Archive for August, 2007

The Open Plan Work Group (OPWG)

Friday, August 31st, 2007

cube farm

I had the opportunity to participate in a design charette yesterday put on by and Wes Chapman at . The charette is part of their Open Plan Working Group, which seeks to address issues of building performance, user experience, and innovation in workplace design. Steve Orfield has been working, through effective and substantive research, for over 30 years to support investigations into workplace quality, worker health, and challenging accepted norms of office design, organization, and function. Human factors is a huge driver of Orfield’s work, and the belief that the concept of “Architectural Dynamics (AD)” can change the world.

Organizations like and support his efforts, and sponsor the . Both were present at the charette yesterday. Specifically, this event was to explore opportunities to improve a building environment by the creative application of Architectural Dynamics. AD refers to environments that are controlled and influenced over time based on knowledge and inputs from occupant preferences and actual occupant behavior. AD seeks to effect change in these environments through such things as bio-mimicry, cuing, stimulation, calming, and other forms of occupant reinforcement. The goal is to change the workplace from a non-preferred and involuntary environment into a preferred and voluntary environment. Specific areas of influence are lighting/daylighting and view, thermal comfort, and sound addition and attenuation. Lofty goals, to be sure, but Steve and his group are far down the path of effecting real change.

The charette began with occupant research presented that challenges suppositions and assertions we all have about the places in which we work. A great example of this research was measurements of occupant valuations in regards to daylighting and view. Having an outside view is shown to greatly outweigh valuations of natural daylight. That was surprising.

The design charette involved looking closely at an existing structure with significant design liabilities, and how the individual design teams might mitigate the building limitations by creatively applying AD concepts. The results were very, very cool. While there was quite a bit of similarity between the teams, there was also great difference… especially with regards to how far each team was able or willing to push the concepts. Ultimately, there was tremendous alignment on enhancing audience experience, both from a macro (building-wide) and micro (individual) perspective. There was much discussion on how much control should be given to individuals, and how to manage this control to maintain energy efficiency and minimize negatively affecting other individuals in close proximity. I came away with a much enhanced understanding both of the impact of design decisions in the workplace, and how to design to more effectively enhance the occupant experience. We want the environments we create to enhance health and well being, and to align appropriately to an individuals work style preferences. Yes, this has dramatic affects on productivity, but first and foremost it supports more healthy work environments. Increased productivity is a nice result from this goal.

All of this seeks to challenge and change the reliance on the 1950’s metaphor of workplace design. This is a metaphor that needs to be cracked open as the places in which we spend upwards of 8 hours a day, five+ days a week are not designed to support us in our work or in our interactions. They are created out of economic decisions based on minimizing expense and gaining as much space efficiency as possible. They are created out of building practices that have stood largely unchallenged by research and health assessments. We have a responsibility as designers to hold ourselves to research based standards of performance in the environments that we create, to ensure that our designs are adding health and NOT detracting. To paraphrase Steve Orfield, we should look to the Hippocratic oath for inspiration and commit our work to “doing no harm.”

And The Conversation Grows And Grows

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

knowlesystem

A colleague of mine has launched his blog at . His focus is honed and specific to the forces changing and shaping the world of architecture and design. Cool stuff. We have had an infinite number of incredible discussions and brainstorms on this topic, and this was suggested as a way to begin capturing this content, and involve others in the conversation. I highly suggest subscribing as there will be a proliferation of compelling content coming forthwith.

Congrats on the site, Stephen.

acmesiren

Another colleague introduced a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to offer a more formal welcome and congrats to Nick as well. His blog is focused on finding and revealing what is new, cool and interesting in the world of experimental music. Also, very cool stuff. And a terrific resource.

Both blogs are featured in the schneiderism blogroll in the right column, which is naturally an incredibly high honor.

Why Is Steve Jobs a Rockstar?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

by Hugh MacLeod

I came across this cartoon today at blog, . It gave me pause. Partly because I think that Hugh makes a joke about something that is probably partly true, and partly because, in so many ways, the CEO of an innovative consumer electronics and technology company has become something of a rockstar. Full disclosure… I have Apple technology all over the place. At home. At work. In my car. I am writing this blog post on my MacBook Pro which is connected wirelessly to the internet via the Apple Airport, and I am streaming music from Apple iTunes on my computer wirelessly to speakers with Apple’s Airport Express. So, just so I’m very clear, I’m an adherent. Steve’s technology works really, really well for me.

