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Archive for December, 2007

Be Less Bad – TerraPass

Monday, December 31st, 2007

be nice to this

We’re all bad for the environment. We know this, and while a great many of us acknowledge this reality, the norm is still inaction. Sometimes, outside of knowing what NOT to do (like driving a car) it is hard to understand more proactive things that you CAN do to lessen your personal impact. My family did the Secret Santa thing this year and my father gave my wife the coolest gift I have yet seen. He took action and purchased for her car for the next year from . I had read about TerraPass previously at in an interview with one of the founders. Both my wife and I agreed that this was an exceptionally creative and thoughtful gift. It motivated both of us to learn more.

TerraPass is the brainchild of at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with 41 of his students, Karl launched TerraPass in October, 2004 as a way to help everyday people reduce their climate impact. Within its first year, TerraPass registered over 2,400 members, reduced 36 million pounds of CO2, and earned countless national press and blog articles. To date those numbers are more in the range of 75,000 members with CO2 reduction now nearly 703 million pounds.

The TerraPass website offers a nifty for tabulating the carbon footprint of your driving, air travel, home ownership, dorm room… even your wedding. Using the calculator, you can purchase carbon offsets to balance your lifestyle and work towards the ultimate goal of living carbon neutral. We are going to purchase offsets for my car as well (about $33/year), as well as offsetting the carbon footprint of our home (about $195/year). While this is a small thing in the greater scheme of global warming and climate change, it is very definitely a step in the right direction and is important in terms of making us aware as much as offering the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.

More and .

Of Work, Not Place

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Cover of TC Tenant

Bear with the shameless self-promotion for a moment while I make a point.

Yes, that is me on the cover of a local commercial real estate publication. It came out last month and something about the interview with me inspired them to put me on the cover. Good times. The point of the interview was a conversation about how the modern workplace has changed, and will continue to change, and how my firm is beginning to experiment on itself to navigate this change and determine those workplace innovations that work, and those that do not. This is as much about organizational dynamics and ergonomics as it is about technology and communications, and it is part of a much larger exercise we are undertaking to develop a comprehensive program and master plan for our office and studio environments. By 2010 my firm will be in a new environment, and ideally one that we own, and this programmatical exercise will inform the type of space we ultimately need to occupy. It is also the inception of a longer term plan to treat our entire office environment as a laboratory, to experiment on ourselves, and be able to model different workplace innovations for our clients by using our own environments as proof of concept. Currently, we have an experimental area of our office, featured in the magazine, that is a studio dedicated to one comprehensive project, and we have used this studio to co-locate the central project team of 8-10 individuals. The space is flexible, surrounded by collaborative tools, and emphasizes the immediacy of communication. It is not private, it is not perfect, but it is a valuable experiment and the quality of work from this team has greatly benefited as a result.

The point that I want to make is that without having experienced and experimented with workplace innovations and organizational concepts it is impossible to appropriately represent them to our clients. For lack of a better expression, this would be “walking the talk.” A significant focus on this blog has been the concept of “the workplace of the future”, but what does that really mean? It means an environment that is about the work to be done and not about place. It means that substantial thought goes into the way an organization works, into its culture and business strategy, and how a work environment can manifest in support of these key aspects. It means that the conservative notion of office organization and layout is not only increasingly irrelevant, but actually counterproductive to the longer term success of a company. At its core, this is the physical embodiment within the environments that we create of superior occupant quality, of environments that are supportive of work and task while also enhancing health, well-being, and ultimately productivity. We know that an environment that we create today may be challenged anywhere from one to five years from now, that is how fast organizations and the markets within which they operate can change. The challenge to us is how we build in flexibility and anticipate this change so that we create value on behalf of our clients that allows their work environments to grow and change in advance of the demands of their markets and their people, without sacrificing the occupant quality of the environment. This is workplace innovation, and at its core involves a thorough understanding of organizational dynamics, occupant quality, product design, communications, materials technology, cultural analysis, and of an organization’s long term business strategy. These are the catalysts to the creation of successful work environments, and it mandates a rethinking of legacy notions of office and a focus on innovations that begin with an individual person’s needs and experiences as they relate to the physical environment.

