Please welcome new faculty member Suzi Sosa!

Austin Center for Design is proud to welcome Suzi Sosa to our faculty. Suzi, a veteran of the thriving social entrepreneurship scene in Austin, is the Founder and President of the MPOWER Foundation, a non-profit operating foundation dedicated to the empowerment of the underserved. Suzi is passionate about social entrepreneurship and social capitalism and seeks opportunities to harness the speed, scale, and creativity of the private sector with the compassion, transparency, and stakeholder models of the non-profit world. Her background in is international development economics, and she has a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. She co-teaches Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas and is a Judge for the Dell Social Innovation Competition. She is a founder of RISE.

We’re thrilled to have Suzi joining our existing faculty. Welcome, Suzi!

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain part 2

This is the second exercise I performed from the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Book.  I was excited to hear today that Saranyan bought the book on his Kindle and is joining in the fun.

The exercise for today took only about fifteen minutes and you could do yourself quite easily, as the book authors have posted it as an example on their website.

The basic premise of the exercise is that they force you into a verbal ‘L-mode’ of thinking by having you draw one half of the vase/face and then retrace it specifically calling out the names of the forehead, nose, chin, etc, as you trace them.  Then you immediately try to draw the other side and it’s surprisingly difficult.  To finish the drawing you have to pointedly switch your mind to the spatial ‘R-mode’ and think about the lines apart from the symbolic concepts of noes or eyes.  It took me a couple of mental tries to get back there, as you can see from the faint, erased lines.

Anyway, the exercise is short, and it provides an interesting perspective into some of the workings of your mind.  Give it a go if you have a chance!

Expanding on our Universal Design discussion

In our last theory class with Kolko, we discussed and debated and tried to wrap our heads around: consumption, universal design, and usability. Big stuff.

I want to offer some additional notes about universal design. We read a very brief article by Patricia Moore, one of the leading thinkers in universal design: an approach that advocates designing products and environments to be usable by the greatest range of people possible.

This contradicts a well-known design maxim that “you can’t solve the problem for everyone,” and that it can even become counterproductive in terms of time, cost, and efficacy of the product itself.

It’s natural and understandable for designers who have experience in today’s industry to begin thinking of the constraints that designing universally would put on a project, and you get into circle-talks about not being able to design for everyone and the impracticality of the idea. The danger is if the approach of universal design—and its inherent respect for the people who we are designing for—get thrown out (baby with bathwater).

With all the big ideas we’re discussing, there is a spectrum of action: it is one thing to talk about them on a theory level, it is another to believe them and incorporate them into our personal philosophies, it is another to practice them in our day-to-day jobs, and it is another to try to change the system to accommodate for fundamentals from the get-go.

I came into class last night already believing that universal design is a given and should be included in the design process. But that’s because I’ve already thought about this a lot the past few years. I participated in AIR-Austin (Accessibility Internet Rally) twice learning about and designing websites for non-profits that were accessible for the blind and visually-impaired…and anyone else who uses adaptive technology…and anyone who was on a low-bandwith connection who wants the option of skipping flashier design components.

I also had the good fortune to take an education course called “Individual Differences” with Dr. Jim Patton during my semester at the University of Texas’s College of Education. A handful of years ago, this class probably would have been called “Special Education” which leads me to…

Notes on language

It is more appropriate and more respectful to refer to someone as a “person with a [disability]” instead of “[disabled] person.” They probably don’t let their disability define them, and we shouldn’t either. And when considering most things, before automatically assuming anything as a deficit, consider: what is normal? FYI, we cover how to differentiate instruction for students with “gifts and talents” as much as we cover how to adapt for students on the Autism spectrum or who have some hearing loss or those students who identify with the Deaf culture. (If you spent part or all of your K-12 education bored, more attention to individual differences or “universal design” may have helped.)

Bonnie Consolo is a mother with a great sense of humor, who lives without arms; she is not an “armless woman.”

