Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Social Design Thinking

“The natural evolution from design doing to design thinking reflects the growing recognition on the part of today’s business leaders that design has become too important to be left to designers.” (Tim Brown)

In the introduction to the book, Change by Design, Tim Brown talks about the critical difference between being a designer verses thinking like a designer. He describes a competent designer is able to redevelop and improve upon last year’s hot widgets, but an interdisciplinary team of skilled design thinkers is in the position to tackle and solve more complex problems. After four years of studying undergraduate ID, I finally realize the power of design that when design thinking is pulled out of the studio setting and unleashed into the real, problem-filled world, it has the power to impact and change people’s thinking of everyday life and also its problems. As a designer myself, I have the responsibility to think like a designer for my users, the community, and ultimately the betterment of the world; this thinking I start to have is what I believe to be the heart of Social Innovation.

Inside the design and art community, I find it easy to think and get caught up in the word “Design” as an activity of manipulating and making “things” and it is appreciated through celebrating just the creation of them. The “new color,” the “new feature,” and the “new technology” are what inspire people to buy and use products and they used to be the key inspirational words to what I thought designers should use to expand their creativity and become successful. Year after year, the more design work I’ve practiced, I realize my designed products are set in an incomplete picture without a person holding it, using it, or simply just with it. Also, if I can’t convince my product to be as “good design” with another user, it is meaningless, a failure, and sometimes even come to regret creating it from the first place. It takes a person, my user, and a growing number of supporters to evaluate a design success. In repetition of these exercises I came to concretely conclude that it is through thinking about a person and his or her social community that a designer must design in order to come up with something that at the end that will last its creation effort.

To the extreme, case studies of social product design, designing for the desperate needs in the third world countries, have pushed my perspective on what process is needed to design for a thirsty child, a family, a village, and even a country. The design process I was trained to think through in making an idea real -- the Inspiration, the Ideation, and the Implementation – requires not just the technical design skills, but the design thinking behind it that moves people, along with manufacturing resources, business plan, and supporting finances that maintain a permanent relationship to their lives, especially designing for the extreme situations.

Tim Brown shares of his friend David Kelley, a Stanford professor and the founder of IDEO, remarking that every time someone came up to ask him about design, he found himself inserting the word “thinking” to explain what it was that designer do. Though Tim Brown emphasizes the importance of design thinking in all areas of business and design efforts, I’d like to add an additional word in previous, “social” to complete the idea of social design thinking, a design thinking that will work for not just one designer or a user, but on a larger community scale. With that in mind, I was able to then redefine a personal definition of what a designer’s role, or at least the ideal, in our society --- to become a specialist in an individual’s human-center tasks through necessary methods and creations that ultimately offer the society the better way of dealing with its challenged daily activities.

I find this effort to social design thinking, also discussed as Social Innovation in the design community, is no longer a distinguishable concept when it comes to design. Social design thinking allows for more alert social awareness and compassion while becoming active citizen designers in our communities. Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton phrase that design thinking is the bridging of the “knowing-doing gap.” Our acquired industrial design tool, “getting out into the world to be inspired by people, using prototyping to learn with our hands, creating stories to share our ideas, joining forces with people from other disciplines” – are our acquired special powers , which allows us to bring our hopeful impact true onto the needy people’s lives.

Whether it’s the multidisciplinary areas of subject the design schools requires their industrial students to take, or just a coincidence most industrial designers are gifted with multitasking, this characteristic that most industrial designers possess is what I consider to be the greatest skill that gives me an advantage to seeing bigger pictures and quick thinking. This way, when a group of design thinkers are working together to solve a big social problem, the industrial designer is able to evaluate where each member should fit in make the wheel turn in order to move toward a design solution.

Roger Martin and Sally Osberg’s Social Entrepreneurship article provides the Pure Forms of Social Engagement chart (refer to Chart 1). It organizes the direct and indirect efforts of NGOs, Businesses, and Government as service providers, social entrepreneurs, and social activists into their selected part in promoting social engagement. Though they take on in different paths of actions and measurement of the outcomes, they each remain as separate small practices, until a team of designers join the chart with innovation strategies to break the square chart into one on-going engaging cycle (refer to Chart 2). The design solution that the designers of this chart may pursue can more possibly be intangible products, something far beyond the expected “covetable objects that fill the pages of today’s coffee-table publication” (Brown 7).

