Since I made the observation about protecting one's cards in Myanmar and China, I've noticed another example of the personalized/expensive solution versus the one-size-fits-most/affordable solution that related directly to my research on resource-constrained approaches to mobility in China. The challenge was, "How do I protect myself/my cargo from the elements while driving my three-wheeled vehicle?"
In Jiangkou, a small and remote city in Guizhou province that is accessible solely by road, a thriving workshop fabricates cargo shelters and cab covers specifically for three-wheeled vehicles. I had spent some time trying to locate this shop, as its fame for producing high-quality covers had drivers traveling from as far as the next province over to have covers made for them. Depending upon the size, a custom cover costs between 700 and 2400 kuai (US $111–$382) and requires 6–14 hours of labor. The result is a durable shelter for one's three-wheeled vehicle, with the option to add several other security and performance-enhancing innovations, such as additional in-vehicle storage, electric windshield-wipers wired directly into the vehicle's circuits, and "lock-rings," as seen in this piece for Ethnography Matters.
Meanwhile, a different solution is available for the residents of Tongren, Guizhou, a larger city and the county seat. Tongren is linked by rail and highway to other cities and provinces, and is better connected than Jiangkou to the rest of the country. However, there exists no comparable means of getting a custom-fabricated cover for one's vehicle there. The only comparable service I was able to find was a repair shop that offers to attach a front cover to one's three-wheeled vehicle, modified (usually using a combination of a saw and power drill) to fit a vehicle's particular dimensions.
Core 77's excellent series Apocalypse 2012: The End Starts Here saw 'mild polemics' and lively discussions used to demonstrate and suggest new roles for design at the beginning of the end of time. But what about designing in the apocalypse? Or, more accurately, in places that do not enjoy the easy availability of first world design practice.
All over the world, or rather the real futuristic world we live in where everything is indeed made by hand, artisans continue to make things that are essential to culture, history and most important livelihood. The artisan sector is the second largest employer after agriculture in the developing world. It is the only cultural industry where developing countries are the leaders in the global marketplace, with trade totalling over $23.2 billion annually.
Current design approaches and systems are, to a very great extent, dissociated or disengaged from the needs of 'people-on-the-ground' and from the capacities of local production processes. Contemporary product aesthetics that fail to capture consumers' attention are a result and reflection of this sense of detachment and ill-advised development. In order to create products that are at once sustainable, locally meaningful and globally marketable, it is imperative to begin developing, or perhaps retrieving, these integral connections.
So what about designing in Haiti? Not with the assumption that the nature of "first world" design practise and problem solving is appropriate for all situations as frequently demonstrated by the continued use of developing countries as part of a vast outsourcing system of product manufacture. Instead, what about a commercial design project in Haiti?
Haiti: media whipping boy; poster child for poverty and chaos; site for the projection of our collective fears—it has endured both metaphysical and real slings and arrows. It was the first country to take independence through rebellion—Haitians ousted Napoleon and for their efforts paid billions in reparations to compensate France for its loss of men and slaves over the next centuries. They have endured trade embargos by France and the United States. Haitian Voodoo has been pilloried and stereotyped by Hollywood. And, of course, they have recently barely survived a devastating earthquake.
And through all of this, Haitian artistic culture has continued to innovate and adapt proving a robust challenge to our common exclusion of things on the edge.
Before beginning my Fulbright research in China, I had previously spent three years living and working in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). My time in Myanmar was formative: my firsthand observation of the extent that the country's residents relied upon tuolaji, their flexible and powerful tractor-like vehicles, to perform many tasks provided inspiration for my present research.
However, not all of the inspiration for what drives my research today came from the Myanmar's vehicles. During my time in such a resource-constrained context, I recognized the mixture of challenges and benefits that comes with relying upon many things to be handmade instead of mass-produced. While the Western world shifts toward coveting handmade objects as a sign of status and taste for craftsmanship, denizens of resource-constrained environments have no choice in the matter, and could benefit greatly from some of the very mass-produced goods that today's design-minded individuals tend to eschew. Although I knew this fact in the abstract, confronting this apparent contradiction up close made it obvious how much more costly it is to dwell in both a resource- and choice-constrained environment, where hand-crafted items are the norm rather than the exception.
Consider the things you carry with you each day. In Jan Chipchase's latest book, Hidden in Plain Sight, he identifies the most commonly carried objects around the world: keys, money and mobile phone. Besides these things, however, there is something else we always carry with us, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that is our identity. Most all of us are familiar with situations in which we must prove who we are, whether to obtain government services or benefits, gain access to a controlled area, verify identity in the case of legal sanction, and so on. While different contexts each have their own processes and differing degrees of formality for proving identity, the need remains nearly universal, and until technological solutions such as facial recognition are sufficiently widespread and accurate, identity will continue to take the form of a physical artifact—namely, a personal identification card.
The differences between identity cards—physical material, size, storage behavior, personal data, authentication mechanism, etc.—and the range of situations for which they must be shown comprises a common set of attributes to investigate across different contexts. Although an in-depth comparison of China and Myanmar's respective identity cards (and surrounding behaviors) is beyond the scope of this article, residents of both countries share the perceived need to protect their cards, whether for fear of damaging the ability to read the embedded chip in the plastic card (China), or to protect one's relatively flimsier paper identity card (Myanmar).
