A Single Music Preference Repository — Dream Project #3

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This is one of a series of posts describing some of the projects we would love to work on. As a holistic digital design firm, Jackson Fish Market is very fortunate to have really bright clients come to us with super interesting projects on a regular basis. But rather than wait for them to come to us, we figured we might let the world know which projects we’d love to work on. Each of these ideas is something we’re passionate about. And for each we have a deep set of ideas to help make them a reality. So if one of these is something you’re thinking about, call us. We’d love to help.

The way we discover, purchase, and consume music has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. There has been plenty of time for the software that we use to listen to music to evolve in that time. And it has, except in the single most important area when it comes to really improving the experience of listening to music – playlists.

Now, we understand that not all people depend on playlists to organize their music. But for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll think of playlists in the broadest sense. Whether it’s a “saved song” on Spotify, a thumbs up on Pandora, favorited something on SoundCloud, or just a purchased song on Amazon or iTunes, we consider it all a declaration of intent on the part of the consumer that *this* track is part of their library of music. Of course, there’s a wide variety of behavior patterns within that broad definition. Some people just have one big list of music in which they’ve expressed an interest, and others have detailed and organized playlists for every occasion and mood.

In our opinion, the single biggest problem with the way we consume music is the lack of playlist portability. And the music software and content vendors know this. None of them have any incentive to change this. Vendors *want* “lock-in”. For example, Amazon has a distinct disincentive to let purchasers of books on the Kindle platform to move their books to the iBooks platform. Now especially when it comes to content, the technology providers have a convenient excuse in the form of the content providers. The licenses are often written with so many stipulations that the content owners want you to repurchase your content over and over again for each new format, on each new device.

Unfortunately, this only has the effect of distancing the connection of the consumer from the content owner. The consumer doesn’t feel a connection withe a content owner who wants to charge them over and over again for the same thing. The content owners, should want to “own” the relationship with their consumer. And in cases where the content owners are the artists themselves, that’s often what we see happening.

Now, imagine for a moment, a service that keeps track of all the music I love. All of it. A soundtrack from a movie, the latest pop album, an old out-of-print piece of Jazz vinyl, some indie EDM, old mp3s from a now defunct band that I downloaded off of mp3.com before they too became defunct, a thumbs up for a track on pandora, etc. Imagine a service that keeps track of all of this music that I love and enjoy. And now imagine that this same service can check the status of my licensing relationship with each of these tracks by checking iTunes or Amazon or my Spotify subscription status. And now imagine that wherever I am, on any device, in any location, this service will do its best to serve up the music that I love from any available source.

Not on your hard drive? Here it is from YouTube. Not on Spotify? How about we create a Pandora station of similar music where it’s likely to show up.

We know there are ham-fisted attempts at solving this problem today. iTunes Match is spotty and often doesn’t work. Amazon has given me access to ripped versions of every CD I’ve ever purchased on Amazon. Spotify (and just about everyone) will import and/or feebly synchronize with my local iTunes folder. Of course, if Spotify doesn’t have something, even if I own it, Spotify won’t roam that track.

Despite these efforts that in our opinion have fallen short, the technology to solve this problem is quite the opposite of rocket science. The business deals to make this happen are extraordinarily difficult. Or are they?

We wonder: What would happen if a kernel of this software was built, and if that kernel was able to show the magic of having your musical preferences be universal instead of siloed. Would that software gain enough momentum to help break down some of the licensing issues?

One final note. We know that a standard playlist/preference format and exchange/sync protocol is another way to solve this problem. In other words, there doesn’t need to be one master silo to replace all the others if we build a set of open bridges between all the services. But that path seems even less likely to us.

If you’re looking to create something like this, and would like an excited team to help you design the identity, the hardware, the software, and the marketing experiences, don’t hesitate to let us know.

Why would a software design firm create a video game?

Human beings like boxes. Specifically, we like putting people, and things, and companies into boxes. As in, you’re this kind of person, and you’re that kind of person. As in, your company does this, and your company does that. In the simplest terms, we here at Jackson Fish Market are a design firm. We design experiences. These experiences span everything from the identity of a company or product to its marketing collateral, to its physical presence, to its software, to its support experience. We look at them all as being holistically connected, and when done right, all contributing to create a genuine emotional connection between the creators of the business, and the business’ customers. That is our purpose.

