Category Archives: ED Thinking

My thoughts about Economic development (ED) in the Toledo Region as it intersects with Experience Design (ED).

Port Web Sites

The digital landscape for regional economic develop efforts is changing. Examples: is focusing on talent attraction. RGP has new sites for international investment and national site consultants. The Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce has new branding.

Good to see more investment in digital tools and channels to support economic development efforts.

In anticipation of changes for another major player, The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, I spent some time on their various sites (,,, and started decomposing what I thought were their key audiences and guesses at user goals and tasks. My first pass:

  • Airport travelers, very different from the other audiences below. Mostly residents considering flying from TOL (vs. DTW) and those getting ready to use it. One important goal of the digital experience may be to make the physical airport experience better. Probably some out-of-town users, those passing thru the airport for work or visiting, so there is a chance to connect to the fun things to do while they are here (e.g., tourist bureau stuff).
  • Media representatives, who need to know what is going on with the Port and whom to contact for their stories.
  • The public, who has a “right to know”. Similar information needs as media (such as minutes from meetings), but I suspect there are different business requirements for the two audiences.
  • Industrial site specialists, aka site selectors, looking for information on specific Port sites. This audience works a lot with RGP, so the Port and RGP sites probably need to be carefully integrated to serve them well.
  • Transportation companies, of course: the port’s main customers. People who want to ship stuff through the seaport, use the airport for cargo, etc.
  • Capital investors might be another audience, not sure. Since RGP has a special site for the region for that, it may make sense to put any Port info for them on
  • Regional economic development professionals, such as county and city ED folks, who need to know what is going on with TLCPA so they can do their jobs well. Some of that is “public right to know” but the really useful information will not be publicly available.
  • Misc, always need a misc category. Example: someone planning a wedding and looking for a venue (believe it or not, the Port Authority has a venue to rent, too). These fringe cases are hard to deal with, but if the above list is good, there are not many cases that fit in here.

Hopefully this is a good start at looking at the Port’s web presence through the eyes of core user groups.

“You will do better” signage

“You will do better in Toledo” is in the news again. YWDBIT Day 2014 did not generate nearly the same buzz as the 100th anniversary in 2013, but the use of the slogan on roadside signs at the edge of the city was debuted:

TFP also featured it on its cover with “Yule do better in Toledo” and an editor’s statement.

Sarah Ottney points out some of the criticism of the slogan, such as the apparent lack of a plan behind it. It has to be more than signs and t-shirts. The city needs to add credibility to the slogan by telling stories of people doing better in Toledo, and by taking specific actions to demonstrate it is committed to it.

She also references the Toledo Region Branding efforts, which have similar goals to instill resident pride and help retain and attract talent. One challenge with past regional branding efforts was the confusion about marketing the region and/or the city. I am not sure exactly how “You will do better in Toledo” and “It matters where you make it” fit together, but at least now the core city of the region is starting to fill its branding void.

Let’s keep going, fleshing out both, and figure out the details along the way.

Keep Toledo Creative

Keep Toledo Creative is an interesting concept: develop and attract creative talent by providing them with services to help them succeed. BGSU has measured Ohio’s creative economy (PDF) and made a documentary, so I am convinced it is important for our region.

I would like to support it (by giving money, by donating services, by mentoring, etc.) but I still have some questions and concerns.

  • What are the exact roles and job titles that qualify as “creative”? There is the creative class definition, and there are narrow definitions like “one who devises advertising campaigns”.  North Carolina has its list. There are more. What is the right scope for us? Roles that often make up a user experience team, such as “creative director”, “user interface designer” and “information architect” belong in our scope of “creative”, in my opinion (but I am biased).
  • “Scholarships” are being planned, but I do not see any scholarly requirements. Scholarship means “a grant or payment made to support a student’s education”. I may not mind donating to help people do their jobs, but if there is not an educational aspect, then you cannot call it a “scholarship”.
  • Is this a regional thing or a city of Toledo thing? There is value in focusing on residents of Toledo, but I think we need to serve people from the broader region. If we “keep creatives in Bowling Green and Defiance and Fremont” for example, then we have also succeeded.
  • This is called a “movement” but it seems to be driven by MadAve and they are getting the lion’s share of the benefits. I do not mind the private sector leading it, but the benefits have to be spread across the community (or else it is not a movement, it is a business strategy). If public money is used to fund this, then this is even more important.

