*The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of his firm or its clients.
Now that we've seen how a valuable design patent strategy can begin to take shape, we'll step back a little and look at how even a known positive aspect of design patents ended up being misused to their detriment. This can also give us a clue as to where to start to turn things around and rehabilitate the reputation of design patents.
Misconception 3: Design patents are, at best, just an easy way to get a patent number on a product.
In all the ways that common misconceptions about design patents are wrong, the notion that they're easy to get is actually correct. That is, compared to utility patents, they're relatively easy to get. The patent process itself is confounding, difficult and full of seemingly inane rules no matter which side you're on. However, once a utility patent is filed, it often faces an uphill battle to actually be allowed by the United States Patent Office. For one, the waiting list for utility patents to be examined is between about two and three years. Once examination starts, the back-and-forth arguing with the patent office over whether or not a patent is actually deserved can take at least another year and can be endlessly frustrating.
Design patents, on the other hand, only sit for about six months to a year before being examined. Even better, many design patents are immediately allowed or only face formal objections, rather than more difficult substantive rejections, that are almost automatic for utility applications. Even taking a more strategic approach to design patent filing may not have a significant impact on examination times because the sheer volume of design patent applications filed is so much lower than with respect to utility patents.
Many people who are otherwise unconcerned with the visual aspects of a product seek to use the ease of getting a design patent to their advantage. Their goal is to quickly get a design patent, even a cheap one, to be able to honestly mark a product as "patented" or to have some minimal level of protection while they wait for their utility patents to issue. When people take this approach, they really don't care what they end up with; they just want it to be cheap and quick. This is a big part of the reason why so many bad design patents exist.
The problem that stems from all the bad design patents out there is that, eventually, people do decide to try and enforce some of them. The courts have always seemed to struggle not only in trying to make sense of visual design but also simply trying to find a way to keep design patents, including bad ones, afloat. More often than not though, actually winning a design patent lawsuit proves exceedingly difficult. This phenomenon fed back into the perception that design patents themselves are inherently weak, causing that myth to become widespread.
The perception of design patents was on a downward spiral for some time, during which repeated half-hearted attempts at design protection were followed by repeated unsuccessful but costly attempts at design patent enforcement. It got so bad that even in cases where those involved felt that the product's design really did matter, the motivation behind any accompanying design patents was simply the thought that "well, this does have a design so we might as well file a design patent."
In spite of all this, the Federal Circuit recently opened the door somewhat for design patents. In what would seem like a very innocuous case involving a design patent for fingernail buffers, the Court removed a critical aspect of the law of design patent enforcement that was partly what made winning a design patent lawsuit so difficult. In the absence of the requirement that design patent plaintiffs spell out the "points of novelty" of their design before it's compared against the alleged infringing product, design patent enforcement may now prove easier. In one example, the footwear maker Crocs was successful in a lawsuit against some knock-offs that actually had some noticeable differences from the patented design (this should also ease any concerns that a design has to be universally lauded to deserve design patent protection).
*The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of his firm or its clients.
In the first article of this series, we introduced the idea that valuable design patents are something that designers can, and should, work to obtain. We also explored the misconception that design patents are inherently narrow or easy to get around and discovered exactly where the holes in such a belief lie. In this article, we'll look at how the cost of design patents affects how people perceive their value and what the actual cost of a good design patent strategy should be.
Misconception 2: Design patents are cheap (and why it's a good thing that this is wrong)
Anyone who has participated on both the design and utility side of the patent application process can see a difference in how the applications get written and assembled. Both the amount of information exchanged and the time taken for preparing a utility patent are much greater than when dealing with a design patent application. Of course, this time is ultimately reflected in the cost of the application, which in the case of a utility, is typically expected to be in the range of $8,000 to $12,000. That, however, is for a single application that may only cover limited aspects of a product. Simply comparing this to the cost for a design application, which can be between $2,000-3,000, shows a notable difference in the expected amount of time usually spent on these two types of applications.
Adequately covering a new and innovative product on the utility side, however, can often involve multiple applications, adding up to sometimes more than $50,000 for a single product (and that's just to file the applications). Most of the time, when working on the design side, only a single application is filed. The Patent Office might require an applicant to split up the application into separate applications that cover what they determine to be different designs, even if only slightly different. Such a requirement only incrementally increases the cost, which ultimately pales in comparison to the total on the utility side.
This vast difference in cost certainly makes design patents look cheap. Simply because there isn't much actual legal writing involved, design patents shouldn't cost as much as utility patents. But, they shouldn't be viewed as cheap. There are probably a lot of designers who wouldn't view $3,000 as cheap, but the overall notion, especially from the perspective of someone paying $50,000 to begin the utility patent process, is that design patents comparatively lack value. It's also worth mentioning that there can also be a significant additional cost in actually getting a utility patent through the Patent Office. The cost of so-called patent prosecution can add another $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of a utility application itself (it can be more in extreme cases) and is also less expensive when dealing with design patents.
*The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of his firm or its clients.
The mere mention of design patents in the title of this article has already gotten most of you thinking about the ongoing trial of Apple against Samsung. Many are waiting to see which side of the dispute I'll favor and some people are ready to unleash their arguments against my position. They'll have to keep waiting, though, because this article isn't about Apple v. Samsung...well, as much as any article on design patents right now can manage to not be about Apple v. Samsung.
While we wait through what many are characterizing as the "boring" part of the trial, I'd like to take some time to discuss design patents in general. I'm sure that many industrial designers who are following the Apple v. Samsung case are wondering how a handful of design patents, the oft-maligned afterthought of the intellectual property (or "IP" world), can make up a significant part of a $2.5 billion lawsuit. More importantly, designers should be interested to know what the impact of this case will be on design patents and how that will affect their own work.
From a purely legal standpoint, nothing is likely to change because of Apple v. Samsung, regardless of the outcome. Any design patent not involved in the trial will be the same on the day after the verdict as it was the day before. The decision in Apple v. Samsung is going to be based on how the jury interprets the facts of the case. The only way any law has a chance of being changed is if a decision gets appealed.
The real potential for impact, however lies in the mere fact that the design and business worlds are paying close attention to the design patent side of this case in the first place. Design patents have been around for over 150 years and in that time have only seen limited usage. Sure, many people or corporations have sued in the past to enforce their design rights with some success, but both the number of design patent lawsuits and the number of design patents granted pale in comparison to those of utility patents.
The traditionally meager status of design patents is the reason why many designers are likely surprised by the prominence of design patents in Apple v. Samsung. In all reality, practically everyone who has an opinion holds design patents in the lowest esteem of all the different forms of IP protection. You'll find that most people listing the different areas of intellectual property will rattle off copyright, trademark and patent while actually only thinking of utility patents—the more esteemed form of patent protection that is geared toward what an invention is or how it functions.
If asked about protection for the visual aspects of a product's design, that same person might then dismissively mention the existence of a design patent before relaying a common view about them: they're easy to get around, but they're cheap and easy to get. This perspective views design patents, at best, a quick way to get a patent number to slap on a product.
The negative view of design patents is so widespread that even most designers feel that there is no meaningful way to protect the appearance of a product. The fact is that while many of the innovations that come out of design and design thinking find adequate protection in utility patents, most designers feel that there is no meaningful way to protect the appearance of a product. As a result, designers often feel that a substantial part of their work is left vulnerable to copying. This feeling exists in spite of the fact that an entire section of IP law in the United States has been carved out for the protection of a product's visual design.
Before we get too far in, it is important to understand the different types of IP protection and how they relate to each other. Put as simply as possible, patents protect things and methods for making or using things, trademarks essentially protect brand identity and copyrights protect artistic expression. As mentioned above, patents are further broken down into utility patents and design patents. While methods fit exclusively within the area of utility patents, physical things can find protection on both the utility and design sides.
Essentially, the structure or functional elements of a thing can be protected by utility patents, and the physical appearance can be protected by design patents. If there are any features of a product that straddle the line between being functional or being visual, you can often find a way to get protection from both types of patents. This alone is a major advantage of design patents over trademarks and copyrights, which both specifically exclude coverage for anything functional (the recent grant of trademark protection to Hershey's notable chocolate bar pattern notwithstanding). To get design protection for something that has unique characteristics both visually and functionally, all you have to do is to find a way to present it so that the appearance of what you're protecting is dictated more by aesthetics than by function, if only slightly.
