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Stanford University’s Journal of Design ISSUE EleVeN SeNSatioNal sprIng 2009 $15 USD



Cover photo by Christopher Li. Photo by Hyung Suk Kim. Graphic by Cheewei Ng

Stanford University’s Journal of Design Issue Eleven, Sensational Spring 2009



POINT OF VIEW How Do You Design Your Workspace? Ben Hsieh


PROFILE Using Serendipity to Navigate the Stacks Sarah Lester Forget Paper Cranes, He Folds Life-Sized Herons Elsie Samson Damn it, Jim! I’m a Gamer, Not a Therapist Steven Dow

HIGH CONCEPT Creating Improvisational Spaces For Design Thinking Scott Witthoft & Scott Doorley Get Lost! Hugh Musick Drawing to Capture What Photographs May Miss Liz Gerber Prototype Power! Maria Mortati FUNCTIONAL DISSECTION Novint Falcon Controller

11 13 16

18 20 22 24


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28 30

INTERVIEW Allison Arieff Mui Ho


FIRST HAND Robots in Space…and the Scientists that Mimic Them Janet Vertesi

34 36 40 43 46 49

THINKING An Ode to White Space Ellen Lupton Organizational Pressures within NASA Run High Susannah Paletz Mind The Gap: Ethnographers Navigate the Space Between Users and Designers Phoebe Kuo Cozying Up Jonathan Bean Space To Learn Susie Wise REVIEW The Shape of Design to Come? Or Not. Hsiao-Yun Chu


COMIC What You See Is What You Get? Dwayne Godwin & Jorge Cham


OBJECT OBITUARY The Stanford iRoom Terry Winograd

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Illustration by Yizhuo Wang

Ground Control to Major Tom As children some of you may have dreamed of becoming astronauts, or at least vied for a spot in Space Camp. Maybe you were inspired by the worlds of Flash Gordon or those created by Frank Lloyd Wright. In this issue of ambidextrous, we tackle space and beyond in all of its frontiers. Of course, there’s the exploration of physical (outer) space (“Organizational Pressures within NASA Run High,” p. 36, “Robots in Space…and the Scientists that Mimic Them,” p. 32, and “Get Lost!,” p. 20). Some articles demonstrate how we use materials around us, from paper to pixels (“Forget Paper Cranes, He Folds Life-Sized Herons,” p. 13 and “An Ode to White Space,” p. 34), and others explore how to make virtual space more real and tangible (“Damn it Jim! I’m a Gamer, Not a Therapist,” p. 16 and “Novint Falcon,” p. 26).

At the end of the day, what we’ve discovered is that space is really about people, whether it’s about bridging gaps (“Mind The Gap: Ethnographers Navigate the Space Between Designers and Users,” p. 40) or about how we create a greater sense of community and comfort around us (“Allison Arieff Interview,” p. 28 and “Cozying Up,” p. 43). Undoubtedly, an issue of utmost gravity (hah!) is how we design our own environments to stimulate our creativity and ability to reflect (“Creating Improvisational Spaces for Design Thinking,” p. 18, “How Do You Design Your Workspace?,” p. 8 and “Space To Learn,” p. 46). Thank you for finding some time and space in your hearts for ambidextrous. To infinity and beyond!

Amal Dar Aziz Corina Yen Micah Lande Björn Hartmann Editors in Chief

Abel Allison Sean Follmer Erika Dauber Ryan Mason Helena Ju Staff

Wendy Ju W. Lawrence Neeley Lora Oehlberg Editors At Large

Charlotte Burgess Auburn Managing Editor Hyung Suk Kim Cheewei Ng Michael Kollin Smith Greg Schwartz Marcello Bastéa-Forte Editorial Staff

Kyle Bruck James Lin Siobhan Hadley Doug Kim Copy Editors Michael Pihulic Christopher Li Reid Williams Photo Staff

ambidextrous (ISSN 1554-9526) Sensational Spring 2009, Issue 11 © 2009. ambidextrous is published quarterly by Ambidextrous Magazine, Inc. with the blessings of the Stanford, at the Center for Design Research, 424 Panama Mall, Bldg 560, Stanford, CA 94305. ambidextrous is printed on New Leaf 25% Post Consumer Recycled paper.

For subscriptions: Please write to For submission guidelines, please refer to our web site, Address all editorial, business, and production correspondence to Ambidextrous Magazine, 424 Panama Mall, Bldg 560, Stanford, CA 94305. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the consent of Ambidextrous Magazine. Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous



Your Questions, Answered What is this magazine?

Our contributors are usually not such shady characters…

is a magazine for the wider design community, which includes engineers, ethnographers, psychologists, philosophers, and more.


The editors of ambidextrous are students, staff, alumni, and friends of Stanford University’s myriad design programs.

What can I do to help? Lots of things! You should subscribe, first of all, to become a member of the ambidextrous community, and encourage others to do the same. You can tell us which bookstores in your area would be good to stock ambidextrous in. You can also write for ambidextrous; we accept contributions of all types and are always looking for great stories. Finally, join our team! We’d love to add more story editing enthusiasts, graphical layout gurus, photoshop experts, and marketing virtuosos to our family.

Ellen Lupton

Hugh Musick

Steven Dow

Susannah Paletz

is a graphic designer and writer. She directs the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art and is curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

is both claustrophobic and agoraphobic and was a living nightmare for his colleagues during his months on the International Space Station. Otherwise, he is Associate Dean of the IIT Institute of Design.

Geez, it’s been over a year! How do I renew my subscription?

has been to 6 continents, 47 states, 200 cities, and is still in search of new spaces to creatively transform. He is currently a Postdoctoral researcher in the HCI Group at Stanford. 4

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is a Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh studying teamwork and creativity in science. It turns out Pittsburgh exists half of the year in a snowglobe that somebody keeps shaking.

Sarah Lester

Phoebe Kuo

Susie Wise

Scott Witthoft

Dwayne Godwin

Jorge Cham

Liz Gerber

Jonathan Bean

Scott Doorley

Ben Hsieh

Janet Vertesi

Terry Winograd

is a librarian at the soon-to-be "bookless" Stanford University Engineering Library. Her space is best described as ordered chaos.

says: “Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion” – Democritus.

Illustration by Brian Van Osdol

is a media designer and founding member of the Dacha Art Collective. He teaches Media+Design at the Stanford and also directs the Environments Collaborative.

Maria Mortati

is an exhibit developer and intrepid curator. She's currently working at Gyroscope helping a new museum in Colorado figure out what kind of space they want to be.

is a Design Research Associate at Point Forward, where she spends her days investigating opportunity spaces for consumer product innovation.

is in your personal space three times a week at:

is a PhD student in visual cognition at the University of Illinois. His workspace is very cluttered right now, even though he studies the effects of clutter on eye movements during shopping.

Elsie Samson

is a usability specialist by day, PR ninja by night. A music lover, she is often seen at local venues, widening her circle while discovering the next big (or small) thing.

is Captain of the Publishing Engine Expedition at the Stanford She loves Point Reyes National Seashore and breakfast joint dives in Oakland.

is a design professor looking for spaces that foster a bias towards action, such as parks and white rooms.

likes robots in space so much that she happily spent the last few years on Mars. On Earth, she wrapped up her PhD at Cornell and is now a Postdoc at UC Irvine, where the winters are much warmer.

prefers truck beds to tents, deserts to forests, and finds respite in glimpses of Airstream trailers. He is an engineer, a designer, and sometimes an artist.

researches how people create meaning in space. His work merges approaches from consumer behavior, design, and information studies.

is a professor in the HCI group at Stanford and a graybeard (alright, gray-hair). His research focus has moved from AI to interface philosophy to design, ever more towards the people side of HCI.

Hsiao-Yun Chu

is an assistant professor of product design at San Francisco State University where she teaches courses in product design and design history.

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SPRING exhibits Matt Kahn: Artist and Educator through July 12 San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design San Francisco, CA This exhibit brings to light the work of the inspiring art professor and design stalwart Matt Kahn, who has taught at Stanford since 1949 and has mentored many designers, from David Kelley to Mark Fuller. Over 60 works of art, set within the context of Bay Area art and design of the 1950s and 1960s, are on display. Pop to Present through August 16 Cantor Art Center at Stanford University Stanford, CA The third in a year-long series of acquisitions for the Cantor Art Center, the exhibit of modern and contemporary American art made since the 1960s includes work of artists ranging from pop

artist Roy Lichenstein to contemporary graphic artist Jim Dine. Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities through September 17 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, CA

During the mid-century, MoMA focused on the dissemination of Good Design, which took shape during the 30s. The exhibit illustrates the core values of Good Design, as promoted (and disputed) by museums, design councils, and department stores. Classic pieces by Charles and Ray Eames and Hans Wegner are displayed alongside more everyday objects, such as an iron, a rake, a cheese slicer, and Tupperware.

Natural Affinities brings together nearly 100 paintings and photographs from arguably America’s best-known painter and photographer to reveal the parallels between their visions of the natural world.

Design for a Living World through January 4, 2010 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum New York, NY

What Was Good Design? MoMA’s Message 1944–56 through November 30 Museum of Modern Art New York, NY

The exhibit features prototypes, drawings, and finished products of ten leading designers’ new uses of sustainably grown and harvested materials. Each design features a unique story about the life-cycle of the materials and the powerful impact of conservation and design. The designers featured include Abbott Miller, Maya Lin, Kate Spade, and others.

conferences Re-Thinking…Design June 17 – 18 San Francisco, CA Re-Thinking…Design, the “Design/Management/ Brand 21” Conference features a who’s-who in design practice and provides an open dialogue for discussing how designers are (and can) change our economy, healthcare, technology and culture using design thinking. Speakers include Bill Buxton, Tim Brown, and Jesse James Garrett. State of Design Festival July 15 – 25 Melbourne & Victoria, Australia Initiated by the Victorian State Government, the State of Design Festival encompasses more Roy Lichtenstein Blue Floor (detail), 1990 from Pop to Present


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Ezri Tarazi Untitled, 2009 from Design for a Living World Photo by Udi Dagan

than 80 interactive events, exhibits, workshops and talks. The theme for the conference is “Sampling the Future,” and holds three major programs, including: Design Capital, Design for Everyone, and Design:Made:Trade. NASA Lunar Science Institute Lunar Science Forum 2009 July 21 – 23 NASA Ames Mountain View, CA Discussions will feature the study the nature and history of the Moon, the effects of the lunar environment on terrestrial life and the equipment that supports lunar inhabitants, and the use of the Moon as a platform for performing scientific investigations. The preliminary science results of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be presented at the conference. SIGGRAPH 2009: Stimulate. Collaborate. Create August 3 – 7 New Orleans, LA This year’s annual SIGGRAPH conference on computer graphics and interactive technologies includes both the conference and an exhibition. The conference includes a gallery titled “Emerging Technologies,” featuring demos of applications in new multi-display, robotic, input devices, and interaction technologies. Burning Man 2009 August 31 – September 7 Black Rock Desert, NV Spend a week with more than 48,000 people in the Black Rock Desert and be a part of an experimental community. Burning Man is an annual art festival allowing all participants to be a part of a community that defies description. It just has to be experienced. This year’s art theme is “Evolution.” Participants are encouraged to make the theme come alive through whatever medium they can imagine.

competitions AIGA Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism Deadline June 1

a particular place you love. The chair’s design should visually demonstrate how it is inspired by the particular place.

Annual competition honoring professional and student writing on design, design discourse, and design criticism. Candidates may address any type of design-related field, from architecture to product design.

Sappi: Ideas That Matter Deadline July 17

James Dyson Award Deadline June 15

The only grant program that helps designers contribute to charitable organizations they care about, Ideas That Matter provides up to $50,000 per project to groups providing pro bono work for non-profit organizations.

