Category Archives: design

Disappearing wonders: World Heritage Sites in Danger

THOUGHTS: A great design project around this problem would be — to reduce the number of people and expose more people, how do you let someone experience the signs, sounds, textures, and smells of each of these location?

I can imagine having guided tours where the guides wears a extremely high resolution 360° cameras. And users log in from home with 3D visual technology (or at the very least a monitor and mouse) to allow them to ‘turn their heads’ and view the desired thing. To boot, if the user wants to ‘stop’ and look at something in more detail, all they would do is ‘zoom in’ on the desired thing ~ which should work because the high resolution image.

…just a thought.

6bba36b4-4e02-42ef-a35e-12c13caa79db_GreatWallheritage(Photo: Shutterstock)

Standing atop the ramparts of China’s Great Wall. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These are the giants of our collective imagination, the plumes in our travel caps. Although they might seem timeless, many of the world’s most treasured sites are in peril, threatened by theft, development, climate change or unsustainable tourism.

Featuring some of the world’s most popular destinations, our picks draw from UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list as well as “Disappearing World: 101 of the Earth’s Most Extraordinary and Endangered Places” by Alonzo C. Addison. From ancient cities to virgin rainforests, we hope these wonders stick around to inspire future generations.

Great Wall, China

Constructed to shelter China’s people and culture from the outside world, the Great Wall stretches over 4,500 miles and took 2,000 years to construct. UNESCO calls it “an absolute masterpiece” not only “because of the ambitious character of the undertaking but also the perfection of its construction.” But perfection isn’t protection, and the Great Wall is now under threat from the pressures of the modern world.

Unsurprising given its incredible length, large portions of the wall now suffer from neglect and erosion from the elements. More popular sections are subject to the wear and tear that comes with millions of visitors each year. But according to Addison, the biggest threat to the Great Wall may be the “slow and seemingly innocuous destruction and brick-by-brick looting. Portions that had survived for 2,000 years have vanished in recent decades and there are reports of quarrying in many locations.”

3360d0ff-7e73-4500-b93e-54af8345faf5_Memphisheritage2(Photo: Shutterstock)

Memphis And Its Necropolis, Egypt

Until you get an aerial view of Memphis and its necropolis, you may not realize just how close the sprawl of Cairo has crept to the three pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, Memphis’ best-known sites and the sole survivors of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Hotels and shops surround the site where a hundred years ago the pyramid fields of Memphis stood alone as beacons in a vast desert.

In the 1990s, a highway plan that would have damaged the site was successfully thwarted, but development, rising groundwater, pollution and theft continue to threaten the mysterious tombs, monuments and pyramids of Memphis.

efcb0af5-c457-4f21-99c3-fc080b1c8a3d_RioPlatanoheritage(Photo: José Huerta via Flickr)

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras

The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, one of the last virgin tropical rainforests in Central America, remains — at least for now — a portrait of abundance. The mountainous landscape that slopes down to the Caribbean teems with wildlife, including 39 mammal and nearly 400 bird species. Human cultures, past and present, are an important part of the biosphere’s riches as well: Not only does the reserve include Ciudad Blanca, an important Maya site, but the forest is home to more than 2,000 indigenous people who have preserved their traditional ways of life.

The more than 1,900 square miles of pristine rainforest are under serious threat, though. In 2011, the government of Honduras requested that the UNESCO World Heritage site be put on the World Heritage in Danger list to mobilize against threats including illegal logging, poaching, uncontrolled commercial hunting of wild animals, slash-and-burn colonization and the introduction of exotic species.

d22eb859-200a-476b-b01f-c491130a0c5e_OldCityJerusalemheritage(Photo: Shutterstock)

Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

Originally inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1981, the Old City of Jerusalem has been on the World Heritage in Danger list since 1982 — longer than any other of the list’s 38 imperiled properties.

Considered a holy city in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem proves its popularity with record-breaking tourist numbers. In 2010 alone, the city hosted 3.5 million travelers, and the local government hopes to welcome 10 million visitors this decade. And Old Jerusalem, with its 220 historic monuments — including the famous Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall — is a must-see stop on the Jerusalem tourist circuit. That’s a lot of pressure for a site already straining under the weight of heavy tourism and a lack of maintenance.

Will Jerusalem’s Old City be preserved for future generations? Unless the government can ensure the conservation of its most treasured monuments, maybe not.

831c86dc-48c8-49f6-a332-045baf658e17_Evergladesheritage(Photo: Shutterstock)

Everglades National Park, United States

Beautifully described as “a river of grass flowing imperceptibly from the hinterland into the sea,” Everglades National Park has made several appearances on the World Heritage in Danger list since its inscription as a World Heritage site 34 years ago. A haven for rare and threatened species, including the Florida panther and the manatee, the national park comprises an astounding variety of water habitats, including the Western Hemisphere’s largest mangrove ecosystem.