That’s all fine and good, but the CEO of Sony is not a rockstar. The CEO of Intel is not a rockstar. We don’t even really know for sure who the CEO of Dell is anymore, and while you could argue that Bill Gates is a rockstar… I would have to respectfully disagree. Bill Gates is just rich.

I think that Steve’s rockstar quality is in part due to how well he has connected with the audiences for Apple’s products. Like a great band, he gives the people what they want and leaves us anxiously awaiting the next tour. The man is not glamorous, he’s not flashy and really, he’s not that memorable… other than when he presents. And that’s the other part. Steve Jobs has become a master at the unveiling and the presenting of the new offerings from Apple. So much so that these presentations are standing room only. What other CEO can pull that off?

People are constantly writing about how Steve Jobs (and his probably enormous support team) approaches these presentations. The use of multi-media, guest appearances, and the stringing of the audience along are masterful. His slides are elegant and very well done and have inspired people all over the world to improve their boardroom presentations. His slides are also incredibly simple, beautifully graphic and visual, and he navigates them with ease and confidence. The man is a smooth presenter. On stage, as a presenter and as the CEO of Apple, this non-flashy, non-glamorous, almost forgetful individual exudes style… and he does so in a completely conversational and genuine way. The multi-media is merely a backdrop and supportive of his message, and his visuals are in perfect alignment with what he is saying. Now, if you have seen more than a couple by Steve, you quickly understand that his presentations are built on solid and consistent organization. This is what creates the flow, what makes his presentations more about hearing a really great story. The fact that, up on stage, he also seems calm, at ease, and immensely approachable allows everybody to focus on exactly what he is saying, on the story he is telling. I think that Steve Jobs is perhaps the most at ease, human presenter I have ever seen. He makes it look so easy. He is a rockstar.

These keynotes always look so effortless and so easy. A lot of people just think that is who Steve Jobs is, and that doing these incredible presentations in front of millions of rapt fans is a totally natural thing for him. It’s not. The man is charismatic, but like a great band, he and his team practice and drill, they refine and hone, then practice more until everything is incredibly well tested, rehearsed, and choreographed. How could we not think he is a rockstar? With all of the effort put into these presentations he is, by default, a rockstar. Back in the 1970’s when brought arena rock to the world, he made it look easy and effortless too. Steve Jobs is bigger than Frampton.

Web 2.0 Saved My Life

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Husqvarna 142

Over the last couple of weeks we have had a series of severe thunderstorms blow through our area. This has wreaked havoc on our wooded yard, causing us the loss of a couple of trees and breaking a few quite large branches. Initially, I figured we would just hire a service to come and take care of the tree carcasses. In particular, there was one tree that had become a “widow maker,” an ominous name given to a tree that has fallen but is now supported by another tree. Very dangerous. We also had an enormous limb that had broken but not completely separated from the tree trunk, and was hanging precariously over the entrance to our garage. Also very dangerous.

Here’s the deal, our lot is full of trees. This will happen again, and again, and again. For the money that we would pay for a tree surgeon to come and take care of our immediate problems I could acquire the necessary tools and figure out how to do this stuff myself. I presented this option to my wife, and she quickly concluded that I had a death wish. I don’t. I just saw this as an opportunity to become more self-sufficient. I had never even held a chainsaw. I had no experience with cutting trees and bringing down limbs. I did have a secret weapon. Web 2.0.

Here’s what I did:

1. Googled

2. Went to the first , then hit a few more to verify information

3. Searched YouTube for

4. Watched a few videos, then Googled

5. Found this great site, , and watched several step by step videos

6. Went to to further verify information (this is serious stuff)

7. Then I began researching chainsaws at and reading user reviews carefully

8. Did a price search , ended up finding the best price at Sears locally

9. Went to Sears, purchased chainsaw (the ), protective gear, nylon rope, loppers and an axe

I did the bulk of the work this past weekend and am happy to report that I did not maim or kill myself. I made a couple mistakes, but because I took the time to properly inform and protect myself my mistakes were quickly, easily and properly managed.

