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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  22 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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The young Danish designer Mikkel Mikkelsen first caught my attention when I saw a series of experiments he had created with wood, aluminium and acrylic/plexi. A dining table with the same honesty as the original experiment captures the lessons learned.

Ever since I first saw the experiment, I've enjoyed following his progress as a designer, and a few months ago, one of his latest endeavors caught my attention once again. This time around, it was due to a duck. I know it sounds a bit odd, but this small little character with a metal beak is a remarkable duck, it's a duck you fall in love in a heartbeat, and it's a part of a grander book project created by Aviendo Fairytale. Seeing how far Mikkel has come since the first time i saw his design, how true he has been towards himself, his design and the people he come into contact with, I figured it was about time you all got a proper introduction to his work.

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Core77: How did you get into the field of design?

Mikkel Mikkelsen: Before I started in the school of architecture, I was working in construction while I was doing business school. I was working in building high-end private homes in a company where my dad was a constructing architect. So the interest for architecture started there I guess—my dad also had his own studio before this, so drawing houses has always been in my life. It was like it was meant to be.

I think after architecture school, I was looking for a way to keep working on mikkelmikkel because I was, and am not very interested in a 9-to-5 job in one of the big companies. I tried this a couple of times but I always end up feeling stuck behind a computer and very detached from the projects. I think it has something to do with the scale of the projects in the big companies. I have always preferred the smaller scale that relates more directly to the basic needs of human beings.

To me, the interaction with clients are what drives the projects. A new project is always kind of a journey where you get up close and personal with the people you work for, which I find very interesting. Half of the journey is identifying and understanding the needs and challenges in a project before solving them.

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  25 Aug 2014  |  Comments (1)

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A few months ago, I was contacted by an organization called Women Engineers Pakistan, which introduces girls to the field of engineering and technology. Just reading the name made me curious. For those of you who don't know, I'm an architect, and I come from a family full of engineers and tech-heads. In other words, my choice of becoming an architect has never, at any point of my life, ever been questioned. I went to a technical high school in Uppsala, Sweden, always with the support of mom and dad, brothers and sister, my grandmother, aunts, uncle and most of all my wonderful grandfather. With 26 boys and 5 girls in my class, the male-to-female ratio was rather high, but my knowledge and competence was never questioned by anyone of the male gender. Not by teachers, nor by fellow students.

Hearing about an organization like this and its origins was inspiring, and it takes more then a bit of willpower and skin on the nose (Swedish expression) to start something as groundbreaking and controversial in a country where female students are told that they should reconsider their choice to study engineering and start studying something more suitable for women...

In this interview, I've had the great pleasure of talking directly with Ramla Quershi, the co-founder of Women Engineers Pakistan. She recently moved to the U.S. to study engineering on a full Fullbright scholarship. So even though she's busy with the big move and getting her bearings, she set aside some time for this interview. I hope you get as inspired by reading this as I did from writing it.

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Core77: Tell us a bit about the organization and the thoughts behind it.

Ramla Quershi: The organization is a budding startup, which looks to increase participation from Pakistani women in Pakistan in engineering. Women have always been by and large in domestic and agricultural jobs in Pakistan, and their participation in science and technology has been minimal. We realize that women make over half the Pakistani population and we're working to prevent that potential talent for technical prowess from going to waste. We're working with young girls at high schools to encourage them towards science and math

When did you start working on getting Women Engineers Pakistan up and running?

It started with a Facebook page last August. But it's wasn't until six months ago that we started working as an organization.

Why did you decide on starting WEP?

Throughout my engineering degree, I felt a nagging lack of women in this field. We were often discouraged by our professors that engineering is a 'big boy' area. It was disheartening to realize that there weren't many role models set out for us. So I created this organization to give women engineers a platform to represent themselves.

When the professors talked about it being a "big boy" profession, how did your fellow male students react to those sort of comments?

My fellow males knew that I was good at my studies, so they would often turn up for a group study option and ask me to explain things to them. So they had found out that the women in their class were just as good (some even better) engineers. Barring a few, many were courteous and encouraging. However, there were some 'go make a sandwich' sort of comments—but not many.

There must have been many ideas/incentives to make it go from an concept into reality, what were they?

Oh yes, there were. Initially it was just a Facebook page, but then it started getting attention, and I realized that I had hit a niche. We were contacted by the U.S. Embassy through the Facebook page for meeting with a NASA engineer coming to Pakistan. And i thought, 'Oh wow, not much representation for the women in engineering crowd.'

