Archives For design culture

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Does changing how you make things change the way you live?

The answer is “yes,” according to Made in the Future, an experimental project I collaborated on with some colleagues at IDEO Boston. The Made in the Future website recently launched and it explores how today’s innovations in maker technology might affect designers and society at large five to ten years from now.

To get inspired about what making something by hand means to people, we constructed toy airplanes with kids, cooked alongside chefs, built motorbikes with weekend gear heads, and hung out with gifted researchers at the MIT Media Lab. We looked at cutting-edge innovations in designing, manufacturing and distributing, and asked: where’s it all heading next? It was all incredibly inspiring and we learned a lot.

On the website, we break down what we learned into five themes, each illustrated with provocative product concepts. For example, a device called MatterTone addresses the desire for meaningful customization by creating 3-D recordings of ephemeral conversations.Master’s Archive, a combination camera/laser projector, enables augmented reality woodworking education in real time and speaks to the possibilities of tech-enabled learning and mastery. These are only a few of the types of tools we might create, how those things will change the way we act and learn, and how these technologies will ultimately shape our future.

Many of the advances in manufacturing and communication we enjoy today—not to mention a number of careers like “designer” and “engineer”—trace their roots back to the Industrial Revolution and early 20-century. Some of these seismic shifts took hundreds of years to play out. Imagine what will happen if, in the blink of a decade, mass manufacturing and mass media become massively personalized, variable, and collaborative?

If my predictions are accurate, creative skills will be in ever-greater demand even though access to tools will be significantly democratized, and creative confidence will be a necessary mindset for doing business. It also means we’ll longer be slavishly consuming goods, but collaborating with the most sophisticated, large-scale manufacturers to create the exact things we need when and where we need them.

If all this sounds worrisome, take heart, there’s one thing I know won’t change. Yesterday, today, or tomorrow: the act of making makes us human.

How will you participate in the maker society of tomorrow?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

3 Must-Watch TED Talks

March 14, 2014 — 1 Comment

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For three decades, three big red letters have signified an annual forum for the creative and forward thinking to share groundbreaking ideas. From revealing the first Apple Mac in 1984 to Jamie Oliver’s heartfelt plea for a Food Revolution in 2010, TED has been one of the best platforms in the world for making complex ideas completely gettable and easily sharable.

It’s hard to believe that for most of its history TED conferences were only accessible to an elite audience with significant resources. Lucky for us, seven years ago, curator Chris Anderson made these sessions available online to watch and download for free. Today, TED Talks are memes that instantly spread to millions across the world.

I humbly count myself among those lucky enough not to just attend TED conferences, but also to speak at them occasionally. I look forward to next week’s special gathering in Vancouver, B.C., called TED: The Next Chapter. It marks the conference’s 30 anniversary. Like any milestone, it’s a good chance to reflect on what’s come before. In the spirit of the TED Talk’s signature brevity, here are three of my favorites who will be part of this year’s “All-Star Sessions.”

Sir Ken Robinson, “How Schools Kill Creativity” - There’s a reason why this author, educator, and creativity expert’s talk is the most watched TED talk ever (over 25 million views). Sir Ken argues for a significant rethinking of education leadership from “command and control” to “climate control” in order to create environments that nurture kids’ creativity. It’s been a huge boon to those of us interested in unlocking the creative confidence of the next generation.

John Maeda, “How Art, Technology, and Design Inform Creative Leaders – A programmer, artist, and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Maeda is passionate about putting the “A” (Art) into “STEM” education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). This talk was taped when he was at RISD’s helm, trying to bring technology to the storied, handcraft-focused school.

Stewart Brand, “The Dawn of De-Extinction. Are You Ready? – The founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and Long Now Foundation, Brand argues for “de-extincting,” or bringing back previously extinct species like the carrier pigeon. Whether you’re horrified or indifferent, the idea that our current understanding of science may be deep enough to reverse environmental damage and return to a balanced eco-system is a paradigm shift that utterly transforms our legacy to future generations.

And if you’re new to TED and looking for an overview, the organizers have put together thisplaylist, which features 17 of their favorite talks over the past 30 years.

What are your favorite TED Talks and why?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

If You Build It…

March 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Blocks. Legos. Forts. Kids are natural builders. But most schools don’t offer such hands-on learning. They offer sitting at a desk and listening quietly. That’s a shame, because there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Designer-activist Emily Pilloton gets this idea in a big way.

The founder of Project H, Emily’s dedicated her life to improving K-12 education in America through rigorous training in design thinking, vocational skills, and applied arts and sciences. (The “H” stands for the values at the core of her work: “hearts, hands, and hammers.”) Recently, Emily spoke to me about the two inspirational programs she’s running at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA: Camp H and Studio H. Camp H teaches young girls ages 9-12 hands-on design, woodworking, fabrication, and welding skills, while Studio H is a design and build class for 8- to 11-grade students that Emily originally co-founded with Matthew Miller in Bertie, NC. Where literalists see band saws and blow torches, visionaries like Emily and Matthew see these tools’ potential to strengthen kids’ math, design, and visual and abstract thinking skills—and boost their creative confidence.

