Monthly Archives: October 2011

Science Fair (aka Thesis Work-In-Progress) Exhibition Install

My space is officially set up and ready to go for the midterm review / adjunct advisor meet and greet tomorrow morning. Two of my projects will be on display as well as a series of posters illustrating concepts for other projects in the works. More posts to come…

Serendipitous Business Model Generator (SBMG Part 06) – User Studies Round 02

After a successful first round of user-studies, I chose to shift my focus for the second round away from the design audience, and invited my colleague Kelvin Ho to participate. Kelvin received his MBA from UCLA, is the Executive Director of My Own Business Inc., and is a Board Member of the Social Enterprise Alliance.

Because it is in a designer’s nature to think in the speculative realm, I was not surprised that my initial series of user-studies did in fact produce these kinds of results. I became curious if these outcomes could be replicated across disciplines, taking it into the business world itself. A bit to my surprise, I found that, while the results were still interesting, the imaginative qualities produced by the designers in the first round of user-studies were not replicated. Regardless, the study lead me to a series of discoveries that will greatly influence a second prototype of the decks.

The following are a list of changes that I will be exploring in the second prototype, which is currently underway:

  1. Re-frame “horizon element” as “opportunity.”
  2. Eliminate point system / competitive aspect. While this may be re-introduced, the system as it is does not work, and is not desired.
  3. “Opportunity” deck should not include opportunities that already exist, but instead focus on concepts with more layers of interpretation.
  4. “Scenario” deck should not include “transformation,” but instead should include more instances of collapse or constraint.
  5. Make the user independent. The cards each require explanation – this should not be the case, as the system will eventually require an independent understanding from the participants.
  6. Initial framing of the system needs work. How much time should be spent? How many people should work together? One-on-one is not the only option.

Serendipitous Business Model Generator (SBMG Part 05) – User Studies Round 01

After arriving at a full prototype of the Serendipitous Business Model Generator, I held a series of user-studies amongst other students in the Wind Tunnel. While Media Designers are not necessarily my target audience for this project, I wanted to get the ideas out there and see what could be made from this system.

After providing instructions on how to use the SBMG, I provided each of the participants with a template for writing a business plan. Together, we would walk through each section of the plan to play out the following:

  1. Company Name
  2. Executive Summary
  3. Products / Services
  4. Market Strategy

The results of the generator were fascinating. From video game hospitals to cyborg apartments, the cards were successful in generating serendipitous business that was outside the realm of expertise that the participants each brought to the table. See below a selection of the generated businesses plans (please click on the images for high-resolution):

One concept, and the reasoning behind requesting the participants’ email address, is to create an artifact from the created company as a take-away for the participant – perhaps a business card. I am still thinking about what might be a successful, physical, takeaway for the Fictional Entrepreneurs that take part in the exercise.

Based on these studies, I have decided to eliminate the competitive aspect of the system, thus refraining from referring to SBMG as a “game.” Instead, I will focus my language on “generator.” After reflecting upon the results of the workshop, I found that, while the results were interesting, they were not going far beyond concepts that could exist as true opportunities. I realized that this issue was a result of my “HORIZON ELEMENT / OPPORTUNITY” deck. The content of this particular deck consists of opportunities that already exist (i.e. Augmented Reality, Gestural Interaction, etc.). Perhaps, to get more interesting results, the opportunity deck’s content should be re-considered, allowing for horizon elements / opportunities that do not yet exist (i.e. reverse entropy, and other instances of collapse or bizarre transformation).

I have one more scheduled user-study tomorrow with an entrepreneur, Kelvin Ho, of MyOwnBusiness, the leading online resource for business education. I am excited to see how the results compare or contrast to the work of the fellow designers, and will use the discoveries that result as continued points of evaluation for moving the project forward.

Storefront Stories – project introduction.

Storefront Stories is a project that culminates much of the work I have been doing in my thesis studies thus far. In partnership with the City of Pasadena, the work is proposed to be installed in a vacant storefront in the Pasadena’s Playhouse District. I am currently working with the City Council to make the following project proposal happen as part of the city’s initiative to install public art works in empty storefronts around the city.

In the first phase of the installation, users encounter three posters in the storefront window, each representing a different “coming soon” advertisement for three separate, fictional, stores. The three businesses portrayed in the coming soon posters are each generated with the Serendipitous Business Model Generator, a card game I have developed that uses chance to craft scenarios for imaginary businesses and the products / services they offer.

Using an SMS voting system, such as “SMSPOLL,” or other social media outlets such as Foursquare, participants vote for the storefront they wish was there. In doing so, the practice of entrepreneurship is framed as a democratic process. The fictional storefront that has the most votes is installed, complete with a brand and storefront items from the fictional world the store exists. My intention is for the store to blend in with the environment – creating a space for imaginary business in our everyday cityscape.

