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Entries in design (25)

Friday
Feb082013

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. 

 

Tuesday
Dec112012

Lessons in Resolution

As the newest member of the Essential team, I’m constantly learning new engineering and design principles, in addition to many other skills unique to the industry that cannot be learned in school. Every day presents a new challenge as I’m faced with starting a new project, collaborating with a coworker to provide some engineering input, or helping brainstorm on a different project to provide a fresh outlook.  

In college, I often focused for weeks or months on a single problem or concept. In the consulting industry, the pace just doesn't allow for such a deliberate approach.  Over the past few months, I have been observing how my colleagues work and how they interact with one another and our clients. This has taught me an important lesson: I must fine tune the way I communicate when presenting ideas and concepts with coworkers and with clients.

Every day, dozens of ideas are passed between my colleagues and I. The way an idea is communicated often dictates its worth in the present situation. What good is an idea if it cannot be explained to an audience at the time it is needed? Contrary to the way I used to work in college, where often the communication and presentation is at the end of a project, communication is happening at every step of the developmental process. This being said, resolution of an idea is a critical facet of effective design. Be it a hand sketch or detailed CAD model, everything needs to be thought of  in regards to who is receiving the idea and what purpose it serves; a brainstorm, prototype, a small piece to a large puzzle, etc. Sometimes, the simplest of executions, be they physical, through paper or electronic medium can tell the best story in the most efficient manner. 

The idea behind tailoring the resolution of your work for different tasks, environments or recipients allows us to have a faster, cleaner flow of ideas without being held behind by investing too much time in the details too early on. Making several complex representations of potential ideas, when elegantly simple concept illustrations can communicate the same idea, allowing the team to move more quickly and efficiently toward the end goal? Over the course of the past few months, I have learned to hone this and many other new skills I'm building at Essential. Each day I look forward to lessons like these that have helped me become a better engineer in this community and I hope to continue to learn and grow. 

 

 

Tuesday
Nov202012

PopTech 2012

Every year, the Pop Tech conference in Camden, Maine brings together an eclectic collection of innovators and thinkers from diverse backgrounds, including science, technology, design, corporate and civic leadership, public health, social and ecological innovation, and the arts and humanities, among others. It’s safe to say that this cross-section of thinkers was well represented at the 2012 conference.

The thought- provoking theme this year revolved around the big idea of “Resiliency”. Over the three days, this central theme was discussed and debated through diverse lenses; resilience to environmental disaster, resilient communities, resilient genetics, resilient economies, resilient climates, resilient cultures and resilient individuals.

Each story presented an inspiring and thoughtful perspective around what enables cultures, individuals and organizations to absorb and adapt to disruptive change through the creation of resilient systems. The idea that resilient innovation is about shifting the discussion from designing systems for risk mitigation to risk adaptation.

Some of the highlights included:

Natural disasters created a relevant backdrop to several presentations. The most meaningful was C.J. Huff's account of resilience and human kindness following the tornados that ravaged Joplin, Missouri. He made the important connection that resilience in this situation is about focusing on the obvious: getting your hands dirty. It’s not just about a monetary donation. Community is the anecdote to disaster and resilience is the requirement that brings it about.

Two interesting tales of personal resilience were brought up. The first was the story of seventeen-year-old, female boxer Claressa Shields, from Flint, Michigan. Through incredible persistence, Shields won the first ever Olympic gold medal for women’s middleweight boxing. The second was the story of Amy Purdy, who lost both of her legs at a very young age following complications from bacterial meningitis. She is now a world-class adaptive snowboarder and has won three back-to-back Paralympic World Cup gold medals. Purdy has since started working for Freedom Innovations, a prosthetic feet manufacturer, as Amputee Advocate. She has gone on to co-found her own non-profit organization, Adaptive Action Sports, for individuals with physical disabilities who want to get involved in action sports.

Social and community innovation was a strong thread throughout the event. Speakers discussed a variety of strategies to enable sustainable economic models in underserved and developing economies, where simple adaptation of technologies such as basic SMS-delivered information about markets, commodities, places to buy and sell and as communication tools to promote community peace as described by Rachel Brown, Founder & CEO, founded Sisi Ni Amani [We are Peace].

From a community innovation perspective, topics ranged from local to country-wide initiatives. For example, Asenath Andrews is reinventing a model for high school in Detroit for teen mothers, providing early education services for the children of those high school moms. Another great example of community innovation is the new community driven constitution in Iceland that rose out of the ashes of economic collapse and is contributing to the country’s recent success. 

Of course, no conversation today could be without a perspective on Big Data. Pop Tech was no exception and for me, this was best exemplified by Jer Thorpe’s incredible visualizations and his expression of the potential meaningful application of data as the tool to shape the way we think about our health, our communities and our economy. As Jer Thorpe stated, “data is the new oil”.

Finally, the conference wrapped with a way to bring together the Pop Tech community.  Pilobolus, a modern performance company enlisted attendees and people form the local community to participate in a large-scale, live performance using umbrellas fabricated with multi-colored LED lights created by the MIT Distributed Robotics Laboratory. It was great way to finish off three days of conversation and inspiration.

Monday
Sep102012

In Remembrance of a Brilliant Man and Designer, Bill Moggridge

This weekend, the design industry lost a friend and a design icon. Bill Moggridge changed the way we think, how we work and what we make.

