Friday, November 30, 2007

iPodification of your handphones: The next step of communication mobility

I've use this term 'iPodification' and 'iPodifying' as a noun and verb to demonstrate the fact of using the whole iPod experience as a benchmark of sorts for any consumer-based products designer, notwithstanding the fact that there are indeed other more technically superior products out there, that are seemingly offer more value-for-money, and a better user experience! But I guess when it comes to the crunch, sometimes it is the 'coolness' factor that wins hands down! I am myself looking forward to finalising my decision on getting my next lappy..whether it would be a MacBook Pro, or the regular Windows Vista-based platform! Hmmm, decisions, decisions, decisions!

Anyway just something that I saw the other day, that relates to the title of my post today! Have a look at the clip, and tell me that you have not somehow or rather have an inkling of what is happening!

Hmmm...but for US$10 million...who's questioning?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Design's not just about the children!...part 2

So let me go back then to this whole idea of Design Education that seemingly can go even beyond the children! Unlike the other more 'traditional' subject areas like the sciences, mathematics, languages and humanities, somehow or rather, the subject of design and technology has indeed a great deal of transformation over the years. And it in with this respect that I feel that, parents, and sadly, teachers as well, have been pretty much in the dark of what are these developments all about.

But at times we can't really blame them for this misinformation, simply because there had not been enough 'rebranding' exercise or programme that had been put in place to correct this (mis)conception.

It is thus with this battle-cry in mind that I do hope that design educators like myself will take that extra effort in educating, not only our youths on what design is all about, but more importantly, to also bring in the parents of these buy them in to at least then change their ideas of what a design and technology subject area can offer. It would definitely not be an easy job, given the lack of information and the creative fluidity that at times seems to permeate the subject, but nevertheless, over time, I do strongly believe in the eventual greater appreciation of what design is all about, and the kind of value-addedness that its exposure can offer.

So where can we go from here! Well the only way is to do a better job at 'rebranding' this subject! Marketing of this subject matter at even the initial years of a students' life would definitely be helpful! I mean some primary schools in UK are even having some form of a technical education or a component of it, in their curriculum, and these seems to have worked wonders, as kids would then have a natural flair of associating what they have learnt, and perhaps apply it immediately! And in this aspect too, I do believe that when students are better able to relate theory with the application, learning becomes more rooted in their knowledge bank, and perhaps, just perhaps, it could actually be a way forward for our education system, which is currently still very much based on the didactic methods of the old! The other idea that perhaps might work over here, and in which I have propounded in my post some time back, was on the idea of having an integrated approach to education, removing the silo-like nature of subject areas, and perhaps having classes run like mini-companies, with the marketing, sales, management, manufacturing, design, quality assurance, and other real 'job designations' being handed out instead, rather than the atypical subject silo! In fact why not close the gap even further and let these companies have a sponsoring stake in these schools, or if its too expensive, maybe adopt some of their upper secondary classes for part of their work. The students get paid and educated, and the companies get mileage, a ready pool of perhaps creative potential that remains untapped, and perhaps would be able to give them better ideas from a different, more youthful perspective! Hmmm, perhaps these could be the Medici Effect happening right before their very eyes!


Design for safety...the case of the Dragon Boaters

I've read with sadness the death of 5 of my countrymen, dragon boaters who were dedicated and passionate to their sport, but whose lives were taken away so sudden, and so young! What saddens me perhaps is the fact that their death could have been prevented quite easily..perhaps! The news reported that, and this were later corroborated by the other team members, that the team decided not to wear the safety jackets because firstly, the weather was fine and the conditions in the river was calm enough. Being experienced boaters themselves, nobody would have doubted that decision. And perhaps to make their winning form and combination better, the other reason given was because the life jackets would actually slow down or impede their rowing. At this juncture I would just like to stop commenting on their decisions, because it was a judgement call that they make collectively as a team, and who are we to question that. What I am more concerned, as an educator in design, is that, isn't there any better designs of life jackets being done anywhere in the world!