However, the very life source of its riches — the aquatic ecosystem — is in peril. Years of draining, dike building and construction have reduced water inflows by up to 60 percent and destroyed more than half of the original Everglades. Water pollution from agricultural runoff and contaminated storm water have caused a decline in marine species. And while the response to its 2010 inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger list has been swift, the job of successfully restoring and conserving the Everglades will stretch far beyond the park’s watery boundaries.

32cd1360-9411-4dd2-a97f-a6558556e3fe_Petraheritage(Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock)

Petra, Jordan

Once a thriving trade center for frankincense, myrrh and spices, the ancient city of Petra continues to attract curious visitors in search of beauty and cultural riches. The ruins of the city, which was half carved into red sandstone cliffs, hold architecturally elaborate tombs along with temples, sacrificial altars and even a Roman-style amphitheater.

But while beautiful, the red sandstone is soft and easily eroded. The dramatic rise in visitors over recent decades — from 65,000 in 1986 to nearly 1 million in 2010 — is taking its toll. Human feet, along with the hooves of camels and donkeys hired by tourists, wear away at the stonework paths, and visitors hasten erosion by touching the carved buildings.

The Petra National Trust lists other threats to the site, including structural instability and site-management issues. As the city slowly disappears under the fingers of millions, it seems uncertain what will remain for future generations.

26f6ac3c-0f2c-48ba-b773-6f01f6a9ceb7_Galapagosheritage(Photo: Shutterstock)

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Three years after their inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger list, the Galapagos Islands have emerged on the other end, having made significant headway against the threats of “invasive species, unbridled tourism and overfishing.” However, the same isolation that made the islands a “living museum and showcase of evolution” also makes them vulnerable to the environmental pressures of tourism and the constant threat of invasive species.

Best known for unique animal life, such as the land iguana and giant tortoise, the Galapagos are a point of pilgrimage for wildlife lovers. But our presence changes the landscape: In the islands’ relatively short history of human settlement, it’s estimated that about 5 percent of the Galapagos’ species have become extinct. It will take the continued efforts of Ecuador’s government to preserve the Pacific archipelago that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

c1cd2cc9-fb92-49fa-81e2-8d442071fd81_Angkorheritage(Photo: Ng Wei Keong/Shutterstock)

Angkor, Cambodia

The 150-square-mile Angkor Archaeological Park protects just a part of what was once a vast cluster of ancient capitals in the jungle of Cambodia. Its best known site, Angkor Wat, remains even today the world’s largest religious building.

Angkor was removed from the World Heritage in Danger list in 2004, after pillaging and landmine problems were successfully tackled, but it remains at risk. The dramatic rise in visitors — from zero during the dangerous ’70s and ’80s to 640,000 foreign visitors in the first three months of 2012 alone — has taken its toll on the buildings and temples. Soft sandstone steps and carvings have already been worn away under the feet of so many visitors, though in recent years authorities have limited the number of people allowed on the most popular buildings and added wooden staircases to protect the soft stone steps.

The threats to the site extend beyond the park itself: Authorities have warned that groundwater pumping to cater to visitors in nearby Siem Reap has caused some of the temples to sink.

4fdd1af7-ba9a-4947-bf66-409a79bfd7ea_Greatbarrierheritage1(Photo: Shutterstock)

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

It’s the world’s most extensive coral-reef ecosystem, home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk. The Great Barrier Reef draws visitors to Australia from all over the world, but climate change is threatening the very framework of the remarkable living marine system.

As ocean temperatures rise and waters become more acidic, the Great Barrier Reef is expected to be “subjected to increasingly frequent bleaching events, cases in which corals turn white and may die,” according to a UNESCO report. More immediately, the approval of a natural gas processing facility within the World Heritage property has drawn serious concern from experts worried about its impact on the marine ecosystem.

ef16bd57-a935-49e4-8778-124ddd0be926_MachuPicchueritage(Photo: Shutterstock)

Machu Picchu, Peru

2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu. In the last century, the Inca ruins have become one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions. And as the journey to see the “Lost City” has grown easier with the addition of train service, its remote location high in a cloud forest of the Peruvian Andes hasn’t shielded it from the damaging effects of extreme popularity.

Uncontrolled development, erosion and the ongoing risk of landslides that could wipe out the site keep Machu Picchu’s future at risk. Last year, in light of the rapid growth to meet tourism needs in nearby Aguas Calientes, UNESCO counseled authorities to take “rigorous emergency measures to counter the growing disorganization” and to create a buffer around Machu Picchu to protect it from urban encroachment.

