Simple Joys

I had planned to write something profound this morning, it being New Year’s Eve and all. But we have my friend and her little girl staying with us so I’m not in my usual writing chair, my dog is on my lap (because our guests are sleeping on “her” couch), and I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything too intellectual.

But I’m so grateful that our friends are visiting. We went out for bowling and dinner last night and had such a good time. And I’m so glad that our little old dog is still with us even though she is starting to get heavy here on my lap. And I’m so glad that my husband is snoring loudly in the next room – a healthy snore!

Tomorrow I’ll get back to writing something intellectual. But for now, I just want to enjoy this quiet home, full of sleeping people and creatures that I love. And I hope that you have love in your life whether in your home, in the community work that you do, or in the kindness that you show to yourself.

2018, here we come.

from Hardware and Software to Devices and Information

I help run a hardware accelerator in Ithaca, NY where we help teams of inventors develop their concepts for connected devices. So many devices are connected these days and many more will be connected in the near future (Moore’s law applies here).

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to navigate this near future.

Simplifying the language we use to describe big shifts in technology and markets is an important part of navigating this shift. “From Hardware and Software to Devices and Information” is a phrase pulled from the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology by McManus and Ballay. In the book, the authors describe the current technology landscape, predict what is coming, and offer some thoughts on how we need to design differently.

They argue that we need a more human-centered approach to design and I agree with them. And language is a great starting point to get on that path. “Hardware and Software” are terms that mean something to engineers. But “Devices and Information” is language that is meaningful to the public. With the latter phrase we can look back to the beginning of human-made information, painted on the walls of caves tens of thousands of years ago.

Infomation became mobile 5000 years ago when the Sumerians carved language into stone tablets and even more mobile with Gutenberg’s press 500 years ago. We all know the story – about 30 years ago the internet made information even more mobile. It also made it easier to create information – more people could create and distribute stories than ever before. You no longer needed access to a factory press and a fleet of delivery trucks to put your information out into the world.

But what will happen when information is created and distributed not just by humans, but by trillions of connected devices gathering data throughout the world. The big questions in my mind are 1. How will we, as inventors, design systems that help us turn this information into knowledge and wisdom? and 2. What are the habits and assumptions in our current approach to designing technology that have to change?

Music and its Devices

The other day my husband asked me to help him figure out how to play music on his phone. He was trying to use iTunes. About ten years ago we were both iTunes users. But in the past few years, I’ve switched to streaming services, landing on Spotify. I spent about an hour trying to remember/navigate iTunes for him, gave up, then upgraded my streaming service to a family plan. I gave my husband a 1-minute tour of Spotify and he was on his way. As I watched him browsing for music and creating playlists, I remembered how Apple was a leader with the iTunes ecosystem (remember those celebrity playlists?). But Apple didn’t keep up as the market shifted from digital downloads to streaming. Perhaps they have other fish to fry.

Thomas Edison invented the record player but never thought it would be used for music. It took another inventor, Eldridge Johnson, to invent the music industry. As inventors, when we are close to a technology, it can be really hard to see.

Evaluating Communication Channels

Yesterday I deleted my Instagram account. While I appreciate how some people use it, especially visual artists and designers, it’s not delivering enough value for me to keep with it.

It’s important to periodically evaluate and make adjustments to how we engage with “reading” and “writing” online. Below are some questions I use to assess communication channels for myself and for organizations that I belong to. You’ll see that I’ve answered the questions for my own suite of channels. I’m not suggesting that my decisions are a prescription for the ideal. These decisions are very personal. Use as you see fit.

  • NAME: Instagram
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
    • Write: Sharing pictures
    • Read: Peeking into visual artists’ studios in real time
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT?
    • WriteCall me old-fashioned, I like to organize my pictures in albums
    • Read: While I enjoy seeing the artists’ work that I follow there, I can see it other places like facebook, Behance, Pinterest, etc
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Delete

 

  • NAME: facebook
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? 
    • Write: Testing out ideas with friends
    • Read: Following organizations and magazines, visiting friends
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT?
    • Write: It serves as a lazy blog platform where the company owns my content
    • Read: I don’t like getting updates from friends in real time. Since I’m pretty empathic, this is too distracting for me
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Change.
    • Write: I’m writing on my blog and linking to that on facebook a few times a week
    • Read: I only follow organizations and magazines in my newsfeed. I visit friend’s pages at my own pace