In Myanmar, individuals address the need of "How do I protect my important cards from being damaged?" with a custom solution. Plastic covers are individually crafted to each customer's document sizes, made directly in front of the customer by a single individual's hand, one at a time, using an elegantly simple, candle-powered tool. This solution is notable for both the amount of effort expended by the craftsman—which may seem excessive by an outsider's standards—to achieve the result of successfully protecting a single card. In 2012, this vendor was charging 100 kyat (US $0.13) to protect a single card. Technically, the craftsman need not create a bespoke, sealed cover for each document as part of his job, as there are only so many distinct sizes of identity card in the Myanmar context that require protection. However, he has no choice, given the materials that are available to him.
Shel Kimen loves a good story, and hers is a tale of a grassroots effort to support a creative community in their time of need. She dreamt up Detroit Collision Works, a multipurpose boutique hotel, co-working space and venue for all-around awesomeness, in Summer of 2011, and they're hoping to Kickstart a prototype of a converted shipping container in time for Flower Day in the country's longest running farmer's market—exactly one month out, on May 18. With just 36 hours to go to raise $11,000 for First Container, Kimen was kind enough to take the time to tell us why we should care.
Awesome needs a place to be.
As people are all too eager to tell you, Detroit has some problems, with the economy, crime, and fractured communities. So when I was thinking about a move to Detroit after 14 years in New York City, I knew that whatever I was going to do had to address some real needs. Coming from the design world, I know that making a good product means understanding, intimately, the people that are going to use it. So the first thing I started doing when I got to Detroit was talk to people. Lots of them.
It started with a hotel. Amazingly, there was not a modern, boutique hotel in all of Detroit! Yet creative people from all over the world visit to work on design an innovation projects—for the auto industry, for bio-tech, for the city (we are an urban planners dream thesis), and to perform at or attend one of our legendary music festivals that combined bring in half a million people annually. Those are creative travelers!
So, ok, we need a cool hotel.
But a cool hotel isn't enough. We need a place for coming together, with our immediate communities, as a city, and inclusive of the many people who visit us. We need a place to accelerate the growth of our communities.
Collision Works is a creative space needed by the people living in Detroit now and the people coming to visit us. It's an artful 36-room boutique hotel, co-working facility, and public event space that uses storytelling to connect and engage travelers and locals alike. Our whole lives are stories—truth and fiction, history and imagination. Stories connect us, help us learn, and catalyze personal and community growth.
Here's a brilliant example of how a couple is using design, and cleverly exploting an existing system, to do some good in the world. British social entrepreneur Simon Berry is the founder and CEO of ColaLife, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting diarrhea. Don't laugh; diarrhea kills people in developing nations and is the second-largest cause of child mortality worldwide. The problem can be addressed with rehydration solutions—a combination of water, salt and sugar [Ed. Note: see our recent case study on Hydropack]—that are simple for us to create in the developed world, but the problem is getting these kits to the people who need them.
Realizing this, Berry and his wife Jane came up with the Kit Yamoyo. These are rehydration kits designed to fit neatly between the bottles, in the negative space, of a crate of Coca-Cola. Because Coke is already delivered everywhere in the world (except Cuba and North Korea) to a global network of eager distributors, the Kit Yamoyo enjoys the hard-won distribution might of one of the world's largest multinational corporations.
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.
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.
What promises to be a fascinating discussion about life as an industrial designer is currently taking root on the Core77 Boards. The original poster, presumably a student on the verge of making a crucial decision, started out with a vague (and impossibly broad) query on whether industrial design is a financially lucrative profession. In our members' efforts to answer, the topic is beginning to veer towards the quality of an industrial designer's life.
We would need to identify some parameters in order to ballpark your average ID'er's quality of life. As mentioned before, industrial design is an impossibly broad field, since you can loosely define it as designing anything produced from a factory (and these days, even that is changing). Our readers work everything from plastic widgets to automobiles, appliances to furniture, environments to user interfaces. Some are one-man or -woman studios, others work in consultancies, still others at large corporations.
So what are the commonalities? For one thing, because we often design things that will be produced by machines whose cost far exceeds our own means, we're often at the mercy of others with larger pockets or a firmer hand on the pursestrings. Which is to say, we are not in positions of absolute power, generally speaking. (Kickstarter and low-cost RP are changing this somewhat, but I believe the impact is fractional.)
Secondly, we work in a fairly obscure profession; when a child talks occupations they want to be a firefighter, a doctor or a police officer when they grow up, not the junior designer on staff at a structural package design firm responsible for low-cost cleaning solution bottles targeted at the Latin American market. Because most people don't understand what we do and why it's necessary, there is a degree of skepticism and don't-get-it-ness that the lesser-established among us are used to dealing with, from engineers who don't take our profession seriously to marketers who feel our primary task is to change the CAD model into a color of their choosing. For every famous Behar, Starck and Rashid that have earned the power of sway, there are thousands of us who understand we will continually deal with conflict and opposition. To an industrial designer, it's not a strange sensation to design some cool feature—then instantly start thinking about how you're going to justify and defend it to others involved in the process.
I recently attended a friend's 40th birthday party at a popular, crowded and loud family eatery in Bensonhurst. Sixteen of us at a long table, eight per side. We were hemmed in too tightly to seat-swap, and for the 2.5 hour meal could only talk to whomever was immediately adjacent. And when the person in the Jesus position of this Last Supper attempted to toast the birthday boy (at the far end of the table) with a series of amusing anecdotes about them, it fell flat, as the speaker could only address half the table at time, meaning most of us only heard half of each story.
