Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Gadi Amit: The Designer Behind the Fitbit

Meet Gadi Amit. He is the Israeli designer behind the Fitbit, the Palm Zire, and multiple products for Dell and Netgear and the owner of the design firm NewDealDesign. In my opinion, Amit is the epitome of creativity: he blends art with functionality and technology, creating products that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are useful.

Amit, 51, who is originally from a small suburb in Tel Aviv, seemed destined for a creative career. His parents were both architects and LEGO blocks were Amit’s favorite toys, just like his father’s. It is no doubt his parents influenced Amit’s creativity at a young age, encouraging him to appreciate art and technology equally. In high school, he studied technology and science and later enrolled in the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Post education, Amit worked as an industrial designer with various design and manufacturing companies.

At his small firm NewDealDesign—which only employs about 30 people—collaboration between the designers is responsible for much of the firm’s success. There are different “collaboration rooms” that mimic the different stages of a product’s design. The rooms provide space where the designers can draw colorful sketches on the walls, in an attempt to draw (literally) inspiration for the general structure and color of a product. The next stage is construction, which Amit says is the most important. This is where he encourages his staff to work with all sorts of materials (wood, foam, paper) before they move the design to the computer. He believes computers “kill the serendipity of exploration” and believes in the importance of “play” to create a strong product and company.

Amit appears equally motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors, as discussed in Collins & Amabile’s article on different forms of motivation. His main goal is to create products that interact with people in multiple ways, allowing for an aesthetic, practical, and sophisticated experience. He is always aiming to think in new, innovative ways. He also seems to be motivated by the demand for his designs, but he is careful not to get too carried away; projects can take up to one and a half years to complete. Overall, Amit is a fantastic example of a creative and if you are interested in his/his firm’s work, you can check out NewDealDesign’s website here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One small device for heating and one large leap for smart homes

How would you like your home to be automated enough that it knows when to turn on the heat, when to turn on the air conditioning, and when to keep it off? To know that when you are home, and when you aren't? To make these decisions on the fly without you telling it to make these decisions?
Well in 2011, Nest Labs came out with v1.0 of the Nest learning thermostat. This thermostat combined machine learning with sensors, wifi-connection, and bluetooth can learn to adjust the heating and cooling of the house based on your location and time of day. It's programmed software is amazing at optimizing the energy usage in your home by creating a smart thermostat. This is a product that is able to learn the user's behavior, and because of the level of information it can receive it can intuitively allow for max optimization of energy efficiency in regards to temperature control. This smart thermostat, is a bit pricey but it is said over 2 years you will have made your money back through the energy savings that will be made due to the smart object. Nest Labs has also created besides the smart thermostat the Nest protect, and Nest camera which are their implements of a smart smoke detector and security camera. 

Nest was partially founded by Tony Fadell who is considered the "godfather of the ipod"[2], who set out to create a thermostat that was more advanced and efficient than anything else out their. Tony Fadell is considered one of the top innovators of the 21st centuries. Best described by when talking about Fadell winning the Alva award: "Author of more than 100 patents, Tony Fadell embodies the spirit of the 21-century inventor. From the Sony Magic Link to the Philips Nino and Velo, and from the iPod and the iPhone to the Nest Learning Thermostat, Tony’s incredible creations have disrupted industries, introduced beautifully designed solutions, and changed the way we live.".[1] Tony Fadell when talking about his creative process, he talks about his innovative ideas rising up from his frustration over why things do not work or have yet to be invented. He also accredits his creativity from his background of curiosity and learning he inherited from his grandfather. He also says he gains his insight from learning how to perceive the world in how it is built, and being able to reassemble the world in a different manner.[1]

Tony Fadell is considered a great creative because he is able to spot the problems with existing technologies and is able to present solutions. This derives from his unique way of seeing the world, in which he abstracts he object/idea down to its fundamental building blocks and question its efficiency and usefulness. This parallels Einsteins method of abstraction in which Einstein would question the reality of his surroundings with the philosophical and mathematical revolutions of physics in his thought experiments. 

