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.