Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beyond Consumer Centered Design

This video is based on a paper that I'm working on for the AAA conference in November. In it I encourage designers to think beyond the needs of consumers claiming that doing so will yield more interesting and innovative products, services, and systems. Let me know what you think.

PS. Thanks to Hilary Austen for helping me find the courage to embrace complexity in an artful way. Pick up her new book from U of Toronto press Artistry Unleashed (review coming soon)


FELLA: Hey, don't you know that Human Centered Design is all the rage? Every body's doing it.

LADY: That sounds interesting. What is Human Centered Design, exactly?

FELLA: It's a design process that borrows methods from anthropology so that designers can empathize with consumers.

LADY: So, in the end, designers give consumers more of what they really want?

FELLA: O yeh. Isn't it great?

LADY: Well, I'm not so sure. I thought that I read some where that hyper consumerism is kind of a problem. The article said that a lot of the stuff we buy in the west causes environmental, social, and economic problems in other parts of the world.

FELLA: O gee. I guess so. But what can we designers do about that.  Isn't consumerism a force that's beyond our control?

LADY: Well, let's think about this for a minute. What if, 0and this is just a thought experiment, what if we designers could extend our empathy beyond consumers. Could we extend our empathy to all people along the value chain of a product?

FELLA: Gosh.  That's sounds daunting. But I'll run with it for now. So, who would we be looking at?

LADY: Let's start at the beginning. I guess we'd look at the people mining the natural resources that make our products.

FELLA: Sure. Then we'd look at the people who work in the factories that manufacture products. And the people who live near those factories 0(ever see Erin Bronkovich?)

LADY: Right. Then there are the people that drive our products around in trucks and there are people that sell the products to us.

FELLA: This is getting overwhelming.

LADY: I know. But I think we agree it's important. So let's stick it out. No one said it would be easy.

FELLA: Right on, right on. So, here we are looking at the consumer. From the point-of-sale, through the use of the product, and the eventual disposal of the product.

LADY: Right. I heard somewhere that 90 percent of the products we buy in the west are disposed of within six months of purchase.

FELLA: I heard that too. It seems like Human Centered Design could address this problem. so let's keep plugging away.0 Who do we look at next, once the product is disposed of? Is that the end?

LADY: Well, no. A lot of the products that we "throw away" are actually shipped off to other countries so that people can take them apart and extract metal for resale.

FELLA: That sounds like recycling which is a good thing, right?

LADY: Sigh. Yeh, but there are a lot of toxins in these products. So the people that are taking them apart are exposing themselves and their families to really bad toxins.

FELLA: Um. I'm starting to hate design. Maybe I should just do what my parents wanted me to do and go to med school.

LADY: Ha. I guess you could but if design is the problem, then perhaps design can be the solution too. We have to begin by asking the right questions.

FELLA: You are right. And then we redefine some terms. Like Human Centered Design. Focusing on consumers only seems too easy.

LADY: Too easy indeed. From now on, we designers need to empathize with people all along the value chain of a product, service, or system. It might take ten years or so to get this right, but I'm up for the challenge. You in?

FELLA: Totally. Let's keep the conversation going. Be sure to post a comment below or send a tweet to our pal @xanthm on twitter. She's really good about sharing your feedback. Peace.

LADY: Peace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

BarCamp Roc - Design as a Breathing Cycle

I'm excited to run a workshop over at BarCamp Rochester this afternoon. I don't plan on taping the talk so am putting my notes here so that the contents of the talk can be shared. Let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy. 

Design As A Breathing Cycle* - Discussion and Workshop at BarCamp Rochester / October 2010

1. We are all designers

Programmers, Artists, Engineers, Managers, Entrepreneurs-- We all make things for other people to engage with.

2. Design is a way of being in the world.

(It is not an object)

3. Our goal, our duty, is to be open to new ideas all of the time.

If we increase the volume of good ideas, then we increase the chances of finding a remarkable one.

4. HTF do we do that?

It’s simple. But like anything else that we want to be good at,  it takes practice.

5. Design As A Breathing Cycle

INHALE - all of the ideas that we can possibly imagine.
Encourage Wild Ideas
Suspend Judgment
Build on the Ideas of Others
Write Every Idea Down

THE EXHALE - filtering
Categorize the Ideas
If an idea fits under more than one category, put it in more than one category
If an idea doesn’t seem to fit, put it in a “special” category
Connect ideas


6. Summary: We are all designers. We need to be open to new ideas all of the time. Practice makes perfect.

*Like most great ideas, this one would not exist without the principle of "Building on the ideas of others ." Thanks, Bruce Corson.

photo: Community Msg Board from a historic 19th C. tavern in Rochester, NY

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sign up for Design-thinking at RIT

Design-thinking & Concept Development is a new Gen Ed course offered by Saunders College of Business at RIT but open to all students, from all disciplines, with junior standing. In the class we learn and practice creative methods for new product and service development by exploring two main lines:

1. EXERCISES - tons of them - that help you reach beyond your habitual thinking patterns and

2.  HUMAN CENTERED DESIGN - it's an approach that's more like social science and less like the techno vodoo that you (already) do so well.

So sign up and increase your creative vocabulary and skill set ten fold. Course number 0102-421-01.

QUESTIONS? Contact Prof. Matychak at

(hot dog toaster not included)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tools for developing new products, services, and systems

This year I've been thinking a lot on how to use sustainability frameworks to inspire ideas for new products, services, and systems. Here is a link to my ever-evolving google doc that explains the process and includes an exercise (this one geared toward business management students). If you'd like to try it out, then be my guest but please give me some feedback on how it went. Or better yet, invite me to your class or event and I'll facilitate the exercise with you. Peace <3

Saturday, October 2, 2010

World Maker Faire 2010

Last weekend, Andrea, Michelle, and I took our interactive exhibit, RIVER MEMOIR, down to World Maker Faire in NYC. As you can see from the picture above, folks were really engaged with the exhibit and we had fun sharing it with the wide range of people that passed through the fair.

Unfortunately, as exhibitors we didn't have much time to check out the rest of the fair. There were some great speakers, performances, and exhibits all over the site.

The most exciting part about being there for me was being in Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the 1964 Worlds Fair. The 1964 fair was all about the future of big industry. Growing up on Long Island, I saw the site as a beautiful yet tragic monument to a faded vision of that future. So, being a participant in this enormous celebration of DIY culture, in that location, is especially meaningful for me.

Thank you to the organizers of the fair. I think you did a fantastic job considering this was the first time working at this venue.

Above is a detail of the "river" we made at the fair. We collected little stories from people at the fair and then cast them on to a river (a piece of knit wear) using a knitting machine and a computer. The process was amazing and the final product, as you can see, is pretty.