Episode Summary

Today’s democratic system in the United States is largely the same as that instituted in 1789 under our first president, George Washington. This much-celebrated system is based on the original democracy from ancient Athens, established almost 2,000 years earlier.

Fast forward to 2014. Congressional approval is at a record low, hovering around 10%. Partisanship seems to permeate every crevice of our government. Examples of government waste and questionable policies far outnumber examples of government being good and effective. OK, so that perception might have something to do with the media, but the bottom line is our federal government is operating in a way that very few of us are satisfied with.

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss how we might find a better way. Combining common, everyday technologies with a new concept of who should represent us, Dirk Knemeyer provides a vision to redesign democracy into a system more appropriate for the realities of 2014 while moving closer to its philosophical origins.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the current state of American democracy: 
The context has shifted so dramatically from the initial conditions in which our democracy was seeded that now we have this opportunity to iterate and improve, and do what America does so well, which is innovate.
The Founding Fathers had these Enlightenment philosophy ideas that influenced their initial cut at democracy. As a nation, if we are the natural inheritors of our Founding Fathers, we should have it within us to overcome the inertia of the current system, which is clearly broken, and be able to build on those same philosophical underpinnings, but marry it with these wonderful technologies, many of which have their origins in this country to begin with, and create something greater for the next 250-plus years.

Dirk on using the smart phone as a voting tool:
We’re in this new context now, where the constraints, the communication and information constraints upon which the process of having a legislature, of having the democratic representation of the citizens manifest in how the laws are made and executed, those don’t exist anymore. So what I focused on is the fact that the smartphone, first of all, has all of the features necessary for someone to be directly active in the voting process.

We could be sent a bill on our phone that we could read in its entirety. We could be sent with the bill, in real time, opinions on it from analysts who represent the things that we’re interested in; so if we’re interested in civil rights, or gun control, or reducing spending, or whatever the things that we think are important, we could get recommendations from analysts in real time as to how a bill would impact those things.

Then, of course, the phone also gives us the power to vote. In the smartphone, we have all of the technology necessary to be fully informed actors in a direct democratic process. Also crucial to this is the fact that smartphones are becoming slowly ubiquitous. When I started this research in Q3 of 2013, 53% of American adults had a smartphone. In January, that number had increased to 58%, in January of 2014, and it’s a number that will keep increasing. We already have a lot of people with these devices.

Subscribe to The Digital Life on iTunes and never miss an episode.the_digital_life_podcast

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the right way to hire a digital studio — from skipping the RFP to starting with a test project to making sure company culture matches up between designer and client — based on a series of blog posts by Dirk Knemeyer. We're more than three decades into the digital age, and yet companies still have difficulty finding the right fit when it comes to design providers. Why should that be the case? Join us as we share our experience in the trenches of software design, and reflect on the right way to establish the best client / consultant relationship possible.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon and Dirk on the RFP process: 

Whenever I hear RFP, I cringe. At one point in time, it must have been this great tool for companies to use and I don’t know if it’s kept pace with the advancing digital age, whether that’s the problem, or whether it was just a flaw of document from the beginning from its origin. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you think skipping the RFP is a smart way to hire a digital studio.

Yes. First of all, I don’t think that it ever made sense to issue an RFP. I think it might have made sense from the standpoint of lazy logic which is to say, “I am not going to think about this very hard,” and “Oh gee, wouldn’t it make sense to just send this item out to a whole bunch of people which gives us the most possible choice?”

The problem with that approach is many but to cover a top couple of the points, first of all by sending it out to a lot of people, you are getting back a whole lot of responses and getting into a paradox of choice issue that instead of further refining the people you’re sending it out to and sending it out, doing the research, taking the time for people who are better fits, you are plowing it out there. It’s all kinds of possible providers who in just different ways aren’t the right fit for you. Now, you’ve filled the funnel with stuff that is stuff as opposed to good data to get started on and to take action on. That’s a big problem right there.

Another issue with the RFP is in blasting it out to all kinds of different companies. You’re communicating to all of those companies that they’re not important to you and this process isn’t important to you because you aren’t willing to take the time with all the list down, and have a more targeted relationship. It’s like in fishing that there’s this industrial method of fishing where they scrape a giant net across the bottom of the sea, and they pull up everything they possibly can. In the process, they kill lots of things that they don’t need, and then they take the time to pick through as opposed to the fishermen who are single-line fishing, purpose fishing for the things that they’re actually looking for. It’s very similar in the scale and really the impact.

