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Posted by core jr  |  12 Dec 2014  |  Comments (0)

RedHook_HUB_branding.JPGPhoto by Anke Stohlmann

By Laetitia Wolff, Design/Relief Program Director

How can graphic design positively transform communities and the practice of design? The New York chapter of AIGA launched Design/Relief, a participatory design initiative targeted at New York City neighborhoods still grappling with the effects of Superstorm Sandy, in the fall of 2013. To fund the project, AIGA/NY received an innovation grant from Artplace America, a consortium interested in advancing the practice of creative placemaking. Engaging in this emerging movement, AIGA/NY believed graphic designers could leverage their agile, creative process while testing their community organizing skills on the ground.

We handpicked three teams, composed of graphic designers, storytellers and community engagement experts, to catalyze three New York waterfront communities. The teams were tasked to help these communities imagine a more vibrant future for themselves—the three neighborhoods were still struggling to overcome the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy, even a year after the disaster. While learning about the reality of multi-disciplinary collaboration, urban territories and public engagement processes, designers were given a framework to act locally and dispatched for a 9-12 months period to Red Hook in South Brooklyn, Rockaway at the Queens shoreline and the South Street Seaport enclave in Lower Manhattan.


Revisiting the Design/Relief Manifesto a year later, AIGA/NY is proud to have engaged designers in tackling tough civic challenges while generating new knowledge about design as a creative placemaking tool. As we conclude this endeavor with the recent launch of the Red Hook team project, the HUB, we wanted to take a moment to highlight a few insights before sharing a more detailed case study (coming soon, early 2015). Here they are:

  • Places are made by people. Yes, before anything else.

  • Graphic designers are particularly apt at connecting the dots, building bonds, visualizing futures, and enhancing communication between people and places.

  • Our placemaking projects focus particularly on public spaces in which community information and communication can be shared.

  • Improving a place successfully comes along with social justice, inclusion and opportunity-building—our creative placemakers tried to remain aware of the fine line between gentrification and displacement.

RedHook_HUB_library_board.jpgThe Red Hook HUB includes a board at the local library branch on Wolcott Street. Photo credit: David Al-Ibrahim

The Red Hook HUB is a 21st century bulletin board
Seen on Brooklyn streets and in the digital space

Over the past year, through their engagement with the communities of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Rockaway, Queens and the Seaport in Lower Manhattan, our Design/Relief teams often acted as catalysts for latent desires, lingering community needs and long-lasting aspirations. Red Hook residents had expressed a need for a coordinated communication system that would allow them to more effectively share trusted information. Although the need was in the air, no one had formulated the appropriate format, place and process.


Posted by core jr  |  23 Sep 2014  |  Comments (3)


Founded in 1987 by three engineers, SRAM became known in the cycling world for Grip Shift road bike shifters, the first ergonomic, indexing shift levers that easily allowed a rider to change gears without removing their hands from the handlebars. Easy-to-use and ultra-simple (they were made of just three parts where a typical shifter from Shimano was composed of nearly 30 pieces), Grip Shift established SRAM as a company that could innovate unique solutions to complex engineering design problems. Acquiring 100 year-old German manufacturer Sachs in 1990s allowed SRAM to broaden its immediate offerings to chains, derailleurs and ultra-complex internal hubs. It also gave SRAM the ability to develop and iterate new drivetrain products at a level that was not previously possible.

The Problem

Multi-gear bicycle drivetrains have been around for over 125 years and, while there have been a steady stream of incremental improvements, there hadn't been major steps forward in decades. With gearing systems becoming more complicated as riders searched for more gears to tackle varied terrain, a simpler solution was needed.

SRAM's acquisition of Sachs and their massive development center in Schweinfurt, Germany, set the stage for drivetrain innovation, with Sachs' history of making simple and intuitive drivetrains for urban consumers. In fact, Sachs had some existing products that would prove instrumental in the development of a mountain bike drivetrain with just one ring. In 2010, working out of the old Sachs factory in Schweinfurt, Germany, a team of engineers led by American Chris Hilton began to develop the 1X system, inspired by modifications made by top professional cross-country racers.

SRAM-XX1-team2.jpgChris Hilton, External Drivetrain Product Manager

SRAM-XX1-mountedDetail1.jpgAn integral part of the 1x system, the 11-speed X-DOME™ 10-42 tooth cassette delivers an incredibly wide gear range while maintaining even, optimized steps

The Inspiration

SRAM's two-chainring system (2X10) was becoming wildly popular by 2010, replacing the established three-ring set up. Most component companies were offering a 10-speed rear cassette instead of a 9-speed which allowed a comparable gear range to the three-ring set up. However, elite cross-country professionals, always in search of the lightest solution possible, took things further by using only one ring in front. SRAM quickly took notice and set out to design a mountain bike component system like nothing the market had seen before. By assessing the needs of the athlete and building the new system from the ground up, the German engineering team wanted to design a dedicated 1X system that made vast improvements to what existed at the time.

SRAM-XX1-teamCOMP.jpgSRAM-XX1-teamCOMP2.jpgClockwise from top left: Frank Schmidt, Design engineering manager; Markus Klier, Test engineering manager; Andreas Benz, engineering team leader for rear derailleurs; Robert Boehm, senior design engineer for rear derailleurs; Thorsten Hamisch, senior industrial design engineer; Henrik Braedt, advanced development engineer, who realizes prototype ideas and designs before they become actual projects



Posted by core jr  |   7 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

PosttoSnaptrack-880px.pngImage courtesy of Moneythink

By T.J. Cook, CEO, CauseLabs

When it comes to getting projects right, I've found it helps to assume we've got it wrong. Our hunches are off. Our assumptions are off-base. We then just might get it right when it comes to designing something people really want to use.

Our team here at CauseLabs didn't know what we didn't know when we started rapidly prototyping a mobile application for Moneythink, the established and growing financial capability mentorship program for urban, low-income 11th and 12th graders in the United States.

Ironically, projects that never identify incorrect assumptions are the ones most liable to be off course. Using's human-centered design process and on-the-ground field data, we uncovered what we didn't know, and our mobile app development changed for the better. Because talked with dozens of teens, the team quickly came to understand their mindsets and subsequent needs. That information, the kind that only comes from talking directly to users, helped us recognize what was wrong with our initial assumptions and pointed us toward better solutions.

To step back, the goal with Moneythink Mobile is to reinforce good financial habits, encourage smart financial choices and build on Moneythink's proven financial near-peer mentorship model pairing college-student mentors with high school students for financial education. The idea for Moneythink Mobile came about in 2013 when CEO Ted Gonder made two important observations of Moneythink students. First, nearly all had smartphones. Second, the students made nearly all financial decisions outside of school, and therefore outside of the Moneythink program. Moneythink then started to explore the building and funding of a mobile tool that would give students a chance to show they had taken what they learned in class to heart by practicing the skills in their lives.

moneythink-classroom.jpgImage courtesy of

Jump ahead to this month and the nine-week pilot of Moneythink Mobile is well underway, with 70 students from eight classrooms in four inner-city Chicago schools testing the technology. The app includes challenges designed to help students build awareness of their spending and saving moments, create small financial goals, and engage in budgeting behavior while earning points redeemable for rewards along the way. Students update their peers on their progress in a social feed, sharing their financial decisions and commenting on those of others. After the Moneythink Mobile pilot, we will evaluate student engagement to optimize the app to meet students' lifestyles, capabilities and interests. We anticipate full launch of the app in fall 2014.

Before we got to our pilot, however, we took part in's design process and our own rapid prototyping method to de-construct our assumptions to better steer our design. Here are a few:


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

BKCSAD-hero.jpgThe website has been updated since it launched last summer

We were certainly curious to hear about the Brooklyn CSA+D when it first launched last summer, based on the community-supported agriculture model in which producers provide goods to local buyers on a subscription basis. Founded by Dianne Debicella and Jill Allyn Peterson, the program is now accepting submissions for its second season. Here, they share some of their learnings and exactly how they're iterating on their inaugural offering.

