QUARTERLY OF THE INDUSTRIAL DESIGNERS SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The Story Behind the Design PATENTS
QUARTERLY OF THE INDUSTRIAL DESIGNERS SOCIETY OF AMERICA WINTER 2016 ®
Creativity in Crisis. See page 32.
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THE STORY BEHIND THE DESIGN
14 Designing Narrative | 40 Random Path or Narrating Design Reputed Practice? By Prasad Boradkar, IDSA, and By Shea Tillman, IDSA
3M Design, St. Paul, MN
Lee Gutkind, Guest Editors
17 Growing Up as a Creative Designer in a Corporate Empire
44 What Would I Do with an Industrial Designer? By Steven R. Umbach, IDSA
By Joel Kashuba
20 Oh Snap! What Snapchat Taught Me About the Design of No-design By Isabela Sa
23 Storied Objects What Does Writing Have to Do with Design? By Caroline Tiger, A/IDSA
27 Casting a Wide Net Unlocking Creative Confidence By Suzanne Gibbs Howard 32 Creativity in Crisis By Thomas J. Knittel, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
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QUARTERLY OF THE INDUSTRIAL DESIGNERS SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The Story Behind the Design PATENTS
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INNOVATION is the quarterly journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), the professional organization serving the needs of US industrial designers. Reproduction in whole or in part—in any form—without the written permission of the publisher is prohibited. The opinions expressed in the bylined articles are those of the writers and not necessarily those of IDSA. IDSA reserves the right to decline any advertisement that is contrary to the mission, goals and guiding principles of the Society. The appearance of an ad does not constitute an endorsement by IDSA. All design and photo credits are listed as provided by the submitter. INNOVATION is printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks. The use of IDSA and FIDSA after a name is a registered collective membership mark. INNOVATION (ISSN No. 0731-2334 and USPS No. 0016-067) is published quarterly by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)/INNOVATION, 555 Grove St., Suite 200, Herndon, VA 20170. Periodical postage at Sterling, VA 20164 and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to IDSA/INNOVATION, 555 Grove St., Suite 200, Herndon, VA 20170, USA. ©2016 Industrial Designers Society of America. Vol. 35, No. 4, 2016; Library of Congress Catalog No. 82-640971; ISSN No. 0731-2334; USPS 0016-067.
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I D S A HQ
A POWERFUL SIGNAL
t’s no coincidence that the name of this publication is INNOVATION since the essence of the design process is innovation. So wouldn’t it seem logical that the US government would advocate for the protection of one of our nation’s most valuable assets—our intellectual property? Apparently not, if you consider the US Supreme Court’s Dec. 6, 2016, unanimous decision to reverse the Federal Circuit Court ruling awarding Apple $399 million in damages after elements of its iPhone design were deemed to have been infringed. Although the dust hasn’t fully settled, it appears that determining damages for design patent infringement is slated to become a complicated two-step process: first, articulating the claimed portion of the infringed article of manufacture and, second, determining the infringer’s profit focusing only on the articulated claimed portion of the design. The seemingly endless battle of Samsung v. Apple in the first design patent case in more than a century to be heard by the Supreme Court isn’t over yet. The justices merely have dodged the crux of the issue by sending the case back to the lower courts to reassess damages based on a portion of the profits. The proposed process likely is doomed because of the ambiguity of accurately and uni-
formly assessing the apportionment of profits. For example, are damages determined by the percent of the claimed portion of the design, by the visual importance of the claimed portion, or by the cost of the claimed portion, etc.? One must ask—if two juries cannot arrive at the same conclusion, isn’t the law flawed from the outset? Unfortunately, the hope of a ruling that focused on protecting intellectual property has been scrapped in favor of one that likely will encourage copyists and knockoffs. We can only hope that the tides will turn when the lower courts learn that apportionment of profits is largely arbitrary and difficult to assess. Samsung calls the ruling a victory “for all those who promote creativity, innovation and fair competition in the marketplace.” Apple remains “optimistic that the lower courts will again send a powerful signal that stealing isn’t right.” On another design front, IDSA’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) 2017 successfully launched on Dec. 1, 2016, to great fanfare. Looking ahead to 2018, the global competition is slated for rebranding—headed by famed designer Yves Béhar, IDSA, of fuseproject. The 30-plus-year-old program has earned a redesign and we are excited by the prospects! Stay tuned. —Daniel Martinage, CAE, IDSA Executive Director email@example.com
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F RO M T HE E DI TOR
STORYTELLING IS MORE THAN ART
eluctant acceptance. That’s how it starts. A wellmeaning individual does not initially want to go on the journey but is convinced either by other wellmeaning individuals or, if the story is really tense, by notso-well-meaning individuals. And so it begins. Next comes the meeting of the guru. Or is it the mentor? No matter, this adviser demonstrates the individual’s potential and gives the hero some advice and also usually some kind of tool. Think of Yoda and the lightsaber, or is it Obi-Wan and the Force? No matter, it’s not that important to be precise, but rather to focus on getting the broad strokes in place and the rest will come. Now we start to climb. Usually a trek through something challenging, a forest, a virtual landscape or a mental barrier, enduring anywhere from a little to a lot of exertion with obstacles that are spaced out or condensed—that’s the variable storytellers use to keep things interesting and unique. Still, like form follows function, the principles always apply and can be recognized if you look hard enough. When Prasad Boradkar, IDSA, thought of this theme for an issue of INNOVATION, I was super excited. This tool of storytelling has been making itself known in the design world in recent years in many different and spectacular ways. Also, the changes that abound in the design world point to the stories to come. There are many: autonomous cars, virtual reality tools, design firms being acquired right and left in dramatic fashion by larger entities seeking the power of design thinking. Yes, many stories coming indeed. Now, where were we? Ah, yes… A trek through adversity. Any kind. In Hollywood the big challenge is in coming up with new and unfamiliar landscapes because the same stories have been told so many times. Murder mystery, yes! But how about a murder mystery on a space ship headed to Mars? Then there it is—the achievement. Some kind of achievement our protagonist has accomplished—what they set out to do. Cause for celebration, right? Not so fast. Next comes the fall. Oh, it’s always there—some kind of disaster, a recognition of facts that were hidden or unknown and then revealed, changing the landscape in a spectacular way.
Let’s hope the story of design in this new century sees only a minor fall, or, better yet, that it takes a really long time for us to get there. That’s the variable, right? I’m pulling for midcentury just like in the last one when midcentury design was recognized for its prowess and power, for its gamechanging impact and its keen understanding of human need. Then came the ’70s and ’80s—the fall. Here’s the thing about the fall. It teaches. The hero learns and becomes aware. The second journey begins in earnest. The next rise is an informed one, depending on how much the storyteller wants to let the audience in on the ending. Sometimes the ending comes as a surprise; sometimes it makes perfect sense. Always in a good story it is very satisfying. That’s why they call it the “elixir.” Well, I guess to be precise that’s what Joseph Campbell called it. Joseph John Campbell, that is, born March 26, 1904. He was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in outlining the narrative I am writing about, what he called the “Hero’s Journey,” what arguably every Hollywood movie uses as a narrative for storytelling. George Lucas was the first Hollywood filmmaker to credit Campbell’s influence, following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, whose story was shaped, in part, by ideas described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and other works of Campbell’s. So it turns out that storytelling, even great storytelling, is not an art, but rather a tool that can be used and understood and varied and applied. And a tool that generates a consistency in its application. Many people are surprised to hear this, thinking that every good story is original. For design, I think it’s an exceptional realization because stories are sticky. People remember what you did, how that product or service played out—as the great poet Maya Angelou said, people remember how you made them feel. Stories do that, and designers need to tell more stories, especially in the moment we find ourselves in, in this moment of great change. Who knows what might happen, what’s the elixir to come in the decades ahead? I, for one, am pretty positive that this story ends well. —Mark Dziersk, FIDSA, INNOVATION Executive Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
7 Central | Mar. 31–Apr. 1 University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
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Midwest | Apr. 28–29 Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Milwaukee, WI
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D E S I G N DE F I NE D
“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” —Oscar Wilde
DESIGN IS SIMPLE
esign is connecting people to knowledge they already know. In other words, all people exercise what we call design thinking to reveal design issues and design problems. Designing can
be defined as identifying the need, understanding and applying an appropriate process, and then solving the problem. The activity of designing, therefore, is the means by which we see, think and make. Sometimes simplicity is best and is frequently overlooked. We forget the ways of the past, often rushing to a complicated solution as the only choice. Yet, simplicity, at times, can be achieved in clever, wellmade, low-tech products that work extremely well. You may not find the following story in design history, but it is certainly one of the best examples of simplicity: A man was tired of the monotony of financial life and bought a farm. As a hobby he developed a sauce from his garden and marketed it locally. It soon became highly regarded, and demand increased. He thought he could expand production by quitting his job, developing his farm and making the sauce fulltime. However, he needed a way to ensure quality, because he was extremely meticulous about the recipe. How could he ensure that an expanded workforce would measure the ingredients simply and effectively? How could he communicate the precise ripeness of the harvest to ensure flavor? Adding to these concerns, his migrant workforce was multilingual and uneducated. Compounding matters was cost. His money had already been invested in expanding the land and purchasing a bottle plant to package his product. The design challenge was to develop a device that determines the proper ripeness of a pepper, measures proper volumes and communicates this information in multiple languages.