Military Robotics Roadmap 2007-2032

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Unmanned Systems Allocation Chart

I recently read through the Defense Department’s and found it absolutely fascinating. We are watching our military evolve right before our eyes in ways that are quite paradigmatic, and will most likely determine the nature of the next century of war fighting. I have frequently posted on interesting developments with respect to robotics on this blog, and have pointed out before the significance of the Defense Department having a cohesive and longterm strategy as it relates to robotics, that the innovation pendulum has already begun to swing from research institutions and private industrial ventures to the military industrial complex. This would not be the first time this has happened, as in the last century, for a time, innovations in aircraft, communications, GPS, and even materials technology was largely driven by military determination, budgetary abundance, and need. The graphic above lays out the unmanned systems capabilities by status and military branch deployment, and it is comprehensive. A similar graphic from five or six years ago would have had about 20% of this graphic’s population. In great detail the report catalogs current capabilities contrasted against specific needs that require further research and development as the investment in unmanned systems technology continues to grow. In effect, it is indeed a detailed roadmap that lays out the developmental action plan to meet the Pentagon’s growing needs for robotic systems of all types. These needs are:

I. Reconnaissance and Surveillance

Expressed as the number one priority, being able to accurately monitor areas of interest in detail while maintaining covertness is highly desirable. Systems in use are already successful, but require standardization and interoperability to better support the increasing diversity of Defense Department users.

II. Target Identification and Designation

Lacking as a current substantial capability, the ability to quickly and positively identify military targets in real-time is a definite need. Combined with reduced latency and improved precision munitions, this capability would further the effort to minimize the risk assumed by “manned systems” while offering better operational effectiveness.

III. Counter-Mine Warfare

Sea mines continue to be a significant threat, and since WWII have caused more damage to US vessels than all other weapons combined. Combine this with the constantly changing IED threat facing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is a real need for improved and superior mine countering technology. Further development of unmanned systems to identify, mark, remove and or destroy both land and sea mines is a significant need.

IV. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Reconnaissance

The report expresses two substantial needs related to CBRNE, both the ability to efficiently find weapons and to accurately survey affected areas that have been compromised by them.

The roadmap is the result of more than 18 months of work between the Department of Defense, the services and other military and government agencies. While past reports focused primarily on unmanned aircraft systems, there have been significant successes with test deployments of other supporting unmanned systems and the new document subsequently addresses land-and maritime-operated unmanned systems, as well. It is the DoD’s determination that the integration of all the robotic systems are the future of DoD integrated operations from both a systems perspective and also from a joint-service perspective. Integration and interoperability are keys to maximizing the utility and effectiveness of the various systems discussed. The report goes on to elaborate on a series of goals as it relates to unmanned systems:

  • - Improve effectiveness of unmanned systems through improved integration & collaboration
  • - Achieve greater commonality and interoperability of systems, controls & communications
  • - Develop standards that support safe operations & integration with manned systems
  • - Implement standardized protective & safety controls for unmanned systems deploying arms
  • - Utilize rapid prototyping, rapid deployment & real world testing to fast track development

The report is extensive, at nearly 200 pages, but the chart below lays out robotics/unmanned systems capabilities timeline for the next 25 years. As I stated previously, by 2030 the military as we know it will cease to exist and we will have a very, very different operational force.
Military Robot Roadmap 2007-2032 graphic


100 Years of Oscar Niemeyer

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Oscar Niemeyer - 1972

Earlier this month an icon of modern design and architecture celebrated his 100th birthday. , the highly regarded and respected Brazilian architect, turned 100 on December 15th. He was an early innovator and pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete, and his stunning work blankets the cities of Brazil, but especially in , the newly conceived capital city for Brazil for which he famously did the planning. Neimeyer continues to practice architecture (old architects never die…), and is active in projects that include a new city in Algiers and a cultural center for Avila, Spain.