Young student designers and engineers are brimming with creative ideas to change the world. Vacuum guru James Dyson puts money where his mouth is, awarding prizes simply for innovative designs that solve a problem. LED – Emotionalize Your Light Deadline June 25 Light plays an important role in our lives. Emotional LED light solutions in particular should create an atmosphere that not only positively affect our well-being but also change our moods and emotions. Solutions should be easy to use, customizable, and affordable. One Good Chair 2009 Deadline June 30 The Sustainable Furnishings Council and World Market Center Las Vegas challenge designers to design a chair that embodies or enhances

F. Lemer (designed by John Carroll) Presto Cheese Slicer, c. 1944 from What Was Good Design? MoMA’s Message 1944–56

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Point of V iew

How Do You Design Your Workspace? by Ben Hsieh


ow we organize space plays an integral part of how we think, plan, and behave. Large technology companies and high powered law firms capitalize on the influence of environment by providing extravagant perks or carefree expense policies in deliberate attempts to keep workers productive and at their desks. By doing so, companies keep employees more focused on work and even provide fun opportunities— as with a foosball table—to quickly “recharge” for more work. Those of us who can’t schedule free “at-your-desk massages,” however, have to resort to more local solutions. ambidextrous asked designers how they structure their workspace to be productive, to fight clutter, and to inspire. How do you manage your space as a resource?

Part of my process requires just thinking about ideas, so it happens almost anywhere, whether I like it or not. So one of my workspaces is virtual— it is in my head, in the shower, on the sofa, on the way to the bus, and sometimes at the office. This space is hard to photograph, obviously. Visually, I think it would look organic, like an inkblot. The second space I work in is physical. I use a desk and a whiteboard to draw, make, and share ideas. As a designer, I’m a visual learner and everything needs to be laid out in front of me, which looks messy but is actually decently organized.


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Nina Simon

Blogger and Museum Design Consultant Museum 2.0 (Independent blog applying Web 2.0 to a museum)

Mike Roller

In 2006, I moved to a cabin “off the grids” in the Santa Cruz mountains. I’d been a city girl all my life. Now, I’m in a place with all the necessary amenities—high speed internet, (solar) power, quiet, space—and one key addition: the constant reminder that nature is astounding and gorgeous and ephemeral and all around me. I don’t know that my work time is more efficient or creative than it used to be, but whenever I need to work out a problem, I don’t distract myself from it with my computer. I hike, climb trees, and watch the sky. I’ve stumbled into the best inspiration-machine imaginable: the natural world.

Senior Designer Kaleidoscope (Brand Packaging Consultancy)

Chris Hosmer

Design Strategy Consultant Continuum (Design Consultancy)

Photos courtesy of contributors

I’m a design strategy consultant who wanted to get back to making art. I transformed one room of my apartment into a light-filled studio large enough to act as a mural space, a photo studio, and an occasional party venue. I built an 8-foot by 8-foot wall as a canvas for me to create large-scale drawings out of tape, a technique I learned while designing cars in Detroit. The space itself is raw and unfinished with ducts and conduit running throughout, which makes it feel like the perfect environment for experimentation and exploration. I named my freelance art business after my workspace, calling it my “workshop,” because here, everything is a work-in-progress.

My workstation is the center of my workspace. My computer has a webcam for shooting “on-the-fly” videos of myself acting for future reference, speakers for listening to and syncing the dialogue of the particular shot I’m working on, and a Wacom tablet for on-screen drawing and pressure sensitive manipulation of 3D models. To my right is my personal laptop that I use for listening to music and podcasts while working on less difficult shots with no dialogue. The walls of my office are covered with art that inspires me, my own paintings, and concept art from the particular production I am working on. Mirrors on my desk assist me in creating facial animation. My guitars keep me occupied during times when the computer is chugging away. Also, I need a room of my own with a door that is relatively sound-proof. The best performances happen when you don’t have to worry about someone walking around the corner and catching you acting stupid.

Pat Osborne

Character Animator Walt Disney Feature Animation

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Gia Sung

Industrial Designer Packaging design

The best way I can describe my workspace is “organized chaos.” I’ve tried to be super neat—it doesn’t work for me. I end up stressing out too much about where items belong rather than dealing with the ten million tasks being shot at me at once. So I have piles of quotes and boring number stuff in filed folders. Design items and samples go in various boxes (organized by job) that I carry with me. For really hot jobs, I have a grocery basket that I lug with me everywhere; it’s filled with samples that I pull out during meetings. Random things that get dropped off are scattered everywhere on my desk. However, I have an organizational system for where they lie—I divide my workspace into three ‘zones’ that loop around my L-shaped desk (see below). Zone A encompasses the most important projects that are in constant motion and due immediately. Zone B is what I need on hand to support Zone A. Zone C is not as important, miscellaneous files, samples, and layouts that I reference.


I don’t see my desk solely as a workspace because if I did, it would be too dry for me to exist in. Maintaining constant creativity is difficult, so to accomplish that I need to make sure I’m happy. I have my desk set up with little doodads all around it. They remind me to look for external sources of inspiration rather than just staring at the computer and forcing the design to appear. So when I’m in a designer’s block, I might grab my SFMOMA cube that unfolds and refolds. Other tchotchkes serve to either 1) cheer me up, 2) reinforce my identity as a designer and my roots (the miniature Eames red molded plywood chair I have at the base of my monitor is an icon of my design studies), or 3) make me laugh—like my plastic Buddha and Darth Tater (a Mr. Potato Head in Darth Vader costume). Things like the wind-up toys help distract my mind too—whether it’s their motion, sound, or silliness. It’s something tangible rather than purely visual. They also have to be “designer-ly” to me in some sense, whether in their form, function, or both.


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Thanh Tran

Graphic Designer Luidia



Using Serendipity to Navigate the Stacks by Sarah Lester

Photos by Reid Williams


hen you imagine a library, you usually picture soft lighting, carpeting—and the Dewey Decimal System. I didn’t find any of these things in the Prelinger Library, nor did I miss them. What on initial impression seemed like a cold warehouse space, loaded from floor to ceiling (and it is easily a 20-foot ceiling) with shelves of books, quickly became a warm, casual environment. Between the familial welcome of the library’s founders, Megan and Rick Prelinger, and the funky secondhand furniture, you feel like you have stepped into someone’s living room rather than a research library. Take your time and explore. You just might find something you never would have expected. The Prelingers founded the library in an industrial neighborhood of San Francisco in 2004, culling books from their personal collections, donations, and older volumes weeded from other libraries around the country. Rather than conforming to a traditional library

model, the Prelingers designed their collection with serendipity in mind. There is no card catalog based on an established library classification scheme. Instead, subjects are organized based on how they relate to each other. You enter the collection through subject exploration rather than a search engine— decide on your subject area and dive right in. As Megan describes it: “[The collection] is designed to be experiential, so it’s not just about finding the shortest route from what you think you want to where that thing is. It is about de-centering that route and creating an experience of a library that is discoverybased and exploration-based.” If you do not know what you are looking for, Megan recommends you start at the beginning. The stacks are organized into rows that flow in a serpentine fashion familiar to most library users, with rows wrapping from aisle to aisle. Starting in row one is San Francisco and California, familiar and present, and then the journey contin-

ues through the Western United States, natural history, and ends in extractive resource industries. Then you are onto the next row. Within each shelf of each row the content becomes more detailed and the smaller subject areas within the larger topic become more concrete. As Megan explains, the “granularity increases the closer you look at it.” This is not so different from how books are organized in a traditional library, but it is more flexible. You might think all this would be confusing, but Megan says people just roll with it and typically don’t have any trouble. My own experience at the Prelinger was similar to how Megan describes it. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, I just headed to the area where I wanted to start browsing and dug in. Titles at eye level immediately demanded attention along with seemingly out-of-place oddities gracing the shelves, like a model acupuncture dog. As my curiosity grew, I found myself grabbing the nearest ladder and forget-

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ting my fear of heights with my attention drawn inexorably upwards. I know for some people, having a call number that tells you exactly where to look is helpful. Even so, as a librarian at Stanford’s more traditional Engineering Library, I often point out to people that it is also important to browse around their sought-after item on the shelf, to make sure there is not something equally good or better nearby. While finding a diamond in the rough is beneficial at any library, the Prelinger’s non-standard organization lends itself particularly well to this type of exploration. It encourages perusing the shelves as if panning for gold. According to Megan, “Every day we’re open, somebody pulls something totally unexpected. Then, I feel like, ‘Oh, that’s never been pulled before. Nobody has ever touched that before.’” The Prelinger has a few rules: pull books from the middle of the spine, not the top, to help preserve bindings; do not re-shelve ephemera boxes, instead allow a staff person to replace the materials; and do not remove bookmarks. The ephemera is one of the more sought after collections in the library,


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encompassing approximately 20,000 pieces including maps, booklets, folders, flyers, loose pieces of paper, and odd issues of periodicals. These boxes are particularly popular with art students and people looking for old graphics because they contain a wealth of visual information. In addition, the sex

perversely serves as the entry point to the digital version. As Rick describes it, “The best way to access [the collection] is to first get lost in the analog brick and mortar environment.” You can lose an afternoon in the Prelinger Library, and it is time well spent away from your computer and

The Prelinger is less about exploring the known universe and its resources we have come to rely on and more about exposing yourself to new ideas and inspirations. and gender, humor, information design, and information graphics collections are all heavily used. Since people cannot borrow books, the Prelingers have created a unique way for them to still access content after they leave. They have scanned numerous volumes (many items in the collection are out of copyright) and made them available for free via the Internet Archive. Inserted into every volume in the collection is a paper bookmark that gives the book’s scanned status and, if available, how to access the virtual text. The physical book thus

the demands of the digital age. It is an opportunity to get lost and found again in a way many may have never experienced in a traditional library. The Prelinger is less about exploring the known universe and the resources we have come to rely on and more about exposing yourself to new ideas and inspirations. You may find old favorites or books that spark memories of things past. Most likely, you will find yourself caught up in the thrill of exploration. For more information visit:


Forget Paper Cranes, He Folds Life-Sized Life-sized Herons by Elsie Samson

Photos by Mike Pihulic


rigami is a centuries-old Japanese art form, but in the 1990s it experienced a revolution when origami artists started to develop and apply mathematical techniques to the art of paper-folding. Dr. Robert Lang was a pioneer in that movement and today is one of the foremost origami artists. By applying geometric concepts to origami folding, he has created designs of mind-blowing complexity and realism, from insects to antlered deer to an eight-piece, life-sized orchestra. Likewise, he has used algorithms and theorems of origami design to solve mathematical and engineering problems such as finding the most efficient folds for compressed air bags and expandable space telescopes. Lang was introduced to origami at the age of six and became fascinated. He loved the idea of being able to use a piece of scrap paper to create different shapes, animals, or whatever his imagination could come up with. As a teenager, Lang designed his own origami patterns. While both earning degrees from Stanford and Caltech (including a PhD in Applied Physics) and pursuing a career in electrical engineering and physics, Lang maintained his love for the art of origami and its infinite possibilities. He currently develops origami algorithms while working as a full-time artist and as an origami consultant. ambidextrous visited Lang at his home in Alamo, California to talk to him about his origami designs and how they take shape.

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“In traditional origami, the idea that you start with an uncut square is important. But of course if you have to cut the square out, you already have done some cutting. In contrast, this design was folded from a sheet of paper that has truly never been cut in any way. The paper comes as it has been made, with this rough, ragged edge. This design also demonstrates what’s possible with modern origami folding techniques. The art of origami as a whole has evolved. The things people do today would have been viewed as magic fifty years ago. When people traditionally make designs from a square, they turn the edges of the paper into arms and legs and so forth. In contrast, you can imagine that I could have made this design from a longer or shorter or wider rectangle—it would have just varied the dimensions of the rock face that he’s climbing on— so this design is not dependent on the edges of the paper.”


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“You design the skeleton first. Then, in the process of folding, you create the three-dimensional shape from that structure. There are mini design problems that you solve along the way. For example, in my original design of this lobster, I didn’t design the secondary antenna and the eye stalks. I focused my design on getting the legs, the claws, the big antenna, and the tail. Then once I started working through my design, I saw, ‘Okay there’s a little bit of extra paper up here near the head. Can I do something useful with that?’ That’s when I decided to make the eye-stalks and the other parts.”

