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Posted by Ray  |  17 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

AerialBold-NOAA.jpgL: ABC Dataset Samples; R: Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium.

We've long been enamored with the Eames' Powers of Ten short film, which is as much an introduction to aerial photography as it is to the math behind astronomy and biology. Just as everyone now takes beautiful images (and the retina displays to view them on) for granted, there is also a sense in which we are collectively GPS-enabled: After all, digital cartography is perhaps the most practical application of constant connectivity, and we can thank one company for the ability to zoom out to god's-(or satellites'-)eye view with a pinch of the fingers.


Benedikt Groß & Joey Lee take it even further with Aerial Bold, the "first map and typeface of the earth."

The project is literally about "reading" the earth for letterforms, or alphabet shapes, "written" into the topology of buildings, roads, rivers, trees, and lakes. To do this, we will traverse the entire planet's worth of satellite imagery and develop the tools and methods necessary to map these features hiding in plain sight.
The entire letterform database will be made available as a "usable" dataset for any of your art/design/science/textual projects and selected letterforms will be made into a truetype/opentype font format that can be imported to your favorite word processor.


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


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."


"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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.



Posted by core jr  |  21 Jul 2014  |  Comments (1)

JamesSelf-0.jpgFigure 1: Digital CAD used to communicate form and design aesthetic. All images Courtesy of Younghoon Hwang, UNIST, Korea

This is the third article in an ongoing series by Dr. James Self in which he explores designers' approaches and tools in support of a thoughtful, reflective design activity.

CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask? · To Design Is to Understand Uncertainty · TDRs & Conceptual Design Practices

From thumbnail sketches to low fidelity models and prototypes to test rigs, CAD concept renderings, illustrations, mock-ups and visualizations, designers embody their design intentions using a variety of Tools of Design Representation (TDRs) during conceptual design in an attempt to provide creative solutions to often ill-defined design problems. The industrial designer employs TDRs with two objectives in mind. First, they provide a means to describe, explain and communicate design intentions to others. Second, they are used to reflect upon and develop one's own design intent towards emergent—but still conceptual—solutions. As such, TDR use is a critical component of conceptual design practices. In a previous Core77 article (CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask?), I responded to what I see as a limiting and somewhat circular debate on the role and use of CAD tools during conceptual design, drawing attention to the fact tools are only tools insofar as they are used as such to achieve a purpose. That is, the effectiveness of TDRs (CAD and sketching included) is dependent upon both context of use and, critically, the designers' own skills, knowledge and judgment in their application.

In light of the dizzying array of digital, conventional and hybrid tools now available to the designer, this article builds on some of the issues previously touched upon. I aim to move beyond anecdotal accounts of this or that best tool, way of working, method or media in this or that context or working environment towards the fundamentals of TDR use during conceptual design practice. What kinds of fundamental designerly knowledge, skills and practices underpin effective and productive engagement with and use of TDRs during conceptual design? I believe that knowledge of these fundamentals is required both to develop more effective digital design tools and to contribute to design pedagogy alongside the more traditional studio teaching environment of practical skills acquisition.

Fortuitously, design research over the past 30 years provides us with important insights into the act of designing and the kinds of thinking it involves. Donald Schon's seminal work (The Reflective Practitioner, 1991) on the notion of design as a reflective practice has been influential in providing a means to understand design activity and tool use. Briefly, considered through the lens of reflection-in-action, design activity is characterized by reflection (considering what has just been done, such as reflecting upon a sketch) and action (revising a sketch or CAD model in light of reflective understanding). Within this iterative process of reflection and action, the representation or embodiment of design intent is critically important. The designer must externalize design intentions through TDR use—sketches, drawings, notes, CAD models, physical prototypes, etc., of varying levels of fidelity—in order to reflect upon, test, and develop design ideas.

Important in influencing the nature of this reflection-action is the distinct character of the design problem. Design problems, unlike problems in the sciences, may often be ill-defined or wicked. The primary feature of these ill-defined problems is that there is and cannot be a single correct solution to the original problem but that there are many possible outcomes. In fact, there may potentially be an infinite number of possible solutions and a limitless number of ways to proceed towards a final design solution.

Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman (The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, 2012) describe this engagement with the design problem as a search for an ultimate particular. The designer must come to a solution that is itself new or particular in relation to any other solution that may have come before, one that must provide a best or ultimate possible result given the designer's emergent understanding of the design problem.

JamesSelf-2.jpgFigure 2: Sketch illustration to reflectively explore design intent


Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  17 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)


For those of you who conduct interviews with a voice recorder, you know that the transcription is typically a slow step. If you're lucky, the interviewee speaks slowly or spends a long time thinking before answering, and the transcription process only takes two or three rounds. This was not the case when it came to Natalia Ivanova: On the contrary, the words flow as quickly from her tongue as the movements that flow from her limbs. She has a fluidity and energy in her way of thinking that comes across in everything she does.

Ivanova is the founder of Hal X, a small indoor training hall for parkour in Copenhagen, and the coordinator of especially designed courses, where parkour is a force for positive change for youths.

Originally hailing from Russia, Ivanova speaks fondly about the memories she has of jumping from garage roof to garage roof in the oppressive heat during summers back home. She remembers how fun it was to run as fast as she possibly could, in bare feet on the burning hot rooftops. Jumping over the gaps between the buildings, she knew that one misstep could mean an unpleasant tumble into rubble that might contain rusty scraps of metal, crushed glass and used needles.

Needless to say, this love for exploring urban spaces and challenging herself with her surroundings has been the defining element of through life. As a child, the hijinks and hyperactivity were just called "fun"; now it's called "parkour," and it has spread around the globe with the help of aficionados and YouTube like wildfire.

However, you may not realize that—beyond the physics-defying wow factor of the sport—parkour can serve as a positive alternative to destructive social cultures. In contrast to several other street activities, the philosophy behind Parkour is not only to challenge yourself and push boundaries, but to develop the best version of yourself. You have to have a totally clear mind if you want to be able to get the most out of your practice. That means little or no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. If you are under any kind of influence, you risk not being able to judge distances properly and having a serious accident. "Alcohol and other substances are off the table since your mind has be clear and focused for practice."

Observers who aren't familiar with the sport and the philosophies behind it might see nothing more than loose-limbed young folks jumping from building to building, doing double backflips and hanging from rails, which might lead one to the conclusion that these people are more than a little bit crazy. But as with any sport, parkour practitioners—known as traceurs or traceuses—must train extensively, with utmost dedication, and exercise discipline on every level of their life in order to do what they do. You will never see a traceur leave empty bottles or discarded sandwich papers smeared in mayonnaise behind—they don't want to mess up their surroundings, their space for practice.


Posted by erika rae  |  10 Jun 2014  |  Comments (1)


A pressurized cylinder of aluminum is hardly habitable as it is, but some companies are arguably (or hypothetically) taking things too far. Meanwhile, designers continue to seek incremental ways to make airplane cabin more comfortable, namely by tweaking the seats—anything to get a few inches farther from the head-drooping drooler in the middle seat.

Bruce Campbell took the idea to heart: He purchased a out-of-commission aircraft, complete with wings and landing gear, for $220,000. It's final destination happens to be in the woods just outside of Portland, OR, where Campbell resides in the kitted-out ~153-foot "cabin" he calls home.



A former electrical engineer by trade, Campbell ditched any notion of traditional housing with his work-in-progress—which has taken over a decade, seeing as the first photos that Campbell posted of the plane date back to May of 2002. Today, the 727 features a kitchen, shower and electricity. He didn't completely gut the 149–189-passenger capacity aircraft, either. The original design details are still there, from the uncomfortable teal, "sanitary headrest"-clad seats to the turquoise and brown color combo in the bathroom. Check out this video of the plane in it's not-so-natural habitat (unfortunately, it only shows the outside of the home):


Posted by core jr  |  10 Jun 2014  |  Comments (2)


By Anne Lacey, antedote

The first time I drove across the United States, I couldn't help but be struck by how different each state and region feels. Even so, I saw that there were clear commonalities that tie together to make the U.S. a single nation. The closest I've come to gaining a grasp of what makes that nation tick has come from examining both the commonalities and differences between all its people and place. It's been the project of a lifetime to develop anything resembling a coherent and comprehensive of picture of just this one country.

