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Posted by core jr  |  26 Jan 2015  |  Comments (0)

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A 3D printed umbilical cord clamp, co-created with medical workers in Haiti

By Danielle Perretty

Haiti is both a land of beauty and a land of suffering. Among the awe-inspiring mountain views and coastal areas, eroded lands and deforestation are abundant. Five years after the devastating earthquake, a slow reconstruction continues. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is a city pulsing with a lively energy but the citizens there also face difficult barriers for improvement. The World Bank estimates that 59% live under the national poverty line of just $2.44 per day and 24% under $1.24 dollar per day. The majority of people lack adequate shelter, clean water and access to health care.

Recently, I witnessed some of these contrasts while collaborating with the nonprofit, Field Ready. They provide humanitarian aid by using technology and education as a vehicle to transform logistical supply chains. The team of aid workers, designers and technologists are bringing 3D printing to the healthcare space for developing countries. Eric James, a co-founder of Field Ready, explains "3D printing offers a lot of flexibility and this will only improve in the future. And the future is what we're working on now."

As the cost of 3D printing continues to go down and usage goes up, collaborative design initiatives are empowering people to overcome low socio-economic environments and also enabling new ways to provide humanitarian aid. The growth in 3D printing has also encouraged an exploration of new materials and applications. This inspired Field Ready to begin recycling ABS and to investigate how to recycle other polymers with the goal of turning plastic waste into filament.

Mark Mellors shows a UPMini Printer to Johnson and Willio of iLab Haiti in Port-Au-Prince

By co-creating with medical workers in Haiti, Field Ready identified medical tools and parts that could be 3D printed to meet localized demand. One example is the umbilical cord clamp. Many traditional birthing attendants are women living in villages without easy access to healthcare and medical supplies. Given the lack of sterile tools and training, newborns may suffer from a high rate of infections or postnatal umbilical sepsis. Typically, birthing attendants will use what is available to them—ranging from shoelaces to the improper use of a sterile string. Even when using a hygienic cord, the risks are high from improper use—either tying too tight and severing the cord, or tying too loose and causing hemorrhaging. Clamps, on the other hand, have a precision grip and clamp, leaving no guesswork for birthing attendants.

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Posted by Sam Dunne  |  23 Jan 2015  |  Comments (0)

If you haven't seen it already, BeMyEyes is a wonderfully promising and impeccably presented app allowing fully sighted individuals to 'lend their eyes' to someone with a visual impairment to help them through their day. As the slick promo video above introduces beautifully, the app connects those in need of some eyes (a blind person needing to read a sign or label for example) with a community of people willing to help—who can use the blind person's smartphone camera to help with the needed task. I can hear the 'CEO's pitch already—'Like Uber for eyes!'.

As if that wasn't enough triumph for the overcoming of sensory impairment, researchers at Colorado State University have been in the headlines this week with news of a new device that could help the auditory impaired by allowing them to listen with their tongues—thus avoiding expensive and invasive cochlear implants.

To be clear, the device won't magically transform the tongue into a hearing organ, instead it transforms sounds waves into electrical stimulation applied to the tongue (apparently with a sensation similar to sampling sparkling wine). In time, the sensation can be interpreted by the brain—a bit like braille in your mouth.

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These developments are of course very exciting (we're wondering what implications these ideas could have for the impaired and unimpaired alike) but if you've been listening to This American Life's podcast recently you might already be questioning if these developments are as beneficial as they seem.

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Posted by core jr  |  20 Jan 2015  |  Comments (1)
Advertorial content sponsored by Design Indaba
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"Ma¨mouna-Ma¨mouno" caps and hats made of palm fiber by product designer Antoine Boudin and palm weaver Maïmouna Traoré. Photo courtesy of Emile Barret, Hors Pistes 2014.

Three cross-cultural projects that tread the tricky path between collaborating with and co-opting the work of African artisans

When North meets South and designers schooled in Western modes of thinking work with local craftspeople on the African continent, finding common ground can be difficult. Familiar terrain shifts, becoming rife with the possibility for misunderstanding.

How do you convey ideas when one person measures in inches and the other by the thickness of woven fiber? How do you encourage an artisan to try something new without seeming to instruct them? What is lost in translation? And who is learning from whom?

The process of exchange is unpredictable but designer and craftsman need to establish the terms together to fuse their creative visions. A huge determining factor is clarifying the end goal: who needs to broaden their vision? Is the object to be used in a local or a Western context?

bulawayo01ericgauss.jpgMatali Crasset led a basket-making workshop with Bulawayo Home Industries in Zimbabwe. Photo courtesy of Eric Gauss/Dogs on the Run.