The success of this DIY project was completely based on user-generated content, online video, and powerful search algorithms. The availability of this content, and the ease of accessing it, meant that before I fired up my new chainsaw for the first time I had a plan of action and had thoroughly reviewed all safety precautions. This project worked for me because of the benefits of web 2.0, and if I had purchased my gear online I would have completed the entire process without actually talking with a real person, other than my wife… who is pleasantly surprised that I am still in possession of all of my appendages.

Bonus: My new chainsaw and axe are both orange.

Quote of The Moment

Monday, August 27th, 2007

HST!!

Finding the quote was inspired by stumbling on the photo above. The world governments must redouble their efforts to reanimate this man.

“It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.”

Hunter S. Thompson (7/18/1937 – 2/20/2005)

Military-Free Biomorphic Robotics (with video!)

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Keepon

I could not wait to post about the cute, cuddly little yellow robot pictured above. This is partly because of the the last few robotics posts being about the appropriation of robotics technology by the military for, you know, killing people and such. But there is so much more to what robotics offers beyond being another weapons platform. I was excited to post this also partly because of a post over at our friend about robots and music. Allow me to introduce Keepon, the name of the cute yellow bugger up there in the photo.

First, a little on biomorphic robotics, a sub-discipline of robotics focused on emulating the mechanics, sensor systems, computing structures and methodologies used by animals. In short, this is the science of building robots inspired by the principles of biological systems. Sounds simple, but obviously it’s not. We “animals” are immensely complex and high maintenance organisms, and as advanced as electronics, processors and robotics might be it is still a challenge to make them more like us. I suppose that is why so many robots still look like wheelbarrows and vacuum cleaners. Researchers involved in biomorphic robotics believe that identifying the underlying rhythm in human communications may help robots to interact in ways that are more natural and acceptable to humans, and less like the dominant overlords they are sure to become.

Keepon was introduced earlier this year and is the result of collaboration between two robotics researchers from different sides of the Pacific, at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and of the National Institute of Communications Technology in Japan. Their work was to synchronize the movements of this robot with sound, with rhythm and ultimately with music in an effort to make robots seem less like robots, and perhaps more like cute little yellow anthropomorphic buggers. Anyway, we all recognize that dancing is an engaging activity, it is disarming and fun to both watch and to participate in. Marek and Hideki concluded that the same might well work for robots and make them seem more disarming and fun. You be the judge, but please check out Keepon dancing to Spoon’s .

There are more with Keepon shaking it in the name of research.

Formal Introductions: Business Meets Design

Monday, August 20th, 2007

money shake

I just read this article at and, while a little simplistic, it does a nice job both describing how business needs to embrace design thinking, and the value of design in business. The author, , lists six tips to help business understand design and incorporate strategy along with the design approach to problem solving:

1. Design strategy is not an oxymoron: Creativity is the key to innovation, strategy is the mirror equivalent for business.

2. The world is upside down, embrace it: Embrace the death of the controlled business model.

3. Invent new training, train thyself: If you understand little about design or creativity, learn more.

4. Understand your DNA: At the core of every go-to-market effort is a strategy based around the DNA of the consumers’ experience.

5. Visualize strategy: Visually map your processes. Designers are visual people.

6. Stop using Powerpoint and start telling stories: Use creativity in your presentations and get it back in spades.

While the article is directed at a more traditional business audience, one that is maybe unsure about how to incorporate design into their strategic approach, there is something here for all of us. In fact, the article pulls together several thoughts that have been expressed here on schneiderism into one cohesive narrative. We all need to understand how our audiences have changed, and how we need to change in order to best communicate our value and engage them as they wish to be engaged. We all need to become massively better at telling stories and move away from reporting. The value for understanding is in the story, in the context within which a situation exists. Reporting delivers a snapshot, and business moves too quickly today to base decisions on snapshots.

Ultimately, what the article describes is a competitive necessity. Design brings a deeper understanding and more substantive connections to our audience, and these are the things that are supporting innovation in business and success in the most competitive of industries… think personal computing, music, automobiles, fashion, publishing… I can keep going. In each case, there are businesses that are still governed by a business model born out of another time, and those that are fast moving, adapting and innovating, constantly reinventing the business model for their industry. My money is on the latter for being around in ten years.