Niemeyer is a committed communist, having joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1945, and an atheist. Fidel Castro once exclaimed that “Niemeyer and I are the last Communists of this planet.” That aside, he began practicing architecture in 1934 and maintains a nearly 75 year legacy of design and innovation in the practice. Some images of Niemeyer’s work:


The Palácio da Alvorada, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, was the first building to be inaugurated in Brasília, in 1958 (two years before the official inauguration of the city).

Niemeyer theater

Theater in Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil, which opened in October 2005, in a park Niemeyer designed in the early 1950s.

museo carnie meyer

Oscar Niemeyer Museum (NovoMuseu), in Curitiba, Brazil, completed in 2002

Robots Claiming More Dangerous Jobs

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Offshore oil platform

In the very near future, possibly as close as 2015, oil and gas drilling platforms at sea may be controlled and monitored remotely by humans safely ensconced somewhere on land. In a laboratory financed by , a simulated robotic drilling platform already exists to test systems and to prototype operations. Offshore oil and gas drilling is dangerous not only due to the confined space in which the heavy drilling equipment must operate, but also due to the variable weather conditions that can make human operation of these platforms problematic. And costly. Employing robotics to run the platforms will eliminate the risk to humans of running the platform, and also greatly reduce the cost associated with human operation. The insurance alone will be a tremendous savings. Additionally, robots will be much less susceptible to the extremes of weather and encounter fewer interruptions in operation. Though we’re still drilling for fossil fuels, this seems to be a much smarter and safer way to go about it. The utilization of robotics in an application such as this seems a logical extension of the technology, and a smart combination of automated robotic manufacturing with the use of remotely controlled robotics in high-danger scenarios such as urban warfare.

Clearly, we are very much at the beginning of the application of robotics technology in a diversity of industries, and this is partly because robotics technology is still in its infancy. But the technology advances exponentially, and we will begin to see robotics used in ways analogous to the automated oil platforms like mining, agriculture, firefighting and construction.

“Failure Leads To Understanding” – Burt Rutan

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Burt Rutan & SpaceShipOne

Actually, the full quote from Burt Rutan is:

Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.

That puts him in alignment with a number of innovation leaders, those that believe that success is born out of learning from failures and capitalizing on that learning. In an intensely competitive world, not fearing failure and successfully mitigating and taking advantage of risk can be the difference between whether or not you are relevant next year. Anyway, a comment on my post What’s Left For Architects offered up a quote from Burt Rutan in reference to his employees at , the company building , shown behind him in the photo above. Here’s the quote:

“You don’t get the privilege of designing something unless you have the capability of building it with your own hands.”

That’s a powerful statement, and incredibly prescient for a number of industries, the most obvious for myself presently being architecture. Architecture in the United States has done an impressive job moving about as far away from the actual making as possible. In many ways this has occurred due to a fear of failure, and a fear of risk. But that’s changing. Slowly. Stay tuned. Moving on, the comment and the quote it contained motivated me to do this post on Burt Rutan. Easily one of the most prolific innovators and leaders in the world of aerospace, Rutan is championing the first privately funded venture to put humans into orbit. Back in 2004 he and his team won the highly publicized for successfully sending SpaceShipOne into orbit. Twice. In two weeks. I do not think that NASA has ever accomplished that with the same launch and orbital vehicles. Though they suffered a earlier this year, Rutan and his team are still focused and unwavering on their goal set. That is because this is a really big deal, and smart business people like see the enormous potential of broadening our access to Earth orbit. Beyond SpaceShipOne, though, Rutan has a laundry list of innovations and achievements including , the first aircraft to circle the Earth without refueling. The man is a relentless, tough, smart, designer, engineer and collaborator. He is also an accomplished team builder, and while it may be his name that is linked to all of these achievements, his success has been from putting together exceptional teams, and supporting them. I leave you with one last smart quote from the man:

“If you don’t have a consensus that it’s nonsense, you don’t have a breakthrough.”