When presenting this problem to my students, most immediately think of an interactive scanning app for a smartphone. Or a handheld scanner that can assess ripeness and measure using some type of weighing mechanism and translation software. I then give them a cost target of 2 cents for the entire device, then to use only 19th-century technology. The usual responses are perplexed expressions and the sound of crickets. The solution is the epitome of simplicity: a stick. That is, a dowel rod 8 inches long painted a shade of red that matches the color of the proper ripeness of the peppers. The stick is painted to a point equal to the proper height of a full box of peppers. The stick would also act as a scraper to even out the surface of a full box of peppers. Every worker would be issued one. What is the product called? It is “le petit bâton rouge” or “the little red stick.” The farmer’s name was Edmund McIlhenny and his sauce is called Tabasco®. The year was 1866. I learned more about design systems and tools visiting Avery Island, LA, and the Tabasco Company Factory. The process of how the sauce is made has remained unchanged—as the case with the little red stick. This is simple design at its best. Too many times objects are changed and redesigned for the wrong reasons. There are times when the best solution is as minimal design as possible. —John Caruso, IDSA, Professor, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, email@example.com
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International publicity and exposure
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B E A U T I LI TY
OFFENSIVE TERMS FOR W hy does it seem “manly” to refer to teamwork with lighthearted locker-room terms (that I’m sure everyone is familiar with, but we find too offensive to use in this publication—maybe you can decode the replacements)? Does calling collaboration “huddle coupling” make it sound like the worst thing to get stuck in? Using that kind of language makes us feel like everyone’s getting screwed. Should anyone feel like that at work? People naturally want to feel like part of the group, but they also don’t naturally want to collaborate—it’s normal to have it your way or no way. Using that kind of non-PC language builds camaraderie and undermines collaborative spirit. Those people may not actually be trying to screw you, but they must have different definitions of collaboration. “Committee” is another derogatory term they use for collaboration (citing the camel as proof). OK, so everyone doesn’t view collaboration as the great process industrial designers see it as. After all, French collaborators were not on our side in World War II! As the global climate is heating up, the climate for cooperation is cooling down (Brexit and fracturing binary gender identities are examples) and the rhetoric of our new president doesn’t bode well for collaboration. But the complex and contradictory issues humans face require group effort. There are two approaches: the totalitarian system or the inclusive approach. The totalitarian way seems most effective. It works like this: One person tells everyone what to do. No wasted effort. Works great if that person is the smartest (like Plato’s philosopher king)—but eventually a subordinate starts thinking that they’re smarter, then there’s a struggle and a rebalancing that is usually chaotic and violent. Meanwhile, the collaborative method is always chaotic! Working with a diversity of contributors makes it harder to hear the melody. It’s messy, but incorporating all those different points of view gives a more accurate picture. Evidence can be more realistically evaluated—just as triangulation locates a point in space and more pixels mean higher resolution. The same with more compromises. Adding more samples gives higher fidelity; smoother resolution means
“No true leader works in isolation, no true leader would not listen before showing the way.” —AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report
TEAMWORK each concession can be smaller. If triangulation is good for describing a point, meta-gulation is even better! That’s the genius of biology and evolution—survival of the fittest is based on the most high-fidelity view of the universe. The winning answer is tested again in the crucible of reality in an iterative process of life and death. Fail fast, fail often. Back in 1944, Gordon Lippincott wrote: “A large number of mediocre ideas does not necessarily produce one good idea.” For us, collaboration is about nurturing creative teamwork, a method for producing better ideas. It’s a skill, like writing or playing in a band. Collaboration is not just a process of working out compromises—the process is about exploring, learning, creating, inspiration, trial and error and, yes, balancing contradictory solutions. The result is the best imaginable. It’s generative and synthetic. Diversity of choices leads to progress. There is not a more collaborative profession than industrial design. Like jazz and improv comedy, collaboration is baked into our process. It’s not a separate element or step; it’s a critical ingredient of our entrepreneurial methodology. Collaboration with our audience is indispensable. We are translators. We can’t get anything done without working with manufacturers. Industrial designers work together to figure out how to use their machines and materials to make the designs faster, better and cheaper. User-centered design uses the same muscles. It’s essentially a team sport: Like in volleyball, designers have to play all the positions: server (creative), front line (user advocate), back line (ecological and social defenders), middle (manufacturer and marketing liaison). Not only do we have to work in teams, we love playing together! The process is pleasurable. Working with other designers is easy. For example, a few years ago after I spoke at a Dallas IDSA conference, they broke into groups to brainstorm ideas for the next conference—it was so smooth because everyone knew how to do it. In five minutes each group had a ton of cool ideas! “Studio culture” is architect shorthand for their teamwork concept. It describes the mix of process, creative input, physical requirements, and management acquired
during late nights, extreme dedication, personal sacrifice, and punishing marathon critiques that build a sense of community and form lasting friendships in the architects’ studio. As one educator responded in the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report: “No true leader works in isolation, no true leader would not listen before showing the way.” The Greeks made the word “architect” by combining the words for “chief” and “builder.” Architecture may be one of the oldest professions—buildings have been designed essentially the same way since humans moved out of caves. Architectural education is relatively more recent; it started in 1648 with the École des Beaux Arts, founded in Paris where studio culture developed. Before there were hackathons, architects called them charrettes, French for the cart that carried their drawings. “On charrette” meant working up until the last minute, riding on the cart as it was pushed to the presentation. I have a picture of my grandfather working “on charrette” on a drafting board set up in the hallway outside the New York City Building Department, revising a drawing before the hearing. Silicon Valley’s version of charrettes are jams and hackathons. The intense communal attack on a problem starts with a problem and ends with a winner. “Hacker” used to be a pejorative term, akin to digital robbers; now it’s good to hack, and being disruptive is the way to go! Hacker entrepreneurial spirit drives incubators around the world. The web was created for collaboration, which works even better now with teleconferences, Skype, GoToMeeting and Slack. For example Cisco Spark hypes sharing: “The innovative ‘team communication’ solution . . . that is just too useful to pass up. Cisco Spark gives you unlimited rooms in the cloud for all of your teams and projects. All your files and conversations in one place, accessible securely from all of your devices.” Like Basecamp: “Featuring a whole suite of collaborative tools including to-do lists, Wiki-style documents, file sharing and messaging, it packs just about everything you need to keep any project running smoothly.” Surya Vanka, former director of user experience at Microsoft, is calling his immersion workshops Design
I N N O V AT I O N W I N T E R 2 0 1 6
B E A U T I LI TY
Faulty group dynamics result in parts of the Swarms. The three-part event starts with a chalteam feeling authorized to use derogatory deslenge, then everyone sketches solutions, and the ignations if their ideas aren’t being recognized next day they present what they came up with. Mike or advanced. But calling names won’t help. The McCoy and his Highground Studio Masters created A large best collaborators are usually not celebrated as Image Space Object weekend workshops that levnumber of the hero of the story. The best collaborators are eraged all-night sleep deprivation to open creative not trying to work their way up the ladder and get doors and grease team conflicts. mediocre recognized. Collaboration is not necessarily the The collaborative process has lots of names. ideas best tactic for getting ahead. At Druga 5 they call it—well, I can’t say because it’s The type-A tactical advantage is that winanother term too offensive for this publication, but does not ning is the only goal—meaning that you lose. it’s like “band boom.” The cool advertising agency necessarily Leadership is making games with winners and tasks a handful of creative teams to develop pitches separately then battle for the job. “Creative combus- produce one losers. The advantage of collaboration is that it is based on the idea that everyone needs to win, tion” is how Hartmut Esslinger described a special good idea. which makes sense because real problems like kind of creativity frogdesign was famous for. Just like poverty and climate change are not games with a nuclear reaction that starts when too many atoms sides you can choose. For collaborators, play ignite a chain reaction, throwing a brief to the frogs is open-ended. Collaborators are not trying to makes them scramble like ping-pong balls in the scimake their point or get recognized for their ideas. ence class demonstration. Obviously, certain levels Gordon Lippincott Good collaborators are team builders who help of friction are conducive to innovation—if necessity supercharge the whole project. Working up from is the mother of invention, then ego and anger are the bottom is hard when you are trying to help everyone. radioactive fuel. Frog’s super-competitive environment enerDesigners like Bill Moggridge and President Obama should gized the creative juices. It’s no wonder that many design be the model our society celebrates. companies have names that express this idea: Ignition, The point is we all need to live together. Just as hackSpark, Kaleidoscope, Octane, Fuel, Lava, Tool, Whipsaw ers are the good guys now—we can flip those derogatory and, of course, Ammunition. terms. Democracy, empathy and collaboration are the best The real weakness of the holistic approach is that it way because we can accomplish more when we appreciseems feeble when confronted by a specialized type-A ate what more people want. Good things are happening expert or an aggressive, combative boss. Broad, all-fronts, if you look behind the headlines: Britain may be Brexiting, T-shaped attacks seem too thin and allow a focused charge but 80 percent of Britons who take their vacations abroad to break through. It’s easy to poke holes in a general cosgo to Europe. It seems like refugees who will do anything mological view because the web is thin and the “facts” are to escape unrest in their homelands are headed for Detroit, sharp. But it only seems weak. It works best when everyone where most of the Syrians coming to the US are settling. is on the team. Progressive education is like user-centered Racial friction seems out of control, but 40 percent of mildesign; the teacher doesn’t tell the students what to do—in lennials are biracial. Gender-neutral bathrooms are opening fact, students and the teacher are learning together. The doors for everyone. Transgenerational thinking is pushing best teacher is the one who appears to do nothing. It seems user-centered design to future users. So industrial designers like some right-wing plot to peg people who seek comproare just what we need—we can decode the messages. Our mise and consensus with the label soft and unrealistic. The professional industrial design skills also make us good team capitalistic system doesn’t reward it. Where I was raised, players, enablers, communicators, catalysts for change and everyone was expected to collaborate—in fact, after getting progress. We believe in the public. Design is a community blackballed in the 1950s all those commies found refuge in project. It’s a relay race for Beautility! Yellow Springs, OH.
—Tucker Viemeister, FIDSA www.tuckerviemeister.com
BO O K RE V I E W
Applying Nature’s Processes and Materials to the Real World
BIOMIMICRY FOR DESIGNERS more than 20 years of construction, the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest-ever space telescope, is expected to launch within the next two years. The telescope is so advanced that it will be able to see a bumblebee a moon’s distance away. The full telescope, made of smooth gold-plated mirrors, is too large to launch fully extended, so it will be carefully furled during launch and once in space will unfold over the course of two weeks. The relationship to a flower opening up to the sun’s rays cannot be overlooked—a classic example for the next edition. The author, Veronika Kapsali, is a biologist and designer and brings a designer’s eye to both the content and the visual nature of the book. The images are strikingly beautiful and brilliantly descriptive. The armadillo staring back at you from the spread introducing Section 3: Structure will take your breath away all by himself. He’s a miracle of nature, and he knows it. A real cutie nestled in a truly unique and distinct collection of content. By the way, here’s another distinction: Because of the book’s format, you can indulge as much or as little as you want. While divided into sections, it really is a tome you can open at any point and enjoy the dramatic examples of how our manufactured world is made better by following the examples nature has provided. We all know what it means to be stuck on a project looking for an answer that just isn’t there. In this moment, what can you do? Take a walk? Immerse yourself in an activity? Yes! All the above, but let me add one more: Find a comfortable spot and open this book, relax and read through a number of the cases. I guarantee you will return to your sketchbook with new ideas and inspirations. So what do polar bear fur, seahorse skeletons, beetles, fire ants, squid nerves and protein molecules all have in common? Here’s a surefire way to find out; get this book. I am happy to submit a glowing recommendation for Veronika Kapsali’s work here. It’s a book that every design library should have and use. Thames & Hudson
eetle say what? Every now and then a book comes along that is a must-have for every designer. This is one of those books. It is made up of two- and three-page summaries, or stories, if you will, depicting how biomimicry affects our world. The book has you at hello with the first story about the creation of barbed wire. The author has compiled an exquisite collection of stories describing how everything from barbed wire to fighter jets are made by mimicking the design genius of nature. Thanks to nature, our world is full of examples of how complex issues can be solved by using simple materials in new ways. Veronika Kapsali defines biomimicry as “manufacturing materials that imitate life’s natural processes.” One example that almost everyone knows is the microscopic hooks on burrs that inspired the development of Velcro®. In this book you will find kingfisher beaks inspiring the shape of bullet trains, shark skin inspiring new swimsuit design, the aforementioned story of how hedge thorns were the model for barbed wire, and dozens more, from the Eiffel Tower imitating a leaf structure to the modern-day chainsaw inspired by timber beetle mandibles. And the stories! The stories are really great to read. Take the chainsaw. When an enterprising trained welder, Joseph Buford Cox, moved to Oregon with his brother to work in logging, they changed an industry forever by looking to nature. They saw how the infamous timber beetle could turn large amounts of wood into sawdust. The brothers combine their skills and voilà—created a new method of better meeting a human need. In addition to helping with functionality, biomimicry as a vehicle for sustainability plays a huge role as well. The author argues that as we deplete our natural resources, designers are increasingly turning to nature—where nothing is wasted—for inspiration. It’s a strong argument, and the evidence presented in the book is compelling. In addition, nature provides answers to incredibly hightech problems. Take for example one demonstration too new to be in this book: the Hubble Telescope replacement. After
—Mark Dziersk, FIDSA, INNOVATION Executive Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
I N N O V AT I O N W I N T E R 2 0 1 6
By Prasad Boradkar, IDSA and Lee Gutkind email@example.com n firstname.lastname@example.org Prasad Boradkar, industrial design professor at Arizona State University (ASU), is currently serving as design lead on a project at Google ATAP in Mountain View, CA. He is the author of Designing Things: A Critical Introduction to the Culture of Objects and is working on a book on Indian design. n Lee Gutkind, recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” is the author or editor of more than 30 books and founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction. He is a distinguished writer-in-residence in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at ASU and a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
DESIGNING NARRATIVE | NARRATING DESIGN
here’s a design to every story and a story in every design. True storytellers must think design— and designers must think story. This was our motivation when we began soliciting ideas and selecting stories for this special issue of INNOVATION. It may seem like writing and designing
are two totally different professions. And in many ways that might be true, especially when you consider the end result: words for people to read or products for consumers to use. But we are also on the same page, especially in the beginning. Writers and designers are both motivated, inspired and defined by story. Without an overall story—what we call a narrative structure or arc—we may not connect with and serve our audience, whether they be readers or consumers. We shape our world through stories. Interestingly, we also shape our world by design. The stories we tell and the things we design fashion our world, and these stories and things in turn fashion us, making us who we are. We know there’s a living visible structure to design. It’s all in what we see, feel and sense in the spaces we occupy and in most things we need and use—products like furniture, cooking utensils, athletic equipment, medical devices, etc. And the creation of these items and ideas begins and ends with story—precipitated by an obvious need or a problem perceived. The story is the primary motivating event that leads to design and innovation. There’s also a structure to true storytelling, what is referred to as creative nonfiction—a design not only in the way it is crafted but also in the way it is created, the process from start to finish. And yet, designers rarely work with experienced storytellers. Although storytellers may from time to time write about design and designers, they most often report on rather than participate in the process. We believe that designers and storytellers can learn from one another and significantly enhance their writing and design work as a team.