Submission Deadline Extended for Second Season of Brooklyn Community Supported Art + Design. Accepting proposals from artists and designers through April 3rd, 2014.

As we begin the second season of Brooklyn CSA+D (Community Supported Art + Design), we take a look back on the inaugural season of Brooklyn's first CSA for art and design - an experiment in translating the model of Community Supported Agriculture to the realm of aesthetic and creative production.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2013, the launch of CSA+D was met with loads of enthusiasm from the press as well as the community of artists, designers and collectors here in Brooklyn, who welcomed the possibility of a new marketplace that fosters a direct connection between makers and collectors. We were thrilled to receive hundreds of applications to our very first open call last summer, which yielded a range of offerings for shareholders, including painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, poster art, wallpaper, installation and printmaking. The jury ranked the submissions and with those selections we then created balanced groups for half-shares and full-shares to ensure an even selection of unique pieces and editions, as well as 2D and 3D works.

BKCSAD-LueptowGualtieriUsvitsky.jpgClockwise from top: Hannah June Lueptow, Katerina Usvitsky, Julia Gualtieri

Based on conversations with shareholders and survey results, it's clear they had various reasons for joining. Some were ready to start collecting art but didn't know how to start, while others felt that the mission of supporting emerging artists was an important enough reason on its own to become a shareholder. Some had new apartments to decorate while others wanted to join simply based on the element of surprise and delight. The idea that an expert panel would be selecting the work was reassuring for many shareholders, while others simply liked the artists' previous work and knew that joining would be a safe bet.

The selected artists and designers, on the other hand, were slightly more unified in their reasons for getting involved: Most of them were drawn to CSA+D by the prospect of connecting to the community directly and getting to meet the people who would own their work. While we received some feedback from potential applicants who thought the $3,000 commission for 50 works was too low, the participants expressed satisfaction with the commission, explaining that they worked backward from that number to make decisions about the material costs, size and time commitment to determine their own compensation. This model is certainly not for every artist or designer, especially those creating large-scale or time- and resource-intensive works. But, as we saw with the results of the first season, there is much desirable work being created at the scale where the commission makes sense to the artists and the quality of the work is pleasing to the shareholders.

BKCSAD-Venegas.jpgBKCSAD-BolglaBocci.jpgClockwise from top: Evan Venegas, Chandra Bocci, Beth Bolgla


Posted by core jr  |  19 Feb 2014  |  Comments (4)


On paper, the Ziesel simply sounds like a well-conceived alternative mobility solution, something like an off-road version of Professor Xavier's wheelchair. But the rugged electric vehicle is more than just a mere conveyance: The Ziesel can also be used for recreation and industrial purposes and was designed expressly to strike a balance between sustainability and performance without compromising on either count. Designer Jan Dornig offered detailed insight into the thinking behind the Ziesel.

Core77: What was the original project brief or inspiration for the Ziesel? And what does the name mean?

Jan Dornig: Our company, Mattro Mobility Revolutions, was involved in a research project that focused on developing an automated battery exchange system for vehicles and one of our tasks was to build test vehicles. We basically took the battery system, two electric motors and some tracks we had from another project to build the first prototype. Some friends noted that an easily drivable vehicle that can conquer difficult terrain would be great for wheelchair users, which got us seriously interested in developing the Ziesel further. Thus, the innovation of the Ziesel is rooted firmly in its technology. From the beginning, we used powerful, high quality components. While it is a great use to enable people to do more, we always wanted to do more as well and create the Ziesel as an electric, compact and powerful ATV.

"Ziesel" is the German name for a species of ground squirrel—a very agile little thing, which is why we thought it fitting. This use of animal names originated from my first vehicle project, the design of the vehicle while I was at the FH Salzburg, the Steinbock [alpine ibex, a species of mountain goat]. At the time, I was still a student at the university and that was how I got involved with the company. (The final decision was between the wolf and the steinbock, by the way.)





Posted by Dave Seliger  |  11 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)


Civic Service is a program from Parsons' DESIS Lab co-founded by Eduardo Staszowski, Elliott Montgomery, and Core77's Dave Seliger. Civic Service hosts a range of events to encourage interagency collaboration in local government and inspire civil servants to become intrapreneurs within their agencies.

Civic Service is about many things. It's about dedicating your career to serving the public. It's about the innumerable services that a city delivers every day to its residents. And it's about using design to make these services more user-friendly and human-centric. Civil servants are a reflection of the cities they serve—in New York City, we are dreamers, visionaries and creators. We founded Civic Service to empower civil servants with inspiration, tools and a network of like-minded colleagues.

This past weekend, we took an exciting step toward bringing service design as a tool for change to local government. With the help of civil servants from a variety of New York City agencies, we prototyped our first Civic Service Workshop. Four fantastic Parsons Transdiciplinary Design graduate students—Meagan Durlak, Reid Henkel, Mike Varona and Joe Wheeler—carefully led the participating civil servants through the service design process.


Posted by core jr  |  10 Dec 2013  |  Comments (9)


Simon Enever is the head designer of New York based agency ECCO Design and the founder of byDEFAULT. Formerly a designer at fuseproject, Enever has focused on bringing iconic design to overlooked everyday products. byDEFAULT's first product, TOOTHBRUSH, is a truly customizable modular toothbrush that's as unique as the person who's using it. But the main focus of this daily essential was to choose simplicity over complicated features we may see with other toothbrushes. Enever takes some time to step us through the design process.

After taking my first trip to a dentist after moving to the U.S. from London, I was told that I was damaging my gums by brushing too hard. Among various other tips, I was recommended to try out a simple vibrating brush. On the way home, I popped into the pharmacy to pick up a brush—somewhat excited about this new, slightly "techy" sounding product I was about to pick up. I was presented with this familiar sight:


Sifting through shelf after shelf, it didn't matter if I was looking at manual, vibrating or full electric models, store brands or high-end brands; everything had that same gaudy look and cheap feel. Each brush was packed with gimmicky features and slogans in an attempt to lure me in. I gave up in the store and decided to look online. I had the exact same experience.

"Surely someone out there must have put some effort toward creating a well-designed, intelligent brush," I thought. Despite a few nice attempts in the eco-friendly manual brush market, I couldn't find a version that was reasonably priced (read: not $280 like some I came across) without the showy tendencies.

As a designer, these are the moments you wait for. I immediately got in touch with—what was to later become—the byDEFAULT team.


Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  12 Nov 2013  |  Comments (0)

Boardroom.JPGPhotos courtesy of Square

The first time it happened, I took time to notice the experience. A food truck vendor handed me his phone, which had a little white square sticking out of the headphone jack. "What is this?" I asked, wondering which one of us was the crazy one. "Square," he replied. "You can make payments on your phone." I swiped my card on the strange device and then I signed my name with my finger. The receipt went straight to my inbox, and the deed was done: A delicious meal was mine to enjoy, all with a few taps and a swipe.

What was once a revolutionary gesture—a vendor hands me his or her smartphone, and I swipe and pay—has now become second nature. Countless friends and I have used Square to pay for coffee in chic cafes, fruits and vegetables in a hectic farmer's market food stall, and small works from independent artists, yet we rarely think about it. And that, I've learned, is by design. Whereas most design objects draw attention to themselves, the Square Reader and the accompanying software help you get the job done quickly and then quietly fade into the background.

squarestand.JPGJesse Dorogusker demos the packaging for the Square Stand.