While Apple v. Samsung isn't currently rewriting any design patent laws, it's certainly putting design patents in a position that makes them hard to ignore. Apple's focus on its design rights with respect to a product that is also covered by over 200 utility patents (by Apple's own count) is making people realize that, if you're serious about design, you need to seriously consider design patents. The key for designers going forward is going to be knowing what it means to be serious about design patents.
Unfortunately, I can't simply say that the common, dismissive view of design patents is absolutely false and that filing more design patent applications and suing more people for design patent infringement will fix everything. The fact is that not all design patents are created equal, and that it's really easy to end up with a bad one. If you go into the patent process with the view that you're just trying to get a cheap and easy patent, a design patent can fit that bill, but it may prove to be worth about the amount of consideration and time that went into it. Often, this ends up being very little or nothing at all. On the other hand, with the right thought process and a little extra effort, it is actually possible to get valuable coverage from a design patent.
The problem is that the cheap and easy approach to design patents is so pervasive that it weighs down the entire design patent system. The result is that each of the components of this view have been almost accepted as fact. However, the thinking that design patents are easy to avoid, that they're cheap and that their only redeeming quality is that they're easy to get, are really misconceptions about design patents that arose over time from lack of understanding of or appreciation for design itself. As you can see, this problem is bigger than three individual design patents and can't be fixed by one simple trial, but designers can use the opportunity presented by the current attention to design patents as a way to take steps to erase these misconceptions.
To understand how to get valuable design patents we need to understand why so many bad design patents have been filed and have been issued in the past. This involves exploring each misconception about design patents to see that they are not indicative of inherent limitations of design patents in general. Of course, simply knowing that good design patents are a possibility is only one step to actually getting one yourself. Fortunately, there are a few simple things that designers can do themselves to ensure that the design patents they get or that cover their designs are worth the effort and expense.
Misconception 1: Design Patents Are Easy to Get Around
Everything starts with the idea that design patents are inherently narrow in scope and that any design patent can be avoided or "designed around" by simply making some minor change to the original design. Historically, it's true that most of the people who have tried to sue someone for infringement of a design patent have found that their patents can't protect against much more than blatant copies. We can see that this isn't always the case though, by the simple fact that Apple's case against Samsung has made it this far. The reason why people have such a hard time covering other products with their design patents, however, is really a problem with how those specific patents are put together and not because of some built-in limitation of design patents in general.
We are about to reach the climax of a very big war among multi-national technology companies. The chess pieces of this war will be intellectual property (IP). In all war there is collateral damage and in the IP battles that damage is two-fold effecting consumers and smaller technology companies.
A Brief History of Software and Patents
The IP Wars have been going on ever since the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) opened in 1802. It wasn't until almost 200 years later that it issued a very special patent to Amazon.com for a software process, "1-Click." It wasn't the first software patent, but it was the first USPTO-issued patent that was controversial within the software technology group. The patent itself covered no special technologies. No special algorithms. It was a patent of process. Further, the process itself was so ubiquitous within the software community that it didn't seem distinctly unique to Amazon.
This brought up a huge PR and process challenge for the USPTO. They quickly became swamped by attempts for similar patents from business people at large (not just technology folks). Since the 1-Click patent was issued in 1999, the technology community has been very torn. On the one hand, patents were being upheld by the courts and if you didn't play (which meant pay lawyers to make sure it was worth playing at all) with the USPTO, someone will either patent away your rights to your own work, or ignore your unregistered rights and use greater resources to overtake you. On the other hand, it was clear to many that the speed of innovation is too great for policies and laws written centuries ago to have much merit in today's society. Copyright law, in particular, has clearly outlasted its namesake "copy" due to the very nature of digital media where everything that exists can be considered a copy. There are similar issues with patents as well.
But it is also not so simple. In a world where many patents are a mix of hardware (read lengthy and expensive research & development [R&D] cycles) and software (read as short and cheaper R&D cycles) process innovation has become very complicated to understand and expensive. Combining expensive hardware claims with less expensive software claims has made it easier for large companies to protect software that probably would not have been worth the trouble of protecting alone. This has become particularly true in the last 5 years in the mobile technology world. This is why we have landed here today. Apple's iPhone is inarguably one of the most disruptive pieces of technology in its combination of hardware, software and services of the last 2 decades. Apple was very prepared, and for its part, patented a lot of the technology that made the iPhone unique.
Apple also did what many technology companies did. They used other company's patented technologies when it was clear that that company had no interest (though reserved the right) in defending their IP. A fun example of this is actually how Twitter doesn't defend its list refresh patent that Apple is now using in iOS 6. Much of technology would not function if everyone protected their patents, so there is an understanding of the "greater good" within the technology business. But one company's good is another company's opportunity for profit.
As a last bit of background, what is also important to know is that almost all previous suits by Apple, or of Apple have been settled before a trial began. This includes suits with Samsung's partner OS partner Google. Since it is difficult to peel apart what is Samsung's IP from what is purely Google's and since the suit is only with Samsung (at this point), in this article, I'm only going to refer to the IP in question as belonging to Samsung.
APPLE VS. SAMSUNG
Apple has sued Samsung on the claim (to keep it simple) that Samsung has purposefully (that's a big distinction in the world of patent litigation) copied valuable pieces of Apple's IP.
The types of interaction design IP cover 3 distinct types:
Image courtesy of Michel Boot, Delft University of Technology
This is the second article from Dr. James Self exploring designers' approaches and tools in support of a thoughtful, reflective design activity. You can read the first piece, "CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask?" here.
Design practitioners are well-aware of and indeed exploit uncertainty as a means to facilitate design thinking, innovation and creativity. As design intentions are explored through the use of designerly tools such as sketching, design activity remains divergent, iterative and uncommitted. This ambiguous uncertainty facilitates design thinking and the exploration of often ill-defined design problems. In short, there exists a unique relationship between uncertainty and design activity. Because to design is to engage with an exploration of ideas towards the yet to be. Understanding this relationship is important if we are to develop our understanding of what it is to design.
So, what is uncertainty and what contribution can it make to design activity and design thinking?
In order to understand uncertainty as it relates to design activity it is important to first attempt to define it. The Oxford English dictionary offers the following definition:
The state of being uncertain... not able to be relied on; not known or definite.
This suggests uncertainty is a human state or emotion, a reaction to situations that are or appear to be unknown or unclear; the ambiguous. This definition of uncertainty has implied negative connotations—the natural response to uncertainty is to employ a course of action with the purpose of resolving the uncertain state; to seek the truth. In the natural sciences, where the objective is to understand the world as it is, this makes good sense. Through scientific enquiry we discover truths about our natural world. We are able to develop an understanding of how the world is.
But what if our purpose is to develop strategies, ideas and thinking towards that which does not yet exist? How should uncertainty be approached and what can this then tell us about the unique nature of designerly ways of knowing? Before addressing these questions it is worth spending a few moments to consider the slippery subject of what it is to design.
It has been well documented in previous attempts to define 'design' that the word immediately throws up challenges in coming to a consensus of its use and meaning. Ironically, the meaning of design remains uncertain! This is not the time or the place to engage in a discussion of the various semantic meanings of the word. However, for the purposes of our discussion of uncertainty in design activity, we will refer to the word design as a verb; as in to design—we are referring to the activity of designing. We can also say that the act of designing has, at its core, a requirement to adapt an existing system, process or object in a new way or to describe a new system, process or object. The designer is a futurist—they must explore, develop and present concepts and ideas towards that which may be, but does not yet exist.
So engagement in an activity of design is characterised by the exploration of the yet to be. As a result of this, design activity involves engagement with not only the unknown, as in the pursuit of knowledge in the sciences, but that which cannot be known because it does not yet exist. It is because design activity involves an exploration of the yet to be that design is unique in its relationship with uncertainty.
Related to this uniqueness, design problems may be described as ill-defined or wicked, where the solution to the problem or outcome is unknown or unclear at the start of the process. There may be more than one 'correct' solution to any given design problem. The designer's role is to explore alternatives, finally coming to the specification of a best or optimal solution.