Are dining table social interactions a solvable design problem, or is it doomed by simple geometry and space constraints? For sixteen people a round table would have been even worse (cutting off cross-table communication) not to mention completely unsuited to a packed, space-tight restaurant.
Best I can come up with, implausible as it is, is to create long, narrow tables modeled after kaiten sushi or baggage claim conveyor belts. The perimeter of the tables, as well as the chairs, slowwwwly rotate around the table's footprint. Your food stays in front of you, but each person across from you is slowly replaced over the course of a meal; let's say it's programmed to perform a complete revolution in two hours. You get to chat with everyone and it becomes impossible to monopolize someone's time. When you see the first person again, you know the meal is winding down.
New Yorkers take their sidewalks seriously: With over 12,000 miles of sidewalk in the city, there is a lot to care about. So who wouldn't like the idea of making one of the most used urban features just a bit nicer? The recently funded Kickstarter project Softwalks makes small design tweaks to drab New York sidewalks, transforming them into fully-fledged public spaces. At launch, the Softwalks 'kit' consists of four parts; seat, counter, planter and light reflector, all directly attachable to preexisting scaffolding using an adjustable clamp system. The team is also developing an additional screen, bench and game board to expand the kit.
Designing for existing urban structures isn't exactly a new idea; projects like Michael Karowitz's paraSITE immediately come to mind. Still, urban planning is a big job, so why not start small? By designing for scaffolding that covers many of New York's sidewalks—technically known as 'sidewalk sheds' to protect pedestrians from debris—the project has the potential to make a pop-up park practically anywhere. Considering that New York City currently has approximately 189 miles of sidewalk sheds, it shouldn't be a problem finding a sidewalk in need of sprucing.
Ivan Mworozi delivers the winning pitch for E-Ride, a new mobile rideshare program being developed at Mara LaunchPad. Image courtesy Mara.
It's a busy, buzzing weekend at Mara LaunchPad. Nigel Ball, the director of Mara, is circulating amongst the crowd, as are a half dozen mentors, including myself. It's a scene that would be familiar to any tech observer in New York or San Francisco... but this isn't either city. In fact, it's not even in North America: The first weekend-long Mara Business Hackathon has just begun in Kampala, Uganda.
Mara LaunchPad, operating under the social business Mara Foundation, is one of Kampala's premiere business incubators. Along with other tech-oriented spaces like Hive Colab and the Outbox Hub, Mara offers office space, mentorship and even venture capital to new startups in Uganda. Many of these businesses often focus on new technologies.
Mentors Evelyn Namara and Daniel Stern advise during the busy hackathon. Image by the author.
What made this hackathon different from many of the popular tech events in Kampala was its focus on building a business. Yes, a prototype and good design were key, but what was more important was that teams developed a solid business model and financials—not an easy feat at all, given the dire need for reliable data in the country.
"In 48 hours our idea matured in away that would [normally] have taken us weeks or months," noted Ivan Mworozi. "The access to experts from various fields was invaluable." Indeed, Mworozi cited the mentorship as key. He delivered the hackathon's winning pitch for E-ride, a new service he and four others will be developing to facilitate transportation in the traffic-clogged city.
Observing that an informal system of car sharing already exists, they wanted to streamline that method using mobile technologies: "Lot of cars and trucks were moving around practically empty because they had no way of know[ing] that we were looking for them."
Second place for the hackathon went to MyProperty, a new service being built by Daniel Olel and team. Just as E-Ride addressed an existing problem and practice and streamlined it, MyProperty aims to connect buyers and sellers of properties around Uganda. As Olel, noted, many middle class Ugandans rely on brokers. Anyone looking for an apartment in New York knows how pricey middlemen can be, and Olel's goal is to use MyProperty to cut out the middleman and build trust among buyers and sellers (quite similar to RentHackr, which I reviewed last year).
During the 2012 Design Ethos DO-ference, nearly 100 designers, design students and design experts in social innovation teamed with community members of an economically-depressed area of Savannah through a choreographed sequence of asset-focused workshops. Each workshop group engaged in a participatory design process for three days, with an eye toward generating concrete deliverables and strategies for realistic implementation. Six design experts were invited to participate in the workshops, then to offer their observations on the process: the below essay is Cameron Tonkinwise's contribution.
Take and Give
Every act of creation involves destruction. To build a chair, you must kill a tree, or two.
An ethical designer believes that what he or she has created is worth more than what was therein destroyed. Presumably the chair is more beautiful than the tree, or provides respite to people more important than cute, furry nesting creatures, or at the least, gets used for longer than it took the tree to grow the wood.
A truly responsible designer will realize that it is not enough to merely make a piece of good design and hope that it gets used long enough and well enough to justify the resources consumed to make it. A truly responsible designer will do more to ensure that that happens: marketing the designed chair to communicate its value; providing instructions about use and care and maintenance; perhaps providing repair or return-to-maker services. In this way, whatever destruction was necessary for the creation of such an artifact is more than recompensed by the ongoing valuable services afforded by that artifact.