3 “One almost always strives to make the largest possible figure for a given size square. The reason is not because there’s something aesthetically good about bigness. It’s because of efficiency. If you don’t do that, you have excess layers, which makes things fat, and the display of the multiple layers is distracting to the eye, so it looks bad. The most efficient structure is also usually the most aesthetically pleasing. For example, this heron is from a six-foot square and is very efficient. It had to be because my goal was to fold a life-sized heron. If the legs had a lot more layers in them, then I couldn’t get them that thin. Instead of being bird legs, they would be tree-trunk legs and wouldn’t have been as aesthetically nice.”

4 “Insects are a huge favorite of mine. I think they really lend themselves well to origami. For years, they were considered the hardest subject matter for origami because they have so many legs that are long and skinny. People didn’t know how to make lots of flaps or how to make them skinny. One of the great innovations in the world of origami during the 1990s was the development of techniques during this friendly competition, ‘The Bug Wars,’ in which people tried to one-up each other by folding insects. Someone would fold a beetle, and then the next person would say: ‘Okay, well, I’m going to do a beetle with jaws.’ The next person says, ‘I’ll do a beetle with jaws and a long antenna.’ Then, ‘Jaws, antenna, and wings!’ ‘Jaws, antenna, and wings where the flying wings are color-changed from the other side of the paper!’ and so on.”


“This design demonstrates what is possible with modern origami folding techniques. The art of origami as a whole has evolved. The things people do today would have been viewed as magic fifty years ago.”

“A lot of the structures and patterns that we have come up with in the course of doing origami turn out to have applications in science and technology. The product does not have to relate to origami directly—sometimes you want it to be fundamentally sheet-like [and if] it’s from sheet-like material, it’s cheaper to manufacture. Packaging and deployable structures are common. You have a shape that you want to take two different forms, for example a cylinder that can collapse. A cylinder is just a sheet. If you want it to collapse in a controlled

way, you do it with folds rather than just crumpling it up—that is using origami techniques. Even things like clothing handbags that are made from flat material like cloth and leather. If you can make patterns by folding, in some cases it can be cheaper than trying to cut out and assemble a complicated pattern. All of the techniques that I come up with I figure eventually will have an application. Certainly product design would be one of them. There are some container applications that make use of curved creases and so forth; but right now I’m [creating] these things purely as art objects.”

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Damn it, Jim! I’m a Gamer, Not a Therapist I built a Holodeck to find out if virtual reality is too real for comfort by Steven Dow

What were you doing at the hotel with Antonio!? Were you cheating!?

Shhh! Trip, we need to at least let her try to explain!


Ambidextrous Sensational Spring 2009

Illustrations by Helena Ju. Original photo courtesy of author


n the television series Star Trek, the Enterprise crew uses the Holodeck to enter perfectly simulated worlds that feel real. Captain Picard and his crew use it to find out more about the relics known as “cars,” donning pin-stripe suits and visiting 1940s San Francisco, film noir style. Some computing researchers look to the Holodeck as inspiration for developing tools and techniques to achieve immersive simulations. However, my colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology and I wondered, is that what people really want? Our goal was to illuminate the user experience of immersive simulations, particularly when combined with compelling interactive content. My thesis work provides empirical evidence that, even if we overcome the technological hurdles, many people would still prefer to have distance from virtual reality. How did we come to that conclusion? We actually built a Holodeck. In our work, called AR Façade, a player, wearing a computer on a backpack and a small display with cameras over their eyes, enters a 600-squarefoot physical replica of the virtual apartment from the original Façade, the critically acclaimed desktop-based interactive drama. The player converses with a married couple, life-size animated characters named Trip and Grace, who respond interactively to the player’s actions and to whatever is happening in the virtual space. The experience emulates a live conversation: the player might ask about the decorations, get a drink from the bar, or give the characters “air hugs.” Meanwhile,

Trip and Grace continually react to the player’s speech and gestures in ways appropriate with their quirky personalities. AR Façade is an immersive experience, but one where you are thrown into simulated social situations akin to those in the game The Sims. AR Façade’s story revolves around a familiar social situation. As the protagonist, the player quickly realizes that Trip and Grace’s marriage is falling apart, and the couple is looking to the player to help them settle their grievances. The outcome of the evening, and thus the simulation, depends on how the player behaves. Sometimes players take sides, sometimes they listen and give advice about how to resolve the situation, and sometimes they get kicked out for belligerence. The simulation was installed in our lab in Atlanta and at the Beall Center

However, the most unexpected result is that many of those same players preferred the desktop version of the simulation. The was because the perceived distance provided users an emotional barrier. Being in the same space with an arguing couple was too physical and intense. The less immersive interface of the desktop version allowed players to feel free to “goof off,” “decide how they wanted to feel,” and enjoy the experience from a safe distance rather than constantly feeling “on the spot.” Proponents of the Holodeck vision highlight some good points of artificial reality. We should be able to incorporate our bodies and our worldly intuitions into our interactions with media and space, and not be bound to the mouse and keyboard. Perhaps we’ll get to a point where we’ll be able to easily combine replicated matter, tractor

The less immersive interface of the desktop version allowed players to enjoy the experience from a safe distance rather than constantly feeling “on the spot.” for Art and Technology at University of California, Irvine. We closely observed hundreds of local citizens and students playing both the immersive and desktop versions of Façade. To our delight, many players exhibited genuine emotional reactions to the scenario in spite of the bulky technological apparatuses they were wearing. For example, one player held her hand out towards Trip, who had just started to interrupt Grace, and yelled, “Shhh! We need to at least let her try to explain!”

beams, and holographic images into computer-generated simulations as a means for recreation. However, before we boldly go where no man has gone before, let us understand the expectations and risks of injecting reality into human-computer interfaces. A special thanks to our collaborators: Blair MacIntyre, Michael Mateas, and Manish Mehta. Desktop Façade can be downloaded at:

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


high concept

Creating Improvisational Spaces for Design Thinking by Scott Witthoft & Scott Doorley


he Environments Collaborative is a group of innovators at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka “the”) who create spaces to teach design thinking. We are constantly re-designing and re-building our space and the artifacts in it, making the a “living prototype” for our work. We see what we do as similar to setting the stage for improvisational theatre. In improv, skits use props to create context. In our case, the variety of activities at the ask for different settings and tools to set the stage for spontaneous design thinking behaviors like brainstorming. By developing ways for our space to support design-related activities, we are essentially designing “props” to inspire specific behaviors in our students. These props can be tested and iterated on quickly. The result is a series of insights related to how spaces and the objects in them can facilitate design thinking. The Environments Collaborative includes: Dave Baggeroer, Scott Doorley, Lia Ramirez, Adam Royalty, Joel Sadler, Scott Witthoft, and Natalie Woyzbun.

Design Thinking Bootcamp, a class at the, introduces students to design through project-based learning. The class requires collaborative spaces for teams of students to work on their projects. In Fall 2007, we created spaces for the class to explore how teams’ working environments affect collaboration and the quality of their designs. In our observation of team-based collaborations among students, we noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between the students’ postures and their ability to generate ideas. For example, students comfortably seated on couches often settled back into criticizing others’ ideas rather than jumping into creating new ideas. We decided to test this observation by creating four prototypes or scenarios, each designed to inspire students to assume postures we wanted to investigate, from low and relaxed, to upright and moving. Our design process generally benefits from active participation and idea sharing, so we hoped to discover which postures would elicit this type of behavior.


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Photos by Adam Royalty, Scott Doorley, and Lia Ramirez. Illustrations by Scott Witthoft.

To promote an upright seating posture, we clustered students in straight-backed chairs around a table and dubbed that scenario “the war room.” In another scenario, we allowed students to lean back on soft couches, in a faux “lounge” footprint. One extreme configuration, “the dance floor,” was a bounded area of floor space, flanked by swings and devoid of other seating, that encouraged the students to stand and move around. The fourth scenario was “the sandbox,” a wooden box placed on the floor with a padded interior for seating. We thought that the playfulness of the space and the extreme posture that students had to assume while sitting on the floor would encourage them to relax and lower their barriers to interacting with one another.

We learned the most compelling things from observing students while they used the more extreme designs. As a functional team space, the sandbox was an absolute disaster. The collective response was precisely the opposite of what we had intended: although the floor seating was relatively comfortable, the students in fact did not feel comfortable. Sitting closely to one another, as dictated by boundaries of the edges of the space, created an immediate, forced intimacy. The low seating made it difficult for students to rise, which slowed down the exchange of leadership. And when team members did rise, they stood dominating over the other members like Godzilla over Tokyo. On the other hand, the upright, active, and dynamic postures of students on the dance floor facilitated a hearty crop of ideas. Energy within groups using that space was high, with lively interplay among the students.

Embedded in the sandbox’s total failure to produce a space that enhanced collaboration among students was the shining example that posture indeed has a profound effect on students’ behavior. Building on the nugget of how posture influences idea generation, our latest exploits have been pairing props (like bar stools) and scenes (like open floor plans) to encourage upright and active postures. Through simple prototyping, we confirmed an intuition: a designer’s environment is a major player in the arc of collaborative design. We found that even the slightest attention toward posture, standing versus sitting for example, can greatly amplify the potential of design collaborations.

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


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Get Lost! Insights on design research from traveling abroad by Hugh Musick


eliberate wandering is a defining characteristic of design research, oxymoronic as this may sound. Like roaming an unfamiliar city, design research provides a way to become acquainted with unknown spaces. This isn’t to say it is a stroll in the park. A lack of direction at the start of a project can make one feel utterly lost, even within a setting as familiar as one’s office. Panic is a natural response to feeling lost, but as with wandering in an unfamiliar place, it is imperative to stay calm. If one can frame the situation as “exploring” instead of “being lost,” worlds of possibilities open. Maintaining such a frame of mind requires discipline. The impulse to find answers is strong, but exploration—like wandering—has no obligation to arrive at solutions. Therefore, it pays to remind the solution-minded designer that the purpose of exploration is to get a lay of the land. Whenever I visit a new city, one of the first things I do after dropping my bags at the hotel is set off to wander the city streets. I head out without a destination in mind. This kind of space exploration requires no elaborate life support system, just a desire to discover what lies out there. During a recent trip to Tokyo, I left my hotel early one morning to “get a feel for” the Chiyoda ward. Staying mindful of my starting point, I found myself stopping along the way to identify landmarks to help me construct a mental map of the area. The Hie Shrine, the park with the vivid bright yellow


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fiberglass sculpture of two giant parakeets, and the hand-painted restaurant signs for “Pasta Viking” and “Wafflish Waffle” became points of reference. In a matter of hours I was able to navigate a fairly sizeable area of midtown Tokyo with a measure of confidence. This process of getting one’s bearings is an essential element of exploration in design. A sense of a given space can only come by allowing enough time to develop “a feel” for it. Moving at a slower, wandering pace affords one ample opportunity for close observation. Thus, the first lesson of deliberate wandering: Develop familiarity with a chosen landscape. While in Tokyo, I could have chosen to spend a day traversing the city to take in the usual tourist sights: the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji fish market, the Tokyo National Museum, and Ueno Park. These are the key spots on a well-trod tourist path. Would a day spent visiting these sites give me a sense of the city’s culture and people? Not when compared to spending the same amount of time limiting my exploration to a particular ward like Ginza and Harajuku. When confining myself to a given area, I am not rushed to get from one place to another but instead move at my own pace and find that I notice nuances and details that I otherwise might have missed. Designers too should set their sights on specific areas. Design research spaces are defined by the topics or concepts to be explored. A broad examination of “what people like” is

