From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

[ DESIGN ] Reducing the Bull

Designing the AIHL

" ... bottom-up design never succeeds because even good efforts by departments within such systems remain insulated within the layers of the company's organizational structure and everything really new, courageous and potentially game-changing is destroyed by its passage through the gates of rejection.'" - Hartmut Esslinger, industrial designer and inventor, founder of Frog Design Inc.

Steve Jobs was hardly a design guru when he began Apple but that gradually changed after he made Esslinger head of design there from 1982 to 1985. Esslinger's job pitch went something like this: designers are often hamstrung by their low position in corporate hierarchies and there is a natural tendency for technocrats to ruin design. The remarkable collaboration of this pair during that period was a benchmark demonstration of the fact that good design arises as much from the company structure and culture as it does from whether or not design is a priority. Still today this is tantamount to heresy in the engineer-dominated world of tech business, even if it doesn't appear so. If a decade of involvement in Australian ice hockey has taught us anything it is that design is one of its greatest challenges, and that is nowhere more apparent than in the aspirations of the AIHL.

Good design for Jobs or Esslinger was about getting your ideas past the "morons" (Job's favourite word). If you ever read even a little about the early days of design at Apple you will soon discover how the groundwork for almost all of the company's subsequent successes — slim notebook computers, the iPad and the iPhone — was laid in that time. It turns out to be quite a shock because it was a stunning achievement. Phones, tablet computers, Powerbooks were all realized by Frog Design in models, at a time when the technology to realize them just did not exist.

Apple's own culture had eventually led Jobs to his own sacking and Esslinger followed him to NeXT soon after. Jobs learned the hard way at NeXT, started Pixar and returned to Apple right when technology was catching up with his vision. He went on to train consumers to expect things that are designed to "make sense", to work, as well as to look great. He strived to create experiences that are, in his words, magical. Great design makes products more useful, allowing the user to be more effective, more satisfied, and this relatively new market expectation means that design is no longer optional; it is now required for success. Neither Jobs or Esslinger could design culture, no-one can, but designers can design the conditions that give birth to it and allow it to thrive. A good example of that is the fairly secretive Apple University created by Jobs as a way to instill Apple's business culture in it's employees.

Function and beauty derived from elegant simplicity have long been pursued at Apple. But that doesn't mean only minimal design is good design. For example, one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture is far from minimal. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry has been hailed as a signal moment in the architectural culture, because it represents one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.

Unlike say, Federation Square in Melbourne, Gehry constructed the building on time and budget by making sure he had a detailed and realistic cost estimate before proceeding, and then controlling costs during construction with computer visualizations produced by his own Digital Project software and collaborating closely with the individual building trades. But more importantly than even that, he made sure that what he calls the organization of the artist prevailed during construction to prevent political and business interests from interfering with the design. And that is no different to what Jobs or Esslinger refer to as getting your ideas past the "morons".

Apple still uses a collection of Picasso lithographs that illustrate the minimalist drive to boil down an idea to its essentials. Picasso turned a highly literal representation of a bull into an intertwined series of abstract elements that balance and counterbalance each other in a powerful and expressive artwork. The last image is a single sinuous line that is still unmistakably a bull. At Apple it's lesson is that more and more design iterations enable you to deliver your message in a very concise way. Look closely and you will see it at work right now in the evolution of every Apple product.

Bull image, Estate of Pablo Picasso, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jobs also urged Apple employees to surround themselves with the best things, like talented peers and high-quality materials, so that they can do their best work. Not surprisingly, Apple University now also teaches this.

And what has all this got to do with Australian ice hockey? Well, organisations like the AIHL continue to envision themselves as associations of clubs with board representation and an executive management group. The game-changing good ideas and other designs are destroyed by their passage through the gates of rejection in a manner strangely reminiscent of Esslinger's tech orgs in the hands of technocrats. Yet, the sport could be so much more and design could help envision it more fully. Imagine for a moment that the AIHL needed to be designed like a large important building. How would you go about it? Would you sit down with the technical experts and knock out a consensus for a committee to consider, modify and claim ownership? Or would you do like Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, and encourage someone to produce a daring and innovative design?

You know, questions like this could be addressed in a weekend design workshop where fans, clubs, organisers, volunteers and trained designers apply their skills to the AIHLs real-world problems. There they would define, discover, reframe, ideate, prototype, and implement solutions. Participants depart each multi-disciplinary group session not only having had good ideas, but also having designed ways to make them happen; yes, having designed the necessary organisational support.

All it requires is an organiser, venue and participants. Isn't that a fun, exciting and refreshing prospect? Or is it merely just another potential game-changer at the gates of rejection?


[1] How Apple Uses Picasso To Teach Employees About Product Design, John Brownlee.

[2] Read more about Bull here: Pablo Picasso - Bull: A Master Class in Abstraction

[3] New York Times, Aug 10 2014, Simplifying the Bull: How Picasso Helps to Teach Apple's Style

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