How We Look At Building Performance

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

We can only go up

One of the most comprehensive and significant ways in which we can positively enhance the health of individuals, and society, in relation to their interactions with the built environments that we create is through the applied concept of building performance. Building performance is a broad organization of how these environments affect us. This occurs on both a micro, or personal, level as well as a macro, or broader societal level. At the micro-ergonomic level it has to do with the ways buildings balance human factors and provide basic environmental elements and systems that support health and well-being. This includes lighting and daylighting, thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics and privacy. While these all seem like logical qualitative elements of a healthy environment, we all know that they still go largely disregarded. With this is the macro-environment of a building, or how it performs in relation to the whole and in relation to the greater community. Ideally, a building that adheres to certified standards of building performance has been designed with a sustainable agenda and incorporates not only energy savings, but also schema for rain water runoff, waste and recycling, materials life-cycle, and systems that minimize the need for natural resources.

Historically, the science of building performance has done much to honor the perspective and experience of the individual, to ensure that the design of these environments is not in conflict with the health of those who will ultimately inhabit them. More recently, and in line with the larger sustainable movement within design, is how the inclusion of building performance analysis as it impacts the greater environment, and how it exists within this greater context. Taken as a whole this is a sensitive approach to building design, one that embraces constraints that ensure that architecture design is indeed doing no harm. This might sound trivial, but it is a growing movement. Sustainability and human factors are gaining ground within the design of products and services, and those early to this holistic approach are seeing the first financial and productivity based results.

Resources for more information:

Project Echo

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

1960 Nasa Project Echo Balloon

This post was initiated by one of my xmas presents. My good brother gave me a subscription to a newish arts and culture magazine called . On page 13, as part of a really terrific article on the history of giant spheres, was the above image with a paragraph explanation. According to Cabinet, in 1960 NASA launched Echo 1 (the balloon pictured above) which qualified as America’s first communications satellite. This was not enough information.

The image above depicts a giant aluminumized satellite balloon, the same balloons that most likely account for +90% of all UFO sightings during the 1950’s and 1960’s. This is because from 1956 until 1964, engineers and scientists at the Langley Research Center developed a series of these spherical called “satelloons.” They were part of a much larger project, named , that was the United States’ initial foray into orbital communications. Project Echo served as our proof of concept for orbital communications satellites, and anticipated the looming space satellite race between the United States and the Soviet Union (who kicked it off with Sputnik in 1957). These satelloons, like the more than 100-foot diameter aluminumized balloon pictured above, were one of the inaugural projects for NASA, which was only officially established in 1958 in an effort to fast track our nation’s efforts to get America into space. In his 1995 history of NASA Langley, Space Revolution, wrote:

The Echo balloon was perhaps the most beautiful object ever to be put into space. The big and brilliant sphere had a 31,416-square foot surface of Mylar plastic covered smoothly with a mere 4 pounds of vapor-deposited aluminum. All told, counting 30 pounds of inflating chemicals and two 11-ounce, 3/8-inch-thick radio tracking beacons (packed with 70 solar cells and 5 storage batteries), the sphere weighed only 132 pounds. For those enamored with its aesthetics, folding the beautiful balloon into its small container for packing into the nose cone of a Thor-Delta rocket was somewhat like folding a large Rembrandt canvas into a tiny square and taking it home from an art sale in one’s wallet.

These satelloons were initially conceived as research tools to collect data on the density of the upper atmosphere. The original research proposal put forward by a Langley engineer named William J. O’Sullivan called for a 20-inch balloon, which was soon increased to 30 inches. The size of the balloons would jump exponentially as the demands for more research, and the accompanying payloads, would increase in intensity. Eventually, we made the jump and just stuffed the gear into satellites that were in turn stuffed into the payload bays of various re-purposed intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Nine years after NASA was experimenting with balloon based communications satellites they put astronauts on the moon in 1969 as part of the Apollo manned mission program. Is there an equivalent for that kind of progress today?