Anyone who's spent time haggling in a street market knows that payment is not just about money changing hands but about a conversation. Hardware Lead Jesse Dorogusker took the time to demo Stand, Square's newest product, a point-of-sale system designed to sit on vendors' countertops and operate with an iPad. In the spirit of conversation, the stand rotates, allowing the vendor to type in the total and then have the iPad face the customer as he or she signs it.

"The merchant will very quickly understand that there are things that I do, and there are things that I want my customer to do. And we're going to have a conversation, and this is going to facilitate that conversation," noted Dorogusker, who has previously worked at Apple, in an interview with Core77. After the sale is complete, the Stand can be rotated back in place with a satisfying click.

Image courtesy of Square


Posted by core jr  |  30 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

Today's installment investigates how Ziba tested AIGA's crowdsourced ideas for moving their organization forward. These ideas had some good momentum already, because all the learnings from Project Medusa were applied to elicit them, but which were the best and the most actionable? Considering a range of hypotheticals systematically—to say nothing of dispassionately—isn't easy for a group, but it's necessary, to solidify goals. We pulled another tool from our kit to make the job easier.

The Consumer Journey

Look sharp, here comes a metaphor: Imagine AIGA's entire membership experience is a net. The horizontal strands are specific touchpoints—website, events, mailings, meetups, anything and everything you can interact with. The vertical strands are specific moments in an individual's journey with the organization, from first hearing about it, to joining, on through renewing membership, participating or donating time and services. Still with us? The net is a version of the consumer journey, a powerful visualization tool. We can experiment with passing individuals and chapters—even AIGA as a whole—through it. As test subjects hit our customized consumer journey matrix, where do they stick? Which strands crossing frame what makes membership special or rewarding? Where are the big holes, which can indicate where something's missing?

The net calls attention to where and when the most valuable moments happen, which allows AIGA to prioritize changes to the membership experience with the greatest impact. By focusing in on the most meaningful strands, AIGA can create new initiatives, events, or even policies, giving members what they want, just when they want it. Ideas from the leadership workshop can be passed through the consumer journey net as well, to see which strands they get caught up in. This makes it easier to choose when to invest more and when something can safely be pruned away or abandoned altogether.



Posted by core jr  |  29 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

What Ziba had learned thus far let us explore possibilities for AIGA's future by projecting qualified concepts out into the real world. Early-stage design is necessarily focused on what can be, and design research is the fuel that powers educated guesses. Applying well-informed extrapolation to design early on increases the plausibility of whatever you set out to create, be it a product or an experience. Design research leads to outcomes that are not only new, but better.

Doing Crowdsourcing Right

Ziba socialized Project Medusa's findings with AIGA's leadership through another highly participatory workshop, including chapter presidents and assorted board members from 67 nationwide chapters. (We do so love workshops.) Once everyone had a good look at the curated information reflecting the current state of affairs, we took advantage of all those designers and asked them to propose new ways forward for the organization. It was a big group, so we call this research tool "crowdsourced ideation." Here's the question that needed answering, ultimately: What should AIGA look like in 100 years?

We knew what we hoped to get out of the meeting: an explosion of good, relevant hypotheses. It's important to understand that crowdsourcing works in some situations, but it's not a panacea. Counting on crowdsourcing to yield a silver bullet of an idea is setting yourself up for disappointment. The composition of your crowd and the questions you ask are both vital considerations before proceeding. Because we had a number of hypotheses about what might be right for AIGA already, our crowd of AIGA leaders served as a testing ground. Their replies to our questions let us see where our ideas were echoed or contradicted.

The key here, remember, would be to crystalize AIGA leaders' reactions to the aggregated community perspective. Some leaders had participated in their local chapter's Medusa events, allowing them to bring even deeper perspective to the table. There were two critical issues: the cost of membership, both upfront and ongoing, and what makes up the AIGA experience, from the moment of sign-up onward. What do they get for their investment of money, energy and time?


Making Collaboration Work

Three different activities each carried the tagline "The future of AIGA is in your hands." The first elicited thoughts on the organization's existing membership structure, and the second was a group discussion, with each table prompted by a different 'hot topic'—horizontal communication between chapters, vertical relationships within the national organization, the relationship of design to business, and design for education and government. The third was a fun one, meant to expose people's personal agendas, with the prompt, "If you were king/queen of AIGA for a day, of all the thing's you'd do, which one would you be best remembered for, in the distant future?"


Posted by core jr  |  28 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

In July, we offered three installments on how to conduct design research, using Ziba's recent work with AIGA as an example. The objective was to develop a new vision of the future for the 100-year old AIGA, a membership-based professional association for designers of all stripes. Before that was possible, a thorough survey of the organization's current state was needed. What did existing members love best, and what could they do without? What was making new members join, and what kept long-standing members coming back?

Ziba's first step was a branded, participatory informational outreach called Project Medusa, which took the form of a video-driven workshop for all AIGA members across the country. In Part 1 back in Julyl, we explained four rules anyone can use to get ready to do great design research:

- Do Your Homework; Know Your Limits
- Once You Know Your Audience, Use the Right Tools for the Job
- Take (Good) Risks
- Learn to Love the Bias: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Project Medusa itself was designed, branded and delivered as a "how-to," guiding each AIGA chapter to host a home-brewed information gathering. In the second installment, Part 2, we drilled down into the details of what made Medusa tick. The rules explained there can be applied to any participatory, group-think-enabling sort of meeting:

  • Make sure everyone involved knows why they're participating. This can be handled neatly with your invitation, which also gives people time to have a bit of a think beforehand.

  • Choose the right space. Then have that environment properly set up, with everything you'll need to succeed. Paper, pens, whiteboards, markers, sure... what about music? Snacks?

  • State the rules of your engagement up front. Why can a group of strangers come together and enjoy a game of Monopoly? Because it has clear rules, parameters, and goals. Proper briefing is also essential in case everyone just accepted the invitation and didn't read it, or read it and forgot.

  • Pace your activities, and balance writing, drawing, speaking, conversation and breaks.

  • Take chances, as appropriate for your group. We've had good success with encouraging people to contribute as early as possible, as visually as possible—everyone can draw, even if it's only a stickman.

  • Don't be afraid to "waste" some time on throw-away activities or even jokes... warming your group up will have an effect on the quality of the atmosphere as well as the results.

  • Use strong reference points to help everyone get up to speed fast. (This goes back to your choice of theme.) Consider how relatable and believable each and every touchpoint along the way is.

  • Take advantage of every channel that's appropriate: movies, music, physical activities, books, or thank you cards.

  • Record everything: photos, audio, notes. Remember, there are no wrong answers, with this kind of research, so be sure to capture as much as you can.

  • Finally, keep it simple, stupid is time-honored advice for good reason. By the time you've finished preparing, things should be so clear and concise that you could sit down and write up a quick-start guide to your research project.


Posted by core jr  |  17 Oct 2013  |  Comments (25)


Professor Kevin Shankwiler of GeorgiaTech has been teaching a third-year bicycle design studio for the past four years. The 8-week course is primarily focused on understanding product systems design and exploring opportunities for innovation in commuter bike design. David Hotard was among the 12 students in the SRAM-sponsored fall studio, which culminated with four teams (of three students each) developing very different bikes. He worked with Matthew Campbell and Edwin Collier on reimagining the hubless wheel as a cargo space; here Hotard shares how they arrived at the final product.

"Transport" is a commuter bike design project sponsored by SRAM. Although panniers and saddle bags are on the market to make commuting easier, we found that many cyclists prefer to ride with a traditional backpack. This doesn't mean that a backpack is comfortable; it's just more practical than the panniers that clip to a rack. We discovered that many commuters didn't want a bag that felt like a dedicated commuting bag but rather a bag that would work in any scenario. We started to look at what we do with bags when we're traveling by car, plane, train, and other means and realized that there is almost always a compartment for them. We realized that what commuters wanted was that compartment... on their bike. Research on futuristic bike concepts inspired us to use the negative space of the much-debated hubless wheel for our trunk. The result shows that a trunk in the wheel could easily accommodate various backpacks and might well be very feasible solution. We were also happy to see that Yale mechanical engineering students built a bike with a hubless wheel while we were in the midst of our project.