Black Swan Theory

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Swiss Ambassadorial Residence by Steven Holl Architects

I’ve been reading and really enjoying by . The book comprises a selection of 15 of Holl’s more recent residential projects, focusing on site-specific homes that range from a +20,000sf ambassadorial residence (see image above) to a small and efficient sub-100sf lakeside studio. This idea of the ‘black swan theory’ stems from analyzing design needs from a “specific-to-universal” point of view, one built upon dissimilarity and variation. Each of the examples in the book is a house that has a completely different focus. One grows from a musical analogy of Bartok, one inspired by Moby Dick, while another is the reinvestigation of an 18th century nail factory. All are elemental in their use of natural light and the integration of the surrounding environment, with the result being that each home is an integrated dynamic instead of simply being an object. Each home represents a series of relationships.

The homes featured in the book are from all over the globe, including an intimate and private location in Hawaii, to the Hague in the Netherlands. Each of the projects includes examples of Holl’s initial sketches and ideations for the project, as well as specific details and observations that were incorporated into the design solution. It is a beautiful book, and Steven Holl is an excellent designer. Getting a window into his process and approach is immensely interesting.

The Myth of The Genius Sketch

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Joshua Prince-Ramus

I have really enjoyed the Manifesto issue of , and posted earlier the manifesto of Bruce Mau. It is interesting to read the results of a person’s efforts to catch something smart and concise for the benefit of us all. Admittedly, some of the manifestos are pretty weak. But some were pretty great. Joshua Prince-Ramus’ was pretty great.

Prince-Ramus is an architect and designer, and a partner in the recently formed architecture studio REX. He came out of , the studio of the famous “starchitect” , where he led various projects like that for the Seattle public library. My first exposure to the thinking of Prince-Ramus was via his presentation at in 2006 (absolutely worth watching). In that presentation he dropped more than a few bombs on the world of architecture. Nothing we didn’t know or acknowledge already, but powerful to hear spoken out loud. He described a “hyper-rational” approach to architecture, explaining how logic can act as the catalyst for extraordinary buildings and yield opportunities otherwise hidden by the bias of the designer. This hyper-rational approach is something paid lip service to by most design fields, but Prince-Ramus lays bare the the essential mechanics, and results, of this approach to solving design problems.

His in ICON is a summary of that TED presentation, and essentially forms the mission statement for his studio. Following are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“We design collaborations rather than dictate solutions. The media sells simple, catchy ideas; it reduces teams to individuals and their collaborative work to genius sketches. The proliferation of this false notion of “starchitecture” diminishes the real teamwork that drives celebrated architecture.”

Design is riddled with myths, and designers are perhaps the best at perpetuating those myths. The reality is that successful design solutions come directly from a thorough understanding of context, constraint and audience. Meaningful design is also most often the result of effective collaboration and the blending of perspectives. These perspectives, and the efforts of the team to develop a 360 degree understanding of the situation, are the foundation on which opportunities are built. Anything less is at best a stylistic bias.

“We embrace responsibility in order to implement vision. The implementation of good ideas demands as much, if not more, creativity than their conceptualisation. Increasingly reluctant to assume liability, architects have retreated from the accountability (and productivity) of Master Builders to the safety (and impotence) of stylists.”

We see this all of the time. Sometimes we are like gold miners. We strike a rich vein of ideas, or a successful approach, and then mine the hell out of it. We become identified by those results, it becomes our genre. Ultimately, this leads to commodification and the disregarding of the importance of context, constraint and audience. It is a one size fits all approach to design.

REX museum plaza models

“We side with neither form nor function. REX believes that the struggle between form and function is superficial and unproductive. We proffer the term “performance” instead: a hybrid that doesn’t discriminate between use, organization and form. We free ourselves from the tired debate over whether architecture is an art or a tool. Art performs; tools perform.”

If you watch the TED presentation that Prince-Ramus gave last year, it is abundantly clear that REX is practicing what it preaches. The approach that resulted in the team’s solution for the Seattle public library is exposed for exactly what it was… total understanding of the context, constraints and diverse audiences for that project. It is also clear that from its inception, that project was about performance and the inextricable integration of form and function, of the aesthetic with the need for the solution to work.

“We love the banal. REX dares to be dumb (like a fox).”

REX museum plaza rendering

The Complexity of Air Travel

Friday, August 17th, 2007

That’s alot of planes!