"Working within high social impact contexts requires amplified awareness, forcing us to fully understand our reason for being present and how we are approaching the jointly created project," says French product designer Matali Crasset.

In the spring of 2014, Crasset ran a workshop with the Bulawayo basket-making community of women in Zimbabwe to create a collection of woven vessels based on the iconic shape of the gourd. The result was an unprecedented group of objects produced collectively by the women, a radical departure from their usual domestic designs.

bulawayo-crasset-weavers.jpgZimbabwean weavers translated Crasset's experiments with the gourd shape into a multitude of new pieces. Photo courtesy of Eric Gauss/Dogs on the Run.

"It was a very humanly inspiring experience," Crasset reflects in her account of the workshop. As she shared with Design Indaba, the project's impact will be determined by how the weavers will incorporate the new collaborative design ideas in future productions.

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Posted by core jr  |  16 Jan 2015  |  Comments (0)

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As part of a new interview series on the Autodesk Foundation's new blog, ImpactDesignHub.org, Allan Chochinov, Editor at Large of Core77 and Chair of the MFA Products of Design program at SVA discusses impact design and the role of designers in social change with John Thackara a writer, educator, producer, speaker and connector in the worlds of design and transition.

Thackara's Doors of Perception conference was the first gathering to bring designers and the environmental movement together. John has worked to deepen this connection in projects with cities, organizations and companies in many countries. He writes frequently on design and stewardship, and his book, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, is one of the foundational texts around systems thinking and design.

On Impact Design Hub, John talks about eating dirt, getting fired and what the West can learn from India's hacking economy.

Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  14 Jan 2015  |  Comments (0)

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Projects pop-up on peoples radars in various ways. Sometimes information about a person or project comes from many different sources all at once. This was the case for Mandy Lau and her award-winning project, Reach & Match. The project helps visually impaired and autistic children develop their senses, social skills and literacy.

In 2012, Reach & Match was a Student Notable in the Social Impact category for the Core77 Design Awards. In under three years, Reach & Match is now a full-fledged product available for purchase. Core77 spoke with Mandy about bringing a product from idea to market, some of the biggest challenges for designers working in special education and what's next for this learning tool.

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Core77: Tell me a bit about the thoughts that brought you to decided on creating Reach & Match?

Mandy Lau: I have always been very interested in social design and creating effective solutions through design. For my bachelor degree in Product Engineering, I developed a few projects for people with physical limitations as well as blind and vision-impaired people. I also enjoy my other work in art therapy with children and adults with special needs. During my postgraduate research in Industrial Design, I started looking into braille literacy and blindness.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   7 Jan 2015  |  Comments (4)

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Two years ago, The Gates Foundation's Reinventing the Toilet Challenge sought to design basic sanitation for those who don't have it—a staggering 40% of Earth's population. Now Bill Gates is taking it a step further, backing a machine that can solve two pressing problems at once. The Omniprocessor, as it's called, not only gets rid of feces, but turns them into clean water.

I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.

The water tasted as good as any I've had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It's that safe.

Developed by Seattle-based engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy, the machine cleanly burns feces at a temperature so hot that "there's no nasty smell," according to Gates. "In fact it meets all the emissions standards set by the U.S. government." And while producing drinking water is impressive enough, that's not even the kicker: The machine also generates electricity--enough to power itself and have juice to spare.

The method they've created to power the machine is pretty ingenious. Check it out:

Posted by Sam Dunne  |  24 Dec 2014  |  Comments (0)

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UPDATE: So turns out the McMass concept is indeed parody—the work of serial satirists Hello Velocity. The genius, of course, is the proposition sounds all too believable—*shudder*

Whilst showing many signs of satire (yup—should've trusted our gut on this one), The McMass Project appears to be a fairly earnest proposal for luring errant congregations back to the bosom of their local church with the temptation of a mid-mass Big Mac. With a mission to "revitalize Churches as centers for conversation and cultural engagement", designers at christian design consultancy (oh yes) Lux Dei Design (a clever detail to this fiction) are aiming to crowdfund $1million in order to purchase a McDonald's franchise whilst also crowdsourcing nomination for a church to house their experiment.

The concept is reminiscent of increasing numbers of social design projects sprouting up at grad shows in recent years—the outcomes often ambitious mashups of various social infrastructure to cure any number of urban ills, complete with heavy branding and slick concept video.

