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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   2 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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A few years ago, I saw a picture of a desk that captured my eye. I can't remember exactly where I saw it—perhaps it was this very blog—I just remember not being able to stop thinking about it. I searched the Internet to find out who had created this lovely desk and ended up on the website of Manoteca. Now, when I see something that I like, I have to tell the person who is behind it that I like their creation (or what they are wearing, or what they are singing, or what they are drawing, etc.) Call it what you will, OCD if you wish.

So I found the e-mail address for the person behind the brand, and it turned out to be a young woman called Elisa. Since then, we haven't written much, but my curiosity for the person and the visions behind the brand is still there. So, here comes the second article about young ambitious entrepreneurs working within the creative field.

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Core77: What led you to start Manoteca?

Elisa Cavani: Before creating Manoteca, I was working as a visual merchandiser for fashion companies, for more or less ten years. I traveled a lot and gained a lot of information. In those ten years, I met very respectable people with so much talent. Yet the structure of big companies crushed them—I saw many people forget the things they believed in and give up any kind of talent. I was scared because I could feel that it was happening to me as well, so I decided to "fire" myself and create something that I had had in my head for so long.

This was the beginning. I moved the furniture in my apartment and for a year I worked, lived and slept in the middle of tools and sawdust. To me, the pieces of my first collection represent the freedom of expression. I loved them so much. I spent my evenings watching them, cleaning them one by one, every single hole and crack in the material. I really treated them as if they were the most valuable things I owned. In fact, they still are.

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Did your ten years of experience as a merchandiser have any influence on how you started your brand?

I didn't think so initially, then I thought again and came up with a better answer. The visual merchandisers work with the visual language, they communicate feelings and moods but cannot use words. There is so much of this in Manoteca. There is a maniacal attitude, for which everything have to be perfect, and a meticulous attention to every detail. There is the organization and optimization of the time. There are the administrative and commercial skills, which I unwittingly absorbed and modified in favor of the brand. There is the knowledge of foreign markets that I have followed for a long time, the awareness that every person have different habits and cultural characteristics that you need to know, otherwise it is impossible to communicate. There are errors that I have made in the past, from which I can benefit today. There is a predisposition for solid and professional structure, which hasallowed the project to go around the world.

In retrospect, I should say 'Thank You' to my past.

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Posted by core jr  |   3 Feb 2014  |  Comments (4)

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A few years ago, I became slightly obsessed with embodied energy, which led to a new perspective on both materials and design, in the form of a self-initiated experiment and ultimately a design tool. I wanted to share some of my thoughts from this process to try and pass on a passion for embodied energy.

The whole process started by reading David Mackay's book "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air." His "we need numbers not adjectives" attitude really appealed to me at the time, as I was getting very frustrated with some of the subjectivity and lack of depth in some sustainable design. It was with this mindset that I went searching for embodied energy data. The first time I trawled through a data set, I was pretty intrigued. This was a single number that summarized the intensely complicated journey of a material from digging its ore out of the ground through to the myriad of processes that lead to a usable material. The numbers also varied hugely between materials, revealing energy stories that I was completely unaware of. In a fairly short span of time, this data had completely changed my perspective on a lot of materials that I previously thought I was very familiar with.

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What really caught my imagination was the fact that this was physical data. Unlike electricity consumption, where you need to go to great lengths to record and visualize energy, this data told you that the lump of material you're holding took 10 megajoules of energy to go from earthbound ore to product in hand. I could now define my whole material world in terms of energy—and that's exactly what I started doing, carrying a screwdriver and a set of scales I started disassembling and weighing products to try and calculate their embodied energy. This quickly escalated to doing an embodied energy calculation for everything I owned.

These calculations were very rough, but gave me an approximate figure for everything, allowing me to compare different elements of my lifestyle. Computers and camera gear, with their exotic circuitboard materials and batteries, far outweighed everything else, while other things, like my bikes, seemed pretty insignificant. This showed me that crunching the numbers, however crudely, will reveal all sorts of insights into the energy stories of our stuff.

At this point, I had gathered a lot of data and started to see the world in a slightly different light but what I was really interested in was how this data would affect the design process. There were various tools for conducting life cycle analysis on finished designs but I wanted to experiment with ways of using embodied energy to drive the design process from the start. I set myself a simple design brief with ambitious energy quotas. To redesign the Anglepoise lamp (which had weighed in at 140 Megajoules) to quotas of one, ten and 20 Megajoules. The idea was to put energy as the driving force at the start of the design process and see what happens.

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Posted by core jr  |  21 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

Left: A community map with measured dimensions. Right: Iso-metric illustrated version of the community based on reference photos. This was developed to make the map more engaging and fun. Righthand illustration by Boyeon Choi.

In the field of design and technology today, deeply understanding users in their local context is an essential part to the design process. A holistic understanding of users generates empathy and a specificity of experience that enables designers to create valuable solutions for markets, communities and individuals.

In our field work in Uganda's rural north and Kampala, its capital and largest city, we took the unique opportunity to conduct research, as designers, into informal technology usage from a more complex and discovery-based perspective. Jeff focused on informal electricity bypassing in an urban community in Kampala, and An looked at how youth transfer media files via Bluetooth in northern Uganda. These are the stories that emerged after a hybrid approach of design, ethnography and other research methods to understand the systems and structures in place and build relationships with individuals working and living in these contexts.

In an increasingly globalized world, local contexts matter more than ever before. Rich, deep ethnographic stories can communicate the complex conditions under which communities and individuals make decisions regarding technology use in their everyday lives. These stories in turn inform design decisions around technology development and practical use. As Jessica Weber and John Cheng recently argued in UX Magazine, "Ethnography reveals how digital and physical processes work together to help businesses address gaps and focus on the entire customer experience."