For this reason, industrial designers are starting to have interests in growing wide range of fields. “It is, moreover, no longer limited to the introduction of new physical products but includes new sorts of processes, services, interactions, entertainment forms, and ways of communication and collaborating” (Brown 7). After all, this is exactly the kinds of human-centered things we people do every day. Because our specialty is in problem solving, which is open to targeting almost any problem that we face, we find ourselves working with other professions who specialize in specific skills and knowledge such as in the architecture, graphic design, medicine, finance, and business. Companies like IDEO and Continuum represent the well balanced environments where passionate designers, engineers, and businessman come together in working toward a sharing goal. This team of design thinkers is what it takes to innovation a solution that will satisfy not just the 10% top minority of the user’s pyramid, but the vast 90% majority of the users who are the true needy to our design thinking work.

The design community I used to associate myself in is no longer confined in producing a show-and-tell innovation of product design, but open to giving to the world in many different ways. Designers are not the only design thinkers in the real world who can contribute to Social Innovation and I believe there are still many things designers and the rest of the professions can learn from each other to design solution together. “Although we tend to see people as either thinker or doer, analyzers or synthesizers, right-brain artists or left-brain engineer, we are whole people, and characteristics emerge when we are put in the right situation” (Brown 228) with the right understanding of social design thinking.

In the long run, the bigger picture I hope to see as a designer is to start helping an individual by individual and contribute to work toward a brilliant and convenient solution that the intended people can agree and appreciate. On the contrary, one design doesn’t fit for all, which is why design must be called into play constantly to cope for the different situations. If this sounds too much as a burden to the occupation of a designer, on the brighter side, the position of a designer also comes with a special privilege of connecting different areas of studies together to apply our skills to the business, society, and life.


Brown, Tim. Change by Design. New York: Harper Business, 2009.
Martin & Osberg. Social Entrepreneurship, the Case for Definition, Spring 2007.
Pilloton, Emily. “Design Can Change the World”. Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, (pp.10-47).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

my DESiGN for now

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep." -- Scott Adams

I realize I limit my creativity of fear to make mistakes. I think, imagine, brainstorm, and calculate the newly formed ideas in my head, before I decide to execute them through physical practice. I’m not a sculptor who can produce forms from simple explorations. I don’t connect with specific materials nor enjoy experimenting their limits not knowing where it would become applicable to my work. But through this semester, allowing myself to learn and evaluate the past to present design work, more so the design intentions, I found myself accumulated with different aspects to understand what designing really means, for me.

Creating timelines for evolution of music technology, lighting, and chairs, I familiarized myself with the histories of specific industrial design fields. They all seemed inarguable and fixed lessons, dealing with the values derived from the past. However from the week of Saving the World Soul by Soul talk with Dr. Bruce Beck, I started to see a new side of industrial design that I had missed before. The responsibilities and the power that came along as being an industrial designer were far limitless and serious. Our interests and efforts, as well as our skills, had the power to impact and change the world, bigger than I as a small individual could have intended to. The following week’s focus on Cradle to Cradle as well the discussions inspired by the A Better World by Design conference enhanced my perspective of design to higher potentials ever so more. The environment I used to find myself in interest for typical needs for convenience for American user groups seemed now as a luxury and secondary concern compared to the primary life-threatening needs of the surrounding world outside. I felt many designers including myself had knowingly and unknowingly kept themselves ignorant towards solving the real, small problems happening nearby.

Besides the consideration of green, nature friendly materials, I started to lose importance for investing on the outer shell of products. The outside pattern and form studies seemed overly unnecessary and wasteful as mere decoration purpose. However, I was struck again once more, through the final week’s discussion on Art & Design. Influenced by the class topic as through researching industrial designs derived from inspirational art, I realize a presence of a simple object, if designed with strong emotional connection and comfort, can too impact the user and satisfy their needs just as effectively. Exemplifying design groups such as FORM US WITH LOVE currently practices design work with considerations not just of beautiful aesthetics, but sharing their knowledge and inspirations from outside of the usual design themes. If ergonomics was the first, then the aesthetics the second component of design, incorporating other subjects such as nature or medicine that many users can easily relate with the design objects adds a third function of design.

I assume there will be even more opportunities and lessons that will shape and alter to my next meaning of design. But as far as I’ve come as of now, I am happy to be settled on a vague, but applicable definition of design, for industrial design.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Form Us With Love

The past few weeks class discussions and exercises of writing the corresponding blog entries delve me down deep into the realm of purpose and application of design in our world. I realized the responsibilities and the potential of especially industrial design is far greater than just “making stuff” to fill our overcrowding environment. Through this week’s class spent on discussion of Art & Design, I was reminded of yet another aspect of design. Although function does play a dominant part in designing, art and its principle are yet another unforgettable major component in design that also greatly impacts the users.