The processes of designing and writing are remarkably similar. In some ways, writers are sculptors—or designers. Writers gather material in various ways and put all of the relevant stuff together before beginning the slow and challenging process of giving it a form—a shape—cutting, pasting, adding and taking away. Designers similarly generate a large number of ideas, and then a process of evaluation starts so that the most promising solutions can be selected for further development. This is often done by comparing new designs (often in the form of drawings and models) against a set of such criteria as beauty, functionality, usability, sustainability and so on. Storytelling in Design In the past decade, designers have been exhibiting a growing interest in the power of storytelling. Human-centered design builds its methodology and goals on the conviction that design should emerge from people’s real needs; new products and services need to address the human condition rather than productize a technology or merely fill a market gap. New design solutions must have a meaningful impact on the daily lives of ordinary people. And in order to be able
The Design of Stories Just as storytelling can play a critical role in design, a design exists in stories as well. There’s a definite structure to true storytelling/creative nonfiction, which can best be described as true stories well told. Writers have to think about the shape and structure of the piece they are writing. They have to think about the way architects might look at a bridge or industrial designers might look at a product. The architect might see all the ways in which pedestrians might stroll across the bridge or lean on the balustrade; the industrial designer will see how a consumer might pick up a device and fiddle with the controls. But these designers also see the blueprints of the structure—how it all comes together, phase by phase and piece by piece. So too with writers. There’s a structure to creative nonfiction—a shape. The shape will usually help define the story and at the same time pinpoint the words to be edited and sharpened and those to be eliminated. The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. “Creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights and documentary film-
Illustration by Minhua Zhu
to create new designs for products that can enrich people’s lives, designers engage in ethnographic research to understand the habits, rituals, likes, dislikes, motivations—the culture—of individuals and social groups. Stories are fundamental to human culture. We, as people, have been telling stories, listening to them, writing them down and passing them on to future generations for as long as we have been alive as a species, a community, a society and a culture. Therefore, stories can not only be highly effective in helping us understand people’s cultural needs to generate designs but also in explaining how new designs can become a part of culture. It is by paying close attention to and analyzing narratives of people’s daily routines that designers can truly understand what people’s needs are and how might they best be addressed by design. Therefore, in the design process, it is imperative that stories of people’s lives be recorded and products be designed around them. However, our goal with this issue of INNOVATION is not to explain how designers can or should use storytelling during the various stages of the design process; instead, our intent is to bring to you, the reader, a few stories of design written as creative nonfiction.
makers employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy. For this issue, we asked our contributors to present their stories as creative nonfiction. The idea of a story is critical to creative nonfiction, and, therefore, each essay, you will see, has been told in the form of a story. The authors do not present mere information; they tell stories. And one of the most effective techniques by which to tell stories through writing is to create scenes. A scene is a vivid, detailed description of an event that captures the attention of the reader. The scene is one of the primary building blocks of creative nonfiction. Often, the scene is followed by information that is critical for readers to know so that the story can move along. The chart demonstrates the structure of a creative nonfiction essay organized into scenes, information and scenes embedded with information. The goal for creative nonfiction is to have as many scenes and scenes embedded with information as possible. As you will discover, the authors in this issue of INNOVATION are storytellers, and we hope you find as much delight in reading their stories as we have. Joel Kashuba starts us off with a story of growing up as a
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designer/researcher in a large corporation trying to figure out what is important, relevant and meaningful to consumers. In doing so, he also offers us insights into how to pull off a research project on a shoestring budget. Isabela Saâ€™s story of letting users really guide design helps us realize how to be humble and enable our audience to become designers themselves. In the third essay, Caroline Tiger, A/ IDSA, discusses, as we do in this introduction, the similarities between writing and design through her experience in teaching a course on object stories. Suzanne Gibbs Howard discusses her successes and struggles in bringing about unexpected change by design. By unexpected change she means not only extending the impact of design beyond the expected scale but also enabling others to gain creative confidence. By drawing inspiration from nature in the design of an orphanage in Haiti, architect Tom Knittel
walks us through his process of being creative under conditions of extreme crisis. Lauren Harms, in her essay about the design of book covers, examines how the rules of accuracy that apply to nonfiction writers extend to the design of the cover. Whether a novel or nonfiction, a cover design must accurately represent the story though type, image and layout. Shea Tillman, IDSA. guides us through the work of designer John Stram, L/IDSA, whose humility and matter-of-fact approach to design as solving problems led to some remarkable designs for companies like IBM. And finally, we get to hear about a budding industrial designer by the name of Steven Umbach, IDSA, who in his dogged pursuit of landing an internship during the summer of 1978 runs into some luminaries we know very well today. This is creative nonfiction written about design by designers. n
By Joel Kashuba email@example.com Joel Kashuba is the head of innovation at Webb deVlam, a global consulting agency with offices in London, Chicago and Singapore. He serves as an adjunct professor at the IIT Institute of Design. Previously, he was a founding global design director at SC Johnson and an FEI design team leader at P&G. He is frequently a keynote speaker at national design conferences.
GROWING UP AS A CREATIVE DESIGNER IN A CORPORATE EMPIRE
ur ultimate goal is to understand which elements in the designs are meaningful to the consumer. That’s what this in-field work should reveal,” the director told me. I’d been under his direction for 18 months, and by then I knew very well his penchant for clearly
articulating the “ultimate goal” of our work. In that particular meeting though, he was giving me a new assignment involving one of the biggest brands in the company’s portfolio.
Turns out, after years of strong sales and robust growth, our brand had started to become stale when faced with competitors from other mega-sized corporations who played with equal credibility in the same aisles as we did across the globe. This was in the days well before store brands and niche entrants were a major threat to brands the size of ours. A slushy mix of hubris and disbelief that a small player could compete at our scale kept that off the radar back in those days. The logic worked in our favor, until it didn’t. But, like I said, that would be a few years in the future. “Once we understand the meaningful design attributes, we will write a design brief, choose a design firm partner and engage in a redesign of our entire brand language,” he said. It would have been flattering if the project was being assigned to me because he believed I could actually pull it off, but that wasn’t a truth I could tell myself. A project of this size on a brand so snugly situated in the shareholder’s spotlights was a test. As a young designer, I’d entered a corporate workforce as a bit of a freak. I dressed like a designer, spoke like a designer, held hours like a designer and generally held little grasp of how to communicate myself as a businessperson— or even why I should try to do so. It had resulted in poor performance reviews. Even though I cared about the work and the success to the company, I felt like everything I did was misconstrued and misunderstood by those around me. No one understood why I cared about the things I cared about. And even worse, all they seemed to want me to do was
become this corporate robot that wasn’t me. The assignment I was being given at that moment was intended to prove, once and for all, whether or not I had the mettle to survive. “Why are we only trying to find out what is meaningful? Shouldn’t we be basing our next generation of work on what’s important to the consumer?” I tried to ask politely. I have never believed in producing design work simply because consumers can assign language to what it means. Still don’t. It’s bad business. My boss frowned, “What’s meaningful is what’s important. That’s something you should have learned in design school.” I realized he wasn’t seeing the bigger picture, but I was at least wise enough to know that I was too low on the totem pole (and too low performing by corporate standards) to show it to him without substantial visual documentation and evidence. I knew at that moment that I’d have to use the in-field research he was asking me to do to prove my point. “What’s the budget for the research?” I asked. “Ten thousand,” he said. That’s when I knew for sure that I was being set up. Ten thousand would have barely paid for the consumer recruiting on most large projects. To say it was the budget for the entire research portion meant that I needed to find a secret well of magic in order to produce the quality of work that would stun the higher-ups and continue my career with the company. And magic wells are hard to find. Fortunately, I had that well. I just didn’t know it yet.
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As I walked back to my desk, feeling the pressure of the assignment and questioning if a large company was really such a great place to work as a designer, I turned control of the situation back onto myself. I recalled my days in graduate school. How little money I had to accomplish the big dreams that blossomed with every assignment in the design studio. Somehow I completed every one of those projects. So why not take the same approach now? Keep in mind, this was long before the days of lean startups. The idea of putting on a big performance with little or no resources was usually scoffed at. But I had no choice. It had to be done. Arriving back at my desk, I pulled out tracing paper and began to diagram the end results I hoped to accomplish, and I worked back from there. Along the way, I questioned how much money I could save at every step by either doing things myself or creating a new methodology that increased efficiency while still getting us the information we needed to get to the next round. I also didn’t let the meager sum of $10,000 assigned to the project obscure the reality that if I started proving my results along the way, I could potentially find other stakeholders with pools of money who might want to invest in a new methodology and new ways of doing things. I scribbled a few names of those potential money-pool gatekeepers at each stage so I’d have them in mind when I summarized the results. I’d made a plan, double-checked it with a few of the well-respected researchers in the office, formalized it in a document and presented it to my boss. I hadn’t considered it then, but that wasn’t something I was doing for each of my projects. I had the thinking down, sure, but I wasn’t formally communicating myself to my boss or others in the organization. I assumed they knew what I was doing. This was the first time I’d actually shown them what was going on in my brain as I planned my work. My boss was skeptical at first. “This is good thinking, but it’s well outside the kind of research methodology we customarily use to inform our work.” “Based on the budget, is there another way you’d suggest?” I asked. I’d come to him with a solid, if unconventional, plan that would get to our desired outcomes and stayed within the assigned budget. He’d either have to sign-off on my plan
or increase the budget to use more conventional methods. But, like I said, the real point of this project was to vet me. If he increased the budget to use more conventional methods, he knew he’d also be surrounding me with tons of support and connections that would make it nearly impossible to determine which pieces of the work I led myself. He’d have very little by which to evaluate me. Truthfully, I think he was a bit stunned that I’d even come up with the plan that was in front of him at that meeting. He’d never seen work like that from me before. I was growing into a professional, though I never would have admitted that to myself back then. Designers seem to hate to admit to ourselves when we are growing up. I believe that’s because we take such great pride in the childlike playfulness required of great design that surprises and delights our audience. To grow up—and even worse, to grow up in a corporate empire—is the mythological turn to the dark side that runs antithetical to the creative rogues we so badly wish to envision of ourselves. Yet there I was, impressing my corporate counterparts. Secretly, I was digging it, too. Really enjoying myself and the work. My boss signed off. I received my $10,000. So off to the races I went, having recruited a small team of consumers for research in Chicago. I had chosen the city for its diversity, and because I could find a consumer base to prove my first point while staying within the budget. I drove to town, backpacking all of my stimuli with me. I had built or assembled all of the various parts of the unconventional stimulus myself. It all fit within the trunk of my car. No business-class airfare for me. This was a like a secret mission of the rebellion. There I went again, fantasizing a world around what I was doing. Reality would hit soon enough. Research started at 9 the next morning. “These colors are slutty! Skanky even,” one of the respondents sneered as she pointed to some swatches of color that had long been associated as core colors for our brand. “That’s what those colors mean.” Though I wanted to laugh hysterically (I love it when consumers come up with stuff like that!) I remained calm as I facilitated the discussion. “Slutty and skanky. So who do you think those colors are right for?” The respondent looked at me almost incredulously, with a smile. The two respondents sitting next to her joined
in a unified chorus as they spoke back to me, “Sluts and skanks! Duh!” I sat back, noted the response and then leaned forward, waving my hand over the broad range of dozens of other colors on the table. “Then tell me, which of these colors makes you feel the words indicated on these three cards?” I held up three index cards with the equity descriptors of the brand written on them. These were the words that the “slutty and skanky” colors had supposedly represented for years on the shelf. The respondents indicated deeper and more lush hues than anything the brand had utilized before. These were the colors that would make them feel our equity descriptors. “Tell me, why those colors? What is it about them that makes you feel these words?” I asked. The respondents did a fine job articulating their preferences and beliefs. After all, I’d rewritten the screener to find consumers who were verbal acrobats, nimble, with cat-like agility when choosing words. That was one of the several unconventional things I had built into the process. Once the field work was over, I went back to my office and composed a presentation to share with my boss, fellow designers and several of the key stakeholders. I built exactly what my boss had requested of me. “This is what is meaningful to the consumer,” I said at the presentation, as I stood in front of a slide that contained every color in the rainbow, “And here’s what they mean to the consumer,” I clicked to the next slide, which was the same as the previous one, but it overlaid specific words that the consumers had assigned to each of the colors. “But we believe our brand means this,” I clicked to the third slide, which placed the three brand equity descriptors centered boldly on the white screen. “Anything we build should be relevant to these words. Starting with color, here’s what’s relevant.” I clicked to the next slide that underlaid the colors the consumer respondents had found relevant to those three words. I went on to plead my case, “If we chase what’s meaningful, we are only going to leave ourselves enough room to justify why any color we like can fit our brand. That is because all colors are meaningful. Consumers assign meaning to all of them. The same goes for shapes, materials, opacities, texture, patterns and so on. Human beings assign meaning to nearly everything they see and touch, even if it’s
done intuitively and on the spot. Just because something is meaningful, doesn’t mean it’s relevant. It only indicates that consumers know what it means. Relevance is what allows a consumer to know what’s right for them. We should be looking for relevance, not meaning.” I turned back to the colors I’d displayed behind our equity words on the screen. I had been careful to arrange them in a way that was pleasing to the eye and balanced with each other. I’d made my point clear. My boss looked around the room to the faces of the stakeholders. One of the key stakeholders spoke first. “This is fresh perspective,” she nodded to my boss. Relief washed across his face. “How do we get more of this before we get to the redesign?” She put the question to him. He gestured in my direction for an answer. It was gracious on his part. I thanked him and responded, “We will need to collaborate with our branding and consumer research teams to identify markets we must win across the globe and put together cost estimates on bringing this methodology to those regions.” The meeting went on for about an hour after that. Within months we had taken the methodology across the globe and had learned about the attributes that were relevant to the brand, not simply the ones that were meaningful. I’d proven my point: Meaning is a red herring. Don’t chase it. Instead, uncover what’s relevant, those attributes that most precisely indicate the equity you wish to convey. Build your foundation on that. I kept my job. Was promoted several times in the next few years. Led a team and mentored others who, like me, might have been dumbfounded as a creative designer in a corporate empire. More than that, I grew up. And in doing so, I opened up an entirely new phase of my career that took me to a realm of both thought leadership and organizational leadership. I’d learned to put aside my assumptions about what it means to be a designer in service to a much larger and more rewarding understanding of what is required to lead creativity and innovation in any organization I serve. It’s a much stronger position. I’m forever grateful that my former boss brought me the challenge that enabled me to ask more of myself. In fact, I hope I see him again soon. I’d like to buy him a drink—hopefully, one that’s relevant to him. Cheers! n
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By Isabela Sa Isabela Sa leads the design and development of edtech platforms at IDEO. She orchestrates teams of designers, researchers, writers and developers to apply design and technology to reinvent learning. She has worked with a range of clients inside and outside the education sector from global foundations to startups and Fortune 500 companies.