Here is a video of a interview with Fadell about his creativity:


Biolite Tackles "Energy Poverty"

Many families in poverty and low-income communities around the globe use open-indoor cooking wood fires that emit smoke resulting in 4 million deaths annually. They live in what is known as “energy poverty”, which is the lack of resources and availability of electricity and access to power. Many of these communities are surrounded in areas where other forms of fuel can be found besides the traditional use of kerosene, which can be dangerous and detrimental to health. This inequality gave rise to the engineering and design of Biolite stoves. Biolite stoves use a special system that “reduces particulate matter and carbon emissions by up to 90%” and “requires 50% less fuel than a conventional open fire”. Biolite stoves use wood without harmful emissions. In addition, any excess heat is converted to electricity so that individuals may charge their phone or other devices. The brand has expanded to include other products such as cooking accessories, solar panels, lights,, and other fuels forms.

The creativity for Biolite stoves and other products came together when co-founders Jonathan Cedar and Alec Drummond realized there was a demand and need for fuel efficient sources. They realized the dangers of “energy poverty” by barring people from access to “health, economic opportunity, education, and gender equality”. Thus they formed Biolite stoves which have expanded to include other products but also the journey of the whole company is on the bioliteenergy website. Customers can see the chain-effect and resourcefulness of Biolite products on “The Road to Impact” where co-founders and other company employees blog about the success of the company and educate others on seeing the energy inequalities that our global neighbors face. This form of communication allows a more personable connection from the company to the customers, and shows how much Biolite truly cares about their mission. They also talk about how their mission for Biolite is a consumer model because their attempt at philanthropy could not meet the needs of their customers and business model. By exploring the “Road to Impact” the consumer model has been successful and popular, allowing for more creativity and innovation.

Co-founders Cedar and Drummond met at Smart Design where their instant need for challenging problems brought them to the idea to found Biolite. Cedar worked at an engineering design company, Smart Design, and as a ship engineer for Sea Education Association. Drummond is an avid camper who noticed the issue with fuel being wasted on camping trips but then noticed how many stray branches were left everywhere as potential fuel sources. Drummond has been working at design companies such as Smart Design for over 10 years. With both an engineering and design mind, both founders were able to combine their respective fields to create Biolite as a functional and resourceful product. Their motivation for the company is intrinsic and one of those seeking challenges. They both wishes to solve greater problems that the simple issues they encountered in their day jobs. This kind of motivation stems from an intrinsic need to do more than simply create for reward. In addition, their initial attempt to make Biolite a philanthropic effort speaks more to their intrinsic motivation rather than simply starting the company to become rich. Their effort to connect to their customers and ability to create a diverse network around the globe and cater to the needs of others is an indication of their character and drive to work for a greater good.  

Hebru Brantley: Chicago's Artist

A Chicago native, Brantley grew up on the south side. He did not become involved with art in any traditional sense as a child, rather he was interested in the 90's graffiti style that was common in his neighborhood. Looking back he states, "It was all about getting your name up wherever you could." As he comments in the video above, extrinsic motivation played a huge role during this time in his life. He constantly wanted to do a more unique or eye catching style than another street artist, that was what drove his art. At the age of 16, his mother gave him a book on Jean-Michel Basquiat and gave more inspiration regarding street art and self expression through this medium. 
Jean-Michel Basquiat, inspiration for Brantley
Brantley went off to college to study film, but dislikes the lack of creative freedom that was allotted in the industry. In an act of defiance and desperation, he began sneaking into classes at the Art Institute of Atlanta. It was here that he learned of artists outside of the street art movements. He sold his first work in 2002 which prompted him focusing solely on art as a career. 

Basquiat's influence in still seen in Brantley's work through significant influence from African American culture and a realistic portrayal of urban living, but now with a focus on Chicago. Notably, some of his painting also have a pop art feel inspired by none other than Andy Warhol. Additionally, he no longer identifies his motivation as extrinsic, but rather aims to tell a story than to compete with his peers. He hopes that his street art can help to inspire and motivate youth to look more into art and other artists. A few of his popular works are below: 

Everyones Scared 
Riding High 
The Watch
Brantley's works can be most easily identified in they contain his iconic character, Fly Boy. Fly boy has graced walls, canvases and sculptures. This character has become associated with the city of Chicago, further showing the significance Brantley has on the city and the city has had on his art.