Download my initial proposal (PDF format), that was recently approved to go to the next stage of development, here.

Conversations: David Kelley

I flew up to San Francisco for the day to attend a lecture by David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the d-school at Foothill Community College. This talk was part of a series of lectures arranged by the school to celebrate the opening of the Center for Sustainable Futures at Foothill. Thanks to a friend of mine who is an employee of the college, I was able to sneak into an auditorium full of Foothill students, faculty, and staff. The talk, a unique perspective of the inner workings of the school, was interesting in the context of my thesis direction as it consists of a series of methodologies, processes, and systems that David and his faculty developed together. These methodologies have famously lead to break-through innovations and entrepreneurial ventures by many of the students.

The following is my discussion with David regarding my thesis work. This interview is written from memory, and may or may not be accurate word-from-word, but nonetheless provides the spirit of the conversation:

Matt: I am very interested in the processes you have developed at the d-school that allows for the facilitation of entrepreneurship and innovation amongst these students – certainly there must be moments in the process in which the students enter realms of intangibility, with wildly impractical concepts. How do you filter that back to practicality and viability, and should that happen?

David: Empathy. We ask the students to take their concepts, ideas, prototypes… and introduce them to the people that will use them. What this does is it creates an empathy for the user – this inspires the development of the project. The students want to make it real for that user. This allows design to have a profound effect on an individuals life.

Matt: But does something that is empathetic, or something that creates a change, or effect really have to be a real thing, or can it be an intangible concept?

David: No. It has to be made real, it has to come back to the user. You see, my generation was more than happy with coming up with an idea, coming up with another idea, coming up with another idea… but your generation wants to create impact, you want to create change with what you create. That is how the field of innovation has changed.


I am interested in this concept of empathy, the root of David’s “human-centered design” as one possible, tangible, starting-point of my imaginary systems. This conversation brought up interesting ideas about the value of my work, and the idea of watching fictional entrepreneurship become diegetic business – the intangible to the tangibly intangible. How can the unreal be crafted in an empathetic way? Can fictional entrepreneurship result from a human-centered design process in order to design for people in a different way?

Workshop for Fictional Entrepreneurs @ Occupy L.A.

Reflecting on the Occupy events across the nation, I decided to focus on the individuals of this movement as a specific audience for a workshop on Fictional Entrepreneurship. I realized the significance of the movement had some parallel aspects to my thesis work thus far – specifically “defiant devices,” a project about severe constraint as creative restriction.

“Hey. Now that’s some great art!” – LAPD

In response to the initial worksheet’s results, I re-designed the form as well as it’s language to more clearly state the purpose of the exercise: create something new by defying the provided machine’s purpose. The new workbook also included varying levels of difficulty (1,2,3,4) as well as an example. As a result, the inventions that came of the prompt were much more concise, and successfully demonstrated defiance as an alternative approach to entrepreneurship.

The most interesting response to the worksheets was developed on sheet Level 4 – this was the one machine whose function even I did not know. However, the participant, a man with a soda bottle balanced on his head, and a stuffed snake around his neck assured me he knew exactly it’s purpose. The sheet’s two sections, “draw” and “describe,” then adapted to become a space for explaining the machine itself, as opposed to the machine of the participant’s design. I found this to be an interesting exercise in understanding the stance of the participant before prompting them to “defy.”

After speaking with Ben, I realized that this result could be replicated across all participants by abstracting the machines further, through a lack of description, or the design of a flowchart – with room for subjectivity from the participant. This, as opposed to the current illustrations, would open up the illustration itself for more interpretation to perhaps get more unique inventions from the user.

Serendipitous Business Model Generator (Part 04)

This post is a tiny bit overdue, but a full prototype of the Serendipitous Business Model Generator has been completed! After a series of experiments, the deck is ready to be tested on users. A diagram explaining the anatomy of the playing cards can be seen here. The rules are as follows:

The generator consists of three decks:

  1. Scenario: the conditions in which our business is being started
  2. Opportunity / Horizon Element: the emerging technologies / phenomenons that will be leveraged in our venture
  3. Modify Element: the existing business, product, or industry that will we modify / develop

Draw one card from each of the three decks to form your business. While the generator can be used by an individual, it is recommended to play with an advisor / partner. The key / rule is that your generated business be made tangible in some way – example: business plan.

Fun fact – each of the 90 cards in this full prototype were hand drawn. Yeah, it sounded like a good idea in the beginning… I figure that if I decide to run a kickstarter campaign to fund the production and distribution of the end result I can use these original hand made prototypes as incentives for the investors.