Encouragement of Pretotyping: Approach to human-centric development

(This artcile is a tranlatied version of Nikkei Sangyou News Artcile on 5/31/2013)

Just about a year ago, I was in a restaurant in Palo Alto with Professor Toshiro Kita at Doshisha University of Graduate School of Business, who was then staying in San Francisco. We were debating the following questions over a glass of beer: Aren’t Japanese companies creating goods and services in a wrong way? Have they stopped providing “human-centric” products and services known for meticulous care in every detail although it has been considered Japanese companies’ specialty?

Alberto Savoia, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is advocating “pretotyping” as innovative design techniques for goods and services. It’s not “prototyping,” which means building a functional prototype to collect customer feedback before “it” is actually produced. Pretotyping, on the other hand, is about conducting customer-oriented design to minimize production efforts as much as possible. According to Alberto, he coined this term by combining “Pretend” with “Typing” in November 2009. Now that this term has become widely known, a search engine will no longer give you likely correct spellings when you type in “pretotyping.” In this new “pretotyping” approach, you should “make sure you are building the right ‘it’ before you build it right” by pretending to already have “it” so that you can determine if customers will want it. Hereinafter in this article, any reference to “it” refers to goods and services. 

A couple of successful examples better explain what pretotyping is. Let me share with you a fascinating anecdote on the “human-centric” design of the Palm Pilot in 1996 by Jeff Hawkins, Palm’s co-founder. Hawkins’ previous attempt to launch a mobile terminal failed in late 1980’s. The product was technologically original but a commercial failure. It was too big and did not look sophisticated. Several years later, he developed a pretotype of a new mobile phone. It was a pocket-sized block of wood wrapped with paper on which he printed images of a calendar and memo. Every day he carried “it” around with him in his pocket, pretending it was working. From time to time, he pulled it out from his pocket and pretended to record some plans on the calendar, checking its button configuration and display. He built a prototype of the terminal after he had become confident that “it” was going to be an innovative product. As he had predicted, it turned out to be a hit as a cool multi-functional electronic organizer. I believe that smartphones today trace their roots back to this Palm Pilot.

I was so excited about Alberto’s pretotyping story, and I have become a pretotype evangelist accredited by Alberto. Whenever people come to me with a development proposal, I always ask them these three questions: 1. Do they want “it”?  2. Can we build “it”?  3. Can we make money through “it”?

We too often get trapped here, thinking of these questions in reverse order from 3 to 1. Engineers, including myself, are particularly prone to this type of error. We start making a product or service after thinking about question 2 most seriously while giving some thought to the limitation raised by question 3; the most important question 1 is usually left on a back burner.

Can anyone expect to innovative “it” only through questionnaires or interviews with hundreds of people? Aren’t we “decorating” our products with “differentiating features” only by looking at our competition instead of customers? My belief is that we are able to build human-centric “it” only after pondering over question 1.

Behind the pretotyping techniques exist serious attitudes of developers. Before starting making new products or services, developers think through the question: Do customers want “it”? Persons in charge of development try to get to the core of the question: How will building “it” change the lives of people? What they are doing is exactly pretotyping and serious search. This can be an answer to help achieve what Professor Kita desires - “human-centric development.”


Wine Loving in Milan

Last week, I stopped over Milan for en extra business on the way back from Barcelona to Tokyo.
This is my memo for further chances to stay in Milan for loving wines.
Before going to the restaurant with my business friends, I wen to

Bottega dell'arte e del vino

to buy Italian wines. 

I bought Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 2005, Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 2007 and other two bottles. For me, Italian wine is mystery. This is because there are several Barolo or  Barbresco wines though, those tastes don't have commonality under the same brand.  I hope that Barolo outperforms other Italian wines at the next wine tasting party.
After the wines shop, I visited 


for socialization. Good wines were served in the following order:
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 85% - Cabernet-Sauvignon 15%

The perfect night it was.


