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Stories [What's capturing my attention these days across design, strategy, innovation and beyond]

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It's no secret I'm a bit of a doodle obsessive. Also I love rules. And games. So Conditional Design is all up in my venn diagram. According to the founders, it's a "design method in which conditions and rules of play are drawn up that invite cooperation within a ‘regulated’ process towards and unpredictable design or result." 


Essentially, it's a series of group drawing principals/exercises/explorations that results in amazing line works.

Hard to describe; amazing to witness.

It appears they've since disbanded and the workbook is sadly no longer available. Le sigh. Anyone want to mail me a spare copy? But the link includes screenshots of several activities, which could easily be translated into a zoom-whiteboard as a group warmup.

*Shoutout to Karishma Sheth for sharing this gem!

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Always one of the best and most prescient innovation roundups, ​this year's trends feel less philosophical and more blisteringly alive in crazy ol' 2020.

As a time-saver, I'm including a recap with some bits that jumped out to me:

  1. Collective Displacement, AKA 2020 sucked

    • "By September, for the first time since the Great Depression, the majority (52%) of young American adults were living with their parents"​ - we see you, childhood bedroom Zoom backgrounds

    • "In the US, 60% of Yelp businesses that closed during the pandemic are not expected not to reopen" - join me in praying this does not apply to Kashkaval Garden, an all-time NYC favorite

    • "Shopping has become atomized into many micro-moments spread throughout the day and across devices. We expect to see commerce shift from being centered around a destination (whether that’s a store, a website, an app) to hanging on moments." - get your adds off my TikTok feed

  2. Do It Yourself Innovation, AKA give a man an innovation and he innovates for a day; teach a man to innovation and he innovates for a lifetime while you monetize it

    • "According to the UK’s Centre for Entrepreneurs, almost 50% more businesses were created in June 2020 compared with the same month in 2019, and a record 81,000 businesses were registered in July"

    • "As part of their drive to start thinking of people as cocreators, brands will need to reframe their own role in the relationship from sole fixer with all the answers to collaborative enabler. They’ll need to think of cocreation not just as part of the design process but as an output that enables people to shape technology around their goals."

  3. Sweet Teams are Made of This, AKA 2020 sucked for working

  4. Interaction Wanderlust, AKA if i'm staring at a screen all day at least make it a fun screen

    • I appreciate the directive to think how UX can surprise and delight, but we've all also experienced the 0-to-10 frustration elevation when a website doesn't make it clear where to click​. A super tricky balance, but eager to see how innovators can continue to push it.

  5. Liquid Infrastructure, AKA Pandemic --> urbanites flee to less populated areas --> expectations for immediate delivery penetrate rural America --> supply chains struggle to scale --> we continue our unavoidable march towards becoming the United States of Amazon. ​

    • " 'Liquid expectations', which is when an exceptional experience raises customers’ expectations of all others...has expanded to include the fact that people want the same immediate gratification and delight from a delivery experience that they took for granted in store — no matter where they are. Largely, they’re being disappointed"

  6. Empathy Challenge, AKA 2020 sucked but REALLY sucked for women, BiPOC and low-income people.

    • “The new reality is that Covid has accelerated and increased the digital divide. We are in a new kind of apartheid, a digital apartheid. It’s more than a divide. People are excluded and don’t have access in Brazil, in Latin America, in Africa.” - and let's not forget rural America. If your town has one internet provider and it goes down for a week, there goes your online business.

    • "80% of the 1.1 million workers who dropped out of the US workforce in September were women"

    • "Over the years, Design Thinking has unintentionally made empathy seem like something easily ticked off a list, by equating it with listening. Yet empathy is not just listening and nor is it a one-off exercise. Empathy is a way of behaving."

  7. Rituals Lost and Found, AKA 2020 sucked but presents opportunities to reinvent the status quo​​

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A 4-minute exploration of smart design being, like, dumb.

Brilliantly produced by ThingTank, an "IOT research project", it extracts some incredibly prescient observations:

  • Just because you can solve a problem with technology, should you?

  • Product design without human-centered research yields technical solutions and not human-centered ones

  • Our species has spent hundreds of years trying to figure out how to sustainably change human behavior -- buzzing and pinging is not the cure we've been waiting for.

  • Everything looks better in neon chartreuse.

*Thank you to our IDEO friends for sharing this!

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This tab loitered in my browser for about 4 months because, frankly, who has time for a 90-page PDF?

I can happily report, however, there's like 40 words per page and many blanks; it ultimately takes ~30 min to sift through cover-to-cover. And is VERY worth the read, if you do any facilitation, brainstorming, or sprinting in your role.


While nothing here is groundbreaking, AJ&Smart do a stellar job distilling the key components and moments. Even for experienced facilitators, the roadmap is a great gut-check for whether your workshops are doing what they need to be doing and how they could be simplified.

A quick recap, which can be applied to any client or team issue:

  1. COLLECT: Individually brainstorm what's working and what's not on post-its. Work "together, alone", allowing each person heads-down time and anonymous share-out to ensure you avoid meandering conversations dominated by a few voices.

