Wednesday, February 25, 2009

At least you can wiggle when you want to.

I have long been a proponent of perch/sit/stand workstations.  I have one here at Thing Tank World Headquarters.  Mine is hacked from a drafting table, some kitchen shelf stand offs from Ikea, a piece of plywood and a perch/sit chair.  The mighty Aeron Chair, and the "ergonomic" chairs that followed in its wake, told us that it would be ok to sit still for 8 hours a day, because they were so supportive.  The truth is support is great when you need to rest.  The rest of the time, support is a nice way to say "atrophy inducer."

Its not the position you are in, its the ability to change positions easily and frequently that makes a workstation comfortable.  And nowhere is that more important than in classrooms.  Teachers are always trying to find that middle ground between kids falling asleep and going nuts.  Maybe increasing the width of that middle ground is the answer.
“At a stand-up desk,” Ms. Seekel said, “I’ve never seen students with their heads down, ever. It helps with being awake, if they can stand, it seems. And for me as a teacher, I can stand at their level to help them. I’m not bent over. I can’t think of one reason why a classroom teacher wouldn’t want these.”
“We just know movement is good for kids,” Ms. Bormann said. “We can measure referrals to the office, sick days, whatever it might be. Teachers are seeing positive things.”And don't even get me started on kinesthetic learning.
Here's an awesome article in the New York Times about a school in Minnesota that is implementing these desks, and the academics that are studying them.  In the words of the director of Education Minnesota Foundation, a teacher's union arm;
“We’re talking about furniture here,” she said, “plain old furniture. If it’s that simple, if it turns out to have the positive impacts everyone hopes for, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”
Design nerds have always thought that plain old furniture could have positive impacts.  Its nice to see some regular folks joining the fold.

Thanks to my loving wife, for pointing out this article.

The Art of Explaining: World Economic Meltdown Edition

A friend sent me this excellent visualization of the word economic meltdown. For me, this is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, I love the way the words and pictures tell a story. The icons are awesome. The interplay of sign, motion and narrative are superb. Unfortunately what is being described is INSANELY SCARRY! But its a story that must be told.

My Dad read somewhere that when the generation that lived through the depression are all dead, we'll have another depression. I don't know if the line of causation is that straight, but there is a moment of insight in there. Its weird to think of myself, old(er) and curmudgeonly(er), scolding the youngsters about fiscal responsibility. I guess you had to be there.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kinetic Sculpture is the International Language

Its grown men playing with cardboard boxes that make a little flag do a little dance. Those grown men happen to be monks.  And its so beautiful.

Making a little machine, also known as a toy, is such a basic human instinct.  That's why kids dig 'em.  And when are we a better version of ourselves than when we can think with an open heart, like a kid.

And yes, it did remind me of Rolf.

Here's a link to the exploratorium blog where the video lives.

And here's a link to more Cardboard Automata.

And here's a link to a modern master of the form, Arthur Ganson.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Understanding Scott McCloud

In grad school we were counseled to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It was supposed to be a groundbreaking work on design.  I thought that the thinking was stale.  Yes, art and science are locked in an embrace of intuition and craft.  I thought that that was a given--not a revelation.  What modern person with any love for either science or art was worried about them being friends?

But that prompted a conversation about what WAS the best book about design.  My friend Daniel Lee told me I needed to read Understanding Comics, and I can say with certainty that it changed my life.  Scott McCloud's ability to articulate the cognitive mechanisms of comics came at the same time that I was realizing that all design was about experience.  So this was a powerful, emotive tool for sketching experience--both to make it clear to one's self, and to communicate it to others.  But there was something even deeper in there.  It was the idea that the smiley face could be anyone, but a photorealistic drawing of Prince Valiant is only ever Prince Valiant.  The more ambiguous your sketch or prototype, the more universal its application.  THAT was groundbreaking for me. 

So anyway, I saw that Scott spoke at TED this year.  Here it is.

Why Ukuleles?

Here in the 21st century, regular folks can create just about any kind of media they want and send it to everyone over the internet.  We tell the world that we are brushing our teeth on twitter, and we can use our telephones as a level.  So what do we do?  We play the ukulele in greater and greater numbers.  Or maybe that's just the impression you get if you check boing boing as obsessively as I do.

There is something about the simplicity of singing along with the ukulele in an overproduced world.  Its also a little silly, so you don't have as much pressure to be a virtuoso (though there are plenty).  Its an instrument that is at the service of the song.  And its usually a simple, pretty song, somewhere between tin pan alley and hall and oates.  Unless its a Bow Wow cover.

I just think that its fascinating that this is what post modernism sounds like.

Ibex at OR

So here are some pictures of the fixtures I did for Ibex Outdoor Clothing. They debuted at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City last month. These designs reflect Ibex's core attributes of premium materials, quiet modernity and artisan quality.  They were thrilled with the results, and are currently working to roll these out as a store-within-a-store for their products. The top one is a freestanding rack with shelves (which was unfortunately next to a wall in the limited space of their booth).  The center one is a 3 part reconfigurable table for displaying small items.  The outer tables rest on the center one to reduce the number of legs--and float on strips of self adhesive felt.  I like the way a little discombobulation breaks up the straightforward form.  And the units on the bottom lean against the wall--an underutilized area in outdoor retail.

The Ibex folks are fantastic clients.  They know who they are.  They understand design.  And they are just cool folks to hang out with.  Plus they taught me that there really is good sushi in salt lake city!  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everything as Watts

What is green?  What do we do about this whole climate change thing?  Where do you start? My friend Mike Lin and I were chatting about energy conservation and he recommended I check out this video.  Wow.

We are inundated with marketing aimed at making us feel better about consumption, by recommending a slightly different flavor of consumption.  How do you tell what will help and what is pony sugar?

MacArthur Genius Grant winner, Dr. Saul Griffith, lays it out in watts.  How much power is embodied in everything you consume or otherwise fund?  A lot has been said about embodied energy--but what about durability?  What about time?  Power is energy over time, so the embodied power in an object is the embodied energy over the useful life.  Saul suggests that we should all be issued a Rolex and a Mont Blanc pen at birth and told that those are our timekeeping and writing instruments.  And don't loose them!  I'm serious.

Durability is the greenest quality a product can have.  How can we make durable things desirable over the long term it takes to pay for them, energy wise?  

Oh, sorry for the clipped video above.  To see it in all of its wide screen glory, go here.