What Snapchat Taught Me About the Design of No-design
s soon as I opened the app, I saw my knees through the camera. I swiped to the right and came to a white page. One more time, a white page with circles. I swiped all the way back past the camera, white page again. Where was I supposed to land? On my knees? I looked up from my
phone; we were all doing the same futile swiping dance. Our project space was dead quiet. We were sitting in chairs facing one another but tending to our phones. Our project brief was to design an app to help college students on the road to graduation. That morning we had met with yet another student who used Snapchat more than any other app. We knew we had to download it and give it a try. “How is this so successful?” Assaf was the first to break the silence. He is an interaction designer with a keen eye for what makes people tick. “There is something bigger here that we are not getting, and we are not that much older than them.” I’d heard that Snapchat had been made to be deliberately hard to use, to keep parents from making the jump from Facebook. None of us were parents, though. The team’s age averaged in the mid 30s. “Where is the video I just recorded?” Assaf asked. KK jumped to his rescue. She’s a copywriter with a little more Snapchat mileage than Assaf and I. “We are designers and we don’t know how Snapchat works. It’s heartbreaking,” Assaf said. “At least we can still Google.” I turned to my computer and started looking for interesting characters to follow and images of famous snaps. I learned that Snapchat is good for taking photos of passed-out friends and drawing on their faces to make them look like Sleeping Beauty, putting cat faces on human bodies; and recording oneself rambling in the back of an Uber. I looked through thousands of snaps on Google Images, trying to make sense of them. I thought of the day I tried to explain to my grandma why sending angry replies to offers of “growing a few inches” wouldn’t stop the spam from appearing in her email account.
Learning the Snapchat Vibe Every year, thousands of first-generation college students drop out. We were working with Beyond 12, a nonprofit organization that aims to solve that problem. They employed a team of coaches to help students successfully navigate college, from helping them answer detailed questions like, “How do I complete my financial aid forms? or How do I register for classes?” to bigger questions like, “Is college for me?” Our challenge was to bring the Beyond 12 coach support to hundreds of thousands of students through an app. But the problem was that, at its core, this app was asking students to do things like budgeting and planning that were way less fun than chatting with their friends or playing games. We needed to find a way to make the app resonate with students, and we had a hunch that Snapchat was a key piece of inspiration. We just needed to learn how to speak in its all-in-one language of video, picture, text, emoji and filters. We decided to take the plunge and make a Snapchat-like video. I enlisted KK’s help to write a fun script and asked our young colleague Andrea to star in it. In my head a voice was saying, this has to be perfect. Not only would this be embedded in our app prototype, it would serve as a model for future video productions. We set up our equipment. Great lighting. Check. Vibrant background in the IDEO office. Check. After an hour of filming, we plugged the phone into a computer and hit play. “Hey guys, it’s Coach Andrea. I’m really happy that you’re here! Let’s talk about college! I know it can be overwhelming, but I have six great tips to help you get oriented on your college campus.”
The MyCoach app by Beyond12 helps students learn the skills they need to get through college and connect with a coach when they need one.
It felt good enough for YouTube but lacked the intimate Snapchat vibe. So we rewrote the script and tried again. “What up, it’s Andrea with your weekly tip. I’m here to talk about your college campus. Sometimes it’ll be like, yes, college, I have arrived. [Andrea did a dance move.] Sometimes you might be like...” She paused while a subtitle appeared reading: “WTF??” We filmed it with Snapchat and made enthusiastic use of the emoji and filters. Then Assaf cheated and finalized it with professional editing software, trimming the clips to speed up the pace and adding some extra sound. To premiere our new app prototype, we met a student in the cafeteria of his community college and handed him the phone. The interface design was only half-baked and there wasn’t much to hint at how the app worked. To our surprise, he started swiping around comfortably. Interface buttons are officially a thing of the past. We can communicate how things work on the screen simply by the way they move and behave. When he found the video page and hit play, I stared at his face, ready to absorb every tiny reaction as he
watched it. He looked serious and attentive. I said to myself, “OK, there’s a funny bit coming; he’s going to chuckle.” But his expression didn’t change. I saw the same non-reaction from every single student we showed it to. It was crushing. I later came across Victor Nevarez, a pro Snapchatter who goes by the name of Internet Shaquille, and asked him to describe a bad Snapchat video. “It probably starts with a ‘Hello, kids,’” he said. “Then there’ll be some dad dance move to keep people’s attention. Plus lots of jump cuts and weird visual effects, and you drop a few words that you think they use, like ‘swag.’ It’s easy to see through when it’s not authentic.” Facepalm. All those students had seen through our desperation to be cool. With our forced script, cheap FX and lack of selfie flair, we had managed to muffle Andrea’s natural energy and personality. A few days later, a colleague suggested her sister might be able to rescue us. Her name was Miel, and she was something of a Snapchat celebrity. When she sent her interpretation, we gathered around the monitor.
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“Oh, what’s up, friends? I was just making dank memes on the web. Hey, does now feel like a good time to fill out your FAFSA, or what? It sounds like a giant pain in the hooha, but it’ll do nothing but save you money!” Miel wore a baseball cap backward, as if to say, “I’m obviously playing a character.” She was a selfie black belt and made a two-minute video feel dynamic and fun, sliding through expressions and voices, up-the-nostrils shots and close-ups of her eyes. We rolled out this video in our next prototype, only to learn that while we’d gained authenticity and entertainment points with the students, we had lost on tone. Students didn’t want entertainment at the cost of information, especially when it came to sensitive stuff like financial aid. We’d made fun of it, without acknowledging the emotions the topic can stir. In fact, we’d been off on tone with both the video and the visual design. By watching the responses from the students, we were learning that the app had to be friendly but expert; cartoony but restrained; and vibrant but palatable. Brian, our communications designer, took inspiration from artists like Yves Klein, and gave us an anchor for the visual identity: a digital-only electric blue. Finding the Magic Formula For the video, we had one more chance to get it right. So we decided to reach out to Victor, the pro Snapchatter. We sent him a script on how to register for classes and asked him to make it his own. When he sent back his file, the first thing I saw was a badly lit selfie of a guy in an unexciting living room. I thought to myself, “The light is not good; we’ll have to film it again.” But then he started to talk. “Hey. Have you signed up for classes yet? If not, it’s probably because signing up for classes suuuucks.” The video zoomed in and he got close up, as if pulling the viewer by the collar. Now I felt I had no choice but to tune in and wait for what was to come next. “There’s a ton of choices, and each choice feels like it influences your career goals, your life path, your eternal fate. And it’s just a treacherous obstacle course of emotions.” His face exuded agony, then switched quickly to a temporary optimism. “You already know what you’re going to
take? Or do you feel like a wandering beacon of uncertainty traversing a parallel hellscape?” He paused with an inquisitive look. And in that moment, I felt what it was like to register for classes. The guy had a knack for speaking in images. Victor started doing short stories and videos as a kid, inspired by the MTV show Jackass. When Vine came out, Victor had a notebook full of ideas for shorts that he put into action and quickly amassed more than 70,000 followers. In our video he was authoritative without nagging. He told you what to do and made you feel stupid if you didn’t do it—but always let you see that you were in control. “Hot tip number two: Meet with your adviser. Don’t be scared; get over it! These guys are experts. Their whole job is talking to lost bozos like you all day. Get schooled by a pro! Drop ’em a line!” Note to self: Personality trumps production value. Later I asked Victor how he did it. “I think you have to talk to how they feel and not try to talk in their language. You don’t want to dumb things down.” He continued, “I was able to tweak the script so there is not a clear delineation between the information and the comedy points. I try to blur the lines of entertainment and the message you want to drive home.” Just like that, by not trying to be like a student, he was invited into their club. Victor’s video perfectly encapsulated the way the app looks, feels, talks and interacts. We created an app that makes no distinction between content and utility. We borrowed the content-first approach of social apps like Snapchat and Instagram and used it to teach students the skills and strategies they need to graduate. With that, the digital experience became more human. The intricate system that we had designed to power the whole thing was hidden below the surface. For students, the app was just the means to learn how to help themselves and get in touch with a coach when they needed one. But for me, as a designer, I learned that sometimes a polished and professional design isn’t the most effective. Sometimes when you’re trying to create a great human experience, everything comes to life when you stop trying to control and instead step back and enable. n Beyond 12 is currently raising funds to develop version 2.0 of their MyCoach app, which they are planning to launch in 2017.
By Caroline Tiger, A/IDSA firstname.lastname@example.org Caroline Tiger is the senior content strategist at Bresslergroup, a research-driven product innovation lab in Philadelphia. As a former journalist, her writing about design has appeared in publications including Dwell, Metropolis and Entrepreneur. At Bresslergroup she helps the company’s researchers, designers and engineers communicate the stories they want to tell to the audiences they want to reach.
What Does Writing Have to Do with Design?
en grad students sit around a long, narrow table in a glass-walled classroom at the University of Pennsylvania’s shiny new Education Commons. Along with the expected collection of laptops and water bottles, some random objects dot the table: a little oval box of worry dolls, a small
painted ceramic bowl, a block of exotic wood and a Snake Mint Can (the gag where a snake pops out). The students’ assignment for today, along with some reading, was to bring in a meaningful object. They‘re here for Communicating Design: Object Stories, the three-hour design writing workshop I’ve been teaching at Penn’s Integrated Product Design (IPD) program for the last three years. In this workshop, we talk about what writing and design have in common, and we experiment with different approaches to storytelling. Students write two 300-word essays—one personal and one journalistic—and an Instagram post, all about the same object. What’s the value of a writing workshop for design students? First, few people are confident about their writing, and I have met many who dread it. This workshop gives non-writers some practice, reassurance, inspiration and tools to ease the sometimes awkward and stressful act of writing. Second, learning how to execute a piece of writing imparts skills designers need. The act of storytelling,
whether you’re making observations, conducting research, plotting story structure, self-reflecting or considering your audience, strengthens empathy and provides perspective. And the choices made while writing—about structure, word selection, pacing, dialogue—have parallels to choices made while designing. Getting Ready to Write I borrowed the idea for this workshop from the curriculum of the two-week Summer Intensive offered by the School of Visual Arts’ DCrit (now called Design Research) program where I was a student a few Junes ago sitting around a table like the one at Penn Design. During the course, we were asked to bring in and write about an object of personal significance. I brought an Amtrak ticket stub left over from
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my trip from Philly earlier that week. I wrote about the visceral rip-and-click of it by the conductor, its secondary use as a bookmark, its poorly designed information hierarchy and how it symbolized my (then) state of limbo between two cities. At the Penn Design workshop, the first thing we do is talk about what writing and design have in common. Then we look at the readings I assigned as homework, such as “An Icon, Despite Itself,” design critic Alice Rawsthorn’s New York Times piece about the Heinz ketchup bottle as an example of good design despite its failing to fulfill the first rule of good design: be functional. Why does Rawsthorn choose to repeat the phrase “good design” three times in the first three paragraphs? How does she open the piece and end it? In a really tight piece of writing, each element—every word, anecdote, choice of what to quote as opposed to narrate—is well-considered.
