We return to ARGNet’s coverage of PICNIC 2010 with more coverage from day one of the conference, themed “Redesigning Design.” The first speaker of the afternoon section, Tim Kobe, is founding partner of Eight Inc., referenced as “8_” throughout the presentation (and for the rest of this article). 8_ is a combination of many different things, all rolled into one company: design agency, architectural firm and “collaborative design innovation studio.”

Their output, so to speak, is design for both residential environments, products, and commercial buildings and spaces. One of 8_’s most famous projects was developing the architecture and design for the Apple Retail Stores. According to Kobe, 8_’s goal is to find strategies to design for brands to engage the consumer.

Kobe’s presentation was titled “Making Design Real,” but mainly served as a showcase for what 8_ does, starting off with a clip from Men in Black where several applicants for a position at the MiB need to fill out a questionnaire while sitting in egg-shaped chairs. Kobe followed the clip with a quote by Charles Eames: “The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the design problem.” In Kobe’s own words, design is equal to serving a certain purpose as best as possible.

_8 works with clients like Apple, Citibank, Coach, Gap, HP, Nike, and Swatch and embrace the fact that they make things (even though they are not fabricators), preferably things that change the way people think, feel, and act. They pride themselves in building “irrational loyalty” as Kobe calls it. And why do they have that opportunity? Because, apparently, 80% of production companies think that their product is differentiated in its market, while only 8% of the consumers agree. Kobe notes that 50% of all purchases are done based on word of mouth, and 80% of word of mouth is generated by direct experience.

The example of the Apple Stores is indeed one of their biggest success stories: 8_ was asked by Apple to create a retail experience for Apple’s products and when the stores started opening, Bloomberg predicted that it would fail miserably within two years. Currently, Bloomberg reports that Apple is the highest grossing retailer in history, selling “a Mercedes Benz per square foot” in their store on 5th Avenue in New York. The 5th Avenue location is reportedly the fifth most photographed landmark in NYC.

8_’s design is about creating things that focus on evoking feelings, ranging from the design of the Two Rooms Bar in Japan to the Malama Learning Center in Hawaii, an educational center that aims to teach high school students about sustainability and educate them about endangered species. The building itself is built in conformity of all the latest sustainability standards and immersed into the landscape to give it very “green” characteristics.

Another project was that of redesigning Citibank in Japan: not only did 8_ design a new building, they incorporated enhancements to the work and customer experience into the design, which contributed to Citibank winning the #1 rank in customer satisfaction in Japan (up from last year’s #57 position).

Kobe’s presentation was followed by one titled Meet Your Maker by Matthew Stinchcomb, European director of Etsy.com, who talked about Etsy’s goal of sustaining a global community of people who make, buy, and sell handmade products. Etsy aims to connect customers and interested visitors with the creators of the products they buy.

Next up was John B. Rogers (Jay for short) from Local Motors, a car company that strives to change the way cars are designed and produced. Rogers is a third generation car-maker and has been putting a lot of thought into why the car industry has hardly changed over the past decades. Other industries spawned innovation at unprecedented levels: for instance, companies like Ryanair and Virgin America have changed the way we fly. So why has the way automobiles are produced not changed?

Local Motors’ solution is to crowdsource its design. Rogers says he actually thinks crowdsourcing is an ugly name, as they don’t “take the ideas” as much as they facilitate co-creation. Local Motors is a community of designers, engineers and enthusiasts who work on projects together. In the chicken-egg analogy: once the egg is co-created, you get an open-source chicken. One of their first projects originated as follows:

Arizonans had a dilemma: if they wanted to go out and enjoy nature and drive around in the desert, the only types of vehicle really suitable for that purpose are two-miles-to-the-gallon monster machines. Pondering how to break through this dilemma, Local Motors asked the community what they thought a good car would look like and what features it should possess. A group of people came up with a co-created design, and LM made this design available as open source.

Customers can come in and help build their own car at LM. They now have over 67,000 different designs on their website right now. The old thinking is “we can’t have ’em, they are too hard or too expensive to build,” but this, says Rogers, is bullshit. He found, after looking at what happened at LM, that complexity doesn’t have an effect on the number of people contributing. Even the amount of money offered as a prize doesn’t seem to have a large influence. People participate because they care and are involved, not because of the reward or because it’s made easy for them.

Rogers argues that automotive designers don’t go to school to just to get a job, but because they are passionate about designing cars. LM offers them a different opportunity. They’re also tapping into the DIY movement, which is an important sub-culture when it comes to cars and car maintenance. LM consists of a tiny factory that cost $250,000 (versus the $2.5B Nissan poured into their new production plant in Tennessee) with a relatively small number of employees working there that offers extensive flexibility, making it five times faster and a hundred times less expensive than the Nissan factory, which is rather typical for the traditional automotive industry. LM went from concept to car  in just 18 months for their Rally Fighter project, a 30 miles per gallon all-terrain vehicle.