Public Interest Design honors 100 global thinkers who are designing social good


by Kate Torgovnick

Good design has the power to improve lives. Yesterday, Public Interest Design — a group dedicated to design for social good — released the Global Public Interest Design 100, a list of 100 “designers” (including some people you really might not expect) who are designing for the good of all. We love this sweeping list of 100 architects, designers, policymakers, visualizers, funders and educators who — even if they have no design training — are changing the world with great design thinking.“Lists like this are useful in shining a light on unseen leaders and unheard voices,” says John Cary, the curator of Public Interest Design, who worked with Autodesk to research the list and create an interactive graphic of it. The list offers a new lens on some favorite TED speakers and TED Fellows — because, it turns out, they’re designers. Below, a look at these honorees:

  • William Kamkwamba made the list for designing and building a windmill that brought electricity to his home and village in rural Malawi. Did we mention that he was 14 at the time? He shares the story in his TED Talk “How I harnessed the wind.”
  • Bunker Roy was honored for his Barefoot College, which seeks to make communities self-sufficient by teaching skills in energy, health, waste management and more. He talks more about his for-the-poor-only college in the talk “Learning from a barefoot movement.”
  • Amos Winter, who founded Global Research Innovation and Technology, made the list for his work on products like the Leveraged Freedom Chair. In this talk, he shares more about the development of this “Cheap all-terrain wheelchair.”
  • Zainab Salbi was honored for founding Women for Women International, which helps survivors of war recover from crisis. Her TED Talk “Women, wartime and the dream of peace” is simply incredible.
  • TED Fellow Jodie Wu’s Global Cycle Solutions has created a bike-powered maize sheller and phone-charger. These unique designs landed her a spot on the list.
  • Alastair Parvin was honored for his work on Wikihouse, an open source construction set that lets anyone build. His talk from TED2013, “The DIY house of the future,” will premiere on next week. Stay tuned.

(Above), check out a static version of Public Interest Design’s Global 100 graphic. And head to to play with the interactive version »


Loomi Light Kit

A modular, makable, paintable, recyclable light that looks beautiful just about anywhere

from Crowd Supply

The Loomi Light is a crafty little light. This modular light is made up of interlinking quadrilaterals that easily connect to create wonderful lights of all shapes and sizes.

An expired Danish patent from the 70′s inspired the design for Loomi, and two friends from Brooklyn (David Sosnow & Josh Hartung) created their own version with high quality card stock instead of plastic.

The basic globe shape is made from 30 pieces, and Loomi smartly adds 3 extra pieces, just in case. The 33 piece kit makes over a dozen different configurations, making creative lights of all shapes and sizes. The kit takes about 20 minutes to assemble using the instructions provided.

The modular pieces are white, but let your imagination take the light to new extremes. You can draw, paint, glue, dye, decorate and recycle the Loomi. Multiple kits can be combined to make a giant light as well.

Product Specifications

  • Material: High-quality paper (SBS card stock)
  • Color: White
  • Size: Roughly 13 inches across
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs

Product Features

  • Lamp Cord: 15′
  • Assembly Instructions

Bulb not included. Use fluorescent or LED light bulbs.

History of Loomi Light

Creators Josh Hartung and David Sosnow brought their idea for the Loomi Light to Kickstarter in November of 2011 and raised over $34,000 to bring the Loomi to life.

What You Need to Know about Crowd Supply, the New Crowdfunding Platform for Product Designers

Posted by Don Lehman on core77

Crowd Supply is Kickstarter for product designers. That’s an overly simplistic description and a disservice to what Crowd Supply has accomplished at launch, but it’s the best way to explain what it is. When you dig past the surface, into what a crowdfunding site developed specifically for product designers could mean, the differences become exciting.

The site launched this morning with nine projects and three read-to-ship products, ranging the gamut from an iPhone case with a built-in hand crank charger to a cyclocross bike to a dog collar with a built-in leash that I am admittedly thinking of Backing for my own dog.

About two weeks ago, I spoke via Skype with Crowd Supply’s CEO, Lou Doctor. He was coming from Crowd Supply’s headquarters in Portland and had the familiar look of someone under the gun getting ready to launch a product—happy and sleep deprived. Doctor, like the five other employees at Crowd Supply , comes with a background in engineering that has veered into business, entrepreneurship and running project teams.

I came away from our discussion thinking that Doctor and his team have smartly thought through the experience of running a crowdfunded product design project while simultaneously creating a better experience for Backers.

Let’s start with how Crowd Supply is the same as Kickstarter. All of the big design issues that Kickstarter solved are kept in place. Projects are pitched by Creators. They have funding goals and deadlines. If they meet or exceed their goal by the deadline, they get funded. If they miss their goal, they don’t get funded. Project pages mimic Kickstarter’s familiar layout: Video and funding goal at the top, description and backing tiers below. Creators retain all ownership of their projects and give Crowd Supply 5% of their fundraising total.