Detroit was a tough act to follow, but the last couple stops on his five-week road trip offered a few more vignettes into the breadth of American design in 2012. Dave shares the stories of his new friends in Greater Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in this final chapter of the travelogue.
Although I was pretty much exhausted coming out of Detroit, I decided to make a detour to Indiana to check out Carbon Motors. The automotive company's prototype police car is a thing of sheer beauty. Given my background in law enforcement, I completely support a company putting the officer first in the design process. However, in everything I've read about Carbon Motors, I've yet to hear the origin story. So I went straight to the source: co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Stacy Dean Stephens.
Carbon Motors co-founder Stacy Dean Stephens
Stephens actually went to school for aerospace engineering before spending nine years working in finance. A friend in the Dallas, TX, Police Department once offered Stephens the chance to do a ride-along, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Soon after, Stephens quit his job and headed to the police academy, graduated valedictorian, and joined the Coppell, TX, Police Department. Stephens's previous experience in business and marketing proved to be a benefit and allowed him to "speak to people on a different level."
Around the same time Stephens started working, the leading cause in police officer deaths in the United States was car-related fatalities. Allegedly a rear impact to the Crown Victoria caused the fuel tank to explode. The International Association of Chiefs of Police met with three of the largest auto manufacturers to discuss the issue but were met with the party line, "We don't build purpose-built. You add on other stuff, it's not our fault."
Suicide doors? I'm sold!
This did not sit well with Stephens and spawned the initial idea for Carbon Motors. "When Chevy shut down the Caprice factory in Arlington, TX," thought Stephens, "why not convert it to a police car factory?" Stephens joined forces with Bill Santana Li (now CEO of Carbon Motors), who had spent nearly a decade with Ford. "If you talk to anyone on the automotive side, they'll say building a car is easy," said Stephens. "If you ask me, the cop—yeah, it's a big undertaking!"
Stephens described Carbon Motors as "more closely resembling a defense contractor than an automaker" in terms of the technology the company brings to the police department market. In some cases, the options for the E7 (the current prototype) include military-grade technology. "We're a platform upon which technology companies can place their wares and get into these agencies," said Stephens. With a market size of more than 19,000 police departments, 500,000 cruisers on the street, and "no single point of contact," Carbon Motors gives police officers the chance to help shape the law enforcement technology industry by giving them a manufacturer that builds products based on real, not just perceived, needs. Stephens formed the Carbon Council as a user group to guide the design of the E7 and intends to expand the group to better inform further iterations.
The interior is molded to fit the gear of the modern-day police officer
Moreover, Carbon Motors is designing their police cruiser to reduce the amount of actual assembly that will eventually need to be done. Stephens described "four major buckets" in the assembly line that his company is seeking to do almost entirely away with. The metal shop is not needed because the body of the cruiser is made from molded plastic; the complex body shop is not needed because the body of the cruiser is made from tens of parts, not hundreds; and the paint shop is not needed because a film is mixed in with the plastic, producing colored parts. Only the final assembly and trim area is required, thus greatly reducing the amount of space needed to manufacture the E7.
Air scoops on the rear of the E7 passively suck in air and test it with radiological devices
We can't believe that Dave has been on the road for a month straight and he's saved the best for last. After wrapping up things in Chicago, Omaha and Madison, he's humming in the Motor City. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
Of all the cities I visited on my trip, I was most excited to see Detroit. However, it would be too easy for this article to reinforce the status quo when it comes to talking about Detroit. Sure, I could write about Michigan Central Station which has come to serve as the de facto symbol of Detroit's landscape of abandoned buildings. (It really is a sight to behold, especially when you come across it in the dead of night like I did.) I could write about the plan to shut down streetlights or that whole Robocop / Kickstarter thing. Instead, I'm going to introduce you to some of the absolutely amazing people I met in Motor City, because the new definition of Detroit is based on the people not the city.
I stopped by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), housed in the College for Creative Studies, to understand the current context for design and designers in Detroit. The goal of DC3 is to spur economic development by "presenting assets that are uniquely Detroit," to advance Detroit creatives, and to leverage design to help solve the "deep challenges" of the city. In reality, this means the Center acts as one part business incubator, one part ambassador, and one part party planner. DC3 also happens to know everyone and everything involved in design in Detroit.
Detroit Creative Corridor Center's Matt Clayson, Jacqueline Kirouac, Adrian Pittman, Shane He, Melinda Anderson, and Bethany Betzler
Back in 2006, Business Leaders for Michigan gathered to map the assets for Detroit and surrounding areas as a way of galvanizing the region. Creative talent was high on the list, but retaining and attracting that talent was a problem. Then 2008 hit. Although the atmosphere in the city "eventually stabilized," there are still physical and psychological barriers to developing the creative community in Detroit into a healthy and flourishing one. In order to take the first step in overcoming these challenges, Matt Clayson, Director of DC3, is asking the question, "What are the big deficiencies that prevent creative talent in Detroit from telling their stories?"
After a month on the road, Dave's finally made it to the Heartland, doubling back from the East, South and West to the Great Plains en route home to Boston. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
Prototype BRT bus interiors by students at the Institute of Design, lead by George Aye and Martin Thaler
Just days before I arrived in Chicago, I stumbled across Greater Good Studio's Kickstarter project to reshape public transit in the city. (This was before we featured the project here on Core77, so I like to think I got the exclusive scoop, even if it's a week late!) George and Sara Aye, the founders of Greater Good Studio, are truly putting their money where their mouth is. "I always said I was going to do these things," George said, referring, of course, to using design to solve society's problems instead of a career where the project ratio is "one children's hospital to ten frozen pizza projects." George spent almost a decade at IDEO before leading the internal design team at the Chicago Transit Authority. Sara also "walked away from corporate innovation to social innovation," leaving an equally successful career at IA Collaborative.
George and Sara Aye
The goal of this past year has been to build a foundation and presence for the Studio, both in terms of local clients and the larger "conversation about design and social impact." The Ayes look to luminaries at Reboot, Project H, and IDEO.org, among others, for leadership in the field. However, this conversation about social innovation is happening almost exclusively on the East and West Coasts, with little growth in the states in between. "We would like to prove that this is worth doing," said George. "There are ways to help people other than pro bono and traditional consulting. It's hard—if it was easy, everyone would do it."
Prototype BRT bus interiors by students at the Institute of Design, lead by George Aye and Martin Thaler
Being successful in the field of social innovation, though, means finding a business model that fills this void between contemporary notions of profitability and the starving NGO worker. Panthea Lee of Reboot once mentioned something similar to me about the failings of NGO's and how to succeed in the business of saving the world by acting like a for-profit company. This is the exact approach the Ayes are taking: operate as a non-profit studio with the mentality and business acumen of a for-profit institution.
"We didn't know if anybody would say anything or if there would be crickets," said George Aye of the Studio's launch. Shortly after, the Ayes received a call from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management to teach innovation to MBAs. "Suddenly we were experts," said Sara. "If we're saying we are, then we better be," said George. The classroom served as a petri dish both for the students to learn new skills and for the Ayes to learn what it means to teach design. One project had the students shipped off to Africa and Asia to explore emerging markets where "the challenge is designing when there is no obvious client." The lesson learned was one of finding innovative solutions that are sustainable and "financially sound" through some sort of "commercial value."
Now that Dave has traveled from coast to coast, he's headed back East, with several stops in the top half of the country. Portland was a blast, but now it's Mountain Time: the first stops on the way back are Denver and Boise. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
After surviving the craziest thunderstorm I have ever driven through, I finally arrived in Denver, CO to visit Maura Gramzinski and Mark Veljkovich at Red Camper, a hand-made bag company with an interesting twist. "I was the child of two major hippies who traveled a lot when I was a kid in a red camper," said Gramzinski. When Gramzinski's grandparents passed away some time ago, the one-time photographer inherited her grandparents' 35mm slide collection from their numerous journeys around the world. A creative impulse led to a handbag made from the slides Gramzinski and her family had deemed not worth keeping. This handbag, with a little prodding from an industrial designer boyfriend, led to conversations with a waterbed company that resulted in a proprietary process for sealing slides inside plastic sheets that could be sewn together into a bag.