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

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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.

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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.

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Posted by core jr  |  11 Dec 2014  |  Comments (0)

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As part of a new interview series on the Autodesk Foundation's new blog, ImpactDesignHub.org, Allan Chochinov, Editor at Large of Core77 and Chair of the MFA Products of Design program at SVA discusses impact design and the role of designers in social change with Robert Fabricant, Co-Founder and Principal of the Design Impact Group (DIG) at Dalberg Global Development Advisors. The series, hosted by Core77, will investigate the intersection of design and social innovation. Here, Robert Fabricant shares three of the most vital things to understand about the field of social design. Read the full interview on ImpactDesignHub.org

* * *

Avoid the "Big Idea" trap: We are missing the boat if our partners think design is only good for the next cool invention that tries to change the world. The only path to impact is through deep engagement with systems, applying the design lens to participants at every level. Single product strategies fail consistently as I saw on a recent trip to India.

Respect the practical bits: Social impact takes patience, discipline and follow-through. Failure happens between concept and implementation. As my dear friend Fabio Sergio from frog recently put it, we need to be investing in small things that can "tip the system into a slightly different state." On a personal level, I have spent five years trying to get right a simple piece of packaging and instructional design (for an HIV self-test kit), working with an amazing partner in South Africa to "tip the system" with the support of the design team at frog. The concept (of self-testing) is more relevant than ever, but success will be determined by the littlest things as we prepare to enter the market.

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A "fresh perspective" will only get you so far: Designers are used to playing the "outsider" card, emphasizing our unique perspective. This capacity is critical to our value in highly competitive markets like chat applications. But it can backfire when designers give the impression that we invented user research or prototyping. We have a lot to learn from fields like community organizing and behavorial economics. I like learning :-)

Read the full interview with Robert Fabricant on ImpactDesignHub.org

Posted by Carly Ayres  |  12 Nov 2014  |  Comments (0)

CivicDesignCamp-1.jpgPhoto by Carly Ayres

It's not often that an event brings government officials, public servants, visual and industrial designers together in the same room... but when it does, you can expect a truly forward-looking conversation. At least that's what organizers Dave Seliger and Ariel Kennan had in mind when they decided to bring Civic Design Camp to the East Coast: With the goal of creating "better citizen experiences" across the board, the 70 attendees spent last Saturday rethinking government programs and initiatives.

This past weekend marked the event's first eastern offshoot, following the first Civic Design Camp at Code for America (CfA) in San Francisco back in April. After attending the inaugural event, Kennan, a former CfA fellow herself and co-founder of Designing Government, wanted to bring the event to the other coast, enlisting Seliger to help her bring it to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hosted by the beautiful Makeshift Society, the NYC edition of Civic Design Camp was a day-long, self-described "un-conference" that tasked attendees with the responsibility of providing content. The close-knit community came prepared with thumb drives of work and presentations for a series of impromptu talks over the course of the day.

CivicDesignCamp-2.jpgPhotos by Tim Gigbson unless otherwise noted

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The event kicked off with a keynote from Chelsea Mauldin, Executive Director at Public Policy Lab, who warned the audience to be aware of taboos and different cultures, elements that can cloud judgements and negatively effect the design process. "There is no way to design services for others without properly integrating into their lives," she shared with the audience. Mauldin advocated for radical transparency, suggesting that a blog is perhaps the most viable solution to share progress and work with the general public while designing for them.

Mauldin's early message reverberated throughout the day as a motif emerged: Research early, and often. Sarah Lidgus, previously of IDEO and now a founder of her own startup, Small City, queried the audience about when they thought research should occur during the design process. "Always," she answered. "Research is a journey and you shouldn't end up where you started." The recent founder also spoke to the balancing of profit and non-profit work in her own business; Lidgus tries to spend two days a week working on pro bono projects, financed by three days of for-profit work.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 Oct 2014  |  Comments (3)

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We all know the oceans are filled with plastic waste, and we've seen the horrific photos of dead animals that have ingested the stuff. It is up to activists, responsible corporate citizens and lawmakers to stop these plastic garbage patches from growing. But that won't solve the problem of how to get rid of the stuff that's already floating around in there.

Enter Boyan Slat, just 19 years of age. At 6, he was diving in Greece—that country whose postcards show pristine beaches and blue water--and was horrified at the amount of floating garbage he encountered. "I saw more plastic bags," Slat told the BBC, "than fish." When he returned home to the Netherlands, he started working on a way to rid the oceans of garbage—and his design solution is as promising as it is out-of-the-box.