We researched the hubless wheel to the extent that we could validate that it is technologically feasible; besides the Yale project, the Lunartic was an inspiration to us. Although it may be more expensive to produce and currently less structurally sound than a traditional wheel, we know that in many cases people are willing to pay more for a design that satisfies their needs. We did a lot of research looking at concept bikes, current products and observing users. The hubless wheel storage system brought those three areas of research together by giving commuters the ability to travel with any bag, not just a rack-able bag, and also showed a practical purpose for a hubless wheel concept.



Posted by An Xiao Mina  |   8 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)

While the Internet has given us a great deal of control over our media environments, that control exists largely in digital space. We can place stickers on our computers, change our desktop backgrounds and manipulate our Facebook profiles and web sites, but it's still challenging for the average citizen to change physical space. Permits are required for legal street art in many cities, and signage and billboards remain a costly endeavor.

In a recent post on Design on GOOD, San Franciscan Christie George talked about a frustration she encountered in physical space:

When I first read about hateful anti-Muslim ads being put up in New York City, I was surprised and saddened. Seriously, who does that? Then when a crop of similar ads went up on San Francisco city buses, I was outraged. As a San Francisco resident, I felt like I had to do something about it, something more than sharing my rage and complaining on Facebook or Twitter.

To channel her frustration, George tapped into Louder, a platform she co-founded with Colin Mutchler. I wrote about civic crowdfunding recently with Citizinvestor, which is limited to city officials' projects; think of Louder as a citizen's version of crowdfunding, but made specifically for reclaiming advertising space. George reached out to her wide network with a Louder page and brought in a number of supporters (full disclosure: I contributed a small amount to the campaign).

Christie George with supporters at the site of the billboard in San Francisco's SoMA district.


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


Text & Images by Joey Cofone

There a few greater joys in life than the creative process. From an unexpected spark of inspiration to refining an idea, starting the process to applying the final touches—creating is the peak of human excellence. After searching for a notebook that would be the ultimate tool for the ultimate activity, and falling up short, we decided to make it ourselves.


Posted by An Xiao Mina  |  16 Sep 2013  |  Comments (0)

Photo by Kjetil Hasselgård

In a city like Oslo, which is officially the most expensive in the world, it can be difficult to strike out as an entrepreneur. Independent start-up founders, like artists, tend to thrive in less expensive cities, where the consequences of failure are fewer and costs of setup are less. But tucked away in the downtown area is a new coworking space, MESH Norway, where you'll find freelancers and entrepreneurs working together on technology and design problems. Five stories high, with around 75 companies, MESH is Oslo's first coworking space, and it's grown quickly since it first started in February 2012.

"Our main focus is on early stage startups," noted co-founder Kriszti Toth, who started the space with Anders Mjaset and Audun Ueland, "but we try to keep a balance around 70% on startups and 30% creative individuals like filmmakers, animation makers, graphic designers, etc." This keeps the people and services diverse and the activities busy, with companies like Holder de ord (Norwegian for "keeping their word"), which tracks politicians' promises; Justcoin, a currency exchange for Bitcoin; and the social entrepreneurial group World Wide Narrative. When I visited to give a talk for Creative Mornings Oslo, I caught a brainstorming session afterward for Memorylanes, an award-winning storytelling app for communities.

Photo by Alex Asensi

Designed by the founders, the space contains a mixture of smaller spaces, from a hip night club to individual offices and more collaborative spaces to a busy ground-floor coffee shop for the general public. "The office space had these brick walls when we got here," she explained, "and all the interior was me and Anders and people who shaped it just by being here and using it. The tables are from IKEA, we painted all of them ourselves. Old couches are second hand catches."


Posted by core jr  |  15 Jul 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

Welcome back, once again, to Project Medusa. This final installment in our three-part How-To series aims to illuminate the last phase of any design research project: what are you to do with all the information that result from your brilliant effort? How do you decide what's relevant, and what's not? Needless to say, it can be a bit complicated. Many of the considerations introduced earlier are also helpful at this stage: remember your goals, and understand your audience (which shifts now to whoever you're preparing the research results for.) Confused? Visit Part 1 for a more thorough introduction. If you recall Part 1 but missed Part 2, now's your chance to catch up.

While there are no right or wrong answers in design research, not all data is equal. Assuming you've carefully prioritized your goals and outreach, it's now time to prioritize results. At Ziba, we use a four-part process to synthesize the data research yields.


1. Aggregate the data.

This could mean digitizing handwritten responses, stacks of sticky notes stuck to a wall, dozens of photos printed, or whatever works for you and your material. You'll need to be able to see the data—and ideally search through it efficiently—before you can plunge ahead.

2. Sort for theme(s).

Like goes with like, and making logical groupings of related information will help you identify the trends and anomalies within your data set. Embrace the granular: this is most likely the only time you'll look at each and every survey question, listen to every minute of recorded discussion, and squint at all those doodles. Stop worrying about your goals, momentarily, and evaluate your results as honestly and objectively as possible. Everything is allowed to be interesting, at this stage. If, on the other hand, you feel overwhelmed with the amount of data you're confronted with, the sorting process will allow you to reduce complexity.

Themes emerge as you connect the strongest trends in the data to your hypothesis or hypotheses. Think of it as a naming exercise, if you're stumped: with the data sorted into buckets, each bucket needs a concise handle. There may be some hard choices—fascinating but quirky individual responses sometimes need to be cast aside if they fail to play well with other, larger groups of more typical answers. Force yourself to make decisions about what's meaningful and what can actually have an impact on the work to come.


Posted by core jr  |   8 Jul 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

For everyone returning, welcome back to Project Medusa. You're (still) invited to this party! Every AIGA member who wanted to participate was invited to this party, in fact, which ensured a great cross-section of designers. Intrigued? (If none of this makes any sense to you, click here.) Ziba produced this research effort to look into AIGA's future, and learn directly from its members—working in Reno, Providence and everywhere in between—what the future of the organization should look like. This meant, implicitly, that younger members' voices were key, and that drove decisions about many of the elements we're going to look at in Part 2. The key to designing your own research project is know your audience... you can't expect much success hunting for a totally unfamiliar animal.

We'll start with some overarching considerations, and then get into the nitty-gritty, with a checklist for conducting rich, relevant research.

1.) Preparation is key.
If you take only one thing away from this series, it should be the importance of being prepared. Without proper planning, you can only try and catch up after the fact: too little, too late. This flows directly out of advice from Part 1 of the Project Medusa How-To series. We can't emphasize enough that you need to do your research before you start the research. What do you want to know? It's difficult find anything of meaning unless you know (at the very least) where to start looking, even with highly sophisticated design research methods. With your goals identified, think back to your audience: if you don't ask the right people, it won't matter how good the question is. Rubbish in means rubbish out, no matter how you slice it. (More on this in Part 3, still to come.)



2.) Everything is intentional... and should be directed.
Project Medusa took the form of an interactive film with coordinating activities, to guide individual AIGA chapters to host their own informational workshops and sketch a new vision for the entire organization. This allowed Ziba to control the overall look and feel, in keeping with a designed research outreach, while still allowing us to leverage the personal knowledge and connections that each local moderator brought to the table.

Even if your research effort will be a simple web survey, consider how your presentation might affect your results. Be intentional with whatever tools you've got: slips of paper, a series of roundtable discussions, or formal focus groups. Consider your biases—what you think you know starting out, and any other assumptions surrounding the inquiry—and do what you can to make these supposed liabilities into assets, too.