Red Camper's Maura Gramzinski and Mark Veljkovich
The prototype bag
Gramzinski finds slides at auctions and estate sales or even bought by the pound on eBay. And, no, Gramzinski is no longer using her grandparents' slides, as she is quick to point out. However, since her slide handbag project has gained fame on the Internet, Gramzinski receives packages of slides in the mail, with some requests for the slides to be included in the bags. "I want the collection of slides to tell a story," said Gramzinski, whether a fictional one or one actually from someone's past. In a strange way, this makes me think of Instagram, if not the physical versions of memories that Instagram is helping to replace.
Beyond the inclusion of slides, the most idiosyncratic part of Red Camper's product lines are the naked ladies. "My grandfather was a jokester," said Gramzinski, "and in every slideshow there would be at least five naked ladies sporadically placed throughout to make sure we were paying attention." Gramzinski had duplicates made of eight of her grandfather's naked lady slide collection in order to include one in each of her handbags. "It's about having a sense of humor and curiosity," said Gramzinski. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find film developers to make the duplicated slides since many consider it pornography.
Although handbags made from slides was certainly the idea that prompted the creation of Red Camper, it is only the beginning of the studio's product offerings. Laptop bags, made out of vintage car upholstery, came next, continuing the thread of road trip nostalgia and story, while greeting cards highlighting "awesome slides that might be overlooked" serve as a gateway product for Red Camper. Yet there is a worry that Gramzinski and Veljkovich will be "pegged as the slide people."
Red Camper has a larger mission beyond simply making products, though. "The idea of going somewhere and bringing home a souvenir has turned into buying something cheap and Chinese," said Gramzinski. She has a point. Why go visit a state on the other side of America just to buy a bunch of trinkets that were not even made in this country? I have made it a point to not buy many souvenirs on this road trip, because souvenirs take up precious space in my car (although I am very thankful for all the swag from the firms I've visited.) Of the few things I have bought so far, one of my favorites is a vintage tie with a felt monster sewn onto it by a local artist in Tucson, AZ. So, in Gramzinski's version of my souvenir experience, "Why not a hand-tooled belt from Tennessee and then you would be able to tell the story of that creator and have it mean something?"
Gramzinski described the future of Red Camper as a series of partnerships with local artisans and craftspeople to create products that are "representative of a certain region" within the US in order to "connect something you bought with where you bought it" and to tell that story. "I want it to head to the point where Red Camper covers the segment of American travel and souvenirs," said Gramzinski, "but nothing cheesy." The idea is certainly one I welcome.
In anticipation of the upcoming IDSA 2012 International Conference, Core77 had an opportunity to talk to speaker Stefan Andrén, who will share his experiences in his keynote "From Employee to Entrepreneur - A Designer's Leap," just one of many topics encompassed in this year's conference theme, The Future Is...
The Future Is... about us. How we work, laugh, learn, cooperate, connect and stay healthy. Topic experts will address the dramatically changing playing field in business and technology in a format where attendees contribute to the understanding of the information.
We are in times of extreme economic stress and yet the rules of business and commerce keep changing at an almost impossible rate. How do the best stay ahead, and what is design's role in addressing change?
Don't forget to REGISTER TODAY for the conference; registration closes on Monday, August 6, at midnight EST.
Core77: Your practice is very broad, from telecommunications to architectural hardware, not to mention your work for Nike. Do you find that these different disciplines are converging, or do you prefer working between them precisely because they are distinct?
Stefan Andrén: I find that it's both. The variety keeps me on my toes, and in my opinion there is plenty of opportunity for cross-pollination between categories. A design solution to a product in one area applied to another can provide that creative break-though that you are looking for. I find this to often be true for material usage and manufacturing techniques.
Not only do you travel extensively, you've lived in various cities in Europe, Asia and America. Does the setting inform your approach to design, or is it more a matter of the task at hand?
I don't feel it does. Perhaps because I spend time and get influenced from multiple places and cultures at any given point in time. I do believe that there can be a distinct advantage to experience multiple cultures; to see that there are widely different solutions to similar problems. I think it opens up your mind. To use a cliché, it can help you think outside of the box.
As a designer with intimate (if not altogether privileged) insight into the so-called "Quantified Self" movement, do you have any predictions for the future of fitness?
With advancements in everything from our understanding of the human body to our ability to track and record biometrics, I believe that the proliferation of companies offering products and services related to fitness will continue. I generally believe that knowledge is power, and I am convinced that this movement will continue to help educate and motivate us to become healthier... if we so choose to be.
The successful companies will be the ones that are capable to delivering meaningful information in a simple and intuitive way, and provide a connected community around the sharing of this information. For these very reasons I believe that companies like Nike will continue to be leaders in this space.
Seeing as you've worked for and with a variety of tech companies, how do you see design entrepreneurship in relation to tech entrepreneurship?
I am not sure that I see a clear distinction between the two....
Do you have any advice to would-be entrepreneurs (designers or otherwise) who are thinking about making the leap?
If you are going the self-funded route and want to play the odds, stay away from most of the consumer electronic product sector. The capital requirements and the time-crunch makes the stakes to play in this category very, very high. I founded Krown Lab very much because the of the timeless nature of the products, and the relative low initial capital investment needed. I began the collaborations with the start-up companies Atomic Floyd and Phosphor for similar reasons. While they can both be considered to be within the CE sector, the product categories both companies play within both have long product cycles which reduces the pressure of time to market.
Investors today are for good reasons very interested in software and services, and perhaps less than before in products. I don't blame them. While competition often is razor sharp, speed to market and scalability is in most cases much faster compared to products.
Stefan Andrén is an accomplished designer with significant global experience. Over his 15-year career, the former product design director of Nike+ has worked with some of the largest companies and brands in the world, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Philips and Motorola. Andrén's work has been featured in numerous publications including Business Week, ID Magazine, Wired, Dwell magazine, Interior Design and FORM and has been awarded multiple IDEA, ID Magazine and Red Dot design awards. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Andrén travels the world extensively and is based in Portland, OR.
Ziba is the largest design consultancy I've visited on my road trip so far, but I honestly knew little about the firm beyond some of the gorgeous work they've done for TDK. Design directors Paul Backett (ID), Mick Glenn (Environment Design), Chris Butler (Research), and Aura Aragon-Ball (Communications Design). The office is located in a futuristic building of metal and reclaimed wood nestled in the contemporary mixed-use architecture of the Pearl District in Portland, OR. The design directors decided that the best way for me to understand Ziba would for me to take a firsthand look at Ziba's intensive process.
Ziba's Aura Aragon-Ball, Mick Glenn, Paul Backett, and Chris Butler
Ziba's office is divided into four "neighborhoods" of design disciplines with three "buildings" of project rooms in between. Backett mentioned that designers spend only minimal amounts of time at their desk; the project rooms become their home in the long-run. Now, I've seen my fair share of project rooms over the years, but Ziba's project rooms put all the rest to shame. The walls are absolutely covered in sketches and concepts. One room I visited showed the results of a 50-hour, fast-paced brainstorming session; another showed hundreds of logo designs in search of a handful of potential best ideas. Designers from different disciplines will contribute sketches and ideas in what Backett terms "cross-pollenation."
The most surprising part of the tour through Ziba's process was when we visited the department of Research Director Chris Butler. Although his department produces the classic style of research through contextual interviews and the like, Butler described how the goal is to "deliver authentic and meaningful experiences" by uncovering the intersection in values of both the consumer and the brand. In order to get to this very specific level and to "keep relevant," Butler's team starts out with the macro trends developing the world over. "We try to determine how what's happening in design reflects what's happening in politics, in the news, in culture," said Butler. "We're tracing these trends back to the core root."
[Update, 7/13: Well, that was quick—Apple has just announced that they are re-adopting EPEAT, huzzah!]
Apple recently decided to completely withdraw all current and future products from the globally accepted green electronics registry and rating program EPEAT because the standards involved no longer fit their "design direction." The message that this sends to the design community is profound. That the decision was made in the name of design is disingenuous and a disservice to all designers and engineers. But was it, in fact, a necessary step for Apple to take in order to keep running as fast as they are, year after year?