Illustration by author

record during my wanders in Tokyo reflects too vast to make for a worthwhile exploration. my own interests and values, but I recognize Looking at “what people like to do on their that what captures my attention may not be of weekends” is more specific but still constitutes interest to others. a large area. However, a framing question like Where there is common interest, such as “What kinds of outdoor activities do people on a design research project, sharing photos do on the weekend with their families?” deand notes deepens knowledge by providing fines a space that can be effectively explored. more data points and Time is one simple presenting a range of but effective means for We are naturally curious perspectives on the same structuring a given space. beings, and what once took subject. All of which Knowing I only had a few hours to explore place across landscapes now leads to the third lesson of deliberate wandering: Midtown Tokyo helped occurs within mindscapes. It is not as important to limit the range of my know where one is going wanderings. Similarly, as it is to know where one has been and what in a design context, deadlines can be a means one has seen along the way. of bringing definition to a given space. This is Is it any surprise that design is a fixture not not to say that explorations should be shortof a nomadic people but a sedentary one? Culchanged or operate on compressed schedules. ture arises when people settle in a place. The A sense of urgency is not necessarily conduimpulse to explore and wander is internalized. cive to good wandering. This leads to the secWe are naturally curious beings, and what ond lesson of deliberate wandering: Establish once took place across landscapes now occurs clear boundaries at the outset. within mindscapes. Design is one of those Becoming an information sponge is the key rare professions that affords its practitioners to a successful wander. As a traveler in Tokyo, the opportunity to be curious, to dabble in I traveled light, equipped with nothing but the unknown, and to get lost. It is contingent my wallet, passport, and two key wanderer upon the field of design to promote the notion tools: a notebook and a camera. Along the of exploration and the importance of scouting way, I took notes, recording in words my imout new territories. Only by departing from pressions of much that I saw and captured in the familiar do horizons expand and opportuimages small details like an autumn leaf and nities present themselves. Thus, getting lost is a bit of graffiti. Both tools work in the service the first step toward finding one’s way. of storytelling. What I chose to focus on and

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


High C oncept

Drawing to Capture What Photographs May Miss by Liz Gerber


s designers, we often begin a project by taking photographs of people in their natural context. Our studios are saturated with photographs capturing details of people within their surroundings, details we may not have noticed while taking the photos and observing in real time. Precisely because the photos are saturated with details, important characteristics of a person do not always stand out. For this reason, during user observations, I often draw caricatures to capture specific characteristics that will not necessarily be remembered when looking at a photograph after returning to the studio. Typically, caricatures are drawings that exaggerate characteristics of a person for the purpose of entertainment. I use caricatures to explore the relationships between people and their objects to highlight the salient characteristics of those relationships. I drew the following images while observing how people carry precious items. I began observations at the Stanford Medical School, expecting to see people carrying test tubes and computers. As expected, I observed lab technicians tightly grasping test tube trays, their hands turning white from the lack of blood flowing through them. I observed stressed medical students clutching their computers as they ran to the library, leaving no space between their bodies and the objects they were carrying. My overall goal was to understand how people carry their belongings in order to enhance their experience of carrying. Through my observations, I learned that people carry out of habit, obligation, for safety, and in anticipation of the unexpected.


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Arm Bags Lab technicians casually carry parts of people near them as part of the critical work they do. This drawing is of a lab technician, who works at a morgue carrying her morning coffee along with specimens from the lab. I drew this image after observing her working at the morgue. Although she was not actually carrying disjointed arms and legs as the image suggests, I drew her as such to capture her comfort with her work. Her job is to transport harvested organs from people who have recently died to living people whose lives depend on her work. The casualness with which she carried the organs suggests that people are capable of carrying critical matter in a nonchalant way.

Illustrations by author

Kid Handbags

Drawer Belly

Mothers have the impulse to minimize the space between them and their young children.

Pregnant women consider the possibilities of accessing inner spaces in their own bodies.

This drawing is a caricature of a mother and her children, who I observed at the Stanford Medical School, and highlights the intensity with which the mother held her children. I saw her walking quickly with her two young children. She grasped their hands in a way that made them look as if they were handbags. If possible, I imagine the mother would have asked surgeons to attach straps to their heads so she could carry them more closely, leaving no space between her body and the “objects� she was carrying. She held her children close, as if to avoid them being snatched while she was not looking.

This drawing is of a woman who was about to give birth to her child. I drew this while observing and interviewing a woman who believed that her pregnancy and large girth had reduced her ability to think. During the interview, she placed her hands on her middle as if magnetically drawn to her center. She stared at her stomach, unable to focus clearly on our conversation; she reported that her head was literally shrinking. She was anxious about child birth. The drawer protruding from her middle captures the relief she would feel if she could pull the baby out with ease and return her body back to its normal size.

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


High C oncept

Prototype Power! by Maria Mortati


sk around and most people who make things will tell you that prototypes are central to good design. Virtually all designed objects owe their final form to their humble beginnings as quick-and-dirty models. But why exactly are prototypes useful? What questions can they answer? To investigate these topics, I collected models, proof-of-concepts, and 3D sketches from artists, engineers, and designers in an exhibit and an accompanying book, The Power of the Prototype. The exhibit was shown at the 2008 Maker Faire in San Mateo, an event that drew 65,000 DIY enthusiasts. The Maker Faire allowed me to test a new exhibit idea quickly on a large scale. I set each prototype up with a text panel that called out the technique it was demonstrating and with a photo of the finished product

that resulted from the prototype. While people might blow by exhibit text in a museum context, thinking it unnecesssary for understanding the exhibit, many of the Maker Faire visitors read the text panels and studied the objects in sequence. By presenting a collection of seemingly unfinished, unrelated objects questions were raised in the visitor’s mind: “What was this made for?” and “What did it become?” As a result, they were motivated to search for the answers in the text. The prototypes that follow are examples from the exhibit that demonstrate different prototyping techniques and the spectrum of functions they can serve. The Power of the Prototype exhibit is in search of a more permanent museum space or funding for a traveling exhibit.

prove feasibility Exhibition designer Sasha Harris-Cronin created a prototype of an interactive flip book for a museum installation. It needed to work flawlessly to convince her client of the concept. Here the prototype was every bit as functional as the final design…just not as pretty.


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facilitate serendipitous discovery Product designer Chris Luomanen often plays with geometric patterns to make discoveries about strength, structure, and flexibility. He then finds applications for his discoveries after the fact. For example, experimentation and play with folding paper led Chris to the design of a lightweight, collapsible room divider.


resolve design details

Photos courtesy of author

Mike Strasser’s prototypes were aimed at the specific goal of developing a new air freshener for Dial. His objects are obsessively iterative—they move from raw functionality to industrial design in small increments.

aid communication Design engineer Mark Glusker needed to facilitate dialogue between the engineering and marketing teams for a small medical device. He created a prototype that was 600% larger than the real device so that team members could make complex decisions about materials and components together. Artists sometimes use this tactic of scaling in reverse.

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


Functional D issection

CAN YOU FEEL THAT? Our fingertips have over 20 different types of sensory receptors that allow us to feel the difference between a ripe fruit and green fruit or between a golf ball and a billiard ball. While scientists have understood the biology of touch for quite some time, engineers have only recently begun to leverage our rich sense of touch in virtual environments. Haptic input devices simulate the shape and material properties of virtual objects by providing mechanic force feedback to their users. They take their title from the Greek word haptesthai, meaning “to touch.” Haptic devices enable you to feel the texture of a virtual wall as well as the difference between touching it lightly and punching it hard. The first haptics devices, created during the 1950s, provided force feedback for teleoperating robots. Since the 1980s, haptic devices have been used for medical simulations and remote surgeries. They have been used as design tools to model three-dimensional surfaces and to impart a human sense of grip and touch to robots. The field of computer haptics has been primarily restricted to university research labs—until now. For this functional dissection, we take apart a Novint Falcon, the first affordable haptic game controller. Have ideas for a great future functional dissection? Send them to us at!


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Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


sk of

e From the d

Dear Reader, We hope that you have been enjoying this online preview of Ambidextrous magazine! Had this been an actual issue of Ambidextrous (the real thing!), you would have seen a functional dissection of Novint Falcon haptic controller here. As you enjoy this online preview of Issue 11, “Space,” keep in mind the following benefits of subscribing to Ambidextrous and reading it in its tangible, printed form.


1 Read the functional dissection.

Invites to our issue launch parties, one of the largest gatherings of design enthusiasts in the Bay Area.

3 Greater likelihood of more Ambidextrous issues in the future. 4

It’s wireless and energy efficient!

5 You can actually feel it.

6 It’s easier to clip Dwayne Godwin & Jorge Cham’s comic and stick it on your door (or in your office).


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Read issues during flights without any restrictions. 10

Read Ambidextrous cover to cover at your convenience in your favorite chair on a sunny day, without worrying about glare on your computer screen.

Convinced? Sign up for a subscription on our website: Enjoy the digital preview!

It also comes in pretty darn handy as a fly swatter!


Sustainability Advocate interview by Amal Dar Aziz

Allison Arieff has written about design, architecture, and sustainability. She is the author of Prefab and Trailer Travel and a founding editor of Dwell. Today she is rethinking how to build sustainable communities and advocates for building better homes and stronger communities, both in her blog for The New York Times and as Editor-at-Large for Sunset magazine.


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What challenges does sustainable architectural design face? There is a lot of information out there. Everyone has it, but we are still building 6,000 square foot, not-at-all sustainable homes that require people to drive hours to get to work or get a quart of milk. That’s frustrating. People express a desire for smaller spaces, for more compact, walkable communities, but the best intentions don’t always translate. So it’s not that there isn’t any knowledge of or demand

problem is consumption. He and his friends then made the Compact. They promised not to buy anything new for 90 days, except for toothpaste, underwear, and other essentials. They’re now on their third year of doing this. The Compact shows how all of us can adjust our thinking about how much we’re accumulating. It’s hard for companies to talk about it. No one wants to address the real issue—that we have to consume less. There’s no way around it, but I rarely hear people

Photo by Phoebe Kuo

“I don’t want to write about anything that doesn’t address sustainability in its gut. I want to be asking, ‘How can you design right now and not think about sustainability?’” for [sustainable living]. It’s just easier not to worry about it. It’s a complicated problem, which I also saw with the Prefab movement. The more I knew about all the players, codes, and financing, I couldn’t blame the lack of progress on one thing. However, I would say with the economy and with housing being what it is, this is the perfect time to say, “Wow, what we’ve been doing is totally screwed up, and we should be doing something else.” I really want to be optimistic that things will now go in a different direction.

talk about it in design circles. You can make it smaller, you can make it cheaper, but how do you make less of it? You don’t want to alarm people, and I know it’s daunting. When my daughter was a baby, I spent money on whatever people told me I should to be a good parent. People bring everything back to your family. Saving the planet is just too abstract. The discourse has been changing with an emphasis on making sustainability more about what you can do at home. It’s about taking care of the people around you.

How has the recession impacted our relationship with the environment?

How then can we design the world to be more sustainable?

After writing a lot about sustainability for Dwell, I’ve almost gotten to the point that I don’t want to write about anything that doesn’t address sustainability in its gut. I don’t want to discuss green “style” or “eco-chic” sheets. I want to be asking, “How could you design a building or a product right now and not think about sustainability?” I wrote a story for Sunset about John Perry and his pact called the Compact. John was at dinner with some friends in 2005, talking about recycling, and what bullshit it is because 5 percent of stuff actually gets recycled, and that the real

A lot of it is a behavior problem. When I was at IDEO, we did a lot of design work targeting behaviors, and that works to a point, but it doesn’t totally work. You can make 5000 super cool water bottles for people to carry around, but then they’ll end up forgetting their water bottles and buy bottled water instead. It’s because you have a default, and that default exists with everything. So the question becomes, how can you instill new behaviors? It’s so much about attitude. In this country, there’s the issue of sacrifice. It used to be that when we were at war

everyone shared the collective burden; we knew there was a crisis and that we had to scale back. Now, it’s so hard to sell the public on that concept. So we actually have to search for ways to make doing the right thing more palatable even though it really should be the way people behave normally. How do you make the impending crisis feel more immediate? If people aren’t adequately scared right now, I don’t really know what it’s going to take. A positive thing I have seen is a nostalgic return to backyard farms, root cellars, babysitting exchanges, community garage sales—things that are really bringing people together, closer to their homes and their neighbors. It’s all so old-fashioned that it feels innovative. At Sunset, we’ve even coined a term for it: extreme sharing. I do think people are realizing that it’s okay—in fact that it’s absolutely necessary—for us to rely on one another, to help our neighbors, to contribute to the common good. Tell me about your Airstream trailer. The Airstream has long been a design icon in part because of all it packs in such a small space. Ours is a ’62 Flying Cloud, just 22 feet long, but there’s a kitchen, a small bathroom, a couch, a bed, storage…Everything is just so perfectly thought out. It baffles me that people buy trailers now literally with all the comforts of home in them, like flat screen TVs, double beds, and microwaves. Why not just stay at home then? The Airstream has been a funny constant in a lot of what I’ve done as it’s also quite tied to prefab. It’s a smart system that really makes you think about how creative you can get with these particular constraints. I think people love the Airstream because it represents this fantasy of exploration, of being a nomad. You can just take off, head down the road, and do whatever you’re going to do. I’m kind of dying to crane ours into our backyard and make it into my home office.