Beyond these fundamentals, Crowd Supply has built a platform specifically tailored for product design and manufacturing. They’ve done a bunch of little things right, but I want to focus on three key areas that I think makes them meaningfully different from Kickstarter.

1. Mentorship
This has the potential to be a real game changer: Crowd Supply is staffed by product development veterans who will advise Creators throughout the course of their projects.

When Creators send their projects to be reviewed, Crowd Supply’s team vets them, looking for potential pitfalls in their plans. The feedback could come in the form of, “This will be more expensive that you are thinking, you need to raise your funding goal,” or “Have you thought of adding an engineer to your team? Here is someone that could help,” or “Have you thought through your production plan yet?” If proposals aren’t up to snuff, Creators are given feedback on how to improve their project or rejected.

This is such a great feature, not only for Creators but for Backers too. For any Creator manufacturing solo for the first, or even the second or third time, asking questions like these before launch can be the difference between success and failure. Backers can feel assured that someone with expertise has vetted the project and deemed the Creator worthy of launching a project.

Once Creators are allowed through that gate, Crowd Supply’s staff offers support for the duration of the project, offering advice and even providing their own fulfillment services.

I love this approach to helping Creators, because it solves a major issue of not only crowdfunding but launching products in general. The team shares their learnings of fundamental knowledge of what it takes to launch something. We’re not talking about IP issues, it’s basic stuff like finding a factory or figuring out how to do fulfillment. It’s one of those things you can only really learn by doing, but man wouldn’t it be nice to have an Obi-Wan there to show you the ways of the force.

While I think the type of guidance Crowd Supply will provide is a huge win for Creators and Backers alike, the one thing that remains unanswered for me is the liability Crowd Supply is taking on. Kickstarter’s approach is more hands off, meaning all outcomes are totally dependent on the Creator. The downside of this is inexperienced Creators might be able to post projects but might not be able to deliver results.

By more throughly vetting their Creators, Crowd Supply will surely lower the risk of failed projects, but does it also open them up to being more culpable in failed projects? I think it’s a gamble worth taking, and I’m sure Crowd Supply has looked into the legal implications of this, but I do wonder what will happen if someone gets overly litigious.

2. Crowd Supply Is a Pre-order Store
Last September, Kickstarter famously posted to their blog, ““Kickstarter Is Not a Store.” I think this is exactly the right tack for Kickstarter to take, but it’s at odds with the types of tools product designers need in crowdfunding. Crowd Supply has embraced the opposite philosophy (their first blog post says as much). While not exactly a “store” in the Amazon, ships-the-same-day sense of the word, it is a pre-order store.


The most obvious example of this is the pledge tier column, which has pictures and drop down menus that allow Backers to select options—different colors or sizes, for example—within a individual level. All I can say to this is “Halle-freakin-lujah.” On Kickstarter, Creators can’t get this info until they send out surveys to their Backers, leading to all sorts of confusion and issues down the road.

Once Backers decide to support a project, they immediately give their address and credit card info. That’s right, no more dreaded Backer surveys. Can I get another Hallelujah from the congregation?

As nice as a drop down menu and address box is, the most important store-like feature by far is that Creators have more control over their project’s home page. On Kickstarter, once a project’s funding period ends, the page becomes non-editable, leaving a project frozen in time, so to speak. On Crowd Supply, as soon as the project has been funded, the page turns from a funding site into a pre-ordering site until the first products are ready to ship.

There are two ramifications of this pre-order philosophy. The first is that as soon the project is funded, Creators will have access to their funds—no more waiting for the funding period to end to buy supplies or issue a PO to your factory. Secondly, this gives Creators a seamless way of continuing to offer their products without having to develop their own e-commerce solution. Because there is no more missing the funding period, Creators who were worried that they were losing out on sales in the months between the close of the project and their ship date.

3. Clearer Project Communication
First off, there’s a dedicated “Project Timeline” page that quickly shows what the major milestones have been achieved and which ones are yet to come.

Second, every team member is listed on the project page with their picture. Not only is this a great way for Creators to show the experience and skills of their team, but it’s a great way for Backers to have a better understanding of who they are supporting.

Third, ship dates are more accurate. Let’s say you’re one of the Backers of the Pebble watch. Backer #64,538 to be exact. It’s not fair to set the expectation that Backer #64,538 will have the same reward ship date as Backer #1. Crowd Supply will inform Backers of their individualized realistic ship date based on their order in line. Again, this is one of those things that serves a dual purpose. If you make things clear and obvious for Backers, you make life easier for the Creators.

