A Short Collection of Design News Items

There’s so much news on the virtual worlds front that it can sometimes be difficult to keep up on the Design front. Fortunately there have been some interesting bits worth mentioning.

First off is the awarding of a MacArthur Fellow “genius” grant to Saul Griffith. I caught word of the award over on the O’Reilly Radar site which has a nice entry (Link) on the man.

Most industrial designers will know Griffith as the Australian guy that came up with the clever solution to making low-cost corrective lenses for visually impaired people in the Third World. While impressive, there’s quite a bit more to him. If you’ve not heard of him before, you might want to check out his talk at TED 2006 (Link) to get a better understanding of why he won that award. There’s a whole lot of Design territory between smart, low-cost optical devices and molecular self-assembly.

One quick related note: over the past few months I’ve been reading Adam Greenfield’s book, Everyware. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was interesting and was thus plodding through it, it’s just that I was already familiar with much of the material and didn’t find myself particularly motivated to make the time. It was in that frame of mind that early on in the book I wondered: what if there’s already a naturally-occurring “everyware” and we’re just not sufficiently aware to realize it; kind of like how we missed the method by which elephants communicate merely because they “talk” below the threshold of human hearing.

At about the same time I’m reading Griffith describing himself as merely “someone who keenly observes the world and then likes to tinker with it”, I read a Reuters piece on how birds might be able to “see” the earth’s magnetic field and use it to help them navigate… which reminded me of that earlier thought.

There is a simple design elegance in what Griffith achieves when he starts off by paying attention to the world first and using what it gives him, and I think we’d all be better off following his example by making more of an effort to see what’s already in place and then figuring out how it can be intelligently incorporated into our solutions.

Moving on… here’s something which might be of particular interest to the User Interface people: Cati Vaucelle from the Architectradure blog has posted her research on developing a Tangible User Interface (Link). With all the discussion as to whether the OLPC was a top-down design effort and thus, as BW’s Bruce Nussbaum contends, a “failure”, the documentation for Vaucelle’s TUI effort is a nice example of trying to develop a bottom-up solution.

Of course I try to keep my eye out for anything related to rapid prototyping/manufacturing, and so I wanted to pass along something I stumbled across on the Core77 forum (Link): an “automated post-processing solution for Z Corporation prototyping machines”. The solution, provided by xlaForm, Inc. (Link), addresses ZCorp material impact and flexural strength inadequacies. For anyone using ZCorp printers, this might be of interest.

Lastly, the Ponoko folks got a bit of press recently with their inclusion into the TechCrunch40. I occasional get emails from people asking about Ponoko and wondering why I don’t mention them here, but I tend to not offer very much in reply. There’s a simple explanation for that… and I hope those who read this blog can figure it out.

That (not) said, any avenue that puts designers in direct contact with consumers is a good thing afaic, so I sincerely hope they do well.

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