Full interview available online at Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous



Community Architect interview by Marcello BastĂŠa-Forte

Since starting her architecture studio in Berkeley in 1979, Mui Ho has become known for her Bay Area community projects. She teaches at the University of California, Berkeley and also works in China, where she has been designing buildings for a college campus.


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How did you first become interested in community design? When I first started as an architect on the East Coast, I worked for big design companies and architecture firms. My firm did the Ford Foundation and the Oakland Museum. Then, in the late 60s, I moved out to California. At that time, several groups here were interested in improving public housing using government funding. I wanted to try a different kind of practice, designing not for people with a lot of money, but for people who needed it. I found that the people interested in public housing did not have a design background. They were all socially, politically, and economically astute. It was a whole different ballpark…I learned a very different kind of architecture. Europe and America train their architects to design egotistical buildings that represent themselves instead of designing for the people. You are not

or there was no room. My brother’s idea was to help educate people who were not going to the top universities. When I saw what they were doing, I said, I can really help you guys. You can’t just put buildings down. They were following the dormitory design of the central government. Every building in China built with government funds has to be designed by the Beijing Architectural Institute. The designs have no regard for local climate, wind, site condition, or culture. They’re all cookie cutter: corridor, room-room-room. The wrong orientation, every building was pump-pump-pump. You know, the Communist thing. They built three dorms following the standard Chinese university dormitory design. Each room was for 12 students and had six bunkers. For the fourth dormitory, I talked them into changing the room to be for six people and free up space for private baths and open

“Design is not just about making a prettier building. It’s about making a building that works, that can last, and has value. That is what the design process is about.” building community design concepts to glorify your creation, you are creating something for the community. But at the same time, it is still your creative work and you can still represent yourself. Because the prices are lower, they are not the kind of buildings you want to photograph and send all over the world. That’s why community design architects don’t have projects that people talk about a lot.

Photo by Bill Hocker

How did you first start practicing architecture in China? It happened in a funny way. My brother and his friends wanted to start a second-tier community college in a small town during the 70s. At that time, China had about 45 universities and most people could not attend college. Either the students didn’t have the preparation

corridors so you get air. The students loved the new dorm. And then I got my job. I convinced the administration to build apartments for students. Then I designed the central administration office, the gym, the clinic, and am now working on the lecture hall auditorium. Were they inspired by your work? They did not understand the design on paper but once it was built, they really appreciated what I had done—a building that answered their needs and spaces that were interesting, unlike the standard designs. I raised the bar. And then! My biggest contribution: I made them plant trees all over the campus. You really need that balance of architecture and greenery. The foliage softens the building. Most architects just design the building and ignore the environ-

ment. I’m not that kind of architect. I consider the path. How do you work with people who consider design an extravagance? You explain to them that design is a process of making a better building. It’s not just about making a prettier building. It’s about making a building that works, that can last, and has value. That’s what the design process is about. When I changed the dormitories’ design, it was not because that was the only way to do it. Within the budget and constraints, I could make it better. Just that little bit. What obstacles do you face from clients and building practices in China? I have to argue a lot with the builders and train them because there is basic stuff they don’t know. For example, did you know that every time you flush a toilet or use a sink there is a very small pipe in the wall to let out sewer gas to the roof? That’s why the toilet doesn’t smell—the sewer gas doesn’t come back in, it escapes through the pipe. It’s inside every building. When China started installing modern toilets in their hotels, the contractors said, “What is this silly pipe doing there, we don’t need it!” That’s why all the old Chinese houses and hotels smell of sewage. The sewer gas comes back, and all the bathrooms smell of it. It’s that simple. What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from working in China? The biggest thing I’ve learned in China is that the Chinese can do things so efficiently, so fast. In America, a building that’s the size of the college’s administrative building usually takes about three years to design and three or four years to build. In China, I designed it in six months, and they finished it in one year. They work very hard, very fast. Right before I finished designing, they already were pounding the foundation. In one year I went back and my building was sitting there.

Full interview available online at Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous


First H and

Robots in Space…and the       An ethnographer delves into the origins of the “Rover by Janet Vertesi


t is a challenging day on Mars, as the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has gotten stuck in a sandy patch. Back on Earth, at Cornell University, several scientists discuss how to free Opportunity from the sand. One of the scientists, Sullivan, proposes a complicated reverse and twist motion. As he describes it to his colleagues in the room and on the teleconference line, he moves his hands back and forth along with the direction of the drive. His friend, James, wheels his chair so that he moves and twists like the rover too, then with mock solemnity declares that the movement shall hereafter be called the “Sullivan Maneuver.” A few weeks later, I travel to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where I meet Mark, an engineer who drives the rovers. As he discusses the way the rover senses its suspension, pitch, and roll, he contorts his torso into different angles. As he describes how the rover “reaches out and touches things” with its robotic arm, called the Instrument Deployment Device (IDD), he reaches his own arm out and twists it to imitate the IDD’s particular and peculiar range of motion. He explains: “I’ve frequently tried to put myself in the rover’s head [asking], ‘what do I know about the world?’” The Team Behind the Rovers When I started working as an ethnographer on the Mars Rover mission in 2006, Spirit and Opportunity had already been operating on Mars for over two years. As a sociologist of science who works in HCI, I was interested in how the scientists work together to interpret images from Mars and operate


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the robots from a distance. I found that while the rovers operate out of sight millions of miles away, the human team takes center stage. This team includes engineers, like Mark, and an assortment of planetary scientists, like Sullivan, distributed at universities and research centers across the country who analyze the robots’ data and direct their paths. The scientists meet a few times every week by teleconference to plan and assess their robots’ activities. The challenge of keeping connected— both with each other and with their rovers—drives the technology used on the mission, from specialized computer programs and teleconference networks, to e-mail distribution lists and webcam streams. More interestingly, the long-distance team effort also drives the range of gestures and stories unique to the mission that are shared by both the scientists and engineers. Over time, I started to identify gestures like Mark’s and Sullivan’s as the “Rover Dance.” How to Do the Rover Dance The Rover Dance happens spontaneously, even unconsciously, whenever team members are discussing their rover, its current location, or its planned or executed activities on Mars. They swing their arms at awkward angles to imitate the rover’s robotic arms, and they propel their wheeled chairs to approximate rover drives. They splay their arms to either side to imitate the rover’s solar panels, and they roll their torsos to enact the robot’s position on the Martian landscape. When they talk about taking pictures with the panoramic cameras, they perch their hands at either side of their heads to imitate

Scientists that Mimic Them Dance” and the meanings behind it the distance between the rover’s robotic eyes, and they talk of “learning to see like a rover” when they show me the images that their robot returns from the red planet. This happens whether the person they are talking to is in the same room or at the other end of a teleconference line miles away. A collection of stories further emphasize team members’ sympathetic, affective connections to the rovers. When

they bring team members together to a place on Mars where they share a common perspective, goal, and robotic body. This is important because the rover team operates both at extreme distances and by consensus, building agreement about what Spirit and Opportunity should do each day on Mars. Consensus building is difficult, fraught, and fragile, especially when the team consists of up to 150 scientists and

Sharing common ground on Mars and a common body language on Earth helps team members to manage their differences and agree what the rover should do every day.

Illustrations by Brian Van Osdol

the rovers are broken or stuck in a sand dune, one team member explained, “We feel it in our bodies.” Another scientist reported that her hand “stopped working” while she was gardening at exactly the time when Spirit’s wheel broke. An engineer recalled, “I screwed up my shoulder and needed surgery on it right about the time that Opportunity’s IDD started having problems, and I broke my toe right before Spirit’s wheel [broke]. So I’m just saying maybe it’s kind of sympathetic.” He laughed, “I mean, I don’t think there’s any magic involved or anything, but maybe it’s some kind of subconscious thing.” Let’s Dance Together The gestures and stories that make up the Rover Dance serve several functions on the mission. They help team members articulate, for themselves and each other, “where we are and where we’re headed.” They make conditions on Mars feel local on Earth. Furthermore,

engineers with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, with a variety of research questions they want answered, and with different goals for the rovers. Doing the Rover Dance reminds team members that they are all in this robotic body together. Sharing common ground on Mars and a common body language on Earth helps them manage their differences and agree about what the rovers should do every day. In fact, when referring to the rovers, the team members most frequently use the pronoun “we,” reflecting a collective approach. Doing the Rover Dance builds an alliance between the robot’s technical operation and the social cohesion of its human team. Not all spacecraft teams do a Rover Dance. Those with strong hierarchies and divisions between scientists and

their instruments are often considered “dysfunctional,” whether or not their technical components “work.” The debates that rage on Earth over what the robot should do in space can place extra strain on the robot’s operational components. Describing the lack of cohesion on another mission, one scientist exclaimed it was “a wonder the spacecraft didn’t tear itself apart into thirteen pieces!” Techniques like the Rover Dance renew our attention to the human element of human-robot interaction. In social robotics design, it is worth considering not only how humans see, sense, gesture, or talk, but also how they make decisions, how they work together, and how they relate to each other around the robot. We might ask: what is the social organization of robotic work, who is deciding what the robot should do, and how are these decisions made? Understanding, accommodating and respecting local dynamics and hierarchies is necessary if we are to design robots that can integrate ever more seamlessly into our communities and do their jobs effectively. This holds true whether your robot is vacuuming under your couch or exploring another planet. After all, as a rover team member said: “Once those robots leave Earth, the team is all we’ve got.”

Sensational Spring 2009 Ambidextrous



An Ode to White Space by Ellen Lupton


mpty. Blank. Void. Wasted. That’s how most people see the parts of a web page or magazine spread where nothing is displayed or printed. Graphic designers, however, call such fields of unclaimed territory “white space.” These open areas are as sacred to us as a fresh bar of soap or a fifteen-minute intermission. How did we come to cherish the abyss, and does it have a future in today’s digital world? The elements of white space Typography, the backbone of graphic design, while typically associated with the shape of characters also concerns the space around and between them. Since Gutenberg invented movable type, printers have set text in crisp, justified columns. To achieve this effect, the typesetter would insert additional spacing material between elements. Today, software does this automatically. When done well, the variable spacing is so subtle the reader fails to notice it. When done poorly, gaps erupt across the text like wormholes in a damaged universe. To see examples of choppy


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spacing, look at the print edition of nearly any city newspaper. In addition to the spaces between words and characters, the margins of a page are a place where designers cultivate the beauty of nothingness. While a cheap paperback novel is jammed with prose right up to the edge, the wider margins of an elegant book of poetry offer the hands a place to grip the book and the eyes a place to rest. Such margins function, essentially, as a frame, a border that passively surrounds the featured content. The typographic grid, an invisible lattice that divides an area into vertical and horizontal units, organizes the open space of pages and posters. The architecture of the grid becomes visible as it gives shape to content, but it is also made visible by the fields of space left empty. Advocated by Swiss designers, including Emil Ruder and Karl Gerstner in the 1960s, the grid suggests where to place elements and what size and shape to make them. In place of the static frame of a classical page layout, the grid encourages the designer

to create dynamic, asymmetrical compositions in which open space not only occupies the margins but flows among content elements. White space can also draw attention to forms and messages in graphic art. El Lissitzky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, avant-garde designers working in Russia and Germany in the 1920s, sought to invade every region of a poster or page with potential emptiness. Inspired by abstract painting and asymmetrical architecture, they saw empty space as a palpable substance. Seeking to organize compositions in dynamic and flexible ways, they activated white space—versus merely filling it—with content. From books to computers and phones While it’s relatively easy to implement grids for print design, applying them to dynamic web sites is more challenging, especially due to the monetization of pixel space. While countless web sites are divided into three or more vertical columns, a fully functioning grid should allow some components to “break the grid” by crossing over multiple columns

within a content area. The generous swaths of white space in web designer Koi Vinh’s gorgeous web pages in his popular personal blog, Subtraction, free the eye from relentless clutter while emphasizing the underlying grid structure. Besides the technical challenges of preserving white space on web sites, there are also practical concerns. No one wants to scroll across a 300-pixel dead zone while hunting for bargains on eBay. Online shopping sites are designed to accommodate different amounts of content per page depending on the merchandise category. Thus, some pages have lots of white space while others are more dense. White space is built into such systems in a serendipitous way as it is within flexible, unpredictable systems. For example, in West Elm’s web site, generous space around each product’s image yields more or less white space on a page in relation to how many products come up in a given search. Despite the growing size of today’s cell phone screens, big fields of white space can be more annoying than pleas-

ing on a mobile application. With space at a premium, interface designers adjust the gaps between and around graphics and text elements in order to guide the eye and create clear visual separation.