We present two examples of user stories from our research into informal systems, as well as the visual forms we developed to communicate it. It was essential to use visualization to engage the designers and researchers in a developed, U.S. context to translate the unique characteristics of the informal systems for those who couldn't experience them firsthand. Visualizing the conditions and the systematic influences at work through user-generated drawings, maps, videos and photographic documentation placed them in context, helping to reframe these stories in a manner that permitted audiences in the United States to make judgments based on local values and their emergent informal usage of technology.

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |   3 Jan 2014  |  Comments (6)

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I'm a big fan of the "campsite rule" in most realms of life. You should be too. You're going to tinker with something for fun or profit? Make sure you're contributing positively in both the long and short terms, and above all, do no harm. Seems pretty straightforward, right? So when I stumbled across a series of "then vs. now" photos of dog breed development through the ages my Aghast Button got a good poke. My conclusion was this:

Many purebred dogs are the product of idiotic aestheticized design sense, and engineered to fail.

This might provoke some internal knee-jerks. Whether you're thinking "Well, MY [favored breed] is happy, healthy and recently rescued a bus full of children from a fire," or "Sure, all breeders are immoral and should be shot," I'm not here to argue the meta point on animal husbandry. In fact, I'll cop to being both a shelter-only wonk and a big Viszla fan. Rather, I'd encourage you to consider the purebred dog as a heritage brand product that has lost hold of the function side of the scales and any vision of the object as a whole. (Think PT Cruiser.)

No denying it, some beloved purebred dogs are terribly configured, and it's hardly surprising. When you allow aesthetics or a single praised trait to dictate form, you run the risk of compromising overall quality, usability and durability. If there's one thing pedigreed breeding is all about, it's single-minded dedication to very specific traits, and when you multiply that dedication over the course of generations... the results can be bizarrely out of touch. Here are a couple of examples.

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The new, improved, even more horrifying bloodhound

Bloodhounds: Bred as a practical purpose-built dog for game chasing and savvy sniffing as far back as medieval France, the bloodhound dipped deeply in popularity around the early 1900s (as pictured above) and may have disappeared if competitive dog shows hadn't taken off around that time. Subsequently, their prized scenting skills have been "improved" on with increasingly unreasonable physical characteristics: a tall peaked skull, ears like grandma's caftans, sunken eyes, and lots and lots of wrinkly skin. The jowelled face on these guys could belong to an aging president. While handsome to a bloodhound fancier, some of these bred-in traits are in direct conflict with the dog's hunting nature. What's worse, they now commonly suffer from eye, nose and ear problems, cancer, and high instances of bloat. Some surveys report an average lifespan as short as 6 or 7 years. Planned obsolescence? Pretty sure that's unethical.

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Posted by core jr  |  24 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

ISRO-AltafQadri_AP.jpgKoppillil Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization, holding a model of the Mars orbiter. Altaf Qadri/AP

By Martyn Perks

As contrary as it sounds, in 2014 designers should be more ambitious and less worried about being socially responsible. That way, we will all get to benefit more from their efforts.

Take the reaction to how India launched its probe to Mars in November. No sooner had the Mangalyaan taken off than critics slammed the project for being a huge waste of money, given that much of the Indian population live in abject poverty.

But to criticise the Indian space program is wrong for two reasons. First, it will help bring about many technological benefits that will help improve the lives of millions including the poor. Thanks to India's ongoing investment in space and weather satellite technology, many thousands of lives were recently saved from a coastal cyclone in October due to early warnings.

The second reason is that, as Samanth Subramanian, the India correspondent for The National, writes in The New Yorker, the project will give many people in India an all-important "spurt of optimism and confidence that can urge people, even for a brief moment, to lift their eyes upward and aim a little higher."

Such cause for optimism is sorely lacking here in the West, perhaps made worse as China, like India, is beginning to excel in space. China's Jade Rabbit rover is the first to land on the moon in over 40 years.

There will be much to learn from India and China's space programmes. The scientific and technological breakthroughs will help bring about many innovations, just as the Kennedy space programme did in the 1960s and 1970s.

All of this should be cause for designers to celebrate. But not so, according to what is now majority opinion in the design community, which holds that design needs to exhibit more humility and less environmental hubris.

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Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  13 Dec 2013  |  Comments (6)

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"Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."

These words have been attributed multiple times to Pablo Piccaso, though the source itself is dubious. But as with every myth, there's a kernel of truth: we learn best by learning from the best. That's the theory behind the age-old practice of going to museums to sketch and draw.

Mobile designers have their own version of a museum through a large and extensive collection of apps for both iOS and Android.  But how do we sift through everything? How can we contextualize the workflow? UX Archive, which I learned about recently, is one such museum. A collection of UIs and workflows from popular mobile apps for iOS, documented by actions and tasks like "Getting directions" and "Onboarding."

"UX Archive aims at helping designers in this process," notes the site's About page." We lay out the most interesting user flows so you can compare them, build your point of view and be inspired." Right now, it's very iOS heavy, focusing on the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, though they point to other popular workflow sites like pttrns (including Android Patterns) and the always popular UI Parade. Each app contains detailed imagery, and it's easy to sift and click through. There's even a section that compares iOS 6 and 7, so you can school yourself on the differences.

UXArchive-iOS6vsiOS7.jpgUX Archive documents and displays the differences between iOS 6 and 7 for different actions.

Not that this is a substitute for good, solid interaction design research. "Before comparing any user flow," the site's founders note, "start by trying them out! Once you have been through them on the actual apps, use UX Archive to compare them!" Good advice indeed.

Posted by An Xiao Mina  |   3 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

haxlr8r3.JPGCalvin Chu pitches Palette at the HAXLR8R Demo Day in San Francisco. All event images by the author for Core77.

If you were to take apart the hardware on your computer, you'd see a microcosm of the world. A simple look at a laptop computer on SourceMap, the popular software for sourcing the materials and components of just about any object and where those pieces come form, reveals an incredibly complex trade route: Unlike software, which can be hacked together regardless of location, hardware requires a lot of moving parts, from raw materials to manufacturing to assembly. It's a process that criss-crosses the globe until the final product arrives in our hands, ready to use.

