NYCxDesign/ ICFF: The Highlights

In contrast to last years show which was still heavily influenced by the DIY and reclaimed materials trends, I felt the standouts from this years show trended more towards a refined simplicity. I noticed a lot of subtle detailing particularly around the edges, whether they gently tapered to add a feeling of lightness or a slight bend or pull of the form.

I loved the simple organic caricature of “The Woods” by Andreas Engesvik and StokkeAustad part of the strong Norwegian showing at this years show.

On the textile front I already mentioned the impressive rugs from Tsar, but I was also really taken with Hiroko Takeda’s woven blends of silk and mohair. And although not a textile, I had a similar tactile response to the Greenform’s fiber cement. The unique blend of fiber somehow felt simultaneously artificial and natural.

And some final stragglers. Fritz Hansen's Favn, although not exactly new, it was a pleasure to finally see if it person. Mineheart's clever King Edison Pendant Light, with a chandelier suspended in a classic lightbulb form, definitely brought a smile to my face. And finally on the list of things I wish I could afford, these low back chairs by Claesson Koivisto Rune

Can't wait till next year!



NYCxDesign/ ICFF: The Colors

The always interesting mix of design and art of NYCxDesign and ICFF did not disappoint this year. Here are some of the color highlights.  

Turquoise and teal were all over NYC Design Week, which seemed like a fitting way to ring in the summer. This bright jolt of color is a nice contrast to all the gray monochromatic texture I was seeing. But emerald green proved to be the sleeper shade I haven’t been able to get out of my head since leaving.  Especially mixed with the pale wood shades that are finally edging out the Walnuts.

Texture! I don’t recall last years show being so texture heavy, but it was a real standout this year.

I felt like I was touching everything at the show.  Subtle variations in texture proved to be a very strong draw, pulling me into booths just to analyze the surface treatment.  I’ve never given much thought to the difference between silk and wool rugs, until I saw Tsar use both on the same rug.  The resulting texture change was both visually beautiful with the sheen of silk giving way to matte wool and a joy to touch. This discreet use of texture was mirrored in tile and wall coverings and even recreated in color with minor variations in hue.  

The surprising trend for me was the almost unapologetic decadence.  Although I’ve been seeing warm metals trending strong for a while it seemed to skew to a more natural side. Here it was more the decadence of precious metal. 

Stay tuned for my follow up post with all my favorites  from the trip!



The Color of Design

Now that it’s finally spring here in Boston, with bright sunny days and tulips in every garden, it seems like a great time to talk about the IDSA Northeast conference that I recently attended.  I was particularly excited because the theme of this years conference was color! Although I regularly attend color and trend focused events, they aren’t normally from the perspective of fellow industrial designers, so I was looking forward to hearing how other designers approach color.

Color excites me; it’s what catches my eye and draws me in. Little shifts in hue have a profound impact on my perception of design, quality, and brand. Often times color is difficult to translate through the design process and we are relegated to ‘safe’ colors. Chris Murray, of Bresslergroup,  presented an almost scientific approach, a way of removing the emotional factor of color and making the color decision process more rational. On the opposite end of the spectrum was our friend and frequent collaborator, Karen Reuther, who in my opinion best expresses the joy of color. She talks about the power of color to connect to users, and presents it as an opportunity to further reinforce a brands relationship to their customer. Although of seemingly opposite approaches both speakers grounded their decision making process in a rich understanding of the user.

A little off topic, but still valuable were the talks by Tiffany Vailchik of Material Connexion and Gary Natsume of ECCO Design. Tiffany, obviously talked more about materials than color, but it was fascinating to see new material development being tied to the same trends that drive color. She also presented a more holistic approach to color, material, and finish, which is normally one of the final stages of the development process. Instead, she proposed using materials to inspire and drive innovation. Gary Natsume presented the process of designing for other cultures, as a Japanese designer living and working in New York. His projects focused on both American and Asian markets, which was a fascinating look at how another cultures approache design.  Specifically he referenced how the Japanese color preference has shifted to pink (which symbolizes hope and peace in Japan) and lighter more optimistic colors in the wake of the shattering earthquake and tsunami in 2011. This seems fitting given how beautiful and uplifting our spring colors feel right now.