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  19 Aug 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Cansu Akarsu is one of those people who you can't help but notice when she enters a room: Her bubbly and positive energy more than makes up for her small stature. I met her during the INDEX: Design Awards a few years back, and have had the great pleasure of seeing her grow as a designer with her many socially conscious projects. Her résumé includes projects such as Happy Baby Carrier, Pad Back and Soap Shish. She moved from Copenhagen to Stavanger, Norway, this year and is now working at Laerdal Global Health.

Tell us a bit about your background?

Cansu Akarsu: I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I studied at an American high school called Robert College in Turkey, followed by studies at Istanbul Technical University (ITU), which led to an exchange semester at TUDelft, Netherlands, and a year as an exchange student at Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Tech.

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What led you to study design?

At the international school, I had a chance to chose courses more focused on my various interests, which gave me a chance to study and experiment with web design and graphic design. I was very lucky, my school was very good in this way. They also conduct various personality test as to help you understand where you fit on the job market, and how you can direct your studies in that direction.

If you think about your closest family and friends, have they influenced you in any way?

If you ask my mom, my 'design genes' came from my father's side :). They fell in love at the university as my dad helped my mom with her technical drawing courses. So far, I am the only industrial designer in my family of engineers. What fascinates me most about design is the human aspect—that we focus more on the everyday behaviors of people than technical solutions to products.

For the last few years, you have been working with socially conscious design. How did you get started with that?

There were many small events to lead to this decision. One of them being a trip to the eastern part of Turkey that I took with my class at ITU. I had traveled a lot to different countries, but i had never visited cities outside of Istanbul, and I thought that they were going to be more or less on the same level when it came to the standards that I knew growing up. I was surprised and shocked to see the lack of resources that existed in my own country. This inspired me to see what sort of impact that I, as designer, could have on peoples' everyday lives. I understood that I could do something to help the development of my country and the world as a whole and that was really exciting for me. This is one of the reasons why I decided to participate in OpenIDEO. Here I attended the design challenges, and it was one of the places where I found that design skills could be used to address worlds' biggest problems.

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Posted by core jr  |   5 Aug 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Once again, Core77 is pleased to be the media partner for the Bike Cult Show, which will once again bring the very best custom framebuilders in the Northeast region to New York City this month. Set to take place on August 16–17 at the Knockdown Center in Queens, the second annual Bike Cult Show promises be bigger and better than before. In anticipation of the event, Bryan Hollingsworth of Royal H Cycles shared his story.

Text and images courtesy of Bryan Hollingsworth.

I grew up riding on the beautiful roads of northwestern New Jersey. No one believes me when I tell them this, but it's true. My first bike-related memories involve riding up and down our dirt road on an old Raleigh Rampar coaster-brake-equipped "BMX" bike. I wasn't a daredevil, though, so I was happy when I upgraded to another hand-me-down, my mom's 10 speed Super Grand Prix, so I could focus on getting places. I definitely inherited my love of bikes from my family—I did my first century with my parents and uncle on my 14th birthday, and my mom and sister have biked cross-country. Barring a brief lapse from riding after I got my driver's license, I've been riding with my family for as long as I can remember.

I studied to be an engineer, but had a hard time finding the right job. The pay was good, but the work was divorced from practical applications and [the results were] anything but beautiful. I saw an ad for the United Bicycle Institute and put it together that perhaps it was possible to build the machines I'd found so beautiful my whole life. I kind of assumed that bikes were either built by ancient Italian men or made in factories overseas up until that point, and though it seems obvious now, it opened my eyes to a lot of custom American builders who were doing interesting things with steel. It was a bit of a risk, but I enrolled and headed out to Oregon.

Long story short, I loved the course, crashed my car and decided to go car-free, gave up eating animal products after long talks in the dorms with Jordan Hufnagel (we were in the same UBI class, along with Taylor Sizemore), and came back changed and ready to live the bike-building lifestyle. I was an outsider to the industry though, so I applied incessantly to Independent Fabrications and Seven Cycles, and ended up landing a job at the latter.

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Posted by core jr  |  21 Jul 2014  |  Comments (1)

JamesSelf-0.jpgFigure 1: Digital CAD used to communicate form and design aesthetic. All images Courtesy of Younghoon Hwang, UNIST, Korea

This is the third article in an ongoing series by Dr. James Self in which he explores designers' approaches and tools in support of a thoughtful, reflective design activity.

CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask? · To Design Is to Understand Uncertainty · TDRs & Conceptual Design Practices

From thumbnail sketches to low fidelity models and prototypes to test rigs, CAD concept renderings, illustrations, mock-ups and visualizations, designers embody their design intentions using a variety of Tools of Design Representation (TDRs) during conceptual design in an attempt to provide creative solutions to often ill-defined design problems. The industrial designer employs TDRs with two objectives in mind. First, they provide a means to describe, explain and communicate design intentions to others. Second, they are used to reflect upon and develop one's own design intent towards emergent—but still conceptual—solutions. As such, TDR use is a critical component of conceptual design practices. In a previous Core77 article (CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask?), I responded to what I see as a limiting and somewhat circular debate on the role and use of CAD tools during conceptual design, drawing attention to the fact tools are only tools insofar as they are used as such to achieve a purpose. That is, the effectiveness of TDRs (CAD and sketching included) is dependent upon both context of use and, critically, the designers' own skills, knowledge and judgment in their application.

In light of the dizzying array of digital, conventional and hybrid tools now available to the designer, this article builds on some of the issues previously touched upon. I aim to move beyond anecdotal accounts of this or that best tool, way of working, method or media in this or that context or working environment towards the fundamentals of TDR use during conceptual design practice. What kinds of fundamental designerly knowledge, skills and practices underpin effective and productive engagement with and use of TDRs during conceptual design? I believe that knowledge of these fundamentals is required both to develop more effective digital design tools and to contribute to design pedagogy alongside the more traditional studio teaching environment of practical skills acquisition.

Fortuitously, design research over the past 30 years provides us with important insights into the act of designing and the kinds of thinking it involves. Donald Schon's seminal work (The Reflective Practitioner, 1991) on the notion of design as a reflective practice has been influential in providing a means to understand design activity and tool use. Briefly, considered through the lens of reflection-in-action, design activity is characterized by reflection (considering what has just been done, such as reflecting upon a sketch) and action (revising a sketch or CAD model in light of reflective understanding). Within this iterative process of reflection and action, the representation or embodiment of design intent is critically important. The designer must externalize design intentions through TDR use—sketches, drawings, notes, CAD models, physical prototypes, etc., of varying levels of fidelity—in order to reflect upon, test, and develop design ideas.

Important in influencing the nature of this reflection-action is the distinct character of the design problem. Design problems, unlike problems in the sciences, may often be ill-defined or wicked. The primary feature of these ill-defined problems is that there is and cannot be a single correct solution to the original problem but that there are many possible outcomes. In fact, there may potentially be an infinite number of possible solutions and a limitless number of ways to proceed towards a final design solution.

Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman (The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, 2012) describe this engagement with the design problem as a search for an ultimate particular. The designer must come to a solution that is itself new or particular in relation to any other solution that may have come before, one that must provide a best or ultimate possible result given the designer's emergent understanding of the design problem.

JamesSelf-2.jpgFigure 2: Sketch illustration to reflectively explore design intent

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Posted by core jr  |   3 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)

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By Mathieu Turpault, Director of Design at Bresslergroup

As technology evolves, designers are focused more on multisensory design. We're enthusiastic about its potential—but as with anything novel and compelling, there's a tendency for the pendulum to swing too far.

Too many early attempts at designing multisensory products tend to maximize for all or most senses without any consideration of context or of how the different senses relate to each other when people are processing information. (We get it—we had the same tendency of maximizing for all the senses when we first started.) While this is fine as an experiment, it's not appropriate as a product design methodology.

As we've dipped more into multisensory design, we've surveyed the breadth of relevant research being done (and that has already been done) in psychology and human factors. We've compiled a summary of it in our post, Psych for Product Designers: Research To Inform Multisensory Design.

This research has demonstrated that the most effective experiences are designed for perception and not for individual senses. This means that experiences and perceptions are contextual, and sensory research and analysis needs to pass through product designers' user research techniques and methodologies before ending up as product features.

With this in mind, we've created some user research approaches for designers seeking to achieve the right mix of multisensory features:

1. Observe the environment.

Take note with all your senses of the environment and whether aspects of it might obscure sensory cues. We designed a medical product a few years ago for which we optimized for both tactile and audible feedback. It turned out the typical user (a surgeon) often blasts music in the operating room, making the audible feedback pretty meaningless.

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Posted by Ray  |  29 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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I'd heard that cycling had caught on in London, but somehow I wasn't expecting the shoals of A.M. bike commuters at every intersection in the city center as I was shuttled across town, groggy from the red-eye but alert to my new surroundings. Given the preponderance of helmets, high-viz gear (highlighter-yellow backpacks and shells are the order of the day) and mudguards (I noticed that one fellow had two rear fenders), these folks struck me as rather more like diehard Portlanders than the fair weather pedalers we have here in NYC. I also witnessed a couple of subtler behavioral cues as to the growing presence of the cyclists in London: 1.) an irritated cyclist slapped the side of a car that blocked the bike lane in an ill-advised three point, and 2.) a jaywalker actually checked for cyclists before stepping into a (non-bike) lane.

