It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond


Charlotte gets a massive dose of design thinking in April by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via sirconferences

I wanted to quickly highlight a handful of design+innovation events in the Queen City before they sneak up on us!  Who knew we were such a hotbed?!



Charlotte Restaurant Week, revisited by Nheeda Enriquez

logo via Queen's Feast

For some reason, my mindmap over the summer about Charlotte Restaurant Week got lots of hits, so I thought I’d revisit the topic.

The winter version of the event is here once again, and like many Charlotteans, I will put my New Year resolutions on hold to participate.  Why is it so successful?  It’s great for restaurants because it fills empty tables during a slow period.   The scarcity of a $30 deal at a fancy restaurant will sucker any diner into trying something new.

Personally, I like it because it’s another reason to bring people together.  But it also cuts down the number of decisions I have to make when ordering off of a menu.  This reminds me of a little publicity blitz by Menu Engineer (that’s right, an engineer) Gregg Rapp went on last fall.  His interviews with Time and the Today Show reveal all the tricks he teaches restaurants as they redesign their menus to get you to spend more on your meal, including using center justification and taking out dollar $igns.  He also uses fanciful descriptions that make their popular dishes hard to resist.

You don’t often get to read a person’s mind as he/she processes a menu to see if these tactics work.  This Charlotte Loafing blogger shares her mental gymnastics on one of Restaurant Week’s participants, Liberty Gastropub, and it looks like the tasty descriptions work on her.



2 minute mindmap: New Year’s Resolutions by Nheeda Enriquez

Closing out week 2 of the whole resolution thing, I thought I’d throw in a quick 2 minute mindmap.  One of my resolutions is about working more with my hands, as I wrote about for Charlotte Viewpoint, but this mindmap is a simple brain dump on another related resolution: to eat better. Creating this helped me realize that I should put my vitamins in a place that’s easy for me to remember to take them.

click for larger



Random nuggets on the Hyperlocalism trend by Nheeda Enriquez

Since I wrote an article about hyperlocalism over the summer, I’ve been passively tracking the trend, and I thought I’d share these findings.

charlottedotcom

logo via charlotte.com

1.  Wait, what happened to charlotte.com?
Last week, I stumbled on the beta news site that the Charlotte Observer just planted in the old charlotte.com site.  In an attempt to retain its local readership, the site features social bookmark-like capabilities (similar to TimesPeople,) allowing users to sign on with existing Twitter, Facebook, et al. accounts.  It pulls in stories from other local sources, including Yelp reviews and blogs.  Time will tell how successful it will be as the data builds; I do hope it eventually introduces more visual design (a la Creative Search or even Newsmap.)

creat_search_sm

screen capture via creative search

2.  You, too, can consume and create.
Looks like the creative team at the Observer is looking for hyperlocal contributors.  Not sure if it’s related to the charlotte.com site, but it’s related to a grant with an organization called the J-Lab.

3.  So are people moving here or what?
Remember the buzz from earlier this year about all the people trying to move to Charlotte to find jobs in this recession?  Newsweek offers an interesting viewpoint on hyperlocalism that might suggest otherwise.



Searching for the familiar: A parking lot delighter! by Nheeda Enriquez

IMG_0210

I saw this lovely sign over in the Green Parking lot in Uptown Charlotte the other day and I couldn’t help but smile.  It was an unexpected yet ever-so-helpful delighter designed to help me remember where I parked.

Sometimes I’ll type a quick note in my phone to remind me where the car is. Or, in especially confusing lots like the Long Term lots at the airport, I’ll even GPS-tag the location.  But when you’re in a hurry, nothing beats a simple picture with a caption, “It takes two to tango” to burn the image in my head.

Besides helping me find my car, this sign also reminded me of two NY Times articles I had seen recently:

  • I find myself thinking often about how to make it easier for people to try a new product or service, and sometimes it’s appropriate to bring in something familiar to help transition folks from an older mental model into a new one.
  • Of course, in the spirit of planning for unintended consequences, an article about the sad possibility of losing your navigational prowess when of adapting a common technology like GPS into one’s everyday life.


Big Apps: A crowdsourcing example Charlotte might learn from by Nheeda Enriquez
311 app logo via Apps for Democracy

311 app logo via Apps for Democracy

I’ve been intrigued by a crowdsourcing challenge New York City is sponsoring that invites developers to submit solutions for new city apps in exchange for fame and a cash prize.  They are not the first to host such a contest – Washington DC did one last year.  For a mere $50K, these “non-profits” were able to solicit 230 resident insights and 47 applications in 30 days!