EPEAT is one of the most open, stakeholder-driven, equitable and sophisticated multi-variate eco-labels in the world, covering everything from lifecycle, energy, materials, packaging, recycling and social equity issues. It is a model eco-label that has transformed the industry towards cleaner, greener and more sound practices. Its existence benefits a wide-ranging and global value chain touching hundreds of related industries and markets. The standard has helped environmental and social NGOs working to help solve e-waste and promote effective recycling globally, and the innovations in materials and energy efficiency standards that have evolved from the adoption of the standard have had positive consequences on energy use and the flow of toxic chemicals and compounds in the mining, production and recycling phases of the life of electronics globally.
As one of the companies intimately involved in building the EPEAT standard, it's a remarkable shift for Apple, who have, up until this decision, used their product track record of being rewarded the highest EPEAT Gold ratings as a badge of honor in talking about their environmental commitments. Steve Jobs mentioned the rating by name several times from the podium in product announcements. Apple's continued commitment to reducing packaging, improving the energy efficiency performance of their products, reducing the impact of toxic materials, support of recycling and recent efforts towards improving social equity and manufacturing standards are all in line with the mission and guidelines of the EPEAT rating system.
On the surface, the decision, combined with a lack of communication about it by Apple, effectively sends a message of disregard for the combined work of dozens of organizations, NGOs and even entire countries who have collaborated for years to build a multi-billion dollar, stakeholder-driven, transparent, sustainable market for green electronics. The specification of EPEAT rated products in purchasing and procurement policies has been adopted by institutions, municipalities and is now recognized and required by many countries for their government purchasing. Can you imagine how pleased EPEAT member companies like Samsung, HP and Dell are now with the idea that the U.S. Government and many others can no longer purchase Apple laptops, computers, and monitors?
Owing to the lack of official announcement by Apple, one theory is that this is a symbolic case of technology outpacing the eco-labelling organization's ability to keep up with the constantly shifting manifestations of consumer electronics. In a world in which the distance between cinematic, futuristic visions and real-world applications of holographic, touch-based, virtual surfaces and devices is narrowing rapidly, the ability to re-define and update standards that keep pace with these platforms is incredibly challenging. The unrelenting push of Moore's Law towards higher computing power in more ever more compact, miniature forms exceeds the ability of standards setting organizations to keep pace, and EPEAT—as of this writing—only covers desktops, notebooks and displays. Imaging equipment, including TVs, printers, copiers and scanners are on the near horizon to be included in the standard.
There are equivalents of technology outpacing standards in other sustainability-based design rating systems. The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standard has for years been criticized on a number of fronts, including its lack of teeth and ability to evolve quickly. Alternate, innovative and holistic standards like the Living Building Challenge have risen to fill the need for more forward-looking architects and builders. But for all of its glacial pace, LEED has without question transformed the entire building industry globally, and has transformed entire markets, while raising worldwide awareness about sustainability in the built environment. It's not perfect, but it serves a purpose and moves a very large needle forward through a coalition of the willing.
The EPEAT process is known to be very slow due to its stakeholder driven, peer-reviewed decision-making process. It can take years for new standards and product categories to be included in the program, and for updates to filter their way through the organization's vetting process and make it into the published standard. The iPad, for instance, is currently not covered by the "PC" standard of EPA's Energy Star, which is one of the base requirements to participate in the EPEAT rating program. The "Slate" category that the iPad falls in is currently in the process of being approved by Energy Star, and in so doing, would open the iPad up for scrutiny by the EPEAT rating process, which it would have very likely failed on the ease of disassembly requirement, despite being very energy efficient. This could very well have been one of the factors that triggered this decision by Apple, along with the most recent MacBoook Pro which has been found to be exceedingly difficult to disassemble.
There is an implicit conceit that in order to continue to design things on their own terms, Apple needs to run free, unconstrained, to innovate and produce objects of desire and profound beauty and performance. These products define their brand and have re-defined an entire industry, making them the most valuable company in the world. Year after year they pioneer new and often environmentally friendly technologies in their products. But did they have to abandon EPEAT in the name of design?
It took a bit longer than he planned, but Dave finally escaped from Los Angeles and made it to San Francisco in time to speak with the designers behind the future of cool. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
With so much amazing design and technology happening in San Francisco, it was extremely hard to choose whom I wanted to visit in the area. I eventually settled on two design consultancies who moonlight as entrepreneurs, but who combine design with cutting-edge technology to bring extremely innovative and disruptive products to market. First up I sat down with Charlie Stabb from the new Bay Area branch of Artefact, with Adriana Gil Miner and Robert Murdock (the new studio lead for the San Francisco office, formerly of Method) video-conferencing-in from Seattle.
Artefact's Robert Murdock, Adriana Gil Miner, and Charlie Stabb
When I first heard about Artefact, the firm's name struck me right away as something different. Although many design firms improve on poor products while trying to create better user experiences, I still believe any firm making products is, in the end, adding to the giant pool of stuff that our world is made up of. Choosing a play on the word "artifact" as the firm's name suggests creating products that embody longevity and are not simply meant to be replaced a few years down the road. What happened to heirlooms or products that have such value that they are passed down from generation to generation?
Artefact defines their firm's mission as the Principles of 21st Century Design. These include some rather unexpected values, like dignity, liberty, and well-being. Yet the most surprising value, and one I was pleased to see, was timelessness. "It's not about designing a new version of a car each year," said Gil Miner, "but establishing a new model of interaction that changes the market entirely." Gil Miner went on to elaborate that timelessness in modern design could mean developing a robust technology platform and hardware that could support future iterations of software; for example, a single iPhone that supports multiple future versions of iOS. In this way, Artefact can create timeless products that stay up-to-date with revisions. "That's the beauty of matching software and hardware," said Gil Miner.
Although Artefact has a vast portfolio of great product consultancy work, it is their growing entrepreneurial side that really defines the firm. "Consultancy allows you to work very closely with a company," said Gil Miner. "Incubation allows you to take these experiences and learn from them, but then also feed your entrepreneurial experiences back into consultancy." Artefact has a range of concepts in various stages of development. Ideas like Wireless Viewfinder Interchangeable Lense (WVIL) and See What You Print (SWYP) take technology and design to the next level, but are currently in the proof-of-concept stage.
I was very excited to find out that Local Motors, a crowd-sourced car company, was based out of Phoenix, AZ—right in the middle of my four days driving through the desert. Local Motors released the first generation of the Rally Fighter in 2010 and is now rolling out the second generation. The company has also hosted design competitions for a variety of clients, including DARPA and Peterbilt. However, Local Motors faces stiffcriticism that the company is effectively lowering the value of designers through their design competitions. I sat down with Local Motors' Adam Keiser and Alex Fiechter to learn how the company is attempting to disrupt the auto manufacturing industry through crowd-sourced design, as well as increase the value of designers along the way.
Local Motors' Adam Keiser
Local Motors' microfactory
Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers initially came up with the concept for a community-driven (no pun intended) car design company while a student at the Harvard Business School. The point behind having a community—called the Forge—design a car is to have them design the car they would want to buy and then make that car a reality. In this way, Local Motors has an established niche market before the car is even produced. This is in stark contrast to the current paradigm of auto manufacturing. "You can't walk into Ford or GM and say, 'I want a car exactly how I want it designed,'" said Keiser. Moreover, Local Motors is set-up to have an extremely quick turnaround from initial sketches to a working prototype; in the case of the Rally Fighter, this timeline was only 18 months.
The first generation of the Rally Fighter
The prototype Rally Fighter
At the very foundation of this business model, though, is having a dedicated community of designers and engineers that will design whatever this car is. Fiechter argued that the compensation for the winning designer is more than fair. In the case of the Rally Fighter, winner Sangho Kim received $10,000 when Local Motors started to develop the car. The implicit understanding is that the prize money is representative of Local Motors purchasing the designer's IP. Given that each competition only lasts for 3 to 4 weeks, and that a majority of competitors are students or recent graduates, "that's pretty significant compensation for that amount of time," said Feichter.
Charlotte and A-Town were just a taste of what the American South has to offer: in this chapter of his road trip chronicle, Dave shares an optimistic outlook from New Orleans and Austin. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
Day 8: New Orleans, LA
In just two years, the work of creative studio Civic Center has become synonymous with grassroots urban revitalization in cities like New Orleans and Detroit. A visit to their studio was at the top of my list for my road trip plans, and I relished the opportunity to sit down with studio founders Candy Chang and James Reeves, as well as newcomer Olly Blank, to chat about Civic Center's history, philosophy and projects.