This image represents the contrails of the 87,000+ planes that traverse the skies of the United States each day. 87,000. We’re a big country with big airspace, but not that big. Here’s the breakdown:

- Daily, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies in the United States

- Just over 30,000 of those flights are commercial carriers

- Daily, air traffic controllers handle 28,537 commercial flights

- Additionlly, they handle on average 27,178 general aviation flights (private planes)

- Plus 24,548 air taxi flights (planes for hire)

- And 5,260 military flights

- Lest we forget the 2,148 air cargo flights (Federal Express, UPS, etc.)

- Each second, roughly 5,000-5,500 planes are in the skies above the United States

- Yearly, air traffic controllers handle an average of 64 million takeoffs and landings

The scary thing is that the technology used to monitor this traffic has not changed much since the 1980’s, though air traffic has increased by a magnitude. The fact that we do not see more delays and disasters is a testament to the controllers who handle this anxiety and stress as a daily part of their job. Imagine these numbers in 2020. The skies are busy.

info. via

The Strong And Silent Type

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Max Roach is Cool

We lost Max Roach yesterday. Truly a creative genius and jazz innovator, he stood toe to toe with just about every other jazz great… in a good way. They all played with Max, and Max played with all of them. In some of my earliest exposure to Miles Davis (when he was playing with Max) I was left thinking, “But what about the drums?”

In honor of his passing, I offer the following quote:

“I always resented the role of a drummer as nothing more than a subservient figure.”

Max Roach (1925-2007)

Organizing To Win

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Ford GT-40 123 @ le Mans

Back in 1966 Ford entered one of the most grueling and competitive events in motorsports… the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They had no experience with this type of racing. None. Ford had previously been thwarted in an attempt to purchase Ferrari, a force in European motorsports at the time (they still are) and the company that had been dominating at Le Mans for years. Ford could not buy Ferrari, so Ford would beat Ferrari and knock them from their place on the winner’s podium.

To do this Ford organized an incredible team. They brought on the best engineers, technicians, pit crew, managers, and drivers. They set about creating a new car just for this race, and just to beat Ferrari, and they did so in record time. The Ford team came together quickly, had a clear mission, a stated purpose, and the support of the bigwigs back in Detroit. They created the Ford GT40, and not only did they beat Ferrari in 1966, but the Ford team ended the 24 hour endurance race with a 1-2-3 finish (as pictured above in a photo staged for the press). Ford dominated Le Mans for three years in a row, and then dropped out of the race. Point proven. They organized to win, and they won. Handily.

We have already discussed here the realities of the competitive environment we all operate in. We’ve also discussed the ways in which our clients are changing and becoming more like us, and less like people who really need us. Given these two facts, it would seem imperative that the emphasis should be on creating the winning team, not on the winning. This is about the way in which we get there, not just getting there. Teams that win do so because they are organized to win. Teams that are organized to win are unstoppable.

There is tremendous pressure to perform, to win, to not fail. This creates urgency, and a fair amount of anxiety. It is also incredibly short sighted. This is an excellent opportunity for a long term strategy, to focus on building the best team, and supporting that team in coming together. With clear goals, good direction, and support great teams can be unstoppable. Taking the time to create and support a winning team has real long term value. Making the mistake of focusing only on winning means having to start over each time.

Image from

Quote Of The Moment

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Steven Holl: Chapel Interior

“At the beginning of the 21st century, architecture can be the most effective instrument for reconstructing the relations between our species and the earth”

Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

You didn’t win

I read an excellent, concise and thought provoking post by over the weekend and thought it important to share. It’s about the reality of work that aspires to be “good enough.” We’ve all been here either as participants or observers. Either way, we are complicit in managing downward performance expectations for projects. Definitely something to think about. Here is Seth’s post:

“Most marketing efforts are projects in response to problems. ‘We need a box for the product launch.’ ‘We need a press release for the tour the boss is doing.’ ‘We need an ad campaign for the Super Bowl.’

In response to projects, many organizations figure out the resources they’ve got and then work hard to do something good enough. On time, within budget. Meeting spec, after all, is your job.

You end up, if you’re talented, with something good enough.

Is that enough? Is good enough enough to win? To change the game? To reinvent your organization and your career? In a crowded market, when all the competition is good enough, not much happens.