Don’t Fear Mistakes, There are None

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Miles Davis - Birth of The Cool

That headline is a famous Miles Davis quote. I watched an absolutely kick ass documentary about Miles Davis this evening. I have always loved his music, but really did not know that much detail about his life beyond what is part of the legend. The documentary is “The Miles Davis Story” from 2001 and it is full of live performances, recording sessions, and interviews with Miles. Without a doubt, the man was on a mission:

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

I love the design of those old album covers from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

White Space

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Google’s offices

“White space” is a term describing areas within flexible work environments that represent the diversity of work styles and the supporting environments sought by people who demand alternative ways to work. White space is the focus of an in the New York Times, and follows an employee at an advertising firm as he spends his time being productive everywhere but at his desk. I think that is a terrific name for a flexible work environments, one that is more about our work and less about place. At its core, white space challenges the traditional notions and expectations of how we work, and the environments that we work in, and represents the growing movement in office design to provide employees with flexible space that can adapt to their tasks and their work styles.

Realize that this is not a generational thing. Most people, regardless of age, would prefer flexibility in their work environment and the freedom to tailor that environment to what is optimal for them. That might mean working at a stand-up desk, or while sitting in a common area. Also, the tasks that we need to perform, the work that we need to do, over the course of a day can change dramatically and are better supported by environments that can flex with these changing needs. What do I mean? Think about the productivity savings if meetings did not have to be in conference rooms and always scheduled for an hour. What if, in lieu of a fixed desk, an office was actually made up of a diverse series of work areas with each supporting specific types of work… from intense concentration and focus that might require quiet privacy, to a raucous and energetic brainstorm, to an open and ongoing collaborative environment that fosters easy communication and connectedness. The net result is a radically different approach to the way we work, and one that defies the 1950’s notion of an open plan work environment. Finally. Beyond this, though, it yields very different space demands for companies that ultimately result in smaller, more efficient office environments which changes the real estate equations and potentially saves tremendous investment in space.

A good example of an office environment that successfully blends white space is pictured above and is one of the environments in Google’s headquarters. Much thought and research went into their environment with the ultimate goal being real support of their people in their work. Google realized that tying people to desks is limiting, and in a fast moving and innovative company the people that make it up need to be fast moving and innovative. The environment of their offices is a manifestation of this need. People are rarely at their desks as they are busy engaging in work that is collaborative, impromptu, and occurring over a large campus. A desk would take them out of the flow.

While Google might be an extreme version of this, suffice it to say that more and more companies are seeing the value of white space in their environments. We know that the office as we know it has been under siege for over a decade. Our work has intensified to a point that the traditional office environment can no longer keep up. The value is in adaptive, flexible and customizable environment that empower and support people and allow them to tailor the environment to the immediate task at hand.

The Assault on Reason

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Lego Moses

I really struggled with this post, but in the end felt compelled to put this out there. The election process that we are all being subjected to, the process that will ultimately choose the leader of the free world, is a joke. Instead of intense focus on the candidates’ perspective on the real issues that our nation faces, there is distraction after distraction and meaningless investigation into issues of faith. This is happening with both parties, and with people who may or may not actually be “religious” at all, but our process mandates that they act the part of the pious politician in order to participate and at least have a hope of being elected. During a debate a couple months back three Republican candidates, asked about their views on evolution, expressed concern with its validity, one of them saying that it is as yet unproven. Huh?

I think the Democrats are worse, though. This is because their sudden conversion has more to do with having parity with their Republican counterparts and not alienating the vast majority of people in this country who believe in a god. I get that, but it totally chaps me. What of science, of reason, or rational thought? What of the responsibility to not mislead? It is depressing, really, to realize we have another eleven months of this process and the exposure to candidates who may best be described as disingenuous. What has happened to our country?