Posted by core jr  |   1 Jul 2013  |  Comments (0)


How To (How To): The AIGA Research Project by Ziba
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6

Introduction: The Beginning is a Good Place to Start

AIGA had a 100th birthday coming up in 2014, and wanted to celebrate their brand by looking to the future. Their numbers were strong, with 23,000 members countrywide in 67 chapters, but they knew the landscape for all professional organizations was changing. AIGA was concerned its existing platforms weren't relevant enough to drive the kind of participation and engagement needed, especially from younger designers. Born in the late 1970's and 80's, and now in the prime of their careers, these designers understand their work differently; it's interdisciplinary to the bone. AIGA's reputation of strength in graphic design, while not the whole picture, was overshadowing their efforts to expand and represent today's entire design profession. (There are a few new ways to connect with colleagues and professional acquaintances digitally today, too—hat tip to LinkedIn, Coroflot and Dribbble.)

AIGA needed to find out what its members really valued, and what the organization should offer going forward. This is the first of three How-To installments on designing research projects; we'll look along the way at how AIGA got the information they needed, and what they did with the things they learned.


How (and Why) To Brand a Research Project, in Four Easy Steps:

1. Do Your Homework; Know Your Limits

Delivering any branded experience takes time, effort and money. Do it well, though, and the expenses are justified. Pull in the right people, engage them, then keep them coming back, and your venture, project, or what have you succeeds. Attract the wrong people, or fumble the engagement, and you'll fail. Before setting out to brand a research project, you'll have to do some research. What's the backstory behind the questions you're seeking to answer? What tools will best access the audience you're trying to reach? Wait, back up: do you really know who you're trying to reach? That's really, really important. Depending on how easily you can answer these preliminary questions, it might be the case that a strategic partnership is in order.

AIGA felt Ziba could help with their investigation, because our design work is interdisciplinary day in and day out, and we're well experienced working with brands trying to reach Millennials. This reflects where we think design is headed, too—our competitors are interdisciplinary designers, and so are a good proportion of AIGA members. So we knew AIGA needed just the right outreach in order to find out what their next 100 years should look like. Knowing our audience—it was us, in part—meant we could be sure to activate the right touchpoints without dismissing AIGA's history. Think of the how Ace Hotels reuse old buildings, leveraging their best characteristics and improving what's outdated. Using heritage proactively, as an asset, is very different from simply starting over.

2. Once You Know Your Audience, Use the Right Tools for the Job

The information that primary research provides is valuable, but the process can be a bit dry. We knew our audience was allergic to old-fashioned, but the same might not be true for yours. Even if a research effort's top-level question seems obvious—i.e. "What do you want from AIGA?"—who you're asking and how you ask needs to be taken into account. Considered as one big participatory touchpoint, AIGA's entire outreach had to be gripping to every chapter member, and inspire younger members in particular to really dive in. Tuned engagement tools get rich responses, surfacing higher-order emotional wants and needs.

Cale Thompson, Senior Service Designer at Ziba, said "Imagine a research project could be a party... some hot event everyone wants to be invited to." That's not a bad target for any membership-based organization to aim for. We decided the best way to make this outreach feel like a party was to give it an identity—a brand—which was quickly designed to be hyper-savvy DIY wrapped in awesome (for several non-trivial reasons we'll get into in just a moment.) Project Medusa! We were willing to gamble our audience wanted less Trivial Pursuit and more Atmosfear, which was the inspiration for the interactivity of Project Medusa's workshop.



Posted by core jr  |  16 Apr 2013  |  Comments (1)

This is the second half of a case study by Chicago's Greater Good Studio, who recently set out to redesign school lunch. See the first part, including Lessons 1–4, here.

GreaterGoodStudio-SchoolLunch-6.jpgText by Sara Aye / Greater Good Studio

Lesson 5: Ask what you can make and measure.

One concept we'd like to highlight is called "Courses," and it eliminates the lunch line completely. Kids go straight to their tables, where the food is served to them by LRAs, one course at a time. Rather than getting one quick moment to choose a whole tray, the Courses system gives kids four moments to choose their dishes: carrots or broccoli, salad with dressing or without, chicken or tofu, apple or orange. And each moment of choice lasts as long as they need—there's no one waiting in line behind them. They can see what their friends are eating and feel supported when trying something new. Plus, each new dish brings a small rush of anticipation, greatly increasing the focus on food. The process allows adults to decide the order of the courses, so if they want kids to eat more salad, they can just put the salad first. (I've never seen kids get so excited about salad as they did with our prototypes!)

What's great about the Courses system is that it bears striking resemblance to something we're all familiar with: a restaurant. We simply had to apply that service to a new context. However, all services require people, and the people who needed to change their behavior the most were the LRAs. So we listened closely to make sure we were supporting their desired behaviors too. We heard that the LRAs' favorite part of their job was interacting with kids. They'd rather be chatting with a child than dishing food onto a tray. While the current system gives them one interaction point at the big serving station, the Courses system gives them four. They can be closer to the kids, and therefore more helpful, when they are out among the tables.

When we prototyped the concept with real kids and real food at AGC, we heard lots of positive feedback from students. They liked that the bowls were lighter and smaller than trays, giving them confidence when carrying them to the trash. They liked that the bowls gave them more elbow room at the tables. And they even liked that when they inevitably spilled their milk, it didn't spill into the tray and make their meal soggy.

But the most encouraging result of our behavioral prototyping came from something the kids couldn't tell us—something we observed in their eating behavior. It was an increase in eating balanced meals. Kids with trays often ate one, maybe two of the four food items. Kids with Courses sampled all four. Not only did they eat more and waste less, they ate more balanced meals—a metric that the public school system would actually care about, because it sounds suspiciously like health.

So the lesson for designers is to ask not only what you can make, but what you can measure. The only way this concept will be replicated at other schools is if we can prove quantitatively that kids eat more balanced meals, and that balance affects health. Measuring this is tricky, but we've just completed our study of balance pre-Courses. We intend to study balance with a trial of Courses very soon, and we're optimistic about the results.

Lesson 6: Design for every last barrier.

The physical elements of Courses are a collection of plates and bowls, long trays to hold them and a cart to bring them around the room. Sounds fine when you're talking about one table, but when you realize that you need 600 bowls, you start to discover the unintended consequences of this change. One thing that came up right away: how are
we going to do all these dishes?


The current trays are washed in 15 dishwasher cycles, which takes about an hour and a half. When we loaded our prototype bowls into the dishwasher trays and did the math, they would take 20 cycles, adding an extra half hour of dishwashing onto someone's job. We knew that this small issue might actually be the difference between the whole system working or coming crashing down. The final bowls and trays are designed to be shorter and flatter, making them more compatible with the current dishwashing system.

The lesson here is to go willingly toward every last barrier, and not stop until they've all been uncovered. After all, the reason that most social problems aren't solved is because there are barriers in place. Often really little, really stupid barriers. Decision-makers go for the big picture but forget the nuanced details. It's our responsibility to challenge those barriers head-on with our designs. Find them, understand what's really going on, and see if compromises can be made. Because we can't afford to sacrifice time and money and food and health because our bowls don't fit in the dishwasher.


Posted by core jr  |  15 Apr 2013  |  Comments (0)

GreaterGoodStudio-SchoolLunch-1.jpgText by Sara Aye / Greater Good Studio

Introduction: A Brief Exercise in Empathy

What food did you hate as a kid, that you now love as a grown-up?

Mine was guacamole. I used to hate guacamole! My mom would make it fresh and serve it at parties, and I just thought it looked so gross.