While we’ve talked about it a little bit before, when we’re not working hard for our clients, we’ve set aside a micro-team to work on a video game. So the question is this: Why would a software design firm create a video game? At first blush, it doesn’t seem to fit. But to us, it does. Let me explain.

For us here at JFM, we strive to create user experiences that are effective at creating emotional connections between the makers of a product or service and their customers. The experience in the broadest sense, is a bridge between the two groups. The wider, shorter, and more comfortable that bridge is, the deeper the connection is between the two groups. For us, even though our gaming experience and active gaming practice is completely across the board when it comes to our team, we are all in sync in terms of where game design fits into the overall pantheon of holistic interactive design. In our opinion, interactive game design is the highest form of our art.

Services like Netflix, or Facebook, or Uber all have high points in their user experiences (and some low points). And while their design is definitely a benefit for each of them, each also provides a core service that people really really desire – an instantly available good movie, connection with friends and family, and a quick ride without any hassle, respectively. In other words, as users, sometimes we will put up with small or even large speed bumps in their experiences because their core service is so desirable. But when it comes to a video game, there is nothing but the experience. There is nothing but the design. The user experience and the game are one. If the design gets in the way, then the game is not fun. And I don’t need to play the game to get home. I don’t need to play the game to do my job. In fact, often, spending time playing a game is a luxury that takes time away from doing something that’s probably more important.

A video game needs to immediately and unequivocally connect on an emotional level with a user and satisfy their craving to be entertained. It needs to do so in multiple dimensions at once. And abandoning it for another one is as easy as disposing of a piece of chewing gum. This purity of form, and this disposability, means that designing a video game that people fall in love with is the most difficult thing a designer in our field can do.

We are proud of the work we’ve done. Proud of the work we do for clients, and on our own products. But not a day goes by when we don’t long to improve. Not a day goes by when we don’t strive to elevate ourselves to be better designers, better communicators, and better storytellers.

We’re proud to (re-)announce that we are making a video game – Drey Duncan and the Haunted Hotel.

Drey Duncan, a newly minted graduate of the Columbia University graduate school of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation spent her last savings going to school to learn how to preserve the old buildings she loves. A city law firm comes looking for a grad student to evaluate a property in the city – a gorgeous art deco hotel, built in 1930, that opened for one weekend, and has been closed ever since. At first Drey says no. She’s fresh out of school and has no experience taking on such a big job. But after losing her only source of income, Drey has no choice, and accepts the gig. What will she find? Why did the hotel close? How could a beautiful hotel remain untouched for over 80 years in the middle of Manhattan? These are the questions Drey will try to answer on her first adventure.

Stay tuned to this blog where we’re going to be incredible transparent about the entire process of creating this game. And in the meantime, meet our hero: Drey. :)

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Responsive TV Remote — Dream Project #2

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This is the second in a series of posts describing some of the projects we would love to work on. As a holistic digital design firm, Jackson Fish Market is very fortunate to have really bright clients come to us with super interesting projects on a regular basis. But rather than wait for them to come to us, we figured we might let the world know which projects we’d love to work on. Each of these ideas is something we’re passionate about. And for each we have a deep set of ideas to help make them a reality. So if one of these is something you’re thinking about, call us. We’d love to help.

I think a lot of designers, sit back at the end of the day, turn on the television, and fantasize about redesigning the interface to their television. And while there are certainly challenges and opportunities when it comes to remote control of all the devices and services that connect to our televisions, that is not the are on which we would like to focus with this effort.

This effort would be about improving remote control of televisions in one simple yet profoundly important dimension — responsiveness.

I have personally probably used three dozen different remotes over the last decade or two. These include remotes for: DirecTV, Comcast, XBOX, Windows Media Center, AppleTV, Samsung televisions, Roku, Boxee, soft Remotes on iPhone and Android devices, and more. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’m not talking about the ability for these remotes to render themselves gracefully on large and small screens. I’m talking about old school responsiveness. You press a button, and the thing you wanted to happen, happens instantly.

