwen

David Schwen fixed a Pepperidge Farm cheddar goldfish to a wooden plaque hanging on a wall against goldfish-patterned wallpaper, a punny riff on the familiar visual of a mounted game fish. “For us, great design is smart, obvious, and unexpected,” Barrett says. “Schwen’s piece hit all three marks.”

designers inspiration
Typographer extraordinaire Jessica Hische spelled “More Salt”–which many of the best snacks have–in elegant letters made of, yes, salt.

Read the third issue of Snacks Quarterly here.