The rise of e-books and reading on digital devices has changed every part on the publishing production chain, affecting everyone from the editors, to the designers, to the marketing and sales people. Editors are spending more time on acquiring books and less time working on manuscripts. Designers become more flexible and strategic: they need to make sure a book won’t be ignored by skimmers who only glance at thumbnails on websites, and must ensure that texts are well-laid-out for reading on many kinds of mobile devices. But they’re not who need to change most. It’s the marketing and sales people who face an ever-more-challenging job.
Baidu, China’s largest internet search engine, is having a hard time after a college student named Wei Zexi died after mistaking an advertisement on Baidu for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information. Baidu was then accused of being “unethical”, failing to clearly delineate paid advertisements from search results. Months later, the Nasdaq listed company reported its worst quarterly earnings. With the increased competition from domestic players like Tencent and Alibaba and the downward pressure on online advertising, which contributes to over 90% of Baidu’s revenue, it is crucial for Baidu to diversify its business.
China is keen to deploy self-driving cars for the same reasons as everyone else is: Autonomous vehicles may significantly improve traffic and environmental conditions. According to research figures, widespread adoption of automated vehicles could reduce automobiles on city streets by 60%, vehicle emissions by 80% and traffic accidents by 90%. While the West has superior technology, its governments lack the authority to swiftly implement massive infrastructure projects. Some experts believe Beijing’s top-down control capabilities could even give China an edge over the US and Europe in the race to develop self-driving cars.
One of the topics favored most by Chinese tech people is which city, or region, in China will become the next “Silicon Valley”. While observers have not gotten bored of guessing which one will be the next “unicorn” company, those who are really in startup companies have realized the fact that the China startup scene has peaked: many companies have died, using up the money given by investors but keeping no loyal users at all. Read our story about China’s startup bubbles and find how these bubbles, blown up by ambitious yet empty ideas, business plans and investors’ ignorance, finally fall and burst.
When was the last time you listened to music on an actual CD? Or read the day’s headlines in a physical newspaper? Chances are it has been years. Digital technology has replaced a lot of things in our lives. According to media futurist Robert Tercek, going forward we’ll see more of ‘vaporization’, a term he has coined to refer to the process of replacing physical things with software that can be downloaded to any device. In this interview, Tercek, the former President of Digital Media at The Oprah Winfrey Network and author of the book Vaporized, talks about how software is disrupting society.
In recent years, globalization has lifted billions of people out of poverty and created vast wealth, but has also spawned hyper-competitive markets that make a secure niche ever more difficult to find. Everyone from cabbies to multinational businesses find it’s harder and harder to maintain an edge. Meanwhile, in the world’s younger economies, particularly China, companies face another challenge: unlike Westerners who grew up loyal to particular brands, Chinese consumers did not have that; and as markets consolidate, consumers are selecting a few favorites. So how should companies deal with these new trends?
Unlike technology, design seldom follows a neat curve. When it comes to questions of style, it’s hard to chart steady improvements. At the moment, however, design does seem likely to become an even more powerful business driver—provided it isn’t undone by its own popularity. In a number of sectors, executives are becoming more and more aware that smart design can be a shortcut to competitive advantage. The growth of Starbucks and the rise of Apple are two stories about the power of good design, but a number of industries have been similarly transformed by an idea that was less technically novel than packaged in a more appealing way.
Economists and business strategists have long noticed that industries tend to converge on just a few places. Milan for fashion, London for finance, Silicon Valley for technology—for any given sector, there are usually one or two points on which the whole world revolves. Over the past few decades, this insight has led many policymakers to try to nurture not just individual companies but a whole ecosystem—a cluster—around a single industry. When does a cluster strategy work to spur innovation and when does it backfire? Should creative clusters be engineered by governments or should they be allowed to evolve and flourish on their own?
A number of businesses have made remarkable gains by integrating design thinking into their development process—not the least of which was Hovey-Kelley, which morphed in the early ’90s into IDEO, the international design giant. Some universities are even beginning to include a mandatory course in design thinking in the general curriculum. Some corporate strategy experts argue that design thinking is nearing the kind of inflection point that the Quality movement reached in the late 1980s, when the total quality methodology became an inescapable part of doing business. Yet some critics are saying design thinking is dead. But the truth is its value lies in the worldview it propagates.
Once upon a time, design was a coat of paint on the locomotive of the real economy. Today, value depends less on oil, steel and sweat, and more on how a product looks, runs and, most importantly, makes the consumer feel. In this series, we look first at the factors that have made design a prime economic force; next, at how executives have learned to create value by training the entire company to think like designers; then at ways in which cities are seeking competitive advantage with design; and finally, at how design itself is changing—and what those changes will mean to the way we work and live.