Art and design are separate worlds that endorse different values, however art in design mean a whole significant other. Unbound to the “form follows function” aesthetic principles, art in design allows forms and meanings to find inspiration from nature and others that we subconsciously recognize as pleasantly attractive and resolved.

FORM US WITH LOVE is a young design studio of three designers in Stockholm, Sweden with a mission of “innovative, sustainable design with the segments of product, environment and identity.” Designers Petrus Palmer, John Lofgren, and Jonas Petterson have a design philosophy of Innovation, Interaction, & Love. They share “FUWL religion” as being all about Innovation, journeying outside the box and not doing “what everybody else does”. Then they refer Interaction as their “holy book”, since it is interaction between man and artifact where they find inspiration for ideas and answers in solving problems. There are additional stepping stones of research and analysis for the design process, but they argue “process is always just the process.” Their third component, Love, a spark of passion is what completes the big picture of their design.

I find their nature-inspired furniture designs such as the Prosthes hanger and the Group of Trees, very elegant while equally functional, and also as they would like to think, “innovative”.

Through their research, FUWL learned prosthesis is an artificial extension that replaces a missing body part in medicine. With this new knowledge and inspiration, they were able to apply this to Prosthes Hanger, allowing the user to “prosthesis” with what they might have at their homes – a spare hockey stick, a broom, or even a spare branch. Away from just its creative and playful interactive appearance, we are able to learn there is more to the purposeful unique form they have settled with.

With another problem to design a new type of room divider, FUWL studied the old traditional designs for it. They realized the traditional box-like screens lacked the ability to stimulate creativity in public places. They knew their design would have to fulfill its function as well as introducing something poetic that can improve the user experience with the object. The Group of Trees are not only sound absorbing well-built barricades, but also “creates a sensation of a small group of trees in the middle of the woods”. Their presence in public spaces stirs up a peaceful and quiet mood to study, work, or relax. Its repeating patterns of assembled molded wings can lock into one another with altering directions and the material choice of polyester felt (PET) adds a third function to absorb sound.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nanotechnology in the Third World

This week’s Cradle to Cradle and A Better World by Design talk I thought was well transitioned from last week’s Dr. Beck Bruce’s Saving the World Soul by Soul presentation. I’m beginning to learn where industrial design’s purpose and need fall into place in our world as well as in my life.

While surfing the Afrigadget blog, I found Sheila Kennedy’s Portable Light Project especially intriguing which relates back to my lighting timeline few weeks back. She shares the incredible creation of a completely customizable solar powered portable light device. The Portable Light Project represents how the developing technology use around the world can be applied to not only the wealthy countries, but to even the most unthinkable, undeveloped places.

The Portable Light Project is a continuing non-profit research, design and engineering initiative by KVA MATx. They strive to create new ways to deliver de-centralized renewable power and light to the developing world. The Portable light is a cordless and versatile textile with flexible photovoltaic and solid state lighting that all cultures can easily adapt to. With help from ArtVenture, the Portable Light team enabled a project in Las Guayabas to weave energy harvesting bags with their traditional back strap loom, really integrating the new foreign technology into their familiar culture. Women who are usually the most vulnerable in these cultures to adapt to new technology, now by involving themselves in sewing together the solar panels into their traditional Huichol bag called a K+tsuri, can become more familiarized with its function. This access to simple lighting, families are able to complete their simple tasks at night, such as doing homework for a child while the mother finishes up sewing. Though there is investment in the material that utilizes lightweight nanotechnology, it eliminates the worries of sustaining and replacing power, since it is solar powered abundant and accessible from anywhere around the world.

"The Portable Light Project demonstrates how nano-technology can benefit not only the “third” world—where more than 2 billion people currently do not have access to electricity--but also the “first” world, where energy-efficient design is increasingly important."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

