Monday, March 17, 2014

the narrow spaces of capitalism's private spaces

Molly Osberg’s recent essay, Inside the Barista Class, struck a cord as I left the service world not too long ago (though it feels forever ago.) Though written about New York, the piece is quite applicable to San Francisco as well, but it was a simple sentence that I almost missed toward the end that really captivated me. “While the framing of the third place may have been useful for Starbucks’ promotional materials, Oldenburg’s theory really didn’t account for the realities of capitalism: that private business creates narrow spaces.”

Narrow spaces. 

As a lover of design who is fascinated by ways to create community, Ray Oldenburg’s idea of ‘third places’ has stuck with my since freshman year of college. In a city like San Francisco, there are many places to socialize but few qualify as true third places according to Oldenburg’s definition because few are ‘levelers,’ open places without status barriers. Instead, the majority are narrow spaces. In a city with real estate as expensive as San Francisco, how can we move from narrow space to true third spaces?

Monday, March 3, 2014

giving inspiration a little room to grow

It can be damned near impossible to find the time to be innovative, even as a designer. Anything outside of a particular assignment falls to the wayside and not leaving enough process time for certain project means a result that falls flat. Given the difficulty for me to find time to think creatively or explore a new idea, it's easy to imagine the struggle that others whose 'full time job' isn't innovating have.

Google has long been credited for sparking innovation with their policy of giving employees a percentage of their workday to spend on any project they'd like. A recent Inc. article outlined why other businesses should do the same, "By letting your team do whatever they want, you’ll attract the best people with the best ideas. At the same time, the insights your employees gain through their creative projects will enhance their work on your organization’s core offerings."

Reading this story, I was reminded of a tweet I saw a while ago and favorited it to look into later:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

functional is design. beauty may not be.

Over the weekend I spotted an article in The New York Times being grumpily passed around Twitter. Reading quotes like the following made me grumpy, too:

When Peek, a start-up for booking travel activities, designed its first iPhone app, its co-founder and chief executive, Ruzwana Bashir, said she prioritized design over other factors. The app shows large photos instead of a list of activities, for instance, even though it meant Peek could not fit as many activities on each screen.

Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because it looks better is not design. Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because showing large photos makes it easier for users to navigate the app is design.

Unfortunately, this article was another story making a false distinction between how something works and how something looks. It refers to the former as 'function' and the later as 'design,' but really the design is how the two interact.

This is not to say all the examples in the article failed to be design. After all, in other cases the aesthetic improvements also increased usability. Despite the constant confusing of aesthetics as design, the concluding sentence gives hope: "first and foremost I look for empathy, because design is not art, it’s actually solving real problems for people."

Design can be functional. Design can be aesthetics. But design can never ever be aesthetics over function.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Three steps to GoldieBlox's Success

GoldieBlox, a construction toy aimed at young girls that teaches the basic principles of engineering, has been in the news lately due to their Super Bowl ad sponsored by Intuit’s Small Business Big Game contest. I had the privilege of working for GoldieBlox almost two years ago. (In fact, the first post I wrote about it is here.) I’ve been delighted to watch its success, including Fast Company’s recent nod as one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2014. The award is well deserved, but founder Debbie Sterling’s innovative approach to creating GoldieBlox is a lot deeper than one amazing idea. Not surprising given Debbie’s degree from Stanford in Product Design, her process for creating GoldieBlox was intentionally designed. Debbie is the type of client every designer is lucky to work for because she understood the work that is required to make innovation happen.

Step One: Research
Before Debbie created the toy that now is GoldieBlox, she started by understanding her audience. Debbie read research and spoke with child development psychologists to understand the way that young girls want to play. She realized that many young girls enjoy story based play and start reading at an early age. It was from these initial conversations that she came up with the building set and story combination.

Step Two: Bring others into the process
Debbie reached out to broad swaths of people. She rejected the celebrated trope of a lone creator, understanding that innovation is made better by having ideas get beaten up and improved. I was always impressed by how willing she was to talk to anyone interested about her idea and through that she was able to build a strong team.

Step Three: Test and revise
Even after initial user research proved that young girls were responding positively to GoldieBlox, Debbie continued to ask the design team to identify ways to revise the toy to enhance the learning experience. She was not satisfied by merely proving her initial concept but pushed to make the best possible toy before launching the Kickstarter campaign, and has continued to improve the toys and expand the line. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

read more: sustainable web design

"How can the web have a sustainability problem when 'paperless' and 'eco-friendly' frequently share the same sentence? After all, designers in many disciplines are trying to fix their own sustainability problems by moving them online – in other words, things are made 'green' when they go on the web...While some products become more sustainable by converting them to a swarm of bits, we must remember that those bits require something very physical to exist – a big, high-tech network, using lots of electricity and always-on computers to operate."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

starting over

This week a professor assigned a writing exercise: one to two sentences that "distill your career and life experience and create a succinct statement about yourself as an innovator." It seemed like an overwhelming requires, but soon after I started brainstorming, my sentences became clear.

Striving to create change is only half the equation. If purposeful change is the desired outcome, it must be intentionally designed.

I am a designer. I am an activist. I strive to create stronger communities, safer communities, more beautiful communities. Solely ending existing injustices will not create this change, I must envision, articulate and build it. Something to remember during these late nights of work. We all must design it, together. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

read more: the duty of design

"It is enough for good design to be things we cherish because they are beautiful, well made, or a pleasure to use, but it seems to me that our daily lives are dominated by barely competent and sometimes downright sinister works of industrial design, and I do not understand why designers don’t spend more time chasing down these opportunities.

The whole infrastructure of security and surveillance that dominates our experience of the city today (to take just one example) has gone untouched by the field of product design in any meaningful way. These are works of design that take justice and trust as their topic, and they make it pretty clear how those in power think of us as citizens."
Kieran Long, On the Civic Duty of Product Design for Dezeen