It’s just silly. It’s understandable why if you don’t put a lot of time and thought into it and just say, “Send out an RFP. We’ll get a whole bunch of things to pick from,” but you don’t want a whole bunch of things to pick from. You want a small number of things to pick from that are within a group that would be potentially a really good fit for you.

Subscribe to The Digital Life on iTunes and never miss an episode.the_digital_life_podcast

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we delve into the reasons that user experience has become the "it" field of the moment. Is it the desire for great design, created by companies like Apple? Is it pressure to create universal software experiences that honor and support the BYOD movement in the enterprise? Is it the app-ification of software? Or is it something else entirely?

And, for the creative class who thought their jobs were safe, we explore the (possibly) frightening topic of the automation of knowledge work. Are no industries safe from the eventual reach of the machine? And, does it matter for humans in the long term, or will the outcome be a positive one, with free time and leisure dominating our existence?

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Dirk on the popularity of UX:

People who have been doing web design for a long time have been suffering because it’s been so commodified and there’s so many people trying to do it. Calling it user experience is a way to get money. Clients perceive user experience as being more sophisticated and high level but it’s on a buzzword level. They don’t even understand what they’re buying. They don’t even understand the distinctions there a lot of times. Gold rush is a really good way to put it. People are racing for what the market is rewarding right now and also for what they perceive as being a high-level thing.

It’s similar to the maturity level in advertising where marketing was the term then marketing strategy then branding then experience. It kept off shifting. When branding was the big deal, if you run around saying you’re a marketing firm, you are in trouble. The whole landscape shifted. User experience has always been the thing in software design where we live but there weren’t many people living with us in the past. Now, more people are coming into software design, user experience is getting bigger there but web design is also co-opting user experience.

Jon on the automation of knowledge work:

From last year, May 2013, McKinsey had a report called Disruptive Technologies, Advances That Will Transform Life, Business and the Global Economy. When talking about these disruptive technologies, they talk about robotics, genomics, a lot of the emerging tech that you would expect. There was an item on that list which, at least for us as software designers might raise our eyebrows, that was the automation of knowledge work. We all know that software design and other kinds of technical automation have eliminated certain types of manufacturing jobs over time, as well as some basic jobs that were associated with business such as, you don’t have a typist anymore. There are certain types of accounting tasks which have been automated as well. It’s an interesting question for us to consider when that user experience field that we were all taking about is being such a hot commodity now becomes automated, what does that mean?

Subscribe to The Digital Life on iTunes and never miss an episode.the_digital_life_podcast

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we critique CNN's sad information visualization, dig into design for behavior change as a new frontier for UX, and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Business Innovation Factory Conference. Oh, and Dirk explains his thinking regarding the eventuality of humans turning into cyborgs.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Dirk on cyborgs:

Oscar Pistorius, who was ... when he came to international prominence with an inspiring story, that's story changed of course. He is cyborg. Cyborgs are already here first of all, but second of all, the ethical questions have already been asked and answered.

I mean, Pistorius in the Olympics was celebrated. There were very few people who were saying, "This is not fair. This is not right." Even though, and I was inspired by the story. I was certainly was in outrage that he was racing, but I was scratching my head. I was like, "A thousand scientists could tell me that this dude gets no advantage from those legs." He was born without legs. He couldn't be running in the Olympics if massive expensive technology wasn't ... I don't know what the ... I'm sure it wasn't grafted, but it was grafted onto his body. 

The world was A okay with it. It's like, "Yeah, rock on. Go for it." Really, it was Pistorius' rise that got me thinking about cyborgs in a practical way, and the notion that, "Geez, this isn't Hollywood anymore. It's not Sci-Fi books anymore." Cyborgs are here and real and accelerating.

A lot of us at Invo wear different devices to track health data. It's only a matter of time before that becomes subdermal. That again is a cyborg aspect.