The conventional thinking goes that ships need to be sent out into these garbage patches with huge tow-nets. The problem is that these nets would capture aquatic life as well as the garbage they're trying to collect. And ships burn fuel. So Slat took a closer look at how oceans operate and how the garbage migrates around.

Oceanbound trash tends to gather into their own little garbage continents, driven by "gyres," or rotating currents. There are five of these trash gyres worldwide.

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Although the concentration of plastic in these areas is high—it's sometimes described as a plastic soup—it's still spread out over an area twice the size of Texas. What's more, the plastic does not stay in one spot, it rotates. These factors make a clean-up incredibly challenging.
"Most people have this image of an island of trash that you can almost walk on, but that's not what it's like," says Slat. "It stretches for millions of square kilometres - if you went there to try and clean up by ship it would take thousands of years." Not only that, it would be very costly in terms of both money and energy, and fish would be accidentally caught in the nets.

Slat reasoned that it would be more efficient to let the ocean move the trash around, as it does on its own. We would then simply place floating barriers in the known trouble spots, allowing the floating garbage to simply run into the barriers. Aquatic life could still flow under the floating barriers unmolested, with no nets for them to get caught in, and the barriers would be anchored to the seabed via cables to prevent them from floating off. Garbage could then be harvested and recycled from an area with a much smaller footprint.

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  14 Oct 2014  |  Comments (1)

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When I write about projects and people that I find interesting, I often wonder "Why the heck don't more people know about these projects/people?" You can say that I see it as my duty to spread the word, to inform people about the things going on out there, and make sure that you don't miss out on all the awesomeness that is to be found in various places, and within people... which is a long way of introducing Communitere.

The Beginning

When disaster hit Haiti back in 2010, Sam Bloch was working on a custom-made lighting system for a weekend cabin up in the mountains. He had finished work for the day and was sitting in a bar, drinking a well-deserved beer, when he saw the news about the earthquake. Right then and there (because it sounds more dramatic that way), he decided that he needed to be there. He packed his big backpack with as few private things as possible and filled the rest up with tools. About a week later, he was standing in the middle of the disaster area with the feeling that he had made the right choice and was in the exact place that he needed to be. And although that moment marked the beginning of Communitere, Sam had already been working in disaster relief for about six years.

The name itself, Communitere—which I first thought was French—stands for Communities United In Response, Relief & Renewal.

What works, and what doesn't

With quite a few years within the field, Sam had gathered a fair share of insight into what worked and what didn't work. One of the problems he had identified was the lack of innovation within the global aid industry. Where there's no margin to fail, there's no margin for innovation, at the same time as it's easy to argue that this lack of innovation is failure in itself.

This lack of innovation is the problem that Communitere took to heart and decided to make into its main focus. By creating Resource Centers, spaces that also know as "Spaces of Safe Failure," they have established big workshops where the locals inhabitants can learn how to build their own homes; use the tools provided in the workshops; use the space to work on new ideas; and collaborae with visitors on prototypes and projects to solve a specific problem.

As Bloch says, "You can't empower people, the only thing you can do is give them the tools to empower themselves."

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"Focus on solving the problems that others are not"

It's one thing to think that you know what the people you want to help want, but actually knowing what they want may be a whole 'nother thing. There's also a difference between knowing what they want and what they truly need. Needs can be tricky in the sense that sometimes what you need the most is something that you didn't even know existed—a problem that might be so ingrained in your day-to-day life to that you don't even see it as a problem, but rather you take it for granted.

One of the problems you encounter in the world of aid is oftentimes many organizations focusing on solving the same problem without communicating with one another what they are up to, at what time, where, and so on and so forth. This results in redundant efforts, resources going to waste, as well as other areas being neglected when it comes to support, products or medicine.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   7 Oct 2014  |  Comments (4)

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Most new sneaker designs we see these days involve fancy new materials, new production methods and/or experimental soles. But in terms of function, they remain the same as they've been for decades. Inventor Steven Kaufman's Quikiks, on the other hand, have a very unique design feature: They can be donned and removed without the use of your hands.

"There are 50 million people just in the United States," says Kaufman, "with various physical or cognitive challenges that greatly limit their ability to don their own footwear." Kaufman was inspired to design the opening/closing mechanism, which can be applied to a variety of footwear styles, after his son Alex was diagnosed with scoliosis and forced to wear a brace that prevented him from bending over to manipulate his shoes.