Bill taught us all to think about design in a bigger way, in a truly interdisciplinary manner, bringing together people and teams from diverse backgrounds to create solutions that deliver greater meaning for business and society. In Bill's words:

“Our intuition, our ability to feel, our ability to understand without being able to explain. All of those things are relatively subjective and subconscious. And what design does is to harness those attributes in the process.”

He was an inspiration to so many of us, influencing the content of our work and our motivation to pursue better and more important solutions. His passing is a tremendous loss, but his boundless contribution to design will never be forgotten.

Bill Moggridge, 1943-2012

Monday
Aug062012

Hello Boston, Hello IDSA, Hello Essential

We are excited for one of design’s most anticipated events to come to Boston. The IDSA International Conference, running from August 15th through the 18th, will be held at the Westin Waterfront. With speakers ranging from Futurist Syd Mead to the original digital artist Laurence Gartel, this year's theme of "future" in design spans education, sustainability and social impact, medical and technology.

The last time the IDSA Conference came to Boston was 2001 and we're excited to show off what’s been happening here since then. The Big Dig was finally finished, creating an urban landscape fit for a metropolitan area like Boston. The Institute of Contemporary Art has moved to the waterfront, which has helped to revitalize the area, inspire and awe residents and tourists alike. The design community has changed significantly and we’re excited to share it with you by hosting open studio tours across the city.

We look forward to seeing you at the conference and welcoming you to Essential at this year’s IDSA open studio for a fun night of hanging out and catching up. Please join us on Friday, August 17th from 4:30 to 8:30pm.

Cheers,

Jan

Tuesday
Jul032012

Design for Rock Stars

 

For the last decade, we have been collaborating with one of America’s biggest brands in the music Industry – Shure. If you’ve never played in a band, you might not be familiar with the name, but you have definitely seen their products on TV and in some of the biggest live events, such as the Super Bowl halftime show and the GRAMMY awards.

I was introduced to Shure about 17 years ago, when the harmonica/lead guitarist of our college band brought a Shure “Green Bullet” to practice.  Having just started design school, I was impressed by the solid construction and the timeless design. Little did I know just how involved I’d get a few years later.

At Essential, we have worked on numerous Shure products and continue to build a great relationship designing for the demands of on-stage use. Unlike consumer electronics, these products are designed to withstand the extreme rigors of world tours, ensuring top performance quality and long-term reliability. While such exacting standards impose a lot of technical and design challenges during development, they also yield great results. One example in particular is the AXIENT Wireless Microphone System, which was just awarded a Silver for Commercial and Industrial Products from the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

Since the 1980’s, the Industrial Designer’s Society of America has been recognizing some of the greatest design achievements with the IDEA awards.  This year’s impressive jury, including design honchos  from companies such as Nokia, GE Healthcare and Procter and Gamble, deliberated over top designs in categories ranging from service design to medical products.

As the most sophisticated microphone system to-date and the only system on the market that guarantees an absolute interference-free performance, Axient was a great contender in the Commercial and Industrial Products category.  The world of wireless communication is changing quickly. Frequency bands formerly used for analog TV broadcasts are now open to any number of devices that may interfere with wireless microphone systems operating in those bands. New solutions are needed to remain reliable no matter how crowded the airwaves, especially high profile live events. Without getting too much into the technical details, the Axient system works by constantly scanning the RF (radio frequency) environment and automatically switching frequencies should any other device start transmitting on or close to an operating frequency. This gives the artist and the sound engineer the assurance of an uninterrupted live event. 

While years of new technology development were necessary in order for Shure to produce such a groundbreaking new offer, integrating the new capabilities with equally innovative design solutions was just as critical to Axient’s success.  Working closely with Shure’s cross-functional teams, our collaboration resulted in great new designs that are significantly more capable, longer running, and more sustainable (due to the integration of high-capacity re-chargeable Li-Ion batteries), all in products that are similar in size, or in some cases even smaller than their less capable predecessors. The external forms of the microphone and the body pack transmitter convey a sense of rugged precision in a simple and timeless way. This was an important element of the project since it is common for an artist to use their gear for more than ten years.

But perhaps the most fun part about designing this type of professional gear is in knowing that some of your favorite artists will appreciate it and perform with it for the enjoyment of all fans. So the next time you’re at a concert or watching a live performance on TV, keep your eyes peeled for Shure audio products. You can also see Shure Axient and all the other IDEA winners on display at the 2012 IDSA International Conference in Boston or at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan starting in September.

Images courtesy of Shure

 

Wednesday
Jun202012

Sustainability at Retail

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact our purchases have on the global landscape. This not only applies to the economic effects, but also to the environmental. I want the brands I endorse and love to source materials ethically and consider their impact on our planet.  It made me really happy to hear about how one fashion house is doing just that.

From shoes to sunglasses to packaging, Gucci is rethinking its design process to incorporate recycled materials. Just a couple weeks ago, the company announced a new line of biodegradable men's and women's shoes designed by Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini. While Gucci began to integrate sustainability into their design with a line of biodegradable sunglasses, other designers, like Stella McCartney, have made eco-friendly design a core part of their brand mantra.

It’s nice to see luxury brands embrace a greener design while maintaining the quality standards they are known for.  The best part of all is that as sustainable design becomes more common at the higher-end of fashion design, it will indubitably trickle down into more mainstream retail channels.