Jon on BIF10:

The very exciting Business Innovation Factory conference is celebrating their 10th anniversary, BIF10. Saul Kaplan runs that. He is a really generous person. He attracts a lot of terrific speakers, gets a lot of geniuses on stage talking about everything from neuroscience to building playgrounds for kids, charity playgrounds for kids. He just gets these incredible people from all walks of life, who are innovators and who find ways to solve problems that are unexpected and new and are effective. That in the nutshell is what Business Innovation Factory and the BIF conference is about.the_digital_life_podcast



Subscribe to The Digital Life on iTunes and never miss an episode.


Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we launch our new weekly format, with founder Dirk Knemeyer's return to the co-host chair.

We also take a little journey into the back story behind the data rich information visualization and Dirk's long form feature article, "The 10 Best Nations in World Cup History: 77 Teams Over 84 Years". The product of 200 hours of research into the World Cup soccer data, this is a comprehensive view of one of the most important sporting tournaments in the world.

Analyzing the history of the World Cup in order to propose the best teams in the tournament’s history was a major research project. In order to make sense of this 84 years of history, Dirk looked at it both quantitatively and qualitatively. From this work came two deliverables:

First, a rating graph that shows the ratings assigned to teams’ performance and provides you with various tools for not just looking at the data but experiencing the almost century of story undulating underneath.

Second are 10 essays on the nations chosen as the World Cup’s best-ever. They provide a high-level journey through the entirety of that nation’s World Cup history, including that nation’s aggregate statistics and choices for the “Starting XI” for each nation.

Enjoy the discussion about data crunching the World Cup. And stay tuned to The Digital Life's new weekly podcast on digital design, user experience, innovation, and data obsession. 

Subscribe to The Digital Life on iTunes and never miss an episode.

Recently on The Digital Life podcast, Involution's Jon Follett sat down with Creative Director Juhan Sonin to discuss the Health Axioms card deck and designing for behavior change.

The Health Axioms are 32 recommendations that put you in touch with habits to improve your health, life, and well-being. The sometimes surprising, always practical axioms nudge you toward the healthiest life possible. These are one small part of a global movement to shift the health care system to one of: non-invasive personal diagnostics, highly specialized clinicians that work closely with patients and their families, and self-monitoring, self-empowered patients. Getting there is equal parts smart technology, healthcare reform, and everyday common sense.

Sonin describes how personal experience launched his involvement in healthcare design and technology, when he realized that his health was not as perfect as he'd thought. Despite his own fascination with the latest gadget, however, he reminds us that simple behavior change still plays a vital part in our health. The Health Axioms "help people cut through the BS and focus on clear actionable advice that will hopefully have impact on how we interact with the healthcare system and our bodies. ... Each card has a single idea on it. One specific behavior that we should concentrate on like 'Move more,' or 'Get more sleep,' 'Take baby steps,' 'Exercise is medicine,' 'Food is medicine.'"

Juhan has distributed hundreds of decks nationally (and internationally) over the past few months and shares some of the feedback and ideas coming in, along with plans for the future (and a sneak peek at a few of the new card topics).

So, blend up that green smoothie, tie on your walking shoes, and listen while you move!

We're celebrating the 50th episode of Involution's podcast The Digital Life with a re-designed and re-imagined Web site — featuring complete transcripts of all the new episodes and back catalog and previous contributor search. The new Digital Life is live — ready to inform, entertain, and engage the digital design community worldwide.

The Digital Life online radio program — which made its debut in 2010 — explores important and pertinent topics in the world of digital design and technology. Co-hosted by Jon Follett, Principal of Involution Studios, and Erik Dahl, Involution’s Director of Design Strategy, the Digital Life explores a wide range of thought-provoking topics, from design for developing markets to the boundaries of digital privacy to the future of design education. The Digital Life began as the brainchild of Involution co-founder, Dirk Knemeyer, who, in 2010, saw a need for an online radio show covering the digital design world. In the current instantiation of the show, Dirk continues to bring his sharp and insightful commentary to the podcast, with The Human Factor segment, that focuses on the human element in digital design.

Over the past three years and 50 episodes, the guest list for The Digital Life has included industry luminaries like design entrepreneur and speaker Luke Wroblewski; Gamestorming and The Connected Company author Dave Gray; and Dragon Age Legends creator Soren Johnson. In the coming months, in addition to a releasing new episodes on topics like the Internet of Things and Experience Design for Emerging Technologies, the Digital Life will also revisit the archives, and transcribe previous interviews and discussions with leading designers, engineers, and thinkers. The Digital Life online radio show catalog currently features 50 in-depth discussions with a host of designers at the top of their fields.