The Civic Center crew
Surprisingly, Civic Center actually began as a record label in New York before moving to Helsinki and eventually settling in New Orleans in 2010. Chang studied architecture, then graphic design, soon realizing that "design is pretty powerful and can get people's attention." But what for? Chang's answer came during a collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy in New York City. The goal of Street Vendor Guide project was to allow the population of vendors in the city, who normally have little interaction, to connect and "share stories." Design could be used to facilitate the flow of information.
This experience led Chang to "focus on cities, but ignore the disciplines around it." Conversation centered around urban design in one's city can often be inaccessible because "design is cloaked in academic terms," although "at the end of the day, we're talking about very basic language." In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift out of the suburbs and back towards the urban centers of America. "People are starting to return to cities," said Reeves, both physically and psychologically.
A page from the Street Vendor Guide
A potential challenge is motivating all the members of a community to partake in the necessary conversations about their neighborhoods and lives. "People are lined up for Black Friday at 4:30am," said Reeves, "but how do you get people to line up to talk about their child's school?" A history of ineffective government can destroy citizens' faith in the systems behind education, housing and law enforcement. This fate is all too real for the good people of New Orleans, who are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina seven years later.
Yet the "most interesting things are happening where the government has been neglectful," described Reeves. Black market or unlicensed businesses emerge in the sidewalk cracks of the city, not by criminals, but by the common person "out of necessity." Civic Center helps to bolster this movement by providing the "tools and tactics to bypass the government." Reeves and Blank wondered aloud if this approach to government—or rather the lack-thereof—made Civic Center a political organization, but eventually decided that politics are besides the point when a government fails its citizens. "We want to see the government get involved in the conversation," said Reeves, "but it's not happening."
A poster hanging inside Civic Center
One theme about design in America I've encountered over the course of my travels has been about connectivity via the Internet. However, in New Orleans, where less than half of the residents have access to the Internet, connectivity within communities needs to be rethought. "People feel if they retweet something, they're making a difference," said Reeves. This desktop do-gooder mentality is only compounded by New Orleanians' aversion to outsiders and, well, maybe the Internet is not the answer to all problems of creating connections. In many ways, Civic Center is truly a return to analog forms of communication. Similar to her experiences with street vendors, Chang wants to leverage the knowledge in a community. "You don't bump into every neighbor," said Chang. "Potential wisdom doesn't get passed on."
After cruising down '95 for the first three days (Philly, DC & Richmond) of his road trip, Dave has ventured inland for the second leg of his cross-country circuit, which sees a couple studio visits in Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
Day 4: Charlotte, NC
As I'm finding with many experiences on this road trip, I really didn't know what to expect heading down to Charlotte, NC. While doing my pre-trip research I discovered that Charlotte had what seemed to be the biggest hotbed of graphic design in the Southeast. So I did the only thing I could think of and sat down for some mouth-watering BBQ with top-notch designers Rachel Martin, David Sizemore and Matt Stevens (whom I've covered before).
Graphic designers Rachel Martin, Matt Stevens, and David Sizemore
The question on my mind was why graphic design in Charlotte has thrived in a world primarily dominated by the social media- and start-up-driven Bay Area. Each of the designers I spoke with in Charlotte has had their own unique path to success. Martin runs her own design studio and chooses to work only with "socially responsible" groups and "good people who do good." Stevens left a firm after a decade-long career, spent 90 days with Facebook, and is now finding his way on his own. Finally, Sizemore works for a large branding firm by day and does freelance illustration by night.
Design seems to flourish in Charlotte both because of and in spite of the location. Martin came from NYC where she was "just a number," but in Charlotte, "I can shine and do my own thing." Stevens had some perspective on the topic given his recent stint on the West Coast with Facebook. "The West Coast is more saturated with talent," said Stevens. "Everyone out there is extremely talented and it pushes you to raise your game." Stevens also described how there is more of an "education piece that has to happen with a lot of clients" in Charlotte about what exactly design is and how it best improve their business. But Charlotte is also just a "great place to live," with nearby mountains and beaches, as well as a low cost of living, an extremely attractive prospect for any young designer.
A city like Charlotte also creates an environment for a more tight-knit community of designers. "It's a very sharing community," said Martin. Projects and clients are passed along when a designer is too busy, while design collaborations that help reinforce the community self. One of Sizemore's upcoming projects is even centered around neighborhood-specific t-shirts that represent pride in one's location and community.
We also talked about design in the age of the Internet. Although the Internet is not new at all, its applications have become more increasingly intertwined in our lives, especially as designers with portfolios of our work. "I have a big stage now," said Stevens. "There are few limitations if you're making good stuff and putting it out there." This stage allows designers, like the ones in Charlotte, to no longer have to worry about doing work on the national or global scale just to gain recognition; a local project can now become just as famous internationally through utilization of the interconnectivity of the web. Designers can then focus on what Stevens, Martin, and Sizemore see as the more satisfying local projects.
Lastly, design is an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to make the world a better place than you found it. "Architects have a civic duty to design buildings that improve society," said Martin. "Graphic designers should also have that civic duty to shape the world through good design." [Ed. Note: David Berman makes a more emphatic statement about this notion.]
...annnnd he's off! Degree in tow, our ever-intrepid contributor Dave Seliger has set out on his five-week journey from sea to shining sea (and back again) to find the best of American design in what might just be a major turning point in the discipline. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
Day 1: Philadelphia, PA
After surviving the torrential downpour in New England and picking up my first passenger, Nana Asiedu, we headed down to Philadelphia, PA to visit Electronic Ink. I first became aware of Electronic Ink through their 911 dispatch program in MoMA's fantastic Talk to Me exhibit. Since then, I've been wanting to find out more about the company.
Simply put, Electronic Ink redesigns the business systems that allow a company to manage and make decisions based on complex data for industries like finance, energy, healthcare, and logistics. My own mental image of these systems looks something like Windows '98, and that's honestly not too far off for a lot of the products on the market today. Luckily, Electronic Ink has a very design- and design research-centric approach. In fact, everyone I spoke with made it very clear that what sets the company apart from other firms is the extensive client research that goes into every project. Electronic Ink uses eye-tracking to determine how clients use a website and the company even sets up satellite offices with their clients in order to be better embedded in the research.
Jamie Hall of Electronic Ink
On the design side of things, I first spoke with Principal of Design and Strategy Jamie Hall, who "grew up in the corporate world," working for Comcast before he decided to become more involved in the design and business process. "I wanted to understand the true need," said Hall, "versus what the business analyst tells us." At Electronic Ink, Hall leads an interdisciplinary team that "tries to understand where the world is going and to stay ahead of the curve." Hall described that the future of designing more engaging product interactions is based on better understanding the split-second emotional connections we make with a piece of software or a website. These connections can really only be discovered through intensive research not just into how the clients use their business systems, but how Electronic Ink can make clients love their systems.
Meanwhile, Hall described the future of systems in the workplace as becoming more flexible in terms of accessibility and interaction. "We won't be tethered to only one device," said Hall. Instead, business will be conducted across many interchangeable devices, mobile and permanent, resulting in a change of the business environment itself.
Stephen Megargee of Electronic Ink
I also had the chance to speak with Design Director Stephen Megargee, who started his career diving head first into the world of graphic design during the very beginning of the Internet. "In how many lifetimes," said Megargee, "does a new medium come up where people can make a mark?" Before joining Electronic Ink, Megargee spent time in advertising but grew sick of trying to persuade consumers of buying products. Now, however, "we don't persuade anyone of anything—we just make the things they're already compelled to do better." For instance, Megargee described how "an organization's website is their dysfunction made true." You need only look at Verizon's website to see the truth in this. "Our mission," said Megargee, "is to fix this."
One of Electronic Ink's usability labs
Yet many corporations are unaware of their own needs. "There is a much larger market for mediocrity than for excellence in any market," said Megargee. "People in corporations that are making [strategic] decisions have no design management background and are not equipped to make the decisions they're responsible for making." This lack of preparedness is a result of the "failure of the American education system." It is not so much that not every student in America is a designer, but rather that design is not considered as crucial as math or physics or English. "I can have a more intelligent conversation about design with an actuary in Zurich," said Megargee, "than I can with a brand director here." In order to solve this deficiency in including design in American education, we need to both develop a national heritage around design in the United States and encourage businesses to require design management education in MBA programs.