The economy of destruction and creation in relation to conferences has always irked me. Conferences are immaterial events—exchanges of knowledge and networking—but they have huge material footprints. Attendees must emit tons of climate changing gases to get to these events, where they are accommodated and fed and beveraged, and invariably given a pile of crap in never-to-be-used-again conference-specific dysfunctional satchels. Conferences can go green, serving up local produce to delegates, ensuring that all way-finding is on recycled material, etc, but in the end these will only ever amount to tinkering with the vast material destruction required to convene people together.
And yet we all acknowledge that valuable experiences are afforded by conferences—meetings and learnings that seem still impossible in any kind of virtual context no matter how thickly bandwidthed its multimodal media. In this case, the task is not just to minimize the ecoimpact of conferences, but to maximize their value, to make sure that all those carbon miles are more than mitigated by the productivity of the conferencing experience.
Recently there's been a spate of innovations in conferences, blurring the line between conferences, courses, tourism and television: from TED to Dark Mountain. A very interesting innovation was the 2012 Design Ethos Conference hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design. The principal organizer, Scott Boylston, made the classic design innovator's move: if I am going to get a large number of incredibly interesting designers, design thinkers and design students together, shouldn't all that intellectual capital be used to accomplish something beyond exchange amongst itself? Given that all those human resources will be co-located at one time, couldn't they be thrown at some local problems needing social innovation? Wouldn't that make up for the ecoimpacts of bringing all those people together—not just for the world, in that it would be a better distribution of the value generated from those resources; but also for the participants themselves, who would now not only get from this conference meeting and learning, but also the experience of making, of making contributions to situations of much-need?
So the Design Ethos Conference was also a DO-ference, with participants working on a series of initiatives in the inner city Savannah neighborhood of Waters Avenue. And indeed it was incredibly valuable, to the local community by all reports, and to the conference participants, from what I saw and heard. Apart from what the DO-ference accomplished, the resource destruction involved in the gathering were also accounted for by the exemplar that this innovative way of conferencing set. Having seen how productive a conference can be, all other conferences now seem to me heavily on the ecodebt side of the ledger.
But the DO-ference was no easy undertaking. There are three lessons that can be learned about what is in involved in trying to make a Conference on Social Design more valuable than the ecoimpacts involved.
Continuing from my earlier scattering of field notes, in this post, I want to turn my attentions to the rural areas of Uganda and some of the uses of technology I observed. Dubbed the "Pearl of Africa", the country has rich, fertile soil with great potential. Agriculture is a vital component of the economy, and according to Wikipedia, nearly 30% of its exports are coffee alone. Anecdotally speaking, most people I meet in Kampala, the capital, have family ties in rural areas—a reflection of the fact that most of the population is rural.
As with my previous post, my field notes often take the form of Instagram. Although I eventually type up more thorough notes, I find the practice of taking live field notes to be beneficialhttp://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/12/23/avoiding-digital-divide-hype-using-mobile-phones-developmentboth because they allow me to capture my initial thoughts and reactions while they're fresh in my head and because they spark dialogue and conversations with social media friends who get me thinking differently about what I see.
So much of food in rural areas is experienced in bags—stored and shipped in bags, purchased in bags, even sometimes cooked with bags. Known as kaveera, plastic bags are abundant in Uganda. The Uganda High Court recently ruled in favor banning such bags, a trend across East Africa, but it remains to be seen how the ban could be enforced. This is a story of technology but not communications technology. I couldn't help but wonder: what could technology provide that helps balance the twin needs of reducing environmental impact and providing accessible food packaging?
While spending time in Oyam, in northern Uganda, I saw a number of smart phones being used. This Nokia could play videos and music, display ebooks and of course capture photos, but it's not connected to a data plan—nor were most smart phones I encountered in the region. Rather, individuals would find opportunities to access an Internet-enabled computer (most often at a net cafe) in nearby towns that do have the Internet, and they would download materials, which could range from Nigerian comedies dubbed in Luo, the local language, to educational materials about agriculture and business. In this regard, Ugandans used the device more like an iPod... which happened to have phone capabilities.
In rural areas, I tend to rely much more often on my feature phone than on computers and my iPhone. It gives me an appreciation for the disruptive role of mobile phones. Although our driver (whose stereo you might recognize from the previous post) lives in the city, he spends much of his time in the field. But that doesn't stop his business: armed with multiple phones and phone plans, he's developed a 'cocktail of special plans that allow him to make multiple calls at low rates. He keeps his phone charged by his car and whenever we're stopped, he's constantly making calls and conducting business.
Designer Massoud Hassani hails from Qasaba, Kabul, amid a landscape ravaged and weaponized by landmines that still lurk in off-limits regions. Although the "Mine Kafon" dates back to 2011, when he presented it as his graduation project at Design Academy Eindhoven, the lo-fi de-miner was recently the subject of a short film by Focus Forward Films.
Like Theo Janssen's Strandbeests, the Mine Kafon moves with the wind; however, it's more like a tumbleweed or a clump of dandelion seeds than zephyr-powered locomotion. Hassani writes:
When we were young we learned to make our own toys. One of my favourites was a small rolling object that was wind-powered. We used to race against the other kids on the fields around our neighbourhood. There was always a strong wind waving towards the mountains. While we were racing against each other, our toys rolled too fast and too far. Mostly they landed in areas where we couldn't go rescue them because of landmines. I still remember those toys I'd made that we lost and watching them just beyond where we could go.
