4 takeaways from GigaOM RoadMap 2012

1Executive Summary

The focus of this year’s GigaOM RoadMap Conference was on design and the user interface, and how those are critical to succeeding in a connected world. Talks and panels at the conference gave ample time to entrepreneurs that built their projects with great design in mind from day one. Such speakers included everyone from Apple’s Chief Architect Tony Fadell, who founded smart-thermostat maker Nest, to Airbnb’s Joe Gebbi, who leveraged his skills from the Rhode Island School of Design into building the leading peer-to-peer vacation sharing site in the world.

During workshops, attendees took time to consider important strategic issues, from what UIs will look like after Siri to where the IPO market is today and how it could affect early-stage companies. We’ve gathered some of the key takeaways from these sessions and other parts of GigaOM RoadMap to provide a brief analysis on how companies and devices will best connect with users in the future.

1. Great UIs go unseen. During a discussion of future technologies like specialized eyeglasses and connected-health devices, Yves Behar, the man behind Jawbone and design firm Fuseproject, noted that, “we need to find ways to put these devices on people’s bodies in ways [that] they just forget about them. You probably don’t realize you have your eyeglasses on right now. That’s how technology should feel. Particularly in a world where technology is trying to get attention.”

This theme of simplicity and the ability to create beautifully designed products that were also very useful was a key part of the day. During GigaOM Pro’s Mapping Session, “Next-generation UIs: What comes after Siri?” analysts and attendees noted that the sheer ambition of Siri to both accept voice commands and respond to them has created a next-generation interface that feels very noticeable. Issues around future UI technologies were also examined, including neurally connected devices like electroencephalogram (EEG) headbands to the need for better visualization of big data in a world where charts and graphs were no longer cutting it as forms of data communication.

2. Retail becomes an experience. George Blankenship, the man who designed Apple’s retail experience and now heads Tesla’s, explained that that products not requiring customer education to understand the product will move online, while those that are interactive will take up more retail space. Tesla is executing this strategy by positioning its “stores” in malls. The company doesn’t sell cars there but allows customers to come in and learn about how a Tesla sedan is designed. This is Tesla’s own unique spin on connected design — inviting the consumer to consider all the intricate aspects of designing a great product in the hopes they come back to the store again.

3. The IPO market shows signs of life amid high hopes for secondary markets. E*Trade sponsored a workshop that included GigaOM Pro analyst Kris Tuttle and others examining “capital-raising trends.” October saw 23 IPOs (the number would have been 26 if it weren’t for Hurricane Sandy), one of the best months on record in what appears to be a moderately improving IPO market. Analysts agreed that in a post-Facebook, post-Groupon world, buy-side investors are scrutinizing IPOs more closely. The poorer deals will face a more difficult time finding capital in the market.

The workshop took time to consider the ongoing transformation of capital markets when Jeff Thomas from SecondMarket joined the panel to discuss the future potential of trading in securities pre-IPO. It was noted that at places like Facebook, many shareholders had managed to exit prior to the IPO amid a more liquid private market. With crowdfunding sites like Angellist to EquityNet on the rise, and with the JOBS Act allowing startups to solicit investments from accredited investors online, there will no doubt be a push for greater liquidity earlier in the investment process.

Will we need public markets as much as we once did? Surely they’ll be necessary for big exits, but increasingly we may expect less risk from those IPOs, which would need to include better research about those companies pre-IPO. The only way to protect investors is to give them better information about what they’re buying.

4. Companies shift from hierarchy to heteroarchy. The pre-lunch talk from Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda was an exploration of the two key tenets behind design: form and content. From there Maeda addressed a larger issue for creative professionals at this time, which is how to lead creative organizations when it’s becoming clear that a hierarchical management style is not only outdated but impossible in a world of free-flowing information.

Maeda suggested that, as our access to data increases, we will need organizational networks that give space to those with good data and good design to take leadership roles amid a less-stringent management structure. In the end, that should benefit folks like Maeda who sit at the top of big organizations and are ultimately held accountable.

With an emphasis on the companies that are changing how we connect through next generation design, GigaOM RoadMap 2012 was an exploration of how to execute great ideas, but in a way that makes it easy and digestible for end users. And there was no better way to do that than to sit down with the leading entrepreneurs who are doing just that.

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Adam Lesser

Cleantech Curator Gigaom Research

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