Bill Hartman Presents at Essential for the UXPA Monthly Meeting

To a crowd of about 50 professionals in the interaction, industrial, and user experience design fields, Bill Hartman shared insights and frameworks we can leverage to demonstrate the financial and process benefits of human factors in medical device design. Originally presented at the Design of Medical Devices Conference in Minnesota, the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA Boston) asked Bill to represent his work for a local audience. Attendees asked questions ranging from how to infiltrate findings of human factors research to specifics for effectively recruiting participants to get credible results.

After the presentation, several attendees stuck around to get a tour of the Essential studio and talk about trends and shifts in the medical device industry. The real benefit of the UXPA monthly meetings is to get folks in Boston's user experience community to come together to learn, share thoughts, and network. A tight knit group of professionals, this meeting was particularly unique because it drew in many new faces, for some in the crowd it was their first UXPA event.


Boston Service Jam: jamming, making and grow^ing


Prototyping often provides the path of least resistance when it comes to communicating a design concept, regardless of the form the prototype may take. Last weekend, designers, professionals, students, and others came together around the world to envision new service experiences and to make them tangible through rapid prototyping techniques. The Global Service Jam encourages local communities to gather at the same time around the world, to literally "jam" or improvise together under the same umbrella theme. The goal? For teams to take an idea beyond a post-it note sketch without looking back.  

The theme "making, not talking" forms the backbone of the GSJ mission. Teams form organically around shared interests and work together to envision and execute new and exciting service experiences that address a need they identify through guerilla research techniques. Service experiences here are loosely defined, and can be composed of a variety of influences and touchpoints, including products (physical or digital), places, processes, and most importantly, people.

Globally, this year’s jam was composed of nearly 120 local communities, with nearly 3,000 participants. Here in Boston, our local event was comprised of 15 creative folks, including a sizable contingent of Bentley grad students and several professionals and students hailing from elsewhere in the city.  

Day 1: Warming up with an ice-breaker exercise at Essential’s studio

Day 1, which was held here at Essential's studio, primarily set the stage for the rest of the weekend. The global theme was revealed via a charming video from the Helsinki Jam, purposefully left open-ended and intended to provoke interpretation. The GSJ13 theme was:

grow ^

Friday, jammers brainstormed into the night and then pitched specific ideas that appealed to them. Teams self-identified with one another.

Day 1: Jammers assess brainstorm concepts
Saturday and Sunday's day long events were hosted at Hostelling-International Boston (HI-Boston), just down the street from Essential in Chinatown (the most impressive hostel facility many of us had ever seen – highly recommended!). The first half of Day 2 was all about hitting the streets. Jammers were encouraged to get in touch with their bold sides and strike up conversations strangers to uncover fresh feedback about their service concepts. Many jammers constructed hand-made prototypes and signs to help get the conversations going.

Day 2: Preparing to hit the streets to conduct guerilla interviews

Day 2: Rapid prototypes ready for testing

By Day 3, we could all see finish line. Jammers came in a little groggy but remarkably well-motivated to see their visions through.The hostel’s community room was characterized by a low hum of activity all day.

Day 2: Jammers “making-not-talking” at the HI-Boston

As the sun set outside, each of the four teams presented rich and personal projects:

  • Open Neighborhood
    Helping new transplants love where they live through
  • Land Marks
    Where personal histories meet city histories
  • ShoeDate
    Offering idle fashion resources to individuals who need access
  • Speak Aloud!
    Growing the public voice in physical spaces

Day 3: Teams were encouraged to demonstrate their service live


As the Jam came to a close, I walked away feeling sentimental, and inspired by our jammers. Their excitement was palpable, and their commitment was admirable. Service experiences don’t come to life without the participation of individuals. As service design professionals, we can generate beautiful products and attempt to orchestrate seamless processes, but nothing hangs together without active engagement of the players in our services. The Jam, to some degree, represents a similar construct. We as hosts and organizers set the stage, but the Jammers bring whatever screenplay they invent to life – all in 48 hours! 