The “No Research” Essay Their minds swimming with thoughts on word choice and structure, I ask the students to write a “No Research” essay, approximately 300 words about the personal significance of the object they brought in. How did they come to own it? How do they feel about it? Why did they choose it? Is the object a totem of something—of some place, some moment, some person? Does it carry emotion? Which senses does it evoke, and how? How does it feel, look and smell? Writing about objects from this personal point of view is an exercise in self-reflection—user research with yourself as the subject. In the years I’ve been doing this workshop, I’ve seen people bring in and write about a bicycle, a Mason jar, a Kindle, a 3D-printed “3D” and several pieces of jewelry received as gifts. IPD student Sarah’s essay is a good example of how the exercise works. She writes about a box of worry dolls from the perspective of her four-year-old self. Her aunt had given them to her one restless night when she was having trouble falling asleep. “She handed me a tiny wooden box,” Sarah wrote, “playfully decorated with pink and green lines. I opened the box and found tiny people with clothes woven out of thread and faces made of three dots—two black ones for eyes and one red for a mouth.” When Sarah comes across this box of dolls as an adult, she’s overcome with the memory of that night and of “the calm, safe space” that her aunt’s house provided in the years that followed. Stories like Sarah’s that explore the writer’s emotional connection with the object are the most compelling. What is it about these few objects as opposed to the hundreds of others we own that makes them special? Thinking about how and why these relationships form and evolve between humans and objects is an important question for designers to consider. Writing personal pieces about meaningful objects is also a practice in empathy. And the more you practice empathy, the better you get at it.
Surfacing the Backstories While I was at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), our teachers sent us out into the city to look for an object to research and write about. I went to Kiosk, a favorite store in the West Village that has, sadly, since closed. It stocked utilitarian objects from around the world and displayed them like pieces in a museum. I saw Snake Mint Can and immediately knew I wanted to write about it. I had had the Fancy Salted Mixed Nuts version as a kid, and I could recall the nervous excitement I always felt before pranking house guests. Back at my desk, I started digging into its past. I quickly realized the Snake Mint Can’s story passed the test suggested to me by Alice Twemlow, the director of the SVA program, for deciding whether or not to bother writing about an object: She told me, “Ask yourself, ‘Why does it matter? Why would anyone but me care about it? What’s at stake here?’” Beyond the fond memories of childhood hijinks, this object contained some larger, more universal narratives: the self-made inventor/entrepreneur, the death of small business by overseas manufacturing, the family business that fails in its third generation. The story had a natural protagonist: Soren Sorensen “Sam” Adams, a prolific inventor of novelty gags who was described by his contemporaries as a dour fellow. He conceived of the Jumping Snake after watching his wife, Emily, try to open a stubborn jam jar. In my research, I found a 2004 NPR interview conducted at the S.S. Adams factory in Neptune, NJ, that describes how the gag was manufactured. I started writing, folding the great sensory details into my draft.
What Writing and Design Have in Common 1. Research is almost always necessary. 2. Clarity is required. No product of writing or design
should need a user manual.
3. Every detail is considered. Whether you’re writing
140 characters or 3,000 words, you’re making a series
of choices—word choice, structure, pace, etc.—that
contribute to a distinct whole.
4. Fail early. Fail fast. “Almost all good writing begins with
terrible first efforts,” Anne Lamott famously wrote in Bird
by Bird. The cycle of draft, test, iterate is shared.
5. Many formats. Both products come in many formats,
and each requires its own storytelling strategy: personal
essay, journalism, Instagram post, Tweet, presentation,
TED talk, video script, blog post, trade magazine article,
book chapter… medical product, home appliance,
enterprise software, retail experience, power tool, car,
6. Both lead the user on a journey. How will you structure the story? Post-its® and storyboarding help for
both writing and design. (So does Jon Franklin’s book
Writing for Story, my favorite resource for outlining story
structure.) 7. Emotion fosters connection. And makes for a more
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I wrote, “The fifty-year-old Jumping Snake machine feeds, cuts, and coils the wire spring. An employee pops it off, stuffs it into a plastic snakeskin-print sleeve and into an aluminum can labeled ‘Fancy Salted Mixed Nuts’ or ‘Delicious After Dinner Mints.’” That description makes the New Jersey factory a few towns over from where Soren’s parents settled when they immigrated from the Netherlands in 1881 feel more real to the reader. And this makes its later demise sting all the more. By 2004, I learned, the company was dwindling. Expired patents—Sam Adams secured 37 in his lifetime— combined with overseas manufacturing were putting the squeeze on the company. On April 1, 2009 (yes, April Fool’s Day), the company was acquired, and today the factory building houses a retail operation that sells pianos, largely made overseas. I pass around the Snake Mint Can as I prep the Penn Design students to write their “15 Minutes of Research” essay. It requires a journalistic point of view. Just as when they design a new product, they need to step outside of themselves and ask, “Why does this matter? How do I design this story so it will have impact? Why would anyone but me care about it?” I give them a list of questions to guide their research: Who was the product’s muse? Its maker? Can you find out any details about its materials, manufacture, competitors? How do people interact with it? Do people use it differently from its intended function? What does this object communicate about the era, region and culture in which it originated? Is it good design? What’s at stake here?
Storied Objects I’ve noticed that successful designers do four things well: 1. Do the research to figure out what will make a product meaningful. 2. Write the story of the product experience before they begin to develop the product. 3. Communicate the product’s promise through its look, feel, functionality and personality. 4. Create a product experience that fulfills the product’s promise. As one of my Bresslergroup colleagues has said, designers are no longer designing just the toaster—they’re designing the toasting experience. That experience is most successful when it has a well-crafted narrative arc. The Penn Design students’ final task is to write an Instagram post about their object. First we compare and contrast a couple of Instagram accounts featuring everyday objects and discuss how their outlooks and voices differ. Then we pull out our phones, take pictures and write. The student with the block of wood gets a closeup of a lovely knot: “Eye of the storm. #objectstories #wood #woodgrain #jobillo.” Another snaps her small ceramic bowl against the white table and writes, “A bowl that once belonged to a respected Jesuit scholar and now holds the ChapStick® of the woman who found it. #objectstories #legacy #imaginedpast.” Intriguing, right? How about you? What object would you bring? How would you tell its story? n
By Suzanne Gibbs Howard Suzanne Gibbs Howard is a partner at IDEO as well as the founder and dean of IDEO U. Her work focuses on transforming individuals and organizations through teaching and sharing thought leadership. Obsessed with understanding culture and human motivation, she arrived at IDEO via a crooked path involving anthropology, teaching English, museum-exhibit design and working in tech startups.
Unlocking Creative Confidence
CASTING A WIDE NET
t 37,000 feet above the earth, you could be anywhere. Close your eyes. You’re above the Pacific, flying back to San Francisco from Sydney. Back in 2013, I had been flying back and forth to Australia for months, working with some lovely clients in financial services. They wanted to be
more human-centered in their approach to service design. At IDEO, we specialize in taking a design-based, human-centered approach to helping organizations innovate and grow. Five of us at IDEO had been working side-by-side with a handful of clients in Sydney. We taught them our process and coached them to slowly evolve the approach and make it their own. This was the joy of our work. We got to effect a change on others and in turn help them make change in their own world. Big impact can come from seemingly small shifts. On the flight, I couldn’t sleep. Nothing new for me, but this felt different. Questions were popping up faster than I could begin to respond. Was our time in Sydney long enough? Did we help move change through their organization far enough? How could we continue to support them in ways that felt like enough?
Enough. Was what we were doing enough? A few weeks before, Tim Brown, IDSA, IDEO’s CEO, had asked us to consider what tools, services and platforms we could build to make disproportionate impact through design. Disproportionate (adjective): having or showing a difference that is not reasonable or expected. IDEO had been making impact through design since the ’80s with such products as Apple’s first mouse and one of the first public portable defibrillators. But our focus on design—and the true meaning of the word for us—had evolved from working on sleek products to working on complex systems. We were tackling bigger, hairier and increasingly more intricate challenges. Designing school systems in emerging economies, changing the way government agencies reach the public, reinventing the ways hospitals care for their patients. These were just a few of the projects we had taken on. When Tim asked us to make unexpected impact through design, he invited us to imagine not only how to spread design to the world at scale but also how to enable others to make these changes themselves. The time was ripe. Social movements were being catapulted in record speed through social media. Content was more readily accessible. Education was becoming increasingly focused on competency-based models and online learning. What it meant to truly learn was being redefined. The pace of change in the world was speeding up. I had been at IDEO for 12 years. I had joined as a cultural anthropologist in 2001, which came as a surprise to my
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friends and family, who never imagined that an anthropologist could find work outside of academia. Over the years, I had been blessed with the opportunity to work on some amazing projects: reimagining the future of news, reinventing Judaism, redesigning early childhood education, to name a few. My work (and the people I worked alongside) had helped shape the person I had become. But I too felt caught in the swift wave of change. Maybe it’s time to do something different, I thought. I could be anywhere. Where might I land? Teaching Others to Fish I remember hearing a story when I first started working at IDEO. I heard it from Bill Moggridge, FIDSA, one of the founders of IDEO and someone I was lucky to call a mentor. Back in the 1990s, IDEO was doing some design work for a Japanese company. At the end of the project, there was a ceremonial unveiling of the final deliverable: a product prototype. After a long pause, the CEO of the Japanese company stood up and said, “Thank you for the fish. Now I want the net.”
Organizations wanted to be more like IDEO. They wanted to learn and follow IDEO’s human-centered design approach. At the time, IDEO believed that it might accomplish this through something called IDEO U. Fast forward years later. It’s 2002. Enter into IDEO U. You leave the sunshine and sea of entrepreneurs and software professionals, swimming high on ideas from the post dot-com age and walk into a rustic dimly lit warehouse. There are people dressed in costumes, wigs and fedoras acting out things with props made out of materials more likely to be found in a kindergarten class than a global corporation. We replaced naptime with hip-hop dancing sessions and arts and crafts with prototyping workshops. This was our three-day crash course on our process. IDEO got to be the hero. Our clients wanted to be more like us, and we would help them get there by leading them through a process and giving them a peek inside the weird and wacky world of IDEO. It was a break from the drudgery of their regular jobs. A reprieve from hierarchy. They would leave hopped up on our potion, inspired by our culture.
Human-centered design (and later, design thinking) was still new and exciting. They would leave feeling more like us. It was change by osmosis. The Trials of the Real World In the late 2000s, the tides started to change. I remember teaching an IDEO U workshop about the future of beauty care products at a large consumer packaged goods company. By this time, people weren’t completely new to the human-centered design process. Some clients had become well-versed in our practice and were changing the methods to fit the needs of their own organization, culture and business. Weeks after the workshop, one of the most enthusiastic participants reached out to me. What she dropped on me felt like a bomb. “It isn’t working,” she said. “What specifically?” My heart sank a little. “The process. I was so inspired when I left your workshop and felt like I could do things differently. But I’ve tried.
I’ve tried to introduce brainstorms, to advocate for visiting with customers when kicking off design projects and to build rough prototypes. I keep getting shut down,” she said with pain in her voice. In that moment, I didn’t feel like much of a hero. There I was, listening to someone who had been on fire weeks before. And now I could feel her frustration. It was simply not possible to work in these alternate ways back at her organization. “Do you have any tips or tricks?” her voice lifted a bit, with hope. I had a thousand. Tip #19: Encourage your team to interview someone in their own life who is similar to the customer. Tip #483: Invite the team to bring in inspiration from other industries. Tip #782: Host a fabulous failure day where people share prototypes they’ve made and get feedback. But none of these tips would help her organization
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absorb these new ways of working. The IDEO U workshops weren’t enough. So we began to shift our offer and the story behind it. “See. Do. Teach. Transform.” It had a nice little ring to it. Instead of workshops, we sold transformation. Being more like IDEO meant individuals and organizations needed to truly learn how to make our approach their own. The U from IDEO U dropped off. We choreographed multi-year engagements where we’d embed our people within other organizations and work alongside their teams. First, we would help frame the challenge—setting the process into motion—and the clients would see how we did things. Next, a small team from the client organization would plan for and do the work right there with our team. And finally, the non-IDEO team would design a way to teach others. They might organize a workshop, create a toolkit or host an event in order to spread transformation. We were truly teaching people to fish. They were becoming the heroes of their own stories. But our net could only stretch so far with this offering. Transformation wasn’t accessible to everyone. It only reached a few. Reframing the Question “We are now preparing for our descent,” said the pilot over the crackling feedback from the intercom. “Thank you for flying with us, and we hope to see you again.” As we made our initial descent and the Pacific Ocean came into view, I reflected on Tim’s provocation from a few weeks before. His call to action was charged. We were in the midst of a technological revolution. How could we make disproportionate impact through design? How might we scale creative confidence (or the belief in one’s capacity to create change) across the globe?