ID in the World - finding the right balance

I often find myself intrigued and fascinated at looking through images of the new “ID” creations of famous designers in magazines and websites. Their choice of materials, colors, carefully thought out forms, and “guess what, it can do this!” kind of exciting facts pleases my eyes. My ambitious and selfish ego tells me, ‘I want it’ or ‘I wish I could make something like that’. The new nifty iPhones, Frank Gehry’s wiggle chair, or even the bowling pin lamp inspire me to design my own valuable products. I feel purchasing and having those kinds of products will make me happy and more confident as a contemporary “designer”.
Then through the screen of the sleek Apple computer screen, I witness an image of a young boy in Sudan drinking water out of a dirty puddle remaining on the ground. Suddenly I realize there is a clash in my fantasy being an industrial designer and it brings me back to trace how industrial design originated. What is now known for more for its luxurious and fancy products, industrial design really started from experimenting new ways to provide for the needy and their often encountered problems.
The Industrial Revolution was caused by the need to increase manufacturing while eliminating labor-intensive work. With increase of population and the slowly advancing technology, it called for more efficient food production and resources. Astonishing inventions such as the steam engine revolutionized the power of technology and designers began to see a potential for replacing other labor-intensive work with a touch of a button. Yes, it allowed convenience and operating machines to be valued for their easy and successful result to produce mass productions; however, I feel the convenience we seek from industrial designers today is far more unnecessary luxury compared to the convenience provided then that existed for the sake of fulfilling our basic needs.
Dr. Bruce Beck’s lecture covered the refugee’s fundamental needs for survival – water, sanitation, food & cooking, and shelter. It is essentially what Europe and America had gone through previously causing the Industrial Revolution. The western and the more developed countries managed to come this far, while the less unfortunate countries still remain in the same condition with same tragic problems. While we seek inspiration from computer graphics and multi touch screens, the rest of the world is seeking to find clean water for their family and themselves. The gap between the two worlds has widened and will continue to increase as long as the “industrial designers” continue to only invest and value the advancing technology of their familiar world and ignore the other half (now homeless refugees) and their unfulfilled needs.
The cause of their suffering is something that can easily happen to anyone of us; through natural disasters, financial crisis, wars, we too can become helpless wanderers lacking the most basic necessities to live. As designers, having learned and witnessed their hardships, I consider it is our duty to participate at least a small portion to reach out to them with our granted knowledge and talents. Focusing their profiles as our user groups and creating more “stuff” to save a life, I believe, will allow other forms of assistant – doctors, volunteers, educators…etc – to involve themselves more actively in Saving the World Soul by Soul.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Unisex Fashion & Changing Gender Roles

We learn to create and present aesthetically resolved design, but the role of the function is the underlying evaluation for the users to judge it as a good or a bad design. Industrial designer is not a doctor, a consultant, a mom, an engineer, or a problem solver, but all of their qualities in one. Although we didn’t go to medical school for ten years or have the experience of raising a child, we have to learn to know as much as we can about what they know when facing the problems they face. We constantly exchange problems and solutions with the world. And sometimes with a solution we offer them, the users are able to connect its functional qualities on their own to use it as a solution to another problem they face. This might also lead to yet another problem for us to solve. So, the role of a designer is to simply offer a design with a new solution eliminating as much alternative problems, however, the users ultimately determine their behavior with the design and rate its value by society.

Traditional gender roles have confined designers to freely recognize and solve problems. The male-dominant society was ignorant towards the quiet unheard voices of women’s needs. Thus its consequences led many women to medical diagnosis of female hysteria during the Victorian era. However, the perception of gender roles is changing and we are able to refer to a male-dominant society more and more as being traditional. The masculine gender role is becoming more malleable. New terms such as “sensitive new age guy” and metro sexual refers to men in today’s society as someone with traditional “female” emotions and grooming habits. According to sociology research, women’s gender roles have become less relevant to the traditional values since the start of industrialization. Although many Western cultures still assume women’s role is to stay home and maintain the “motherly figure”, the media also portrays a successful woman as being someone who follows a career and has independence.

The changing female role allowed women to start taking on many roles of what used to be reserved only for men. For example, men’s fashions have become more restrictive since the past eras, while women’s fashions have broadened. Lee Wright shares that high heels were once established fashion for elite men in 1700’s. However, as we know, by the 1950’s high heel has become a symbol of high fashion for women that "emphasizes the female form”. Women’s fashion now accepts and acquires various looks whether girly in flowery dress, tomboy in cargo pants, or dressed up in button-down shirt. While women are overtaking men’s fashion, men are pressured to look masculine to the extreme to distinguish themselves from women. Men, who still choose to dress in the now feminized male fashion, are no longer looked as a masculine, but considered androgyny or even homosexual.