Shenzhen is a key focus of HAXLR8R, which bills itself as "a new kind of accelerator program." Accepting applications twice a year from hardware startups around the world, it provides seed funding of $25,000 (with opportunities to increase that amount through additional funding paths), office space and regular mentorship on a variety of topics, from building products to pitching them. Most importantly, it offers an opportunity to live and work in Shenzhen, interacting directly with manufacturers who have the ability to take the product to scale.

"JDFI also applies to us," notes the accelerator program's website, as they list out the services and equipment they provide, including a laser cutter, 3D printer, CNC machine and in-house services like product design and small batch assembly and testing, not to mention the basic tools of business. HAXLR8R is very much a project about doing and making at the highest levels.  And as I explored in my recent column, this intermixing of disciplines and processes undoubtedly makes for better designs.

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Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  14 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)

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Image via evernote.com.

At first glance, it seems natural: when designing notepad software, why not design it to look like a notepad? A voice recorder app should look like a microphone, right? Skeuomorphism—which we've, er, skewered before—has influenced so much of software design. And yet I think many of us will attest that it's good to see that the trend, like iOS 7's "flat" icons (though I'm not a total fan), is to keep the digital digital.

But to be generous, I do think the popularity of skeuomorphism reflects less an unwillingness to accept digital experiences as digital experiences, but more a desire to retain some of the joys of physical objects. There is something nice about scribbling into a paper notebook and to see human handwriting, but there's also something nice about searchable archives and having all our notes tucked away in our pockets and available at a moment's notice.

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Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  11 Sep 2013  |  Comments (2)

idfscreenshot.pngA screenshot of the Interaction Design Foundation site

A solid design education is an excellent investment, but as more and more educational institutions move toward offering open courses online, free classes in design remain limited. A quick search on Coursera for graphic design yields zero results, as do results for industrial design, product design and a search for "color theory" yields a class on programming from the University of Colorado (though they do offer this class on film that relates to color and sound). Of the 68 offerings on the popular edX.org, only a few classes relate to design, and they're focused on architecture. A quick Google search led me to this MOOC from the University of Cincinnati, and MOOC List has a good number of entries, but those remain paltry compared to, say, computer science.

Which is why I was thrilled to learn about a new series of free design books available online from the Denmark-based Interaction Design Foundation. Starting with their popular Encylopedia of Human-Computer Interaction and two other books—Social Design of Technical Systems and Gamification at Work—they plan to release dozens of textbooks on topics like persuasive technology, human-centered design and design anthropology.

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Posted by Arthur Young-Spivey  |   2 Aug 2013  |  Comments (4)

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The 3D software market has never been in as much turmoil as it is right now. But this isn't meant to sound like a bad thing—quite the contrary. There was a time when CAD jockeys stuck to only in one 3D software package and would snub their nose down at anyone else that used any other software. In today's design studios, any designer worth their salt will tell you that they use at least two to four different software packages in the design/engineering process. A seasoned vet will always say that no one programs offers everything that a design engineer might need on any given day.

Fast forward to today and take a look at relatively new old comer to the scene from a company called Solidthinking and their suite of Design Software Solutions called Inspire and Evolve. The software can best be described as yin and yang: the former "enables design engineers, product designers, and architects to create and investigate structurally efficient concepts quickly and easily" and one that "allows industrial designers to develop forms faster and to capture an initial sketch, explore styling alternatives and visualize products."

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If you haven't had the opportunity to take it out for a test drive, here's a quick run down of some of its offerings:

- It's a parametric based system that has a ton of flexibility. It's ability to "swap out" any 2D sketch entity for another and not break downstream features adds a level functionality that opens up new possibilities.

- It runs natively on both Mac and PC hardware.

- One of the most amazing, yet so simple, is the ability to continue a spline. This is huge: users don't have to worry about deleting and starting over but can simply choose to pick the last point of a spline and then based on the next mouse click and continue going as if that's what you initially did.

- Besides the standard NURBS modeling approach, Evolve also offers two additional ways to explore or to be inspired. The first is through subdivisional modeling, which gives a fundamentally different approach to geometry creation, as it is more of a direct editing of surfaces rather than through "wireframe."

- Inspire takes any existing 3D geometry and based upon forces, loads, etc. placed on faces/edges by the user will cause organic "bone" like geometry to form in place of the model. From there the augmented model can be used as a reference towards creating a new design. At this point, adjustments can be made to optimize the amount of material that's been "subtracted."

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Posted by core jr  |  17 Jul 2013  |  Comments (2)

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Guest article by Stephany Zoo

E-commerce site Fab.com is making waves in China after Shenzhen-based web giant Tencent recently decided to invest $150 million at a $1 billion valuation. Fab stands apart from other Western e-tail giants like Amazon and eBay, promising the online consumer a sensible selection of tasteful—yet edgy—products for everyday use. It's a major success in the US, with impressive numbers behind their growth since they (re)launched just two years ago. Given the recent attractiveness of online retail in China, Fab hopes to expand into the Chinese market with Tencent's support.

However, Tencent's investment is not necessarily a stamp of success either—as previously shown by Groupon's failed entry into the Chinese market. How will Fab fare among the existing lean, mean, e-commerce machines of China, led by the most cutthroat of home-grown entrepreneurs?

Taobao reigns supreme

While Fab has seen success in the US, they have pivoted far from its previous incarnation as a gay social network, and even further from the niche ecommerce startup they were originally. By now, they've staked a claim to be a curated version of Amazon—much more mass market, with pricepoints accessible to anyone. However, this already exists in China: based on the company's price range and item selection, the majority of similar products are already available as comparable quality copycat items on Taobao, with entire stores dedicated to emulating Fab. No one can compete with Taobao prices. Fab sells everyday design at what is considered "affordable" prices for US consumers but bear what Chinese consumers would consider to be a substantial premium markup. Fab's brands will run into the counterfeiting problem already all too familiar for luxury brands but will suffer at an even greater expense. Unlike luxury brands, they don't benefit from the distinguished status or quality assurance that comes with the big couture names that brand-conscious Chinese consumer are looking for.