Over time, this personal journey to understand the United States led me to examine my professional career, identifying consumer insights for innovation—how can I do qualitative research that enables me to spend time to understand what really motivates people and that gives a more representative picture of the country?

Over the last couple of decades, ethnography and qualitative research have become distilled into short dips of a couple of hours into peoples' lives, often in popular research cities such as Chicago. This type of research relies primarily on self-report by the consumer rather than observation or behavioral analysis. This has made it increasingly difficult to ascertain the kinds of new insights about fundamental shifts in people's needs and motivations that make the work truly valuable.

To gain to new insights and opportunities, we need to think and approach research differently. Digital ethnography can fuel new ideas and research approaches, as my colleagues at antedote and I have seen in the years since we designed and built a mobile and online tool for studies from the ground up. Although digital ethnography has become an umbrella term for a great many online qualitative research tools, we use it specifically to mean a lengthy study (a week or two to several months) with consumers via computer and/or mobile phone, comprised of a blend of observation, live experience-alongs, interviews and user-generated content. Though these elements are common to it, each study has custom elements to it, premised on one big idea: using cutting-edge technology to restore some of the original intent and benefits of ethnography.


Interestingly, the longer we've worked with it, the more we've identified practices that enable digital ethnography to provide an ideal complement and enhancement to other qualitative and quantitative methods. One of the key guiding rules we've found is to gather research based on the strengths of the technology rather than trying to directly translate other research methods to digital.

These are some of the guiding principles we have identified and apply:


Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 Jun 2014  |  Comments (3)


In a recent talk we attended, Fiskars' Petri S. Toivanen touched on the disconnect between ad photos of interiors and how people actually live. "Companies show photos of these nice, clean, 'design' kitchens," but, he pointed out, "the reality seems somehow different."


Perhaps no one is more guilty of this than IKEA, whose catalog shots of nicely-organized, all-Ikea-furnished homes have the added twist that many of the images aren't even real photographs, but are pure CG. But to the company's credit, they recently conducted a massive and global study to see how people actually behave in their own homes, and have released the study for public consumption. Called the "Life at Home" report, it features data (focused on morning activities) from roughly 1,000 respondents from each of eight world cities: Berlin, London, Moscow, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Stockholm.


The accompanying photographs are fairly unflinching looks at real peoples' apartments, absent any product placement or Ikea plugs. The emphasis is on the data: How long do people take to get ready in the morning in New York, Paris, Moscow, et cetera? Do they eat breakfast together? How long do guys take to get dressed versus women? What percentage of women put makeup on? Which rooms do they work in?


Posted by Moa Dickmark  |   4 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)


About one year ago, I was giving a talk to students who were about to graduate from the various design schools in Copenhagen. After I finished, I leaned back in a chair located rather close to the door (and close to the drinks and snack section...) when I caught myself staring at a bag. It captivated me to the extent that everything around me disappeared, and the only thing left was the bag and me. Once I snapped out of it, I went up to the person holding the bag as to ask him where he had bought it. To my great despair, it turned out he had made it himself, and he was holding the only sample. The Man with The Bag turned out not just to have a great eye for design, but to also have a great and intricate mind, and his name is Brian Frandsen.

Core77: Tell us a bit about your background. How did you end up in the field of design?

Brian Frandsen: I was not supposed to study design to begin with, I never thought I would do anything like this. It sort of just happened. I've always been a bit of a book nerd— I live very much in my head. I've always loved school, mathematics and humanistic studies, so I thought I was going to study Danish, rhetoric, philosophy, political science or something along those lines.

After high school, I was lucky enough to get a job in quality control for a Danish mainstream clothing brand at their office in Hong Kong. I spent half a year there, with my partner at that time, and while I was there it hit me how disgusting the fashion industry really was.

My boss would find something she liked, draw it in Illustrator and send it off to the factory in China. After we got the sample and established the price of the product, they took away a few details to make it cheaper to produce and sent it back to the factory. The entire fashion and design mechanism was without feeling, without heart. I felt offended by the way it worked, yet at the same time it fascinated me.