From an information design point of view, using less white space can help streamline communication. Infographics guru Edward Tufte has argued that loading a lot of information into a small

For graphic designers, white space is more than an empty vacuum. It is a poetic presence and a functional tool. A well-designed iPhone application has little white space, but what is there has been carefully modulated. Savoring white space Working within commercial publishing, where open space equals wasted money, designers have always had to fight to preserve white space. Open a typical mass-market magazine today and you will find few areas left unfilled. White space is also in short supply on the web, where density is king. A typical news or social media site is tightly packed with content, especially towards the top of the page, where information competes with side bars loaded with links, tags, and ads.

area allows readers to compare data more quickly. Just as a dense urban neighborhood can be easier to navigate than a sprawling suburb, so a tightly packed page or screen can reward readers with quick access to data. Graphic designers like myself have long been enamored of white space. For us, it is more than an empty vacuum—it is a poetic presence and a functional tool. In an era of tiny screens and shrinking budgets, the idea of leaving anything blank may seem foolhardy. Yet when used well, open spaces—even small ones—can make information easier to understand and more pleasurable to read. Every pixel has the potential to please the eye.

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Organizational Pressures within NASA Run High by Susannah Paletz


hen I tell people that I used to work at NASA, they usually assume I must have been an engineer or a manager. When I go on to explain that I am a social psychologist, I get some puzzled looks. First, most people do not understand what it means to be a social psychologist. Everyone assumes that I am a therapist or, in at least one case, a psychic. In reality I am a scientist who studies human behavior. It is as different from psychological therapy as cancer research is from being an emergency room doctor. What was someone who studies human behavior doing at NASA? Technically speaking, I contributed to the creation of a software tool to delineate organizational and social psychological risks and mitigations for future NASA operations and designs. Basically, I applied principles and theories from social psychology and sociology to design environments. One of the cases that I drew insights and recommendations from was that of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. In February 2003, the Columbia orbiter disintegrated during reentry over Texas; burning up as a result of damage to its thermal shielding. The direct cause of the damage was that insulating foam from another part of the spacecraft came off and hit the orbiter during lift-off. However, it is clear that other non-technical factors also contributed to the disaster: organizational

From Top: The Columbia Accident Investigation Board chairman is briefed by the Thermal Protection System shop about launch process; Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off; NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe looks over pieces of debris with the Shuttle Test Director.


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Background photos by Hyung Suk Kim. Other photos courtesy of NASA

NASA management focused so much on schedule that they did not listen to the engineers and their safety concerns. In trying to see the forest, management missed the trees.

structure, pressures, and culture can all play a part in design failures. In the past two decades, accident investigation in general has gone beyond looking at the immediate technical faults to examining latent, underlying vulnerabilities that can lead to an accident. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), tasked with determining the causes of the disaster, followed this trend as it assembled a large team of consultants with both technical and organizational science backgrounds. This included academics who had studied human error and accidents using organizational psychology. In its final report, the CAIB pointed to organizational reasons in the Columbia disaster. Three organizational pressures that exist for all companies are quality, schedule, and budget. At NASA, these came into sharp conflict during the 1990s due to a top-down organizational philosophy called “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” This philosophy, among other failures, was implicated in both the Challenger and Columbia accidents. The idea behind it was to make high-quality spacecraft on schedule (or faster than in the past) and within budget—something NASA has historically had trouble doing. From the CAIB’s perspective, NASA fell prey to these competing demands with safety losing out. I interpret this competition as a result of a

conflict between at least two cultures that divide NASA. When you walk into a room and know who is supposed to sit where, what tools you should use, and who you should ask for help, that’s all part of culture. When I started working at NASA, I had the misconception that NASA culture was one hegemonic, homogeneous force. In fact, many overlapping groups exist at NASA. Two of those groups are the engineers who handle design, safety, quality, and reliability and the middle managers who handle schedule and cost. The CAIB and my analysis hold that the conflicts between these groups are partially responsible for the Columbia disaster. Specifically, management rationalized that the foam strikes on the orbiter were normal, refused to listen to dissenting opinions from engineers, and focused on schedule. These decisions all contributed significantly to the Columbia disaster. Normalization of Deviance The term “normalization of deviance” was coined after the Challenger accident. It refers to a gradual process in which troubling, unsafe events begin to seem normal. Problems previously considered to be safety risks keep occurring with no negative consequences and so are no longer seen as risks.

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In the case of Columbia, NASA engineers became alarmed upon noticing in the video of the lift-off that a suitcase-size chunk of foam had jarred from the external tank of the spacecraft and hit the left wing of the orbiter. As per NASA contingency procedure, a team of engineers was formed to investigate the danger posed by the foam strike during the mission. Strikes of that kind were considered deviations from the original designs of the Shuttle, but because previous flights had also experienced foam strikes without disastrous consequences, NASA no longer considered them a serious safety issue. On day six of Columbia’s flight, in discussing this latest foam strike, a key manager cavalierly said, “It’s not really a factor during the flight because there is not much we can do about it.” NASA, the organization that had necessitated the phrase normalization of deviance, had fallen prey to it again. Ignoring Dissent Psychology literature on teams suggests that group decision making benefits when members listen to dissenting opinions—even when those

opinions are irritating and/or incorrect. In the case of Columbia, the key managers did talk to engineers and were made aware of the possibility that the falling foam could have caused catastrophic damage. However, these managers denied the engineers’ request to obtain a visual image of the orbiter using Defense Department satellites; when the request was repeated, the managers asked for proof that the request was “mandatory.” The engineers, as described by the CAIB report, “were in the unenviable position of wanting images to more accurately assess damage while simultaneously needing to prove to program managers, as a result of their assessment, that there was a need for images in the first place.” As a result, when these engineers gave their analysis to mission management, they had no strong evidence that the foam strike would cause a catastrophic problem. In the end, management concluded that there was no safety-of-flight issue for Columbia. The CAIB notes that during this key meeting, “no supporting evidence or examination of minority engineering views was asked for or offered.” The CAIB calls these missed opportunities, lapses in leadership, and stifling of communication. Specifically, the root problem is not simply a lack of communication or leadership but the suppression of dissent. It takes a strong manager to seek out and listen to ideas contrary to one’s own but that is what was, and is, necessary. Focus on Schedule

While it is easy to blame management, to be fair, management’s attention was split among several concerns. Those managers were focusing not on the possible damage to Columbia but on the implications to an already impacted schedule for refurbishing Columbia when it came back possibly damaged. In addition, if the mission management wanted to revisit that previous rationale for flying with the foam falling problem, it would delay the next flight. At the time, NASA was des-

Left page: Debris from the orbiter collected in a hanger for the reconstruction project. Right Page: Employees listen at an all-hands meeting at Kennedy Space Center.


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perately trying to meet a deadline to complete the International Space Station. Foreign governments as partners were depending on it, and Congress was watching. As of December 2002, they had already run out of every possible bit of slack in their schedule according to the CAIB report. The CAIB rightly saw this as the insidious effects of schedule pressure instead of focusing on safety. Management focused so much on schedule that they did not listen to the engineers and their safety concerns. In trying to see the forest, management missed the trees. Back on the Ground

The fiercest struggles I personally observed during my tenure at NASA were not between innovation and bureaucracy but between engineering’s determined, deliberate, and thorough safety culture and a management culture that was focused on cost and schedule. This tension can be productive: someone has to give the American public value for their money and make sure that products are being delivered. At its best, the NASA way of creating spacecrafts emphasizes quality and safety at each design review. Soon after I started at NASA, the CAIB report was distributed to every government employee. Many took it to heart, and I started to observe some managers asking explicitly and regularly for dissenting opinions—and meaning it. The head of my division was particularly good at this. Only through respecting what both engineers and managers bring to the process can design failures be avoided. Although these lessons, among others, come from examining a catastrophic accident in a highrisk endeavor, they can be carried over to other domains. All companies have to balance quality, schedule, and money, and the repercussions for any one of those failing are harsh. However, the smartest managers understand that a schedule is based on a reasonable estimate of time given a certain level of quality and cost. Quality should

drive the schedule, not the other way around. The normalization of deviance can also occur in design. Utilizing old designs in new situations can save time but can also be inappropriate. A copy-and-paste of an old design element without re-examining it within its new context can incorporate mistakes into later work. In addition, finding a way to welcome dissenting opinions is important in any group, whether it entails listening to user complaints about a product or in understanding and overcoming concerns before rushing to war. Those who disagree might have an important point, and even if they do not, they might get you to think of what you are working on in a new way. Lastly, every organization develops a culture, but the larger the organization, the more different subcultures can diverge, laying the foundation for misunderstandings, goal conflicts, and hurt feelings. The next time the guy from marketing does not make any sense, the designer is asking strange questions, or the programmer gives you despairing looks, ask where they are coming from. It may not get your product into space, but it may help it get off the ground.

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From left to right: Michael Barry talking to a couple while investigating snack innovation; Barry studying personal care.