Certain truths were becoming increasingly evident: Our work was moving from projects to networks. As the challenges we worked on became more complex, we needed networks of organizations working together collaboratively. It couldn’t be just IDEO + a single organization. Our approach—design thinking—needed to be the common foundation from which we approached diverse challenges. n
Access to new ways of working was moving from workshops and lecture halls to online platforms for learning. We had new offerings, like OpenIDEO, a global community working together online to tackle problems, and OI Engine, a crowdsourcing software that engages networks in creative problem-solving. They were both showing great promise in how they spread our process and content to a global audience. We didn’t need to rely on lecture halls or workshops to spread design anymore.
The conversation was shifting from design thinking to creative confidence. What began as the practice of human-centered design shifted to the process of design thinking. But people needed more than a methodology. After we would leave organizations, like the one in Australia, our clients would often struggle to spread the process throughout their organization. They needed more support. That could come in many ways. One was through ways of being—mindsets rooted in a deep belief that they could create change themselves. That, at its core, is creative confidence.
I heard the wheels of the plane hit the ground. I was back in San Francisco in 16 hours. We needed to travel even faster. Much faster. And be in a thousand places at once.
Maybe more. How might we scale design thinking and make others heroes of their own story all around the world? Scaling Creative Confidence A year later, we had a beta of what would become our learning experience for the new installation of IDEO U. This scrappy abridged version of our first course, Insights for Innovation, invited early feedback from hundreds of potential users and sparked conversations that would help shape the future of our courses. IDEO U was no longer a workshop. Nor was it a consulting-based, high-touch transformation. It was something decisively in between. It was now incredibly accessible and scalable. We had reached more than one thousand people—in every corner of the globe—in just two weeks. After running our beta, I spoke with countless people. These people were doing incredible things: supporting patients with schizophrenia, designing services to help the poor save money and proposing more sustainable forms of farming. And they were doing it all over the world, from Sydney to São Paulo to Shenzhen. What they needed was
creative confidence—an awareness of their own power to make a dent in the universe. We learned a lot over the years. But one thing in particular rings loudest: learning requires getting your hands dirty and making a process your own. This takes effort, exercise and tools for action. We applied this insight to IDEO U’s current learn-bydoing pedagogy: See, Try, Share, Reflect. Our learners get to see and experience engaging content from IDEO’s top practitioners. They learn by doing and solve challenges relevant to their own work. And they get support along the way from a global community of like-minded doers. IDEO was never meant to be the hero of the story. We now provide a space for others to fuel up before going off to tackle the world’s greatest personal, social and business challenges. And they don’t need to wait for us to get on a plane to help them get started. We’ve added the U back to our name. But now it means something else. It represents the next generation of heroes, creatively confident to make unexpected impact out in the world. n IDEO U is an online learning platform where individuals, teams and organizations can unlock their creative potential.
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By Thomas J. Knittel, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Tom Knittel is a partner at McLennan Design, an architecture, research and consulting firm based in Seattle that delivers lowcarbon, ecologically regenerative living building projects domestically and abroad. He holds a masterâ€™s from Harvard Universityâ€™s Graduate School of Design and a BArch from Kansas State University and has received more than 30 design awards.
CREATIVITY IN CRISIS
was instructed to bring cash. Hustling through the crowd, the man holding my name card guided me to the customs desk, and within
minutes I was through. He held out his hand and passed me to another man who walked me out of the airport across a dusty lot. Another hand opened and passed me to a driver. Eighty dollars later, I was in a truck headed to the mountains above Port-au-Prince. I had arrived to present the design for a new orphanage and childrenâ€™s center to the Fondation Enfant Jesus. Looking out of the windows of the truck, I got glimpses of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. It was February 2012, 25 months since the catastrophic incident. Life was still difficult. Amid the chaos and pain of a Haiti still devastated, would the design story resonate, and would it be embraced?
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The 2010 earthquake killed 160,000 people and left 550,000 homeless. Rick Fedrizzi, the CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), decided to raise funds through donations, and HOK, the global architecture practice I was with at the time, volunteered to design the orphanage. In 2010 we were in the depths of the Great Recession, and it was a terrible time for architects. The USGBC had been changing the design and building industry in the last two decades, and this effort had resulted in widespread awareness and adoption of better green building practices. They set their highest level of achievement, LEED Platinum, as the target for the project. It’s hard to build anything in Haiti, but LEED Platinum? Our own professional and domestic crises seemed small by comparison. We were facing tough design challenges, and there were several questions that offered no easy answers. How to build a structure more resilient to earthquakes? How to create a safe haven during disasters, including hurricanes? How to build with concrete and keep it cool with natural ventilation? And what about architecture that has the ability to inspire—is there room for that or is it a luxury? Can we do that responsibly given everything else we needed to do? And as an architect, I was struggling with an enormous internal question: What does doing good in a crisis do to creativity? Innovation from Nature In Seattle, I had my first conference call with colleagues to share the initial research I had completed. It was the Fourth of July weekend, six months after the earthquake. I was HOK’s leader in an emerging area of transdisciplinary design known as biomimicry, or biologically inspired design. This technology transfer from nature is exploding in the fields of biotechnology, materials and industrial design, but much more slowly in architecture. The main challenge we face as architects is to get past simply aping something. Biomorphism, which is often described as copying forms from nature, while at times attractive, is largely a stylistic exercise. It is a lot more interesting to parse a biological function or process within the context of a design challenge. We developed a simple approach with team of biologists led by biomimicry’s pioneering thought leader Janine Beynus at Biomimicry 3.8, the organization she founded to further this emerging field. First, identify a design challenge; second, find
responding principles in nature that solve the challenge; and third, translate them in nonbiological terms to a design principle. This procedure opens the door for emergent thinking, which in turn becomes an engine for creativity. In Haiti, however, we lacked biologists. So in my initial conference call at my kitchen counter, I used other resources. One was a recent experience. I had been working on a large commercial project in Brazil where the dialogue with biologists frequently moved between large and small patterns at once. As we progressed toward our deadlines, the biological research became a useful recursive reentry to as-yet unsolved design challenges. We called the large patterns eco-structure, which describes how the system works. In Haiti, the eco-structure was hard to discern. An aerial image over the island shows a striking and clear delineation: forested in the Dominican Republic and barren over Haiti. Only two percent of Haiti’s native forest remains. Wood is harvested, and the need for cooking fuel prevents it from returning. Erosion follows. And heat. And dryness. The balance of flora and fauna that can make the Caribbean a paradise was missing. Somehow we knew trees (and thus wood) needed to be part of the story. We knew we needed to use resources at hand. Six months after the earthquake, 98 percent of the rubble was still not cleared. Rebuilding from this material, reconstituting as much as possible in a new concrete mix, was practical and responsible. After all, this is what nature would do—use resources available nearby. Over the following weeks, we held weekend workshops, using our collaboration rooms to connect offices in Seattle to others in Houston and St. Louis. We examined the use of wood in construction. Historically, the late-19th-century Haitian structures known as gingerbread houses were spirited and ornate, and largely constructed of wood. We know wood structures do better in earthquakes. They shake but do not break. And the gingerbread houses performed well during the 2010 earthquake. Knowing that wood has to be brought from off-island, the answer wasn’t to ship in a building and walk away. We needed an incremental solution, something to inspire a return to wood over time, but built the way they build in Haiti today, with concrete. Fortunately, in the absence of a biologist, we had another resource: asknature.org. This database of ecological
functions can be searched by typing in keywords for challenges designers face. For example, one may ask, how do organisms manage temperature variations? Or how do ecosystems clean water? Or how do organisms create mutually beneficial relationships? By studying this database, we discovered that tree barks exhibit amazing properties, and are a lot more sophisticated than the façades of buildings. They are living things, which is key to how they behave, with chemistry refined over billions of years. Their surfaces are adapted to resist fire, they self-shade to keep themselves cool, and they offer protection to the entire tree. A case study on asknature.org about bark (asknature.org/strategy/bark-keeps-surface-cool-under-thesun/) describes selective thermal transmission as a strategy to manage heat. My approach to the design translation of this information was not to wish for a new smart material like bark (although someday it might come), but to think about how we could achieve something similar using the stuff around us. How to meet the design challenge—to keep the concrete of the orphanage cool—was still not clear, but we set objectives to create selective emissivity, i.e. rejecting heat while admitting air. In Haiti, Mary Ann Lazarus, our corporate head of sus-
tainability, had a conversation with a local relief worker who was trained as a biologist. She returned with images of the Kapok tree, an amazing emergent species (it rises above the forest canopy) that stores water in its roots and is loved by Haitians. The fluff from its tree pods supplied flotation for life vests before World War II (now we have efficient toxic ones) and are still considered one of the best organic mattresses or pillows you can own. We thought that the analogue of a building like a tree—self-sufficient, using energy from the sun and storing its own water—was a good one. But we felt that this was still largely symbolic; we wanted more. At this point in time and six months into the project, we had performed fluid dynamics to understand how air moved through the structure and got the orientation right to capture the prevailing trade winds. We had a design that was functional and well-conceived, but it wasn’t inspired, or informed by nature, yet.
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In the next two weeks, the design took a leap forward. The “bark” of the building was conceived as a series of lowmass horizontal rods spaced to allow air to move through it. Because of the high angle of the sun in Haiti, the circular surfaces of the rods do a good job of bouncing radiant energy. It was a pretty good marriage of material and geometry, something nature does well. Thinking back to eco-structure, a little bit of wood, as precious as it is, might pave the way to the return of wood at a larger scale. The result is an architectural expression of da Vinci’s observation: A simple empirical halving of mass at each branch yields the same cross-sectional area at the top and at the bottom. In a short time, we had the design and a building information model, and sent it to the USGBC. Rick believed he could raise the money with it. He approached President Bill Clinton and asked for his support. The project now carries his name. Inspiration On December 26, 2011, I was home for the holidays. The project in Haiti had become a member of the family, so to speak. This was the time to think and design, unfettered by the demands of the office and surrounded by the comforts of home. On that day, a story on NPR featured the resiliency of trees in hurricanes (www.npr. org/2011/12/26/144127874/the-wisdom-of-trees-leonardo-da-vinci-knew-it). Recent scientific research confirmed what Leonardo da Vinci had observed 500 years before: Trees follow a mathematical pattern of subdivision, and this subdivision is intrinsic to their survival. I knew about this (frequently known as Murray’s Law) and marveled. The 300 million air sacs we carry around in our lungs are the end result that begins at our esophagus, bifurcating again and again until each one of us has achieved the internal lung surface area of a typical American home (about 2,000 square feet). But I had never heard the story told so simply, and beautifully, about trees. Functionally, trees are our lungs turned inside out (sort of). Each exists to increase the surface area needed for membranes to exchange gases. Scientists call the mathematical branching of trees motherdaughter branching. As a key theme for the orphanage, this resonated. We held another meeting in our offices. I sketched a wood branching system supporting the outdoor walkways surrounding the courtyard. Our structural engineer, Sal Gimbert, looked at the screen in St. Louis, and said, “The branching system needs to be at the floor line.” I pushed back; it was important. It needed to work as a system, not a collection of isolated elements.
Connecting Arriving at the orphanage after a two-and-a-half-hour drive in the mountains of Haiti, I couldn’t thank my driver in words. I handed him the sandwich I had bought in the airport (and more cash). I presented the plans and images of the project to the board of directors of the Fondation Enfant Jesus with Roger Limoges, the director of the project for the USGBC. They were happy, but years later, the only words I remember were from Lucien Duncan, the vice president and board member of the foundation, who said, “It reminds me of the gingerbread houses.” The best thing an architect can hope for is that the work speaks to its own time and place while also speaking to the past. Lucien’s words stuck with me; I felt that we had done something right. After a wonderful mid-afternoon lunch, they brought us to a small facility where children transition to adoption, introducing them to their future parents over time. There, like most places in Haiti, electricity comes from a generator available for just a few hours at dinner. It was early evening. Sitting on the balcony with Roger and his communication director, Marisa Long, with nothing to do but talk, it occurred to me that this is what people used to do. No digital distractions. And how wonderful it was. Music drifted on the wind from villages below—strange, wild music chased by voices. A sky dense with stars. I pulled a bottle of duty-free rum from my bag, and we got to know each other. I told the stories about how the design took shape over time. After a little while, Roger said, “Tell me more about this... biomimicry.” Good thing the bottle wasn’t empty (yet). n
By Lauren Harms n laurenharms.com
Lauren Harms is a designer based in New York primarily focused on visual storytelling. She currently works in book publishing as a cover designer at Little, Brown and Co., an imprint of the Hachette Book Group. She holds a BFA in communications design from Syracuse University.
WHEN THE STORY IS ALREADY WRITTEN
arah looked down at the phone in her hand; a single image displayed on the screen. Contemplating the image, she said, “It looks like it’s about revisiting past experiences. Like a time capsule. And I think it’s about a personal experience, because of the handwriting and illustration.