Now, of course, guac is one of my favorite foods. I regret the years I spent missing out on all that awesome homemade goodness. Why didn't I just try it? It's so delicious! My point is that it's hard to remember what it's like to be a kid. Sure, we remember some of the major moments, but it's particularly hard to recall how we behaved in daily life. In the case study below, our main users were kids, and since we couldn't literally become kids again, we had to find other ways to understand them. As you read about the project, try to remember what it was like to not like [insert food you used to hate here].

Designing Everything but the Food

At Greater Good Studio, we use design methods to solve social problems. We work with foundations, nonprofits, government agencies and social businesses, often saying that our mission is to work with people on a mission. We take an asset-based approach to research and design, because in the social sector, unmet needs are almost too easy to find. Rather, we look for assets—the people, resources, behaviors, relationships and systems—that are already working well. Our designs leverage those assets to create more and better life.

We were recently awarded a grant to teach a class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where my co-founder George is a professor). The project was to design an elementary school cafeteria, with a team of grad and undergrad students. I know what you're thinking: it's an architecture project, right? Well, we approached the challenge as designing the interactions between kids and food. While a cafeteria is literally a room with four walls, it's also a dance between lots of people and lots of things, most importantly, kids and food. To create a great cafeteria experience, kids and food have to interact in a way that is positive, healthy and fun.

Another way to frame it is that rather than designing the space, we are designing the behaviors within that space. If we can find ways to support new behaviors, and facilitate great interactions, we can create a user-centered experience without moving any walls...which we weren't allowed to do anyway.

Lesson 1: Don't know the answer until you know the question.

We started by framing our project around health. How can we design a cafeteria that encourages healthy eating? We were inspired by Dr. Brian Wansink, a behavioral economist from Cornell, who showed that simple cafeteria changes like placing the milk before the soda could have enormous impact on diners' choices. However, the healthfulness of school lunch is a subjective, politicized issue. And healthy food is no silver bullet: When Chicago Public Schools changed its menu to add healthy options, kids opted out! (And lunch ladies protested).

Most importantly, we are designers. We're not nutritionists, chefs, food scientists, farmers or supply chain managers. What can we bring to the table? We thought about our responsibilities as designers: to be action-oriented, to understand people on an individual level, and to think first about desirability, rather than feasibility or viability or "how this will do in opinion polls." Our expertise is in human experience, and so that's where our research began.


Observing lunchtime that first afternoon at Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), the charter school where our project was based, we noticed one really glaring pattern: every adult in the room was trying to get kids to eat. They were playing eating games, "selling" the merits of various dishes, and straight-up pleading with kids to take one more bite. Our first reaction was, "They are working really hard at this!" And our second reaction was, "It's not even working." Kids were throwing out lots and lots of perfectly delicious food at every meal. We realized that rather than encouraging kids to eat healthier, the ideal cafeteria is one that simply encourages kids to eat—though, as any parent knows, that is no small feat.

The lesson here is to not assume the answer until you know the right question. There's a common criticism of design in the social sector—it's called "missionary design." Missionaries go to foreign cultures already knowing the "answers" to people's troubles. Rather than being missionaries, let's remember that the answers are in that place. So don't assume you know what to fix, until you know what is broken.


Posted by core jr  |  13 Mar 2013  |  Comments (9)

With additional editorial support from Nathan Jones, Keith Lampi, Gaylon White, Jos de Wit

Natural disasters can happen anywhere with little or no warning. When they do, they threaten community water sources and jeopardize public health by destroying vital pipelines or existing sanitation systems allowing the introduction of contaminants into the drinking water supply. One of the most immediate concerns post-disaster is providing a supply of clean, safe hydration to survivors to help prevent the occurrence and spread of waterborne diseases.

"Water is one of the first things that a victim of a natural disaster has to have to survive," says Nathan Jones, vice president of government and institutional sales at HTI. "Many of the deaths that occur from natural disasters don't happen because of the disaster itself, but what happens later—the waterborne disease that sweeps through the population."

hydropack_Kenya_Flood.jpgEvery few years, villages in Mudimbia, Kenya are destroyed from floodwaters.

Humans can only live for a few days without hydration. In fact, waterborne illness can be the leading cause of death in the aftermath of a disaster. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million children die of waterborne illnesses every year. One in five children worldwide die from diarrhea—that's more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. On any given day, over 50% of the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water borne disease.

Today, more than 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and the United Nations predicts that by 2025, 2/3 of the world's population will face periodic and severe water shortage.


Starting in a Corvallis, Oregon, garage in 1987, Keith Lampi, now executive vice president and chief operating officer for Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI), Robert Salter and some college friends began focusing on how forward osmosis could be used in various humanitarian and industrial applications. In 1988, Lampi and Salter founded HTI in Albany, Oregon, with the purpose of utilizing their engineering and chemistry expertise to pioneer innovative membrane technology research using forward osmosis as a foundation.

When a fire destroyed HTI's Albany facility in 2007, the disruption ironically allowed Lampi and his team a bit of space to work on some of the world's wicked water problems. From those efforts, the HydroPack was born—an emergency hydration solution created specifically for use during the critical first days after a natural disaster.

Hydropack_Haiti2.jpgVictims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti received HydroPacks

"Our earliest forward osmosis pouch was a two-liter bag that we had developed for the military. But it required radio frequency welding and was fairly expensive to make," says Dr. Jack Herron, director of product development at HTI. "Our desire was to create a relatively inexpensive pouch for disaster relief. The picture I had in mind was a 10-year-old child in a flood in India. What would he be attracted to and want to drink? What could he use properly without training? I knew from my days as a soccer dad that kids love juice pouches, so that was sort of the model. We also wanted to utilize a heat-seal process to keep the cost down. The HyrdroPack was the result."


Posted by core jr  |  15 Oct 2012  |  Comments (7)


GlassLab provides designers with rare access to explore concepts in glass. In public "design performances" or private workshops, designers and glassmakers collaborate, rapidly prototyping design concepts and using the immediacy of hot glass as a catalyst for innovation. Using a mobile hot glass studio, GlassLab sessions have taken place in public design venues like Design Miami/Art Basel Miami and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, offering audiences a live, authentic glimpse of the design and glassmaking processes, while allowing designers to explore the material of glass in a way that few have access to. - Corning Museum of Glass

I live in North Kohala on the Big Island of Hawai'i. I grow food, I chase sunsets and I brew. When it came time to source bottles for my first batch of ginger beer, I went to the transfer station to intercept a few before they were hauled off for recycling. While chatting with the manager, I learned that shipping costs prohibit the bottles from leaving the island, and instead they're pulverized and sold as raw material. (There's rumor of a man laying a shiny road on the island, will keep you posted...) Hearing this while living in a community practicing permaculture and preservation, I was inspired to dust off an old idea.

In 2008 I had a moment of gin-spiration. I was at a gathering watching a group of architect friends attempt to redeem the collegiate party pastime of beer can stacking and I began thinking how much more interesting the game would be if the cans interlocked, if they were more like Legos. Shortly after, I came across the (loose) statistic that "every month [in America], we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper." So when I was invited to participate in GlassLab at the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) I accepted without hesitation, eager to bring my bottle brick to life and build that skyscraper rather than fill it. The following is my process from concept to prototype.

Like many before, this process began on a napkin. The first study was a simple cartoon of a bottle and a Lego on a date. I thought if all goes well, this design will work itself out.

BottleBrick-napkin_sketch.jpegImagined first date between a bottle and a toy.

It turned out that more action was required on my part, so in preparation for my GlassLab sessions I spoke with gaffer Eric Meek at CMOG. To best execute this design, we would need a mold. Our best material options for glassmaking molds included wood, plaster and graphite. I decided on a wood mold as this current design is conceptual and would deserve a more adept design before committing to the more expensive—but lasting—graphite mold. The ultimate goal for the bottle is to become ubiquitous and a readily upcyclable, viable building material, but at this stage I was interested in starting a conversation to garner the resources in order to move to the next step.