Lastly, "everything is about design." Megargee pointed out that I designed my appearance for the day, I designed my career path, and I designed my road trip, among other things. "The phrase 'by design' is really substituting 'design' for 'intention,'" said Megargee. "It's what we do as humans. We design."
A plea to anyone entering the usability lab
Read on for Days 2 & 3, thoughts on DC and Rihanna, and more...
There comes a point in every designer's life when he sets out in search of inspiration beyond what his everyday life can provide. Sometimes this inspiration comes from talking to a mentor; sometimes this inspiration comes from a walk down a street never taken; and sometimes this inspiration can only come at the end of a great adventure into the unknown.
I'm at that point in my life when I need adventure and inspiration of my own. Only two days ago I graduated from college and for the first time in my life I can honestly say that I have no five-year plan. Over the next few weeks, before I pack my bags and move down to Brooklyn, I will fulfill a lifelong dream: to do the great American road trip.
I've grown up watching movies like Into the Wild, The Motorcycle Diaries, or even It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and wondering, when can I have my own adventure? Well, my time has finally come. But this will no ordinary road trip—I will be doing this road trip Core77-style. In every city that my cadre of road trip adventurers and I visit, we will bring you the latest and greatest in design and innovation to come out of that destination. As young designers, this will be the next step in our education.
Our itinerary includes 25 states we'll be stopping in at least as many cities along the way, including:
» Boston, MA
» Philadelphia, PA
» Washington, DC
» Richmond, VA
» Charlotte, NC
» Atlanta, GA
» New Orleans, LA
» Austin, TX
» Las Vegas, NV
» Los Angeles, CA
» San Francisco, CA
» Portland, OR
» Seattle, WA
» Boise, ID
» Salt Lake City, UT
» Denver, CO
» Omaha, NE
» Madison, WI
» Chicago, IL
» Detroit, MI
» Pittsburgh, PA
Do you live in one of these cities? Do you know of any designers or innovators that we should check out? Want to meet up? Drop me a line at: core77dave [at] gmail [dot] com.
Also follow our adventures on Twitter with the hashtag #route77.
Law enforcement is an extremely complex line of work, as police officers have to keep up-to-date with events and people in the community, but usually from the sidelines or through second-hand information. Tools that can augment police officers' mental models of the communities they serve, especially in an ever increasing information-rich world, are critical to the future of policing.
And that's where graph theory comes in. Graph theory looks at objects (nodes) and the relationships (edges) between them. These objects could be people, computers, or buildings, while the corresponding relationships could be family ties, Internet connections, and roads. As Facebook and other social networking tools continue to bring our world closer together each day, social network applications of graph theory are becoming a hot topic. Ever hear of "six degrees of separation?" Thanks to Facebook, it's now closer to four or five.
Criminal networks are really just a specific example of social networks. Currently, law enforcement agencies use link analysis, a basic application of graph theory, to attempt to understand these networks. Link analysis produces a visual output of relationships between nodes, but "people tend to believe that actors in the center or at the top of a graph are crucially and most important." Instead, Renee van der Hulst describes a framework for using social network analysis (SNA) for crime analysis. Beyond just outputing a visual graph, SNA provides a mathematical approach to quantify the "characteristics of network activity, social roles, positions and associated social mechanisms."
A simple graph of a social network, including nodes and edges.
In 2011, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University implemented a pilot program of SNA in the Richmond, VA Police Department to test its effectiveness. The Richmond City Police Department asked the researchers to identify the reason behind why "two groups of previously friendly males" were now engaging in a "rash of violence" against each other. The researchers mined a police informational database for details concerning twenty-four persons of interest, as well as any connections four people out.
A meetup for hardware startups brought 200 people to a warehouse in San Francisco's Dogpatch. All around were jellyfish tanks, a business started by Alex Andon, and featured in Make Magazine last year. The meetup was organized by Nick Pinkston, the founder of CloudFab, who thought that people designing hardware products wanted to find each other more easily. I found new startups doing e-textiles, robots, medical diagnostic adaptors for the iPhone, a new kind of coffee maker and others, including a foldable kayak.
Orukayak by Anton Willis
Over on Kickstarter, hardware products such as Pebble, Twine and PrintrBot are raising the bar on raising money via crowdfunding. While hardware projects are raising millions, traditional sources of investment such as venture capitalists don't seem to be interested in hardware. One exception is Brad Feld of the Foundry Group who has invested in MakerBot, the 3D printer startup headed by Bre Pettis and located in Brooklyn.
A large chip company is now hiring makers in its research and development organization. Another software company is looking for "maker advocates" who can help them understand how to connect with the maker community and develop products that meet their needs. Others are starting to look at makers as extension of their own R&D efforts.
There's something new happening in hardware, and we're seeing a new wave of innovation from new sources, inspired by the maker movement. The combination of open hardware, collaborative design practices and personal fabrication tools are making it possible for a whole new group of creatives to develop physical things, reconnecting to the world around us. It's a prototyping revolution that allows almost anyone to take an idea from sketch to functional prototype.
"And I wanna know
The same thing
We all wanna know
How's it gonna end?"
- Tom Waits
A designer is constantly enticed to mentally "fast-forward" to that magical moment when the design emerges wholly formed as an object to be worshipped by all. The designer envisions this holy relic, the perfect design, as granting her the respect of her peers, at last. The design client is in awe, or at least subdued, by the rightness of this image the designer has produced. An adoring public understands this pristine visual, the radiant pinnacle of communicative imagery, deeply and implicitly.
Writing it out this way reveals that the quest for a final, perfect "object" of design is highly illusory. Our mainstream culture, however, is driven by consumerism, media, politics, instant access and instant gratification, phenomenon that promote the product over the process. This is practically a given. What it means for the designer is a nagging temptation to focus on the outcome rather than the inputs.
Over the course of my design career, I have learned and continued to re-learn, that the core of what I do is found in the pleasure I take in the slow and steady pace of practicing my craft. At the micro level, I enjoy the sketching and thinking that occurs at the outset of a new design project. I value the spontaneous leaps that happen as a design challenge begins to reveal a solution. I look forward to meticulously honing the imagery into forms that best reflect my design thinking. At the macro level, I have learned to reflect on and appreciate the twists and turns introduced into a project because the client is learning alongside me. Since I have become a design teacher, it has become much easier to put myself in the client's position, to empathize with their fears and frustrations with the creative process and to try to address those concerns honestly, directly and patiently. The client is not my student, but he or she is a person with legitimate reactions to the visual work we are doing together.
The designs, available in an interactive web site, will be implemented in a stretch of property in east London and span some 26 acres, with 1,200 homes and apartments for families and dwellers of different sizes and incomes, as well as office and commercial spaces and a school.
A view of Dane's Yard and the Northern Quarter, the planned creative zone.
Indeed, Strand East's recent press release [PDF] points to five types of quarters, from a creative one in the northeast to a commercial one in the north. At the south, "The Hub" will serve as the primary social space, with a public square, a community building and cafes and bars. The residential area will pay homage to London's urban character, with "mews" and back alleys for privacy, and townhouses for larger families. With an eye towards sustainability and community, some areas will be designated solely for walking, and clean energy strategies are promised.
A modular toolbelt cut down on the Nurses need to practice hand hygiene by making her tools more accessible but it nevertheless made her movement more restricted. Images and Article by Rachel Lehrer
The best part of any design process is seeing your ideas touch the real world. Prototypes bring queries and hypothesis to life. They show things that in retrospect seem obvious but in prospect are entirely unexpected. After 7 months spent researching hand hygiene compliance in a hospital, I was finally able to walk through the rotating doors and unveil a design under the expectant gaze of the nurse who was going to experience it all day.
My past life as a dancer has made my design process movement-driven. In health care, this translates to a focus on understanding the physical roadblocks to peak performance. I'm a physical therapist for environments; our bodies are our inescapable collaborators. Through enactments, observing the subtle nuances of movement and through physically knowing the process of "hardwiring" movement rituals, I've been able to look at physical behaviors and spatial intention from the strategic vantage point of the body.