I lived in Hong Kong for a while—just as with the fashion industry, I had contradicting feelings for the city itself. I loved it and hated it at the very same time. It's the most constructed place I have ever been. It feels like nothing in Hong Kong is natural, everything is man-made, everything has its place, and all of the buildings are built in a specific way. But at the same time, when you walk around and truly look you can see how the traditional Chinese culture is creating its own space in the cracks of the perfect façade. It grows like weed out of the asphalt. These perfect glass buildings and the uncontrollable growth that is happening in between theses buildings ignited something within me that changed me on a fundamental level.


After I got back, I still thought I was going to go to Copenhagen to study and get a serious degree in one of the rather academic fields. I don't know if they have it in other countries as well but in Denmark, universities have something they called Open House where you can visit the uni's and check out all of the courses available. I visited all of the ones I could think of, but in the evening, only Copenhagen design school was open so I went there just to see what they had to offer, and I was hooked. There was something about it, the same thing that had fascinated me with China, that was man-made and then the other side, the one that you could not control. That you should put yourself in the space between what the logic tells you and what your intuition tells you. That's where I wanted to be.

Another important factor in my decision to go to design school was a reform that resulted in a more theory-driven education. After that I went home, did some research and found out that there is only two design schools in Denmark: The Design School of Copenhagen and Design School Kolding. I visited Kolding and realized it was time for me to choose between a life (in Copenhagen) or a superior (to me, at least) education (in Kolding). I went for the latter. I applied the same year, and I actually didn't expect to get in that same year, but to my great surprise I did. So that was how I got into design.


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

PosttoSnaptrack-880px.pngImage courtesy of Moneythink

By T.J. Cook, CEO, CauseLabs

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

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

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

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

moneythink-classroom.jpgImage courtesy of

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

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


Posted by erika rae  |  17 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)


The word "protestor" probably brings a few images to mind: a hazy scene of conflict, throngs of angry bystanders with politically charged signs and the police. While creative repurposing tends to trump product design when it comes to civil unrest, a class at the School of Visual Arts was recently tasked with designing for protest culture in a class called "Product, Brand and Experience," for which the subtitle is the brief: "Consumer Products for Protestors." [Disclosure: Core77 partner and Editor-at-Large Allan Chochinov is the Chair of the Products of Design Program.]

Damon Ahola and Richard Clarkson were among the students who took the class last semester, teaming up to design B. Super—a collection of transformative tools (including a utility belt) that transform the wearer/user into a superhero in minutes. See what they had to say about their experience and the product series they created:


Core77: Was there an "a-ha moment" that resulted in the idea for this series of products?

Damon Ahola & Richard Clarkson: We were discussing possible brand values and product directions early on in the process, Richard introduced the idea of superheroes. He was exploring the concept of superpowers in his thesis, so he was already quite knowledgeable about the topic. Damon quickly picked up the idea and immediately began sketching product concepts to give protesters a greater sense of confidence.

Could you walk me through the different products and their uses?

Each tool aids the protester in a specific task and is branded as such. The respirator mask,""breath," assists in surviving airborne toxins. To elude authorities, "disguise" is a fake mustache kit at the ready. Duct tape, handy in any situation, is included as "repair." "Relieve" is a lemon juice solution applied to allay the sting of pepper spray in the eye. As a mask, "hide" protects the protester's identity. Embodied as "declare," a rewritable roll-out canvas and marker act as a necessary communication tool. The single-use items are encased in a reusable box as "revive." Finally, the starter kit including the belt system and three of the tools is "empower."



Posted by Ray  |  21 Feb 2014  |  Comments (0)


Here, for your edification, is a video of Near Future Laboratory's "Design & Fiction" event in full. On October 24, 2013, IDEO hosted the panel discussion, moderated by Wired's Cliff Kuang, featuring sometime collaborators Julian Bleecker, James Bridle, and our own Nick Foster, who mentioned that "it was nice (and we think important) that we were physically together in a room." Indeed, given the subject matter.

We met to talk about design. And fiction. And the ways of approaching the challenge of all challenges, whatever it may be. We talked about expressing the opportunities those challenges raise as distinctly new tangible forms. As well as the essential value of mundane design. We talked about clarifying the present. We talked about designing the future. And doing both of these things with design. And fiction.

For those of you who can't spare 90 minutes engrossed in a series of presentations about everything from the so-called "Michael Bay Driving Experience" to 1984-worthy surveillant receptacles, here are a few highlights... but of course I recommend watching it in full (or at least absorbing the audio in the background, podcast-style) to, you know, actually hear what these smart and interesting folks have to say.


