Dustin Curtis

Villain.

Page 3


Tide’s Brand

For a demonstration of the important relationship between brand and product quality, look no further than Tide detergent, as profiled in this New York Magazine piece by Ben Paynter:

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30 percent...

Continue reading →


Photography’s Third Act

When personal photography was first becoming popular, it was mostly used for experimentation and artistic expression, like portraiture. Over time, as costs decreased and fidelity increased, photos gained a second function: they became a system for people to store their memories. And only very recently have we begun to experience the third major function of photography, and I think it’s far more important than the other two: photos for individual communication.

Before Instagram launched, there was a huge ecosystem of photo sharing apps that were trying to capitalize on the sudden convergence of mobile phones and cameras. Some friends of mine were working on one of them, an app called Treehouse. It was shut down long ago, after Instagram suddenly sucked up the entire photo sharing market, but the first prototype captured something magical about photos that nothing has been able to...

Continue reading →


Product Performances

A few months ago, the mute half of the famous magic duo Penn & Teller published an article in Smithsonian Magazine describing seven principles that drive the development of his magic tricks. One of them, “Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth,” instantly resonated with me as a designer and engineer. Teller:

You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment...

Continue reading →


The Best

When I got back to San Francisco after a three month trip to Southeast Asia last year, I had no possessions. I was living out of hotels. Everything I carried had to fit into a backpack, so I spent the time to carefully research and buy only the very best of each individual item I was carrying. The best towel. The best pen and notebook. The best headlamp. The best headphones. The best wallet. Everything I owned had been carefully designed by a person who cared deeply about the problem being solved.

An interesting side effect, which I hadn’t anticipated, was that I developed a blind trust in the things I used. I trusted my lamp to be bright enough to light up the wheel well of a truck when its tire went flat, and it was. I trusted my wallet to hold cash, boarding passes, and IDs without deforming or falling apart, and it did. I trusted that my towel would dry quickly, because it...

Continue reading →


Do.

Wake up early. Show up. Learn how to think. Be genuine, but appear nice. Use envy for motivation instead of destruction. Do what you say you’re going to do. Ensure balance in every area of your life. Confront repressed thoughts immediately. Surround yourself with people who are better than you (but remember the thing about envy). Work out every day. Be good at what you do. Make money doing what you love. Have good friends. Never settle.

This is my personal recipe for happiness and success.

Continue reading →


The Waiting Place

Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodore Geisel. He used the pseudonym “Seuss”–his middle name–because he was waiting until he possessed the talent and experience necessary to write, as he put it, “the next great American novel.” That novel never materialized, but Geisel spent his life writing the most popular and significant children’s books in history. It would be hard to call his career anything but an incredible success. But he was always waiting. He was waiting for himself to become a “serious” writer, which he would never become.

The last book Geisel published was a fittingly serious story about the peaks and valleys of life called Oh, The Places You’ll Go! It is perhaps his Greatest book, but I hadn’t read it until a few months ago. In the months since, one part of the book has stuck with me, festering in the...

Continue reading →


The Fight

A couple of months ago, I received a text message that hit me like a brick. It said that one of my closest friends, who is in his early twenties and in perfect health, suddenly went into cardiac arrest while running at the gym. I knew what that meant; outside of the hospital, cardiac arrest is almost universally fatal; only about 5% of people even make it to the hospital alive, and fewer than half of those survivors leave with good neurological function. I fell into my chair. Shock.

A bystander who had witnessed the event immediately started flawless CPR, an ambulance was called and arrived quickly, and my friend was defibrillated until his heart began beating properly again. He arrived at a trauma center within minutes. Everything had gone as well as it possibly could have. He was alive, and in generally good condition, but he didn’t wake up. Cardiac arrest-induced coma. A bad...

Continue reading →


4 Inches

A few months ago, in an article called 3.5 Inches, I wrote that the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen was the perfect size for human thumb reach. Now that the iPhone 5 has been released with its larger 4-inch screen, I think it’s time to re-evaluate the issue.

iphone_5_comparison.png

After using the iPhone 5 for more than a week, I stand by my original thoughts: four inches is too big for my thumb to comfortably reach to all areas of the screen while holding the phone one-handed. In my left hand, it’s just a little bit too uncomfortable to reach the far upper right corner of the screen, especially in situations where I need to touch the “cancel” or “add new item” button. This is especially obvious when entering an address in Safari or Maps while walking down the street. Or when trying to touch the “next message” down arrow in Mail. Or when adding an event to...

Continue reading →


Life is too short to be a boring company

Groupon’s S-1 filing included a letter from its CEO, Andrew Mason, that I somehow missed the first time around. It contained this awesome gem:

We want the time people spend with Groupon to be memorable. Life is too short to be a boring company. Whether it’s with a deal for something unusual, such as fire dancing classes, or a marketing campaign such as Grouspawn, we seek to create experiences for our customers that make today different enough from yesterday to justify getting out of bed. […]

We believe that when once-great companies fall, they don’t lose to competitors, they lose to themselves—and that happens when they stop focusing on making people happy. As such, we do not intend to be reactive to competitors. We will watch them, but we won’t distract ourselves with decisions that aren’t designed primarily to make our customers and merchants...

Continue reading →


Black Widow

Twitter has an enormous advantage over Facebook in one key area: while people on Facebook tend to friend their friends, people on Twitter tend to follow their interests. The social graph that makes up Twitter is worth far more on a per-account basis because it is directly monetizable in a way that Facebook’s generally isn’t – you can show prophylactic advertisements to Twitter users based solely on the people they follow, and probably get a much higher rate of interest. Compared to other social display ads, Twitter ads, it is rumored, work extremely well.

Outside of the direct value from its graph, Twitter is in an extremely unusual position for a social service. While it is ostensibly a sharing service, it is actually a broadcasting medium. People use Twitter more like they use TV; they follow accounts they are interested in, namely celebrities and companies, and...

Continue reading →