Hebru is quickly becoming a favorite artist among musicians such as Jay Z. Brantley actually credits music as playing a large role in his creative process. He describes himself as energy driven and considers the music to help shape the tone of each piece. In a sense he lets the music take control and almost "zones out" during the middle of his work, allowing his subconscious to mingle with the music. 

Brantley has also done several collaborations with others artists from various backgrounds. Perhaps the most well known was for Chance the Rapper's "Angels" music video. Throughout the video, Chance personifies the Fly Boy character. The animation done throughout the video is from Hebru Brantley's Studio and the video was directed by Austin Vesely, a long time friend of both Brantley and Chance. These three Chicago artists were able to come together and create something iconic and uplifting for the city. This ability to work with others is a strength of Brantley's and there is no doubt that the impact of Chance's works has shaped some of his art due to his use of music throughout his creative process. 


Functionality & Frugality in Furniture

You probably can't pronounce their names, but if you're a college student furnishing your very first apartment, you've probably seen them before. In fact, you've probably built some. I'm talking about Ikea furniture. 

Inexpensive yet modern-looking, Ikea has been a go-to place for thousands of people to furnish their homes without breaking the bank. But have you ever wondered who designs all this furniture in the first place?

Ilse Crawford is the British interior designer who has designed the SINNERLIG collection, comprised of more than 30 furniture pieces, categorized into working, dining and lounging. 

If there is anything that Crawford places above all else in creating her spaces and products, it is the human experience. "The basis of the collection," Crawford said, "was to bring emotions values into that [mass manufacturing] system and come out with products that are not only sustainable but people really love." Crawford was not motivated extrinsically with the success and reach of product development and a big name like Ikea, but intrinsically motivated by the desire to develop experience for the owners of this furniture. 

You can see this in the products she designs. Her team decided to use cork for the tables and chairs to utilize sustainable materials. The stoneware used a Vietnamese dip-dye process-- making each and every product unique. Individuals could choose which dip-dye design they liked to fit their individual likes. The process of designing and using mass manufacturing to produce them took 3 years. 

On the subject of designing tables, she calls the measuring tape the most simple, yet important tool. A measurement as small as three inches could mean the difference between confrontation and conversation. "Tables can be metaphors for power and confrontation; the conference table is wide and long and the one at the top is the one that pulls the strings," she says. She prefers informal, oval tables that allow more people to join in on the conversation. 

Ilse prides itself on not just developing products, but also developing an experience-- which is why she has also been asked to redesign Ikea's restaurants over the next ten years. Her goal is to have the design change how families, especially children, think about their food choices and the effect these choices may have in the future. 

"Design is a tool to enhance our humanity. It's a frame for life," she says. And so she may be framing the way that we experience spaces, from the Ikea restaurants to our very own homes. 
“Abstract: The Art of Design, Interior Design: Ilse Crawford”. Dir. Elizabeth Chai Vsarahelyi, Morgan Neville. Radical Media, 2017. Netflix. Web. 18 April 2017.


The world has become much more eco-friendly in the past few decades. However, there are some things that we are only willing to compromise so far on­, such as cars. Air pollution is a huge problem, but how do we fix something that we can’t even really see?

The creators of AIR-INK have come up with a solution that benefits the environment and culture at the same time. AIR-INK is a startup that turns air pollution from cars, trucks, generators, etc. directly into ink that can be used safely for art.

            Step 1: putting the collecting device on the exhaust pipe of a car
            Step 2: process all the bad stuff out
            Step 3: use the ink for art!

The product is not only reducing pollution, but it is also being used as a political campaign to increase awareness about the seriousness of pollution. In just 45 minutes of collection from an exhaust pipe, one whole pen can be filled. This really puts in perspective just how much pollutant is released into the air in a short period of time. In addition to perspective, the startup is creating murals using its own ink, adding to street art and in turn to culture.

This product was created by Graviky Labs, spearheaded by Anirudh Sharma. Sharma is an inventor who studied with MIT and has been recognized for other projects; he has even made Forbes 30 Under 30. Sharma dropped out of college and made a name for himself based on his interactive creations and collaboration. It is clear that Sharma is passionate about bringing forth the best qualities of many disciplines to create something useful.