The uncanny object loses a few 'legs' with each successful detonation and Hassani estimates that a single Mine Kafon can readily handle the onslaught of three or four mines—at about €40 ($51 as of press time) to make, this is upwards of 100 times less expensive than the current cost of roughly $1,200 per mine.
Fifty billion dollars is the Hurricane Sandy damage estimate for the New York region. Which is nuts; it means if we spent $49.5 billion on defensive measures, we'd still be $500 million ahead.
Of course, even if spending that much were politically possible, we'd never be able to anticipate and design solutions to every single problem. But that doesn't mean people aren't trying. One major issue is being addressed with a fascinating potential solution: The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate is hoping to reduce subway flooding by installing gigantic, inflatable plugs.
If this problem and that solution were presented to you at design school, you'd quickly home in on the two big issues: Materials and deployment. What are the things made out of, and how do we get them into place? At first I thought the same thing all of you probably did—we deploy Jose Carreras and a team of Metropolitan Opera singers into the tunnels during a hurricane, and put them to work blowing up gigantic balloons that only their lungs could fill—but the DHS went a different route.
Their man with a plan is Dr. Ever J. Barbero, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering with a specialty in advanced materials. (He's been working on the problem for years, prompted half a decade ago by a surprisingly prescient DHS.) During his materials research phase Dr. Barbero contacted a company called ILC Dover, which is like a super design-build firm specializing in product design for government and industry—they made the airbags for earlier Mars Rover landings—and they recommended he use Vectran (even though I believe Jose Carreras is allergic to it).
Vectran is technically known as an "aromatic polyester"—I don't like the sound of that, but it probably can't make the NYC subway system smell worse—and it's comprised of fibers spun out of a liquid crystal polymer. It's moisture-resistant and "stable in hostile environments," so we could even use it at that sketchy J-train station at Sutphin Boulevard. It's typically used as a reinforcing material in boat sails, ropes, high-end bicycle tires, and even woven into the strings of rackets made by Yonex for badminton, a sport I'm told Jose Carreras is quite good at.
"We're utilizing the strongest fabrics in the world," explains [Project Manager Dr. John] Fortune. "Textile engineering is cost-prohibitive, so we sought to obtain fabrics available on the market." Using a commercially available fabric reduced development costs and will make plugs more affordable for mass transit operators.
In Dr. Barbero's early trials, he had an enormous spherical plug made of the stuff—and it tore right down the middle during testing. The water pressure in a flooding tunnel is apparently very high, unlike in my shower. Barbero then doubled down on the layers, adding an inner polyurethane bladder, and added a third layer on the outside made from Vectran belts woven in a cross-hatch pattern, like those Nike Innevas. The idea is that if one belt failed, the surrounding ones would prevent a catastrophic failure. But there is more testing to be done, with an estimated several more years before the thing is ready to go.
Tim Jahnigen is a multicreative, Dean-Kamen-like inventor who has created "systems and technologies with patents pending in a diverse range of industries, from construction and banking to science and medicine." In recent years he turned his attention towards what initially appeared to be a smaller problem: Redesigning the soccer ball.
During the last World Cup we looked at the soccer ball's design history, and complained about the pure evil that is the Jabulani. But Jahnigen was interested specifically in soccer balls as they're used in developing nations. Your average Adidas will last just fine in the back of a minivan or on the well-manicured pitch at Springfield Middle School, but dirt tracks in Darfur and rocky fields in Afghanistan chew the balls up in no time.
So it was that Jahnigen observed a documentary about kids in Darfur kicking around, rather than a ball, a rough sphere of garbage tied up with twine. It was their only option, as balls donated to children in situations like these simply cannot withstand the rough terrain. "The millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours," Jahnigen toldThe New York Times.
After doing research he discovered a materials company called PopFoam, whose tagline is "Soft Toughness" and whose titular product is made from EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate). As the company describes it, "PopFoam will improve durability, tear strength, tensile strength, flexibility, color availability, chemical resistance, cold weather resistance, sound protection and abrasion resistance while offering the cushioning comforts and the complement of design ascetics [sic] to your products."
However, Jahnigen calculated that tooling costs to produce PopFoam in a spherical, soccer-ball-sized shape would cost a small fortune--about $300,000, money that he didn't have. Here's where it gets a little crazy: The multi-talented Jahnigen is also a music producer, and counts Sting among his list of buddies. When Sting, no stranger to charitable giving, heard about the project, he insisted on funding it.
NYCBS continues work to conclude manufacture and testing of the high-performance software necessary to operate the new system, which is being tailored for New York City. The system uses new solar power arrays and circuit boards, and engineers will continue to thoroughly test data communications, power management and payment systems to ensure overall system performance. Following the March launch, work will continue to expand the system to 10,000 bikes, covering parts of Manhattan and from Long Island City to parts of Brooklyn.
Those initial 7,000 bikes would certainly have been put to good use last week—assuming, of course, that the technology would make it through the storm (or better yet, the system could release all the bikes in case of catastrophe). I'd bet good money that any bikeshare availability at all would have been an unmatched opportunity for goodwill and good press, and its a shame that we may never know the hypothetical social impact of public bicycles in a time of crisis (knock on wood).
