Artist Spotlight: Joan Jett

After yesterday’s hearings, I need a good dose of Joan Jett.

Joan Jett was a pioneer in Rock & Roll. In 1970s Hollywood, she set out to form an all-girl rock band. As you can imagine, that idea was met with a lot of resistance.

But Jett survived and thrived and this month she’s got a documentary coming out that captures her story. I can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, there’s a lot of great coverage out there to read and listen to. This interview with Marc Maron is fantastic (it starts about 15 min, 50 seconds in) and this interview with the NYTs is sweet.

In these interviews, you’ll hear that Jett has this great combination of character traits.  She’s strong, yet humble. She has had crystal clear vision and integrity throughout her career. She’s authentic and she f*ckin rocks. Thanks, Joan. Much love and respect.

Blockchain’s potential to Shed Light on Sustainable Products and Systems

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology. Its killer feature is that it enables decentralized transactions. Example: You may have heard of Bitcoin. Bitcoin uses blockchain technology to facilitate financial transactions without banks.

There are blockchain experiments in journalism, like civil,  that are exploring new business models in a field whose hierarchy was disrupted by the internet. There are experiments happening in about every sector: transportation, education, healthcare. If the internet disrupted command and control systems, then Blockchain, and it’s decentralized model, promises to be the solution to that disruption.

One application of that excites me is blockchains potential to track the social and environmental ethics that are embedded in supply chains. There’s a model in sustainable product design called “Life Cycle Assessment”  or LCA. LCA can be used to measure the environmental and social impact of products and industrial systems. There are a lot of variations of LCA, but to give you a broad sense of what it tracks, we might look at the social and environmental impacts of how the raw materials for a gadget were mined; how they were manufactured; distributed; used; and in the end, reclaimed or recycled.

As you can imagine, one of the challenges in communicating LCA to decision makers (consumers, citizens, or policy makers) is that there’s a lot of variation in what and how things are measured with LCA models. The lack of universal standards is often pointed to as a challenge. But blockchain might turn that challenge into an opportunity. How might blockchain LCA be more dynamic and thus more appropriate for decision-makers? For example, in California a decision-maker might want to put more weight on how much water is wasted in a product’s LCA. Yet in upstate New York, where water is plentiful, this data point might carry less weight. Blockchain can accommodate this fine-tuning. Which can be scary if used to manufacture alternative facts. But can be quite powerful if used to make the social and environmental costs of products more visible than they are now.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

From diamonds to recycling: how blockchain can drive responsible and ethical businesses

How a Seattle startup is using blockchain and virtual reality to upend the global coffee market

 

 

 

Customer Research

There’s a lot of advice for inventors on how to do customer research. Yet, so many inventors do it poorly. They send surveys too early. They talk to the wrong people. They ask the wrong questions. And in turn, they gather misleading data.

It’s better to do no customer research than to do bad customer research. Bad research will point you in the wrong direction. It will cause you to focus on the wrong things.

Better to trust your gut, build a quick, cheap, and flexible prototype, then test that.

TAKE IT FURTHER – learn from customer research masters

Steve Portigal

Jane Fulton Suri

Affordances – just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Affordances is a term made popular by Human-Computer Interaction theorist Donald Norman. The term refers to the actions that an object or system enable the user to take. A knife enables the user to cut. Thus, one affordance of a knife is “cuttability.”

I like to make a distinction between the actions that certain tools and objects enable vs the actions that tools and objects want to enable. Sure, a wrench can be used to hammer a nail, but it’s not what it was designed for. Hammering is not what a wrench wants to do. Not that you shouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if that’s what you need to do and a wrench is all that you’ve got. Just remember that it’s important to understand that hammering is not what a wrench is designed for.

I have a controversial stance on the affordances of some digital fabrication tools. For example, in many cases, people use 3D printers for low batch production of identical parts. Yes, low batch production of identical parts is an affordance of a 3D printer – a 3D printer can do this. But it’s not what the tool wants to do. It’s quicker and easier on the machine (which is often a shared machine) to use a 3D printer to make a mold and do your low batch production using a mold rather than running the printer for 500 hours (and dealing with all of the hiccups) to make your ten identical parts.

I also believe that laser cutters afford cutting. Yes, they do etching really well and many a laser cutter owner uses their machine to run an etching business (think trophies). But etching, compared to cutting, is really slow. And if you are using a laser in a shared space, it’s advantageous to lean into what the tool really wants to do: lighting quick cutting. Don’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if you don’t have to.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Affordances and Design on jnd.org

Affordances on IxD Foundation

 

Leaning into Criticism

I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:

  1. Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
  2. Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work

The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.

The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.

So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making.  I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

As art goes digital, it becomes easy to copy and remix. This is great in many ways. But it’s also important for artists to know that there are tools out there to help them communicate how they would like their work to be used.

Creative Commons (CC) licensing was founded in 2001 by lawyer and academic Laurence Lessig as he and the folks around him saw a need for a new kind of licensing in the digital age.

There are a few flavors of CC. Some give you permission to use and remix work with no boundaries at all while others have some requirements. From the CC web page:

  • Attribution CC BY. This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  • Attribution ShareAlike CC BY-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND. This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND. This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

  • To see examples for each kind of CC and to download license tags for your own use, go here
  • LL’s 2007 TedTalk on CC here

 

 

 

 

Technology and Social Systems

A good amount of inventors work on technologies that they claim will solve social challenges. While their intentions are good, their knowledge of the social side of these challenges may not be enough. Founding director of Data&Society danah boyd argues that technology isn’t likely to solve our social challenges, but rather exacerbate them. “We need to think hard and deep about how we want to marry technology… into the broader social challenges that we’re seeing with those systems.”

One way to do that is to figure out how to help the technologists and social scientists communicate and collaborate. Where’s the app for that challenge? jk

TAKE IT FURTHER

This long interview with boyd on Team Human is fantastic

Fall Into Art

Last November I attended The Fingerlakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute hosted by The Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University. I had a great time chatting with the social entrepreneurs there and left feeling engaged and inspired. That inspiration manifested in a small change at the time: I changed the name of this blog from Make Better Stuff to Art & Invention. For me, the name-change marked a shift in thinking and writing about stuff to thinking and writing about what it takes to make stuff: the emotional and practical world that artists create, define, and live in.

Then in January of this year, I applied to Seth Godin’s altMBA program with the goal of making more art. But once the course actually started I changed my goal from “making more art” to “helping other people make art.” And that’s a trap we fall into, right? We avoid working on our own sh*t by helping other people do theirs. And that’s not all bad. It’s good and it’s generous, but for me, it’s also a form of hiding from my own work. So I’m just trying to hold a light on that in my life and examine it.

Another push toward making art came in late August when I visited the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine. The campus is what I hope heaven to be:  simple modernist cabins built into a tree-lined mountainside overlooking the sea. In each cabin, a different set of tools and materials: hot studios for glass and metal, a graphics studio with ink and roller, a ceramics studio with slip and wheels, a woodshop with saws and clamps, a textiles studio with sewing machines and dyes, and a fab lab with CNC routers and 3D printers . I left there feeling that I needed to go home and create my own space. You can’t make art just anywhere. You really do need a workshop. A place to have your tools out and keep them out. So I’ve done that this fall. I’ve created that.

This fall I’m falling into art. I’m emotionally ready and I’ve carved out the practical space to work.