A series of breakfasts (Thursday mornings) have been scheduled: a good way to give feedback.

CEDS public review

The RGP published a draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy on Monday, September 15th. It is open for public comment until October 15th.

Download it from the RGP CEDS page.

I have skimmed it and plan to submit a formal response.

Some background information:

The table of contents:

  • Executive summary
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Regional background assessment
  • Location factor assessment
  • Target industry study
  • Analysis of ED issues
  • Strategic projects and activities
  • Recommended ED strategy

Only 179 pages! Lots to read!


Workforce updates

The Toledo Business Journal has been doing “Workforce updates” on a regular basis: quarterly collections of lists, data and stories in collaboration with RGP & JobsOhio. People from Owens Community College workforce training appear to be leading it.

I catch the 2-page printed spreads when I get a chance to pick up a TBJ or Development News. I just discovered they are one of the few things published by TBJ online (as PDFs): the TBJ Economic Development Dashboard. Taking a glance at the collection:

  • Some of the lists, graphs, and data make more sense when you look across quarters. For example, the “Top 10 corporations hiring,” “Projects by cluster,” and “Jobs created & retained” do not tell you very much one quarter at a time, but if you compare Q2Q, you start to learn a little bit.
  • The more interesting (to me) feature articles: Manufacturers roundtables (March 2013), Welcoming communities (September 2013), and Foreign direct investments and exporting (March 2014).
  • The last two – “It matters where you make it” (June 2014) and “Selling NW Ohio across the world” (September 2014) – show the evolution of the branding, marketing and selling strategies for the region. As a whole, the region is reaching out to a broader range of stakeholders, including residents. We are doing a better job of targeting specific audiences, such as talent and site consultants, with stories that are relevant for each.

If you have never read any of the Workforce updates (because maybe you do not pick up paper copies at grocery stores like I do), then check them out online.

Notes from Design & ED presentation

I uploaded the 3 slides from my NORED Ignite talk to Slideshare.


Also, here are my talking points with a few links to reference material, in case you are really into this.

Slide 1: Design

  • Hi, I am Keith Instone and I am a User Experience Consultant, which means that companies hire me to make their technology easier to use, but I actually help them change the way they do design. Today. I’d like to talk about design and how it fits in with what you do every day. First, design is a broad term that means different things in different contexts. I’d like to cover 3 contexts.
  • First, in the IT world, where we make digital products and services, we use the term “experiences” to describe the big picture of what we design. Design is part of a larger process that includes business strategy and software development, for example. “Interaction designer” is one of the many job titles in this context.
  • In the physical products world, the world of toothbrushes, toasters and trucks, design is also practiced. “Industrial designer” and “human factors specialist” are job titles in this context. In the built environment, design and architecture and planning go hand-in-hand.
  • Although these 3 contexts for design have their differences, technology is leading to a convergence. Think of using your smartphone to operate an app that controls the security system, furnace and lights in your house. Designing for the digital, physical and built worlds is becoming a combined design challenge.
  • Design has always been important to business success, but the rise of Apple has reminded business leaders of its value. There is now data to suggest that design is a driver of global corporate success.
  • In order for a company to get value from design, however, it has to think of it as more than just making things look pretty. In this simple design maturity model, companies move up the chain from pretty to functional to using design principles to solve business problems. But the most advanced companies use design as a way to think.

Slide 2: Economic Development Audiences to Design For

  • First, how can design help us most directly? By applying design thinking, design methods and design skills to improve the products, services and experiences for our key audiences.
  • Here is a list of some of those audiences of our economic development efforts. As I have been learning more about economic development, I try to map what I hear to these audiences and what the goals are for each. Sometimes the audience goals have subtle but important differences. Design details can greatly affect how effective we are in helping each audience accomplish its goals. Also, I have noticed a trend towards thinking of “residents as boss”, which could mean a very different design approach than with other audiences.
  • Some of the economic development touch points that we can apply design to include web sites for economic development professionals, in person events for business leaders, and marketing campaigns to retain talent. Remember that design is not just making things look pretty: it is creating functionality that works, solving complex problems, and even framing economic development issues.

