Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studio: The ‘Ultimate Creative Indulgence’

“On the western edge of the Nike campus there is a glass and steel building that is not like the others,” reports The New York Times. “It is not named after an athlete, like the John McEnroe building, where the executive offices are, or the Tiger Woods, where the conference center is. It is not all blond wood and long corridors, as are the rest of the structures.”

“Rather, it is an airy, loftlike space called Blue Ribbon Design Studio, which opened just a year ago. It is full of bolts of fabric and sewing machines, silk-screen printers and other creative tools, and looks like nothing so much as ‘art school but better,’ according to Ryan Noon, who directs it … The space even has its own scent, which Mr. Noon created and named ‘Freedom of the Creative Mind,’ a combination of canvas, gesso, sawed wood and ‘sexy Nike designer sweat,’ he said. Also its own uniform: graphic light blue and white smocks, ‘like what they wear in couture ateliers.'”

“Blue Ribbon was built, he said, because Nike realized that its designers needed an unstructured space where they could just play around and make things — almost anything they wanted. It is the ultimate creative indulgence.”

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John Maeda: Three Kinds of Design

John Maeda, a design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, highlights three kinds of design, reports Wired: There’s design (‘classical design’), business (‘design thinking’), and technology (‘computational design’).”

“The last two have to do with creating products with empathy for the customer, and keeping pace with current paradigms in technology, respectively. They also tend to have more reach. Where classic design might impact a million active users, design thinking and computational design stand to affect hundreds of millions.”

“What’s more, classic design projects tend to be finite; whether it’s a building or a page layout, once they’re built, they’re done. In business or technology design, the product is always evolving.” Maeda says the three categories “are co-dependent” but that design thinking and computational design are where the growth is.

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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Chevy Sets Limit on Teen Spirit

Engadget: “With the 2016 edition, the Chevy Malibu has added a new setting called Teen Driver. Once enabled, the feature lives in the infotainment system in the dash and warns underage drivers when they exceed a predetermined speed limit. At that point, it kills sound from the stereo until the front seat belts are buckled, enables all the safety features like traction control and generates a report card for the whole trip.”

“It’s basically a computer narc tucked behind a four-digit PIN … parents can use the report card to make decisions about future access to the car and use it as an opportunity to talk about their kids’ driving habits. And because it offers up hard evidence — such as when a safety system like stability control was activated and the top speed — a parent has the information necessary to make that conversation count.”

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Jellybooks Brings Moneyball to Publishing

The New York Times: “Jellybooks tracks reading behavior the same way Netflix knows what shows you binge-watch and Spotify knows what songs you skip. Here is how it works: the company gives free e-books to a group of readers, often before publication. Rather than asking readers to write a review, it tells them to click on a link embedded in the e-book that will upload all the information that the device has recorded. The information shows Jellybooks when people read and for how long, how far they get in a book and how quickly they read, among other details.”

“For the most part, the publishers who are working with Jellybooks are not using the data to radically reshape books to make them more enticing, though they might do that eventually. But some are using the findings to shape their marketing plans. For example, one European publisher reduced its marketing budget for a book it had paid a lot of money to acquire after learning that 90 percent of readers gave up after only five chapters … Publishers might also use the data to learn what type of reader a book appeals to, and market it accordingly.”

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Wieden + Kennedy Tries Shorter Workdays

“Wieden + Kennedy … wants to become a more pleasant place to work, reports Quartz. The creative agency’s London office recently made the radical decision to encourage employees not to work more than 40 hours a week … The firm—dubbed ‘Weekend + Kennedy’ for its demanding hours—will test the initiative at its London office during the next few months. The agency has ordered a moratorium on meetings before 10am and after 4pm, and instructed employees not to check work emails after 7pm … Staffers are also encouraged to leave the office at 4:30pm on Fridays. The company did not say how it will handle clients’ needs after hours.”

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Ikea’s Culture of Trust

Fortune: Ikea, “with $5 billion in U.S. sales (and some $36 billion globally), has become a living laboratory of what happens when you put a Swedish spin on notions like egalitarianism and work-life balance in an American workplace. At the most basic level, the company’s Scandinavian ideals have brought generous policies on wages and benefits compared with the rest of Ikea’s retail cohort.”

“Last year it began basing its pay on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, with hourly employees receiving an average of $15.45 an hour; meanwhile, the lowest starting pay is now set at $11.87—or nearly five bucks above the federal minimum wage. Part-timers are offered health benefits after just 20 hours of work per week.”

“Ikea culture discourages workaholics—much like its home country. After a year on the job, full-time employees receive an essentially unheard-of 24 days of paid time off and five sick days—and the company has an aversion to anybody working long hours.”

Leaving work behind for a monthlong vacation requires a deep faith in your co-workers that they can do the job without you. Ikea U.S. president, Lars Petersson: “We actually work with trust rather than control. That’s rooted in simplicity and our leveling of society in Sweden.”

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Connie: Hilton’s Concierge Robot

“Concierge is getting a robotic makeover at one Hilton Hotels location,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. “The McLean, Va., Hilton is the site of a pilot program featuring a robot concierge. The new hire stands in at two-and-a-half feet tall and has been placed on the desk beside human reception staff. More than just a shiny piece of equipment, the robot’s brain is packed with artificial intelligence.”

“Connie, named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, is a partnership between Hilton Worldwide and IBM. The brains behind the robot are IBM’s artificial intelligence program Watson and another partner program called WayBlazer, imbuing the new concierge with enough AI to carry on conversations with guests and answer questions about the local area.”

“Connie’s body, though small, is also designed to help it serve. The body is based on the Nao robot designed by Aldebaran, with fully functional arms and legs and eyes that change to express humanlike emotions … Is the future of Hilton concierge robotic? Definitely not, according to Jim Holthouser, Hilton vice president of global brands.”

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Quitting Email for Health & Success

Fast Company: “How badly would your career crumble if you simply quit email for a week? If the results of one experiment are any indication, the answer is not at all.” In the experiment, by Stephen Voida of the University of Colorado at Boulder, subjects were cut off from reading or sending new emails … several positive changes surfaced. First, the email quitters got out of their chairs a lot more, particularly the managers. When they needed to communicate with colleagues, they preferred face-to-face conversations over phone calls.”

“Second, with email out of the picture, people task-switched less and focused on one thing at a time more. Some studies suggest that so-called deep work, or focusing on hard tasks without interruption, strengthens the skills that ultimately help people get promoted. Third, ‘there was a measurable reduction in stress,’ Voida says … After a week of no email comes the most dreaded part: digging out the inbox … subjects, however, were ‘pleasantly surprised’ that it was faster and more efficient to batch-process emails after the fact than deal with them on an ongoing basis.”

“Not checking email for a day or even a few hours to get the most important tasks done could be better for your career, your productivity, and even your health.”

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