American Apparel is a fashion representation of the changing gender roles in today’s society. Different from having separate men and women’s sections in normal apparel stores, all of their clothing and accessories are unisex. The fine line between men and women as well as their sexuality is tapering and our society is turning gender-blind. This greatly affects designers to define user groups for both male and female. It also adds a new role as designers to decide whether to follow the ways of the changing society or to introduce and redirect them to accepting new values.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

appreciation of music and technology

The long walk to class in the morning is something I don’t mind when accompanied with my iPod. With music, I am able to carry on my mood from my room until the moment I get to class. When traveling long distance, I know the little device in my hand contains all the comfort that I need for the fatiguing flights. In just a touch of a button, I am able to return to my room, my memories of friends, and turn my long, wasteful waiting hours into pleasant, entertaining experience until getting to my destination. Its small presence with an enormous yet convenient power is what makes it a valuable possession I can’t afford to be around without.

Music is not a dimensional object that can be preserved in a safe glass box or in volumes as poetry can be in written forms. Its major components of moving rhythms, transitioning dynamics, and addictive melodies require an animated audio player to bring it alive. Depending on the different tempos and volume of the audio, it can turn the quality of the song from a happy to sad, upbeat to mellow, or even pleasant to unpleasant sound. With the failure to process and project all of the interconnected elements, the essence of music is lost.

Emile Berliner’s invention of the first record and its player in 1887 introduced a new aspect in the appreciation of music. Everyone was able to individually own his or her favorite musicians and their music. Time consuming effort to get to live performances held in public place could be spared, and now be held directly in the individuals’ private homes. Music could now be played an infinite number of times for any reason of occasion. Physical and social efforts became unnecessary and listening to music could now be turned into effortless personal hobbies.

As music recording technology evolved, physical space reserved for the audio system began to minimize for convenience. Philips in Europe initiated the first upgrade from the big bulky record into a new product called compact cassette, which took the form of a small plastic box. Inside the compact cassette were rolls of strips that held within its small dimensions an eventful amount of music. However, the easily tangled and damageable strips soon called for the next step of development. Not twenty years later, the first CD (compact discs) was released in America. Although it required a more cautious care to avoid getting scratches, it had an incomparably greater capacity to hold more data and efficiency since it was able to last longer. Although the aesthetics and materials in the physical look of music recordings changed, the value of their existence was not altered by them.

With emphasis on consuming goods, CD’s became one of many other observably popular consumers’ products. With the new system of Napster, an online music downloading program, people began to freely share their music on the internet, an intangible cyberspace. For this reason, they naturally began to devalue purchasing and having ownership of tangible CD’s. It eliminated worries of having physical storage space for collecting music as a whole, since they could now be stored as mp3 files inside the computer hardware. Having such an easy access to all genres of music, more people used Napster instead of buying CD’s, which initiated marketing decline for the music industry. The program had to be shut down for encouraging the users to free download and distribute burned copies of CD’s, crossing the line of legality.

Now learning the possibility of the technology to intangibly transfer music to home computers and into portable mp3 players, Apple soon launched iTunes and iPods in 2003 filling the holes of the unsettled problems Napster previously had. This system allowed consumers to buy music as normally buying CD’s, but digitally by individual songs instead of whole albums. Acquiring 24 hour access from anywhere with internet connections, songs were transferred over to the consumer’s computer with few clicks on the screen. Such simple process attracted not just the young targets, but also the older generation to become regular users. Music in the cultural aspect became more respectable among more diverse groups. Over the years, Apple brought a change by offering more variety of iPods that invited the lower class to take interest also. No matter the where the consumer fell in the social class, anyone was now able to afford for iPods since it comes in wide ranging prices with different features. Personalization and color options also added contentment over having ownership of the equipment and no one felt left out of the latest music trend.

Although technology brought change to the value of music this far and made common for people to take its regular availability for granted, we have not yet totally lost the intimate connection of appreciating live music performances. Technology makes it possible for us to still revisit live concerts of Elvis, Beatles, and other musicians of the past, but despite how good the quality of the recordings are, it cannot replace the experience of their music as having been physically at their concerts back in time. The “human recorder” is far more superior with the ability to capture the neglectful details such as the soft yet tonic harmonies and spontaneous commentaries. Based on the experience, their music and they remain as inspiration or are forgotten. However, on the better side of the history, music can now travel digitally. It has become a universal piece of property for all age groups throughout the world and brought them together for their sharing interests.

The simple circle within a rectangle shape has become such a powerful icon that people all over the world are able to recognize it. Everyone knows when they see a button shaped like a wheel, they are not to push down, but simply touch and move clockwise in a circle to go down the menu. While staying abroad, I know I don’t have to worry about getting music updates from home. Although, not entirely the same as being back, I am able to keep myself up and not miss out on my own music, thanks to iTunes.