Slide 3: Improving the Regional Economy

  • I think that design can also have an impact on the Toledo Region economy.
  • I have some ideas on how we can raise the design maturity of companies in the region.
  • For larger corporations, they often have problems with business unit silos that do not collaborate. We can use design to improve how they operate, helping them lower costs, for example.
  • We can use design to create new products and services here in the region and sell them to the rest of the world.
  • We can think of design as an industry and develop companies that excel at it. They can both sell their services in the global marketplace but also attract other companies that want to tap into their expertise within the region.
  • We can also use the concept of design founders – having a designer join a business person and a technologist – as the team that creates a start-up company.
  • Which of these make the most sense? I do not know. But I do know that to try any of them, we need to build up our regional design community. I have been doing a few small things to develop design talent in the region, but we need to do more. We also need to figure out what “design” means here in the Toledo region. I think our version of design can be different and better than other regions, making it another part of the economic development story for the region.
  • Whew, obviously, this was hard to fit into 3 slides and 5 minutes. I hope this gives us something to talk about. What do you think? Where does design fit into economic development for the Toledo region?

NORED Ignite Session

I did my Design & Economic Development talk at the NORED Ignite session (PDF agenda) and think it went fine. I covered most of my main points, did not babble too much, got a few laughs, and was within 5 seconds of the 5 minute requirement. This is just a start, so time will tell if this was worthwhile.

The best part for me was finding connections with the other talks. The talks were not coordinated ahead of time, but I heard about examples of design being applied and cases where the design community could be supported.

Kay Reiter of Sandusky County EDC presented Project Ole, where plastics industry companies in Mexico have been targeted about re-locating. A Toledo Business Journal article explains it a little, including showing the box that was mailed. They worked with Hart to develop a touch point model that includes the microsite

Tony Iriti of Hancock County ED showed the power of architectural design concepts in communicating the vision for keeping Marathon in Findlay.

Ford Weber of Lucas County EDC talked about coworking, one support structure for a design community. We have Seed and the UT incubator space, but we need more coworking, across the region.

Design and Economic Development

I am doing a 3-slide, 5-minute talk at the NORED Ignite “Turn a Spark into a Fire” event on July 10th (PDF).

My topic is “Design and Economic Development”. My slides with speaker notes of the rough things I might say (PDF). I hope to cover:

  • What is design (in 3 contexts), how it matters in today’s economy
  • Designing touch points with regional economic development audiences
  • Using design to improve the Toledo region economy

Hopefully it will trigger a discussion about how design can impact our regional economic development efforts.

Jobs & Quality of Life Cartoon

I enjoyed Don Lee’s cartoon in the May 18th Toledo Free Press.

Jobs synergy cartoon1

The note Don put on his web site explains a little bit about it: “Bring jobs first — but arts, culture, education and recreation bring the people who bring the jobs. How to show the synergy? Draw a truck.”

The relationship between jobs and quality of life has been a topic at various economic development and planning events I have been at the past year. The new Toledo Region branding is focused on residents talking about the quality of life here to help attract others. And so on.

It may become more than just a jobs/quality of life synergy. If the “changes the game” predictions are true, then we should be shifting resources away from “smokestack chasing” (trying to get a big factory to create jobs with a higher quality of life as a result) and put more money, time and attention into quality of life efforts and attracting talent. The jobs will come as a result. In Don’s cartoon, “jobs” is still the engine and quality of life is following.

Perhaps “talent” or “quality of life” should be driving.



Two editorials

Two of the newspapers in the region had an opinion piece about the Toledo Region Branding Initiative recently.

Branding Toledo explains why a region needs to do branding, talks about the next phase, and offers some positive suggestions, such as showing the diversity of urban life and of the regional overall (e.g., rural). The need for financial help is encouraged.

419 Days contrasts the grass-roots community pride efforts with the branding initiative.

It is good to see both papers adding their support and encouraging others to contribute. If these two often-warring publications could find a way to work together for the good of the branding initiative, it would signal a change in the in-print dialog in the region. We need that, and many more small sparks of change.