Does Fab care about Chinese emerging brands, or just sales in China?

About half a year ago, Fab.com launched a similar marketing campaign in India, partnering with the country's largest media firm, Times Internet. With huge populations and developing e-commerce markets as common denominators, both India and China make obvious targets for the company's strategic expansion. However, this calls to question Fab's interest in Chinese design in particular. Can Fab.com really, truly serve the Chinese designer? Is the company dedicated to creating and honoring the voice of Chinese innovators or promoting Chinese creativity? Or is Fab just a corporate machine focused solely on amassing the world's most lucrative consumer base?

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Posted by core jr  |  12 Jun 2013  |  Comments (4)

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Text by Brian Lutz

Niels Diffrient, the artist, architect, author, and industrial designer whose seminal research on ergonomics established standards for the furniture industry, died at his home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on June 9, 2013. Diffrient was 84.

Diffrient's death was announced by wife, Helena Hernmarck, the internationally acclaimed textile artist.

Niels Diffrient was born on the sixth of September, 1928, on a farm near the small town of Star, Mississippi. He was a gifted, curious child, full of wonder for the things around him, and he loved to draw. Not only was Diffrient able to take the measure of his world from an early age, but he was also capable of rendering his impressions with uncommon ability.

The national economy faltered and failed during the first six years of Diffrient's life, and the Great Depression took an enormous toll on the lives of Mississippi farmers. In 1934, Niels' father Robert Diffrient hitchhiked to Detroit to look for work while his family remained behind. Factories such as those of the Detroit auto industry were looking for workers, and after a short time found work and sent for his wife and son. Naturally, Niels's imagination took root in the new setting—lessons from the farm gave way to the experiences of northern urban schools, and his artistic interests flourished.

Diffrient also had the good fortune to attend Cass Technical High School, where his interest in drawing airplanes led him to the curriculum for aeronautical engineering. As he related in his recent autobiography, Confessions of a Generalist, he struggled with the scientific subjects at Cass until a fellow student saw his drawings and recommended that he transfer to the art department, where his talent found recognition. Upon graduation, Diffrient continued his studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he was employed by the headmaster's son, Eero Saarinen, to assist in the development of two chairs Saarinen designed for production by Knoll Associates, the Model 71 and Model 72. Diffrients' first exposure to the workings of a manufacturer bringing a design to production occurred in meetings between Saarinen and Florence and Hans Knoll. He recalled: "There was little talk of things like market share. It was the days when there was mostly a lot of interest in proving modernist principles."

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Posted by Sam Dunne  |  27 May 2013  |  Comments (0)

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In his opening remarks at this year's Product Design + Innovation conference in London, Core columnist Kevin McCullagh challenged speakers and attendees to 'cut through the hype' so rampant in the industry in recent years, to identify the real opportunities for design in the growing number and increasingly complex fields in which it operates. Whilst many brands and corporations are wholeheartedly embracing design and its processes, a mounting wariness to the overblown claims and difficult to quantify results associated with the Design Thinking movement may indeed make hype dissection a key challenge facing the industry in the years to come.

In the charming surroundings of one England's oldest cricket clubs, the two-day event saw spirited debate as some of the most heralded futures of products and manufacturing were subject to scrutiny: Internet of Things, connected mobility, additive manufacturing, the maker movement, product-service systems, premiumisation, the consumerisation of healthcare.

In an attempt to capture some of the hearty discussion that ensued, we've picked out five of our top PD+I highlights:

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Posted by core jr  |  19 Mar 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is the fourth article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

The Causes of Social Challenges are Invisible

Complex social challenges originate in a society's fundamental truths. What does this mean for social change?

It is really a thought that built this portentous war-establishment, and a thought shall also melt it away. —Emerson, "War," 1909

I'm a partner at Reos Partners, which helps government, business and civil society leaders work on some the planet's toughest social challenges: war and peace, the future of countries, food and energy systems, and other problems. Our work is to help leaders see their challenge as a complex system, then plan and act together to change their system.

At the heart of our approach, we identify root causes of systemic challenges. Interventions are then designed to address those causes. Some of the causes we discern are the things you might guess—laws, policies, rules, bureaucracies, war machines—but others are less obvious, even invisible. They are "the master-idea[s] reigning in the minds of many persons (Emerson)"—the mindsets or paradigms that shape the rules, laws and bureaucracies.

Working on collective prosperity in Colombia, we hit cultural barriers dividing rich from poor. In Vancouver, we saw fear and discomfort shaping the policies that impact people with disabilities and their families. In Oakland, we learned that confederate slavery is still causing violence, 150 years later. In South Africa, we see the echoes of Apartheid in ongoing police brutality and, more intimately, in the faces of our co-workers and friends.

Systems and their challenges arise from paradigms. That's where they originate and that is where their causes live.

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Posted by core jr  |  11 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

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SavHigh1SM.jpgImages, courtesy of Robynn Butler, are from a co-design initiative with Savannah High School students and SCAD Sustainable Design students, piloting frog's Collective Action Toolkit. For more information on the initiative, visit designethos.org

This is the third article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

I recently picked up The Best Dictionary for Students, an elementary school reference that my twin daughters use daily. It seemed perfectly suited to me because, who, after all, isn't a student. This small dictionary has 410 entries that begin with the letter combination 'co,' beginning with coach and ending with cozy. Co-design is not one of those words. But many of the words beginning with these letters are germane to the vibrant conversation around co-design: commitment, compassion, complex, congregate, consequential, to name a few. This is to be expected, considering the Latin origins of the prefix: together. With a multitude of English language concepts fundamentally connected through this prefix, it seems fitting to more deeply explore some of the affiliations inferred by their shared linguistic origin.