This may seem like a simple problem. From determining the right technology to wirelessly connect the remote to its target device, to making sure the device can render the results fast enough, there are many little details needed to make sure this happens properly. And yet, for some reason, when it comes to television especially, the gap between when you press a button and when something happens on screen is maddeningly long. You could recite an epic poem in that gap in some cases.

The set-top boxes we hook up to our televisions are so much more powerful these days than the fastest computers of yesteryear and yet, when we want to change a channel, they plod along. This is a thorny design problem, but there are many techniques that can be used to speed up the actual and perceived response of the device to the remote. We would employ all of these to create a tv watching experience that’s as instantly responsive and satisfying as it is to manipulate something with your fingertip on your touchscreen device.

If you’re looking to create something like this, and would like an excited team to help you design the identity, the hardware, the software, and the marketing experiences, don’t hesitate to let us know.

Disposable Video Display — Dream Project #1

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This is the first in a series of posts describing some of the projects we would love to work on. As a holistic digital design firm, Jackson Fish Market is very fortunate to have really bright clients come to us with super interesting projects on a regular basis. But rather than wait for them to come to us, we figured we might let the world know which projects we’d love to work on. Each of these ideas is something we’re passionate about. And for each we have a deep set of ideas to help make them a reality. So if one of these is something you’re thinking about, call us. We’d love to help.

It seems like every few months we read another article about how scientists are creating low power, flexible, super-thin, high-resolution displays. And that soon, really any minute now, maybe even yesterday, we’ll all replace those reams and reams of paper with flexible, bendable, foldable, and of course disposable, pieces of electronic paper. Of course, we’re not quite there yet. Not even close. But we may be closer than we think if we’re willing to set our sights a little lower.

What we want to create is a display that will retail for less than $10. It does not need to be color. It will play a 3 minute video. It will have no networking. It will run on batteries. Getting video onto the device will be a matter of a USB cable or perhaps a USB stick with a video file that is labeled correctly. The device will have almost no user interface as it will either be off, show the video, or show a still. The device will have rudimentary audio. When the battery runs out, the stored video remains. We’d like it to remain indefinitely so that decades from now new batteries will reveal the video on board.

The design of the device should be such that it will survive being mailed with no packaging and some stamps on the back.

Ultimately we believe these devices can serve as an analog to handwritten notes. Custom videos from businesses to favored customers. Personal video postcards from parents to their children at summer camp.

If the cost is in the $10 range, recipients of these “postcards” may be interested in using them. But we believe that as the cost goes down, the use will become more ubiquitous and the devices thought of as more disposable.

If you’re looking to create something like this, and would like an excited team to help you design the identity, the hardware, the software, and the marketing experiences, don’t hesitate to let us know.

We’ve written a new User Experience and Design Book just for you — Making Things Special

This week marks the eighth anniversary of Jackson Fish Market. In the last eight years, and the many before that, Jenny and I have contributed designs, identity, strategy, and a fair amount of execution to dozens and dozens of technology projects large and small. We’ve spent years thinking about and honing our answers to the fundamental existential questions of our profession. What is a User Experience Designer? Why do they exist? And how can they make a meaningful creative impact?

Often, engineers, business leaders, marketers and other non-designers in tech don’t understand what user experience designers are actually supposed to do. (Hint: It’s not write code.) But even worse, UX designers are often complicit in this dynamic by trying to live up to the rest of the organization’s misplaced expectations. And they do this at the expense of learning fundamental skills that every designer should have – e.g. color theory, typography, etc. What if designers embraced the depth and complexity of their roles? What if designers exceeded the industry’s low expectations? What if designers demanded and earned leadership roles across the tech industry?

Today we have launched our new book Making Things Special – Tech Design Leadership from the Trenches.

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We never would have reached this point without the support of our Kickstarter backers, the hard work of our Jackson Fish Market team and you, our loyal fans. Special Thank Yous to Tom Chang who illustrated the book informatively, beautifully, and with a sense of humor, and to Scott Berkun who edited our rambling text and kept us relentlessly focused on telling our story clearly.

You can read the book three different ways right now:

We worked really hard to make this book as useful as possible, your honest and thoughtful review would be greatly appreciated. There’s always room for improvement, and we can’t do it without your help. Feel free to spread word of our new book on social media by pointing people to http://makingthingsspecial.com.

As always, thanks for your support.