I seek reassurance. Something I find interesting is the catalog of confirmed non-believers, of atheists, who have constructively and positively influenced our society and our culture. Here is an incomplete list of known atheists that I find reassuring in these times of feigned religiosity, offered in no particular order:

Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Noam Chomsky, Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Albert Camus, Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Benjamin Franklin, Ayn Rand, Charles Darwin, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Bertrand Russel, Kurt Vonnegut, James Madison, John Adams, James Joyce, John Lennon, Walt Disney, Oscar Niemeyer, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Orwell, Charles Schultz, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, William Howard Taft, Thomas Edison, Stanislaw Lem, Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Wozniak, PZ Meyers, Angelina Jolie, Lance Armstrong, David Attenborough, Eddie Izzard, Penn Jillete, Ira Glass, Dick Cavett, Ingmar Bergman, Clive Barker, J.G. Ballard, Brian Eno, Ferdinand Piech, Gore Vidal, Ted Turner, Bruce Sterling and Steven Soderbergh

I would like to point out that there are five former presidents on this very incomplete list. We can dream. I leave you with the following quote:

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it.”

John Adams

Former President and Founding Father of the United States

More , and .

What Did Apollo Do?

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Orion Crew Capsule

That question is on the whiteboard of Bill Johns office at , and is his mantra as he engages in what is perhaps the most important program for the U.S. space program in the last thirty years. The question has a box around it with a “do not erase” pointing to it. Johns is a senior manager at Lockheed Martin, which in August 2006 won the $8 billion contract to build the next generation of NASA’s reusable space vehicles. Called “Orion,” and depicted in the rendering above in orbit around the moon, this crew capsule is being designed to take six astronauts into orbit in support of the International Space Station, or four astronauts to the moon. The , initially the darling of an aggressive NASA in the 1970’s and 1980’s, continues to be plagued with problems and technology challenges. That, and it is incredibly expensive and inefficient to operate. NASA is decommissioning the three remaining space shuttles in 2010. It should be noted that as a wide-eyed 10 year old I wrote a letter to NASA expressing my own excitement with the shuttle program. Not only did NASA respond, but they sent me an enormous trove of images, press releases, and an autographed photo of the first shuttle crew. That was 1979. I think I speak for many when I acknowledge the disappointment that has become the shuttle program.

The Orion crew capsule, part of the larger , is scheduled to replace the shuttle by 2015, leaving a five year gap in the United State’s ability to get into space without any help. This is a bit of a digression, but it is important to point out that during those five years we will see a proliferation of space exploration and orbital entry vehicles from Japan, China, India, Russia, the European Space Agency, and private ventures like Virgin Galactic. We are at the beginning of a new space race, and the competition is intense.

So, there is a lot of pressure on Bill and his team. And $8 billion is not that much money for a program of this importance. That is the equivalent of about six weeks of expenses for U.S. operations in Iraq. Needless to say, the Orion and Constellation programs have some daunting challenges to overcome, and it is how they are overcoming these challenges that is immensely interesting. Here are some details on how they are doing it…

1. Build on the successes of the seemingly antique :

  • - Apollo is the model for Constellation, put a crew capsule on top of a giant rocket
  • - The hatch for the crew capsule is from the Apollo capsule with minor changes
  • - One of two heat shield technologies being tested is the one used for Apollo
  • - The reentry parachutes are slightly modified versions of those from Apollo
  • - The launchpad for Orion will be a rebuilt pad that originally launched Apollo 10

2. Take advantage of “off-the-shelf” technologies, which are superior to those currently in use:

  • - Flight control computers are engineered versions of those used for the Boeing 777
  • - Much of the avionics electronics are from already existing and massively tested craft
  • - The solid rocket boosters will be modified versions of those from the space shuttle

3. Utilize a “small,” agile and innovative team:

  • - The team that created Apollo numbered in excess of 400,000
  • - The Orion team is made up of 1600 at Lockheed Martin and 600 at NASA
  • - Orion utilizes rapid prototyping and environment testing with actual astronauts
  • - There is a focus outside of the space program for innovation (like NASCAR)

original story via

What’s Left For Architects?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Shark fin by John Isaac