 

  • NAME: twitter
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
    • To follow & participate in real-time events
    • To share good news – my own and other peoples
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT? Not much. I don’t follow it too closely
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Change. At first I followed Donald Trump and now I don’t

 

  • NAME: gMail
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? Getting in touch with me. This is the only comm channel that sends notifications to my mobile
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT? Not much. I don’t open every email so I’m not at all obsessed with inbox zero
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Change. I use the filter feature pretty heavily, often skipping the inbox. I visit filter folders on my own time

 

  • NAME: slack
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? It filters different conversations in my life into distinct, “intimate” groups
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT? It feels like one more channel I have to keep up with
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Change. I have notifications turned off and I only follow channels that are necessary

 

  • NAME: linkedin
  • WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? It’s a good place to store my resume, follow up with people I meet at events. I use Behance in a similar way for visual work
  • WHAT BUGS ME ABOUT IT? Not much. It’s handy and low maintenance
  • CHANGE OR DELETE? Change. I edit my profile pretty regularly

 

I use Flickr, google photos, and Pinterest pretty heavily, but this use is less social and more for my own, easy-to-access visual libraries.

 

Pain is a Part of It

Today I go in for my yearly scans. I had cancer in my early thirties. I fought it and I won. And the only reminder I have of it, really, is when I go in for my yearly scans. Today I’ll spend a good long time in the MRI machine. Once I’m in there, I’ll actually doze off. But the time before I go in is a reflective time.

My mother died from cancer when she was 48 years old and these two experiences–her battle and my own–are a part of who I am. A painful part. And even though we’re pressured to share only happy thoughts online, I think it’s important to acknowledge the painful parts because we all have them. And if we share them, we will grow empathy for one another. If we share them, we’ll know that we’re not alone.

 

 

Strategy is Saying No

This phrase comes up a lot in the business literature. Still, so many organizations act as if strategy means “let’s take on new things and still do all of the old things.” The problem is, when you decide to do that, then you are creating a focus problem for your team. Sure, organizations need to try new things. But they should be tried out with the understanding, “If this new thing works, then we will phase out this other thing that isn’t working.” And you never really know for sure, do you, because we have to make these decisions with inadequate information. Maybe that’s why we avoid making them.

Plans as a Compass

I enjoy the quiet reflection that this time of year affords. We have a beautiful little tree inside of the house lighting up the cold and dark. Work has slowed down and I’m reflecting on the projects I have experimented with in the past few years and how they have helped me, and others, grow.

I set goals for myself this time of year and makes plans for reaching them. I’m at a healthy place with planning these days. As a freelancer, I appreciate the routine that plans bring to my life. Plans free up my brain so that I can spend less energy worrying about how to structure my time and more energy doing the work that helps moves me forward. Here’s the healthy part: I don’t beat myself up if I get off course. Life happens. Opportunities arise. Things get in the way. The plan is something I can return to as life allows. A compass. A grounding.

More Art in 2018

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My goal for 2018 is to make more art. Most of my artwork is participatory – it’s either a project that can be made by other people or it’s a lesson for learning a creative process. Either way, I want to create and share more.

The image above is a detail of a lamp I designed. I’d like to make an instructable for it. In the meantime, here’s a brief description of the process:

  1. I sketch a spline in Fusion360 and revolve it on the vertical axis
  2. I go into sculpt mode and subdivide the form into multiple segments
  3. I pull the geometry from each segment by hand–I hover over the line segments with a mouse and write down the measurements for each unique segment
  4. From there I create a 2D cut pattern in illustrator using those measurements

Hopefully, this description makes sense to some of you. If you have questions, let me know.

How Materials Attach to Other Materials

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As a designer, I have a few odd obsessions. One of them is observing how one material attaches to another material. I even have a pinterest board dedicated to this.

So how do materials attach to other materials?

They can friction fit (or just fit) into other things. They can be woven. They can be sewn or wrapped. They can be snapped. They can be glued. They can be nailed or riveted together. Gravity can be used to fit one thing into another thing as with the objects above. What else?

image: storage project by Yukari Hota