"I didn't know anything about shoe making," writes Kaufman. "I just had a vision of how it might be possible." He then put in five long years and produced dozens of prototypes, and now his designs are finally ready for primetime. Here's how he developed them, and how they work:

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   7 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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When I first started writing for this wonderful blog, the one you are on right now, I started off by writing about co-creative processes in relation to education and learning spaces. One of the offices that contacted me in relation to these articles was STL architects, a Spanish architecture studio based in Chicago. I arranged a Skype call with the two directors of the office, Luis Collado and Jose Luis de la Fuente, and we ended up talking for over an hour as shared our previous projects, work methods, processes and personal experiences.

In this interview you will be able to read about their way of working, the strategies when entering a project and their latest project, developing a 20-year master plan expansion for Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, which started working on in the beginning ofJjune this year.

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Background Info

The Wilbur Wright College is one of seven Chicago City Colleges, designed by Bertrand Goldberg architect studio back in 1986, all of which are currently undergoing a major remodeling. At the moment, the college hosts students from the age of 18 and up. It is divided into three different programs:
- Credit programs
- Continuing education
- Adult education
Course offerings range from African American Studies to Zoology.

The goal for the central authority of the Chicago City Colleges is to create a 20-year master-plan expansion, while the end goal with the expansion plan for STL is to "create spaces that promote learning."

A 20-year master-plan expansion

STL's mission is to create a 20-year master plan expansion for Wright College, which includes taking the university through a major transformation from the inside of the organization to the outdoor lawns. One of these changes is transforming Wright College from being one of seven city colleges—which allow the students the possibility of studying almost anything between heaven and earth—to focusing on IT, making it the IT hub of the Chicago universities.

In order to be able to handle this big change, STL had to dig their teeth into more than just the exterior and interior of the building—they had to study the existing structure of the organization to get a true understanding of how to create, and be a part of, a lasting change.

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Based on previous experience, STL had prepared themselves for a rather stubborn, and difficult-to-please client, similar to the ones they had encountered in the past. But to their great surprise, that wasn't the case this time around. The client, which in this case consists of administrators, stakeholders, students and the central authority of City Colleges, completely broke this perception by giving STL loads of encouragement and support.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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In an earlier entry we looked at inflatable airplane slides, which are designed to allow passengers to safely descend from a couple of stories in height. But what about when the distances are greater? For that there are escape chutes.

The central design challenge with an escape chute is how to arrest gravity to modulate the escapees' speed, so that you don't have people breaking their legs at the bottom and/or piling up on top of each other. What's interesting are the different approaches by which companies try to tackle this. The Ingstrom Escape Chute, for example, works by pure friction:

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   6 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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It's interesting how things sometimes end up in your lap—in this case, it was a bag belonging to a friend of a friend that ended up on my kitchen table, and things developed from there. Those of you who already have read a few of my interviews from this interview series know that I have a tendency to stumble upon people and things that catch my interest. Well, the bag on my kitchen table sparked my interest and led me on a quest to find out more about the woman behind the brand. Turns out, she's been staying in Copenhagen for a few months. Lucky me!

Read on to learn how a woman born and raised in Australia ended up starting a bag brand in Guatemala.

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Core77: What inspired you to start designing?

Athena Maroulis: I've always loved colors, patterns and dressing up since I was a kid. My mother is an architect and both of my parents have travelled a lot and have an appreciation for art. Our house was full of paintings, art deco furniture (my dad's obsessed), African jewelry, millinery ribbons (my great grandmother was well known hat-maker) and exotic fabrics amongst other things. I think that growing up in this kind of environment makes you conscious of shapes, colors, textures and how things are put together.

Other than that, I have been sewing since I was around 13 and learned how to make garments. From there, I placed top 10 in the state in my final year textiles and design and knew I wanted to have my own fashion business. It seems that design has been in my life from an early age.

Being exposed to items from so many different cultures most have triggered your imagination on many levels. Do you remember any particular piece that you found extra interesting?

It's hard to pinpoint one piece specifically. I have a huge appreciation for structured lines and symmetry and I think it's due to the art deco buffet table, drink cabinet and side board that we had in our home. However, I think my favorite thing (now and forever) has been dressing up, so I've probably spent countless hours fossicking through and trying on the fabulous pieces in my great grandmother's old costume jewellery box. There are the most amazing chintzy, glitzy, rhinestone encrusted statement jewellery pieces in there. I still find them so fascinating and beautiful.