That’s a good question, and one the answer for which is elusive. Architecture, as a profession, is changing. It is also being subjected to change. Architects and architecture firms have little, if any, control over this and fight to stay ahead of the change. This involves technology, liability, commoditization, and asymmetrical competition (among many, many other things). While the world has changed, architects have retreated behind flimsy ramparts with a “let’s just wait this whole mess out” mentality, a recurring theme on schneiderism. This evening I came across a post on , a Malaysian, studying in Australia, architecture student’s blog which I have been frequenting (great writing, great perspective), that was a full-on shot across the bow. It was the posting of a comment left by a person who did their work in understanding where the value stream lies in the built environment. Here’s the entire comment as it is worth the read:

“I’m not an architect/architecture student. I’m a cad monkey. I did not chose architecture but I chose building design because the course was only two years, vs 5-6 and a 5 digit HECS debt.

It wasn’t just that, though.

I called lots of architects and building designers and the continuous complaint I heard from both is “grad architects are useless, they don’t know anything about construction or costing.” Also, there was the fact that building designers (evil, soulless creatures that we are) get 85% of the design work out there – and the grad architects I spoke to were only making 35-40K a year. Looking at Job ads, I realized that a building designer with 5 years experience earns around the same as an architect with 5 yrs experience (85-100K)-and the building designer has no HECS debt.

From my contact with the building industry so far (very minimal) it seems that architects have gotten a bad rep for often being impractical with actual building and structural specifics.

Construction is at the heart of building design and architecture. Whichever is better, if you don’t know construction and are depending on others to provide it you’re wages will reflect this. It’s that sentence, “As per engineers specifications” – everytime you write that, what you’re saying is, “I’m not capable of working this out, I’m referring it to someone who can -” and that engineer will be better paid than you because his skills are more necessary. A long time ago architects did all this technical planning themselves. The only modern equivalent is Santiago Calatrava. He says, “As per MY specifications.”

The more divorced architects become from the origin of their profession the less necessary they will be to it, and they’ll be paid less.”

Now, this comment echoes the reality of the place that architects have created for themselves. The money issue is but one manifestation of this place. The real implications are that for a process that was once architect driven, managed and owned… architects now find themselves sometimes totally ancillary, and not necessarily useful.

Pioneer Innovation… Business at The Frontiers

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007


Just read a terrific that is absolutely right on and intersects perfectly with The Upside by Adrian Slywotsky, which we discussed here a few weeks back. If you’ve not read this book, do. And soon. Then, let’s chat. Both expand on the whole “Innovate or Die!” theme. The article starts with the assertion that we must learn to embrace the edges of our businesses, edges being the outer limits, the danger area, the unknown. Edges are the peripheries of the global business environment, the places where innovation potential is the highest. The article asserts that comfort with operating at the edge of your business and industry is the most expedient way to identify opportunity and advantage. More:

“Edges define and describe the borders of companies, markets, industries, geographies, intellectual disciplines, and generations. They are the places where unmet customer needs find unexpected solutions, where disruptive innovations and blue oceans get birthed, and where edge capabilities transform the core competencies of the corporation.”

This is important from the perspective of Slywotsky’s concept of strategic risk assessment. First, the edges are the frontiers, the limits, of what is known and accepted, of what has worked up to this point. It is beyond these frontiers where tremendous opportunity resides. Change is self-sustaining as the business environment continues to speed up with improved technologies, communications and time-to-market. And heats up with changing customer loyalties, expectations, and need. In this intense environment we see ideas constantly delivered by companies from the frontier (and quickly), and we also see this opportunity and innovation fundamentally change companies and markets with stupefying speed. We have been inundated by game changing innovation and change, so much so that we are sometimes jaded to it. But think about how business has changed in the last ten years. This change has not only been exponential, it has been paradigmatic. This has been driven by a diversity of catalysts, the most obvious being technology, communications, the internet, and globalization. Companies that harnessed these drivers found themselves in a very different place. Those that did not, most often, disappeared. Adrian Slywotsky’s ideas in The Upside really begins with the notion of surveying the frontiers for strategic risk. Slywotsky asserts that nothing can beat robust strategic risk assessment for both identifying and mitigating potential threats to a company’s health and well-being, but also for identifying what game changing opportunities for innovation might be highlighted as a result of that assessment. Both the article’s authors and Slywotsky agree that for companies to innovate they must understand what is happening at the edges of their business, and to innovate they must bring back from the edge ideas that challenge the status quo in products, markets and practices.