Today's designers have benefitted from the development of young fields of practice such as design for inclusivity, and human-centered design. These efforts focus on delivering solutions through immersive (for the designer) and inclusive (for the community) processes, which the designers then sensitively transform into 'solutions,' whether they be products, services, experiences, or tools (visioning, strategic, etc.). Other fields of practice—emerging more from the urban design context, and with an emphasis on community resilience—focus more on designing the potentials for solutions to emerge from the local context itself. As one example, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) eschews the all too common 'needs-based' approach for the sake of identifying, celebrating and empowering assets that already exist within the community.

The gap between these two approaches has been narrowing, and the emerging bridge is being constructed through an array of creative experimentation. Growing trends in mass customization such as Open Source Ecology, and design-driven community resources such as frog's Collective Action Toolkit are examples of this materializing connective tissue. This essay is an invitation to more deeply consider the ideas that have been percolating in some of these spaces. I discuss two words from this 'co' bounty that are associated with the practice of co-design, then introduce a third word—quite literally—which explores a paradox borne of two contradictory root words. Together, the words act as a framing device that can aid in the exploration of the concepts behind this evolving process we call co-design, specifically in the social sector. The three 'co' words do not constitute strategies as much as reflections on the nature of committing to this dynamic arena. I invite more terms to be added to create (co-create) a Designer's Dictionary of 'Co.' Those compelled to consider the origins of co-design can find many sources dedicated to more rigorous investigations, such as Sanders and Stappers' Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design, as one of example of many.

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Design as Conduit

A conduit is an entity of transition between spaces, states or usages. Accordingly, if the energy on one end of a conduit lacks sufficient order or density, or if there is an inability on the other end to 'carry the charge', then this kind of channel is little more than the means by which energy is transferred from one unproductive space to another, or worse, from a productive space to an unproductive one. Co-design is a conduit. And the energy that co-design aims to transfer exists within the wisdom, passion, creativity, and tacit knowledge of the parties involved.

Yet, there is another dimension here that relates to the nature of connectivity with individuals not in immediate contact with the initial co-design process. The people in these concentric and loosely defined rings represent not only those who may be influenced or changed in some way, but those who would influence still others further from the original process. This focus on connectivity and continuity is an important facet of co-design, and not merely as a cautionary reference to the law of unintended consequences—as important as that is—but as a reminder that ideas which emerge from co-design must be so deeply embedded in the community that members of that community who were not directly involved in the co-design process gravitate toward them intuitively. With IDEO's ">Human-Centered Design approach in mind, the arc of progression for the design process might run through stages that focus on: observations, stories, themes, opportunities, solutions, prototypes and implementation plans. Yet, the means by which designers build capacity within the community to design solutions themselves requires that this process is fully owned—and operated—by the community before the end of this sequence.

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Posted by frog  |   7 Mar 2013  |  Comments (1)

post7.jpgBy Jan Chipchase

There are projects.

The ones that shape, mould and refine our methods, allow us to iterate on how we think about what we do—the operational things that help us get stuff done better, faster, smoother.

And then there are those projects.

Those projects shape us and our team, they expand our world view, open minds to new ways of thinking, bring our short existence into sharp focus—they remind us that our time on this planet is too fleeting to devote to things that are no sooner done, than forgotten.

Those projects make us question our beliefs, our career goals, who we work for, who we work with (and who we want to work with), and where we want to devote our energies for the next few years.

It's those projects that rapidly evaporate any tolerance for bullshit.

They remind us of what we've let drift, and provide a rough hand to steer us back on track.

They are the essence of a life well-lived.

Everyone has their own criteria for what makes one of "those projects." For me, they often include heart-in-mouth, will-we-or-won't-we-make-it moments where the cost of failure is absolute, where fear stalks and somewhere along the line hearts leap, and tears are shed. They generate experiences that can't be unlearned and are in no danger of being forgotten.

Do you want to live?

Prove it.

Photo: A short experiment in priming a large group for an otherwise socially unacceptable behaviour, taken in a higher risk environment.

About Jan Chipchase
Jan Chipchase, an executive creative director for global innovation firm frog, is an expert on applying human-centered insights to the design process. He is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow's Customers, which will be released on April 16, 2013.

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frog presents In The Hands of God - Insights on ethnographic research in some of the less predictable places of the world:

» Do You Want to Live?
» Mitigating Risk
» Extreme Gender Dynamics
» In the Hands of God: A Study of Risk and Savings in Afghanistan
» The 10 Emotional Stages of Working in High Risk Evnironments
» Managing Expectations in the Organization
» Thoughts on Rural Research
» Research Dynamics in Agrarian Societies
» "Those" Projects

This project was co-funded by the IMTFI and frog.

Posted by frog  |   6 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

post6.pngBy Jan Chipchase

This article summarises the issues in conducting corporate ethnographic research in rural locations covering logistics to research dynamics. Rural communities are far from homogeneous.

Compared to more urban settings, rural dwellers tend to have a more polarised expectation of "outsiders." (The "outsider" label may be designated by any number of factors including nationality, skin colour, accent, place of birth, caste, the list goes on. In Afghanistan, "foreigners" can include anyone from outside their province). Interactions with locals will be framed by their touch points with outsiders—whether aid workers, missionaries, NGO staff, backpackers or television, and slowly but surely entrepreneurs.

How might the dynamics of an interaction change if a local villager's only experience with a blonde female came through Baywatch? For example, I've been in interviews where male perceptions of foreign women is shaped by their porn consumption. My principle is that the team only needs to find one person in a community to be able to build out a meaningful local network, so the only question is finding that one person. The research is rarely about finding statistically representative participants but rather people that that fit within relatively broad criteria. Leave room for interesting outliers. A good team knows how to turn the outsider status to their advantage (or at least minimise negativities) using this status to gain access.

