Design

I love a blank canvas. I see opportunities.

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postcard of Baker's human cantilever bridge model
I see opportunities.

Building human bridges. This is the focus on the 10 City bridge Run. Building a human bridge is a design challenge for you and your friends to resolve. The form and function, how many people, the story, how large or small. These are all decisions for you. But note the bridge is also metaphorical of addressing child mortality as part of the solution to this problem. Will that also be part of your narrative?

During March 2011, I am asking people around the globe to build and then take photographs of human bridges. These photographs will be collected and curated as a ‘pictorial petition’ for delivery to the G20 Summit in Paris asking them to make a decision which specifically mentions reducing child mortality in their Final Declaration after the summit meeting in June 2011.

Lindy Johnson from the Queensland Government’s Creative Industries Unit expresses a vision which could be a motivation for building a human bridge:

I love a blank canvas. I don’t see roadblocks, I see opportunities.

Prototype and reinvention = the freedom to fail expectations

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Team Australia Talk
Team Australia Talk

This morning at breakfast a friend David Greatorex who has considerable experience running marathons inside of 3 hours gave me some advice after hearing about my injury. “You know 25% of people who set out to run a marathon following a three month training program never start the race. Injury around the second month.”

John Best was the guest speaker at breakfast. Previously the team doctor to the Wallabies (Australian Rugby Union team). He spoke on ‘How we are wired and how can we function best?‘ Speaking about the highest level of sporting professionals, he mentioned the pressures of public scrutiny and need for acceptance which people respond to that are not altogether helpful. After a period of time, even the most valuable of trophies fade away…

David gave me some advice afterwards in relation to my endeavour to go running: “Those sportsmen almost have no choice. You do. Don’t be compelled to run because of what others expect.”

Fred Chaney is a mentor who has given me some of the best advice I have received. I know he would caution me against racing into something just for the sake of doing what I said I would. It is that pressure that I am feeling on myself at the moment.

Good design thinking emphasises the need for prototyping and reinvention. This requires the freedom to fail expectations of others in the pursuit of concepts that might work. This is different to perfectionism. It is about tolerating game-play and learning.

If I am serious about design as part of the 10 City Bridge Run, I think I do need to say that at present I have developed a design brief as a prototype that seeks the partnering and co-creation from others. My instinct is that the next month until the end of the year is best spent in opening this conversation of design, prototyping and partnerships. Maybe the optimal execution is to commence the run at the beginning of the new year. This is a process of raising awareness and learning- not a race to finish runs.

Let me fail your expectations, maybe failing my own expectations most significantly, of completing this run before the end of 2010. I think it calls for co-creation for more prototyping and reinvention before the project is ready to begin.

Can design change the world?

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Project H Design
Emily Pilloton: Founder of Project H Design

Emily Pilloton from Project H argues that used correctly, design process can let appropriate solutions emerge from within in this TED Talk. Having design in your toolkit brings a fresh perspective.

But what does that actually mean? It is much easier to just throw these terms around than give them meaning. Pilloton refers to ‘design as learning’, and working locally to create a catalyst for a more connected global community.

In my own reflections this week of what I am trying to achieve through the 10 City Bridge Run I have found this helpful and challenging. I am carrying a small injury from overtraining, I have already delayed the start six times across the last two months, I am not convinced that I have fully developed the idea or conversation that this initiative is about. Should I just start in the hope that a solution magically emerges?

If I consider these ‘false-starts’ as prototypes and game-play to understand new perspectives, and every conversation as an opportunity to build partnerships and concepts that might work how might that strengthen this as a project?

Pilloton argues that design is process of constant education, where we need to reinvent ourselves, to re-educate ourselves around the things that matter. “Working outside of our comfort zones more” for me might mean to let go of a schedule and perceived control to imagine a new future co-created for a better learning landscape.

Just buzz words? I think Pilloton is right when she speaks about the power of the small story.

A step in the right direction.

Why a bridge?

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The bridge is an important metaphor for joining people, institutions, conversations, ideas, communities and places together. The bridge is a universal metaphor. Everyone understands the purpose of a bridge is and how it is used. A bridge has multiple functions, including:

  • Crosses a gap. Overcomes differences.
  • Joins two or more communities that otherwise are separated.
  • Gives more options.
  • Makes travel easier.
  • Connects cultures, ideas, differences.
  • Requires work from both sides for it to be structurally sound.
  • Good foundations needed, along with spans of the right material and length, as well as stable supports.
  • Allows help to be given. Allows someone to accept help when offered.