  2. CHOOSE: Individually dot-vote the most pressing issues. Each person can use their dots however they want (vote for their own, add multiple dots to one issue), but must use them all. After, re-sort the prioritized issues and trash those with no votes. Align on the top issue, rephrasing it as a positive "how might we" opportunity statement.

  3. CREATE: Individually brainstorm as many solutions to chosen issue as possible (push to get +20 each). Have each person post their ~10 favorite ideas on board; have facilitator (and only facilitator) remove duplicates. ​Repeat dot vote activity and rearrange prioritized solutions.

  4. COMMIT: Collectively plot top solutions on an Impact-Effort 2x2 matrix. Your high-impact, low-efforts represent your DO-NOWs to solve today (high impact-high efforts are long-term projects to be delegated to someone present, which can also be done with low-impact, low-efforts). Take each DO-NOW solution and design a 2 week experiment - who is responsible, what actions will they take, which success criteria will you measure.

  5. CELEBRATE: I added this one. But YAY! You did it

Plus, AJ&Smart created a Spotify playlist of thinking tunes.  My teams have spent tens of minutes debating what music is the right mix of energizing and meditative, so will definitely be outsourcing to this in the future.


When I was lucky enough to attend the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town, Studio Drift was an absolute standout. Their probing observations of nature and society are brought to life as living sculptures with the use of advance engineering.

Their first iteration of Fragile Future was the Dandelight, in which they painstakingly applied real dandelion seeds to an LED. The result was something at once delicate and reinforced, "a poetic composition making a statement against throwaway culture."

Since then, they've adapted their incredibly time-intensive Dandelight process to large-scale bronze electrical circuit-slash-chandelier installations. At once organic and technical, its modular construction has the ability to scale endlessly, just like the weed itself.

Highly recommend you watch the linked video and explore their WORK page. Studio Drift's execution is jaw-dropping, each project harder to believe than the last.​

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I've always been hesitant to journal and skeptical of  "reflection exercises". Possibly because I'm a cynic. Possibly because I'm lazy. Who can say?

But SYP's year-end reflection book mailed to each employee was so thoughtfully curated and beautifully laid out, I loved going through it and I'm stoked they made it available to anyone looking for a vehicle for a year-in-review (yes, even in 2020).


Although it doesn't feature all the special gifts and goodies that SYP included (with timed opening instructions), it's a great afternoon-filler if you're lucky enough to be able to visit family this year (and want to avoid them).

Also wanted to link our 2020 Posted, a compendium of thought leadership on design and strategy published by SYPeas this year.


SURVIVOR (CBS and streaming)

I've spent two full decades rolling my eyes at Survivor. How have there been so many seasons? Why does Jeff Probst have so many Emmys? What's a Parvati?

Cut to a pandemic and suddenly 40 seasons of television aren't sounding so daunting. Throw in some gentle encouragement from Las Culturistas podcast (another recommendation) and suddenly inhaling seasons faster than Cheese-Its.

I'm not going to wax philosophical about why I became obsessed, but trust that the format is incredibly satisfying for binge watching while trapped in your home.

There is no need to watch chronologically, so here's my current top 5 seasons for those wondering where to start:

  1. Season 28: Cagayan
    [Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix]

  2. Season 31: Cambodia - Second Chance

  3. Season 40: Winners at War
    [CBS All Access...or try 123Movies.Gallery I mean just kidding this blog does not condone illegal streaming]

  4. Survivor 34: Game Changers

  5. Season 20: Heroes vs. Villains
    [Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix]



2020 was the year I finally turned off Rachel Maddow ( least some days) and started​ casting some escapism.

It was a rough year. We all need to laugh. And this podcast consistently delivers.

I never had any strong feelings about Conan, but his wit is so lightning fast, it's amazing overhearing him spar with some of our funniest people.

For a starting place, last week's interview with Matthew Rhys--who is also secret hilarious--was a delight. Then go back into the archives and enjoy chats with Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, Ali Wong, Hillary Clinton, and more.


HIDE N SEEK (by Cehryl)

A true Spotify Discover Weekly find, I knew next to nothing about this Hong Kong-based artist until this bop popped up. Great indie feel, engaging guitar work, solid retro beat. Excited to learn more.


I AM HUNGRY (by Grace McLean, sung by Ashley Perez Flanagan, Rachel Duddy, Hannah Whitney)

I know musical theater is not everyone's cuppa tea. And, frankly, since I stopped performing it has not been mine either. I find it really hard to engage these days; everything feels super derivative and self-serious.


But I was lucky enough to see this show at Lincoln Center last summer, when theater still existed, and it blew. me. a. way. I worked with Grace in my last show as a performer (#Bedbugs), and knew her to be an unreal vocalist and blistering star of brilliance. Still, I was not prepared for this. 

Only Grace could take an obscure story about an 11th century mystic and transform it into a visceral meditation on collective trauma. Have been eagerly awaiting the cast recording ever since.

If musical theater still isn't your thing, just listen to this track for Ashely Perez Flanagan's vocals. Is she even human? WTF. 


This past quarter has not been my most prolific, but did crank out a few new pieces and try some new techniques that made me smile. ​

Follow the full collection on
Instagram at barry.doodles

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