We decided on a three-part hardwood mold. Eric estimated the wood could withstand the 2,100 degree glass for roughly 6-8 castings. To produce the mold I turned to Tietz-Baccon, a design and digital fabrication studio in Long Island City, NY. After the initial conversation with T-B, I elaborated on the first-date sketch, snapped it with my phone and emailed it across the Pacific. Between a phone call, a quick sketch and a snapshot, this idea was coming to life.

BottleBrick_sketch.jpegFollow-up sketch sent to Tietz-Baccon

BottleBrick-Tim.jpgMold sketch, CMOG

BottleBrick-MockupPlastic.jpegA mockup made from water bottles. Could plastic be an option for implementation?

A few days later I received the CAD renderings and technical drawings from Tietz-Baccon. We increased the scale of the bottle so that it would be easier to work with by hand out of a mold.

BottleBrick-Drawing1.jpgTechnical drawing, Tietz-Baccon

BottleBrick-Rendering1.jpgRendering 1, Tietz-Baccon

BottleBrick-Rendering2.jpgRendering 2, Tietz-Baccon. Just like my napkin sketch. I don't see any difference...

We decided on a dense cherrywood for the mold because of its ability to withstand the heat of the molten glass without burning away too quickly. The job was cued up, and by the time I would arrive in New York City a few days later, it was complete. The CNC milling required 8 hours, with an additional 4 hours of finishing and construction. When I arrived to the T-B studio, I was greeted with a thing of true beauty:

BottleBrick-MoldClosed.JPGThe sacrificial lamb, closed.

BottleBrick-MoldOpen.JPGMold, open.


Posted by core jr  |   4 Oct 2012  |  Comments (2)


With the promise of a single tool that can replace the pen, paper and repetitive inventories of books at schools, a multimedia eReader tablet provides a multipurpose educational tool that not only lets the student read and write, but can also go one step further and engage the student directly, replacing sometimes dull and lifeless teaching methods that can marginalize students with different learning styles and habits.

While the western world has been talking about introducing better educational tools for years, schools elsewhere across the globe have taken a major step toward incorporating tablets into their curriculum. A recent report from Pyramid Research shows tablet sales are set to skyrocket as South Korea vows to move to an all-tablet education curriculum by 2015. India and Thailand are close behind. Educators are looking for improved methods to prepare students for admission into professional college programs like engineering, medicine and business management.

In 2010 Luminum InfoTek approached Lumium (although our names are similar there is no connection). Their vision was to create and introduce a handheld wireless electronic device for students with age- and skill-appropriate learning content. Out of this came the Tuto eReader. "Tuto" is a shortened version of the word "Tutor", because with Tuto, the hope is that students would be able to teach themselves.

As a vertically integrated design and engineering firm, our job was to design not only the hardware components of the learning device and how it would look and feel, but also the embedded software design and learning materials for the device, which would meet the needs of students and educators.


Bringing the Tuto to schools: Steps and Challenges

While many customers can be stringent with their product requirements, Luminum InfoTek empowered the Lumium team to stay flexible with the eReader components, allowing us to experiment with different strategies and designs that would best fit the target demographic while including basic tablet functionality (Wi-Fi, audio speakers, and Bluetooth connectivity). Our overarching principles were reliability, durability, patentability, time-to-market and cost.

We needed a platform we could modify over time as student, teacher and syllabus requirements changed, but we also needed to build a closed control program to run on top of the device OS. This was important not just to protect the integrity of the content and capabilities but also so Luminium InfoTek could offer customized branding and custom-control for individual user password access, for each school offering the Tuto to students.

User Research

In total we spoke with 500 students in grades 9-11 in Ahmedabad, India. The students and teachers researched came from diverse economic and social backgrounds. Given the diversity of India, in terms of religion, culture, language and economic means, we were able to gather a good range of emotions from all users. The influencing factors for each group impacted what they saw as the primary need for this device. Their exposure to and actual use of small, smart digital devices varied, as did familiarity of such devices by the teachers who also needed to understand and interface with the Tuto device.

Tuto-Mockup.jpgStudents interact with a Foam Prototype

Lumium's engineers and designers traveled with and observed students throughout the entire school day—from their homes, to school, to their after-school coaching classes and back home in the evening. We were looking for patterns in the way students approached their daily learning; everything from studying for exams to assignment execution, personal organization and methods for planning ahead. What times do students typically sit down to study (if at all)? How long do students stay working on a particular assignment until they move to the next one? What is the preferred method of learning for each student?

Once we had the human and technological demands in mind, we began sketching, building off a basic underlay of hardware framework provided by our engineers. Because the client was flexible when it came to certain aspects of their hardware; for example, there were no strict requirements for LCD screen size, we had the ability to pivot to alternate designs based on peoples' reaction to several rounds of sketches and detailed renderings.


To determine which model was most aesthetically pleasing and functional we took handcrafted foam prototypes of our top 5 device designs out to a number of middle schools. Not surprisingly perhaps, students wanted the largest screen size possible. Thus, our engineers went with a slide-screen design with a tucked away keyboard concealed underneath.

Tuto_Foam.jpgSix foam prototypes

With our hardware designers working on the look and feel of the eReader, our software engineers worked on the graphical user interface (GUI) that is customized around modern e Learning practices. The student can browse any chapter and page like any other e-book and for that the UI follows a typical structure. But, studying against plain reading is a non-linear activity; and our UI centric research showed that students often go to the portions they have highlighted in the text, they often go to the last-read page, they often go directly to the Q&A section or to the problems and solutions, and they have timetables of school and their own schedule for studying. The features that facilitate the above are all placed for immediate access at any time while browsing.

Reflecting this work and studying behavior, the device has touch pads on right and left side of the screen, which when tapped, will allow immediate access to Q&A, highlighted portions, animations, schedules. This eliminates the need for the student to go to the main menu repeatedly in order to access the data in various scenarios.

UIexamples2_468.jpgClick for full-sized image.

Not only can students create their own task lists; the Tuto is also designed to assist in creating to-do lists based on the student's progress with the embedded coursework. Once they finish their required reading on the device for the day, Tuto will sound an alarm prompting them to take action on corresponding assignments and homework. In effect, each student would get a personalized plan for studying and completing assignments in a timely fashion The schedule function built in the UI also allows parents to set study reminders for their children, taking the screen to the chapter and page that is scheduled to be studied at that time.


Posted by Valerie Casey  |  16 Jul 2012  |  Comments (2)


The mission of The Noun Project is to collect, organize and add to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world's visual language so they can be shared in a fun and meaningful way. The symbols are free, simple, and high quality—not to mention truly delightful.

In this conversation with the Designers Accord, we learn from The Noun Project founders, Edward Boatman and Sofya Polyakov, how a shared visual language can be the connective tissue across disciplines and geographies, and why you don't need to be a designer to be an effective communicator and change-maker.

* * *

Designers Accord: The Noun Project strikes a perfect balance between function and folly—providing amazing quality scalable icons for everything from the universal human icon to a sasquatch. Share the background of how your initiative came about—what was the initial inspiration and who's involved?

Edward Boatman: The Noun Project is one of those ideas that slowly grew and evolved over time. I think the starting point was my sketchbook. One summer I started to draw the things that used to fascinate me when I was a child: Sequoias, Trains, Cranes, Combines and a lot of other "nouns." After doing this for some time and creating a nice stack of sketches, I thought to myself it would be great if I had a drawing that depicted every single concept or object in existence.

Then a couple years down the road I was working at an architecture firm putting together a lot of presentation boards and I was frustrated that I couldn't quickly find icons for very common things such as airplanes, bicycles and people. I thought about taking my old noun concept and tweaking it a bit to solve this real world problem I was experiencing.

