New design = new ways of thinking

Recently Apple Computer introduced its new iPod, which features the ability to play both audio and video, and in 20 days the company has managed to sell 1 million videos via its iTunes music store.This is a remarkable feat considering that Apple is only currently offering a very limited offering of music videos and TV. And Apple’s entry into the video arena came as something of a surprise to most, who would have figured that Microsoft, RealPlayer or Sony would have been the most logical players to stake their first meaningful claim into this area.

What has this to do with design?Apple’s becoming an early and dominant player in this arena, instead of its richer opponents, is more of a reflection of companies clinging to old business models and eschewing innovation and change. With millions of TiVo devices, and other similar DVR devices, being used in American homes, it’s clear that appetite for on demand content is not only present but growing larger each day. Of course, we’ve heard of video on demand for many years now but have seen almost nothing come if it. Why not?To understand that, we have to understand just how shackled to their old business models most TV and movie outlets are. I have to chuckle when I read one network boasting about how its ht new show beats its competition in a certain time slot. It’s no longer necessary for one to have to choose between watching one show or the other, simply because they come on at the same time but on different channels.Furthermore, it’s not necessary for viewers to watch a particular show at a particular time or on a particular night, for that matter. My wife and I, who are now hopelessly addicted to the TV show “Lost”, prefer to wait until after the show has aired so that we can whiz past the commercials.But of course the TV business model dictates that a show attract a certain number of viewers at a certain time on a certain night. If 19 million viewers watch “Lost” every week, that makes that particular time slot a very attractive one to advertisers. So every commercial that airs during “Lost”, and there are plenty of them, is charged at a very premium price.The new business model, the on demand model, may give viewers what they want but it goes against the established model. Does that mean the new model couldn’t be even more lucrative? No, the new model may in fact be far more lucrative than the current one. But that represents change.No, really, what has this to do with design?In chuckling to myself about the TV and movie industries and how hopelessly shackled they are to their business models, I got to thinking about the GD industry and how hopelessly shackled we are to our own business model. In this age of information where data can be transmitted to the most remote corner of the globe in less than a nanosecond, we designers are still overwhelmingly wed to the old business model where we wait by the phone for clients to call us. OK, OK, maybe today we wait by the email application.I also started wondering, what would have happened if the illustration and photography industries had seen the change in their industries before hand and been able to get out in front of it? What would have happened if photographers had been able to catalogue and sell CD collections of un-used photographs they had taken over the years, to be used as stock? What would have happened if photographers defined and supplied the market for affordable, stock photography rather than large, exploitative corporations?Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but are we graphic designers at a similar place in time as the photographers and illustrators were 20 years ago?The do it yourself DIY mentalityLiving in NYC, I’m far less exposed to the breadth of the DIY (do it yourself) mentality and industry as are many of my friends who live in other cities or suburbs and find themselves frequently playing handy man in their homes. I don’t know the exact numbers but the DIY industry is a multi-billion industry and it continues to grow every year. Growing even faster than the DIY industry is the DIY mentality.People feel, whether they are right or wrong, that they are compitent enough to do many things themselves that they would previously have outsourced to trained professionals. From putting an addition onto their home to drafting their own living will, consumers are far less likely to defer to trained professionals than they were in the past. Of course, we designers are all too familiar with those who have the DIY mentality, however we see it in others but not in ourselves. This inability to see can cause problems in terms of our ability to realize, and possibly exploit, new revenue streams into areas of growth.What can we sell, other than just our time?We recently had Von Glitschka as a guest for a podcast. On Von’s web site, under the “Products” section, Von sells CDs featuring texture libraries as well as icon libraries called “Simplecons”. I have purchased and used icons created by designer Dan Cederholm for various projects where time or budgetary constraints precluded me from developing similar icons on my own.Our firm makes great use of the project management software, Basecamp, created and managed by design firm 37signals. 37signals actually has a number of software products available and manage that side of their business alongside of their core, hourly fee for design work business.These, and other business models and revenue streams simply scratch the surface. Are there others out there? Should we be exploring them? If WE don’t, someone else will..chris{}

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