Indeed, the semi-anticipated lack of public transit sparked a new (or perhaps inevitable) interest cycling like a candle in a blackout: the extended service interruption left a void that was physically flooded with water and metaphorically filled with cyclists. In fact, on my commute home yesterday, another diehard struck up a conversation as we passed newbies in a broad bike lane, wondering aloud if there seemed to be more cyclists out lately. We agreed that the perceived uptick—bike lanes below 14th St seemed to be almost continuously in use over the past week—was a sure sign that many unsung New Yorkers preferred pedal-power to other less reliable (and only nominally more comfortable) modes of transportation.
As for the crisis itself, web-vid whiz Casey Neistat saw fit to venture into the dark heart of the storm on two wheels (he's a known advocate of the impractical daredevil activity known as riding a bike). Fastco Create has provided more background information on the much-circulated video (following the original Gizmodo post), as well as an update on Neistat's efforts since then:
Neistat is a competitive endurance athlete and his younger brother, Dan, is a U.S. Air Force C-17 pilot, [so] the two had inclement weather gear and other equipment ready to go.
"We were donning the most appropriate safety gear we could possibly pull together, and we both have training," Neistat says of the dangerous excursion he took with his brother, who helped film the video. "But at the same time, we were kind of like, 'Fuck it, we're here: Let's make sure we capture things that otherwise might go unseen.'"
On Grand Street, two joggers trotted past me speaking a Scandinavian language. On the next block, a trio of Japanese men in brightly-colored gear loped off in another direction. Following the last-minute cancellation of the New York Marathon, downtown Manhattan was awash on Sunday in exercising foreign runners who'd flown to New York for the event and were legging out their frustration.
Some runners headed out to volunteer in disaster-stricken Staten Island, which seems to have suffered Sandy's worst in the New York region. Others headed to Central Park for a pseudo-marathon and photo op at a mocked-up finish line. The Mayor lost some political capital for insisting the marathon go on, until his senior aides convinced him at the 11th hour that it ought not. But the Mayor might have turned this into a win-win had he taken a page from an underground Burmese organization called the Backpack Health Workers Team, and had groups of international runners bring supplies to the areas most in need.
Like many, Mayor Bloomberg has likely never heard of the BPHWT; the only reason I knew of it was because a friend of mine married a British doctor who's enlisted in a UK Special Forces unit. As her husband is both half-Burmese and highly trained in survival skills, before being deployed to Iraq, he was considering training as a Backpack Medic.
In Burma, hundreds of villagers displaced by regional conflict eke out an existence in the jungle, with no access to medical care. The vicious Burmese military policy was to destroy every medical facility they came across. In response to this, in the late '80s the Backpack Health Workers Team sprang up, comprised of brave, incredibly fit individuals--both male and female—that volunteer to strap on backpacks loaded with medical supplies. They literally run, from a secret cross-border location in Thailand, into free-fire zones of the Burmese jungle to locate villages and disperse medical care.
Beyond the uncomfortable 100-degrees-plus jungle climate, the job is insanely dangerous. Backpack Medics run the risk of stepping on landmines or running into Burmese military patrols. Some Medics arm themselves—"A gun is an essential piece of my equipment," one 29-year-old medic told the BBC—but there's still no guarantee they'll survive. "[The] Backpack Health Worker Team has lost nine medics and one birth attendant to gunfire or landmines in the last ten years," said an article on the Physicians for Human Rights website. "We must ensure that they will lose no more."
While the Burmese military was officially dissolved last year, that's an on-paper only reality, and they still wield tremendous influence in the lawless jungle. The BPHWT wiill continue to operate for the foreseeable future. You can read more about the organization's history and accomplishments here.
Mid-lower-Manhattan-blackout, I need to relocate my two dogs and I to somewhere with electricity and internet, so I can continue to earn a living. I didn't know who would and wouldn't have power and did not pre-plan a fallback location. But now I remember I've got a buddy staying at his boss' townhouse in the east 60s, within the powered zone. It's a longshot that they'll allow dogs, but he's the closest place I can walk to while towing two dogs, carrying my computer and lugging my own food & water.
But I won't walk up there unannounced; because I failed to work out contingencies in advance, I'd better ask before showing up. I can't call him, obviously, so I put rain gear on and head outside to make the 2.5-hour roundtrip.
What I see outside makes me change my mind about walking. The amount of damaged trees, huge branches in the street, collapsed awnings, and generally heavy things sitting in places they oughtn't, makes me think a long walk would be dumb. There are a lot of once-securely-mounted things on the average city block that can fall on you, and I don't want to be killed proving the law of gravity.
A second, more surprising thing I see that also makes me change my mind: there are tons of people outside—and taxis. It's not easy getting one, but ten minutes later I'm in a yellow Crown Vic headed uptown.
As we reach the 30s I see people on the sidewalk talking on cell phones, so I pull mine out and switch it on. Service! I call my buddy, and during our brief, choppy call, he apologetically tells me we can't be accommodated. Ah well. I have the cab turn around.
The most amazing thing I saw on that cab ride was this: No traffic lights were working below the 30s. And traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, moved through those latter parts of the city flawlessly. Admittedly it wasn't a rush-hour level of traffic, but even still I'd have expected lots of near-misses, stymied pedestrians who couldn't cross, honking horns and curses. But there was none of that. My driver slowed at each intersection to look around, as did every other driver. Pedestrians watched cars going in the same direction as them, and crossed intersections when those cars crossed. We never sat still for more than a few seconds and it never seemed even remotely dangerous.