* * *


Kickstarter is the established and popular frontrunner for good reason. Over the past three years, they have singlehandedly defined crowdfunding—making it accessible, rewarding and cool. The key driver of their success is that their motives are honorable. Sure they make money—as well they should—but their goal is to see creative people of all types get their dream projects off the ground. This feel-good vibe is the reason they have been able to convert people who would normally be suspicious of such a harebrained scheme (let’s be honest, crowdfunding is historically still a pretty crazy idea) into Backers. At very least, Crowd Supply will have to establish itself as being at least equally honorable as Kickstarter. This will take time.

We’re also at a crossroads for crowdfunding. As the money and popularity have been increasing exponentially, so has the pressure for Creators to perform. Kickstarter was never designed to deal with these pressures, especially for product design Creators. The complexities of first-run manufacturing, let alone starting a business, are vastly different than those faced by a filmmaker, musician, or art project.

Having personally gone through the process of running a Kickstarter project, written guides on crowdfunding for designers and given advice to many Creators, what excites me most about Crowd Supply is that they have designed their platform they exactly the way a product designer would. By providing tools and a support system that are specific to the needs of product design Creators, they have created a better ecosystem for both Creators and Backers.

In the end, I don’t think success for Crowd Supply should be measured by if they can ‘beat’ Kickstarter. Crowd Supply will either be successful or it won’t, but that outcome is independent of Kickstarter. At the very least, the framework they have created is a good test case for new crowdfunding standards and designers who want to use crowdfunding to start a business.


Check out to see it for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!


…looks like Detroit just got new MUSCLES!

from Detroit Electric the world’s fastest pure-electric production car.


The Detroit Electric SP:01 is a limited-edition, two-seat pure-electric sports car that sets new standards for performance and handling in electric vehicles. Boasting an impressive 155 mph top speed and covering the 0-100kmh (0-62mph) sprint in a blistering 3.7 seconds, performance motoring has a new champion.

The rear-wheel-drive SP:01 features a compact, mid-mounted 200bhp electric motor, a lightweight, purpose-designed battery pack and all-new carbon-fibre bodywork. With a total weight of just 1,070 kg, the SP:01 has an excellent power-to-weight ratio – contributing to its superior performance, driving dynamics and class-leading handling.




Crowdsourced ‘Maker Map’ Charts Nearby Hackerspaces and Hardware Shops

THOUGHTS: Could this be the answer to all my questions?

Screenshot via The Maker Map

We’ve long been fascinated with makerspaces, the DIY equivalent of co-ops. They make projects possible by offering tools and classes at a shared cost to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access. If you’re lucky enough to live in a maker-dense region, you’ve likely got plenty of options, from niche shops like the Bike Kitchen to multi-use spaces like TechShop.

San Francisco is one such locale, with such a robust community of builder resources that people needed a tool to keep tabs on them all. So The Maker Map was born. Created by Renee DiResta and Nick Pinkston, the open source DIY outlet-tracking Google Map tries to illuminate all the SF makerspaces and related establishments, dividing them by category and plotting them out geographically.

The project, which started at a hackathon at DiResta’s office, is doubly open source. Not only do Pinkston and DiResta draw on the crowd for data (you can add resources that aren’t yet on the map), the whole project is forked on GitHub, so users can help develop the map itself.

“We kept finding ourselves having the same conversations with people,” says DiResta, an associate at O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures. “Like, where can I get this done? Or hey, I’ve got my prototype, what do I do next?”

“People would ask me for this stuff constantly,” says Pinkston, who has founded several companies including Cloudfab, a distributed manufacturing company, and the upcoming Plethora, an automated manufacturing company. “And I was like oh, it would be nice to have a place I could send them, that they would know where to get it instead of bothering me.”

Pinkston also likes to build. His latest creation was a prototype machine tool-tending robot for Plethora, built primarily at TechShop in San Francisco. As a transplant from Pittsburgh (he founded, Pinkston didn’t know as many places to source materials for it. Hence, the map.

Initially limited to the San Francisco Bay Area, the map expanded rapidly as makers kept adding their favorite shops, suppliers, and fabricators around the world. And although their help has helped the project reach new users, the growth may ultimately require community organizers around the world to help keep the information accurate and up to date.

“Otherwise, somebody sitting in San Francisco is going to have to try to validate data that’s being input from France,” says DiResta. “People who are on the ground there have a better sense of what’s going on in France than I do in San Francisco.”

“The hardest thing is the curation,” Pinkston says. “It can become like Yelp. And I mean that in a pejorative way. Stuff doesn’t mean anything, it’s not really useful.”

But with the right people involved, that’s more of a boon than a detriment.

“The coolest thing about what you’re seeing now is how totally different it looks from what I pushed a month ago,” says DiResta. “And that’s because of the community around it.”

People jumped in with design and UX know-how, helping turn it into a collaborative effort that continues to spread.

“It’s nice to have a work in progress that a community is really excited about,” DiResta says.

Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison, America’s Most Prolific African-American Industrial Designer

from core77


Images via DesignWeek UK

In 1950s America, few people at all were pursuing careers in industrial design. Charles “Chuck” Harrison was one of them. He had talent and degrees from both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology, but after applying to Sears for an ID gig, he was rejected for a single reason: Because he was black.

Sears’ hiring manager, however, recognized Harrison’s talent and was able to secure freelance work for him. Not having any African-Americans on staff was the unwritten rule of the time, but the freelance workaround enabled Harrison to start gaining real-world experience.

One of Harrison’s former professors at Chicago was Henry P. Glass, the Viennese architect and designer. As a Holocaust survivor, Glass knew the ugly face of discrimination well, and having observed Harrison’s skills first-hand, helped him secure work at a design firm. In 1958, while working at Robert Podall Associates, Harrison updated the design of the popular View-Master toy, creating the iconic form many of us recognize today (even though Harrison’s Bakelite had given way to plastic by the time of our childhoods.)

By 1961 American society had begun poking small holes in the racial barrier, and Harrison got a phone call from Sears: They wanted him on staff. Harrison accepted, and embarked on a prolific career in design.


The breadth of Harrison’s work is like an industrial designer’s dream: Over the next thirty years he designed Craftsman power tools, radios, hairdryers, sewing machines, kitchen appliances, steam irons, televisions and more, spanning objects that you’d find in every room of the American house, including the garage and the toolshed.

Harrison’s favorite project was a humble one with a profound effect: The first plastic garbage can. At the time of its release all other garbage cans were metal, which made a terrific racket when the trucks came to pick up the trash each morning. Harrison’s plastic can was decidedly quieter. And he doesn’t mind that his contribution is largely unsung: “As an industrial designer especially, your audience is neither history nor fame,” he writes, “but a couple who worked hard to buy their first home on a quiet street and would love just one more hour of sleep in the morning, even on trash day.” On the practical side, he designed the can to nest, meaning they took up far less space for shipping and warehousing.


Harrison, who became Sears’ first African-American executive, retired in 1993. Throughout the 2000s he taught product design in Chicago. His full story is captured in his memoir, A Life’s Design: The Life And Work of Industrial Designer Charles Harrison.


Designing In The Transition To A Multi-Device World

By Francisco Inchauste

When I think about where we are with the Web in comparison to other media in history, pinpointing it is really hard. Is it like when the Gutenberg Press was just invented and we’re experimenting with movable type, or are we still embellishing pages and slavishly copying books by hand?

Our knowledge of building digital things changes rapidly, taking us from newborn to adult and back again every couple of years. It’s both exciting and frustrating, because just when you think you have it all figured out, it completely changes. But if you’re like me, learning something new keeps things interesting.

So, it seems pretty normal that our methods of designing and building websites are questioned every so often. The argument to ditch design apps (or to drastically minimize the time spent in them) and go straight to the browser has popped up a lot in the past few years and then quite recently. It’s obvious that our digital world and, by proxy, our design process are in a state of transition. And they should be: considering design in the context of your materials and goals is always important.

I tend to shy away from prescriptive approaches. Most decisions are framed by our experience, and, as humans, we’re continually drawn to and seek out what we already believe (known as “confirmation bias”), ignoring the rest. So, I strive to keep that in mind whenever listening to advice about how things should be done. We’re all navigating the same changing landscape here. What many designers recommend is the right answer for them and not necessarily the right answer for you, or your client. As Cameron Moll more eloquently states:

“You know your circumstances, your users, and your personal preferences best. And if that means responsive web design — or design methodology or todo app or office chair or whatever — isn’t the right choice for you, don’t be ashamed if you find yourself wanting more, or at least wanting something else.”

That’s exactly how I feel right now. A lot of the explorations into Web design lately have been looking for the best ways to optimize an experience and to make it as flexible as possible across devices. These are important issues. But what about the design principles we’ve proven and iterated on through a variety of media? How can we apply what we’ve learned about design so that it can be utilized in an appropriate way to create websites in this multi-canvas world?

A New Medium With Old Roots

When we talk about designing a website today, we can’t help but mention the “What if?” challenges (or, if you’re a positive person, the opportunities) we face:

“What about embedded Web views?”

“What if the user has limited bandwidth?”

“What if JavaScript is turned off?”

“What about this awkward break point?”

It’s as if we have suddenly discovered the first medium in history that comes with limitations. We’re definitely not on an island here: Every medium has faced limitations — and continues to face them.

Typographic Design in the Digital Domain” with Erik Spiekermann and Elliot Jay Stocks

In an interview with Elliot Jay Stocks, legendary typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann explains how he finds it funny that designers today complain about limitations in designing for mobile:

“The way to design is the same [between print and Web]. You give content form, and the medium is always different anyway… I remember designing the little forms for medication, the little things that go inside, and I have the same issue… Essentially, I’ve got to cram a lot of complex content into a given format, however small that may be.”