We seek to build a bridge between the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (specifically Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality) and the G20 (19 largest economic nations and the EU). This bridge requires the participation of many people to make this happen.

If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.

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IMG_4813

There is no substitute for real-world feedback.

Reposting an earlier post I wrote back in 2010 at the outset of the 10 City Bridge Run. All the details are still relevant, even if now overtaken by events.

There is no substitute for real-world feedback. Matt Mullenweg writes a compelling blog encouraging us to just ship it (this is the guy who helped bring us WordPress). He uses the example from Apple, and the development of iPhone. Steve Jobs commented in 1983:

Usage is like oxygen for ideas.

“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.” This is great advice. Today, the design challenge begins for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have a design brief with 9 questions I need your help with in co-creating the pictorial petition. Will you help? The link to the page is here.

Note to self (after Voltaire):

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

Thanks to Seth Godin for sharing and making this original post known.

Why more aid is not the starting point to solve poverty.

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Alan Kay and the prototype of Dynabook, pt. 5 ...
Alan Kay. Known in association with $100 Laptop.

Alan Kay is a genius. Here in this video he is speaking on “Why does computer-based teaching fail?”

Does this have anything to do with poverty? Not directly, but the idea is relevant. In fact, I would argue that through this argument we can see why aid is not the starting point to solve extreme poverty.

This is not the same as to argue for or against aid. It is a question of design. “We should design in order to think”, so says Tim Brown from IDEO. This is a similar argument that Kay presents here.

We should start with the idea, and then use aid as necessary to address the problem leveraging the idea. Ideas should be the start point. Not aid.

In the process of gathering 24,000 of ‘human bridge’ photographs during the 10 City Bridge Run, might it be possible to stumble across a few good ideas that could better leverage aid? Let’s hope so.

Think Big!

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IDEO
IDEO

Tim Brown from IDEO presents a new approach to design thinking in this TED Talk. He argues that through design, we can and should now be addressing new kinds of problems, not just ‘things’.

Brown suggests that we are moving away from a primary objective of consumption, and toward participation. The design of a participatory system is at the heart of the 10 City Bridge Run. Difficult in some ways because it is more an emergent and self-selecting involvement. How might we use this opportunity, this short space of time, to model what is needed to address extreme poverty? Of course, already there is a lot of great activity out there- Buckminster Fuller and Acumen are two examples that readily spring to mind.

Brown says there are a couple of characteristics which ought to shape how we view design thinking, and these also why ‘human bridges’ are an important device in shaping how the 10 City Bridge Run is defined:

  • Design is human centred.
  • It requires an understanding of culture and context.
  • Prototypes are important. We should build in order to think.
  • We need to take a divergent approach leading to new choices.

Since commencing this project, the start of the run has been delayed six times for different reasons. At first, I was a little embarrassed because of the delays, and still would have preferred to have started earlier, but when I look at them less as failures and more as prototypes it strengthens what the 10 City Bridge Run is about.

The big characteristic which Brown suggests is important is asking what is the question we want to address. This might appear self-evident, but is actually an important reason to pause and reflect.

Where the hell is Matt?

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A picture of Matt Harding at Yoyogi Park in Sh...
Matt Harding

Another great example of how an idea can spread. I can’t stand the expression ‘viral’- I think it is overused and abused. But think about what Matt Harding achieved through hus global jig. It is achieving more than over 32 million hits. It is the optimism that flows that connections are meaningful and possible.

I think this just happens. It is not something you can manufacture. This is not what I am referring to when I refer to a ‘design challenge’.

Design: Connecting to People

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Image representing Ze Frank as depicted in Cru...
Ze Frank

Ze Frank illustrates his sense of play and how he uses the “interwebs” to connect to people in this TED Talk. At its core, I think this is a design challenge. The ideas might appear spontaneous, but I think there is some craft or thought which is behind it all.

It takes people to connect to people. Watch the audiences enjoyment of watching the performance from Ze Frank. The art Ze Frank produces is first online with people connecting with people. It is wonderful that he can then connect this directly with people through this presentation.

What I really like is that is goes from the seemingly without function (dressing up vacuum cleaners) to addressing real human needs (reconciliation, love, support). Genius.

What is a human bridge?

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Ummm…this isn’t what I had in mind, but it is impressive. Could there be any other reason more important to build a bridge than this? I think so!