Additionally, thinking about something like ADA building code laws, consider the difference between:

  • A person in a wheelchair is handicapped.
  • The person’s environment is what handicaps a person in a wheelchair.

(Are you disabled because you’re a biker, or does your environment handicap you based on your choice of transportation?)

Observation Opportunity

As part of the Individual Differences class, we had to take a tour of the Assistive & Instructional Technology Lab on campus in Austin. Although not all of us can go undercover as a person of advanced age like Patricia Moore did for years to gain the insight and empathy to champion universal design, we can do much to observe and learn about current technologies and opportunities in the area. The AT Lab is set up with rooms meant to evoke a home, a workplace, a classroom, and an early-childhood setting. One of the first things they have you do is tie a rubberband around your fingers to test out the silverware.

One thing that struck me was how much of the technology was not what we would consider “high-tech,” and I think that’s an instructive way to redefine and think about innovating. It doesn’t have to be a computer-powered gadget. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a wider grip or a magnifying glass.

I would guess you could call them and arrange a tour even if you aren’t a UT student. If you can’t make it, their webpage has photos of and descriptions of many of the technologies they feature at the lab.

Doing it is hard

Designing with the universal design approach is hard. I have to admit I don’t have any experience getting a product to ship, so I don’t know of all the hurdles in the way. (Maybe that’s a good thing for now. I can bump up against them when I get there and not design with them in mind as blocks.) The same is true of designing sustainably and for usability and for social impact.

We’re spending a few more weeks synthesizing positions and opinions to begin to form (or reform) our philosophy about design and our role as designers. First we have to talk the talk. Then throughout the next years, we have to prove that we can also walk the walk.

I.W.A. : Interaction with Attitude

Alessi Starck Juicer

While discussing Kees Overbeeke in class tonight, Jon asked me if every interaction needs to be exhilarating. At first I thought no… then yes… then maybe. Upon returning home, I saw my Alessi Starck Citrus Squeezer brooding in the corner of my kitchen. Waiting… Glimmering… Beckoning me to juice something…  Knowing I’ll be back…

It’s mere presence on the counter has generated countless conversations ranging from a “Mars Attacks!” homage to a self defense device. The simple act of extracting juice from citrus transformed from a chore into an experience. A “common household product” could be captivating, moody, smart and seductive, yet remain useful.

Sure, the luster has worn off over time but the ability of design to eliminate the mundane and possibly encourage trial is intriguing.

Learning to Draw, a Student’s Perspective

Alex’s post was perfectly timed, since today was the start of a series of drawing exercises I’m working through from Betty Edward’s well-known Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  I heard about the methodology from reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  He took the 5 day course in person (I’m settling for just working through the book), and showed his before and after drawings, which were stunningly different, so I thought it would be worth giving it a go.

The course is built around the understanding that we actually have some amazingly powerful visual perceptual abilities, but that our logical, symbolic modes of thought that dominate our everyday existence suppress those abilities.  This means that when we look at a chair, we quickly discard the visual information and condense it into the symbol/word of ‘chair’.  This is often a very useful skill, but it would be even better if we could switch to other modes of thought at will.  So the course takes you through a series of exercises to teach you how to quieten the symbolic modes of thought.  One fascinating insight that drives the design of a few of these exercises is that the symbolic/language mode (often reductively referred to as Left-Brianed or L-mode) of thinking will concede dominance if it finds the task to be excessively confusing, slow or boring.  I’ll get into some of those exercises during later posts.

For the start of the course, the book asks you to make some reference drawings so that you can see how you change over the course.  In the AC4D spirit of learning publicly, I’ve posted my drawings after the jump.

Continue reading Learning to Draw, a Student’s Perspective

Learning to draw. Lesson 1.0

Over the last few days, several people in the class have expressed interest in learning how to draw.  While I don’t really consider myself to be particularly good at drawing, it is something that I do often (for work and fun) and it’s also something I genuinely enjoy.   So with that in mind I thought it would be good to write a post or two about some tips, tricks, and thoughts I’ve found useful on the subject of doodlin’.