“That fusion of art, that fusion of expression, and science… when it happens, I think new magic appears” -Sharma

Not only is Sharma inspired by interdisciplinary collaboration, but he is also inspired by the culture he is surrounded by and the problems people face every day.

“In India, there are so many problems around you. Either you crib about them or say let’s solve them, let’s do something about it. There’s a big opportunity here” -Sharma

In the article “Creativity Across Cultures,” Lubart discusses the interaction between culture and creativity. In some cases, the culture can be a “channel for creativity” because some domains are especially prominent; in others it can stifle creativity. For Sharma, it seems like his environment has provided him with a channel to not only solve a problem but create something beautiful out of it. And who knows, maybe this idea can be expanded onto larger scale things such as factories, or maybe be a mandatory feature on a car?

Culture and product definitely have a two-way interaction, and with political figures pretending climate change doesn’t exist, hopefully AIR-INK will act as a wake-up call and inspiration that solutions do exist to our continuing environmental issues.

“Let’s Keep Coral Around Because It Looks Nice”

            “Coral” is a word that causes most people to generate a similar mental picture. The image usually involves a beautifully serene world filled with an abundance of life and color. The most common thought associated with the term is the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. These amazing ecosystems are generally known for their magnificence and beauty. Yet, coral reefs play many different but important roles. In addition to providing a habitat for about 25% of marine life, coral reefs protect coastlines from tropical storms and natural effects of waves, help with nitrogen and carbon fixation, assist in nutrient recycling, and are a source of essential nutrients (like nitrogen) for marine food chains. With so many important functions, it’s astounding that the reefs are in such shape. Oh, I forgot to mention that about 60% of coral reefs are threatened by a whole list of human-related activities. As of 2006, around 10% of coral reefs in the world have died. These startling figures have prompted emergency responses by many marine and governmental agencies. One such organization is the MOTE Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, specifically Dr. Dave Vaughan, Executive Director of MOTE’s Tropical Research Laboratory.

Dr. Dave Vaughan

            Dr. Vaughan has made significant strides in coral reef restoration. He has been working toward coral reef restoration for over a decade and has had the unfortunate opportunity to see the devastation mankind has had on coral. The issue, he points out, is that coral grows at an astonishingly slow rate. This complication proved almost too much for Dr. Vaughan and his team. He describes his frustration in the video (see below) and how he accidentally discovered the technique of microfragmenting. While transferring one piece of coral the size of a small stone to another tank, a few small pieces broke off and were left behind. Dr. Vaughan describes how he thought they were going to die by themselves. To his astonishment, the coral grew at an amazing rate and reached the size of coral that would have normally taken 2-3 years. Dr. Vaughan began experimenting with this technique of microfragmenting and discovered that it was not a random isolated incident, but actually a natural phenomenon that increases the coral’s growth rate significantly. He has since used the technique in his restoration process and believes that he will be able to take a few slow growing corals off the endangered list in his lifetime.

            As for Dr. Vaughn’s creative process, it follows the scientific guess and check method. His chance discovery of this technique pays little tribute to the time and effort that he has contributed throughout his life. Yet, one had to have put all this time and effort in to notice the changes between the old and new ways of coral growth. In addition, Dr. Vaughan had nearly limitless motivation, both internal and external, to make a new discovery in his field. The importance of coral reefs, as previously described, goes beyond the fact that they “look nice.” This fact was clearly important to Dr. Vaughan demonstrated by the fact that he refused to retire when given the opportunity. Intrinsically, Dr. Vaughan feels a sense of urgency and importance. Even after a demoralizing revelation that coral simply takes too long to adjust to the quick environmental changes evoked by human interactions, Dr. Vaughan refused to give up because of his internal drive. This situation is summed perfectly by Csikszentmihalyi when he says, “the identification of problems that hold the potential for creative solutions is partly driven by an intense interest in curiosity about the subject matter and by perseverance rooted in the intrinsic rewards experienced by those engaged in processing information.”

            Dr. Vaughan knew that his work was important and worked hard to make a change. He had the internal motivation to pursue a task that even he, himself thought was impossible at times. He happened to be at the right tank, at the right time and the rest is history.