Check out the new to listen, read, follow and subscribe.

The Digital Life Web Site Re-launch

The redesigned site's clean, easy-to use design, showcases contributors and allows visitors to directly follow guests featured in the show. The new format also offers visitors an in-depth summary of each show and provides transcriptions of each discussion.

As an experienced musician and occasional audio engineer, I was excited by the prospect of producing The Digital Life, a podcast on design and technology, which is sponsored by Involution Studios. Over nearly a year of production, we've learned a great deal about creating an online radio show. Every so often we get requests from friends of the show to describe how we go about generating the podcast. We're more than happy to share our knowledge, so, we thought we'd pull back the curtain today and reveal a few of our production methods.

When it comes to audio production, as with any digital craft, there are a probably a million ways to get to a desired endpoint. However, these tips that follow have been learned in the trenches. So, while we certainly won't have all the answers here, when it comes to producing a successful podcast, these techniques have been tested and refined. We've always been cognizant of the speed, cost effectiveness, and quality of the final product.

1. Get a great USB headset for your show participants
The old truism of garbage in, garbage out definitely holds sway in the realm of audio recording. It's absolutely critical to get the best audio input you can. At The Digital Life, we like both the Sennheiser and Logitech headphones for digital quality. When purchasing a headset, you should seriously consider those priced above $50.

2. Use an all digital workflow
I've been a musician for over 21 years, and when I think of the thousands of dollars I spent on recording equipment over that time period (now packed away in hard cases, collecting dust, thank you very much) it depresses me to no end. The equivalent of maybe 10 grand worth of recording equipment purchased in 1996 is now available as free pre-loaded software when you buy a Mac laptop. That software package, of course, is GarageBand, which gives you the ability to record and mix multi-track audio.

Since The Digital Life podcast features guests from all over the planet, we record all of our sessions via Skype, which allows for multiple participants in a digital conference call. Skype is far from perfect, and there have been plenty of times where the connection has dropped or the software has introduced digital burps and other glitches. But, considering that in Boston we can bring together people as far away as New York, Palo Alto, and Helsinki in the same call, I have no complaints.

We use WireTap Studio to capture that Skype audio call as a high sample rate digital recording and immediately import it into GarageBand for editing.

3. Clean things up
I spend a good deal of time listening to the audio from the Skype session and edit out the awkward pauses, various background noises (like soda cans opening, and cars passing by), and all the ummms, ahhs, and other verbal placeholders that we all inevitably use in conversation. You'll get a much smoother, more professional sounding podcast if you're willing to make a few cuts here and there.

4. Don't forget the music
We were lucky to have Ian Dorsch compose some fantastic music for our show segment intros. Never forget the emotional appeal of a musical piece to set the stage.

5. Master your audio and compress at the end
For the final touch, lately we've been using Peak Studio LE to master the audio and give it that hot, well produced sound. Without getting too much into the technical side, suffice it to say that mastering properly adjusts the EQ and brings the levels of the recording up to the loudness expected from a professional production. Lastly, we compress the podcast, creating an MP3 file for upload.

We've produced 35 episodes of The Digital Life so far, and are going strong. If you haven't tuned in lately, we invite you to check it out and let us know what you think.

On Tuesday, Involution Studios Creative Director, Juhan Sonin challenged infovis guru Edward Tufte to engage more fully in the discussion regarding our nation's greatest problems, including education, energy, finance, and health, among others, during a segment on The Digital Life podcast.

Edward Tufte was appointed by President Obama on March 5, 2010 to serve on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel as the board member tasked with clearly communicating to the American people how $787 billion dollars of Recovery Act funds is allocated and distributed. The was much celebrating at the announcement, in the national, business, and design press. So, nearly a year and a half after this illustrious appointment, what do we have?