Cloud Design Pattern

Reading AWS Cloud Design Pattern (CDP)  is completed.
(JP version is also available here)

The article, Cloud Design Patterns (CDP),  shows me "A programmer gets another power of programming  over dynamic system configuration."  PaaS has opened a new vista,  where cloud  enables programmable data center configuration.


Wannabe Cross Country Cyclist (over Kamakura Alps :-)

Between Kamakura and Yokohama, there is a small trail called "Beetles Trail." I don't know why it's called "Beetles" though, it has been a well-known path ridge which divided two provinces, Musashi and Sagami from 7th century to 19th century. It still exists as a hiking route from Yokohama to Kamakura, and  seems very popular for hikers and train runners.
This afternoon, I pulled out my MTB(2003 Specialized Stumpjumper M4, which I love in its light weight  with rim brakes)  from the storage box (SERFAS Bike Case) and composed it (which takes 10 min always ;-|) , so as to hit the trail. I still want to be a XCer
(Cross Country Cyclist) , even though I have to carry the bike in a steep slope on my shoulder.
It was a nice winter day for a short riding to go Kamakura from hills.

A trail map, which is unfortunately written in Japanese, is linked here.


Commuting to my office (Osaka-Kyoto, in 1998)

I dig out my old pictures taken when I was living in Osaka, My home was located among Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. I was commuting from my home in Osaka to my office in Kyoto via Nara. That was a kind of Inter-Prefecture Commuting Cyclist. The above route map shows the  distance and elevation gain, which are  about 12.3km and 280m respectively. Those days,I really enjoyed my daily workout with my bicycle which I still own here Yokohama. The picture below was taken during hill-climbing to Nara.

I was still young at that time for climbing the mountain every single morning.
Cateye Daylite (with two wide and spot halogen lights) was equipped for night riding to return to my home.
Those are of my precious old memories.


Re-engineering backhaul to solve mobile data puzzle

I attended PTC'13 to discuss this topic:

Is the Future of Telcos Mobile or Untethered?"

Here is a good summary of my perspective about the WiFi and LTE-Advanced backhaul issue. See  the article of Petroc Wilton  or below (thanks to Petroc Wilton)

A fresh look at mobile backhaul could be key for operators to cost-effectively keep pace with the mobile data boom, according to a panel at PTC’13. But that could mean some very different approaches to engineering – and even a fresh look at relationships with competitors. Industry consultant Norman Fekrat and NTT DoCoMo R&D MD Dr. Minoru Etoh agreed that Wi-Fi offloading, while easing some of the mobile data load, wasn’t a universally optimal solution. Etoh built on his recent arguments in favour of small cell deployments – but such deployments have implications at the backhaul layer. “Your chance exists in backhaul connections, and last-mile connections using WiMax or wireless connections,” he suggested, for the benefits of operators with both fixed and mobile assets. “Mobile broadband needs to be re-engineered for internet-type economics; the mobile platforms out there, the cell sites, the backhaul needs to be just done over the internet,” added Fekrat, who argued that the economics of wireless should be brought as far as possible in line with those of wireline systems.
“There are some initiatives going on in the industry that are pushing the mobile packet core all the way out to an enterprise small cell, where you connect to the small cell through your mobile connection but all the backhaul’s just done over the enterprise LAN and over the internet. So I think you’re going to see some very creative solutions
that are going to bridge the gap between traditional mobility and some other Wi-Fi offloading mechanisms today to drive profitability.” “The reason why untethered and Wi-Fi exists is really because backhaul is so expensive,” he continued. “And I know this changes in different geographies, but from my perspective, the reason why you connect on a Wi-Fi network and the carriers want you to is because you’re on the internet; you’re not on the carrier mobile packet core network. So once a mobile network operator can create a small cell, or a cell site, where that backhauls over the internet, then you get to a quality of economics. I would suggest or recommend that should be something that should be looked at from an industry perspective.” “To have small cells, maybe 10 or 50m cell sizes, in very high density areas, backhaul [is becoming] a more and more important area to solve,” agreed Etoh. “So the real winner could be real estate companies!”