Posted by erika rae  |  17 Feb 2014  |  Comments (8)


We've all been there—befuddled by the many options the washing machine has to offer and envisioning the possible horrors that could arise with the push of a wrong button. It's a scenario that's generally resolved with a quick phone call to mom or a web search. Convinced that there had to be a better way, Peter Fabor, UX designer at Avast Antivirus and founder of The Surf Office, has come up with the straight-forward washing machine design we've all been Google searching for.

WashingMachine-Confusion.jpgFrom digital to dials, there isn't anything easy about cleaning your clothes the "right way"

After a bit of personal research into the realm of washing machine confusion, Fabor found a fact from the Daily Mail that put his project into motion: "58% of British men can't use a washing machine properly because they find the household appliance confusing." Even more, the headline on the Daily Mail's coverage states that a quarter of British men can't even mange turning the machine on. I'm sure that statistic reaches much further than the British—I for one have been known to tie-die many white shirts while trying to wash them and I'm an American lady.


Posted by erika rae  |   6 Feb 2014  |  Comments (1)


If rappers' boastful lyrics are any indication, hip-hop can take you places. A disciple himself, Tahir Hemphill—the ever-diligent artist behind the previously funded Kickstarter campaign "The Hip-Hop Word Count"—has visualized a dozen rappers' global treks via flight path-esque photographs tracking their lyrics.

RapLightPaintings-Comparison.jpgKanye West's global enlightenment (left) and one of Aaron Koblin's flight tracking designs (right)


Inspired by Pablo Picasso's light paintings, Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement. takes one data point from "Hip-Hop Word Count" (more on that below) and puts it on the map. Hemphill has pulled out geographic mentions from his vault of crazy detailed research and created long-exposure visuals to better illustrate the globetrotting itineraries of these superstars (and perhaps to see if Pitbull is worthy of his terrible self-appointed title, "Mr. Worldwide"). By scaling geographic distances between destinations on a globe and assigning them coordinates, a robotic arm plots a specific point for each song's city mention using a light pen.

RapLightPainting-Picasso.jpgPablo Picasso and his original light paintings (left) and Hemphill's visualization of Kendrick Lamar (right)


Posted by Ray  |  30 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)


With additional reporting by Erika Rae Owen

In 1990, Ian Frazier published a fiction piece in the New Yorker, casting an antagonistic yet universally beloved Looney Tune as the plaintiff of a court case against a corporate entity for its seemingly nonexistent QC standards. No doubt you are already familiar with the laundry list of complaints enumerated in Coyote vs. ACME. Time and again, we took pleasure in witnessing the episodic pratfalls of the pathetic Mr. Coyote (given name Wile), as the nefarious ne'er-do-well nearly obliterated himself on multiple occasions in his attempts to assassinate his long-standing rival, the Road Runner. Each and every time, a dangerous piece of equipment would malfunction at the worst possible moment with suspiciously predictable consistency, rendering the aggrieved as a veritable case study in schadenfreude.

The suit alleges that ACME is at fault, but new evidence suggests otherwise.


Glitches aside, the various instruments of death and gravity-defying wearables employed by Mr. Coyote in the cartoon are much more than mere stretches of the imagination—they are, in fact, prime examples of design fiction. We just didn't realize it until a designer from Pentagram took a stab at bringing the cartoon to life in a new way for their annual Christmas card.

Unlike the fictional plaintiff, designer Daniel Weil succeeds in his efforts: From the iconic spherical bomb to the more obscure Burmese Tiger Trap, these concepts may be more utilitarian than his previously-seen "Clock for Architects," but the inner workings of the five ACME products are certainly no less considered.

Click image to enlarge


Posted by Ray  |  23 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)


Yesterday, we took a look at a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in brain surgery, which is great for neuroscientists (and their patients)—but the rest of us, not so much. After all, Steve Jobs channeled Henry Ford's dictum about a faster horse when he asserted that "people don't know what they want until you show it to them," prefiguring an interdisciplinary approach to 'neuromarketing.' In order to uncover what consumers really want—as opposed to their conscious desires—researchers such as Dr. Steven Scholte measure subjects' brain activity as they are exposed to various stimuli.