The Recovery Independent Advisory Panel is responsible for, and the site's Recipient Reported Awards Map is indeed chock full of data regarding grants, loans, and contracts, mapped out on a state by state basis. But the interface is not in any way beautiful, elegant, or particularly usable, at least not in the way that you would expect from a Web site with Edward Tufte as its key infovis advisor. Which begs the question … what is the real public face of Tufte's offering to the national dialogue, if it's not, in fact, located at

A generation of designers has been highly influenced by Tufte's contributions to the field of information visualization, and his books and seminars are near legendary. Tufte has proven, without a doubt, that he is the greatest curator, analyst, and critic that the field of information visualization has to offer. But, as a craftsman, there is no single game changing design that Edward Tufte can point to, that has influenced our world in a positive and significant way.

In the field of industrial design and consumer electronics, Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive will be remembered for a bevy of achievements, from the iMac to the iPhone to the iPad; Dieter Rams will be remembered for the T 1000 world receiver and innumerable products for Braun. In the field of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright is remembered for the Guggenheim and Fallingwater. However, in the field of infovis we have nothing that approaches this level of design power yet, despite the fact that we live in an age and in a nation hungry for it. If Tufte is to find his place among the greatest design minds of the century, he will need to produce this visual language to help us, as a nation, grapple with the significant issues before us.

One of Tufte's great influencers is Charles Joseph Minard, whose graphical depiction of Napoleon's March, illustrating the attrition of troops during the Russian campaign of 1812, Tufte refers to as probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn. The Recovery Act is deserving of visualization, if not as good as this example, than at least better than what we have now.

Sonin's rant on The Digital Life was a challenge to one of his great design heroes to take up the gauntlet and help improve the state of understanding for Americans around our most pressing problems. We live in an era where we are deluged with data, but devoid of true comprehension: Good information visualization just might lend us just the clarity we need.

For the past 10 months, Involution Studios has been producing The Digital Life podcast on digital design and technology. We're proud to say today that we've achieved a significant milestone: Episode 30. The Digital Life has now reached adulthood and is stretching its legs.

What makes the podcast so special, and the reason why I'm proud to be a part of it, is our in depth panel discussions on topics as varied as technology for emerging markets, game design, mobile, and the future of digital music.

The Digital Life podcast has been graced by guests like design luminaries Andrei Herasimchuk, Aaron Marcus, Peter Merholz, Lou Rosenfeld and Luke Wroblewski; game creator heavyweights Brenda Brathwaite and Soren Johnson; and even the drummer for the band They Might Be Giants, Marty Beller.

 To commemorate our 30th episode, I've put together a list of our greatest hits; podcasts that were significant for their interesting conversations, guest personalities, or just because they seemed to capture the spirit of the digital life.

Personally, I've spent many late nights cutting up audio like a madman, worked endlessly to book guests, and recorded sessions praying fervently that Skype wouldn't throw in a digital burp at the wrong time. My head has been filled with The Digital Life for nearly a year, and I'm excited to see how far the podcast has come. This post would not be complete without a shout out to Dirk for his leadership, deft hosting abilities, and sharp and sometimes hilariously funny editorial sense.

I hope you enjoy this sample of our journey down the path paved by 0s and 1s. And, I invite you to come along for the ride. We're just getting started.

Welcome to Boston, Innovation City
In Episode 28, guests Greg Raiz, Michael Fitzgerald, Mike Kinkead and Tom Hopcroft joined us to discuss Boston as a hub of innovation: past, present and future.

Emotion and Design
Mobile design industry leader Kelly Goto of gotomedia discusses her experience and practice in the new realm of emotional design in this episode of The Digital Life.

Seeing the World Differently
Episode 23 was truly one of our greatest so far. Guests Joshua Kauffman and Niti Bhan had a free flowing conversation on technology and emerging markets that was both inspiring and enlightening. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the world doesn't end at our doorstep; this conversation was a great reminder of how important it is to have an understanding of the wide array of people in different circumstances that make up our ever shrinking planet.

Lorem Ipsum Should Just Go Away Now, Before Things Get Ugly
If you haven't experienced one of Juhan Sonin's rants, this episode is a good introduction. Juhan cares passionately about great design, and Lorem Ipsum needs to watch its back.

Best Game Design Panel Ever
In this episode of the Digital Life, Brenda Brathwaite and Soren Johnson get into the nitty gritty of the rapidly expanding and extremely popular world of social and Facebook game design.

Click here for more blog posts!