Good enough is beyond reproach. It’s safe at the same time it represents quality. Good enough demonstrates effort and insight and ability. People rarely get fired for good enough, which is a shame.

If you redefined the objective to be, “makes some people uncomfortable, changes the entire competitive landscape and is truly remarkable in that many of the key people we reach feel compelled to talk about it,” what would happen?

First, it would require significant risk-taking. Which would include the risk of failure and the risk of getting fired (omg!). Can you and your team handle that? If not, might as well admit it and settle for good enough. But if you’re settling, don’t sit around wishing for results beyond what you’ve been getting.

Second, it would mean that every single time you set out to be remarkable, you’d have to raise the bar and start over. It’s exhausting.

Third, it means that the boss and the boss’s boss are unlikely to give you much cover. Are you okay with that?

I hope so. It’s worth it.”

For some reason this post reminds me of the 1992 David Mamet movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” and the line delivered by Alec Baldwin’s character (this is my best attempt to recall the lines)… something like “First place, you win a Cadillac. Second place you win a set of steak knives. Third place, you lose your job.”

Battery Powered

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Sonex Electric

A friend of mine built a Sonex in his garage (see image below). It took over a year, maybe two. He’s old school, for real. He actually flies the thing, and apparently very well. He’ll admit to being amazed every time he lands safely, though.

, in partnership with , has announced an electric engine powered version of the two-person sport aircraft my friend built in his garage. He also drives a Prius, so this new offering from Sonex has got to drive him nuts. Anyway, Sonex president John Monnett revealed at a press conference in late July that the plane was part of a company plan to offer electrically powered, sustainable aircraft. This plane uses lightweight proprietary electric engine technology powered by ten “safe boxes” that house eight lithium-polymer batteries each. The company hopes to extend the current flight time of 45 minutes to an hour by using more efficient versions of these batteries, and says it will be exploring ethanol fuel options as well.

Really, this is cool from several angles. First, anything with an electric engine gets the nod. Second, owning your own aircraft is not for the faint of heart, and handling the expenses of ownership, especially the fuel costs, can be challenging. An electric engine mitigates the need for expensive aircraft gas. Third, small aircraft are usually powered by engines that are seemingly lifted from lawnmowers. That means they are noisy and tend to kick out a fair amount of pollution. An electric engine will be much more quiet, and obviously much more friendly to the environment.

Just for fun, here is an image of a Sonex kit similar to the one built by my friend:

Sonex Kit Layout

I would not ride a bicycle that I built myself, let alone fly an airplane that I had anything to do with assembling. I always have leftover parts.

So, How Big Is The Gun?

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Accelerated Plasma Clouds

Something about Sunday evenings and being pleasantly distracted by cosmology and astrophysics. It relaxes me.

So, the image shown above was captured by the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. It depicts supersonic trails of plasmic hydrogen forming in the wake of enormous high speed iron objects, “bullets” if you will. These bullets are being “shot” through the humongous clouds of molecular hydrogen that comprise the Orion Nebula (around 1400 light years from Earth). Astronomers estimate that these bullets are traveling at greater than 1000x the speed of sound. That’s fast, but it is nothing compared to the fact that these bullets, a cute analogy really, are sized beyond our comprehension. The typical diameter of one of the object tips (just the tip!) is roughly 10x the size of Pluto’s orbit around the Sun. Let me say that again. The mere tips of these objects are…

TEN TIMES THE SIZE OF PLUTO’S ORBIT

Pluto is , by the way.

Let’s recap and feel incredibly inconsequential in the process:

Objects made of iron, larger than our solar system, are moving 250 miles per second through even larger clouds of colored gas.

More on the

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Highway Sign Update

Great in todays New York Times about the work being done to update the ubiquitous highway sign. Now, I am not a graphic designer… though I play one on tv, but I will admit to being among the first to get totally geeked out about this sort of thing. Here’s why. This is the culmination of a near ten year effort by a team including an environmental designer and a type designer. Their goals? Improve readability at a distance and at speed. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Think about the generational differences in the audience and how (or how well) those audiences see. Think about the variables… like inclement weather, fog, night, dusk, dawn, differing road speeds, oncoming headlights, and screaming kids in the back seat. Needless to say, these folks had a lot to think about.

