Maybe it’s me. Since I started studying industrial design at Pratt almost a decade ago the practice has exploded. Designers are sought out and given notoriety, from long-running powerhouses like Philip Starck down to small upstarts like Fort Standard. The edges are blurring between design and art, a distinction about which I am often dubious, but one that’s bringing attention to the discipline nonetheless. When I worked in the corporate world, there were cries from on high that we needed design thinking. Whatever that was, it would certainly save the company and probably the world. Suddenly, everybody in the company became some type of designer. Ideation session were held at Material Connexion, and consultants were called in to reassess our process, making it more “designerly.”
And my team, comprised mostly of trained industrial designers, sat in awe at how much attention we weren’t getting. It was confusing. Prior to the hoopla, we worked by sketching based on an idea, then we’d refine and present our concepts. We would use the feedback we got from our presentations as a guide to iterate on those ideas. We were in constant contact with both the engineering and marketing teams, typically serving as liaison between the two. We had the word “designer” written into nearly all of our titles, emblazoned on our business cards, and yet we the excitement around design never extended our way. Instead of being tapped to save the company form certain doom, we got notes to change a color, or make a form look “I don’t know, curvier.”
Then the company started hiring more designers. This was during the worst part of the recession and there were a lot of designers out of work, all of whom were happy to promise the world, salvation, and more for a steady paycheck and health insurance. I found myself presenting to smaller and smaller audiences, and getting notes clearly inspired by and directed to another designer’s work. I started to realize that the company had hired a whole bunch of designers and, not knowing what to do with them, figured they could all present concepts on the same idea, one after another. Eventually, I assumed they assumed, something would work out. Some idea would become the idea. If design was good, and designers made design, then more designers making more design must be better. What became clear, just before I left the company, was that no one, not even many of the designers, had a clue as to what design was, or at least what it was understood to be.
This theory, that design can save the world, has grown rather pervasive in recent years. Now I’m in grad school, where basic ideas get blown well out of proportion, and the need to make every subject of study one of life and death is commonplace. I try to look outside my bubble of books and talks on the power of design. I ask friends in finance and medicine if they’ve heard much about the design world. The resounding answer is yes. So apparently design is downright famous. It is the new bright spot in our every darkening field of worldview. It is so powerful that we can trust it to fix the climate, save the rain forests, pet our kittens, and balance the budget. And yet, I don’t think anyone, when pressed, has a clue as to what it is. I say this based on years of heated debate as the very boundaries of profession. Years of drinking beers with colorists, formalists, textile experts, shoe experts, illustrators, woodworkers, concept development specialists, furniture makers, CAD specialists, engineers, and inventors, all of whom claim the title of ‘Industrial Designer,” is proof that the discipline itself doesn’t know quite what design is. And yet, it’s supposed to save the world.
I’m again studying design, now in a masters’ program, and I’m by choice in a world trying to figure out how design can save the world. Such is the nature of grad students. It’s probably a need to emotionally justify our huge loan debt. And yet, stuck in all the rhetoric, is a belief that design is somehow a new thing, that the act of making, examining, and refining an idea somehow came into being in the past few decades of human existence. A similar view was taken in my corporate job. So I sit and think about the objects made before this golden age of design, and how some could have possibly been so impactful without this new magic. I think about the Model Ts, and the Louis XVs, and the Pantheon, and the Parthenon. I think about the cave paintings at Lasceaux, and the first ever sac that must have been made, or the first chair, or the first wheel. I think about the guy who told his friends that banging granite against flint would make a nice, sharp knife to help get the furry part off the meat. I think about bread and cheese, and almonds bred without cyanide.
I think about all these human achievements, and I of course note how lucky we are to have stumbled onto each of them when we did. I sympathize with the poor people who couldn’t just design these things, because they obviously didn’t know how. I take another sip of my beer and am thankful that today, with the advent of education and technology, we can finally stake control of the things we make. Now armed with design we’ll be able to make better decisions. We’ll be able to see into the future, avoiding the types of mistakes we’re presently cleaning up from pasty, ignorant generations. We can imbue each object with a universally held sense of joy, and make sure that it has zero carbon footprint while we’re at it. We really can save the world, because we now have this new, amazing tool to do so. It’s design and I hope it’s up to the task.
Hey check out Engraved! We have reached our goal within 3 hours after launching. Hurry up and get a set before the early bird special price tiers are gone!
Hi everyone! I’m John T. Kim, an interaction design grad student at SVA, and the maker of Engraved.
I often go to conferences or job fairs and exchange business cards with a lot of people. But I end up with hundreds of cards and I don’t remember whose card they are. I assume many people don’t connect me to my card, either.
That’s why I decided to design memorable business cards that stand out from the crowd. Engraved has proven to be much more effective than my previous cards. I’ve received many more callbacks and people actually remember me when I mention about my unique business card. It is also a great conversation starter when talking to new people.
The cards are very lightweight, and are a convenient size. They can fit in your wallet, card holder or wherever you wish to keep them.
The wood grain pattern makes each and every card truly unique, so each person who receives one is getting a special card just for them.
