NOV 7th 2012 (Recap): Design for Experience

In a recent event, the merits of designers being actively involved in all stages of the invention process was discussed. Topics such as the strain between designers and builders, the requirements for designing smartphones and tablets, and advice for designers of all spades was spoken on then discussed.

Silicon Valley has long been known as the crème de la crème of “making things” for as long as most of its residents can remember. The motivations range from solving one’s frustrations and impressing one’s friends to making something cool to making a bunch of cash… Nonetheless- whatever the motivation- you can’t get very far without running into an enormous need for design; Hence, the role of the designer has become a critical landmark in the Silicon Valley landscape.

For this reason, the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute gathered an experienced group of designers, each with a different area of focus, to tackle the challenge of designing for superlative user experience.

The night started off on a sound note by Jon Innes, an experienced design consultant (UX Innovation), who focused on the innate tension between designers and builders, leading to the different ways companies approach the development process:

From the specific and pre-planned waterfall method to the rapid iterations of the lean startup, Jon believes that the key is to involve designers at every stage, and to integrate the technology, the feasibility, as well as the design into the creation process.

Then the torch was passed on to Rodrigo Lopez, a Peruvian-born entrepreneur (Aardvark), who gave a good overview of the unique needs behind designing for mobile phones and tablets:

An essential factor in this realm, he says, is to move fast: “Your product must move as fast as the ecosystem.” In the mobile ecosystem, the designers are designing for phones and tablets that change once or twice a year (Apple) or have a plethora of variations (Android). Plus, the competition on mobile devices rapidly changes and updates, so unless you change quickly enough to stay attractive, you will be forgotten like a week-old text message. Another important dynamic of mobile design is that, if you want your users to use a feature, it has to be easy to find and easy to use. Otherwise, it might as well not exist, because it won’t be utilized by impatient on-the-go users. In fact, it would probably be better if it didn’t exist at all, because then it wouldn’t get in the way or confuse anybody.

Next in line was Paolo Malabuyo, the director of product at Zinga, who introduced himself by saying, “Please notice that I am wearing a suit.”

This was a good move for a few reasons. First, it got the people to applaud. Second, it made the point that design is about all of life, not just products. Paolo has a wide reservoir of design experiences from which he shared some unique insights.

“Bask in your ignorance,” he said. If you are designing in order to make an experience good, it’s important to go through that experience yourself. We must also remember that there is only one first time for everything, so taking notes when you are going through a first experience can truly double your knowledge (not only have you learned the thing itself, but also what it’s like to learn it for the first time). Paolo also brought up the idea of a Maslow’s pyramid of design, which is a re-imagining of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with the needs of a product. From the bottom level up is functionality, reliability, usability, then beauty. In other words, if a product isn’t functional, then nobody cares if it’s usable, and whether it’s beautiful is irrelevant; Each level is a pre-requisite for the enjoyment and adoption of the next level. Another point made by Paolo is that you can help your design sense by stayingg connected with the traditional modes of creation. He himself made some custom shoes because he likes to perform a craft and do something with his hands. This kind of thing helps the inner design brain become more experienced and refined.

Our next excellent speaker was Debbie Kawamoto, lead product designer at Yammer, a social network for internal company networks:

Kawamoto worked as an art director in advertising for Nissan, which gave her a unique perspective on the design process. She learned that the experience of buying something, especially something expensive, has to be more like a relationship and less like a transaction. A customer is less likely to step out of a good relationship at any stage and head in another direction (not consider buying, not buy, not recommend, or not rebuy). It’s important for a product and company to connect on different emotional level with their users. On the visceral level, it’s important for a product to be immediately appealing, on a behavioral level, it must provoke action, and on a logical level, it is still important for a product to be appealing to the mind (be a logical buy). These are all things to remember for the designer.

Finally, Jonathan Hirshon brought the lessons home. An experienced PR consultant, Hirshon focused on how the image of a company is designed. Touching on examples ranging from Microsoft Windows packaging to Apple’s choice to release Siri, and speculations on the Apple TV, Jonathan took us on a humorous journey examining the impacts of design on brand.

The evening concluded with a lively discussion with the illustrious panel of speakers, led by SVII founder Howard Lieberman:

All in all, everyone left thinking more about the design conundrums of life and more fully equipped to address and overcome them.

For your next SVII adventure, join us this coming Wednesday as we explore the glamorous and surprising world of Silicon Valley Tech x Fashion!

Pre-registration Tickets ($20) – On SALE NOW!


JUNE 5th 2012 (Recap): How is technology changing music?

The Silicon Valley Innovation Institute is all about innovation, whatever the form. Last week, we had a fabulous event focusing on innovation in music–specifically, as the title of the event asked, “How is technology changing music?”

The evening began with casual mingling and chatting. During this time, even though they were not an official part of the program, the entrepreneurs from Unplugged Instruments got the night off to a good start by showing off their super cool self-amplifying guitar (available through kickstarter).

