Everyday Turbine

Conveying concepts in dynamics, fluid mechanics, and electromagnetism, this everyday turbine is hidden in most households. It’s a simple and fun way to teach kids about physics.

1 Beer or Soda Can
1 Voltmeter
1 Empty Blank CD Holder
2 50' Coils of Copper Wiring
1 Old Rollerblade Wheel
1 Rollerblade Bearing
28 1/4"x1/4"x1/16" Neodymium Magnets
1 Rectifier
1 Capacitor
1 Breadboard
and some wires with duct tape...

What the Nerf?!?! Rapid Prototyping at its Best.

Today, an undergrad decided to shoot me with a nerf dart. His weapon of choice: PVC pipe blow dart, lung powered. In retaliation I went to the local hardware store. One ball pump, five feet of rubber tubing, one water hose nozzle, two feet of copper pipe, and three hours of work later I went hunting for undergrads. The rubber tube can hold 200 psi of air... need I say more?

Arduino + Servo + Emotiv headset = A Bad Hair Day

I finally got a chance to sit down and play around with a servo, arduino, and an emotiv headset (www.emotiv.com). This is a proof of concept video, and the headset is currently set to read facial gestures. I haven't put in the time to train my thoughts with it yet. Hopefully more complex mechanisms will be built shortly. Enjoy.

Explaining Design to Non-Designers

Yesterday's trends have empowered the individual to become connected with the tools to learn and solve just about anything they can question. Today's local and global communities are being pressed by tomorrow's problems. The issue of sustainability and the need for peaceful coexistence in a highly interconnected world is forcing individuals to re-imagine the communities they inhabit (Design Research for Sustainable Social Innovation by Ezio Manzini). This sets the stage for designers to engage with communities with multiple stakeholders. We, as designers, need to act as facilitators and teachers of design methodology to these individuals that are envisioning the social changes of tomorrow.

A step in the right direction is facilitating dialogue with non-designers. One possible form of charting their way into the design realm is to give them a road map while also acting as a guide. It would be futile, let alone morally problematic, to monopolize on design via a culture that excludes all others (Manzini, Action Research and the Practice of Design by Cal Swann). Visionary community members will attempt to become the facilitators for multiple stakeholders. Depending on their experiences with group dynamics, they will or will not approach the conflicts that arise with the correct framework. As opposed to managing conflict by pacifying it, one should accept it as a natural part of group life (Paradoxes of Group Life by Smith and Berg). A complex issue I've also been struggling to wrap my mind around.

These visionary community members may fail the first few times, and either they're going to get it right or they'll never try it again fearing future failures. I think designers should be present in the process to guide these individuals and their communities. In part, designers will be reminding these individuals of their available resources and help them think through problems. The end result will be far richer, both for the community and the designer. However, reminding the community of its resourcefulness requires the designer to clearly explain the design process to non-designers. I feel that this task has been surfacing for myself because I want to be able to succinctly articulate the role of a designer to anyone that asks.

I've had to confront explaining what I'm learning to my own community: explaining to friends and family the methodology I'm learning. I tell people I'm learning design, and their preconceptions of design history obfuscates where design is going. They assume I must be learning how to creatively design products for a consumer. I tell them that it's both true and false. I then go on to explain that design is not limited to products. It's a process that can be applied to find and solve problems, this process can include topics from ethnography and anthropology to the digital medium and politics. It leaves room for change, which I think is key to discovering complex and complicated problems and successfully innovating. In the initial phases of a design project, it can be tempting to settle with a single problem. Struggling with this temptation and remaining open to new information will allow one to see how other issues affect the problem that's being defined.

Problems can be interconnected, and several issues that seem unrelated at first could have the same root. Solving the root will result in a kind of domino effect where the problems connected to the root will also be solved, partially solved, or create a new context to understand the connected problems. Mapping problems out and attempting to draw connections between them will create a branching structure, much like a tree. These connections capture cause and effect relationships between problems. This causal tree is a map that can aid the designer in showing the community the relationship between problems. It is a way to begin chipping away at the community's complex situation.

Determining the causal relationships between each problem is a bit tricky because the designer will only have a hypothesis of how the problems are connected. Setting up some experiment is vital to determining the strength of connection between problems. For example, going into the community, the initial problem may be to solve the lack of safety for children at parks. Then, upon further exploration and interaction with the community, the designer may discover that the true problem is to confront the members of the community about their refusal to engage in constructive dialogue. The designer will then have to determine whether or not the latter problem is causally connected to the first problem. This is discovered through further interaction with the community, prototyping different solutions, and gauging the community's reaction.

My personal engagements with friends and family – non-designers – worry me that they don't see the value that's added in having an outsider within the community. A designer is an expert facilitator of information. Designers innately drive themselves to absorb as much information as possible and to understand the circumstance or challenge before them. Eventually returning this information to the community, restructuring it in new and compelling ways, will allow the community to look at itself from the outsider's perspective. The more self-aware a community is about its operations and activities, whether they're economic, political, organizational, etc, the better odds the community has at solving the problem and meeting the needs of all its members. Designer's don't necessarily solve the problem, they set the stage for the community to gain a better understanding of itself and its resources. Designers show the community opportunities. It is now the responsibility of the community to respect its members and create a solution that enriches everyone's life.