He explains that when he designed for other media, the constraints were similar. You had to ask questions about the circumstances and about which information was the most important to the audience at that moment in time, and he asked things like, Are they really sick and trying to read this medical information? Are they at an airport and need to know their gate? Spiekermann goes on to say:

“So far, they [Web designers] have been bogged down by having to look at code all the time… So, now they can actually look at the problem. That’s why I said, in a few years time — however long it may take the individuals — they’ll design for the issue at hand and not for the medium.”

We’ve seen print and Web design converging — websites with beautiful typography that are easier to read. But with all of these little connected devices, we’re in an awkward transition phase, figuring out our design process. Some methods fit this new frontier really well, while others just don’t feel right to me. Like Spiekermann, the designer in me feels like we’re still getting hung up on the medium and the limitations and letting that dictate things, rather than designing for the issue at hand.

A List Apart
The new A List Apart is reminiscent of great print design.

For example, style tiles are a great new tool, but they are as the name indicates: styles. They can’t completely replace the layout because they do not indicate the content’s structure or balance or whether the navigation flow is right. Yet, I read about this kind of tool replacing the big-picture layout and design exploration all the time now.

Working on a design in small chunks feels like we’ve let the medium become the method. As a designer, you have to be able to see the forest and the trees. And the client needs to see what they are getting. We still need a holistic view of the canvas in order to solve design problems. It’s up to the designer to evaluate what form that should take.

In creating a more responsive Web, the process of how we design, implement and manage websites is evolving. We’re slowly convincing clients to go back to embracing the lifeblood of the Web, the content. We understand that rigid, unchanging canvases are not the way forward. However, embracing change doesn’t mean moving away from what works. The following quote from Stephanie Reiger about progressive enhancement speaks to how I feel about ignoring proven design principles in this transition:

“We have an opportunity to make the mobile web a million times more useful and relevant than the desktop web has been. The failure of the Obama site was not in the use of new techniques like responsive design, it was in forgetting that older principles and techniques still have an important role to play in building a better web. If anything, they are more important than ever before.”

The rules of design and usability that we’ve learned and iterated on over many, many years still exist here and can’t be discounted so easily. Designing responsively doesn’t change the fundamentals. The principles of negative (i.e. white) space and balance still matter. Gestural interfaces don’t make Fitts’ Law irrelevant. Design is still a set of decisions and about solving a problem.

Knowing When To Jump

Photoshop and Sublime Text are currently a few of the popular tools being used to design websites. They were not originally intended to be used to design websites or apps, especially considering the words “Photo” and “Text” in their names. They evolved into these roles.

When we talk about designing in a browser, we’re not really in a browser, designing. We’re in a code or text editor of some kind, and previewing the work in the browser. Although it’s possible (and some Web designers find it more comfortable), I don’t think we could purely and effectively “design” in a text editor. There would be a disconnect in the flow. Right now, it might be good enough for some aspects, but designing in the browser still limits us.

I realize that one of the main reasons for going into the browser is so that the client can see how the website will really look and function. But if we shift too quickly into markup and code, then how do we push for the next iteration of HTML, CSS and JavaScript? We need to envision it first. We need to ask the design questions that push things and see whether we can deliver part of it in the markup’s current standards — or else show the makers of standards and browsers one hell of a hack that inspires them to make it possible.

Inventing on Principle
Brett Victor shows us a more connected way to create with code.

Like anything, there’s a balance. Yes, the answer is, it depends. If you jump from sketching in your favorite bloated design app, then you’ll start thinking about layout and styling, rather than tasks, architecture and goals. If you jump from a design app to the browser (and text editor) too soon, you’ll start to get hung up on matters that have more to do with quality assurance and on fixing CSS issues at breakpoints.

Knowing when each stage of design peaks and loses value in the process is important and can be identified only through experience and by the type of project. The best design will happen when we get the jump points right. This could even mean working with a few tools at once, or going back to one tool before going forward again.

Responsive Task Planning
An example of responsive task planning, by Dennis Kardys, in Smashing Magazine’s Mobile Book.

Let me play a bit of the devil’s advocate. If we argue that the client isn’t getting a true representation of the product with a pixel-perfect comp (because they aren’t seeing it in the browser), then shouldn’t we design only in the browser or device most used by their audience? Shouldn’t we stop showing off what we’re doing in the latest Chrome or Safari browser and show the Web to the client through “normal” people’s eyes?

Showing the client what their users see by showing the website in a common browser or device could also improve the client’s perception. For example, if the client is desktop-focused, and you’ve seen that they get a good amount of tablet traffic, then show them what the website looks like on an iPad Mini. If they are using the latest and greatest devices and browsers but their users typically aren’t, then showing the design rendered in an older browser or phone would truly broaden their perspective.

Designing for the most ubiquitous browsers and devices is the most honest way I can imagine to represent the Web. In 2011, there were 6 billion phone activations, 80% of which were for feature phones. In case you aren’t following the news, the iPhone is not a feature phone. But we all know this scenario won’t happen. We live at the edge of the Web, and most Web designers and developers would rather imagine a Web with the latest browsers and smartphones — even if that’s far from the way most people experience it.

Progressive enhancement
Design to degrade gracefully. (Slide from “Progressive Enhancement and Mobile,” by Aaron Gustafson)

I get what folks like Brad Frost are saying when they talk about designers spending too much time doing the wrong thing. It’s a great point. Refining a layout too much in your favorite photo-editing app is like trying to accelerate a car in neutral. The refining stage should be done in the browser, when you’re designing the website. And — sorry to say, visual designers — that means knowing your material. Time to learn some markup and get your hands dirty!

I think we need to separate the way we explore our designs from how we present them to others. Just as showing experimental CSS in the latest browser isn’t being true to the design when showing it to a client, the same goes for showing a beautiful layout with a pixel-perfect “painting.” We have to be honest about what we show clients and stop making design promises that we can’t deliver on.

Watching Movies On Your Hand

Other industries are going through changes, too. Consider the film industry. It used to have it made: movie theaters set up with a huge screen and THX sound system, the audience sitting in comfortable chairs, in near total darkness. The entire experience was perfectly controlled.

The filmmaker knew that they only had to deliver a compelling story or a Brangelina butt shot to get people in the door. Now that has all changed. I can’t imagine how a movie director feels when they see someone watching their movie in a loud airport on a screen the size of their hand… Well, maybe I can:
David Lynch’s iPhone rant. (Some profanity, so use headphones.)

Some filmmakers are dragging their feet, claiming that this is cannibalizing their per-seat theater profits. However, some have decided to embrace this new ecosystem and give audiences the option to watch movies how they want. Actor and indie filmmaker Ed Burns is one of them, saying:

“You know, I think you have to be a realist in the way that, no musician wants anyone to listen to their music on an MP3 file going through a small set of tinny headphones. They’d much prefer that we all listen to it on a big sound system on an LP. But, you know, that’s over. And I think a similar thing has happened with the movie business.”

My lawyer gave me a great argument, because I was even resistant to it. He goes, if we go theatrical on this film, you’re going to open up in New York and L.A. Think about what happens if we go out on Video On Demand (VOD) and iTunes. You’re going to be in over 50 million living rooms. And the minute I heard that, I knew, OK, this needs to be embraced.

Great (Unknown) Expectations

The best part about designing for an unknown future is that it allows us to ask clients what is really important. It forces clients to look critically at their content. It forces them to look for ways to simplify how they present themselves to customers. Simplicity isn’t simple, but it’s the path we must take in refining our own design process in order to help clients shift their mindset. A convoluted process will continue to yield undesirable results.

Responsive Wireframing
Ed Merritt and Paul Boag give us a glimpse into how we might wireframe a responsive canvas.

We will still need to work in a mixture of static canvases for certain kinds of projects, especially complex Web applications. There is no way we could properly examine a problem if we can’t explore it first. If we visualize a solution only in small pieces, we’d be ignoring the big picture. If we jump too soon into markup or delay looking at it in the browser or on a device, we’d be missing something.

If anything, building for all of these different devices shows us that we need to work better with developers and clients. Without these relationships and mutual respect, it all falls apart. It can’t be dictated or dominated by any of these roles.

Artifact Conference
The Artifact Conference focuses on helping designers adapt to a multi-device world.

Learning who the client is and which artifacts they will understand best is key. I’ve learned that educating clients with things such as responsive patterns really helps them grasp the scope of the challenge here. As Dan Mall says, it’s about building an expectation and delivering on that:

“A responsive design process is like a scandal. You’ve gotta preemptively control the conversation. If your client wants to have conversations like this, it likely means you didn’t do a good job of setting expectations.”

Great communication up front has always been the way to make a project succeed. Now it’s more important than ever. The design process is shifting. For a designer, the best approach going forward is to find a way to put the problem first. Design from the content out, and find the best jump points to tools that fit the goal.

Until we get a real Web design application we’ll have to continue to determine these jump points as best we can. In the meantime, continue offering approaches and tools to the community, and embrace and improve on the ones presented to you. This will help us to continue designing a better Web.


Connecting – A Video on Interaction Design and User Experience

by Danielle Arad

A video that is worth your while, “Connecting”, gives you a fabulous explanation on how interaction design and user experience pays crucial role in our future. Explore this video in full depth to listen to key practitioners and instructors in interaction design, UX, and experience design.