Then we had dinner from the fine fare of Angelica’s Bistro (also the location of this event) while music was played by Scot Sier and Andy Markham, followed by a stunning Bolero dance by Roland Van Der Veen and Jessie Chen.

Jessie Chen and Roland Van Der Veen dancing the bolero
Jessie Chen and Roland Van Der Veen dancing the bolero

All this happened before the main program, which was an extended exploration of how technology is changing music (for better or for worse). Mostly, it was agreed that technology is helping music by, as SVII founder Howard Lieberman put it, “lowering the barriers to entry and allowing artists to reach more people with their music.” However, there were also some hints that it may not all be good. For example, Andy Markham, a guitarist from The Cat Mary, pointed out that “There is no law of the universe that dictates that music needs to be a way of making money.” Just as brick-laying is a profession that is now all-but-extinct, in five hundred years, technology may have made music so easy to produce that being a professional musician will be an impossibility. (He didn’t necessarily say that such a scenario has to be a bad thing, but whether it is or not would probably depend on your perspective.)


One thing that is for sure is that technology has changed music immensely. Even in the change, however, one can see the cyclical nature of music (rhythm, anyone?). For example, because technology such as iTunes, Youtube, Spotify, and BitTorrent (to name a few) have made music anywhere from cheap to free online, musicians have become much more dependent on revenue from live performances, which is somewhat of an echo of past times.

Additional juxtapositions of the new and old in music and technology were also highlighted by the other panelists. Budda Amplification founder Scot Sier talked about how he got the idea for his current company: At one time, he had a tube amplifier, but then he sold it. After that he realized how much he missed it, because it sounds much better at a lower volume than other amplifiers, which is important for preserving your hearing if you are a musician. This inspired him to start a company which would actually make tube amplifiers, which before then had been a dying breed.

Scott Sier contributes to the discussion as moderator Darius Dunlap looks on
Scott Sier contributes to the discussion as moderator Darius Dunlap looks on

Also present were the father-son-instrument-making-duo, Rick and Eli Turner, of Renaissance Guitars, who have mastered the art of creating a wide array of relatively mainstream instruments and equipment in surprising new ways. Eli Turner uses Photoshop and solid works to model instruments on a computer, allowing him to design and work on instruments much faster. But even though he uses new technology to make new instruments, the past is still quite influential. Whenever he is designing a new take on an existing instrument, he looks at the classic models of that instrument, which he likes to pay tribute to in his new designs, as in his partially cut-out guitar based on the Fender Strat (called the CopperCaster).

Eli Turner showing off his cut-out Strat and other instrument that I can't remember the name of
Eli Turner showing off his cut-out Strat and the electric tonkori that he is working on as well as a traditional acoustic tonkori

One of the highlights of the night was when Robert Hamilton of Smule showed a visualized version of people from all over the world singing “Lean on Me” together through the Smule Glee app (online karaoke and music collaboration). After the tsunami in Japan, someone in Japan posted the starter track as a way to encourage fellow Japanese people. Later, people from all over the world started hearing it and adding their own voices.

Another product that Smule makes is electronic instruments for computers–i.e, ways of playing music through your iPhone, iPad, etc. Hamilton mentioned that one of their most popular settings on the My Ocarina app for the iPhone is the Zeldarian setting, which mimics the way an ocarina in the Zelda computer game sounds, which is (as far as we know) not reproducible by an acoustic instrument. This echos something which Eli said about the flow of technology: “Technology tries to mimic the physical world, which forces us to learn more about the physical world by studying it more deeply. Then we take the physical and try to mimic technology, which forces us to learn more about technology.”

Robert Hamilton of Smule talking technology and music as Eli Turner looks on
Robert Hamilton of Smule talking technology and music as Eli Turner looks on


SVII is the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute. We aspire to cultivate innovation by bringing creative people of all types together in a thought-provoking environment. Our next event is July 18th, and is an opportunity for anyone to showcase their creativity and audacity in performance and art.

Bass guitar and Eli Turner's CopperCaster
Bass guitar and Eli Turner’s CopperCaster

JUNE 20th 2012: How is Technology Changing Music?

With so much improvement occuring rapidly in technology and software many industries are struggling to keep up. The same cannot be said for the music industry, or can it? SVII brings together a panel of five individuals each with their own unique experiences in the worlds of music, invention and technology to discuss the future relationship between technology and music.

* New Venue: Angelica’s Bell Theatre & Bistro, Redwood City 

 century ago, technology brought recorded music to everyone. Since then, it has put your record collection in your pocket and a recording studio in your home. The internet changes the way music is marketed and disrupts old business models.

But in the next decade, there is a still bigger change coming. The confluence of cloud services and mobile phones and other technologies are enabling new ways to create music, share it, learn and practice, rehearse, compose, collaborate and perform.

We have put together an amazing panel of musicians, inventors and technologists. Their shared backgrounds span music genres from  60’s Rock to avant-garde Jazz to Bluegrass, and technologies from tube amplifiers to mobile devices, cloud services and computer music. (Be sure to check out their fascinating bios below!)

Join us for an interactive discussion of the future of music and the direction of technology for musical expression!

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