Now, designer Merel Bekking is looking to apply neuroscience to product design. In her quest to "create the perfect design," Bekking realized that the main obstacle is the fact that "perfection is subject to taste and aesthetics." The solution, then, is a systematic approach to determine what 'perfection' might be. "In 'Brain_manufacturing,' Bekking excludes personal preferences and tastes and creates designs purely based on scientific research results obtained with MRI scanners."

In every design process, the designer makes choices, such as which shapes, colours and materials to use. "If you let a group of non-designers make these choices, will you end up with the perfect design?" Merel Bekking says. "And if you ask people directly versus letting their brains give the answer, will there be a difference?"


Working with Dr. Scholte and the Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging in Amsterdam, Bekking had 20 subjects—half male, half female—undergo an MRI while presented with various images that represented the shape, material and color of what would be an ideal object. Here's an informative (albeit a bit dry) video of Bekking describing her process:


Posted by core jr  |  21 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

Left: A community map with measured dimensions. Right: Iso-metric illustrated version of the community based on reference photos. This was developed to make the map more engaging and fun. Righthand illustration by Boyeon Choi.

In the field of design and technology today, deeply understanding users in their local context is an essential part to the design process. A holistic understanding of users generates empathy and a specificity of experience that enables designers to create valuable solutions for markets, communities and individuals.

In our field work in Uganda's rural north and Kampala, its capital and largest city, we took the unique opportunity to conduct research, as designers, into informal technology usage from a more complex and discovery-based perspective. Jeff focused on informal electricity bypassing in an urban community in Kampala, and An looked at how youth transfer media files via Bluetooth in northern Uganda. These are the stories that emerged after a hybrid approach of design, ethnography and other research methods to understand the systems and structures in place and build relationships with individuals working and living in these contexts.

In an increasingly globalized world, local contexts matter more than ever before. Rich, deep ethnographic stories can communicate the complex conditions under which communities and individuals make decisions regarding technology use in their everyday lives. These stories in turn inform design decisions around technology development and practical use. As Jessica Weber and John Cheng recently argued in UX Magazine, "Ethnography reveals how digital and physical processes work together to help businesses address gaps and focus on the entire customer experience."

We present two examples of user stories from our research into informal systems, as well as the visual forms we developed to communicate it. It was essential to use visualization to engage the designers and researchers in a developed, U.S. context to translate the unique characteristics of the informal systems for those who couldn't experience them firsthand. Visualizing the conditions and the systematic influences at work through user-generated drawings, maps, videos and photographic documentation placed them in context, helping to reframe these stories in a manner that permitted audiences in the United States to make judgments based on local values and their emergent informal usage of technology.


Posted by erika rae  |  27 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)


The things that people do to snag a job are nuts. Standing out among the unemployed and enthusiastic is becoming pretty tough... especially when you have people like photographer Jens Lennartsson sending a minion of mini me action figures to the places he'd love to work.


Think of all of the possibilities: exaggerate your skills into super-hero-esque job qualifications, avoid handing in a resume that hits below expectations (design or otherwise) and bask in the fact that your first impression will always be on a perpetual good hair day. When you think about all of the time you spend perfecting your resume, you really wouldn't spend much more time on an action figure version of yourself.

Lennartsson's figurine, named GI Jens, is actualized as a camera-toting embodiment of who he is as a photographer. The packaging boosts his professional skills in an eye-catching display. No action figure is complete without a brochure displaying all of the toys features and Lennartsson doesn't miss that opportunity to display some of his work. Check out the videos after the jump for a behind-the-scenes look the complete GI Jens package and how he pulled this off:


Posted by erika rae  |  14 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)


Testing a new product's intrigue is tough. As a designer, every one of your products is a masterpiece for one reason or another and it's hard to get a true take on whether or not it will sell. Upwell Design, a San Francisco based design studio, found the perfect way to test and market their new product, Walhub—by hacking IKEA. We've covered stunts similar to this before where people have used IKEA products to create more elaborate (and sometimes better) tools and pieces of furniture.