All of this, duly noted in a single journey from Heathrow Airport to trendy Shoreditch (the adjective is obligatory at this point), where I had the chance to meet pro cyclist Mark Cavendish on the occasion of a product launch for Specialized. And even though only a fraction of the riders traversing London on any given morning would be considered to be the target market for the new CVNDSH collection, he (and Specialized) hope to get ahead of the curve. "Bikes are fashionable now; cycling is becoming popular," Cavendish quipped, even as he acknowledged that it "is still quite niche—[after all,] you've got to shave your legs and wear lycra."

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Still, I couldn't quite gauge his renown amongst Londoners—Cavendish is widely regarded as the fastest road cyclist in the world, with a World Championship and 25 stage wins at the Tour de France to his name, among other achievements—though this certainly might have had to do with the very limited sample of non-sportsfans that I'd consulted. In any case, the man known as the Manx Missile is rather unassuming in person, and he struck me as chatty and approachable despite his reputation as a fierce and an at-times outspoken competitor.

He had every reason to be in a good mood: Speaking with the slight lilt that I'd heard in post-race interviews (he hails from the Isle of Man), Cavendish introduced the new road cycling apparel line that he had designed and developed with Specialized: jersey, bib shorts, helmet, gloves and shoes, as well as a saddle. (If it seems unusual that the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based company would hold the launch event in London, Cavendish explained that he was traveling to the Tour of Turkey the following day; if you must know, he'd won the first two stages as of press time.)

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  22 Apr 2014  |  Comments (3)

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This is the second of a mini series on lightweight backpacking and the designers who love it. We previously spoke with Mike St. Pierre of Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

Whether you think ultralight backpacking sounds like hell or vacation, it provides a special dilemma for design minds. Ultralight gear has to be minimal, ergonomic, versatile and very very light. To get a higher-level industry take on the lightweight challenge I spoke with Mike Pfotenhauer, founder, owner and and chief designer of Osprey Packs. Osprey is over four decades old and renowned for innovative, ergonomic and, yes, lightweight pack design. Still independently owned and operated, they're a leading name in multiple fields of backpacking. When I caught up with Mike he had just gotten back from Southern California—a region he's required as a Northerner to speak poorly of—where he'd had a nice time hiking around Big Sur. (Don't tell him I told you.)

You guys have been doing pack design for a very long time. What sparks new ideas now?

For us a new design is often a compilation of older ideas that finally make sense. We build many iterations when developing a new product. Often it requires a minimum of 15 or 20 different versions before we can finalize a new product. All of this experimentation is never wasted. Our prototype archives are loaded with innovative concepts that are just waiting for the right opportunity. We have a lot of ideas stored. In fact, I just told everybody we have to dig out today! We have so many prototypes we're tripping over them! It's insane, we're drowning, we could get lost in them!

Do you still have a hand in the design process?

I'm definitely still involved in the design process. We have a design office in Mill Valley, and up until two years ago I did almost all of it. Now I have two design assistants and a production manager, and the design team in Vietnam, who turn the designs into prototypes and so on. We get a lot of input from distributors and vendors too. We travel to Vietnam where we have 35 people in the development office. With web conferencing we keep the product on a 24-hour development path. They build samples and ship them here or we go over them online, and go over them again and again and again... until the curtain. It's been worked to death by then. So that's three designers—two less than half my age, which is interesting. Young minds to keep me thinking young.

You guys just put out a new Exos. What's your take on going ultralight from a design perspective?

I really appreciate limitations. With any lightweight gear you have that rule—you want to keep it simple. It's also nice from a sustainability angle. Less process, less material. I do gravitate towards lightweight, towards minimalism. I like the challenge to strip things away. We're pretty known for that—gear that's lighter but durable. Not too light, though. We have an extensive warranty program and we don't want stuff coming back. Or getting thrown away!

How do you determine desired weight and work towards it?

Comfort, efficiency and load transfer are the concerns at the top of our list. Once we've accomplished those we do what we can to strip weight where it won't be detrimental. Because we develop our prototypes entirely in-house we know the product intimately and every gram that's not pulling its weight is discarded. With the Exos we knew that a highly tensioned back panel would be far lighter and more comfortable and ventilated than one with plastic or foam. We stripped dense foams out of the hipbelt and shoulder straps and created more ventilation by using layers of 3D mesh.

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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 advi 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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