Research doesn't always flow well and it is natural for interactions or requests for interview to be rejected. In urban centers, there are plenty of opportunities to move the team to another location even in the same neighbourhood. In rural location, the ripples of rejection can spread, tainting the team within the community and forcing them to move on.

Rural locales tend to have lower levels of literacy, especially regarding females, who generally have less formal educated than males—if there is not enough money to educate all of children girls are the ones that receive less investment. Literacy can become an issue when it comes to consent, since participants are asked to sign a document that must be communicated orally, which in turn puts a greater onus on the team to communicate appropriately. In my experience, this can take a matter of seconds or upwards of half an hour. The participant's welfare the primary concern: The team should devote whatever time is required to ensuring that the consent is understood to ensure that consent is informed. My priority is participant first, team second, client third—and keeping to this eventually does the best by the client. Similarly, when a model release is being obtained (allowing external use of data including photos), the research team needs to exercise an additional moral pass to ensure that data (mostly photos) is used in the spirit in which the data was obtained.

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Posted by frog  |   5 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

post6_header.pngBy Jan Chipchase

This article summarises the issues in conducting corporate ethnographic research in rural locations covering logistics to research dynamics. Rural communities are far from homogeneous.

Over the last decade I've seen an increasing number of multinationals target highly financially constrained consumers in countries like India, China, Brazil, Nigeria and Rwanda (where these pictures were taken) reflecting both a wider awareness and appreciation of business opportunities of this market segment. The very particular ethical issues of working in financially constrained communities are covered in this essay, and suffice it to say, these consumers are arguably some of the most demanding consumers on the planet. Given that these countries have significant agrarian populations, how does ethnographic, corporate rural research differ from similar contextual research conducted in urban settings?

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A "rural" community spans a significantly wide diversity of peoples, cultures, faiths and ethnicities. The infrastructure can vary considerably from dirt roads to paved, electricity to off-grid, cell towers and data connectivity, water from jerry cans or the mains. A single farming community can encompass a wide range of incomes from subsistence living through to satellite TVs and four-wheel drives. The size of farms; the crops that are planted, the livestock that is tended; the extent to which agricultural or husbandry expertise is available; whether it has been a good season; the timing of the next harvest; flows of knowledge and income relating to the level of urban or international migration (especially near border areas); access to credit; can all have an impact on who the research team will engage with, and how the research will be conducted.

The first issues arise during the project planning and relate to logistics.

Logistics

Assuming the country has already been selected, how to choose one rural location over another?

Tapping the knowledge of organisations that already operate on the ground can help feel out the nuances of different geographic regions and can provide invaluable advise on access, introductions and existing authority structures and provide a sense of who is already doing what on the ground. An organisation's willingness to share often includes an element of quid quo pro with the promise of some form of share back at a later date—this spirit is not always apparent in commercial projects.

Before the team arrives, Google maps and its ilk are good for remote sensing a country to understand the type of roads (asphalted, dirt) the dynamics of a city, town or village right down to the type and density of neighbourhoods, homes, communities, farms. Backed up by analogous on-the-ground experience satellite images can be very effective at cross-checking other data sources. Commercially available photos from satellites or planes can be obtained if the team requires something specific, including very high resolution imagery. Having a sense of the terrain helps focus the research planning and provides an early taste of 'being there', especially useful in acclimatising team members that haven't travelled to the region.

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Posted by frog  |   4 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

post5.pngBy Jan Chipchase

A frog team spent a week in Cairo for client research, workshops and keynotes shortly after the revolution. Our team of six worked out of a downtown hotel, syncing with three local guides over breakfast, before hitting the streets. It's good to have time to calibrate to the city, especially one that has gone through so much disruptive change—there's freedom in the air, and most people that we've spoken to recognise that the hard work in building what-next is yet to come. Tahrir Square is alive with the sounds of debate, face painted kids, and the detritus of protest.

A critical aspect of any project is the ability to set and manage expectations, which is often framed in terms of clients wants and needs. The week in Cairo comes with another set of expectation setting—helping colleagues and family understand what the team is up to, and appreciate that the news headlines represents a tiny sliver of what is going on the ground. I'm not surprised at the number of emails expressing concern, and I know how easily events in a far away land can spiral into a cycle of rumours that elevate danger and risk.

A long time ago, I realized that you should never ask the question to someone in the organisation if you're not willing to listen to and act on the answer. The consequences of questions about security in any organisation is that someone's job is (ostensibly) on the line if things turn south—and organisations are inherently risk averse. This is a problem if the decision makers don't understand the risks on the ground—hence the need to be proactive about setting the tone of the conversation.

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Posted by frog  |   1 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

post4_header.pngBy Jan Chipchase

How do you feel when you're asked to do travel somewhere interesting but that carries a slightly higher risk of injury, kidnap or death?

I've run a number of studies to "lively" places, that carry with them a different risk profile than one normally encounters on corporate research. In each case I've needed to pull together a team that can stand up to the technical, physical and emotional rigours of the work. This is what I learned about "the ask".

The practical aspects of planning a short (~1 month) study in higher risk environments are relatively straightforward to pull together, but many are less-unprepared for the emotional highs and lows before, during and after the field study.

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Before Going In-field

1. Elation at being asked, at the potential. Nobody says no to a travel adventure.
2. Realization as information is gathered, newspaper headlines are scanned the enormity of perceived risks sink in, the worst-case scenarios mentally play out. The lows are amplified by how it is communicated to peers/friends/family during stage (1). This is when the person who initially said yes changes their mind.
3. Normalization: more nuanced media/opinions are gathered, conversations with people in the know, on the ground, a better understanding of geography, place, the risk is put into perspective, bad headlines no-longer trigger deep lows. the researcher comes to terms with the idea of what it means to be there.
4. Occasional panic attacks: things that sneak up on you: a misread headline; an idle thought; a sense of what could be lost.