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   1 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Founded by Ian Hall, Arkitrek works to the create socially and environmentally sustainable buildings in Malaysia. I have been following them for several years now, just looking for a reason to contact them other than to just say "Hi! I like what you do. Keep up the good work," and now I have one, so here we go.

Core77: Can you give us a short outline to what Arkitrek is about?

Ian Hall: We are architects and we're motivated use design to solve environmental problems. Problems, like resource consumption, pollution and energy use. To solve these problems usually involves working with people, so we are highly socially minded in the way that we work, but I'm a nature lover foremost and love of wild places and nature is what inspires me

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What lead you to start Arkitrek?

Haha. Long story...

One thing led to another. I always knew that I did not want to follow a 'conventional' architecture career. After completing my Part III and getting solid commercial experience, I decided to look for alternatives and I joined an expedition with Raleigh International to Borneo. They asked me to lead a team of young volunteers to do a feasibility study for a jungle research station in Borneo. That was a dream job. I swapped designing shiny urban hotels and started work on primitive huts in the jungle. I joke that 'the people I worked with were primitive too': gap year students mostly. The Raleigh ethos is empowering young people by giving them responsibility for delivering project work in challenging places. After some initial resistance, I embraced this philosophy.

After my Raleigh expedition in 2004, I volunteered to work for The Sabah Foundation, Raleigh's local partner in Sabah, Borneo. The Sabah Foundation manages three rainforest conservation areas and I went on to volunteer for them as an architect, designing jungle camps, staff quarters and research facilities on and off for two years.

I funded this with contract work in London. Six months in London would fund four months in Sabah. During this time, I met the people who would become my first paying clients in Sabah. That's how Arkitrek started.

The name, Arkitrek, was coined by my mate Andy Lo. Andy is a Londoner whose parents are from Sabah. We worked together in London and he came out to visit his family in Sabah and then joined me for a month long design and trekking stint in Sabah's Maliau Basin Conservation Area.

I worked in the most awesome and wild and beautiful places.

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What was the main foundation when you started Arkitrek?

During that time with Sabah Foundation I was very concerned with two questions:
1. Should we build anything here? [in this wild and beautiful place]
2. If we do build, what kind of building is appropriate?

A little later, when I was no longer supported by high paying London contract work a third question came into play...
3. How can I keep saying yes to designing small buildings in beautiful places for worthy clients, who can't pay professional fees?

I think that my 'ground pillars' are those three questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  17 Sep 2014  |  Comments (7)

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As someone recently introduced to regular bicycling by Citi Bike, New York's bicycle share program, I love bike lanes. I just wish there were more of them; their relative Manhattan scarcity, and my unwillingness to brave the laneless streets with the battle-hardened bike pros, mean I must often choose circuitous routes in order to safely remain a wussy.

I assumed NYC won't add more bike lanes because of the added cost and the resultant auto traffic congestion (more room for bikes means less room for cars). So I was very surprised to read a NYC Department of Transportation study [PDF] released this month that found that adding bike lanes actually increased the flow of auto traffic.

How is this possible? In two words, clever design. But before we get into the details, for those of you not familiar with the style of NYC's newest bike lanes, let's have a look at the old system:

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As you can see, placing the bike lane there leaves the cyclist in danger of getting "doored" by someone getting out of a parked car without bothering to look first. And the painted buffer between the cyclist and moving traffic offers zero protection from a car that veers out of control. So in 2007 they started shuffling things around like this:

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With this improved design, the cyclist now rides adjacent to the sidewalk. The painted five-foot buffer prevents the cyclist from getting doored by a parked car, which now resides in a parking lane that provides a solid physical barrier protecting a cyclist from colliding with a moving auto. And if you look at the dimensions listed, you'll see the buffer can now safely be reduced by two feet in width, while the bike lane got wider by the same amount.

So right off the bat this second design is smarter than the first, and the numbers bear that out: In 2001, the old-style lanes were in effect. In 2013, the new-style lanes were in existence. And there has been a "75% decrease in average risk of a serious injury to cyclists" in that time period.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Sep 2014  |  Comments (3)

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This amazing footage of an Amish barn raising has been making the blog rounds. As fascinating as it is, the things about this activity that you cannot see in the video are of equal interest. But before we get to that, let's see the vid:

Ohio-based non-Amishman Scott Miller secured permission to record the activity, likely because he pitched in to help on the ten-hour job. And while all you see in the video are men, an Amish barn-raising is actually an all-hands-on-deck affair. Attendance is mandatory in the community, though the Amish don't view "mandatory" as the pejorative we selfish Americans do: "We enjoy barn raisings," an Amish farmer told writer Gene Logsdon in 1983. "So many come to work that no one has to work very hard. And we get in a good visit."

