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An Xiao Mina

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Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  17 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

Palette-HERO.jpgPalette buttons can be re-arranged and customized by the user.

As any artist, designer or technologist will tell you, we rely on a wide variety of software in our day to day lives, from the Adobe Creative Suite to some sort of office bundle, as well as music and movie editing software. Each of these programs has custom controls on the software side, but on the hardware side we have the same set of tools: a keyboard and a mouse.

And while the multiple buttons of a keyboard are endlessly adaptable, that same sort of logic doesn't apply in other interactive environments. Think, for instance, about the vast difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle, or playing a video game on Playstation vs. operating a remote control for a television. Although the input devices and mechanisms share some obvious, similarities, the hardware experience varies substantially.


Which is why I was excited to learn about Palette, a "freeform controller" made of movable, interchangeable parts. Starting with the building blocks of buttons, dials and sliders, Palette allows users to create custom controllers based on how they want to interact with the computer.

The minimal aesthetic belies the original inspiration behind Palette. "Looking back at old transistor radios and war era type machines," noted CEO Calvin Chu, who observed that these devices were "really robust." "Why not make a way that even with all these different use cases, we could abstract these elements and rearrange them in different ways, just like Lego blocks?"


Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  16 Dec 2013  |  Comments (1)

1377703436_speedpowercomp.jpgThe Leveraged Freedom Chair, a wheelchair optimized for rural terrain. All images courtesy Icsid.

As the field of design for social impact grows, so does the discourse around it. Here at Core77, we recognize Social Impact as its own category in our own Design awards [Ed. Note: Which are now open for entries], and sites like Change Observer and the Design Altruism Project regularly highlight design and its role in social change. The World Design Impact Prize, started last year by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), is one such prize, a new development in recognizing and rewarding innovations in the field.

"The goal of the World Design Impact Prize is to recognise and elevate industrial design driven solutions to societal challenges," noted Icsid Project Development Officer Mariam Masud. "By sharing these solutions, and the challenges they address the prize hopes to raise awareness of perhaps unknown obstacles and encourage a global exchange of ideas."

laddoo.pngFood design for social change: a repurposing of the popular Indian snack called a "laddoo", with rich nutrients to fight malnutrition.

The shortlist of projects met the standards of basic selection criteria that extend past basic questions of design aesthetics and functionality that an industrial design competition might be focused on. Rather, jurors are asked to consider questions around Impact, Innovation, Context and Ease of Use. "Are there elements of the project (best practices) that can be universally shared?" "How well does the project compliment or build on the existing infrastructure (physical, political, cultural etc.)?" "Is the project easy to maintain and are replacement parts easily available?"


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


"Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  25 Nov 2013  |  Comments (0)

freespace.JPGHacking away at San Francisco's Freespace, a pop-up space for artists, designers, developers and other creatives.

I've been spending a lot of time at hackathons lately. It's not a surprise; here in the Bay Area, hackathons and coding sessions are a way of life, a social scene as common as a cocktail party in New York. The idea is what it sounds like: a bunch of people come together and "hack" on a project. It can be a group project or an individual project, something you've been working on for a while or something you're stag. And it's an idea I've seen come to life in creative communities across the globe, in places like Shanghai, Kampala and Manila.

The "-athon" suffix is appropriate: As in a marathon, simply doing an activity with others is a lot more fun than coding alone, even when you're aiming for your personal best. And having people with different skill sets and energy levels around you provides an additional motivating force. Don't know much about the Natural Language Toolkit? Someone probably knows. And in return, you can share your experience with Wordpress libraries.

sciencehackday.JPGOne of the many rooms for hacking at the California Academy of Sciences.

I recently spoke with Ariel Waldman, who organized the most recent Science Hack Day at the California Academy of Sciences. Waldman, a designer herself, felt it was important to encourage more people to engage with science. This year's event included skills workshops, a planetarium show, star gazing, access to lots and lots of tools like 3D printers and LEAP detectors, and a chance to sleep over at the museum next to the shark tanks.

"With hackathons in general, the thrill of knowing you can make in such a short amount of time is exciting," noted Waldman when I spoke with her the phone. "I think with Science Hack Day, it's a place where people can play w things they don't normally play with. It adds to the excitement of what you can prototype."