The Myopia of Design Thinking

Friday, December 7th, 2007

i like it, what is it

You hear the words “design thinking” a lot, and with greater frequency in the last year of so. It is not a new concept, by any stretch, but as the value of design has sparked the interest of a growing diversity of businesses in a wide range of industries, you are hearing it with more frequency and in places you might not have a few years ago. This hype around design thinking is also causing some conflict, as beyond the reality that few actually agree on what it means, even fewer people seem to understand what impact it might have on their business, or how to properly apply the concept. Here are four design thinking references pulled from the first page of a :

  • : Design thinking is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues. The stages of this process are suggested as: Define | Research | Ideate | Prototype | Choose | Implement | Learn
  • : Design thinking is collaborative, abductive, experimental, personal, integrative and interpretive
  • of Adaptive Path: Design thinking is defined by a focus on customers, finding alternatives, ideation and prototyping, wicked problems, diverse influences, and emotion
  • : As an approach to understanding, design thinking is the establishment of needs, wants and goals, the defining of what is involved, the exploration of possibilities, suggesting possible solutions, innovating on your ideas, evaluating and measuring your success, and applying what you learn.

These are just from the first page of the search, which yielded 11,700,000 results. Reading through these four interpretations of design thinking there is commonality, but in a pretty vague way. Really, none of them are incorrect. It is that some have a more elaborate or well thought through concept of what design thinking is, and how it works. I do not think that anyone would argue that design thinking, as an approach to understanding and problem solving, does not offer a valuable alternative or complement to other methodologies of addressing problems and yielding solutions. The danger, though, is with the prevalence of the phrase and the hype surrounding it, there are situations where it might be the only approach considered. With the limited understanding and agreement on what design thinking really is, there are serious risks with thinking that it is a panacea for all of the problems we face. Clearly, it is not.

Without a doubt, design thinking is a buzzphrase, and with this is the real risk that it should be the de-facto approach to any kind of creative problem. This is limiting, and will ultimately produce solutions from only a certain perspective. Think of design thinking as a tool, and one that supplements the other critical analysis tools that are already at our disposal. When you approach problems with the appropriate tools, the path to solutions is well defined and supportive of goals. When you force a tool on an approach to a problem you stand to pervert and damage the process. Yes, design thinking is valuable, and it is especially valuable to clearly understand what it is, and is not. But it is in addition to the other tools for analyzing, understanding and measurement that exist.

There Is No There At Sun Microsystems

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Underground carpark

Sun Microsystems is six years into a program that takes full advantage of their technology and is modernizing the way their employees work and adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. This Open Work program has met with tremendous success, and anticipates the type of radical change we are beginning to see more progressive companies embrace. At Sun, more than half of their employees do not have an assigned office space in a fixed location. Employees are allowed to work wherever and whenever it suits them, and Sun arms them with the best in mobile technologies to support this.

Why is Sun doing this? Because they can. The cost of maintaining a legacy notion of “office” is incompatible with the concept of an agile, adaptive, and flexible workforce… especially one that is determined to do business where their clients are. Are they saving money? Most definitely, and in the range of $250 million. This is radical, innovative and apparently effective. Sun is now in Open Work as a consulting sideline business to other companies. For those of us in the workplace design and innovation space… we should be taking note and work to balance this with our own efforts to effect change in workplace environments.

Paul Rand: Simplicity Is Not The Goal

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Paul Rand

I was reading about devoted modernist, design theorist, teacher and graphic designer and came across this choice quote:

“Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.

Learning more about Paul Rand brought me to the short film produced by for his posthumous induction into the One Club Hall of Fame this year. From the film, which is much of Rand’s work brought to life with a narration pieced together from his many, many interviews:

“Don’t try to be original. Just try to be good.”

Paul Rand (1914-1996)