But don’t just take my word for it. The best way to appreciate Studio H’s potential to transform young minds is to watch the recently released documentary, “If You Build It,” by Patrick Creadon, Christine O’Malley, and Neil Baer. This wonderful movie follows 13 Studio H students in Bertie, NC. Tasked with designing and building a farmers market for their community, “If You Build It” demonstrates how design can give meaning to our lives and shows just how difficult making meaningful change can be. Thankfully—spoiler alert!—their sheer optimism and determination surmounts bureaucratic obstructions and construction challenges.

I left the movie more convinced than ever that a thinking-with-your-hands approach to education provides students with the critical tools they need to build solid futures.

What other education experiments inspire you?

Photo courtesy of “If You Build It.”

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Daydreaming has a bad reputation. Just think of any classroom scene on TV where a teacher is chiding a child for staring out the window during class. Traditionally, those kids have been thought of as slackers, but, according to a recent report on education and entrepreneurship for the UK parliament co-authored by my friend, Professor Andy Penaluna, they’re exhibiting the behavior of innovators. They’re engaging in “relaxed attention.”

During relaxed attention, a problem or challenge is taking up space in your brain, but it isn’t on the front burner. Relaxed attention lies somewhere between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laser-like focus you apply when tackling a tough math problem. Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we’re not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes come to us when we’re in the shower or talking a walk or on a long drive.

Unfortunately, in both the UK and US education systems, since the late 1980s, the trend has been away from unstructured play and time studying the arts—both prime times for switching gears into relaxed cognition—and toward more structured, standardized National Curriculums. According to the report, this focus on finding the single right answer for the test instead of exploring many alternate solutions has resulted in “a significant decline in creative thinking scores in US schools. Using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), and a sample of 272,599 pupils (kindergarten to fourth grade), evidence suggests that the decline is steady and persistent [affecting] teachers’ and pupils’ ability to think creatively, imaginatively and flexibly.”

While we can’t turn our entire education system around overnight, there are a few things you and your school-age children can do to enhance your creative capacity through engaging relaxed attention:

 

+ Walk away from the problem, literally. As the philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Maybe it’s the increased blood flow from exercising or the emotional distance gained by walking away from a problem, whatever it is, walking works.

Carry a notebook with you at all times, even by your bedside. You never know when good ideas will come. Having something nearby to jot them down ensures they won’t be forgotten along the way.

Turn your “snooze button” into a “muse button.” Use those few minutes of half-consciousness every morning to let your mind wander over problems you’ve been wrestling with during waking hours. With some practice, you’ll start discovering fresh insights before your first cup of coffee.

When have you experienced the benefits of daydreaming?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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drawing is worth a thousand words. That’s my version of the age-old adage. When it comes to expressing the functional and emotional merits of a new idea, I firmly believe you have to make it visual.

All children draw. Then, somewhere in the course of becoming logical adults, we unlearn this elemental skill. As Bob McKim, founder of Stanford’s product design program, and “lateral thinking” pioneer Edward de Bono have found, when you use drawing to express an idea instead of words or numbers, you engage a different part of the brain. To draw an idea accurately, certain decisions must be made that even the most precise language can overlook. The result of making that series of small decisions? You’re able to get to novel solutions more quickly.

Here’s an example of how drawing helped us refine a business strategy for a client: Many years ago, when online banking was still in its infancy, a start-up called Juniper Financial asked IDEO if we thought banks still needed buildings, vaults, and tellers. The team wanted to understand how people thought about money. But that’s harder than it sounds. You can observe customers paying bills or withdrawing cash, but it’s tough to scan their brains while they’re at it.

Instead, the team asked people to draw their money. One woman penned little Monopoly-style houses that represented her family, 401(k), and rental properties. The team dubbed her “The Pathfinder” since she was focused on long-term security.

Another woman drew a pile of money and a pile of things. “I get money and I buy stuff,” she told the team. She became “The Onlooker” who focused on day-to-day finances instead of long-term goals.

Talking about money can be emotionally difficult, but asking people to draw their relationship to money unlocked important insights that helped Juniper refine its target market and build a more effective service.

Visual thinking isn’t limited to illustrations, either. It can take many forms. Mind maps, two-by-two matrices, and other visual frameworks can help explore and describe ideas in valuable ways that require little more than a few straight lines and some imagination.

So, next time you reach an impasse, pull out a sketchpad or saddle up to a white board and quiet that inner voice that says you can’t draw. You may end up seeing your way through.

When has visualizing your idea instead of talking about it resulted in a better solution?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)