It reminds me of this graphic novel. Probably because of the illustration and the title. I’d guess it’s set in Italy, or somewhere in the Mediterranean. Because of the cypress trees.”
Beginning the Process The first time I heard anything about this book, or rather this story, was in June 2015. “A delicious debut novel that follows a quartet of college friends from the cusp of their graduation…through
the next two decades of their lives,” read the brief. During a meeting, the editor presented the book and highlighted the exotic island of Corfu from a scene. About the cover, the editor said, “We want this to look like the perfect summer beach read to lose yourself in. Something that evokes that feeling and the setting, or perhaps something type-driven and bright.” Comparing the brief to the beginning of this article, you’d think, “Oh, easy. Sounds like that’s what the cover ended up looking like. Job done.” But as with any field of design, it was a process, and there was much to consider along the way. The first step in the cover design process is to consider how a potential reader will first encounter the book. When Sarah, or anyone else, sees the cover image for the first time, they do not see it in a vacuum. A potential reader may be in a library or a bookstore, or browsing online. Wherever they are, the book is surrounded by images. There are extraneous images, like ads and store graphics, and then there are all of the books. A single shelf Little, Brown and Co.
I was showing my friend Sarah a book cover I had designed and illustrated for a novel that had recently hit the shelves. I was curious about her reaction to the image—what memories it might trigger or associations she might draw, and what she might imagine the story to be about—without reading anything more than the title. The illustration is brightly colored, blue on a cream background, with images of cypress and palm trees, ocean cliffs, boats in a bay and little houses nestled in the hillside. The title is cast with a gentle script painted in coral red. It’s a book I had been involved with for well over a year, but one she has never read. To hear her reaction was to hear the story come full circle. A story that I didn’t write, but had the great pleasure of delving into and designing.
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Hypothetical cover designs by Lauren Harms, images © Shutterstock
can hold dozens of books. Books that may have stories of a similar genre, or may be detailed nonfiction accounts of World War II. Even if the book gets placed in prime real estate face out, it still has to grab the reader’s eye and stand apart. Deciding how a cover should stand out is a big decision. A cover that is different from anything surrounding it will be noticeable, but will likely lose some context of genre. A reader may not be able to predict what kind of story it is, miss the initial connection and pass on by. Often, the publishing industry assumes a book that has sold well will have a cover design that has proven successful. If readers make a visual connection to other books they’ve read, they can assume that they will enjoy this book as well. The cover I showed Sarah related closely to other summer beach reads. The use of illustration and the color palette are both very popular in this genre currently. While it was good to evoke the popular motif of a carefree summer, it was also important to make it different enough to be individually recognizable. The Power of Imagery Why is it important to stand out? Because it’s important to be memorable. It is said that people remember 80 percent of what they see, 20 percent of what they read and 10 percent of what they hear. With people interacting with dozens
of different forms of media, creating a recognizable image is key. Understanding pictures is innate; pictures, in many ways, are a universal language. A strong cover design can translate across print advertisements, social media and the web. All of these mediums for sharing a cover can come together to promote a story and engage potential readers. A strong visual is the best chance to make that connection across platforms. This is true in all media—movies, news, print journalism, websites. The most successful stories are supported by strong visuals. This is because of the incredible connection we have to images. Imagine a photograph of a dad lifting his small daughter up above his head. The two are smiling, sun rays filter through a tall, leafy tree. Although it is a still image, you can almost hear her giggle. Nearly every person will have an emotional reaction to that image. That is why such imagery has been used in countless advertisements, movie montages and book covers. Not only do we understand images emotionally, but we comprehend them on a basic cognitive level. Before we told stories with words, we told them with pictures. There is evidence from tens of thousands of years ago of visual storytelling. Prehistoric humans used cave painting, sculpture and engraving to document life and tell stories. Our ancestors carved petroglyphs on rock surfaces
Left: In a basic description, these two images depict the same scene; a man running in front of a city skyline on a foggy night. Elements such as the image treatment, coloring, clothing and type all provide additional information about the story to the reader.
as they began to develop symbolic writing. Today, we are bombarded by visuals that shape our everyday landscape and our routines. Road signs, ideograms and logos all inform our lives. And often, these can be understood without words. Our mental dictionary of visuals helps us process images with incredible speed. When simple images are layered and combined, the depth of information that emerges from them can be extremely effective in generating narrative. An image can serve as a précis as well as an elaboration of multiple words and concepts. Examples of Visual Storytelling As you read the following passage, what image forms in your mind? With just a few sentences, can you imagine the full story? Can you surmise what is happening in the scene? On a warm night teeming with energy, the city skyline glimmers across the water. The ambient light highlights a haze over the city. Jack runs on the shore, silhouetted by moonlight, and contemplates what to do next. He knows that he cannot go back. Now imagine this scene has been used as inspiration for the book cover. It’s fairly generic—and one that could be found in a photograph, movie or novel—and so a visual representation can help shape the story. We know the setting is a city, one that features water. Seeing an image, we now recognize it as New York. But it’s an old New York with quite a few buildings missing. And because the image is in black and white, we might assume that it is a historical novel. A stylized typeface may give clues to the exact time period. The haze makes the image somewhat mysterious. The man may be in a trench coat and running with urgency, signaling that this is indeed a mystery. But what if other visual cues are layered into the scene? Imagine instead that the glimmering skyline is full of color; that yellows, greens and blues overlay the city. The image has been edited in high contrast, appearing somewhat surreal. The energy of the night comes from the city, and the haze is instead smoky and dramatic. With vibrant colors and a sense of catastrophe, suddenly he could be running from a post-apocalyptic scene. Big jittery type sets the story as futuristic and suggests a sense of distorted reality. These examples tell the story of two different books in two different genres. Both image scenarios could be applied to the scene above. But the additional information layered into the image is what comes from reading and understand-
ing a story. The tens of thousands of words written by the author come together not only to create a story but also to generate depth and mood for scene after scene in the narrative. At times, scenes may be written without much visual detail, and a designer must pull inspiration from the work as a whole. Designers layer images, combine visual cues, add information and style, clarify genre and generate visual solutions that add depth and can transform generic scenes into vivid experiences. A true-to-life representation of the story is a key factor in designing a book cover. For nonfiction, accuracy is paramount and supersedes many creative concepts. However, for fiction the rules are a lot more fluid and an interesting transition occurs. The narrative world created by the author becomes real, and the designer must represent this world in the most honest way possible. From a design perspective, fiction writing must be approached as nonfiction. In nonfiction there are facts, events and people to whom the designer must stay faithful. Even in a world that is completely imagined, the cover should feel real and convincing in order to keep the reader engaged. Has there ever been a time when you thought the cover of a book did not align with the story you read? For a cover image to be truly successful, it must hold up outside of the store or library. It must do more than just stand out. After readers have spent hours getting to know the characters and imagining the world for themselves, the cover should grow in that understanding and emotional connection. For instance, Brian, an avid reader I talked to, said he was intrigued by what the cover may tell him after he’s already been reading. “I like it when covers can hide story elements. And then when you read it, it’s a little surprise. You figure out what it is and you’re like, ooh, OK! Sometimes the cover can be a roadmap to the story. You don’t know it before, but then it makes sense all of the sudden.” When Sarah analyzed the illustrated cover, she saw the cypress trees and thought of the Mediterranean. She saw the handwriting and decided it must be about someone’s experiences. After reading, she may have noticed the twisting mountain road, pulled directly from the pages of the book. A well-designed cover can tell you many things as a reader. It will set expectations, evoke emotions, entice, connect the dots and spur your imagination. And a successful cover will meet your expectations long after you read the last page. n
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By Shea Tillman, IDSA email@example.com Shea Tillman, an associate professor at Auburn University, currently teaches fourth-year advanced product design and foundations studios, as well as industrial design history. His professional experience includes work as an industrial designer with TTi and Cooper Lighting, as well as a user researcher with SonicRim. He has led design and innovation collaborations with companies such as Emerson Tool, Eastman, Werner, Leica Geosystems and Microsoft, and holds a BID from Auburn University and an MA from The Ohio State University.
RANDOM PATH OR REPUTED PRACTICE?
onviction is not easy to cultivate. In teaching design, it is often challenging to create frameworks that motivate students to excellence. Conviction first requires a critical self-assessment that is not natural for us, particularly if we happen to be 20 years old. It seems that each semester at
some crucial point within a project I find myself struggling to grow a student’s conviction, to encourage them to improve their designs and to push beyond where they are for a larger cause if for no other reason than to strengthen their professional portfolio. In April 2016, I invited retired designer John Stram, L/IDSA, to speak at Auburn as part of my industrial design history course. His portfolio features a wide field of work from his time in school, design consultancies, large corporations and freelance activity. For several weeks prior to his arrival, I had been reshooting each of his 35 mm slides, adjusting and retouching them to give his portfolio a digital rebirth. Upon arriving at Auburn, John, a slightly short and energetic man with a bit of an edge, seemed uneasy about how “our kids” might view his work. Perhaps it was an unfamiliarity with PowerPoint, or maybe the work had just been on the shelf awhile. In any case, as we walked through and made adjustments to his presentation, I became fascinated both with the range and the depth of John’s projects and with his stories of his transitions between jobs. His repeated theme seemed to be “just look at how crazy things can turn out.” Growing up in wartime California, and later in Colorado, John cut his teeth building models and hot-rodding cars. He remembers his mother’s innate sense for the simple, honest objects in their home and how they influenced his leanings toward thoughtful necessity. After flunking a semester at the University of Colorado, he later excelled in design at the Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles. His thesis project for a progressively
“Sometimes, beautiful design inspires us.
Occasionally, an exceptional designer’s work challenges us. It can build a conviction of what we could or should be.
John Stram’s IBM Series 500 data processing magnetic tape container from 1968 is part of the Permanent Design Collection at MoMA.
coded wayfinding system for the newly adopted interstate highway system was critically acclaimed and nearly adopted by the Department of Transportation. The success of this project provided a later invitation to study at the graduate program at UCLA. He shrugs off the connection: “It’s just how things change. You just never know.” From a historical perspective, John’s professional career reads like a who’s who of late midcentury design: studying under John Lautner and Niels Diffrient, FIDSA, in school, developing retail concepts for shopping malls at Victor Gruen Associates, designing state-of-the-art computer systems at IBM during the Elliot Noyes, FIDSA, and Paul Rand era, and collaborating with Mario Bellini on a freelance job. His design work for IBM is particularly stunning, both in its technical execution and scope: products, interfaces, company posters, interiors for factory floors, a library, a cleanroom. When asked what enabled him to break out into the other design disciplines, John quickly quips, “Good design is good design. It does not matter what you are working on.”