Roadsign Typography

This article is a terrific window into an evidence based design process. 10 years is a long time, but consider that the current road sign design has effectively been in place since the 1950’s. That is serious longevity for any design, and really, the efforts here are building on the effectiveness of the original sign system, while also addressing its deficiencies. This is an excellent example of graphic design being deployed to solve serious real world challenges, and help us all get to where we need to go.

Image from the NYT

A Small Change That We All Can Make

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Plastic Bags Suck

At the expense of being preachy, I offer the following. As of late, the innocuous plastic shopping bag is getting loads of media attention. No surprise, we use millions of these things each day. No surprise, they are clogging our landfills, waterways, and generally making a mess of our environment. They are incredibly dangerous to wildlife, too. The problem is so serious that cities are beginning to ban their use, as evidenced by the recent developments in . What is odd is how easy it would be to eliminate totally their use by simply not using them. At the grocery store, opt for paper. Shop with reusable bags. Figure out alternatives.

This is one of those small things that we can all opt to change, and collectively begin to have a significant impact on the environment. NO MORE PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS. Opt for paper bags and either reuse or recycle them.

Quote Of The Moment

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Bruce Mau

“So long as architects self-marginalize by purposely excluding the business of development and its real burden of complexity and decision making from their education, from their business, architecture will remain a gentleman’s weekend culture, unwilling or unable to take on the heavy lifting and big problems, happy to polish fancy baubles for our urban entertainment.

The business model for architecture is singularly unsuccessful. One in a thousand architects can afford to enjoy the pleasures that they are capable of producing for others. Architects accept enormous risks without the commensurate rewards. It is time, in this new millennium, to get dirty, to take on more of the scope of urban projects, to contribute more to a sustainable future and to participate in more of the wealth architects create. The world would be a better place if more of what we built in our cities was determined by people educated and trained with culture, civic awareness, aesthetic sensitivity and historical knowledge. I look forward to the first school of architectural development!”

– 50 Manifestos, magazine

That, my dear friends, is going to leave a mark.

Sir, Please Step Away From The Massively Armed Robot

Friday, August 10th, 2007

SWORDS - Future Combat Systems

This story has already been everywhere and I meant to post about it last week, but have been inundated at work and sadly… Schneiderism takes a back seat to the rest of my life.I looked at my draft post again this morning and thought there was an important perspective, and one I’ve not seen yet approached in the media, on the deployment of heavily armed robots to combat situations that warrants investigation.

First, a summary of the details…The story involves the first armed robots being deployed in Iraq for use in urban combat situations where human soldiers would be dangerously exposed to snipers, ambush, and roadside explosive devices. The robots can be armed with a mix of weaponry, including high-powered M249 machine guns, grenade launchers and automatic shotguns. The robots are called SWORDS, an acronym that stands for “Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System”. Presently, the robots are remotely controlled by human operators either on site or located at a distant support base. Soon, though, and reference the previous post about the autonomous robots being tested by the British Military, the armed robots discussed here will be fully automated. According to an interview on with Chief Army Scientist Thomas Killion, this is the ultimate goal of the military robotics program. Said Killion in that interview, “the FCS [Future Combat Systems] program is demonstrating semiautonomous vehicles where they can do a lot of planning and execution on their own and they really only have to essentially call home to a soldier that’s controlling it when it needs additional guidance.”

The realization of modern science fiction aside, this marks serious progress in the field of robotics… and unfortunately this innovation is being driven by the military. No doubt, these robots will save lives. Saving lives is a very, very good thing regardless of your stand on the war in Iraq. No doubt these robots will also take lives, and therein lies the rub.

Robotics is a major human undertaking, and one that creates as much optimism as it does dread, concern and fear. Robotics and AI programs driven by science, by engineering, and by academics seek to use robotics as a way to address human needs. There are enormous implications for huge segments of our society not normally served by technology, or not normally those to access it or to seek it out. Think about the robotic benefits to the elderly or the differently abled? Think about the implications of robotics to commerce and logistics? Really, the ways that they can enhance our lives are only limited by our imagination. The reality that many of the advancements in robotics are now under the aegis of or the Pentagon saddens me only because this means that essentially they will be the first to benefit from the latest advancements in the field. Nothing new, there, really. But in the field of robotics so much has been driven by erstwhile humanitarian focused goals. This is a tedious distraction.

Original story via