Nature, 3D Printing, and Rock n’ Roll: Biomimetic Approach to User Experience Design

I had a great time at UX Conference this past weekend and will absolutely write a post about all the brilliant speakers that graced the stage of Canada Museum of Civilization. In the meantime, let me share my presentation about lizards, caterpillars, guitar picks, and my new-found love for UX community.

Enjoying a rock concert with the audience

Enjoying a rock concert with the audience

Of lizards, caterpillars, and love

 

 

Open your mind to a world of complex challenges

Did I mention there is a Canadian Science Policy Conference happening in Ottawa right now? Did you know, hardly any designers ever attend such conferences? Opening night – and I happened on one lone industrial designer from Montreal. When I mentioned my affiliation with the trade, he just stared at me in admiration and I could almost see his eyeballs transform into heart shapes, like in cartoons.

Events like these are a perfect opportunity to connect science and technology into one big pile of innovation strategies. Where else would a designer find an access to information on not only the key challenges and opportunities, but also explore the role of science, technology and innovation that can help address them?

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Foraging in an unstable economy or why we have to move past the Occupation of Wall Street

Introduction

Foraging Theory states that animals search and obtain nutrients in a way that maximizes their energy intake E per unit time T spent foraging, producing an expression that looks something like this: E/T. Of course, there is always a seesaw play between optimizing the net rate of energy gain and conserving the most amount of energy. Here is an example:

A colony of ants is following a short trail to obtain profit (they, as a group, have found the shortest path possible to optimize their energy expenditure and maximize nutrient intake). A colony of corporations has chosen a path of greater resource depletion and energy consumption as a foraging strategy. Who survives in the end?

The Occupationist Manifesto

Occupation of Wall Street Movement is a successful demonstration of a problem, but the solution lies elsewhere and is long overdue. I am not an economist. I have a formal training in product design, in a post-industrial economy, where most of the production is being done offshore. This really makes you sit down an re-think your career path. It is either time to adapt existing foraging strategy and go into a tumbling mode, or learn the characteristics of the environment and start a saltatory search.

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Francine Houben: culture and nature in landscape design

Designers love to build prototypes. So do architects. Let’s imagine the farmer to be one of such prototypes. “He prospers only insofar as he understands the land and by its management maintains the bounty. So too with the man who builds. If an architect is perceptive to the processes of nature, to materials, and to forms, his creations will be appropriate to the place; they will satisfy the needs of social process and shelter, be expressive and endure.”

Vincenzo and I went to a lovely lecture by Francine Houben, an architect who loves and builds for people. The lecture series, organized by Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism and held at spacious National Gallery of Canada Auditorium, feature such prominent architects as Edouard Francois – the author of Flower Tower; Gregory Burgess – the proponent of architecture as a social, healing, and ecological art; and other inspiring urban innovators.

The Forum Lecture Series kicked off with an inspirational quote by Wim Wenders “If Buildings Could Talk … ”

… some of them would sound like Shakespeare.
Others would speak like the Financial Times,
yet others would praise God, or Allah.
Some would just whisper,
some would loudly sing their own praises,
while others would modestly mumble a few words
and really have nothing to say.
Some are plain dead and don’t speak anymore…

Buildings are like people, in fact.
Old and young, male and female,
ugly and beautiful, fat and skinny,
ambitious and lazy, rich and poor,
clinging to the past
or reaching out to the future.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a metaphor.
Buildings DO speak to us!
They have messages. Of course.
Some really WANT a constant dialogue with us.
Some rather listen carefully first.
And you have probably noticed:
Some of them like us a lot, some less
and some not at all.

What a perfect introduction to Miss Houben’s lecture about buildings “that are eager to welcome, to help, to be of service”.  The famous Library of Delft University of Technology has brought Francine an international recognition in 1998.  Her reasons for undertaking the project seemed to revolve around the issue of public spaces and natural settings that would welcome people to walk, feed on sunlight, and enjoy the company of each other.

TU Delft Library

Source: mecanoo.nl

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BBC – 3.1: How to Read Scientific Papers

Time to be resilient. Time to evolve, adapt, and attune to changes in my schedule. I have officially started my MDes degree, and am now faced with a rubber raft, being shipwrecked in the ocean of new information, as the brutal blinking cursor is beating down on me like the sun.

It is best to take the raft of least resistance and raise the stakes. Instead of summarizing the entire research and concept in one post, I am now spending more time at each design phase and extracting what might be relevant and useful to other designers, who would like to practice biomimicry as much as I would. Let’s start from the beginning. Discovering and Identifying a challenge, or – as we like to call it – opportunity. Here is a Design Spiral developed by Biomimicry Institute that summarizes the process of Biology to Design and Challenge to Biology:

Solution-based and Problem-based approaches. © Biomimicry Institute

By designer for designers: how to decipher and make sense of scientific writing

The first step, regardless of your choice of approach, will always lead to scientific papers. Understanding them is the key to a deep inspiration.

Sure, the term ‘discover’ could also mean that you put on your detective cap and I get my giant magnifying glass and we go see if we can find some clues. But this will likely still lead you to more questions that can only be answered by experienced scientists. Very few start-up designers have a luxury of having a biologist at the table. Scientific papers is the next best thing. Right now, I am taking my time with papers from medical fields and seeing if I can find correlation of challenges with biological systems. That means, a lot of science-related writings that can be extremely overwhelming to someone with an industrial design background.