These challenges is that they blend two good innovation ingredients together:

  1. An attempt to understand what kinds of apps would be useful to consumers by collecting insights and needs.  The last thing my iPhone wants is an App that doesn’t solve a problem that people care about.  Both the DC and NYC contests leverage UserVoice to do this.
  2. A data mine for developers.  Big cities have lots of data that probably doesn’t get used, but if applied in a good context, you could end up with interesting results.  Making the data available promotes transparency and probably helps developers test their apps.  This reminds me of the super-successful Netflix Prize, where the company provided real data to help contestant programmers improve its recommendation algorithm.

I know that there are lots of clever developers in Charlotte.  I wonder what unique apps would help our own residents?  I know I could have used one today that tells me where the closest Wi-Fi signal is both free and strong based on where I am.



I heart Supercook: choice editing at its finest by Nheeda Enriquez
logo via supercook

logo via supercook

For weeks now, I’ve been preaching the wonders of Supercook to anyone who will listen (although the site’s been around for a little while.)  It’s a lovely solution to the problem of sorting through infinite amounts of digital information to make everyday choices.  In a nutshell, you tell Supercook what you’ve got in your fridge or cabinet, and it offers you a set of recipes you can make right now, without leaving the house.

Roger Dooley over at his Neuromarketing blog also shares a good analysis of choice editing in other interfaces, mostly using sliders and rating systems.  What Supercook and these other examples do well is organize options so they’re customized to your preferences.  At the same time, these sites succeed in giving you have access to the universe of choice should you want it.



Yeah, but so what? Visualizing the impact by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m eternally advocating the use of good information design and visuals, and every time I see a good one, I take notice and tell everyone I know.  Especially if it translates what would have been hard to interpret data and answers the question: “Yeah, but so what?!” to make is useful.

ton_phone

This one by Dutch design firm Studio:ludens animates the amount of a good that is produced a second.  If I just read the facts verbally, they wouldn’t be as interesting, but showing us what that means in the context of something I am familiar with (in this case, time) then it comes alive.

Another example I saw some time back is a Microsoft commercial attacking the iPod for its Zunepass music subscription service.  Even though I’m a longtime Mac fan, this campaign actually got my attention by reframing a simple pain: it takes $30,000 to fill your iPod with songs.



When “knowing is half the battle” by Nheeda Enriquez

(In honor of the new GI Joe movie, I titled this post using a familiar line from the cartoon but it’s not in the film, nor does this have post anything to do with GI Joe.)

flickr photo cred: duncan

flickr photo cred: duncan

I love examples where presenting customized, relevant information at the right moment effectively changes consumer behavior.  The driver feedback sign must be a good one, since I know that it slows me down every. single. time.

Today I caught another example in a presentation by the accounting firm Deloitte on its Mass Career Customization program (the talk was organized through Engage Charlotte.)  MCC is a discussion tool their HR folks use to help employees talk through their individual career trajectories by adjusting specific levers, such as desired amounts of travel or desired workload.  Employees and managers get on the same page by working through a visualization of the tradeoffs.  Together they optimize goals, thereby affecting the firm’s and the individual’s choices.

Data dashboards are another way designers use information to encourage action.  When else did personalized in-context data drive my behavior today?

  • The distance display on the treadmill made me go a little bit further during my run.
  • Eat this-not that” articles make me think twice about that second donut.
  • Miscellaneous studies about the how visualizing energy use affects my conservation efforts.
  • I waited until the next block when I’d have more than one bar to make sure I didn’t drop a phone call.


Easy, Medium, Hard by Nheeda Enriquez

A very simple, yet so often overlooked framework that I use is Easy-Medium-Hard.  Sometimes it’s just a really quick way to organize information and ideas into digestible chunks, and placing them on a relative scale to one another.  Here’s a few ways that I’ve used it lately:

  • Sorting ideas and concepts Easy ideas that can be executed within a year; Hard ones take considerably longer.   One innovation professional in town talks about his innovation in meat temperatures: rare, medium, and well-done.
  • Brainstorming Asking yourself “how might we make _______ easy for our user?”  (ie, Learn how to play one song, cooking a meal for 8 people in under an hour, etc.)  How might we make it harder?   By thinking about it in extremes, we cover a wider range and stimulate broader thinking.
  • Feature sets Everyone approaches an interface or a new piece of software from a different skill level.  Rather than bombarding each person with everything under the sun, tailor the experience to suit the consumer/user’s familiarity.  Hide the rest to eliminate clutter (and make it available if it’s needed.)  A wonderful execution of this is Google’s “Become a Gmail Ninja” feature.
image via google

image via google




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