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Situation Terminal


Image copyright Richard Bryant/arcaid.co.uk. All rights reserved.

The New Yorker Magazine article, Situation Terminal, offers a startling comparison of the democratic effect on the timetables and budgets of large building projects. I’m certainly not advocating the project-development process used in China to complete the Beijing Terminal 3, just highlighting the disparity. Another insight the author made, had me questioning my own assumptions about airport design:

Before I went to Madrid, I would have said that an airport architect’s most important task was to reduce the distance you have to walk to and from the planes. But, at Barajas, you want to keep going.

Like most people, I would probably complain of the long distances you need to walk from arrivals to exit, but who said that walk couldn’t be made so enjoyable you didn’t mind?

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Comical design

comics.jpgThe Adaptive Path blog recently highlighted an Adobe employee that was using the comic book format to communicate research findings. Not only is the presentation more compelling than your standard presentation or report; comics place characters (people) into the context of a story. The dialogue is their own (user-centred) and communicates emotion (empathy). This method certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you are intrigued, read an interview about the work that inspired her.

Posted by: Justin Knecht

"The one fixed piece of our identity"


Shaul Schwarz/Reportage, for The New York Times

In an article nothing short of fascinating, The New York Times follows Nokia’s user anthropologist Jan Chipcase on his design research visits to the developing world. The mobile phone, one of many objects of convenience to most of us, is transformed within a new context.

Something that’s mostly a convenience booster for those of us with a full complement of technology at our disposal — land-lines, Internet connections, TVs, cars — can be a life-saver to someone with fewer ways to access information. A “just in time” moment afforded by a cellphone looks a lot different to a mother in Uganda who needs to carry a child with malaria three hours to visit the nearest doctor but who would like to know first whether that doctor is even in town.

Simple user insights lead directly to new design features.

Influenced by Chipchase’s study on the practice of sharing cellphones inside of families or neighborhoods, Nokia has started producing phones with multiple address books for as many as seven users per phone.

However, more than just an expose on user-centred design in practice, the article explores issues of identity, the role of technology in the lives of others and design for self-actualisation.

Of additional interest is Future Perfect, the personal blog of Jan Chipcase and a collection of “thoughtless acts” images and descriptions.

Pushing technologies on society without thinking through their consequences is at least naive, at worst dangerous, though typically it, and IMHO the people that do it are just boring. Future perfect is a pause for reflection in our planet’s seemingly headlong rush to churn out more, faster, smaller and cheaper. Somewhere along the way we get to shape what the future looks like.

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Designed in China


Victoria & Albert Museum, London

It was only a matter of time. China is making the transition from low-cost producer of goods at break neck speed. China Design Now just opened at London’s Victoria & Albert museum, tracing the trajectory of this emerging design economy.

‘Made in China’ has become a familiar tag, but the spectacular creative energy in modern China is barely known. During the last twenty years, the Chinese have rediscovered their pre-socialist past and begun to combine their own traditions with global influences to produce a cultural rebirth. At the heart of this lies a new culture of design.

Should we view China’s transition as an opportunity or a threat?

Read on:
Exploring China’s new long march- from manufacturer to designer
Top 10 Myths & Truths about Design in China
China Design

Posted by: Justin Knecht

‘Sick’ Schools


Scotland has appointed the country’s first education design champion. His job? Promote good design of schools. Paul Stallan quickly steered the discussion from lack of budgets to lack of vision and innovation. “A good environment for young people in formative years of their lives is fundamental. They should be encouraged to go to school. Design can address all this.”

He also highlighted the example of Fuji Kindergarten in Tachikawa, Tokyo, Japan as a shining example of school design. (There is little English on the site, except for their user-centred educational policy: “Kids first. Help me do it myself.”)

‘Place’ is a fundamental pillar of any great organisation and I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes on the subject.

Space matters. We mean by this that the physical environment in which an organization works is not simply a neutral backdrop. A workspace supports, enables, or constrains what takes place in it.

James P. Hackett, President & CEO, Steelcase Inc.
Scottish schools are ‘sick’ says education design tsar
Monocle: Fuji Kindergarten report

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Design thinking our way to better libraries

I don’t believe this is the first time we have referenced the excellent blog, Designing Better Libraries. In this article (PDF, 1.13MB), Steven J. Bell pulls together a nice primer on the design thinking process and explores how it can be applied to designing better libraries. How do libraries help users accomplish their work? How do we understand the problem before jumping to solutions? Design thinking helps librarians focus on facilitating research and creating passionate users instead of concentrating on the commodity of information.

At the Carnegie Public Library, “librarians and library staff devote more of their time to more high-value, high-reward efforts. Changed perceptions have attracted new customers who would have otherwise avoided the library. Existing customers find it easier to accomplish their goals and, along the way, discover new things that they might have otherwise missed.”

Additional reading and watching:

MAYA Design: Carnegie Public Library
TED Talk: Joshua Prince-Ramus: Designing the Seattle Central Library

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Lawful co–creation

New Zealanders have been given the chance to write their own laws, with a new online tool launched by police.The “wiki” will allow the public to suggest the wording of a new police act, as part of a government review of the current law, written in 1958.

Read the article

Posted by: Justin Knecht

A lesson for leading with the user


The basis of our thinking around the importance of user-centred design is to lead with the user. This certainly isn’t the only approach to innovation, but it could reduce the risks of market failures like the Ifbot with Japanese elderly, where it turns out that robots turn off senior citizens.

“Most (elderly) people are not interested in robots. They see robots as overly-complicated and unpractical. They want to be able to get around their house, take a bath, get to the toilet and that’s about it,” said Ruth Campbell, a geriatric social worker at the University of Tokyo.

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Juicy ideas needed to break Australia’s innovation drought


It’s almost impossible to start to design an offering that’s customer-focused if you can’t relate in a very tangible way to the experience the customer is going through, either positive or negative.

Unfortunately, many companies were reluctant to take this approach. Instead they relied on customer surveys or spending millions on high-risk research and development programs.

Read the article

Posted by: Justin Knecht

Wish you were here


Dale Fahnstrom, IIT Institute of Design. Photo: Jordan Fischervia Core77

I would have liked to have been there to judge for myself, but Nico McDonald penned this review of the Institute of Design Strategy Conference 2007. The topics and level of presentation sound marvelous. Nico correctly calls out several questions that went unaddressed.

Which skill sets or approaches, if any, were working or being applied in the areas which design is now claiming? If the case for design is so strong, why isn’t it being adopted more by corporations, organizations and governments? And to the extent it is being adopted, are other motives driving this adoption, and might their impact derail delivery?

I’ll also note the list of usual suspects from Steelcase to Phillips to Roger Martin to Hasso Plattner. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with their approach and you’ll find their quotes and case studies sprinkled throughout this site, but where are the representatives from smaller organisations that resonate with the SMEs we primarily work with?

Posted by: Justin Knecht