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iSite Basics: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About iSite* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Identify a spot that feels curious to you. You might use this same spot day after day or migrate around. It’s up to you. Once you are there, get settled and spend at least 20-30 minutes observing.

What relationships do you see? How about patterns? Describe or sketch them. What are some adaptations you see as a response to wind/predation/rain/decay/etc? Rather than asking “what is this organism doing?” ask “how does this behaviour fit the environment, and what will the organism do next”? 

These two paragraphs were taken right out of Biomimicry Resource Handbook. iSite was an excellent exercise that every Costa Rica workshop participant enjoyed throughout the week. It teaches how to be humble, how to quiet our cleverness, how to listen to the life shaping the environment.

iSite: David and Goliath

This sketch was drawn on the 4th day of the workshop during the intertidal zone visit. I sat on the rock for at least 30 minutes, observing a tiny crab gathering all its might to lift a gargantuan carcass of Goliath for who-knows what kind of purpose. A Halloween costume, perhaps? It was exhilarating to observe his fidgety self, patterns on the rocks adorned with barnacles, smell the air filled with salt and iodine, and hear the sound of waves crashing upon the crab whenever he would dare to approach the Goliath. Perseverance was rewarded by victory.

However, you do not have to go to Costa Rica to practice iSite – Tim wrote an excellent post about learning to observe without knowing what you observe right here, in your backyard. I do it all the time.

I never try to identify the species I draw. All the notes are added at home, when I have the need to dig deeper into the functions and behaviour of my teaching organism. Sometimes, it is incredibly hard – especially, when you are tempted to draw someone as common as a loon.

The way to do is to be

The other day, Vincenzo took me out for a bella giornata of fishing and a river-side picnic. If you picture a typical fly-fishing layman – standing thigh-deep in a streaming Ottawa River, rubber boots overflowing with water and sunburnt nose the colour of a boiled crayfish – you would picture me. This experience, however, reminded me of that 30 minute iSite, observing a tiny crab struggling against the waves to reel in an unyielding mass of a potential dinner.

Vincenzo knew exactly how to weave a loop of line in the air, how to settle the fly on the surface of the water, and how long to wait before mending the line. He was in tune with the environment. And while I was struggling to keep more water from streaming into my already waterborne socks, he was one with the experience.

iSite is quite similar to fly-fishing, I find. As long as there is just the mind (Which organism should I pick for inspiration?) and body (which sense do I tune into?) in the process, there is always a seesaw of power. But as soon as there is a more unifying goal – you become a spectator of a great theatrical performance, orchestrated by nature.

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Even nature needs leaders: The desire for community is a constant of human psyche

Can you imagine the string of nightmares you’d stir up if you wanted the sewer pipe in front of your house repaired and you had to call the Federal Sewer Pipe Repair Department in Washington, D.C., to make an appointment? – Kevin Kelly

Thomas Lee, Rachel Bussin, and I got into the research of urban villages a while back. Something that really drew me to this topic was the phenomenon of small communities. No, not this kind of phenomenon, but a clearly explainable set of conditions present in many small towns, that are transcended into bigger context of a city with a retained charm of closely knit community. I almost forgot about the research my colleagues and I have done last autumn, when I happened onto this post by the oh-so-inspirational Carl Hastrich. Although, reading it is an absolute must to proceed with this post, here is an excerpt from Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control” book, that really drew my attention:

  1. Do simple things first.
  2. Learn to do them flawlessly.
  3. Add new layers of activity over the results of the simple tasks.
  4. Don’t change the simple things.
  5. Make the new layer work as flawlessly as the simple.
  6. Repeat, ad infinitum.
Looks like, the equivalent to this method in Life’s Principles belongs in the Integrate development with growth strategy, more specifically build from the bottom-up.

A great example of such planning was given by Sherry Ritter during one of her presentations. The paper wasp queen is responsible for reproducing and setting up the initial nest. The queen paper wasp will start building a nest by attaching a central strand to the sheltered structure. The rest of the comb is built off of this central strand. Once the queen has built several cells, she will begin to lay eggs in the bottom of each cell. These eggs will develop into either male or female larvae. Once the larvae are old enough they will build tops to close off the cell. There they will remain until they become pupae. The workers are responsible for expanding the nest and feeding the larvae.

When Thomas, Rachel, and I were setting a plan of attack, our main strategy was going to the very roots of what the community was about, starting with the very essentials of it hundreds of thousands years ago. We looked at the development of community throughout history to understand the major factors that make it successful. And, of course, what kind of designers would we be if we didn’t put it into a visual diagram?

Diagram of community development through historic periods. Inspired by Greg McInerny and Stefanie Posavec visual representation of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (I swear, purely coincidental subject matter!)

Well, so if we apply the methodology of Kevin Kelly to this diagram, we have to redraw it completely! Instead of one node birthing fairly homogeneous branches – if we equate it to city planning, The Federal Sewer Pipe Repair Department will be in black – we would take the very core of community, when tribes populated the Earth, and draw a new layer over it keeping the very principle of an underlying simplicity. Sounds great!

However, there is something in this sequence that is a bit vague.