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That's because to the Amish, a barn-raising falls into the category of activity known as a "frolic," a combination of group labor and social mixing, which builds and solidifies the community as surely as it does the barn. All able-bodied members of the settlement are in attendance, meaning there can be more than a hundred families on hand, and with Amish families averaging eight children each, you can do the math. It's not difficult to see that what might take a conventional construction crew armed with cranes a month or more to complete this task, start to finish, is performed by the Amish in a week or so.

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Posted by Teshia Treuhaft  |   8 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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School is back in session, so you know what that means: The a Better World by Design Conference will be returning to Providence, Rhode Island, in just a few short weeks, for the weekend of September 19–21. Born as the collective brainchild of RISD ID and Brown Engineering Students in 2008, the conference has grown into one of Providence's most looked-forward-to annual events. Each fall, it draws an international audience of hundreds to discuss the impact of interdisciplinary design. But perhaps more impressive than the fact that it's now in its seventh year, the conference continues to be completely student-run, and has the tendency to completely take over the two campuses for three days that include not only talks and workshops but also design challenges, a design expo and of course excellent afterparties for attendees and speakers.

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This year, the theme for ABW×D is Wayfinding':

Wayfinding is about orientation. It's about developing and reading signs, navigating new terrain, and processing the unfamiliar. It encompasses understandings of both where you are and where you are going—individually, and in relation to your community. The 2014 conference will challenge attendees to create a more comprehensive understanding of our relationships to spaces, problems, and experiences.

For a student event planned by first-timers with full course loads, the conference has had incredible success entering its seventh year. The audience comprises students, Providence natives and professionals, whose ranks include multiple-year attendees who prefer ABW×D over more established design conferences. The collegial atmosphere, in which presenters, attendees and students intermingle freely, is made possible largely due to the enthusiasm of the young group of organizers. With the implementation of last year's presenter "office hours" in combination with a number of social events, the team has further demonstrated its ability to achieve personal rapport in where many conferences fail. Likewise, boasting previous presenters such as former AIGA President Doug Powel, who also previously served as Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, or Lorna Ross, Design Director at Mayo Clinic Centre for Innovation, certainly doesn't hurt. It seems that the RISD/Brown penchant for innovation is alive and well. Not only does the ABW×D team find a way to pass institutional knowledge down through the ranks to new team members (who are often only freshman or sophomores), but they actually manage to improve the conference each year.

Here are a few of our picks for this year's must-see presenters during the upcoming weekend of design, social good, engineering and a healthy dose of sticky notes:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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The phrase "First World problems" was trenchant the first time I heard it. Now five years later, with everyone braying it and hashtagging it as the laziest of punchlines, it irritates me. But I guess it won't go away, and that's partially because of objects like the Hapifork and the people who patronize it.

That ridiculous piece of silverware is supposed to help you "eat healthier, eat slower and lose weight by eating at the right time and at the right speed." The freaking thing senses when it's in your mouth, then silently counts off the seconds until it's in your mouth again; eat too fast, and it vibrates to remind you to slow down. It was successfully Kickstarted last year and is now in production. (You can read a New York Magazine article here from a writer test-driving one.)

Meanwhile, Glasgow-based ID firm 4c Design is working on an actually useful eating utensil. Working closely with a gent named Grant Douglas, who has "a combination of ataxic and athetoid cerebral palsy [that] has affected my hand control, speech and walking pattern since birth," 4c designed the S'up Spoon, whose particularly ergonomic handle and deeper bowl are meant to ease mealtimes for those with hand tremors.

"Eating in a restaurant would just be unthinkable before," Douglas told Design Week UK. "[The S'up Spoon] is a major breakthrough. I can eat Chinese with two portions of rice as well as ice-cream totally independently and with very little spillage."

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   1 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Open Air Neighborhood (OAN) started off as a collaboration between KaosPilot Theis Reibke and architect Louise Heeboell, back in 2011. At first, the idea was simply to develop "Building Playgrounds" through co-creative processes with the users, as a way to develop the city itself. They applied for and received grants from both the EU and RealDania, and started working on the project. After meeting Ellen O'Gara at a conference in 2012, the project has since been a collaboration between Heeboell and O'Gara.

