Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shearing Layers - Part 2, Stuff

In the previous post I introduced the notion of shearing layers - taken from Stewart Brand's book "How Buildings Learn". In this one I am going to look at how having better data can possibly affect the "Stuff" layer.
For example, shopping habits on the web site can show buying patterns and trends that could translate to the brick and mortar store. Looking at what people search for together online could give a clue to what they are looking for when they get to a store.
Note that the could in the previous observation is very much an imponderable. While the shearing "Stuff" on the web site is really easy (facilitating A/B testing, for example), it is still tricky in the brick and mortar store.
Reorganizing store shelves/layout runs the risk of confusing staff and customers. Things aren't where they were yesterday. Our ingrained habits and expectations no longer work for us. So the risk is definitely there, but there could be some interesting small experiments.
Perhaps it is worth grouping trousers by style/size and not by color. Perhaps it is worth grouping shoes by size, mixing up the brands. Of course that one is very tricky because we buy shoes with our eyes, so we may need to see a floor sample which will be of a single size.
The desires of the store, the desires of the brands and the desires of the customer may well come into opposition.
The online shopping experience can give us a rate of change greater than that in the physical store - delivering data to the store planners and merchandisers that can influence product placement - and the ultimate goal of selling more "Stuff" to the customers

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shearing Layers - Part 1 physical buildings

In Stewart Brand's terrific work, "How Buildings Learn", there are some great analogies to what we do in Enterprise Architecture. He expanded on the concept of "shearing layers" introduced by Robert V. O'Neill in his "A hierarchical concept of ecosystems". The primary notion being that we can hierarchically understand our ecosystems better by understanding the different rates of change possible at the different layers.
The diagram above is reproduced from How Buildings Learn, and represents the parts of a building which change at different rates. It is arranged from outside in with, in this representation, no absolute correlation between the parts and rate of change. 
Using Brand's own explanation, the layers have the following descriptions:


The site is the geographical setting, the urban location and the legally defined lot whose boundaries and context outlast generations of ephemeral buildings


The foundation and load bearing elements are perilous and expensive to change, so people don't. These are the building.


External surfaces can change more frequently than the structure of the building. Changes in fashion, energy cost, safety, etc. cause changes to be made to the skin. However tradition and preservation orders often inhibit changes to the skin since the skin is very much the aesthetic.


These are the working guts of the building, communications/wiring, plumbing, air handling, people moving. Ineffective services can cause buildings to be demolished early, even if the surrounding structure is still sound.

Space Plan

The space plan represents the interior layout - the placement of walls, ceilings, doors, etc. As buildings are re-purposed, as fashion changes so can the interior quickly be reconfigured.


The appurtenances that make the space useful for its intended purpose. Placement of tables, chairs, walls cubicles, etc.
In further articles, I will develop this theme in 2 directions. First in thinking about how data can affect the way that retail organizations can think about their layout and organization (shearing at the Stuff/Space Plan layers of both brick and mortar and web stores. Second in looking at Enterprise Architecture through the lens of shearing layers - by analogy with Brand's writing and thinking.