The cards are produced by laser cutting and etching wood.
Now I want to bring Engraved to everyone. I hope you’re able to experience the difference a memorable business card can make for you.
A few weeks ago while surfing the internet, I came across a blog that had approximately 50 or so ideas for how to re-use everyday items. Around idea #47, I came across the suggestion to recycle my toilet paper roll by turning it into a speaker for my iPhone.
Since it would be relatively simple to test out the idea, I filed it away in the back of my mind until I had a roll available. To my delight, it actually worked quite well at amplifying the sound. It won’t be giving Bose speakers a run for their money any time soon, but it’s a wonderfully simple, yet effective solution for me. It does the job while also helping me in my quest to not acquire more things that will take up precious space in my NYC apartment. It’s also a great reminder not to overlook what’s right in front of me. A little creativity can do a lot.
All you need to make your own toilet paper roll speaker is a roll and an X-Acto knife* (a regular knife could also work - just be careful!). And, if for some reason, you’re all out of toilet paper, you can buy some at Amazon.*
(Full disclosure: The links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission which will be put towards my graduate school expenses. Thanks!)
During our Kickstarter campaign we tweeted a fact a day:
• President Abraham Lincoln carried important letters in his tall hat.
• It took about 2,300,000 large blocks to build a pyramid.
• Amelia Earhart named her first plane “Canary”.
• Elephants use their trunk as a snorkel when swimming.
• Albert Einstein’s interest in science was sparked by a compass.
• Temperature alters the height of the Eiffel Tower by up to 6 inches.
• A sheep, a duck and a rooster were the first passengers aboard a hot air balloon.
• A lion’s roar can be heard as far as 5 miles away.
• 1,000 elephants and 22,000 workers were used in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
• The first locomotive used in Belgium in 1835 was named “The Elephant.”
• Howler monkeys are the loudest monkey: their howls can be heard for two miles in the forest and almost three miles in an open area.
• The first telephone call was “Watson come here, I want you!”? It was made on March 10, 1876 in Boston between Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas A. Watson.
• Emperor penguins are able to control the blood flow to their extremities to prevent them from freezing.
• Martin Luther King visited Gandhi’s birthplace in India.
• An elephant’s skin is an inch thick.
• The Statue of Liberty has size 879 sandals that are each 25 feet (7.62m) long.
• The world’s tallest unicycle is 114.8 feet (35 meters) tall. It was ridden by Sem Abrahams with a safety wire suspended from an overhead crane.
• The Taj Mahal appears pink in the morning, white during the day and golden in the evening.
• Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to have a beard.
• The face on the Statue of Liberty measures more than 8 feet tall.
• Monkeys have their own unique set of fingerprints just like humans do.
• There are about a billion bicycles in the world, twice as many as cars.
• The only way to enter the city Petra is through the Siq, a narrow gorge.
• The male platypus has poisonous stingers on his rear feet.
The automobile industry is also facing many of the same struggles that plague the appliance and television industries. Cars have an intended lifespan two to four times that of a typical cell phone, assuming you only like to drive new cars. Embedding tech in the way the most makers have opted to guarantees that the in-dash experience will be obsolete before the second tire rotation, and that it will be laughably antiquated come resale. — Rant and Yammer: Thoughts On In-Dash Experience Design
jJjennings: Why We Launched -Deja Vu By You- On April Fools Day... -
I closed on a house once on April Fools day. It scared and excited me simultaneously. I was young enough to be afraid of the ball and chain, but mature enough to also understand the benefits. I sat in my car that afternoon, starring at those silver keys as they glimmered onto my…
Ashley Marie Quinn: Chickens Forever. -
I started thinking about building chicken coops as a way to earn money for my 1k project for Entrepreneurial Design at the beginning of the semester. I stressed a lot about how I was going to design, build and sell a physical product, something I had never done, in a matter of months. A lot of…
Two weeks ago Meghana and I pivoted our $1000 Project for Entrepreneurship class and have been developing Mark This Town. Last week, we finished developing website for it, clean the language and goal, and also launched the Kickstarter.
Basically, Mark This Town is a collaborative street art that sparks conversation. It allows users to “make a statement using sustainable materials & inspire other fellow New Yorkers.” You can check out how it works by visiting our site.
We ended last week by marking Washington Square Park with statement about street harassment in time for the Rally & Chalk Walk by Hollaback to celebrate the International Anti Street Harassment Week. The weather was beautiful & live music was enchanting (I wish I was more rested to enjoy it more).
We decided to run a quick Kickstarter campaign to raise money for our materials cost and laser cutting cost as well as to get our project out into the world.
Also, in the future we also want to create bigger promotional pieces for the causes we and you care for and your support for our Kickstarter campaign will be greatly appreciate it.
Make a statement and make conversation and delightful moment for others.
Rant and Yammer: Design ))<>(( Engineering -
I teach in an industrial design program, and right now I have my class working on a desktop mouse project. My goal is to get digital tools more ingrained into the design process, so I have been forcing my students to run through a more “designerly” process while still using computer-based tools. I…