I can still remember all the lifejackets that I've worn, or at least would have worn should things turn unfavourable, and I can say that at most, I think the ones that gives me the greatest comfort was the one that I wore during one of my reservist or is it NSF training...the one where the life jacket is relatively small and handy, and is actually activated using a small gas canister. Besides that, the usual life jackets that I've work and seen, are perhaps the older design that is relatively cumbersome to put on, and is in fact more geared towards just allowing the person wearing it to have his head be placed above the water level, and nothing else. In fact it can get quite cumbersome that I don't think it is that manouverable at all. The last that I wore was during my reservist training last year, you know the one where you have to manually blow it up, and my goodness, it was so stiff! Makes me wonder what would happen if we are caught in a firefight while wearing that awful and stiff life jacket around our shoulders!

I mean after all this while, isn't there like a jacket that can be worn by water sportsman like the canoeists and dragon boaters, that would not impede their rowing action. Maybe perhaps, with our more advanced knowledge on ergonomics, anthropometrics and materials engineerings, we might even be able to put forth one that would in fact be aiding the boaters in their competition, rather than impede them. Good and strategic placement of sensors would help to ensure that the floatation capability of the life jacket would be activated once it is submerged in water! Think of how the air bags in the car is activated within microseconds of a collision, and you would know what I mean. And how about an adjustable floation capability, one that would allow the jacket to fit within the weight and body size limits of the user, regardless whether the guy is a 150kg sumo wrestler, or a 5 year old child! Impossible you say! Think of Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs), and I think it would be a possibility sooner than you think.

And how about other life-saving or even life-prolonging capabilities of the jacket! Luminous coloured that is adjustable to the light and water-colour conditions of where the user is wearing it. An automatic beacon in each lifejacket...especially for those ocean going vessels! (Think the Titanic!) And how about temperature controllet, or shark repeller, or portable desalination device, or a full bodied life jacket, for those who are incapacitated or suffering from hydrophobia, and needs the assurance of having their entire bodies above the water level! The list goes on endlessly indeed.

My point here is that if only we could do a better job designing better life jackets, to keep pace mankind's pursuits, I do think that the 5 lives can be saved on that day!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Design's not just about the children!...part 1

I just had my work review this afternoon. Pretty much okay I guess, the usual dose of things to do and targets to achieve..that kind of thing. It was pretty much alright. But one thing that really gets me thinking is not so much about the work review, but more on the things that my bosses have to put with from parents during our discussions.

One feedback that I got was on the feedback by parents of next year's Sec 3 students, who specifically wanted their child to move out from classes that offers design and technology, into the sciences and mathematics-based offered classes. Now, I'm not really against the Sciences and Mathematics, since I am a Pure Science student myself...but what worries me is the fact that these parents are not informed, or rather have very little information on what design and technology can offer...the kind of value-addedness that taking the subject can give to their child! Now i don't think the parents are to be blamed here, simply because they would not have taken that initiative to really know what the subjects can offer. Now this is where my worry begins, because if these parents were to base their 'IDEA' of a design and technology subject area based on what they have gone through ages ago, then they can't be blamed if they want their child to choose otherwise.

Now let me put things in perspective for those of you who don't understand this. In the 80's, well those are the times that I was doing my high school education anyway :) and the years before that, the Technical Education stream was only offered to the less-academically inclined Upper Sec classes. And in those days, workshop sessions was conducted in a very regimented manner, meaning "I show you how to cut or saw this...and you jolly well do it this way and nothing else!" Those were the times where Technical Education was seen to be more of a craftsmanship thing, and very, very 'hardcore' technical skills involvement, rather than the fluidity of creative design that I am trying to move towards! Workshop sessions were silo'ed into woodwork and metalwork, and not much deviation from the 'standard model answer/model' was allowed! And lessons were definitely very uninspiring, taught by some unsinpiring teachers as well! (Well I do make an effort to be inspiring, well I hope I am! ;)

So this is where the title of my post comes in! Looking back, my passion for design education now seems to be something that goes beyond the classroom even! Wow, come to think of it, it is something like championing a cause to create this awareness of what design education can offer. I mean the very fact that it is now known as Design and Technology will, hopefully make parents aware that this is something that is beyond just working in the workshop. I think I must also be mindful of this element of 'Design'...somehow it is still a 'dirty' word of sorts, projecting in the minds of those not in the know, of flamboyant-looking individuals coming out with things or items that people wouldn't buy. And the 'Technology' component...where the hell is it! And now this is also something that at times, I do have a beef with. Because if teachers teaching this subject are are not using, or are at least using Technology, if not at the forefront of it, then how do you suppose to be teaching about it then?


Monday, November 26, 2007

a really long hiatus...

My oh my, it has been a really long hiatus...its been a while since I last posted an entry. Been through a lot of reflection lately, hmmm...perhaps symptoms of ANOTHER mid-life crisis! Hei I though I had that in 2001-2002? Hmmm, well I guess there's no harm having another one, as long as it'll make me a better person.

A lot of things go through my mind lately, first and foremost, about what are my personal targets and goals for the next 5 to 7 years! Yes, I do plan for that long people! Maybe I should just pen it down here then...maybe not! Nah not yet. Later perhaps.

Been reading a couple of books lately, ah yesh, that reminds me to update the Library thingy. Anyway, I've also a new indulgence right now, Facebook! Oh man, this is probably one of the best tool that have come out from Web 2.0. Been toying with it for a few days now, and its a little pretty nifty tool mind you. I'm definitely going to fully utilise it, for my next scheme of things. Anyway I think I better pen down my thoughts on what I want to do during these long hols.

1) Read about 1 to 2 books a week, that will give me a grand total of about 12-16 books
2) Pick up: Adobe Photoshop and Basic Digital DSLR photography
3) Monetize my blog...and my other potential plans
4) Get cracking on my personal target and strategic planning for Wealth Creation and road to Financial Freedom!
5) Reorganize my house
6) Network, network and more network!
7) Create my business cards and business plans

That's about all for now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Innovation Protocol - Day 2: The Social Face of Innovation - 1st posted on 25th Sept 2007

The pictures for the second day of the workshop is at my Flickr website here.

With information and pictures gleaned from our visit on the first day, the team then get down to business to take a relook at the various types of user experiences that would definitely enhance our target user's quality of life. What we have learnt so far, or what we have decided to look into, are the various opportunities that would allow us the luxury to impact either Mdm K, or in an alternative sort of way, future Mdm K's. The team do believe that there would be many more Mdm K's in the immediate and longer term, so what we should do perhaps is not so much as to offer a product or service that perhaps is totally new, because maybe, just maybe, that would be better done and left to the private product-related companies. What we did decide though is to relook at how some experiences that are currently in place, could be made a little (or a whole lot) better with some minor/major tweaking! And guess what, one of the first major product that caught our attention was the ubiquitous wheelchair.

Creating the iChair

What the team feels is the need for one to improve the quality of the users' experience when one is sitting on wheelchair. With the target users of the current iPod generation in their 50s to 70s in mind, the team decided to
see how the use of the wheechair, and the array of users' experience that comes along with it, can be better improved, to make it an even more user-centric design, coupled with the idea to eliminate the notion of it being
a medical equipment! In fact the team believes that in as much as an iPod is considered to be the product design industry's standards of what makes a successful product (although more on a more technical aspect, it is not that
superlatively excellent!), we would also want the redesigned wheelchair to be an iPod of sorts, an iconic product for the less-abled (versus the disabled), something that can be used to be the talk of these target users, and at
the same time, be one single thing that they can be proud to have, own, or even be seen to be in one! Very much like how iPod is an accessory that one would want to see and be seen, the team wants to remove the social stigma that is attached to the current wheelchair design, so that perhaps, just perhaps, it could also be as socially desirable to the less-abled, just like the iPod.

The team decided on a simple name for this new redesigned wheelchair, the iChair. AS you can see from the pictures of our model-cum-prototype, it is indeed something that perhaps captures or elicits user-centricness in its design. With sexy curves (although it is not that sexy when one is working with corrugated boards), its intechangeable iPapa (inspired from uPapa..sorry Osim for borrowing from you guys! :) ), iButt butt massaging unit for those long tireless chats on the beauty of the iChair with your friends, in the comfort of your own Herman Miller-inspired Aeron Chair's wire meshing backing and butt support, to improve blood circulation, and at the same time improve ventilation to these 'rear' areas to eliminate smell and bed/seat sores. Or how about the motorised transport and navigtion system, which includes GPS and a small monitor for plugging your 10th Gen iPod to entertain you while you are navigating down the IR! And how about the Segway-inspired (sorry again, this time to Segway! :) ) navigation stick, that allows ease of use by offering soft-touch and frontal positioning, all this inspired by Mdm K, our original user in mind! When we first observed Mdm K while she is having her meal, we realise that the dexterity of her hands is pretty much limited, and although she is fiercely independent and would like to be feeding herself, but more often than not, due to her limited upper body motion capability, she is only able to get only 75% of the food from the spoon to her mouth...and she is also limited in terms of her frontal reach, which was thus THE major inspiration for this frontal navigation system.

The home

The team also looks at how the iChair can just be more than just a mobility machine of sorts, but more importantly, it is THE machine that can very much improve the quality of her users. To this we look at how Mdm K gets around to doing some of the basic things that we take for granted, such as moving in and out from her bed, getting around in and out of the bathroom/toilet, navigating her way, having her meals, and most importantly, how being seen in a wheelchair affect her, as well as her caregiver's self-esteem and social life, which is sadly almost non-existent. The team believes that the design of the current wheelchair, with the use of technology that is currently available, and perhaps being extrapolated to 30 years into the future, would indeed be something that is quite normal, and in fact almost a standardised item and one that would not really cost a fortune! The ability of the iChair to be able to lift the user by perhaps a max of 6 inches would be something that would enable the user to level herself/himself up to the level of the bed, which would hence increase her mobility of sorts. These coupled with the use of alternative materials that is lighter, tougher, waterproof, and is in fact more aesthetically pleasing, would in fact be something that can surely eliminate the problems that one faces when one sees a wheelchair!

The iChair...a possibility

The idea of reinventing something is not totally new, and is in fact something that is very much a part of Mankind's natural capacity! But the team sure do hope that somehow, somewhere, somebody in the future, would have the necessary wherewithal to realise the team's iChair, and perhaps, just perhaps, would contribute to making the lives of the less-abled that much more fuller.

Environmental Manifesto for Businesses - 1st posted on 24th Sept 2007

I just happen to be blessed with a wave of good ideas that hopefully would be able to make a difference to how Mankind will conduct their businesses in the future, for the benefit of the environment. Hopefully this can be an impetus to something more!

1) Lifelong customer relationship: The concept of selling by perhaps major retail and departmental stores when it comes to home electrical appliances for individuals could perhaps be better tweaked. Instead of trying to focus on only individuals for their purchases and focusing only on the short term gains of closing that sale, retailers should go beyond and look at the totality of the purchase. Sell the entire experience of using an array of appliances to the entire family itself, instead of only the key decision-maker of the family. Instead of selling the microwave oven to the mom, sell the array of accompanying appliances like the oven, the refrigerator, the juicer, the coffee maker, in fact, sell the experience of using it all! And here's the kicker, offer a lifetime replacement warranty, so that when a newer product, or model, or version of whatever that they currently have is offered, allow them to be exchanged, perhaps maybe at a discounted price of the new product. This perhaps is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) taken to a whole new, lifetime levels of sorts. What these means to the user is some degree of familiarity in terms of branding, you know about how we ourselves, when we were growing up, are used to certain brands of cornflakes, soap, hair cream, etc. I mean what this basically means is the idea of more than just offering an experience that goes along with the product, but more importantly, an experience that attaches emotional significance to what the product/s means to the end user!

2) Hyperconnectivity: With things going wireless seeming to be the norm here, it is only a matter of time when appliances are going to be connected in one way or another to create that rich experience of hyperconnectivity. What one can even tweak further for a more environmentally enriching experience is perhaps to enable some form of a green indicator of sorts between these appliances at home, so that when Jack enters his room during a hot summer day, the air conditioner will be on automatically at just the right temperature for him, and maybe perhaps if his homework is due, the computer would switch on, and his TV would be off. Detecting moments later no particular movement in his room, the sensors might want to turn the air con to a more economical mode, and switch off the computer too! Mom or Dad would perhaps be alerted to Jack's state, and perhaps go and have a look if there is something out of the ordinary...perhaps he is on the verge of having the flu, of perhaps he is just plain tired!

3) Active packaging: Packaging should be more than just a means of offering information or protection. In fact, why not offer the packaging as a part of the user's experience of the product itself! The charging unit of that cordless handphone set also double up as its packaging when Dad bought it last week. Or did I mention the Plasma TV...the box actually doubles up as a mini-foldable lazy chair, for all of Dad's lazy football evenings! Or perhaps, the bottle of the chilli saucee is actually a free vase thrown in! Get a couple of them and wah lah, you would have a very stylish arrangement of vases for your flower beds! Or how about edible 'paper' plates, which I think is currently available, but of which its use is not that pervasive yet. Wouldm't it be nice to be able to save up on cleaning time, plus the water bills, when one plans to hold a party to celebrate an occasion?

4) Designing for the 20%: Sadly product engineers are very much the propagator of this constant need to have as many functions as possible fit into as little or the tiniest of space available. I mean wouldn't you be comparing the various technical specifications when one considers his purchasing decision for a mobile phone? The marketing people here tells us that the sexier the shape of the phone is, plus the more packed the functions that are availabe in the phone on offer, the better it seems to be! I mean ask yourself, how many of us would use the entire array of functions made available to us. Have you ever seen the number of buttons on the remote control of your TV? I'll bet that most of us would only be using around 20% of the functions! Or how about some of the things or services that are available to us! Do we really need to be offered with an array of choices, a whole lot more! The book 'Made to Stick' says otherwise. I guess its better for one to just stick to basics, and perhaps, just perhaps, for the sake of 'mass customisation' offer only 20% of their products to those who really wants that much more!

Innovation Protocol - Day 1: User-centred design - 1st posted on 23rd Sept 2007

The past week has been a most enlightening, yet humbling experience for me, especially in my professional capacity as a design educator. I was involved in yet another one of those training sessions, but this time with a difference! It was just a short 2 days training-cum-workshop organised by the Idea Factory, but yet it does leave some remarkably lasting impression on the power and potentials of design, where its impact and place in social re-engineering is concerned.

Besides the usual first day briefing on the training objectives and such, what the workshop requires us to do as participants was to be engaged, and I meant it in a more 'immersive' sort of way. We were supposed to be broken up into teams, and to take stock of the greying population issues that are fast becoming the social problematic norms in most developed countries, including Singapore. What follows was a visit to one of our potential clients, an elderly/disabled who is wheelchair-bound, and who is suffering from various ailments. On a footnote, this experience sure reminds me of the one done by Jane Fulton Suri, the Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, during one of her social/user-centred experiments on re-engineering a patient's experience in a hospital.

We managed to take a lot of pictures during the visit, and the link to these pictures are in Flickr.

The team's first impression when we reached the house of our client was the relatively steep staircase that greeted us. I think it must be one of the steepest accent that I personally have made, and I am not THAT old yet! And to think that this is located in one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, sure shows the failing of some of our urban planners in the past, when the primary considerations of housing was more to provide the basic necessitities of housing, rather than aesthetics and/or the future-proofing of housing design. I hope that any urban planners from any developing countries that are reading this, should strive for a balance that incorporates design functionability, and future-proofability, for lack of a better term, since they would eventualy reach a state that a country like ours would be, i.e. a growing greying population, and all its ramifications

The interior of the housing design of our client, Mdm K, was relatively large, I guess due to the relatively generous offerings by our urban planners when they were considering housing design, way back. This is a stark contrast to the newer housing that are being offered, where I guess, and I am really feeling strongly for this, that the architects that designed and planned for our public housing should actually take up one of these courses, to really give them an idea on some of their ridiculously-designed HDB flats! Anyway, back to our client, no doubt the furnishings and basic layout of the room does potray the relative simplicity of the dwellers, but this definitely does not hide the fact that our client and her primary care-giver are seriously in need of a better living condition.

Our client, Mdm K, is down with Parkinson's and has been wheelchair-bound for the past 12 years. Her primary care-giver is her loving husband, who, as the team have brought up before, is the epitome of a loving husband! I mean for someone to be totally be the sole care-giver, to be the one that takes care of her needs, including preparing her meals, bedtime, shower time, and all the usual basic routines of daily living, and doing it for 12 years, and to top it all off, to do it when one is himself not that physicaly capable all the time...I mean isn't this what TRUE LOVE really is!

The team manages to catch glimpses into the daily routines of this exemplary couple, their daily cleaning routines, what they do to while away their time, the somehow fixation on daily routines through the placement of wall clocks in each of the major areas of interaction, the sadly deteriorated state of some of the furnishings in the house, and in fact, the ever-decreasing population of the fishes in the fish tank also struck as as a reflection of the kind of time, or lack of, that the husband has in the pursuit of his other daily personal space and time!

The team, and myself, was struck at the way things are centred around the routines of our client. Notwithstanding that the design of the house was nowhere near an ideal one for the wheelchair bound, but somehow one would observe the user-centricness of some of these details. Like the placement of the house and other keys near the doorway, to I guess, minimise the search routines of the house keys in any given day; the arrangement of the furniture in the house which are all stacked up close near the walls, which somehow potrays the necessity of wheelchair movement, rather than one of aesthetics, which would seem to be the pervasive domain in a typical Malay/Muslim household in an average Singaporean Malay household; the placement of mirrors at the main 'expressway' of the house, which brings out to mind the need for basic human dignity, to look and feel good, in the mirror, even when one is incapacitated; the lack of newspapers and magazines and the somewhat more explicit arrangement of the radio and TV, which somehow gives one a small peek into the usual source of entertainment and/or information (this does disturbs me a little as I interviewed further as it seems that this seemingly lack of informational resources might just be one of those things that can actually hinder them from having a better quality of life, from giving them the usual distractions like 'hentaming' the goverment :), or just as a means to be able to take stock of whats happening around them, rather then the usual self-centricity that is actually having more of an adverse effect, rather than otherwise!); the ingenuity of MAN, even when they are old, through the use of the doorbell system as a means to seek and sound off for help; the seemingly clean look of the window grille, but yet equipped with a complete curtaining rack system, which demonstrates that this house, in her former more glorious days, seems to be well-decorated with nice-looking curtains (from our interview further, we were told that Mdm K was a seamstress before!)...and a lot more little details that I think would be better left to our own humanistic interpretations as one look at all those pictures!

So what was the takeway that I had, as I left their place! I think beyond the usual design issues and all its social ramifications, more than anything else, I do feel a certain sense of nostalgia! Why would you ask...I guess I can't help but be reminded of the household that I grew up in, when I take a look at the physical state of the house. And more importantly, in that short 2 hour session, I had my most valuable life lesson that I would ever have...ever, and that is on the meaning of TRUE LOVE! this site

I've decided to consolidate my rants and ramblings using the blogger platform, instead of having sole webbie for this. Perhaps it is the trouble of maintaining a website that is not generating any income or perhaps I simply do not have the resources...yet, to keep up. But whatever it is, I still do believe that my 2 cents worth of ranting, will help to at least make a difference to somebody or someone out there!

I'll be reposting some posts that I've done earlier in my previous site, or at least the better ones. Hope you'll like it