Mind The Gap: Ethnographers Navigate interview by Phoebe Kuo


ince designers first adopted ethnography into their process, the use—and, according to some, the misuse—of ethnography in design has been debated both in design circles and in social science academia. Ethnography first arose within anthropology as a methodology to document a culture through systematic data gathering, using techniques such as long-term immersion as a participant-observer. Starting several decades ago, designers have seen the potential value of integrating ethnographic techniques into the design process as a way to gain better understanding of the problem at hand, thus delivering a more sound overall solution. As a result, designers have made wide use of various aspects of this methodology. However, some anthropologists object to the departure from the methodology’s original goals and applications. Michael Barry and Griff Coleman are principals at Point Forward, a Bay Area firm that uses ethnographic research to inform the design of consumer prod-


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ucts. Using a small number of in-depth, one-on-one interviews with consumers, Point Forward uncovers unmet needs, or “opportunity spaces,” that corporations can then design for. Here, we ask Barry, whose background is in needfinding, and Coleman, whose training is as an anthropologist, to explain how they have reconciled the two fields, what the role of the end user is in the design process, and why they feel ethnography fuels better design. How does your work relate to design and to anthropology? Michael Barry: Fundamentally, we believe that you need to understand people in their own terms. How you get at that is tough. One of the dilemmas we have is that although it’s easy to understand people in their full complexity and fill a room with notes and transcripts and diagrams and pictures, it’s harder to create innovations that make people’s lives better from that glut of information. In order to facilitate lots of other people—engineers, marketers,

and manufacturers—we need to simplify that complex description. Typically we do it through simplified models, a set of key stories or quotes. I would argue that’s what designers do. They simplify the world to get their arms around it, and in some ways that is useful. It also can be problematic. What we give to our clients is still a model that isn’t real and it has limitations. The people we hand it off to may be thinking, “Now we can design stuff,” but the simplifications may not be clear, and so it’s easy for them to misuse what we give them. I think from the academic anthropology side, the simplifications may look like deficiencies. This way of studying people is clearly in flux and debatable because it is so flexible, nuanced, complex, and unbounded. You’re going to find people who will tell you that we do not know what we’re doing or that we’re probably doing the wrong thing. Griff Coleman: Reality is a tough topic, especially in the realm of culture, be-

From left to right: Griff Coleman in India, working on affordable lighting; Coleman at a hospital studying behavioral health services.

the Space Between Users and Designers cause most of the important things are just cultural inventions. They are ideas. I can’t go out and take an instrument and measure them. What I can do is write you a protocol that says if you go do this, then I predict this will happen. So I would argue that we’re doing a disservice by simplification is wrong. For example, we studied elders as a demographic for Intel, and I can now say that if you go talk to an elder person who lost their driver’s license, and

What is the relationship between yourselves and the people you study? MB: I hope we as researchers get to be partners with the respondent on a little journey. In some ways the people we are studying become guides. If I listen really carefully and push on the right things, they can open doors for both me and themselves to learn something. GC: I think in an interview situation, the key thing is exploring the respon-

Photos courtesy of Point Forward

“In some ways the people we study become guides. If I listen carefully and push on the right things, they can open doors for both me and themselves to learn.” – Michael Barry if you do a good job of eliciting information from them, they eventually will allude to the concept of independence. They’ll probably even use that word. However, it’s impossible to do this like a physicist where you take a ruler out and measure it and exactly replicate it.

dent’s—or, as I like to think of them, the native’s—brain. If you do it with curiosity and respect and gentleness, they realize that there’s an interesting realm of phenomena in their head that they just carry around all the time. It’s a cycle where you go in with some

assumptions, you find out which assumptions are bad, you make some more, you try it again, and pretty soon you say, “Oh, okay. I can reconstruct what it looks like to go over and sit in that person’s head.” That process is exciting to me. For example, in a project for ATK (an ammunition manufacturer), in the first interview I did, these guys were talking about calibers and guns and boom, boom, boom, and I’m thinking I’m never going to learn all of this stuff. I was asking questions like, “What’s your favorite ammunition brand?” And we learned in the course of the project that that’s a stupid question. They basically said that’s not the right question because it depends on the activity. So later I realized, “Oh, okay, I’m not going to ask them about ammo, I’m going to start with the activity.” How would you describe what you do? GC: Our challenge as ethnographicallygrounded innovators is to follow this methodology to elicit the cultural

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constructs everybody has. In the end what we discover is going to be simple because it’s a verbally transmitted and a mentally held thing. It will boil down to something like “independence” and what that implies in various contexts. However, the operation of eliciting the cultural constructs people have while keeping your mind on two planes at once, both the native model [of the user] and your own analytical model [as an ethnographer], is really hard. That’s a skill that we have and that we develop, and if you can do it well, then you get to see areas of opportunity for design. Cultural systems operate unconsciously and automatically. Just because of the nature of ideas, there are contradictions or gaps or weaknesses or Achilles’ heels where a set of ideas is not working in some area. Our job is to find out what those areas are and offer alternatives. The art of what we do is predicting among all the gaps and contradictions and discontinuities which idea fits in this cultural context and is

in the latest design magazines to kind of make it look different. And at the end of the day, you knew it was still the same thing. Then I started taking some anthropology courses, and it was like opening the door to the candy shop. Suddenly everything was possible. It wasn’t just about styling a telephone or a toaster. There were different ways of seeing. With ethnography, I can be creative just by listening to people and beginning to see things differently. GC: A sign of how subtle this is—there are a whole bunch of anthropologists, behaviorists, who think that’s bullshit. How has the use of ethnography benefited product design? MB: The best thing the use of anthropology has done for business is that it has gotten business people a little closer to real people, to customers. That is important because watching focus groups breeds cynicism and a

“The operation of eliciting the cultural constructs people have while keeping your mind on two planes at once, both the native model [of the user] and your own analytical model [as an ethnographer], is really hard.” – Griff Coleman going to be perceived as a value that somebody didn’t think about before. MB: What Griff just described was for me the magic of what anthropology offered designers—how it reveals areas of opportunity. Before that, as a designer, you would look at a brief telling you to “design a telephone,” and you might only look to technology. You really had to twist yourself in a knot to get to someplace else, or you ended up using some stylistic tricks that were hot


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kind of opposition in business people. Those customers, they don’t do what you want them to do. You poured the last three months of your life into a product, and then one of them says, “I don’t get this. It’s really stupid,” and you want to say, “You idiot.” But when you get on the other side of the glass and live with somebody, suddenly it’s, “What was I thinking!?” You have a connection to people instead of an abstraction. After making that connection, I think companies in-

vest more in getting their products and services to fit with customers. They feel like they have a stake in their customers’ future, as opposed to just thinking, “Somehow I’ve got to get money out of their pockets.” GC: That’s the beauty of capitalism. At a certain point, those users get to vote on your idea. You could be a brilliant person inside the corporate meeting rooms, where everybody has to say, “You’re fabulous. You’re right. Let’s go do it.” But then you follow up, and the idea flops. I’m sure the geniuses still think that the common man hasn’t caught up to them, but if you have to run a business based on getting people to make those buying decisions, you’re not going to go in that direction. So do you bring companies the truth of how people are actually operating? GC: I would be very wary about using the word “truth.” I would describe it as “what’s actually happening and what people really say in a specific place and a specific time.” All the specificity is important because I don’t want to represent that we go and study “convenience” in six countries in 2008 and that that’s going to be true in 2015. It’s important to establish that this opportunity space that we’re trying to understand is a very fluid thing. MB: What keeps me humble is knowing I actually haven’t gotten at the truth. I’ve got at some part of it. We need to convince our clients that they need to keep looking at it. It’s never like, “I got it. [Claps] We’re done. Whew.” Every time you go back you see it a little differently. GC: To me it’s also a scientific attitude that says you can never prove something. All you can do is disprove something. Truth is just the residue that you haven’t been able to disprove yet.

Illustration by Marcello Bastéa-Forte


Cozying Up Designing Objects With Hygge In Mind by Jonathan Bean


omfortable” as a design objective seems simple enough. To heating and air conditioning companies, it means whether you are too hot or too cold. For office furniture makers, it means whether sitting in a chair makes you productive. These functional definitions of comfort are commonly encountered by those, like myself, who study architecture. However, when you think about how products and spaces can make people feel emotionally comfortable and whether comfortable feels the same in America as in Denmark, “comfort” becomes a much murkier attribute. To investigate how objects fit into emotional and cultural concepts such as comfort, I recently studied one specific type of comfort: a Danish concept called hygge, typically translated as

“coziness.” However, the direct translation misses much of its meaning. Hygge—which roughly rhymes with “beluga”—merges elements of ritual, spirituality, domesticity, contentment, pleasure, indulgence, and restorative nostalgia. Together with its adjectival form, hyggelig, it is one of the most frequently spoken words in Danish. Hygge is closely connected with national identity and with Denmark itself: a government web page promoting tourism declares, “It’s as Danish as pork roast and cold beer.” My research, still in progress and partially completed while working for Intel Corporation’s Domestic Design and Technology Research group in 2007, studies hygge through ethnographic fieldwork. Visiting eleven Danish households, I had participants

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take me on a tour of their houses, talking about the spaces and artifacts in their homes. They helped me document the tours using a digital camcorder and a camera. I also asked participants to draw maps or floor plans of their homes, indicating areas in their homes associated with hygge.

“right” place, the activity of moving things around is itself important for achieving the feeling. Other people I spoke with also valued portability in furniture and objects such as radios, computers, and even ceiling lamps— hardly things one would think of as related to coziness!

Hygge—which roughly rhymes with “beluga”—merges elements of ritual, spirituality, domesticity, contentment, pleasure, indulgence, and restorative nostalgia.


These research probes allowed us to explore the contents of their home and what “home” as a concept meant to them. From preliminary analysis of my research, and drawing on past research done by anthropologist Judith Friedman Hansen, I have identified three themes related to hyggelig spaces and objects: using props to set the stage for hygge, creating proximity by drawing close, and using memory to tie the past to the future.

Being able to move things around may also be important because, as another participant explained, there are actually three different kinds of hygge. There is hygge by yourself, hygge experienced with close friends and family, and hygge experienced with your lover. Because the different types of hygge require different relationships between people and objects, being able to rearrange objects allows one to set the stage for any type of hygge.

Setting the Stage

Drawing Close

My participants described how the right arrangement of furniture and objects can lead to the experience of hygge. Dorte, a young wife, explained to me that when she is at home by herself, she needs to perform a sequence of activities in order to feel hygge. She slips on an old pair of comfortable slippers, takes out a pair of candles from a cupboard, puts away extraneous papers or books, and retrieves the portable radio from whatever room it was in. She then turns it on low in the background, sets water on to boil, and brings a cup of tea out to the living room, where she sits and reads or works. She said she did not experience hygge as a result of doing these things; it was just a feeling that might happen when all the conditions were right. Thus, putting one’s environment in order is a precursor to hygge. Besides the fact that things end up in the

I found that physical closeness, in terms of the size of a space and how enclosed it was, is an important part of hygge. Spaces identified as hyggelig could be separated from other areas (by closing a door or drawing a curtain) in order to make them more closed off. They were also generally small enough in at least one dimension that one could touch opposite walls by extending one’s arms. Despite the trend of people (including the people I studied) living in increasingly larger homes, I repeatedly saw that participants had arranged furniture or modified their homes in order to make particular spaces more constricted. For example, Jaeger and his wife tucked their couch under the sloped portion of the roof in their attic apartment because it felt more hyggelig there. Dorte and her husband built a platform for their bed, both so that

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they could use the space underneath as a sitting area—one she identified as hyggelig for friends—and so that the bed, with the ceiling just a few feet above, would feel more hyggelig for her and her husband. When her husband traveled and she was felt lonely, Dorte explained, she would hygge herself by taking food up to the bed loft, drawing the covers over herself, and watching a movie on the TV. Tying the Past to the Future As anthropologist Judith Freidman Hansen found, the rhythmic sense that an event has happened many times in the past and will continue to occur in the future is also an important part of hygge. Ann laboriously sorted out rotten sections from salvaged wood to reuse the rest as flooring in her new house. While new houses never feel hyggelig, she explained, her new house did because its connection to the leaky, outmoded (but hyggelig!) cabin that stood on the site before her house. In this way, space itself can become minder, a marker of what has come before, a visible connection to past events. Coziness, Design, and Culture The objects that designers create shape our relationships with other people, and, by extension, our cultures. And conversely, our cultures shape the use and the meanings of those objects. To understand this back-and-forth process, we must decode the cultural meaning of multivalent concepts such as coziness. Ethnographic research has helped me show that hygge does not mean “cozy” for everyone. Its meaning shifts depending on whether you are alone or with others, and it is a feeling produced by the interaction between people, objects, and spaces. With a better understanding of such insights, we can more consciously design objects that fit in with cultural concepts such as hygge.

How To Set The Stage For Hygge A dinner party is a typical situation where you might experience hygge with close friends and family. You should invite a group of at most twelve people—having more alters the dynamics of the group and dilutes the focus of conversation. If you want to try out this version of hygge, here are the basic elements that you will need to set the stage. If you don’t experience hygge on your first try, repeat until it emerges. But remember not to discuss hygge, lest you scare it away. The memory of your past dinner parties—and the knowledge that there will be more in the future—are an essential part of hygge. A pool of light from candles in the center of the table or an overhead light on a dimmer. You want to create the feeling that the group is turning their back to the world for the night.

Illustration by Marcello Bastea-Forte

Red wine and a stronger drink, such as aquavit—just a bit of indulgence and intoxication helps the hygge along.

Small plates and food on trays to pass around and create more closeness and interaction.