The main focus for OAN has always been on creating a strong connection with the users by making them a vital part of the processes. Here they share some insights into what made them decide to work together, what brought them onto the path of co-creative processes and what they have learned throughout the various projects

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Core77: Let's start off with a little bit of history about each of you.

Ellen O'Gara: Architecture seemed like an interesting thing to study because it combined books and creativity. I liked that combination and I still do. While I studied I really liked that everyone could participate in a discussion on architecture because it is something that is relevant for all. And in some ways we are all experts.

Louise Heeboell: I was both creative and good at math and physics. Good at drawing. I thought I was going to be an engineer. But I figured that the mix of engineering and being creative was being an architect. Besides from that, I had no clue, what being an architect was about. I'm happy about my choice now. Years before Open Air Neighborhood, I worked as a 'normal' architect. But I found that there was a conflict in the way architects work and the way the city develops. I had been looking for a way to work differently, open and with the users as a central part of the development—and still be an architect.

Louise, why was this so important to you?

Because I found that the urban space that was built as a direct result of the architects drawings had no life. (And I'd been drawing some myself, so I felt bad about it!) I was interested in finding out what created the places in the city that are filled with life and where people liked to stay.

Ellen, what brought you onto the path of co-creative processes?

Ellen: I studied at the school of architecture in Copenhagen. At the beginning of every year we went abroad for two weeks to do field work. In Sarajevo, Porto, Lisbon, ... Here we were free to find something that interested us. I would walk around and talk to people. Ask them what was important to them. This would always lead to something interesting. A topic would emerge, a need, a potential. I would gather all the information I could, measurements, conversations... the rest of the year, I and all the other students would develop each our project. I find this way of working very interesting. Looking at the needs and the resources and developing a program from that. It results in some very interesting synergies and very relevant programs. It is bottom-up development.

Of course you can't always just wander around and hope to run into something interesting when a developer wants something built but it is an approach I find very valuable. So what I mean to say is that my education has very directly led me to what I am working on today.

So, when did you two start collaborating?

Ellen: We met at a conference in august of 2012 hosted by the city. We each presented projects we had worked on for the previous months. It was clear that we had the same interests and some of the same ambitions for urban planning. The conference was about a project called Skab din By. Very interesting and experimental project by the municipality.

Louise: After that, we had a coffee and I think I asked if Ellen wanted to take part in the talk, that Open Air Neighborhood was going to give at the Think Space conference in September that year.

Ellen: Yes, and from then we started building OAN together. By January, we were working full time. Doing projects for the city and housing organizations.

During the Think Space conference you each presented a project. What were these projects about?

Ellen & Louise: We presented several projects where you could see that we had some common ideas for how to develop differently, our approach to urban planning and the process by which the city is and should be made. These ideas were about including the users in developing their own urban spaces. We were both very interested in processes where the citizens take a more central part of the development, and we both had experienced first hand that this kind of process can have some good social benefits.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  26 Aug 2014  |  Comments (33)

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Last year we wrote about the Knee Defender, a pair of plastic gizmos that an airplane passenger can use to prevent the person in front of them from reclining. We wrote it up in utter dismayed fascination at a product directly designed to increase one's comfort while inconveniencing another; we called it the "Me-first" approach to product design.

Now it's in the news, after a flight was diverted and a man and woman tossed off the plane for arguing over the thing. On Sunday United flight 1462 was en route from Newark to Denver when a fortysomething woman tried to recline her seat. She could not; the fortysomething man behind her, using his laptop on the seatback tray, had deployed the Knee Defenders. United officially bars their use, and this is what happened next according to the AP:

A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman [whose seat was barred from reclining] then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, [a law enforcement official] says. That's when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.

USA Today subsequently interviewed the inventor of the me-first device. Unsurprisingly, he passed the buck:

"Sometimes people do things they shouldn't do on airplanes, but as far as I know this is the first time anything like this has happened," involving the Knee Defender, said Ira Goldman, the man who invented the device in 2003 and continues to sell it online.
"United could make seats that do not recline, but they have not chosen to do so," said Goldman. "In the meantime, the Knee Defender says right on it: 'Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to the flight crew.' Apparently that is not what happened here."

What do you guys think, is this an irresponsible product design, or do you have the if-you-design-a-car, someone-will-use-it-to-rob-a-bank, it's-not-my-fault attitude about it? And do you think we'll see more me-first product designs in the future? One popular NYC pet peeve is guys who sit on the subway with their knees spread wide open—what's the ID fix for that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you decide on starting WEP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us a bit about your background?

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

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What led you to study design?

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

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

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

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

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

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