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Posted by core jr  |  28 Feb 2013  |  Comments (2)

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needisneed.jpgThis is the second article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

We've all been there: it's another late night in the studio, and you've got hours of pixel-pushing and deck-polishing ahead. Your social life, if it exists, is under duress. The cramp in your mousing hand makes you wonder if it really is time to see that doctor.

Meanwhile your mind wanders from the task at hand to what you can do—what you can change about your "situation"—to close the gap between the seeming pointlessness of how you earn your living and the realization that your time and energy could be better spent doing something (anything!) more meaningful.

Like your brother who joined the Peace Corps in India. Or the industrial designer you read about who designed a new clean water system for a village in Tanzania. The architect who took a 6-month leave of absence from his job to build relief housing in Haiti.

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It could be mere escapism to indulge such humanitarian fantasies but I think there's more to it, especially for designers. It's in our professional DNA to do stuff, to make things—and if we were trained well—to solve problems and have real impact on people's lives. Our hands feel tied when we're not putting them to good use.

Human need is everywhere
Humanitarian work shouldn't require quitting your job, uprooting your life and moving to another community. The eye of the storm for social injustice isn't always half way across the world—it's often right under your nose in the form of an urban food desert, children stuck in a cycle of poverty, a family who lives in your back alley.

Over the last 5-7 years, we've witnessed an explosion of programs dedicated to applying design methods to humanitarian issues in the developing world. Some have spun off as nonprofits; others are embedded in top design firms, universities or government. Philanthropic foundations are expanding their grant portfolios by underwriting innovative, designer-led initiatives that meet their programmatic interests. Both the design and mainstream media have caught on, helping to fuel more attention to the value of designers working in the developing world—amounting to more funding, more programs, and more opportunities.

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Posted by frog  |  27 Feb 2013  |  Comments (3)

post2_header.jpgBy Cara Silver, Jan Chipchase, Mark Rolston

Frog Senior Design Researcher Cara Silver conducted field research in Afghanistan to investigate topics around risk and savings and their intersection with mobile banking. She worked with a nimble team including Executive Creative Director of Global Insights Jan Chipchase and Chief Creative Officer Mark Rolston, and with support from the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion.

A mixed-gender team of three researchers and four local guide-fixers conducted mobile finance research in Afghanistan over two weeks in December 2012. The goal was to investigate topics around risk and savings and their intersection with mobile banking. Discussing money—and who in the family influences spending—was a key question, and one that required the team to both play with and against the often siloed gender roles in the region. Navigating these gender dynamics was top of mind for all members of the team to both ensure safety and gain access to both sides of the story.

The team planned to spend four days in Herat and the remainder in Kabul. These locations were chosen as being both culturally distinct and sufficiently secure. As the economic center of modern Afghanistan, Kabul carries a large international influence, both government affiliated and independent, and harbors the security tensions to match. It is seen as a safe zone for those associated with government work, like the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), who often settle their families in the city and return to the provinces to work. Herat lies in the west of Afghanistan and is less than a two hour drive from the Iranian border. Traditionally, a high volume of migrant labor has traveled to Iran to earn money to send back to families in Afghanistan. This cross-border human traffic brings with it both cultural, political and commercial influence, reflected in everything from the goods on store shelves to investments in local infrastructure, and to the dress and behavior of women outside the home.

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Posted by frog  |  26 Feb 2013  |  Comments (0)

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By Jan Chipchase, Mark Rolston and Cara Silver

Risk is an issue in every country where we run research (mostly in the form of vehicle accidents), but it is elevated in Afghanistan, where there are occasional attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings. The challenge for the team in determining risk—and developing strategies and tactics to mitigate that risk—was in looking beyond the dramatic headlines and the established and stringent security protocols for organizations that need to operate on the ground for extended periods of time, gaps in our own knowledge, and processing events on the ground as they unfold.

It is not our purpose to overstate the more adventurous aspects of this research and we recognize that there are people living and working in Afghanistan under far, far riskier conditions, not least the Afghans themselves. With that in mind, we hope that some of you will find this discussion useful.

The perception of risk varies from context to context over the course of the research day. The general sense on the ground (and from Jan, who has researched in Afghanistan multiple times) was that the security situation has progressively become worse. Several of our translators reinforced this impression, saying, "2010 was the best year in recent history. Now, with the news that the United States will pull out, people have less hope. People stopped investing in the future. Construction has slowed, and families are pulling daughters out of school. Things are getting worse."

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The cornerstone of our research strategy was to maintain a low profile: with no security detail to draw attention, travelling in local taxis (rather than SUVs normally used by NGOs and contractors). We used motorcycles on photo-shoot days, when we needed to cover a broad swath of the cities and the photographer/researcher needed to get in and out at speed—with the researcher in near-to-local dress that would survive the squint test. The team avoided buildings, people and convoys that were military or military-contractor related, when these were known (it is not always apparent). The risk from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, was considered low because of the unpredictable nature of our routes, the use of local transport, and limited cues suggesting that foreigners were riding inside. However, in today's age it is relatively easy to look up background information about an individual, including his or her employer, job title, and salary range, assuming they are transparent about their employer, i.e. through business cards, and travelling on their own passport. Our goal was to be not particularly interesting targets.

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Posted by frog  |  25 Feb 2013  |  Comments (4)

post0.jpgBy Jan Chipchase, Mark Rolston and Cara Silver

In the coming week we'll be publishing posts by frog's researchers drawing on their experience of working for commercial and non-commercial clients in some of the less predictable places of the world: Afghanistan; post-revolution Egypt; Rwanda; Burundi; Brazil, Ethiopia; South Sudan; India and China—the list of countries is extensive, the global insights team ratchet up more than 150 projects a year across industries— financial inclusion, healthcare, automotive, fast moving consumer goods.

In this series, the posts are written by Jan Chipchase, Cara Silver and Mark Rolston to coincide with the publication of their new report: In The Hands of God: A Study of Risk and Savings in Afghanistan that explored issues related to the design and adoption of mobile money services. As you might expect from a country at war, Afghanistan is very much an outlier, but as such it can reveal behaviours that are far more difficult to spot elsewhere in much the same way that lead users are different from mainstream users. It's a journey that revealed the best and worst of humanity: from the family bonds, trust, betrayal and even an attempted kidnapping.