At just two major intersections we went through (23rd & 3rd and Delancey & Bowery) were there foot police directing traffic. Every other block worked flawlessly with no signals, just quick negotiating glances between drivers and pedestrians. I have more to say about this at the bottom of this entry.
Another thing that struck me was the amount of people, mostly tourist-looking, standing outside of closed subway stations and looking confused. They'd peer past the tape blocking the entrance, as if hoping to see something informative at the bottom of the stairs. I guess those without access to news would have no way of knowing the entire subway system had been shut off; I only knew because it had been mentioned in the radio broadcast.
The second Seattle Designers Accord Town Hall was held October 11th at Carbon Design Group's studio. The event was organized by Carbon, Modern Species and AIGA Seattle. The theme of the night was "Are We There Yet?" reflecting the seemingly endless journey of designers striving to produce sustainable results for willing clients. The evening kicked off with refreshments and networking, and then moved on to the main events. Linda Wagner, of Carbon, and Gage Mitchell, of both Modern Species and AIGA Seattle, shared the emcee duties. Four speakers delivered short presentations to address the topic from their perspective (industrial design, graphic design, architecture, or business), before continuing the conversation in breakout sessions.
Creative Director of Consumer Experience at Hornall Anderson
Ashley gets props for bringing, well, props. Her message for the evening was that sustainable design is only successful if the consumer likes it. Case in point was the incredibly noisy Sun Chips bag. Compostable, yes, but hearing it in person drove home the problem—nobody wants to broadcast that they're snacking. Ashley went on to ruffle every print designer in attendance by declaring the book is dead... as an object of information, but alive as an object of desire. To bring this home, she used the example of Wantful, a company that allows you to create a beautiful personalized book filled with a curated selection of gifts from which a recipient can pick. By blending digital and print, Wantful delivers a richer, more meaningful experience. And meaningful experiences are vital because, the success of a product is determined by how it connects with people. (Ashley also wrote up a great detailed post about her breakout session which you can find here.)
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at REI
Kirk's job is to design business systems that provide sustainable outcomes. One of REI's greatest successes in this endeavor came from partnering with other outdoor apparel manufacturers like Patagonia and Timberland to create the HIGG Index, which measurers the impact of their products. By working together, these companies were able to give their vendors an assessment tool and a very large incentive to use it. Kirk pointed out that the true focus of any company is whether or not a customer will buy a product. A sustainable product isn't sustainable at all if it doesn't sell. Method is a company that gets this in spades. They aren't successful because they create sustainable products. They're successful because they create better products with a combination of design, functionality, and affordability that makes them stand out. Sustainable products must be better all around.
Uganda is home to five million people with disabilities, whether from birth defects, malnutrition, disease or injuries sustained during the violence-wracked internal conflicts. Whatever the cause, Ugandans without the use of their legs have, in the past, been unable to use bicycles. And as Uganda is one of the poorest countries on this Earth, the bicycle is a crucially important method of transportation there. Without it, some cannot earn a living.
Nelson "Kio" Mukiika has a machine shop of sorts in the Kasese district of western Uganda. I say "of sorts" because he does not have access to basic measuring tools. Nevertheless, Mukiika is able to disassemble old bikes and re-weld them together into creations of his own design: Three-wheeled hand-powered bicycles.
At the very top of this entry is a woman named Gatrida sitting in Mukiika's first completed trike. Since then he's produced 50 more, funded by the CanUgan Disability Support Project, which renders material assistance and vocational training to disabled Ugandans.
It was through CanUgan that Dean Mellway, Director of Carleton University's READ (Research, Education, Accessbility and Design) initiative, caught wind of a Mukiika's trikes; Mellway then brought it to the attention of a team of fourth-year Industrial Design students at Carleton, and they're now working together with Mukiika in an effort to improve the designs.
Bicycles are all the rage these days; Interbike notwithstanding, we've seen several concepts lately, from the FLIZ to the CERV (and most recently the unacronymous Bicymple), each an attempt to evolve beyond the traditional diamond frame.
Yet the pedal-powered drivetrain is as tried-and-true as they come, and a Guatemalan (via Canada) nonprof has demonstrated its efficiency and versatility time and again. It's not quite as quintessentially lo-fi as Liter of Light, but Maya Pedal's remarkable upcycling project is a veritable post-industrial revolution for rural Guatemalans... and potentially for underdeveloped communities the world over. The San Andrés Itzapa-based NGO accepts donated bicycles from the US and Canada, which are either refurbished and sold or, more interestingly, converted into "Bicimaquinas" (pedal-powered machines).
Pedal power can be harnessed for countless applications which would otherwise require electricity (which may not be available) or hand power (which is far more effort). Bicimaquinas are easy and enjoyable to use. They can be built using locally available materials and can be easily adapted to suit the needs of local people. They free the user from rising energy costs, can be used anywhere, are easy to maintain, produce no pollution and provide healthy exercise.
The Bicimolino pedal-powered mill/grinder
In short, Maya Pedal turns scrap bicycle parts into all variety of human-powered municipal machinery: "water pumps, grinders, threshers, tile makers, nut shellers, blenders (for making soaps and shampoos as well as food products), trikes, trailers and more."
On September 19–20, French and international practitioners will meet in Tourcoing, France to exchange the methods they use to innovate within the public sector.
In particular, the event will explore methods inspired by design (service design, social design, design thinking, management design) but also by ethnography, social innovation, and open source culture.
