Think Blog

2012 Year-End Insight Mashup

By Russ Starke on January 17, 2013

We did it last year and we’re doing it again, with a quorum of Think Brownstone folks chiming in about something/anything that inspired them or struck them as particularly insightful in the past year. “What was one of the big standouts for you?” The replies:

Allison Marcinczyk: Where the Hell is Matt?

With a combination of the power of technology and the desire of human spirit, Matt Harding warmed my heart and made my eyes well with laughter. He used YouTube, added a dash of Google Maps plus email to let people know where he would be dancing and when. In return, he got 2,387 people to dance badly with him all over the planet – from Rwanda and Tonga to Serbia and Philadelphia.

Jen Couchoud: The Slate DoubleX Gabfest

There are a lot of things that I have gained through joining Think Brownstone; for one, a renewed passion for what I do for a living, and… a long commute down the PA Turnpike. In looking for ways to make the most out of my hour-long drive, I turned to my iPhone and a long lost (for me anyway) podcast. The Slate DoubleX Gabfest has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things I discovered in 2012. The women on the podcast are editors and/or contributors to the Double X section of Slate.com –  Hanna Rosin, Noreen Malone, and Allison Benedikt. Each podcast I’ve listened too so far has included truly interesting current information I hadn’t gleaned from the news and I find the conversation to be both intelligent and insightful.

Phil Charron: Uneven Subway Stairs

People are highly trainable and expect things to work consistently. This seems pretty obvious, but we battle this on a daily basis when designing interfaces. I can’t think of anything that demonstrated this better in 2012 than this video of a NYC subway stop exit that has one step higher than all the rest. Within the first few steps, our amazing minds have done all of the math and know exactly how high to raise our feet for the next step, until…

Brad Sukala: The Slow Movement

For me, 2012 was about *pause*. I’ve never been a very impulsive person, but looking back on this year, I can really see how many of my decisions have been to wait. That’s not to say that I haven’t made decisions, but rather that my first act in many cases was to decide to wait to make a decision. Slow things down, if you can dig that. I find myself avoiding TV (news especially) and preferring audio. Skipping the paper and preferring long-form pieces. Eschewing Facebook all together. Some of that is probably due to being a year older and getting a better perspective of life and time. A lot though, is blowback from the social media onslaught we’re inundated with every day, despite my prior exhortations to let it all hang out. The slow food movement had some momentum a few years ago and some people have expanded it to the idea of a slow life. I think I can get behind that.

Brian McIntire: Keeping It Simple with Instagram

In 2012 I developed an addiction to Instagram. This is really just an extension of my addiction to my iPhone :) Not only has using Instagram been really fun (special thanks to the Rocky Mountains), but following the App and company closely over the past year has been interesting and instructive. Even though I’m sure it’s tempting for the folks at Instagram (and now Facebook) to add more filters and functionality to the App, they’ve largely kept it simple – sticking to a core set of key features – and I bet this is one reason the App is still so popular. With each update there have been changes to the UI – some of which I hated at first (change is tough!) but embraced over time as I eventually understood the reasons for some design choices. And in its recent Terms of Service blunder, Instagram reminded us of how costly it can be to confuse your users.

Russ Starke: Fast Company

This may be an obvious choice, but I simply find it uncanny how often when I’m on Twitter or elsewhere and see a link to an article that sounds interesting and click through, that I end up on Fast Company or one of its subs (Co.Design, Co.Exist, Co.Create, etc.). That speaks to me of the consistent value and appeal of the subject matter, and the fact that once I’m there I find myself clicking through to 3-5 additional articles on average before I force myself to get on with my day speaks to the content quality and consistency. If you’ve been heads-down for a while and need to come up for a quick fix of innovative thought, products/services, approaches, etc. – any of the Fast properties is a sure-fire slump breaker.

Carl White: Bless This Stuff & Other Content Aggregators

I’m also an avid reader of Fast Company and Inc., and love their original content and links. However, this year I’ve also really gotten into resources that curate “cool stuff” for me in bite-sized, highly consumable chunks – destinations like the aforementioned Bless This Stuff (“a web magazine for guys”, though I think that’s a narrow definition for it), the similarly positioned Uncrate, dtail (“daily design inspiration”), and one of its better counterparts Cool Hunting. I access them almost exclusively via FlipBoard for the iPad, making the experience even more fluid and enjoyable.

Amanda DiDomenico: Design By Nature

2012 held a ton of change for me. My newborn grew into an energetic toddler. I got to watch her little face change as the months passed, each day revealing the true beauty and design by nature (over which we have no control). My life as I knew it was now also completely redesigned. I learned new things about myself, and grew as a mom, wife and person. I realized that life’s design is so unpredictable (which can be scary), but at the end of the day there are universal principals at work there – and the idea of identifying them and channeling them into timeless and fundamentally resonating designs is very inspiring.

Chad Kaufman: Data & How To Use It

Data is king when it comes to business and knowing your customers (internal and external). I came from a position at a Lean manufacturing company where decisions were made on hard data — testing it, learning from it, and repeated improvements based on it. Improvements could not be made & assessed without the proper data analyzing benchmarks from current and future process states. Having the data and more importantly knowing how to use it to your advantage is the most valuable asset to build a business & increase its value to customers. The importance of data and how to use it could not be made better in 2012 than by two articles: When the Nerds Go Marching In — describing incumbent candidate Obama’s strategy of reaching voters through known data — and Romney’s Fail Whale — proving that data means nothing if it is obfuscated by hard-to-use and failing systems. Do you have the data to know what improvements will add value to your customers? Knowing and not knowing, is the difference between winning and losing.

Kristen Cromer: Staying Connected from 1,700 Miles Away

I started my Think Brownstone career in the trenches of our beautiful Think Space in Conshohocken, surrounded by a team that constantly kept me on my toes with the stimulating work of sketching, close collaboration, and of course, witty humor and the occasional prank. This year (after moving to Denver and opening our Think Space here with Brian) was the first time in my many years of working remotely that I really felt like I was missing out on the face-to-face camaraderie (and the laughs) of being in a bustling office. Maintaining that close connection with my colleagues is important to me, but it’s not without some thoughtfulness and effort. Staying on a Skype call a few extra minutes to catch up on office shenanigans, sharing ideas and friendly ribbing on Yammer, or a random “thhhbbbttt” on IM can work wonders, and it’s well worth it to keep that connection going.

Anna Kotelnikova: Body Language & How It Shapes Your Persona

A very interesting lecture by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, on how our body language not only affects how others perceive us but also how we feel about ourselves. Apparently studies indicate that the poses we practice in our daily lives regulate our hormone levels, thus affecting our confidence and success. Amy relates a personal story of how a car accident severely hindered her health and confidence in college, and how she overcome her hurdles by changing her mindset. Her talk really stuck with me and I’ve found myself thinking about it often — here’s to something seemingly simple that can help us become more successful, positive and healthy.