A narrow table to facilitate closeness. Choose a rectangular or oval one that is at most 30-inches across, which is much narrower than the typical American table. Chairs should be narrow and without arms, so they can be drawn close to one another. When seated, your guests should nearly touch one another. You can also use a bench.

Based on Judith Friedman Hansen’s article “The Proxemics of Danish Daily Life,” and Om Hygge: Ti Kroniker [About Hygge: Ten Short Stories].

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T hinking

Space To Learn Designing environments that support and inspire by Susie Wise


s soon as my partner and I could bear it, we dutifully started investigating options for a nursery school for our daughter. There were several good programs and lovely teachers, but the thing that caught us at every turn were the learning spaces. They were fine, I guess, but they felt oddly constrained and unimaginative. I could not see them for myself or my daughter. It was not until I was introduced to some intrepid parents starting a cooperative nursery school from the ground up that I was able to articulate what was missing. I wanted a place where my daughter could explore, play, and dig into learning without inhibition. The ability to do those activities is in fact an important theme in my work as a learning experience designer. I have become convinced that where learning takes place has a powerful role in facilitating reflection and exploration.


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How a Space Teaches Reflection In 2000, I was part of a group within the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) that initiated the redesign and expansion of its education facilities. We decided to build the new center next to the art galleries so that visitors could reflect and interpret the art they viewed in an adjacent space. We wanted to ensure that the act of viewing the art and the act of reflecting on the art were not considered two disparate activities. The center has the requisite classrooms for docent programs and hands-on art projects for kids, but its heart is the Learning Lounge. The lounge attempts to address several questions that might arise during a visit to SFMOMA. Where do you go to think about what you have seen and felt? What do you do if looking at art has prompted more questions than you are comfortable leaving the museum

with? While purists consider galleries the only space needed for reflection on art, the Learning Lounge proposes that other spaces might help. The lounge is designed to give visitors an opportunity to sit down and relax so they can take a needed moment to reflect as well as to help them learn how to reflect. The Koret Visitor Education Center, which opened in 2002, proposes that simply breathing deeply and thinking about what you have seen is the best place to start learning how to reflect. Indeed, the Learning Lounge is the one place in the museum with truly comfortable seating. The space itself adapts to small and large group learning experiences, media presentations, and quiet contemplation of art books. It prods visitors to broaden their mindsets. The lounge’s walls literally pepper visitors with questions such as: “How can we find meaning in

Photos of Koret Center by Katherine Emery. Photos of I-Lab courtesy of the Nueva School

a work of art?” and “Where do artists get their ideas for making art?” Interactive kiosks feature artists’ discussing their work. These discussions are something that visitor studies showed was missing in the galleries. Learning to reflect in this space means taking time, relaxing, posing questions, and seeking out “answers” as they emerge.

At the start of the project, the team spent six weeks observing and interviewing children and teachers as well as helping out in classrooms to gain first

While a user-centered design approach typically requires designers to interact with users in their native environments, in the case of young children

The Learning Lounge gives visitors an opportunity to sit down and relax so they can take a needed moment to reflect as well as to help them learn to reflect.

How a Space Teaches Innovation In the Fall of 2007 the Nueva School, an independent K-8 school in Hillsborough, California, opened an Innovation Lab (I-Lab) for its students. The I-Lab was designed collaboratively by teachers from the school and a team from Stanford’s K-12 lab, a group I founded that applies design thinking to educational contexts. Our goal was to make the I-Lab a space that facilitates and embodies the design thinking process specifically for children.

hand knowledge of the students and their ways of working. We then built a prototype I-Lab off-site at Stanford’s Each week during the summer of 2007, 10 to 20 kids came to the makeshift I-Lab, allowing us to iterate on the concept. As a result of insights gained from those activities, the I-Lab opened at Nueva with three primary environments: the immersion theater, the prototyping and collaboration hot house, and the high-resolution lab.

designers, that technique does not always make sense from a safety and logistics standpoint. Instead, we sought to create a space that would make it easy to invite users to come to the students. The immersion theater incorporates stage design props and tools, allowing students to launch design challenges and prototype environments and services. It also allows teachers to create contexts that best fit their curriculum goals. Projection screens vary from

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child-size to room-size for viewing user stories, and reconfigurable platforms with wooden props such as trees, cars, buildings, and homes encourage teachers to create unique environments to bring in real or virtual users. For a project about transportation, the entire immersion theater space was configured as a city, and users—from bus riders to

While prototyping the space, we found that young students need materials literally spread across their desks in front of them to remind them what they could use. We also found that younger children find it easier to start designing when they are given an initial idea to work with as opposed to a completely ambiguous design space. Thus, giving

Like teaching, designing learning environments often means finding the right balance between triggering questions and encouraging exploration. avid bikers—were invited to the theater to experience the students’ creations. In the prototyping and collaboration hot house, collaborative tools are scaled for kids. It features flip-top whiteboard tables that children can work around together and then flip up to share their sketches. The collaboration space also makes a wide range of prototyping materials accessible, from pipe cleaners to foam core, colored pom-poms to wood scraps and PVC.


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students constraints and guidelines, such as a certain set of prototyping materials, can encourage creativity. Finally, the high-resolution lab is a shop where children can discover hand tools and power tools alike, encouraging them to make more realistic prototypes using real tools. When designing the space, we felt it was extremely important to make actual, adult-sized tools readily available to the children, with proper safety measures taken, so

they would become comfortable using them and building full-scale prototypes. An enthusiasm for using the tools could then, for example, translate to iterating from a small-scale model of a new bicycle rack out of cardboard to a full-scale version made of wood. Spaces that Delight and Challenge Reflecting on my experiences designing the Koret Center Learning Lounge, the Nueva School I-Lab, and most recently, the cooperative nursery school, I have found that, like teaching, designing learning environments often means finding the right balance between triggering questions and encouraging exploration. The space needs to have tools readily available to help learners launch investigations while at the same time allowing them to explore different paths, whether by delighting them at every turn or confronting them with unexpected points of views. For children and adults alike, these might be the activities that matter the most for motivating learning.


The Shape of Design to Come? Or Not. by Hsiao-Yun Chu

Photo by Hyung Suk Kim


y seventh-grade English teacher, Ms. O’Flanigan, had a grim, hatchet face and bony hands. A strict grammarian, she made us diagram sentences and memorize the 47 prepositions. Perhaps Ms. O’Flanigan loved grammar for its logic. Its rules tame the messy landscape of language, and she knew them all, cold. There is a certain anal-retentive pleasure to be had in grammar. I suppose it’s the same kind of thrill that some people experience when they match and fold socks and then organize them by color. If sock taxonomy is your thing, I highly recommend Shape: Talking about Seeing and Doing by George Stiny. In this book, Stiny proposes that shapes have a grammar, a set of rules that govern how lines and shapes can be manipulated and transformed into a myriad of possible outcomes. Shape grammar is somewhat analogous to linguistic grammar. The latter provides rules for how words can be organized into countless different sentences. Shape grammar, by contrast, elucidates rules that allow designers to generate, manipulate, and transform shapes. Understanding this system, Stiny argues, can enhance creativity by allowing people to more effectively analyze shapes, to “reason with your eyes.” Shape can be a fascinating read, provided that you are motivated to fol-

low Stiny’s logic and that you enjoy a fair amount of mathematical abstraction. Lines and shapes become players in equations, subject to rules and transformations: identities, repetitions, combinations, rotations, additions, and so on. For example, a triangle can be subdivided into three line segments; these segments can be recombined into lines of different lengths, or used to generate other shapes such as squares or diamonds. The triangle can be copied and flipped to generate a six-point star, containing a hexagon and six small triangles, or it can be copied and rotated incrementally to create a flower-like shape. The application of these shape rules, Stiny suggests, is not only a valid creative process for generating forms, but it also builds visual acuity by preparing designers to better analyze those that they see on an everyday basis. Stiny says that shape grammar is critical for designers because their very language is form. However, as a designer, I think this book is better suited to mathematicians, logicians, or computer scientists, who will enjoy the theory he presents for its own sake. A choice sentence from Shape is fairly representative of the book in both tone and content: “The Euclidean transformations augment the Boolean operations in the algebra of shapes Uij with additional operators” (p. 212). Copious illustrations

do help you visualize the mathematics, and Stiny’s language is clear, so with a bit of patience it is certainly possible to follow this exposition of his proposed shape grammar. He also provides historical context by discussing the psychology of shape perception, which enriches and humanizes the text. Shape is the culmination of a careful, lengthy, and passionate study of shape grammar, and there’s no question that Stiny is the authority on this subject. He delivers a formal, logically organized exposition of his proposed system. The main problem with the book is that the subject matter itself is somewhat esoteric. In addressing this book toward designers, Stiny makes two assumptions: (a) designers desire a structured way to consider shapes, and (b) they are interested in using his system of rules to generate patterns and forms. In homage to Stiny, I’ll end with two simple formulas: • Given (a) and (b) => You’ll enjoy Shape. • If neither (a) nor (b) => Shape = zzz. Shape: Talking About Seeing and Doing, by George Stiny. April 2006. MIT Press, 432 pages. Hardcover: ISBN-10: 0262195313, list $40.00.

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Ambidextrous Sensational Spring 2009

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OBJ E C T O bituary BITUARY Object

The Stanford iRoom 1999-200(?)

When you walked into the Stanford iRoom back in its early years, it radiated the aura of high-tech creative meetings. Vast amounts of information would appear on the seamlessly tiled, 12-projector display that was operated with a digital pen. The richly-crafted wood conference table had a large screen at its center, projecting maps, plans, and other “horizontal-friendly” materials. Devices were scattered in the space to facilitate these interactions: trackballs, PDAs, “air” mice, ultrasonic pens, a teleconferencing camera, and even an “iDog” you could program to bark when you turned it over. Today the room has the feel of a comfortable old garage. Leftover equipment litters the space, most of the screens are now absent or not working, and the conference table has been replaced by a clutch of practical worktables. It’s sad to see the high concept devices go away, but it was their time. The goal of the iRoom (no, the ‘i’ isn’t from Apple, but from “interactive”) was to create a uniform interface that could bring together the many devices that were becoming part of the tech-savvy worker’s toolbox. Stanford faculty from three different areas of computer science—Pat Hanrahan from Graphics, Armando Fox from Systems, and myself from HCI—created the joint research project. My focus was on the phenomenology of interaction— letting users operate in this melange of devices fluently rather than continually throwing them into a puzzle-solving activity of operating multiple menus, commands, and pointers in all of the different interfaces. The overface included moving information from one device to another, creating links from maps to spreadsheets to images, and controlling anything— even the projectors and lights in the room. Experiments flourished, with names such as PointRight, InterfaceCrafter, PostBrainstorm, iStuff, WorkspaceNavigator, FlowScan, the Virtual Auditorium, iPong and iClub (an interactive disco). Some were major research efforts, others more whimsical student projects. In traditional Stanford fashion, some led to successful startups (VSee and TideBreak). The life of the room wasn’t defined by its hardware, but by the rich variety of people, ideas, and projects that inhabited it. In time, projectors burned out and weren’t a priority to replace. Devices became obsolete. Students published papers, graduated and moved on. The room turned into our garage— useful, but a bit shabby. When I go into the iRoom now, I don’t feel the sadness I experienced when my family moved out of our first home in San Francisco and I lay down on the floor and cried. A part of me was left behind. The iRoom never had that kind of charm. My connection is with the people and their work, not the technologies. Rather than a treasured object to be passed down generations, it’s more like a circuit breadboard. I might cry on leaving the project some day, but the iRoom has deservedly gone into retirement, having served its purpose well. 52

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Photo by Hyung Suk Kim

by Terry Winograd

Ambidextrous Issue 11 "Space"  

As children some of you may have dreamed of becoming astronauts, or at least vied for a spot in Space Camp. Maybe you were inspired by the w...

Ambidextrous Issue 11 "Space"  

As children some of you may have dreamed of becoming astronauts, or at least vied for a spot in Space Camp. Maybe you were inspired by the w...