But Upwell decided to test the market's interest for their new switch cover/storage space by actually passing their design as an IKEA product. By dressing one of their own as an IKEA employee and adding all of the makings of an IKEA product (price tags, UPC barcodes) to Walhub, they placed the product in its natural environment among IKEA's designs and let shoppers do the rest. The video below shows the hack in action:

I'd say it was a complete success—even if solely for the confusion in that poor IKEA employee's voice as he (kind of) realized he wasn't speaking to a fellow rep.

Posted by frog  |   4 Nov 2013  |  Comments (4)


By Roberto Veronese, Creative Director, frog San Francisco

The use of digital banking and electronic payments is expanding in many countries, as consumers embrace technology that facilitates financial services. Yet in Russia, people still cling to cash for most of their financial needs. In fact, more than 90 percent of all commodity purchases are in cash, according to the Bank of Russia, and the country loses over one percent of its annual GDP due to the huge amount of cash circulating and its maintenance costs. This poses a challenge to financial institutions, like Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, which is eager to transition customers to digital services. Sberbank asked frog to envision product and service concepts that could effectively support that transition.

We began our work with extensive qualitative research in the field, investigating the deeply personal reasons why cash remains so popular among customers in Moscow. "I cannot go around without cash," a young, wealthy and tech savvy Muscovite told us, while shopping at GUM, the city's main department store. This was a typical response, even for younger Russians who are regularly online. More than half the population uses the Internet at least once a week, and appreciates the convenience of new digital tools to browse for information and media content. Yet in some cases these technologically sophisticated consumers refuse to open a bank account, preferring instead to pay their bills with cash at ubiquitous payments kiosks, despite the high commission applied to these transactions.

We found a number of reasons for this reluctance to adopt digital banking and electronic-payment services. Foremost is the fact that only a small number of merchants accept credit card payments, due to charges of up to 4 percent on the seller's side and widespread tax evasion. Meanwhile, salaries are still largely paid with cash, despite the introduction of "salary cards" issued by a bank chosen by the employer. This is the main type of card issued in Russia, which on payday contributes to an extremely high volume of cash withdrawals that are usually not transferred to bank accounts.



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


Our friends at the Extrapolation Factory are pleased to present their latest project, "Junk Mail Machine," which they recently developed during a week-long residency at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in Lower Manhattan. As with their previously-seen project 99¢ Futures," the participatory installation is an exercise in "imagining and visualizing diverse futures for New York City's commerce, through the eyes of individuals." Thus, the Junk Mail Machine is "an experimental futuring prototype which prompts visitors to envision new and augmented needs, as well as the businesses/services that might arise in response."

Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken share the story behind the project.

We put together the Junk Mail Machine proposal for the Storefront for Art and Architecture's residency call for their 'BEING' exhibition, and were surprised to be selected as their first residents. On Tuesday, October 15th, we squeezed our Brooklyn studio into a narrow, 60 sq. ft. corner of Storefront's energetic, open-air space. Over the course of five days in the Storefront, we developed the mechanics of the Junk Mail Machine experiment, with the pivoting walls opened to the multisensory backdrop of car horns, cigarette smoke and boisterous pedestrian conversation.




Posted by erika rae  |  30 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)


It's hard to describe a word with more words—and generally ineffective. We've all been tongue-twisted at some point, searching for just the right word to describe something or other. Unofficial Report, a group of young designers on a mission to create a library of text imagery, has caught on to that with their "Unofficial Report" of the London Design Festival. Created by two researchers from Fabrica, the Italian communications research center, the organization is working to involve more than just the event itself in their reviews.

The group attends creative functions around the world and compiles reactions, graphics, quotes and physical things (like business cards) to create an exhibit that dives into the event and the environment around it. It's done differently for each experience. So far, they've recorded responses from London Design Festival, Art Basel and Milano Design Week.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by Mark Vanderbeeken  |  27 Sep 2013  |  Comments (1)


In order to fully exploit the design's potential to boost innovation, growth and job creation, the European Commission presented this week an action plan to promote the use of design in innovation.

Design is of particular importance to the Commission and is recognized as a key discipline and activity to bring ideas to market, transforming them into user-friendly and appealing products. Although some European countries are world leaders in design, others lack a robust design infrastructure and design capability. The action plan aims to tackle this systematic gap and to promote design driven innovation in industries and the public sector across Europe.