Check out more about the Global Service Jam event:

Visit the Boston Service Jam blog:



Late last month I had the privilege of taking part in the MIT Media Lab's Health and Wellness Hackathon as a User Experience mentor. This event brought together students, clinicians, and industry professionals to collaborate on technology-based solutions to major problems in patient-focused healthcare. Each of the six teams dreamed, focused, and ultimately delivered some pretty amazing systems in only eight working days! And it was easy to envision these systems being used together since each was built on open-source components (called Indivo and CollaboRhythm) that unified data collection, presentation, and storage.

The challenge that guided this Hackathon was uniquely effective in focusing the design and development efforts on what counts: building new functionality to enable each team's specific scenario while simultaneously enriching the overall CollaboRhythm user experience. This empowered teams to create in this limited time both some pretty cool hardware and the software to engage real users in future use. And throughout the event the organizers ensured that each team remained focused on credible and compelling user scenarios that ultimately told the story of the system through video.

In this process I learned a great deal about not only the details of the medical conditions at hand (including epilepsy, congestive heart failure, Parkinson's disease, hypertension, HIV, and peri-operative care) but also the challenges facing clinical practitioners in the field when managing these conditions. There certainly is a big role for design to play in empowering each of us, as patients, to take a more proactive role in our own health care!

I'd like to thank the Hackathon's organizers--John Moore, Scott Gilroy, and Frank Moss--for inviting me to be a part of this tremendous event, all the team participants for making this event such an educational experience, and my UX mentor colleague Maeve Donohue for a great partnership.

And best of luck to all the teams in making these projects a reality!


Preparedness is Essential. 


As I sat working at my desk with a snow storm fast approaching, a thought popped into my head. What does it mean to be prepared? Many people are having the same thought right now with the snow starting to fall heavier by the hour.

As an engineer, I am tasked with the challenge of being prepared to bring any idea that crosses my desk closer to reality. I love this challenge, but there is a large difference between the “what do we do now” conversation vs a series of preemptive “what ifs” throughout a project. This is the essence of preparedness.

At Essential there is a strong connection between the work of our designers, engineers and researchers, enabling the “what if” conversation to occur frequently throughout a project’s lifespan, versus an over the wall handoff. In order to be able to create well designed products and be able to preserve design intent the whole way to market, every member of the team needs to be prepared for each “what if” that could occur to prevent a “what do we do now” moment.

In 1948, Mayor James Curly wrote a letter to MIT president Karl Compton, in regards to finding a way to clean up the record amount of snowfall that occurred that year (proposed in it was the use of a large number of flamethrowers). A true “what do we do now” moment. Though there was a good correspondence between the Mayor and the institution, there was no immediate solution besides the current application of salt to the roads (BostInno did a nice write up of this correspondence). It seems that perhaps this would have been a good conversation to have prior to the snowfall.

Don’t get me wrong, avoiding these moments in our lives is near impossible. Often times it takes a few “what do we do now” moments to frame up a “what if” conversation.  Some of these moments can be the catalysts of our biggest innovations. Conversely, characterizing as many “what ifs” as possible is a good way to be prepared for any “what do we do now” moment!

We can’t avoid the upcoming storm, and similarly sometimes in product development we arrive at a tough “what do we do now” moment. A good way to deal with these moments is to be as prepared as one can possibly be, which means cross collaboration and openness throughout the development cycle. I find that this is one aspect of what makes the Essential team tick.

Happy snow day everyone. 


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