In my previous article on hand hygiene, I established a series of movement lenses for increasing hand hygiene compliance in a hospital—movement scripts, muscle memory, environmental ergonomics. Now the resulting hypotheses have been tested. Each intervention utilizes my movement driven perspective but also challenges the institutional reliance on quantitative proof and bottom-line driven decisions that make experimenting and designing in a hospital almost ironic. In a place that relies on proven discrete solutions, the messiness, questioning and experimentation of a design process must win its right to be there. It's an understatement to say that a design practice—always questioning the real culprit, always probing, always wondering if there might be a better way—makes the hospital status quo nervous.
PROVOKING AND INSCRIBING
You can't change someone's behavior before you understand it and so I began my research phase by observing the nurses, whose behavior I hoped to change, and the Infection Prevention and Control staff, who wanted me to change the behavior. At a well-attended meeting with leaders from multiple departments, I presented a provocation. I wanted those who control the dialogue and data around hand hygiene to feel what consistent hand hygiene compliance was like.
For 4 hours on a cold day, the Infection Prevention and Control staff practiced hand hygiene every 6 minutes and hated every second of it. Nurses, though, have to practice hand hygiene, on average, every 6 minutes for their entire 12 hour shifts. I was looking to increase empathy, to get the rule makers to understand what following the rules feels like. The value of this type of intervention is not in increasing compliance numbers or in spurring the drafting of a new mission statement but in re-inscribing the problem on the stressed bodies of those that oversee compliance. In a bottom line driven atmosphere, it is important to remind those at desks that hundreds of unique human factors are involved in increasing compliance. It is a complex problem that can't be resolved by adding more signs that simply restate the goal in bigger type. Before the hospital gets clean hands, it must get its own dirty (and dry and itchy) too.
Imagine you are nine months pregnant. You're in the delivery room, legs in stirrups, pushing as hard as you can. You're in pain. You feel vulnerable and tired.
You look up and a thousand people are in the room with you. They actually spent their own money to be in here. In fact, their cash helped pay for the room. Now they're watching the most intimate parts of the birthing process and giving you real time feedback of how they think you are doing. ("Just push harder!" "You're doing great!" "What's taking so long???")
You're thankful, obviously. Eternally grateful. You wouldn't be in this room if it wasn't for their generosity. These amazing people gave you the support you needed to help bring your baby into the world. If you could, you would give them all a big hug. At the same time... It would be really nice to just get some peace and quiet so you could just focus on popping this kid out.
That's kind of how it feels to work with Backers when you're crowdfunding a project.
Design has traditionally been a quiet exercise. A small team of people get together and make something in relative solitude. You go through your iterations, successes and failures in private. Eventually your work is released and then rest of the world gets to weigh in on what you did.
Crowdfunding projects are the opposite of that. Design turns into a performance art. Once you launch your project, everyone (at least it feels like everyone) has an opinion. You are being judged. Your successes and failures are magnified. One moment someone will call you a genius and the next, someone will claim you're running a Ponzi scheme.
Dealing with this, while simultaneously getting a new-to-the-world product off the ground can be...challenging. This is new stuff for designers to think about: How do you talk about your progress with a big, public audience that has a small, yet personal stake in your success?
In this part of the crowdfunding series, we will talk about how to effectively communicate with Backers.
There are a few key things you will want to think about: Kickstarter's Methods of Communication, Backer Psychology, Tips on how to communicate effectively, and Dealing with "Special" people.
Kickstarter's Methods of Communication
There are three ways you and your Backers can communicate with each other on Kickstarter:
Last time, we looked at how to set up the structure of your project. In this section of the crowdfunding series, we're going to look at how to tell your story.
If you want to you know why Kickstarter has been so successful, look no further than how they help people tell their stories. Kickstarter has created a step-by-step guide that helps organize story elements that is so easy to use, that it takes most of the guesswork out of how to talk about your project. You make a video, upload some images and text, and boom: instant crowdfunding project.
Understanding the purpose and placement of the individual elements of their format will help you fine tune your story and stand out from the crowd.
I like to think that Kickstarter's storytelling format shares a lot in common with the way you would layout a book. You have a cover, content, and footnotes. For crowdfunding, that book format translates to this:
Cover = Project image, Title, and Short Blurb
(The 0:05 second pitch)
Content = Video
(The 5:00 minute pitch)
Footnotes = Copy and Images
(The 10:00 minute question and answer session)
The Cover: Project Image, Title and Short Blurb
Everyone likes to say they don't judge a book by its cover, but as designers, we know better. First impressions are critical. A lot of snap judgements will be made about your project by its Project Image, Title and Short Blurb, but the goal should be the same no matter what your project is: Get people to click.
Your Project Image is the first thing your potential backers will see when finding your project. Like a good app icon, it has to visually summarize the point of your project and get people excited to learn more.
Click for larger image.
Your Project Image is seen in two modes: Project mode and Search mode. The goal in both modes is to make people interested enough that they want to click your Project Image to get more information about your project. In Project Mode, your Project Image will be seen as the image that covers up your video, waiting for someone to push play. In Search mode it will be a much smaller image amongst a sea of other projects. Your Project Image has to work in both modes, but focus on getting the Search mode right. If your Project Image reads well in the smaller format, it will work even better in a larger format.
Like naming anything, giving your project a title is a totally subjective act. What works for one person, will not work for another. That being said, the more successful projects tend to have titles that are short and memorable.
Your Short Blurb is the elevator pitch for your project. They're only viewable in Search mode and are limited to small amounts of text. This is a good constraint to have because the best blurbs (and best elevator pitches for that matter) explain why someone would want to back your project in just one sentence.
There are two sides of launching: Structural work (the boring stuff) and Storytelling work (the exciting stuff).
Structural work refers to the way you set up your project to operate. This includes figuring out how much money you should raise, how long your project should run, how to set up your Reward Tiers, looking into patent protection, etc. It's boring stuff, but extremely necessary to make sure things run smoothly.
Storytelling work is how you will describe your project to the world. This involves shooting a video, what types of images you should use, writing copy, etc.
There is a lot of ground to cover for both of these aspects, so we're going to split them into two parts. This part will focus on building your structure.
Note: From here on out, this series will focus mainly on running Kickstarter projects. They are the go to site for product designers, and it only makes sense to talk about how to work within Kickstarter's parameters. However, there is a lot of overlap in how Kickstarter works and how other crowdfunding sites work, so even if you launch your product on another site, you should still get something out of this.
But before you start...
Every product design Project Creator should first decide what phase they will launch their project from. Lets go back to that development timeline I talked about last time.
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I launched my own project somewhere between the Proof of Concept and Refinement phases. At that point, I had a working proof of concept, quotes from vendors, and a pretty good sense of how my Stylus Caps were going to be made. The reason I turned to crowdfunding was that I had gone as far as I could go on my own money. I had a lot of work and several surprises still ahead of me, but looking into crowdfunding was the only way the project was going to continue.
A proof of concept is a prototype that mostly looks and works like the final product will. It exists to tell you that your idea works, that it's manufacturable, and to communicate to others what your intentions are. It should answer most, if not all, of your questions of how you will proceed with your development. You will also need it to help you demonstrate your idea in the video that will be on your main project page.
Production quotes are cost estimates that you receive from manufacturers that tell you how much it will cost to produce your idea and how long it will take to make it. Its good practice to get multiple quotes and make sure you have trust in the people you will eventually work with. Make sure you put all of those quotes plus any other anticipated costs, including shipping, into a Bill of Materials or BOM, that will give you a detailed look at how much money it will take to make your idea.
So what phase should you launch from? Manufacturing? Refinement? Proof of Concept? Obviously, the further along in development you are, the less chance for delays and surprises you will have.
My recommendation is to do as much as you can on your own dime, before you try to crowdfund your product. The further along in the process you launch, the more predictable the outcome and timing of delivering your project will be.
At minimum, you shouldn't even consider launching until you have a working proof-of-concept and production quotes. Launching with anything less is asking for a world of pain. You owe it to yourself, your manufacturing partners, and your future Backers, to know if your idea will work and how much it will cost to produce. Once those things are in place, you can think about how to set up your crowdfunding structure.