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Posted by core jr  |  20 Feb 2013  |  Comments (3)

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FutureofFish_processing.jpgThis is the first article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

When I began my journey to understand global overfishing, I knew that it was a sprawling and complex tangle of intertwining problems touching the spheres of policy, commerce, environment and livelihood. Now, almost five years in, I see its complexity through the stories of people I've met who live in that tangle: The New England fisherman whose house was firebombed when he dared to embrace policy reform. The shark researcher who once used a tag he'd put on a shark's fin to record its migration pattern to then hunt the poacher who finned the shark and kept the device as a souvenir. The old Chinese fish farmer who, in a trick to trump Pavlov, proudly rang a bell to bring hundreds of tilapia called by its vibration to the surface of a pond to feed.

Each of the players in this system has an incredibly personal stake in how we humans choose to rethink the way we hunt, eat and protect fish. Given that 1 billion people in the world rely on fish as their primary protein, and that 85 percent of the world's fisheries are currently harvested at or beyond their limits, the cost of failing is unthinkable.

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When we were first asked by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation to uncover new market-driven solutions to encouraging responsible fish harvesting, we did not set out to find one solution for all players. But because we intended to design for a system, we couldn't look for solutions for just one player or user. We had to find openings—stuck points—that once resolved, might prove the giving knot to unwind the tangle. We had to figure out how to design for many.

At every stage of our work—through four distinct project teams, three sponsoring organizations and multiple iterations—we made some right calls and some mistakes. Here's a brief look at some of the insights we gleaned along that path.

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Who's the user?

Our process included two components: 1) pattern recognition to identify which problems in the system received ample attention from existing strategies and which were unaddressed, and 2) a "design thinking" process that included sending teams of anthropologists into the field to observe.

The first phase of that process identified the middle of the seafood supply chain as a ripe area to explore; most solutions targeted fishermen or retailers at either end of the supply chain, leaving processors and distributors out of the conversation. The next phase was initially puzzling. Given a target as broad as the middle of a global supply chain, what should we observe? Who was our user? What did we need to see to guide our design? We thrashed about for a bit and sought guidance from some of the most experienced practitioners in the design world. They counseled our team to, "go with your gut."

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Since I have the gut of a trained journalist, my instincts told me to go where the conflict was. I offered to my co-lead in the project that the front line of our problem seemed to be transactions—whenever fish traded hands. What did those conversations and negotiations look like? What unspoken context shaped those outcomes? We ultimately dispatched teams of anthropologists to eight sites in four countries, looking for examples of distributors and processors buying and selling fish?

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Posted by Daniel Stillman  |   6 Feb 2013  |  Comments (0)

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In my travels, I've seen a lot of crap for sale. Every point of interest has at least one spot that is crammed with some sort of object to entice you, the visitor, to spend money. Invariably, these objects are products. That is...no one is going to try to sell you a bag of Cambodian cotton while you visit a Cambodian temple, expecting you to spin it into yarn and then weave it yourself. They want to sell you a T-shirt, a scarf, a bag...something with immediate, usable value. They have taken the time to turn a material, cotton, into a product—T-shirts. Preferably a T-shirt that announces the awesomeness of your visit, such that you are glad to part with your money.

But many merchants sell their wares in the equivalent of bales and sacks, turning their products back into materials. What I've seen is that products become...well...commoditized. Travelers become numb to them, and there is much, much more supply than demand. What travelers really crave are experiences. Authentic interactions, a great story, a moment with a local; those are the things that travelers really will take home. Experiences can be made into products, of course. Tours, great hotels and restaurants take products and experiences and serve them to consumers in a (hopefully) reliable way.

But the level of entry to these experiences is hard for many locals to achieve. Restaurants take capital, planning and, often, government connections. But with some education, I think there are many ways for locals to enhance their product offerings to differentiate them and improve their connection with their markets. I've seen a few in my wanderings in the last few months. I hope that they can help define the porous boundaries between material, products and services. Exploring these borders can help us all think about the work we do and the services we offer.

While in Bagan, Myanmar, I saw several temples plazas that housed seas of cotton fabric with beautiful, intricate sand paintings. I stopped to admire them...some are based on the amazing designs slowing fading into invisibility on the interior temple walls. Here they are, in bright relief, remade for us! Others are trite design motifs that seem to reappear in various incarnations across many Southeast Asian countries: monks walking in a line with parasols, ladies with pots balanced on their heads. The issue I have, is that while they are putting tremendous effort and skill into their product, their products still look like raw materials. Arrayed across the temple plaza stones, they weigh their fabric down with rocks to keep them from blowing away. Equal thought is not going into the presentation.

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I stopped to talk with one of the artists as he gave me his pitch—the sand paintings were durable—you could crumple them in your bag, get them wet even, and they stayed intact. While he spoke, he proceeded to crumple up one of his pieces, and pour water on it! I appreciated that his work might actually make the trip home in my backpack fully intact. On the other hand, I was somehow doubtful all the creases would ever come out. Either way, I feel like his product presentation didn't have the intended effect—I wasn't sold.

Product merchandising is so important...many merchants have a more-is-more approach, stuffing their stalls with products and many multiple versions of products...leaving little to the imagination. Others give their products a bit of room to breathe, and it can have the effect of drawing the eye in, and also elevating the perceived value of the product. Pairing products, or displaying them so I can imagine them in use can be really helpful. While I was walking the side streets of Battambang, Cambodia, I passed this boutique that paired sunglasses with their sweaters.
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I felt like the sand artist could take an extra step and help me out—I was going to have to take it home, mat and frame it. They could have some of them framed to help me visualize the right use of his product and guide me towards purchase more easily. It may be a material now—but here it is as a product!

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