“A container for computer tape? What exactly is computer tape?” ask some students, as John allows the 1960s reels to pile and unravel on the front table. The small auditorium only seats 50, but the back walls are lined with additional students and faculty who have slipped in to see his presentation. As John sequences through his images, the large screen illuminates the room in the dominant hue of each slide. John gently pulls out a sample of the IBM Series 500 magnetic tape container, contrasting his design with a previous model. As he walks through the explanations of each design decision, the differences between the two are evident, and his connection with the audience is palpable. The tapered, slim-line massing of the container invites the user to handle and carry it securely, an audible vacuum-click accompanies the unlocking of the top, and the 16 uniquely specified materials provide a jewel-like quality that elevates it from the mundane to a museum piece. Despite the obvious crafted beauty, John insists that each detail represents a specific solution to a use problem. He goes on to explain
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S T O RY TE L L I NG
that IBM’s 1968 entry into the magnetic tape business to support the company’s hardware lines represented its commitment to produce the best tape in the world. This investment demanded a home worthy of its inhabitant. In a way, John’s tape container from his time in the Boulder, CO, office represents a summary glimpse into IBM design of this era: the best design that money could buy for arguably the most expensive products produced on earth. When asked “How did you go about getting it into MOMA’s Permanent Design Collection?” John replies, “I have no idea. One day, I just got a letter from Philip Johnson.” John continues by discussing his promotion to industrial design and graphics manager, that moved him to IBM’s Poughkeepsie, NY, office. During his time here, his groundbreaking efforts to use the principles of Swiss typography to clearly organize the touch pad functions transformed the look and feel of product interfaces to come. Also among his responsibilities was the management of IBM’s storied white room, an invisible-cornered studio the size of a basketball court in which many of IBM’s flagship products were photographed with an other-worldly Kubrick vibe. “I was a rebel. The engineers called me the long-haired hippie.” John smiled wryly while mentioning his shift into management. His neatly combed silver ponytail and unassuming manner at the podium mildy obscure the image of him as a former creative troublemaker who sported cowboy boots through the corporate office of the 1970s. In 1978, John left IBM in New York, having been hired by an architectural firm back in Boulder. The principal of the firm had recalled John’s earlier freelance work. John began shifting his focus more toward interior design. Later, a former IBMer actually accepted a high-budget architectural proposal under the condition that they hire John to design his interiors. Talk about referrals! To hear John describe it, his academic path was a humorous string of contradictions. Despite struggling with a learning disability, he went on to serve as an instructor and lecturer at eight different schools and universities, at one point even teaching an honors class. He describes the “best time of my life” as teaching design at The Ohio State University, then follows with stories of presenting to a Saudi tycoon in the Mediterranean and leading retail design at Hallmark. While the awards for John’s designs are numerous (Wescon, AIGA, Smithsonian, MOMA, Form, ID, etc.) and the 13 patents evidence of his innovations, what continually stands out are his understated solutions within each project. One student asks, “Beyond solving problems, how
would you describe your design philosophy?” A brief pause and quizzical glance proceed his response: “I don’t know how to answer that,” as if to say, is there anything more? While I sat watching the wonder of 20-year-olds gaping at unfamiliar mainframe computing systems, it began to dawn on me that John had not fallen into great jobs, projects and opportunities. There was actually no shred of coincidence in his professional career. It was his work and how he worked with colleagues and clients that paved the path before him. It was his work, above that of his peers, that stood out without being pretentious. It was his work that solved both large- and small-scale problems down to every last detail for those who worked with him or hired him. This exceptional level of work that engineers and managers remembered years after their IBM tenure kept them coming back to work with John. I could see it. More importantly, my students could also see it through the images and stories of now-obsolete technological landscapes; they could clearly discern the level of John’s work and his influence on projects. Then came the conviction: Is my work so compelling and solution-oriented that its value is held by others as invaluable? You could see it in each of John’s photos as the solutions were explained: reducing a client’s costs, an ergonomic detail, streamlining assembly processes, bringing clarity to a complex task. John’s self-acknowledged failures were keenly identified as his failures to know or recognize the problem, not the design itself. Where do ego, self-expression and promotion come into this? They don’t. After John’s presentation, I urged my students to ask themselves, “Would my colleagues leverage their first-choice consultant in order to work with me? Does my work affect my peers and colleagues to this level?” This realization seemed both a harsh conviction and a motivating challenge for us as I stepped up to thank John. Stories about designing can often ripen with time and perspective. John Stram’s descriptive first-person accounts of lessons learned through his design projects, professional relationships and career paths transcend generational and technological divides despite the years passed. This illustrates the tremendous potential that an experience narrative can enable us, at any age, to better teach and practice design. “Do you think it went OK?” he asked as we eased away from the crowd. “I couldn’t really read what they were thinking.” “Yes,” I said, as I thought to myself, they’re all itching to work with you. n
Clockwise, from top left: The 1975 keyboard design for the IBM 3270 Information Display System incorporated a wrist rest and pencil stop drawn from observational studies. n The 1978 home computer concept for IBM exhibited a range of housing options, including vivid colors, wood veneer and Marimekko fabric. n The look of the era: John Stramâ€™s IBM Series 500 data processing magnetic tape reel from 1968 shown with an earlier model mainframe.
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By Steven R. Umbach, IDSA firstname.lastname@example.org n www.idsa.org/members/steven-r-umbach Steven Umbach founded the Umbach Consulting Group in Texas in 2001 with a focus on design management and new product development. Around the time of this story, and based on some of the work he had done while a designer at GVO, Umbach was recognized with Rhode Island School of Design’s Young Alumni Achievement Award and later with IDSA’s 10 Best Designs of the Decade Award.
WHAT WOULD I DO WITH AN INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER?
he year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president, and I was a sophomore industrial design student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Earlier in the year, the Bee Gees had topped the charts with the song “Stayin‘ Alive,” which, as I think it about it now, ended up being a really good
theme song for my summer travails. I was spending the summer in Menlo Park, CA—the town next to Palo Alto and Stanford University—with my father and stepmother looking for a summer internship in design. My father, an engineer, was a manufacturer’s sales rep at the time, selling capital equipment used for large-scale manufacturing of products and foods. He had given me all of the sales professional’s pep talks that he thought would help. “It’s all about the sales lead-toclose ratio,” he would say. “If you contact 20 people and get a positive response leading to an interview from say two, then that means if you are shooting for at least four or more interviews or positive responses you’ll need to contact 40 design firms. That’s a 10 to one ratio, or 10 percent for this type of sales effort.” Yikes! I thought. I don’t think there are even four industrial design firms in the entire region of my search. My father also told me, at some point, I had to just get out there and pound the pavement. So I sat in my father’s office in San Francisco each weekday for the first part of my summer vacation planning my self-imposed design internship search, and procrastinating, just a little. On a yellow legal pad with a pencil, I made a list of all of the design firms I could find in the phone book between San Francisco and Mountain View. There weren’t many, so I expanded the list to include graphic, exhibit, and fur-
niture design firms. Whatever I could find that seemed to fit made the list. There was a designer in San Francisco named Bruce Burdick who was designing really cool office furniture at the time. Otherwise, I focused my search from Mountain View to Redwood City, spanning out in opposite directions on either side of Palo Alto and Stanford University—ground zero for the newly dubbed Silicon Valley and commutable for me by motorcycle. Part of making a list also included making phone calls, my father instructed. And when making calls, his advice was to inquire about the company’s products and services first and then ask if they might have summer internships. I also learned how to turn a “no” into a “go.” If I received a “no” response, I would graciously ask if they had any other ideas or contacts I might try. That way, when I called the next company I could say that soand-so from company X suggested I call, giving me a little more credibility and causing people to be more inclined to take my call. Yep, another technique my father taught me. It was called networking even then, long before the internet or online social networks. I did call the Burdick Group. They had summer internship positions for industrial design students, so I arranged an appointment to visit their uniquely California-style office. But I soon discovered that they were offering unpaid internships!
It’s for the “experience” they said, a common response I got that summer as it turned out. (Funny twist: Although nowadays I make my living essentially selling my deep design experience, the problem then was that I couldn’t pay my tuition or living expenses while in college with my experience.) Pounding the Pavement Finally the day came to get off the phone and go knock on some doors. Instead of riding into San Francisco with my father, he drove me to the heart of downtown Palo Alto, stopped the car, and said to get out and good luck. Tough love, I guess. As he drove off to work, there I was with my very large leather portfolio filled with marker renderings in one hand and my list of design firms and a downtown map of Palo Alto in the other. Okay, here we go, I thought. As I was walking, I couldn’t help but think about the conversation I had had with the career counselor, Carolyn, back at RISD before summer break when I had made an appointment to talk about obtaining an internship. In her office, after I told her what I wanted to do, she burst out laughing! Huh? After being a little taken aback by her response, I thought, is this the way a professional career counselor should behave? Laughing at me for wanting to find an internship in my chosen career discipline? You’re killing me, what did I miss? Well, I was about to find out. “Steven,” she now said, seriously, “You’re kidding, right? Coming into my office on a regular basis are graduating students and graduates in industrial design who can’t even find jobs, and you think you are going to find a summer internship?” I suppose I could have been really put off by this, but after getting over the shock, I was more determined than ever to find an internship. I was the kind of youth that if told I couldn’t do something, stand back, because I was going to prove you wrong in a big way! Or just maybe I was already a little prepared for Carolyn’s response. I had been listening to my parents tell me for the past two years that a career in art wasn’t very practical, and asking me what kind of job would I find after graduating? And what the heck was industrial design anyway? Nevertheless, I set my sights on obtaining an internship in industrial design, a paying one, that is, and got further coaching from my father in preparation, who reminded me regularly that selling machinery and equipment was easy compared to being an artist where the product you had to sell was yourself. Huh? That was a pep talk? So here I am on University Avenue in downtown Palo
Alto toward the end of July during the summer of 1978 seeking a paid summer internship in industrial design, something my college counselor, parents and even Bruce Burdick said wasn’t possible—and that conversation was what was running through my head. I honestly don’t recall if it was the first address on my list or even what the exact layout of the room was, but I’ll never forget this one particular encounter. I seem to remember that there were two large drafting tables with mechanical arms angled up and facing away from each other in the center of the room, and two men sitting back-to-back with a little aisle space in-between. “Can we help you?” one of them asked. “Hi, my name is Steven Umbach, and I’m an industrial design student at RISD, and I’m looking for a summer internship,” was my practiced line. As I was pondering if they heard me and knew what the heck RISD was, the gentleman who had initially spoken said, “We’re a product design firm. What would I do with an industrial designer?” Hmmm! I thought. This day was not starting out like I had hoped! Still a little green at this, I graciously said thank you and headed out the door. Although I might not remember all of the details of the office space from that brief visit, I’ll never forget what was said to me and, later, who said it. I eventually found a summer design internship, yes, a paid one, with a design firm called GVO and soon began to learn who was who in the Palo Alto design scene, including the person I had talked to that day—who was none other than David Kelley! The same David Kelley who went on to teach at the Stanford Product Design program, co-founded IDEO, as well as founded the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, commonly referred to as the d.School. The other person most likely was Dean Hovey. The firm was called Hovey-Kelley. It Happened Again! Wow! What a story, but guess what? It happened again! Almost 10 years later to the day. After working in industrial design consulting firms around the country for years, I had the opportunity to meet with Kelley again in person for an official job interview. By this time, the two-man operation I had encountered 10 years earlier had shortly thereafter transitioned from Hovey-Kelley Design to the multiperson design-engineering firm of David Kelley Design and was occupying the iconic IBM tower in downtown Palo Alto on University Avenue. But before I share the details of our meeting, a little background is in order.
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S T O RY TE L L I NG
Creative Problem-Solving Process Meets Hi-Tech The late ’70s through the ’80s saw a great transition in the Western world as what we call hi-tech began to take hold of industries and, more poignantly, products. We saw products evolve from electro-mechanical devices to ones that had electronics and increasing degrees of miniaturization and complexity. While at GVO during the summer of 1978, I had the opportunity to help with the development of a kidney dialysis machine and an election ballot machine around the same time that Kelley and team were continuing to evolve and develop the first Apple mouse and the Apple III. Upon graduation from RISD, I returned to GVO and began my full-time career as an industrial designer, and then over the next few years worked in firms from Boston to Florida. However, due to my experience growing up in Silicon Valley, and internships and employment there, I had sensed that the traditional definition of an industrial designer was somehow insufficient. Sometime in the early ’80s while working at GVO, I decided I needed a more technical underpinning to my classic industrial design education. While at RISD, I had completed some independent study courses in the creative problem-solving process. Once I started working, it became more obvious to me that the logic, or process thinking skill, we had been taught at RISD as the manner in which we do industrial design was actually the real power of design. Let me try and explain. I was gaining a sense that my art skills as an industrial designer, while significant, were not the true power of my craft. In other words, with a strong industrial design process, I could design anything, even if I hadn’t designed such a product previously. Along with this thinking and due to being influenced by the emerging technology of the nascent Silicon Valley, I figured I needed more technical training to be a truly effective contemporary designer of products. It was around this time, between when I graduated from RISD and a few years later, that I met with Robert McKim, department head and founder of Stanford’s product design program and author of the book Experiences in Visual Thinking. We discussed my applying to the Stanford Engineering School’s product design program, to which he said, “Why would you want to come here? My whole focus is to get these engineers to think about design the way you were trained at RISD.”
Back to It Happened Again So back to interviewing again, 10 years later, with Kelley. We had a very cordial visit and talked about a lot of things. Sitting behind his big wooden desk, David then said, “You know, Steven, you are the kind of person who would do well here. You have the right focus on design as a process, some great cross-functional experience and the right personality to fit in. But before we go forward, you might want to check with one of our ID partners—there’s one looking for a senior designer currently—because we don’t hire industrial designers.” Wow! There you have it. First I heard, “What would I do with an industrial designer?” and then that they “don’t hire industrial designers!” Maybe my parents were right! What the heck is industrial design anyway? Not a surprising response when put into context. At the time, there was a much larger gulf between traditional industrial designers and engineers than we experience today. Traditional engineering, especially in the new high-tech industries, was grappling with how to evolve into a more comprehensive product design service, and industrial design firms such as GVO were doing the same thing but from the opposite direction. When I worked at GVO, they had a client-supplied in-house engineer working side-by side with the industrial designers. By the time I met with David Kelley the second time, his engineering product design firm had bridged the design-engineering gap by partnering closely with certain industrial design firms, although not bringing them onboard as employees. Such a close partnership allowed for more seamless integration of the whole product development process, and Kelley’s firm could manage the process and offer turnkey services to clients through such a partnership. Just a few years later, in 1990, however, David Kelley Design did merge with some industrial design firms to become IDEO. So what would you do with an industrial designer, David? Well, great things for sure! n
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