  • Go out and get a sketchbook.  Flip to the middle somewhere, and rip out a page.  Now go back to the first page and start drawing.

I used to go out and buy sketchbooks with the intention of filling them with the sweetest drawings ever… only to get home, open it up, and be afraid to draw on the first page for fear of messing up and ruining the sketchbook.  I didn’t want the first page to suck!  By tearing out a page the sketchbook was no longer perfect so my drawings didn’t have to be perfect either.

  • Try to figure out what kind of things you enjoy drawing, and then draw a lot of them.  If you don’t know where to begin, try this:
  1. Draw something that is in front of you.
  2. Draw something you remember seeing.
  3. Draw something from your imagination.

Often times people forget to draw things they like.  Trust me; it’s a good place to start.  And remember this can be anything… shapes, objects, monsters, robots, people, stick figures, patterns… whatever you like.  Just get in the habit of drawing often.   This will also help you find areas which you want to improve.

  • Hands are the hardest thing to draw, period.  This is not up for debate.

You look at them all day long, they’re generally right in front of you, and you know exactly what they look like.  If you ever figure out how to draw them, please let me know.

Learning to draw is sort of like learning to see from a different point of view.  This book has a lot of fun exercises that can help readjust the lens through which you see.  Specifically it focuses on these 7 principles:

  1. Curiosita: An insatiably curious approach to life.
  2. Dimonstratzione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience.
  3. Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to clarify experience.
  4. Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.
  5. Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination (“whole-brain thinking”).
  6. Corporalita: The cultivation of ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  7. Connessione: A recognition and appreciation for the connectedness of all things and phenomena; “systems thinking.”

I believe all of these things are important in relation to drawing, but of course they are also important in design thinking and design doing!  Now, go forth and doodle.

Interesting work from IDEO

“Poor people can’t afford cheap things.”

When companies design products and services for the poor, they often think about making them as low-cost as possible. But whether you’re tapping a market opportunity or addressing a social need, it’s important to realize that people living in poverty value quality design. Quality design doesn’t mean that goods and services need to cost more. Quality experiences meet people where they are, acknowledging such important factors as status, aspiration, and dignity.

Designing for the poor is more important now than ever before. It is the future of business growth, as multinationals and local companies are increasingly developing products and experiences that serve not only the upper classes but also the “bottom of the pyramid” — the 4 billion people worldwide living on less than $2 per day.

How can companies serve the legitimate needs of the poor not just for price but also for status, aspiration, and dignity?

Web | PDF

Art of Observing?

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes” – Marcel Proust

I was reading “The Anthropologist” chapter from “The 10 faces of Innovation” and the above quote, which was at the beginning of the chapter essentially summarized it. I think the key to understanding human behavior, which is an essential attribute of design research is observing. What does it really mean?
I think usually, we see things. Observing is different. It is seeing things, the Avatar style (or maybe Psych style). Observing will lead to empathizing. When we empathize, we won’t design for them, but we design for us. Learning to observe takes practice. Observing is usually straight forward but removing the mind blocks and conditioning we have taught ourselves is usually the hardest part. Observing needs curiosity, wonder, objectivity and most importantly patience.
Saying that “I observed” is akin to saying “I truly understand”.

Design Research Topic

First design research class with Serota was tonight. Yay! “Research” may not sound fun on the surface, but I love design research because it’s so much about being observant and getting to know people and trying to understand and empathize with why they do the things they do. It’s also cool that I can dust off and re-use the fun parts of journalism and oral history that I’ve picked up in the past.

I’m also pretty excited about our topic. (Can you guess what it is from the video below?) I’m really interested in what people think about the act, and why they do it or not, and how they perceive the systems currently in place.

The Fun Theory: Bottle Bank Arcade