Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fibers, Modernists, and Makers, o my


As you know, I'm interested in ideas and projects that challenge the status quo. This September has been full of stuff like that and so I'm super happy. I'm going to write a brief overview of some of the projects that I've been privileged to be a part of this month and hopefully, when I get another chance to write, I'll dig a little deeper into some of these. Do let me know what you'd like to hear more about.

FIRST, THERE WAS FIBERS NIGHT. There's a new textiles studio in the RIT Innovation Center that my colleague Andrea Handy built along with some faculty from CIAS. It's fantastic. There are sewing machines and knitting machines and a slew of tools that I plan on learning how to use over the course of the year. Ever since craftavist Carla Sinclair came to visit RIT a few years ago, I've been obsessed with the urban craft movement. It's all about getting back to knowing how things are made which, in this day and age, is a radical concept.

The next fibers night is on Oct 22. If you want to know more about it, then find the Fibers Night event in the RIT Wearables group on facebook. Wearables, for those who don't know the term, is a genre of fashion that incorporates technology. If you've seen clothes that light up or move or make noise, then you've seen wearables. Diana Eng is probably one of the more well-known designers working in this field. (And she'll be at Maker Faire this weekend - see below).

VIGNELLI CENTER OPENING. As a graduate student, I was privileged to study with RIT's renowned design historian, R. Roger Remington. He taught me all about modernism and the grid and even though I rebelled a bit at the time (c'mon, are you surprised??), I've come to deeply appreciate the modernist foundation I learned while studying with Roger. I equate this modernist education to learning the classics while an undergrad in music school. Did I love practicing Mozart five hours a day? Of course not. But learning those pieces helped me build a framework for the the entire range of music I would take on later in my career. The Vignellis are my Mozart. Roger's relationship with them enhanced my education and is now enhancing RIT as their entire body of work has found a new home in the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at RIT.

The well known blog, Design Observer, ran a series of pieces on the Vignellis last week that are outstanding. And this quote is among the best:
If — as Mark Twain once wrote — the Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo, then who made the rest of the world?

Lella and Massimo Vignelli may not have made it, but they sure as hell designed a lot of it.
If you aren't yet familiar with their work, head on over to the new center on RIT campus. I'm sure you will recognize quite a bit of their graphic and product design.

FRESHMEN. Speaking of education, we're doing something new this year. In Saunders College of Business, where I work, we have this incredible freshmen sequence called "Biz 1-2-3" in which our freshmen learn business fundamentals while discovering, developing, and delivering their own new product or service. If that weren't fantastic enough, this year we're teaming some of them up with some of the freshmen in the design program. Below is a picture from their second meeting. They are working with maps of the campus that the design students made in order to find good problems for solving. Ask any successful designer or entrepreneur, great products and services come from identifying juicy problems.

SUSTAINABILITY = CREATIVITY. As you may know, I teach a class called "Design-thinking and Concept Development" out of Saunders College of Business. Design-thinking is really just creative thinking in disguise. There's a fun yet deceivingly rigorous methodology for teaching creativity that's focused on helping students break out of their habitual patterns of thought.

Even though the course is listed under management in the course catalog, it's a course offered to all RIT students with junior standing or higher. This is the third quarter that I'm teaching the course and we've got a nice mix of students from business, engineering, and design.

In today's class,  I introduced the students to a sustainability framework called "Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)." LCA helps us dig into how our design decisions affect people, planet, and profit all along the value chain of a product. Neat stuff. And LCA lends itself really nicely to the teaching of creativity as it embodies multiple perspectives. I'll be talking more in depth on how LCA increases creativity at the AAA conference in November.

AAA is an anthropology conference. What does design have to do with anthropology, you ask? We'll, that's another story. But in short, anthropology is about human-tool relationships and so is design.

THE FUTURE OF (FILL IN THE BLANK). I keep getting invited to meetings that are about the future of this and that. One recent meeting was about the future of journalism. Another on the future of design. Every time I get an email invite to one of these things, I feel blessed - - like I must be doing something right for people to be thinking of me in this way. (I know, enjoying work emails sounds nuts. Believe me, I don't enjoy all of them!)

WORLD MAKER FAIRE. And finally, to finish off the month with a cherry on top, my colleagues and I are taking our wearables exhibit down to the World Maker Faire at the NY Hall of Science. This is the same location that the 1964 Worlds Faire was held. Except this time, instead of industry making the exhibits, the exhibits will be made by hackers and crafters. The speaker line-up is fantastic, including a talk from Chris Anderson on 3D Printing, one of my fave topics.

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