I started talking to my really good friend Scott Thomas and my wife Sofya Polyakov about building on the original idea. We decided the biggest impact could be made by building a platform for visual communication. Symbols serve as some of the best tools to overcome many language, cultural, and even medical communication barriers. Having designers from around the world engage in creating a visual language doesn't just create symbols for what already exists, it also creates symbols for what we want to see in the world—things like Community Gardens, Sustainable Energy and Human Rights.


Sofya Polyakov: We launched the site on Kickstarter in December 2010 using mostly symbols that already existed in the public domain, like the AIGA transportation suite and the National Park Service symbols. The response was incredible—we received tremendous support not only from the design community, but also from the autism & special education communities, teachers who wanted symbols to help kids read, librarians, app developers, etc. We were written up in TechCrunch, The Atlantic, Fast Company, PSFK, Engadget, as well as a lot of international blogs. Half of our traffic still comes from outside of the United States, which is something we really value because it's fascinating to see how people from around the world "see" the same concept. For example, what does a symbol for "Protest" look like around the world? You can now go to The Noun Project and find the answer.


DA: You've already built amazing momentum—from sketchbook to meme. What does your team look like and how do you carry this forward?

EB: As the CEO, Sofya is the brains behind the operations side of running the business and also handles all of our marketing and community outreach. Scott and his team at Simple.Honest.Work have done an amazing job managing the design, development and UX of the site. I look after the growing collection of symbols to make sure we adhere to high design and user comprehension standards, and I also work with the international community of designers who are creating them.

SP: We also recently got accepted into the Designer Fund, so we've been very fortunate to have incredible mentors and advisors from Twitter, Groupon, Pinterest, Stanford's d.School, Google, 37Signals, and others. Besides being some of the most talented designers today, our mentors are also incredible people. I honestly can't think of too many industries where someone so successful, whose time is so valuable, just volunteers their time to help out a start-up. It's amazing to have so many talented people around you who want you to succeed.


Posted by core jr  |  10 Jul 2012  |  Comments (11)


We've been fans of Outlier since they first launched, and as designers, cyclists and 21st-Century urbanites, we're duly impressed with Abe and Tyler's continued commitment to innovation in apparel and accessories. (I have no shame admitting that I've been living in my Three-Way Shorts this summer.) The Brooklyn-based brand has built an ever-growing cult following over the years—for the uninitiated, co-founder Abe Burmeister's PSFK talk is a good place to start—and we're pleased to present an inside look at their rigorous design process.


What does a 21st century pair of jeans look like?

That was the key question we asked ourselves as we started designing the Outlier Dungarees. Jeans are an amazing style of pant, and there's a reason they are wildly popular over a century after their invention. But we were pretty certain that they could be made better, considering that they'd barely evolved since 1873 when the first pair was patented. Jeans are durable, comfortable and good-looking, but they also tend to be heavy and restrictive, with a tendency to feel hot in the summer yet cold in the winter. Since they're made of cotton, they handle moisture rather poorly: when they get wet they stay wet. The more we thought about jeans, the more we knew we had a design challenge on our hands.



As is often the case, the greatest strength of an item is also its key weakness. With jeans, there is an interesting contradiction between the fact that they are both comfortable and durable. The problem is that they are not exactly comfortable and durable at the same time. A new unwashed pair of jeans is damn durable, but it's not comfortable at all. Only through significant wear, or through special garment treatments, does it reach the point where it gets comfortable. Ironically, it's at that point that it has lost a significant amount of durability. While there is something admirable in the idea of needing to live with and break in your clothing, we wanted to make a pant that was both comfortable and durable from the very get-go.

Another key factor for us was the way jeans wear when cycling. Outlier is not a bike company in any way shape or form, but our first product, the OG Pants, were designed as 'ride to work' pants. Jeans are particularly ill-suited to cycling: they're prone to what's known as 'crotch blowout,' a combination of symptoms that all stem from the fact that jeans simply are not designed to handle the repetitive motions of bike riding. We already had a bit of expertise with these issues, and more importantly we firmly believe that cycling is a key means of transportation in the 21st-Century city, so we wanted to ensure the pants we created could handle that pressure.


Posted by core jr  |  30 Apr 2012  |  Comments (1)


Launched in 1994, Icebreaker was the first company in the world to develop a merino wool layering system for the outdoors. It was also the first outdoor apparel company in the world to source merino directly from growers, a system it began in 1997. Icebreaker merino clothing for the outdoors, technical sports and lifestyle includes underwear, mid layer garments, outerwear, socks and accessories for men, women and children. Icebreaker is based in Wellington, New Zealand, and is sold in more than 3000 stores in 43 countries.

You have to be tough to survive in New Zealand's Southern Alps. With scorching summers and freezing winters, the glacier-carved mountain range is a harsh, inaccessible environment—and possibly the last place you'd expect to find a sheep.

But the sheep that survive on the Southern Alps aren't run-of-the mill lowland sheep. They're merino sheep: hardy alpine animals with a coat that insulated in summer, breathes in summer, and is exceptionally soft and lightweight.


In 1994, Icebreaker's founder, Jeremy Moon was given a prototype t-shirt made from merino wool. It was soft, sensual and lustrous—nothing like the itchy, scratchy wool he'd grown up with. It was also machine washable, easy care and naturally resistant to odor.

The discovery inspired Jeremy to create an entirely new category around this new product: merino outdoor apparel. Icebreaker merino garments and accessories for the outdoors, technical sports and lifestyle are now sold in more than 3000 stores in 43 countries.

From Microns to Marathons

My introduction to the brand came in 1994, when Jeremy sponsored my adventure racing team. To be honest, I was skeptical—the stuff he gave us looked far too nice to race in.

After a couple of days of non-stop running, cycling and hiking, the river started rising. People were being rescued by helicopter. My team was the first out, and when we crossed the river there were TV crews waiting to interview us.

By the time I got to the transition point, I was so cold in my polypropylene layers that I was on the verge of hypothermia. I had my doubts about Icebreaker merino, but they were my only dry clothes so I decided to give them a try.


What immediately struck me was the warmth. Icebreaker merino is warm when wet, so I stayed warm even though the rain was still falling.

Adventure races are all about survival—you have to stay warm, keep your nutrition up, and protect your feet from blisters. After that, it's a mental game. I told everyone in my team how warm I was, so by the time the race ended two days later all of us were wearing our Icebreaker layers. We'd been converted.


Creating a New Icebreaker

Before we can even start designing a new garment, we think about the person who is going to use it. We think about think about whether the garment will be a base layer, a mid layer or an outer layer, and what activity it's going to be used for. This exploration helps us formulate the necessary properties for the yarn, the fabric and, finally, the garment itself.

We write a brief with specifications for the type of yarn we'll need, and that influences our sourcing. Merino fibers are ultra fine—much finer than the fibers of traditional wool—which is why our merino is so soft and non-itch. It's very lightweight and feels more like silk against the skin than wool.

Merino fibers usually range from 13–25 microns, which is about one-third the thickness of a human hair. The smaller the micron, the finer the wool (in comparison, wool fibers from traditional lowland sheep are usually 35–45 microns).


Once we've decided on the type of yarn, we brief on what sort of fabric we need to construct. For example, it could be a lightweight garment made of eyelet fabric for running, or one of our Realfleece brushed fleece mid layers for wearing outdoors in cold weather.

Finally, we do a briefing on the garment itself. This is when we talk about potential enhancements to the garment, such as increased freedom of motion or laminations to make a garment windproof and rainproof. We'll think about what season it's likely to be worn in.

Icebreaker is a layering system, so we'll ask ourselves how every new garment will work when it's worn with other Icebreaker layers.