Only accessible via a local wifi mesh network, the Red Hook version of Tide Pools lets community members access information and report trouble spots.
Go almost anywhere in the world, and you can load up a map on Google, Bing or Mapquest that tells you where you are and what's around you. The standardization of maps is an incredibly useful tool—instead of futzing around with how to read the map, you just have to worry about making sure you're oriented in the right direction (a problem that's also starting to evaporate with compasses in smartphones).
The problem is, you also lose a lot of diversity along the way. Most online maps are commercially oriented, as likely to advertise businesses that register to be listed as they are to share major community landmarks. And from a bird's eye view, spaces important for the neighborhood are almost indistinguishable from the rest of the area.
Enter Tide Pools. Developed by Parsons grad Jonathan Baldwin for his senior thesis, Tide Pools is a mapping-system-cum-mesh-network that's focused on local communities. Billed as "'Ushahidi' meets 'The Sims' API hub for local needs and culture," Baldwin's system differs substantially from global mapping sites like Google: maps can only be accessed when you're hooked into the local mesh network.
"The original intention came out of working with community in Red Hook," Baldwin noted in an interview with Core77. "The original piece of investigation was around where mesh networks exist. What kinds of local incentives can be conveyed on a mesh interface to convey the idea of a local network?"
This page lists announcements and news feed particular to Red Hook, and soon it will evolve into a more robust interface that includes a community-driven map. Over weeks of meetings, Baldwin and members of the Red Hook community evolved a look and feel, debating over how a school should look. It's had multiple uses, as he noted on his web site:
Tidepools evolved over months of community meetings, brainstorming sessions and feedback through a forum on the WiFi network. Creating and sharing custom maps emerged from the desire to plot Alerts of where police "stop and frisks" were occurring. Broken building signs led to integration of the Open311 civic reporting tool. Bus arrival alerts came from the sparse, inconsistent public transportation in the area. Spreading awareness of locations and times of Upcoming Meetings & Events soon followed.
A version of Tide Pools rolled out in Detroit for the Allied Media Conference.
Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting award-winning projects and ideas from this year's Core77 Design Awards 2012! For full details on the project, jury commenting and more information about the awards program, go to Core77DesignAwards.com
Reach & Match is a Braille learning toy for visually impaired children with multi-disabilities to have an interesting exposure to Braille literacy and functional skills learning for independence. The design aims to bring dignity, comfort, support and a quality of life experience for visually impaired children to enjoy equal rights and opportunity.
How did you learn that you had been recognized by the jury?
I watched the online video announcement of the winners. It was very exciting to hear the news that my design is recognized.
What's the latest news or development with your project?
I am working with my university to seek funding opportunity, at the same time; I have been visiting local organization like Vision Australia and Statewide Vision Resource under the early childhood education department, I was happy to receive very good feedback from professionals and parents. From there, I did the most valuable observational research also testing with the young blind children. By having a research and observation based project, and collaborating with professionals, modification and feedback have been received and resulted in a much richer design. My prototype has been displayed in different exhibitions like United Nations ECOSOC Innovation Fair in Geneva and also in other countries, USA and South Africa, etc. Also, I have been collaborating with UNICEF to seek an opportunity for a pilot product testing in South Africa. Fingers crossed! I will be very happy to work with any individual or organization that shares the same goal to design for social impact. I hope the designs will be enjoyed by the blind children in the world that is the reason why R&M is designed into different versions to fit for different areas.
What is one quick anecdote about your project?
When I first read the pattern formed by the Braille on the plain white paper, the embossed dots mystified me so much. It is how amazing that blind people can read them by feeling the patters of dots. It is also mysterious to me that people could perceive their world by fingertips. However, due to different social reasons like government law, technology advancement and budget constraints, the global decline of braille caused lot of braille students become illiterate. At that moment, I realized that I was incited to embark on an exploration, a journey. I could never imagine that this journey has bought me into another dimension, a different world of consideration and attention. The journey took me to understand what blindness is, the nature of Braille language, the global trend of social and cultural influence on language, the blind children with multi-disabilities, the social, emotional and communicative development in visually impaired children, in a way which was wholly fresh and fascinating to me. On the other hand, I started my sensory exploration to experience each piece of daily detail from a blind person's point of view. I was entirely overwhelmed with this complete new perspective onto blindness.
What was an "a-ha" moment from this project?
The objective of the project is obvious and direct at the beginning, but during the design development, it opened up to a deep consideration to the design specification, interface and every minute detail. The layers of the information for developing the design would not be possible made without understanding the complexity of early education for the visually impaired. However, observation is the most valuable research for my project; and it helped me select the most appropriate tactile communication options for my design. From observing blind children, I understand the importance of sensory play.The design is directly response to the actual circumstances and needs of the blind children. I am also inspired by my conversations with the Braille teachers, physiotherapists and childhood educators. There were an abundant exchange of ideas and knowledge amongst parents, the professionals and myself. Throughout the design process, I kept obtaining new insight from observation and communications with people to help nurture my ideas. We shared different ideas that were created by dialogue, comparisons, and metaphors, funny or serious observations. It's a truly fascinating experience!
In his recent TEDxBoston talk, Prestero relates that the NeoNurture was the equivalent of a concept car in the medical equipment category: it was too beautiful for its own good. He draws on his experience with the NeoNurture to illustrate the difference between designing for inspiration and designing for the real world. The video is well worth 11 minutes of your time: