Monday, November 28, 2011

When one design improvement begets another...

I recently bought a new pair of earphones, after the old one simply gave away. What caught my attention was the improvement in the design of the wires, one example of which is as shown in the picture on the left.

I simply love the idea of making the wires a little flatter now, to reduce or even eliminate entanglement, compared with the old designs. And somehow locating the controls (mine has controls for volume and start/pause) on a flattened piece of cable just seems a little more...'designerly plausible' and apt, compared to what I used to have.

But one thing that I wasn't prepared for is the idea of storing this new piece of flattened cable. Being one who uses a messenger-type bag for his laptop and other accessories, it didn't dawn on me the need to get another piece of wire coiler, since the old one is designed for round-shaped cables.

What I thought is that updated design of the cable is better, but somehow the design flaw here is the need to also redesign the wire-coiler too, to cater to users like me. Perhaps this is where a reDesign exercise just stop short of actually enhancing the users' experience a little more 'perfectly'. I felt that having a coiler that complements this redesign would definitely make more converts out there.

What do you think?

Friday, November 25, 2011

When being Innovative is more important than being Creative

I had some time to think things through this 'debate' the last couple of days, on what makes somebody creative or innovative. And perhaps the debate on whether it is more important to be creative, or innovative. The debate seems to stem from the idea that I had that there should be a balance between the two, especially in my approaches towards teaching my charges this idea of 'creativity versus innovation'. But could there really be only one thing that one should focus on, in order to give that sense of value-addedness? 

I was reminded the other time about how Apple is not necessarily the most creative company in the world. A case in point was that they were NOT the ones who invented the portable digital music player, nor the mouse, and neither the tablet. But what they did to the idea of
  • how a portable digital music player should be part of an 'ecosystem', 
  • how a mouse should operate buttonlessly and 
  • how a tablet should look like and be experienced with multi-touches and gestures...
now...these are indeed examples of innovation. Yes they were not original ideas, nor their overarching concepts of working totally original, but the very fact that they have managed to leverage on an existing design concept, and work on how to transform these elements into a 'disruptive' tool to the current status that's innovation at its finest.
So perhaps creativity does have its place in the whole scheme of things, but in order for things to get really moving, and exciting, the innovative piece of the puzzle must also be present, and in order. And then perhaps...just perhaps, things could move along along a more 'disruptive' mode!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ideation: the cartographic potential

Taken from:
One of the main challenges that I have as an educator in the creative fields is the challenge of following and 'seeing' how my charges swim through their mish-mash of ideas, and counter-ideas. Mind-maps, concept-maps, sketches and words might help, but I thought there ought to be an effective way of putting all of these together in an 'orderly-yet-choatic' manner, akin to how the human mind perceives things.

I chance upon the idea of cartographing these mish mash, perhaps in the form of a map of sorts, that would enable the human subject to capture and enunciate his or her thoughts and ideas in a more visual, and perhaps be better understood by those around.

Wikipedia defines cartography as "...the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively."

I would like to proposed the idea of mapping these thoughts and ideas much like how a map would show the terrains and geographical information on a piece of real estate. And more than just about representing such information on a 2-D flat form, I would like to see such a visualisation being done in more than just the 3D that one can leverage on. A timeline, incorporated into such a visualisation scheme of things would definitely help to put some things in context. Having such a chronological perspective adds up to the richness of the information. In fact, having such details being mapped out in a terrain-like manner, akin to those found representing the different elevation levels, would be one way of looking at it.

And how do one make connections from one piece of the jigsaw to another. Tributaries, and other means of links could be introduced. Perhaps pathways, water tributaries, and maybe even the use of similar representations of elevation could be one suggested way.

I personally and professionally think that this means of information visualisation could be thought through a little deeper, and perhaps worked on by my charges. Let me see how I can crystalise such a scheme a little more clearly over the coming weeks and months.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cradle to cradle design

Perhaps this is something that our town planners here in Singapore should take a leaf from, as they start to plan for new townships and estates. I certainly loved the idea of how sustainability and cradle-to-cradle concepts could be applied in not only its physical manifestations of products, but also applicable to town and urban planning.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

From crowdsourcing to crowdexecution

Taken from:
I've blogged a little post on crowdsourcing, and the reasons why it might not work at times. But at a deeper level, what comes after crowdsourcing is even more important, and that is its execution!

But what I do find perplexing at times is the seemingly absent community that actually does the execution of the plans. It seems easy for the crowd to be giving ideas, but not that easy when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands 'dirty', and doing what needs to be done.

And this is where perhaps this idea of actually doing, being engaged at the operational phase...being actually 'crowdexecuting' the plans that have been suggested and planned out during the earlier phases...this is where perhaps there IS an even greater need for the community...the be directly involved. And more so when it come to something that affects an entire community, at a social or even national level. 

Ideas, their evaluation, and eventually, the execution of the selected plans should be the ownership of the community, the crowd if I may so. I've seen numerous examples where there were a high degree of talks and ideas being brought up, and bounced off from one to another, but sadly, not enough resources were allocated when and where it was needed most.

So perhaps this need for crowdsourcing should really extend to more than just the mere solicitation of ideas and advise...more than just about the mere invites of non-tangible deliverables. It should extend, and go into the 'what-do-you-have-to-volunteer-at-a-more-tangible-level-if-your-idea-is-accepted' kind of mode.

So have you been part of the 'crowdexecuting' crowd yet?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Designing 'critical thinking': Infusing criticality into a design & media lesson

In part 2 of these series of articles on critical thinking, I would like to continue to go a little deeper into the architectural re-designing lessons that my students have gone through for their semestral project.

Whereas in Part 1, I have explained about the student's work and primary considerations when redesigning an old existing structure, in part 2, I would like to mention a little more about the student's more creative 'pursuits' when given a location that they are more familiar with, albeit still limited by certain constraints.

One of the locations that the students were given an option was the current site in which the school was located. With the view that the current school building would be vacated by the year's end, students were given that option of working on proposals of what could the current site be converted into, bearing in mind the need to balance the considerations within the community, and of future considerations.

Students taking up the redesigning project for the current site were quick to point out the limitations that they had, nevermind the fact that the building is the one that they are most familiar with, out of the 3 other options that were given to them. And even though there was a great degree of familiarity with almost every nook and cranny of the current site, the ideas proposed were sometimes more uncommon (read: creative) than common, and it seems a little refreshing for students to be working on making something that they are familiar with into something 'unfamiliar'.

The 2 visuals above is one of the ideas proposed for the current site that was mentioned. The idea here is  to 're-architect' it so as to serve the purpose of those staying nearby. A more modern-looking dining and a little backyard look-and-feel are incorporated into the designs, bearing in mind the need to make the whole experience less urban, with that added greenery at the rooftop. An open concept was also adopted, to give visitors that experience of openness, very much needed in land-scarce Singapore.

The details that go into the overall look and feel, whilst being sensitive to the needs of the immediate community is perhaps major considerations that the student have taken into account while working on the project. Drawing inspiration from the shape of the regular hexagon, the student have also gone deeper into architecting the internal look and feel of the whole structure, with the aim that the new re-designed use of the current site is totally different than that it has been designed and built for, decades ago.

More details and examples of the projects done by this, and other students, are available her at this SITE.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Designing 'critical thinking': Infusing criticality in a design & media lesson

In Part 1 of this article on critical thinking, I would like to go a little deeper into how such a skill can be uncovered through the creation of appropriate lesson experiences in a design and media lesson. But before going a little deeper, one must need to understand that trying to observe and experience critical thinking in the minds of 13 and 14-year-olds is definitely not something that would seem obvious. And in fact, it is also not something that an educator like myself could clearly see tangibly, or observe that explicitly. It takes a while for one to uncover and be able to 'see' it being peeled, layer by layer, by the students. It takes a certain degree of patience and mediation for this process to happen, but the reassurance that the results would be worth it is really something that makes all these efforts worthwhile.

My premise here is to give students an opportunity to apply their creativity and criticality into (RE)designing local architectural works. In part 1 of this article, I would like to just take the readers into the minds of one of our students, as he tries his hands at redesigning this historical landmark into something else, without it losing its architectural form and heritage values. Most of the information is available HERE, but I would just like to highlight one case

In the above visual, the student is looking at converting the railway terminal station at Tanjong Pagar, Singapore, into a museum that would capture the railway history that has spanned almost a century here. His ideas of upgrading and modernising the look and feel of the museum, whilst still maintaining the overall look and feel of the neo-classical facade is a step in the right direction.

And as part of this updating of the flavour of the structure and the experience of this railway museum, the student also suggested the idea of incorporating modern-day amenities, and then linking this up with the other railway station located further as to create a railway museum experience that really has a working railway incorporated into it. The tracks itself would not be dismantled fully, but would be reused for the proposed train carriages that would ply between the 2 stations to offer museum visitors, especially the younger generation, that experience of railway nostalgia.

Taking things at hindsight, there was a lot of thought that has been made into looking at redesigning the station into something like what the student has proposed. Opposing needs and the study of demographics, as well as the need to be sensitive to current and future developments, are some key considerations made.

And not only were the criticality of thought needed at the planning stages, it was also evident at the conceptualisation and brainstorming stages, when things needed to be more detailed and specific in nature.  The use and inclusion of appropriate furniture, that would best capture the mood of what the museum should look and feel like, is one such consideration. The location of the various spaces for eating, relaxing and other museum activities were also considered with a greater degree of detail. The use of a visualisation tool like Google SketchUp was indeed a godsend here, as the student was able to ideate and then bring his visualisations into a more communicable form with the 3-dimensional models that he has generated.

For more details of the project, and the other ideas and suggestions by other students that have decided to work on redesigning this grand old dame of a station, do visit the SITE. Comments and critique are most welcome.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

SIRI and the Evolutionary Product Design Idea

I remembered blogging about the wonders of a product that evolves and grows with the user, or adapts to the user as he or she grows up. And I believe I have come across again a good example of such a product. Introducing Stokke's Tripp Trapp, now with the newborn set. This allows it to be used right on from day one of a child's life, as seen from the picture below, taken from their site.

What makes it so wonderful is the whole notion of how a product should evolve with the changing need of the user. I can envision this particular concept being translated to a wider age-group. Perhaps a set of product line that caters to those about to hit the elderly age group. Thus the product is not only purposeful during the more active days of their users, but also adapts to him or her when he/she grows older, or when there is a sudden reduction of his/her physical capacities.

And why must this idea just be constrained to physical products. I'm envisioning the idea being adapted to perhaps, software systems too. And why not, I do think that it would just be a matter of time before such a system could be designed to 'grow' old together with its user. Perhaps an adopted version of SIRI, just like the Tamagotchi craze a while back! She would grow old together with her user, and perhaps be a constant digital companion, or perhaps a digital  personalised concierge/oracle/entertainer of sorts for the user.

I guess we would just have to wait and see then what would happen when SIRI grows older...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The irony between creativity and experience

Taken from:

I find it initially disconcerting to know that at most times the best of ideas come not from the richness of one's experience. There are those that blossoms from one's seemingly lack of understanding and experience in dealing with a given scenario. But is this necessarily an undesirable thing?
I for once don't rule out the fact that as creativity becomes a more valued commodity in this day and age, such 'wealth' is no longer the domain of those who are valued simply based on their past experiences. There are numerous times that I have been led to believe that things would work out fine if one were to get someone with a wealth of experience to do the job.
I guess it is alright if one were to look at non-creative solutions to a problem, or having the tried-and-tested methods being executed by a team that has already been there...and done that. But the workplaces of the future is no longer just about doing the same thing, again and again, and expecting the same results. Pretty much summed up by what Eistein used to say about insanity:

'Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again 
and expecting different results.'

And it is not just about the creative potential of one who has not seen the issue, or the creative options that could be explored by someone who has lesser experience. More so, it is about having both the creativity to know what's doable, and then the GUMPTION to do what one thinks is the right thing to do...though not necessarily popular.

And this is where the irony lies! Having a wealth of experience doesn't mean that one has the creative potential, or has more creative juices to offer. Ironically, this wealth could actually work against him or her. Alternatively, having that fresh pair of eyes to offer insight and look at the issue is not necessarily a bad thing altogether. Perhaps, more can be offered when the mind is unhindered, and when emotions are not attending to any baggage, whether emotional or otherwise. end this short blog post, a quote from me, based on my experience the last few months:

Creativity is not necessarily the domain of those who are experienced; and neither does experience contributes to one's creativity basket. But the one who is able to see this difference and then leverage on its distinction, will be secured of his creative sight, and experience, without forgoing either...Irfan Darian

Friday, November 4, 2011

Doodling 101

I caught this video only recently and love the idea by Sunni Brown on how doodling is seemingly that key that can unlock that inner intelligence, that some of us are so seemingly not aware of. Take a listen and enjoy...


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When will 'crowdsourcing' NOT work?

This idea of seeking and collaborating with the community to seek solutions to issues and problems are back in vogue, what with the availability of web tools and ubiquitous digital connectivity that makes such an endeavour no longer the sole domain of the experts, or those presumed to be experts.

Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as 'the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to an undefined large group of people or community (crowd) through an open call.'

Picture taken from: 
But with all the hoopla about the effectiveness of crowdsourcing, I do think that just like in most tools, there are reasonable limitations to leveraging on it as a hammer to nail in your problems. Perhaps these 5 are good key points of consideration for a start:
  1. Size of crowd: Statistical textbooks dictates that there is a minimum amount of size that a sample should be taken from in order to validate any data obtained. Similarly, there ought to be a minimum sample size of sorts for a crowdsourcing endeavour to be deemed effective in its execution, notwithstanding its results, which I will point out a little later. And with the ease of digital connectivity, this might be one of the least hurdles that a crowdsourcer (versus the crowdsourcee) has to worry about, unless the specification calls for a certain degree of confidentiality, and the likes.
  2. Levels of expertise: Perhaps one main motivation for a crowdsourcer to seek ideas from the public is the trust that he has with regards to the quality of the ideas and proposals that he would get. Although debatable, I do think that there ought to be some minimum level of cognitive familiarity with the issues or problems that are being crowdsourced. Though there is no necessity for all members participating in the crowdsourcing activity to be experts in that specific given field, there is perhaps a need for one to be at least intellectually aware of the issues at hand, and perhaps be able to give alternative ideas/proposals, bearing in mind the main objectives of the exercise. Within the community of crowdsourcees, there should also be that level of respect for alternative viewpoints, if well-justified and logical in its arguments. And in fact having multiple experts should be the order of the day, due to perhaps the ability for such a community to be able to enrich the crowdsourcing activity, much like how perhaps, the design firm IDEO, equips her design team for any design projects that she embarks on.
  3. Motivation to contribute: At a personal level, although much have talked about crowdsourcing, but the motivation for one to participate in such an activity must also be something that a crowdsourcer be mindful of. Motivation, though not necessarily in the forms of something tangible, is a necessary part of the human natural psyche to act or do something, and likewise, there should be some carrot dangled for participation. A few models and sites are already available that leverages on some points/rewards system for contributors, but perhaps more could be done to attract participants to assist in contributing issues, especially of the social kind. Altruistic reasons aside, sometimes the economics of ideas and expert groups do not necessarily come in cheaply either.
  4. Independence of contributors: Perhaps this is one of the primary hurdle that a crowdsourcer should look at in greater details. No doubt one couldn't really be placing in specifications to dictate the level of independence of the crowdsourcee in the whole scheme of things, but having respondents that do have a direct bearing on the outcome of the exercise is not necessarily a bad thing either. But of course certain guidelines and some degree of awareness should be put in place to create that level of 'independence of ideas' regardless of your dependency of the outcome of such an exercise.
  5. Follow-Ups: Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, is the follow-up activities that such an exercise would entail after the dust has settled. Who would do the following-up? What is the timeline for such follow-up activities? What ideas or proposals would be followed-through, and which ones would be shelved or KIV'ed until further notice? Transparency, to a certain degree, is indeed the order of the day, especially to crowdsourcees, to give that level of affirmation that something is being done about their proposals. And this is especially important if the issues at hand are something that the respondents are directly being impacted upon, or if the crowdsourcer is looking at more of such activities in the future.

Monday, October 31, 2011

iPad-ifying my classroom...

I had an opportunity to conduct some experiments with some iPad apps this year, but I guess due to the exigencies of time, space, and resources, have only managed to do so intermittently and superficially. But on hindsight, there were several apps that I do find promising, especially in my areas of Art, Design and Media.

I don't claim to have used all the following tools ubiquitously, but I can assure you that I have thought through about its possibilities of usage in the classroom, especially in a classroom of the future. Here are perhaps, my top 20 (or so) tools, that I would continue to try, and would like to explore a little deeper in the coming academic year.

A) Sketching & Visual Graphics:
1) Sketchbook: Sketching ideas (USED)
2) Sketch Rolls: Horizontally-long digital paper, allows for storyboarding and could be a replacement for the whiteboards

B) Online Sync:
3) DropBox; use for digital/cloud storage (USED)
4) Evernote: Use for notes sync

C) Comments, Feedback & Peer collaboration:
5a) Twitter: use for collation of ideas and feedback
5b) TweetDeck: use for collation of ideas and feedback; good for collation-type of modus operandi

D) Video & Multimedia:
6) iMovie: editing video clips
7) Photos: consolidating photos

E) Photos, Storyboarding, Ideation:
8) Comic Life & ComicBook:: Creation of storyboards from photos (USED)

F) Portfolio, Visual Graphics:
9) Corkulous: used for consolidation of photographs, ideas, clips, sketches

G) General Works:
10) iWorks suite (Pages, Numbers and Keynote): Keynote specifically useful for delivery of lesson materials

H) Note-taking:
11) Storyist: Creation of storybooks by chapters
12) Penultimate: As an alternative to sketching papers, have a sketchbook instead; able to use for text too
13) MaxJournal: use for journaling and note taking (my mainstay notebook for meetings)

I) Ideation & Visual Presentations:
14) Popplet & (15) iThoughtsHD: Used for mindmapping; Popplet more visually appealing but iThoughts have slightly more functionality (USED)
16) 123D Sculpt: Useful for 3D idea generation; digital clay

J) Blogging, Collaboration:
17) BlogPress: Used for on-the-go blogging

K) Geography:
18) Google Earth: Used for Geographical-based lessons, specifically for Basic Architecture lessons

L) Mechanisms:
19) TinkerBox: Useful for Ruth Goldberg type of mechanisms
20) Cogs HD: Useful for mechanical-type of lessons that leverages on the use of gears

Sunday, October 30, 2011

(RE)Thinking Design education....

I have the honour of working with my esteemed colleagues on something exciting....but new. And as in all things new, there would always be hiccups and professional disagreements in certain aspects of how things are done. But after looking at the results of the students' works, I must say that we have come a long way to making that ideas work...and then harvested into fruition. 

I would like to present the digital showcase of the students' works that I have just mentioned, 'Architectural Design: Spaces & Layouts 2011'. The link to the showcase is HERE.

I would like to blog about their works a little deeper and longer in my future blog posts. But until then, please do enjoy their efforts. Comments and critiques are most certainly welcome.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Standardising Multi-touches & gesturing...

It's been a while....and I've been busy. But I do hope that I can start to actively blog, well at least for the next few weeks, when things at work start to wind down.

My inspiration for today's blog comes from watching this video from Microsoft:

Although I'm a Mac user, I thought it is a nice video to showcase the possibilities that the future can hold for the masses. But looking at the clip, I was just wondering whether there would be a need for some form of a international standardisation of sorts in terms of how multi-touches and gesturing on a touchscreen would be done. Especially so when there exists a greater variety of platforms currently available on the smart phones and tablets. And more so when there is that remote possibility of moving touchscreen gesturing into the third dimension, when graphics processing power and the likes would be able to be handled by processors with smaller footprints.

And why should gesturing just be confined to the fingers, or the fingertips too. How about incorporating and integrating finger-like gestures with other input elements, such as audio (voice-recognition perhaps), retinal-movement, full-hand swiping (such as those found in current generation of game consoles)...and even full-body gesturing. You just never know the possibilities.

But of course the problem would be how can these (gesturing) be standardised across the various platforms. Could there be different standards for different devices? Or perhaps just one standard across all these devices? You could just never imagine what can transpire, can we?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beautiful handmade bags

I do love functionally aesthetically-designed bags, and especially when they are well-made. And this something I totally dig! Enjoy...

Friday, April 29, 2011

The hospital that 'Pees'

Taken from:
My colleagues and I had a meeting with some representatives from the newest hospital in Singapore, the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, and came away impressed with some of the health ideas and philosophies that they have infused, or trying to infuse, into their daily operations.

On a very macro level, what I love and find refreshing is their idea, or approach to what, and how should, a hospital be. Instead of just looking at a hospital as an institution to cure the sick and needy, the evolutionary idea that was surfaced is that the hospital should be a centre for health too, and in fact, should be a catalyst for healthy living. And this idea should be propounded beyond the 4 corners of the hospital, into the immediate community that resides close by. This idea of getting the hospital to be part of the community just sounded like the proposed idea of how mosques in Singapore were supposed to operate within this multi-racial and secular society of ours. Each mosque was supposed to be a leader, or take ownership in matters related to Islam and other family-related issues and matters, whilst of course, taking into account national and other religious agenda.

On an architectural level, the design of the 3 blocks that makes up the hospital is indeed functionally impressive. Their 3-step approach towards customer orientation, their time-limited consideration for patients/visitors to be able to be at a certain location, within the hospital complex, their integrative approach towards 'integrating' the water body next door into their overall landscaping works...all these seems to be really an excellent testimony about their seriousness towards achieving a more holistic and evolutionary idea about what healthy living is all about....and more importantly, about how health should be approached and how a hospital is supposed to operate, currently and for the future!

I also loved their idea of the 3P's...especially in the areas of geriatrics. The first P, being PRODUCT, looks at the most basic and perhaps, 'superficial' level....that some problems or situations could be resolved by designing and making A PHYSICAL PRODUCT. Beyond this, the second P being PROCESS, is somewhat pitched at a more conceptual level. Perhaps this is something similar to what I am trying to infuse into my lessons...that sometimes problems should be identified beyond just the symptomatic or superficial levels, into its root cause! So perhaps process here involves beyond just the mere physicality or tangibility of products as solutions or probable solutions; beyond that there could be process-related issues that are best resolved in order to achieve the most complete or effective solutions. On the last level of P, being PEOPLE, I thought is somewhat true as beyond just the manifestations of a product or a process, it is indeed people that would be the true changers and perhaps, solutions to most problems. Changes in attitudes, lifestyles, perceptions....all these are people-related situations that are complex in nature, but not necessarily impossible to achieve a change in, in order to realise a win-win outcome.

I walked away from the meeting still feeling floored and amazed at the ideas that they are working on, and I hope that the programme that my team and me are currently working on with them could bear even more 'fruits', to enable my students to understand better, about what is at stake for them, in their 'Elderly Challenge' journey.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Would iPad 2 revolutionize education?

It has been about 3 weeks since I had my iPad 2, and I must say it has been a value-adding experience for me. But rather than just to use it to read books, entertain myself with games and video clips, and perhaps take notes, I do believe that the second version of this tablet has truly more potential that is still untapped. And I believe nothing is further from the truth when it comes to the main reason why I bought see its potential in education.

Some online articles mentioned about the revolution that the iPad 2 would bring into the classrooms. Well after having tried it, I think more than just about the iPad 2, the true revolution would come when a teacher actually uses it to enrich the learning (and teaching) experiences. I applaud the idea that the iPad 2 can be a catalyst, but I would also like to hold my horses back and say that the evolution and revolution in the classrooms must be seen as more than just about the emergence of A product, and for that matter, any products at all. At the end of it, IT IS about how a teacher can masterfully weave the tool, into his or her teaching experiences, and get the students to really learn.

Yes, perhaps I'm just being a wet blanket, but the truth be told, teaching is all about that added human touch by a teacher, about how he or she can skilfully and effectively encourage the students to learn...and more importantly UNCOVER the intended, or sometimes even unintended knowledge. Much like how the great innovative companies have a 20% work time policy that allows employees to work on something non-work related, I truly believe that sometimes it is that 20% of what is not the intended knowledge, that sometimes could make that difference between making a lesson, good...or GREAT!

So am I still a firm believer in using the iPad 2 to revolutize my teaching. More than just about revolutionizing, I am more of a believer in 'evolutionizing'. Yes, there is still learning that needs to be achieved, but with the tablet on our side, I believe that it just added one more tool to our arsenal, and what an arsenal it is so far!

I am still having my share of fun with the apps and possibilities available in this second variant, and my first order of the day for a real evaluation would be to 'field-test' it for my learning trip to Vietnam. The media angle definitely opens up to a wider possibility with the addition of a camera/video capability, but how can I then leverage on this to deepen the learning experiences would be something that I am looking at, thinking of, and would definitely experiment on, during the trip. But alas, there's only so much that a single mind can think of, so if you think you can help me out with apps or possibilities that I can try out during an overseas trip, please do give me sound out, be it in the 'Comments' section on this blog post, or to my email.


Monday, April 11, 2011

An AutoDesk Film Preview

I thought that some of the portrayals here are really what ought to be happening in the classrooms right now, and even in the very near future. Not that I am for any specific software/hardware, but seriously this should be the direction that we should be heading towards if we really want to see change in the education landscape! Thankfully I am doing my bit too, albeit one step at a time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The humble elastic band

A picture of my water bottle,
with 2 elastic bands around it.
I usually have this habit of putting the leftover elastic bands from my lesson notes around my water bottle, as shown in the picture. The primary purpose of me doing this is to basically increase the friction of the gripping area.

But a thought just occur to me while I was having dinner with my significant other the other day. The thing that bug me sometimes is how NOT socially aware some of these waiters/waitresses are when it comes to topping up your glass of water. There are the overly-enthusiastic ones, and there are those...well let's just say, they seem to be so expendable.

Anyway, I thought the idea of using these elastic bands around your glasses of water is a neat idea to communicate to the waiters whether your glass of water need topping up...or not. Perhaps we can have a way of telling customers to adjust the level of water that they deem to be the level that they would want their glasses to be topped up! If the water is still above this level, then the waiter wouldn't have to bother about topping it.

Alternatively with 2 elastic bands, we can have a maximum and minimum water level too, that are adjustable according to what they are having throughout their dining experience. So the customer can adjust the max and min level during the opening dishes, and adjust them lower if they think that they would want to make their move. These would definitely help to reduce wastage of water, and more importantly, mitigate the intrusiveness of overly enthusiastic waiters too!

How about that?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Design Ideas: The Xpandable Hard-Disks

I just thought the idea of having to buy a new hard disk every time the old one goes into 'scarce mode' is something that could be rethought. It doesn't help too that with improvements in technology, what used to cost $200 can now be obtained at half that price a year later. This is where the inspiration for the expandable hard disk gets into the picture.

The idea here is to re-look at how and why is there a need for one to expand their hard disk capacity. Possible reasons are the regular increase in storage and backup demands, and perhaps just having a better way of organizing data. But the troublesome part about having new disk spaces is the need to firstly format them, and then copy over stuffs to the new (and usually higher capacity) disks, and then wondering what to do with the old ones.

And this is where my idea for an expandable hard disk is worth looking at. I partly got my inspiration from reading about a model of Nikon DSLR that is able to handle 2 SD cards at one go. The neat and cool thing about this is that you can actually program it to either:

  • Use the second SD card if the first one is full
  • Use the second SD card to store exactly the same picture files as the first one
  • or...Use the second SD card to store another format of the same picture, e.g. RAW format in one, and the usual JPEG in another
I thought since this 'intelligence' is something already available, we can include this functionality into my expendable hard disk designs. Here's some sketches that I did while in one of the meeting yesterday.

Picture 1: Overall ideation. I first started off with a re-ideation
of the basic hard disk design,
seen on the top left of the sketch
Picture 2: Close up of the initial re-ideation of a typical hard-disk
Picture 3: Close up view of an initial expendable design idea,
inspired by jigsaw puzzles
Picture 3: Close up of the final configuration.
Whether vertical or horizontal, it depends on the users.
Numbering or customizing the different hard disks either through
numbering or using different colour could be a good way to cosmeticize
the whole hard-disk usage experience
Note that all sketches and ideas are the copyright of Irfan Darian.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When culture limits design: iTunifying our thoughts and ideas

Graphic by Irfan Darian (2011)
This thought occur to me when I was preparing my learning materials for my upcoming trip in a few months time. And the irony that the most innovative nation in the world comes from a country that is not really cultured, in an Asian sort of way, did not surprised me too.

But what I would really like to uncover over here is the thought that perhaps, the culture that we were brought up in, is indeed a key limiting element of how we adopt design thinking. Could this be so? Alternatively, could the absence of such be a good way for a race or a country to be more adaptable to design thinking?

I've always wondered where are the scientific discoveries of my own race, when the other 2 major races over here are historically brimmed with technological achievements throughout their civilization. The Chinese have their thousands of years of inventions, artistic pieces, technological achievements as well as their architectural marvels. Similarly the Indians too have their rich history to thank for for showcasing their inventions and other worldly marvels. But I do find these technological marvels lacking, or sadly, almost non-existent, in my community's history. Except for perhaps a culture of artistic and related works, the other aspects are seemingly not mentioned, or perhaps if they do, are not showcased in the way that it should be showcased...publicly!

Which somehow just made me come to a conclusion. Could the culture of being humble, showing respect to even undeserving leaders, being deceitful, and other racial stereotypical characteristics be the limiter towards developing our very own design thinking? And could this be then THE thing that limits our own growth as a society, or is slowing us down? I'm not condoning that we turn our backs to our culture totally, but I thought some things would just have to be tune with the times. Could we really afford to be talking about how much is an appropriate 'gift' (hantaran) to a bride, when the whole point of having that has already been clarified in a religious context. I think more than just about looking at the cultural details, could we even begin to start to question some of these practices? Perhaps not in a confrontational sort of way, but rational, logical and even with an amount of big picture/deep thinking thrown in for good measure.

In a more non-communal context, could the culture then in itself be something that we can tweak further? These culture of being accepting, of showing affirmation of successful failures, and of celebrating every single pound of success even more! And to add further, building an eco-system of sorts that would allow for such thinking to sprout and flourish? Could we then iTunify the entire process and experience? So it is no longer about having a silo system of buying, storing and playing music, but the whole experience of buying, storing, playing, seeking comments, ranking, having customised playlists and downloading music and media. If we could just iTunify these whole thinking into such a singular system, where instead of music, the commodity is now thoughts and ideas, wouldn't we then be able to move the community and society ahead? Perhaps...?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Future of Travel...

This animated clip just reminded me of The Jetsons, a futuristic family-oriented cartoon shown when I was much younger. I thought this is a cool idea, and one thing that stood out in the short clip is the idea of customised experiences. Although no longer a remote possibility, I thought if such an endeavour could be further customised to schooling and learning experiences, where each child can and will learn the things that they enjoy doing, then perhaps, schooling in itself would no longer be just about the development of the child's intellect, but more on the development (and education) of the child.

Enjoy the clip nonetheless...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Design? by Design Says Hello

An interesting peek into the design industry in Singapore. And yes, comparatively we are still a relatively young industry over here. It would definitely take time to make the culture here to be more design-conscious, but at least this is a start to something more...I hope!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Design for Education...Teaching Design for Change

I just love the idea of the 6 Design Directives, and looking at how design is slanted to be WITH the people, and not FOR the people.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The irony of collaboration

Picture taken from:
With 'collaborative learning' being one of the new buzzword in education, it won't take long for this habit of including it, in one form or another, into our daily teaching routine be the norm. But is it really an effective strategy, let alone a useful tool for teaching and learning.

For me, I do find that collaborative learning does have its intended flaws, but as a concept and an idea,  it is still basically sound. But how then should one be managing collaborative learning, to ensure that the intended outcomes are met, while taking care and managing some of its deficiencies.

I, for one, have this idea that for it to work effectively, the classroom facilitator, or teacher, would need to understand the work or lessons being covered, and the main intent of having collaboration. I would think that collaboration would and could only happen if, and only if, there is truly an exchange of enriching and almost mutually exclusive content amongst the students. Or in another way, it would also work when there is an explicit intent to level up the expertise of the non-experts with the experts. I guess to draw a similarity here, one wouldn't buy an exact copy of the pair of shoes that one is having, unless of course there are some non-rational explanations for it. Maybe the same designs with a different colour, or shades of colour or with some minor enhancements...perhaps...but definitely not of the same exact design, colour, size, etc....well you know what I mean.

And to add to that argument, collaborative learning would also work, if and only if, there is this process, or perhaps criteria, that ensures that each and every one of them has almost the same level of importance towards this collaborative effort. I mean there would perhaps be no point, and in fact would be the natural human behaviour, if you suddenly find one of your students suddenly losing interest when he or she realises that his/her expertise is no longer valued, or put up to an equal footing, compared with the rest. This is perhaps why sometimes, collaborative endeavours fail. When the degree of importance is not clearly demarcated and deemed to be almost equally important, what we would have is a failure in our efforts, no matter how successful the final product is.

Which begs the question, if collaborative learning is so difficult to manage, why do we want to have it in the first place? Well, it is like asking a shoe-lover, why does he or she needs 10 pairs of shoes when he/she only has one pair of feet/legs to go with them. It is not so much of that pair of legs that is of the concern here, but the 10 pairs of shoes that are in the wardrobe (that we should worry). The leg would most probably remain quite a constant, with some variations in sizes and perhaps, colour and other minor features. More importantly is the colour of the shoes. As time goes by, and style and preferences changes, the 10 pairs might no longer suffice. One would need a lot more to cater to different situations, events and contexts. Which begs the question on the need for the development of niche areas of expertise and content knowledge!

So can we afford not to try collaborative learning? I don't think so. But more importantly, how then can we ensure that this practice is indeed successful. I for one, have no easy answer. I do have my fair share of lessons where things could, and did go either way. But that is the whole point isn't it. Knowing what doesn't work, and what works, is education for the teacher too, right? So to put the analogy of the shoes above to the question, can we then only survive, in tomorrow's day and age, with only a single pair of shoes?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Communicating Design

I had the pleasure to revisit some of my old lessons from last year on the topic of photography, and have decided to add a tinge of spice and variety in my lessons this  year. Honestly I did that with a little apprehension, knowing how sometimes even with the best of plans, things might not turn out as what you would have wanted or imagined. But to my surprise, my young charges definitely superseded my expectations, and some of them even went beyond what I was asking for.

Basically the premise of my lesson was to see how photography, as a skill that combines art and technical knowhow, can be used more effectively, beyond just the mere capturing of a single, or a set of photos. I was looking at how photos can be used to communicate! (Enduring Understanding). My advice to these noobs in photography is the revelation that taking good photos is not necessarily the exclusive domain of professionals with big-sized cameras or DSLR's. What I was more interested in getting them to understand were the concepts of good photography, and then applying them. Moving on from there, my challenge for them was to get them to create a storyboard of photos, that tells a story of their own choosing, using a toy, or a set of toys.

Well, barring the fact that some of these toy stories are very boyish in nature, I do find their stories to be well-thought of, and in fact, very well executed. What surprised me even more was the amount of effort that these students have put in into their works. And mind you, the lessons were only about 9 hours long (spread across 3 weeks). I do like to showcase here some of their works here. The ones shown below were done by Jian En and Wei Qin from class of S1-07 (2011):
Storyboard 1 of 2
Storyboard 2 of 2
More of their works can be seen from their Facebook pages. For more information, do add or gmail me at irfandarian. I'd be more than happy to show them to you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Teaching them to be hungry

Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
In my relatively short teaching career so far, one thing that I realise is the need for a teacher to not only be just teaching content and subject mastery, but also life skills. And one challenge that I have is this idea about teaching my young charges about being hungry...and perhaps even staying so! And no it's not about being literally hungry, but rather being hungry in a constantly dynamic and evolving world.

Why do I say that? I guess sometimes we as educators, we do tend to focus on the immediacy of our actions, of our teachings, and perhaps what better way for a teacher to see the fruits of his or her labour, than to base them on the results that their charges would have gotten from tests, exams and a host of other myriad assessments. Immediate gratification much? But is it really all about that? I mean if that is the eventual aim of teaching, then I would be one of the most disappointed educators here in Singapore.

And what about this thing about being hungry? Seriously it has got everything to do with the things that we are currently inculcating into our students, this thing about not just being satisfied with their status quo, but to do their very best to do even better. And I am not particularly condoning this from a materialistic or tangible rewards angle, but more so from the angle of values. This need for our students to really do better, to always be looking at improving their own lot, to move ahead to be the best that they can be, and NOT at the expense of others. Perhaps to put it in a more correct social and moral slant, to be ethically hungry. Looking and reading about how hungry students from developed nations are, and about how even hungrier students from developed nations have become, I feel so worried about the kind of hunger that our students have, that burning-in-the-stomach feeling to really go all out to achieve their aims and goals. The irony of it is that the hunger that the previous generation have suffered and endured,  have translated to perhaps its absence from the current one, whether metaphorically or literally. I wonder whether this is just my own perception, or a really true fact that is happening amongst my young charges. Well I can't really say that all of them are demonstrating this (lack of) hunger, but certainly perhaps at times, I don't seem to be able to see that deeper desire to really satisfy their hunger either. Or perhaps we are just not making them hungry enough?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Getting out of a sticky situation

Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
I have always thought that eating in itself shouldn't be something too difficult an activity to do, since humans are naturally wired to be able to eat without learning how to. But when it comes to actually getting that morsel from the bowl/plate into our mouths, that is where the challenge begins. 

And with a greater variety of food at our disposal right now, it is just a matter of time before our preferences for certain foods are dictated more by how easy or difficult for it to be eaten, rather than its actual taste.

I had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing such a moment of epiphany when I had a serving of Cinnamon Melts from a McCafe branch. Well I do admit that I have a sweet tooth, but the thing about eating such stickily sweet food is that there is a high tendency for it to stick onto its container when it cools down. 

Now this is where DESIGN can take centrestage; the idea here is to design an eating container that caters to such differing and customised eating experience. I mean shouldn't there be different containers for different types of food, or at least taking into account the overall eating experience of the customers from the first spoonful, to the final morsel. Take for instance eating ice-cream, wouldn't it be good if the container that contains our ice-cream takes into account the higher liquefied form of the ice-cream towards the end of our eating experience. Or how about eating 'satay' (barbequed meat on sticks), the perennial favorite for many of us. Trying to dip the portions of meat located at the centre of the stick into a small shallow bowl of peanut gravy is definitely a challenge for most of us, so shouldn't there be a change at least in how the eating utensils are designed? But then again, some purists might argue that having those 'inconveniences' are themselves part and parcel of 'experiencing' the dish! I guess it boils down to what makes one happy with a dish, some like it clean and easy, and some like it a little messy. To each his/her own I guess.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Designing for the constrained spaces of an airplane

It is interesting that in my plane trips, I tend to look at how the the overall designs of the spaces centring around the customers' experiences tend to be rather ingenius. Ingenius in the sort of way that they are still functional, but yet not necessarily lacking in its availability to pander to (almost) most of the usual needs that a passenger would want on a flight...and maybe more! Space constraits aside, I am always amused at firstly, the design of the aisle and the seats, of how a high degree of optimisation must have gone through the minds of the seat designers when they were conceptualising its designs. It certainly brought me back to the good old days during my post-graduate studies, when optimisation studies and operations research were 2 of my specialisation areas.

And who can forget the swiss-army-like concept in the toilets. The kind that perhaps would put some of our pulic toilets to shame. Barring the squeezy nature, what surprises me from an ergonomical and anthropometrical points of view is how everything seems to be within reach and arranged in a certain orderly yet logical way. However i would love it even more if they could just make the toilet roll a little more to the front of the seats, rather than at the back.

And who can forget meal-times, the sight of the stewardesses sashaying down the aisle to hand out the airline's version of MRE's (meals ready-to-eat) is usually a welcoming one to most (hungry) passengers, unless of course you were beginning to think that they must have been cooked by your evil mother-in-law from your previous live/marriage! And what surprises me about these meals was also about how some of the small design details that must have taken place back in the design studios. Two examples that I have managed to capture in my recent trips are as shown below.
The first picture shows how a portion of a cornflake meal is also packaged with enough milk at its top. Hence instead of having the flakes and milk as separate entities, they are combined in a single packaging.

The second one is a little easier to see, but what surprises me is the non-necessity of such design, but then it might just be my opinion. They perhaps dipped one end of the 2-pointed toothpick into a green dye, to allow its users to differentiate the different ends. Perhaps its a small gesture of design thinking, but it certainly was enough to make me wonder whether I might have missed out on anything else!

And perhaps I have....!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The power of collective cognition

Taken from:
I am almost at the tail-end of Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and I must say that this is one of the most enlightening books that I have read on the topic of the power of the social media, and what average minds can do and achieve through a social media platform. And no, it is NOT just about Facebook. In fact to my surprise the idea of social and collaborative efforts predates even Facebook, and have been traced to the 17th century, when the idea of 'the Invisible College' was put together by a few of the great minds of that era, who chose to remain independent of any particular (great) institutions in their intellectual pursuits.

Definitely a must-read for those who are serious in delving into the (recent?) phenomena of the social media and what it can (and perhaps can't) do, the book also looks at the emergence of the free and passionate lobbyist, those who are willing and are actually doing a good job, producing good quality works and dedicating themselves to it....and all this without being paid! The examples given such as the Grobanites and the Linux operating system are cases in point. The latter also made it as a special mention due to not only the foresight of the developers of making the original codes freely available, but ALSO dictating the license of how it should be used and distributed by secondary and 3rd party developers afterwards.

And who can miss the emergence of platforms such as blogs and others, that not only allows for the creation of new content from these passionate 'few', but also the game-changing idea that they CAN and did dictate public opinion. One such example was the  People's magazine 1998 online poll for the '50 Most Beautiful People' in the world, and the surprising results that was finally announced.

Indeed it was enlightening to read about the normalcy and evolution of some aspects of human behaviour, and especially so when a few case studies were mentioned.  One  case that I found interesting was the idea of how people with handphones are no longer able to remember their contacts' phone numbers, since the function of memorizing such information has been delegated to the memory-banks of their phones. Hence when such functions are no longer required, our behaviourial pattern would also change to evolve correspondingly.

Lastly, what I do find refreshing is about the possible clash of the digital natives and digital migrants on such issues as intellectual property, and of the idea of sharing. One case in point was that of Napster. Created originally as a platform for sharing music files, her growth has brought along with it a whole slew of legal quagmire, which did contributed to her demise. But is it correct for us to judge that such a platform is illegal? Clay argues that such (sharing) practices was perhaps the default behaviour of these digital natives. They are after all living in an era where the marginal cost of producing  an exact digital copy is zero or almost nothing! Could then the preponderence of these collaborative efforts in itself be a precursor to a society where things are indeed produced for free? My digital immigrant mind goes into hyperdrive mode thinking about these, but then again, that ideal was what makes the Star Trek series interesting...the idea that Man would finally live in an Utopian ideal where they are no longer working for money, but for their own self-satisfaction and self-actualisation.

Reflections from Saigon...

I was privileged to be part of the team that went to Saigon (Ho Chin Minh City), Vietnam, for a recce trip a few days ago. Oh my, what a culture-shock it was for me. But in between the 2 taxi-service breakdowns that I had at the beginning and end of the trip, being accosted by ladies of the night, trying out new food that seems unmentionable at first, but was so seemingly wonderful when it touches my tastebuds...and amidst all the organised chaos of Saigon's road traffic, one thing that stood out in all that noise, was the warmth of the people there. The kind of warmth that was so honest, simple, yet touched my raw nerves on more than one occasion. Even in the humblest of huts, even in the most busies of traffic, and even in the 'busyness' of sacrificing their own personal time, the Vietnameses' warmth and sincerity in helping my partner and I, in trying to negotiate and make sense of things, was indeed a beacon of light in all that is chaotic. And to the 2 guides who untiringly help my partner and I chart a credible program outline for my students, this picture is a tribute to your beauty, on both the inside and the outside! Thanks once again...and hope to see you in a few months time!
Thao (Left) and Tram (Right).
Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)

Signing off...the Cynical Idealist

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Going back to basics...

Perhaps the digital medium is one way forward, but the basic concepts on a more traditional medium must still not be forgotten.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The story of the bottle...

THE bottle in my hand...
Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
It is weird for me to be reflecting on things that are outside the domain areas of the recently concluded Apple Leadership Summit 2011 in Singapore, but I guess that is just me being me. The story of the black bottle that I got as a souvenir shown above was one such example.

As I was sitting and listening intently to one of the keynote speech, a participant member, whom I was later introduced as one of the organising team member of the summit, came to sit beside me. Well it wasn't that I was the lucky one that she chose to sit beside...but rather, since I was rather late in joining the seminar (due to my prepping the student presenters), and had to sit waaaaay back in the last row, and she was busy walking in and out of the auditorium, fate had it that she ended up sitting beside me.

As we were talking and having a great conversation, the topic of the water bottle came into the picture. She revealed that the bottle was specially ordered from the U.S. just for the summit, and they were specially made, with great quality control, to ensure that the gifts were decent and fit to be given as a special gift to the participants of the summit. She further related the story of how when the whole shipment arrived, the first immediate thought that came to most of them was to just pass these bottles to the participants, as-it-is. But somehow, someone (I think it was the manager or someone), had this idea that to be giving them away just as-it-is was not something that Apple was known for. Hence, what they continued to do, as she was relating to me, just amazes me! The whole team decided to unpack all the 500-over bottles, and wash them, ONE-BY-ONE! And I am not talking about just washing the outside, but also the insides of each and every bottle, using the sort of small long brush that one would use to wash baby-bottles. I mean the seminar was barely a week away and they decided to do something, perhaps even unnecessary to most people, that was totally out of sync with the whole grand scheme of things, where the organisation of the event was concerned. And then to top it off, knowing the humid and warm weather that Singapore had been experiencing for the last few days, the team decided to fill up EACH bottle with mineral water. And I mean real mineral water, and NOT the tap water that came out from the taps here in Singapore (and doing this even though WHO has certified that Singapore's tap water was fit to be drunk straight off the tap! By the way I do know how tap water in Singapore tastes like. :D ) How is that for details and great service!

Now I know some of you might be wondering why in the world were the organisers fretting over all these seemingly small little stuffs? Weren't there any other bigger things to worry about? But then again, these 'fretting' over the little stuffs might be that one small thing that differentiates Apple, or in this case even, the organising committee, from others. I mean it just makes me think about all those small little things that sometimes, we as leaders in the educational arena, or for that matter, leaders in general, seemed to be overlooking. And its not about micromanaging in this context, but more of seeing to it that there ought to be things that would set us apart from others. It is about having the foresight, the thought, the wherewithal, to invest in the small details that would would make the experience that much more value-adding.

Seeing the bottle these past few days and reflecting on the story behind its existence, makes me realise about how then can I make my teaching and learning experiences that much more different and value-adding to my charges. It might not necessarily be something overly vulgar, but perhaps something subtle, something small, something that would set the learning experiences I am providing after the summit that slightly more different than from previous lessons. And perhaps as I continue to work on those small little things, my last statement in this blog post, and my challenge to the readers reading this post is:

What is your bottle (story)?

Signing off,
...the cynical idealist

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