Design vs. Business: What Value Does Design Add to Business?

Businesses have realized the need for an integrated design process within the framework of providing effective products and services. This integration has not been smooth. There is a push and pull between design and business. Though this tension gives rise to conflicts that can be harnessed for rich solutions, the underlying 'us' and 'them' mentality needs to evaporate. I think part of the reason for this tension is because of the inability of designers to articulate to business folk their core skills at abstraction and the nature of businesses to hedge risk for future decisions, prototypes, and ventures. These two groups need to meet each other halfway. They can't blame one another for their miscommunications and expect the other to change. Since I'm coming from the design perspective, I will attempt to articulate the value that designers can add to the business realm.

In the past, design was usually been brought in when there were problems with a product or service. This is when the business wants a more compelling look, feel, or brand identity. In other cases it's figuring out the nitty-gritty of a product's design. The designer's process of communicating with all departments and aspects when designing a service or product is an ability that can be leveraged to solve wider issues. At the designer's core is an ability to abstract the world and interactions with people. These abstract models are then visualized and externalized, but are also iterated to maintain newly discovered information. Avoiding the microscopic detail of a model allows for flexibility. This allows for the designer to insightfully frame the problem to the business. Essentially, as the two work together, businesses and designers can make use of existing resources within the business to be used for new applications. The end result is a flexible, organic, and robust business model.

A change in the business model will result from where the value is perceived to exist. As an example, value can be present in the product or it can even be in the services provided to a target audience. It's important to stop sometimes and ask whether or not you're perceiving value in the desired place.  As businesses realize that their business models are not as fixed as they believe, they can then leverage their existing resources to take advantage of different sources of value.
Suggested Readings:
Design Thinking and Design Management: A Research and Practice Perspective by Rachel Cooper, Sabine Junginger, and Thomas Lockwood

Designing Business: New Models for Success by Heather M.A. Fraser

Design Research: The IDEO Way

The design firm IDEO has been leading the market for the past decade or so. They've perfected their design research methodology and gained a unique position in their market (http://www.businesslistening.com/ideo-product-innovation.php). Design research picks up the ball where conventional research methods fail. Traditional methods compare new ideas to those of the past, and accordingly, it filters out the truly revolutionary and disruptive ideas. These are the ideas that cannot have their economic values directly measured because nothing else like it appears in the market place. I'm assuming most people have heard of conventional research methods like focus groups, data mining, trend analysis, etc. So I'll jump right into the nitty gritty of design research.
Design research insists that the entire group, from engineer to marketer to manufacturer, become intuitively understanding of the product or service being provided. This research process involves the entire group in the brainstorming session. This inclusive methodology paves the way for a holistic perspective and approach to the development process of the product or service (http://www.businesslistening.com/ideo-brainstorming.php). I think the common vocabulary built up by the group during these brainstorming sessions actualizes a lens for the research to be filtered through. The design research that's undertaken will then fall into three categories: generative, evaluative or formative, and predictive (Informing Our Intuition: Design Research For Radical Innovation by Jane Fulton Suri).

Generative design research involves looking to the world around oneself in order to find experiences, patterns, and opportunities that are conducive to innovation. For example, Jane Fulton Suri observes the thoughtless acts people perform in their day-to-day life. She observes the group conformity of placing empty paper cups on a counter only because a few others have conveniently left their cup. Walking along a line on a sidewalk and wrapping our tea bag strings around a cup handle are thoughtless acts that spark innovative opportunities (Thoughtless Acts by Jane Fulton Suri, see also: http://www.thoughtlessacts.com/). Evaluative or formative design research is the continual learning that goes on throughout the entire scope of the project. As new information pours in while the group brainstorms, prototypes, and observes, remaining open to this new information furthers the holistic understanding. Evaluative research can be done in tandem with or sequentially between generative and predictive research. It creates a constant flow between different research methods. Predictive design research considers the business viability of the product or service. If the product or service is truly disruptive, it probably doesn't have a predefined market. This means that “there is tremendous pressure to provide estimates of business potential to guide decision making” regarding the innovation (Informing … Innovation by Suri). The innovation's potential will become clearer as the development team undergoes several iterations of prototypes. The information learned about the deliverable should then be used to further refine the groups intuition. This sets the group on its next iteration of the design process (Figure 1).
IDEO and similar design firms have been destigmatizing intuition as a reliable innovative tool. As undirected as intuition would seem to be appear, it is supported by design research and funneled by the common vocabulary of the group.

It all begins with our cyclical design process
Figure 1: Courtesy of MiD (http://mid.uarts.edu/program/process).

You may also enjoy reading:

Fourth Order Design: The Underlying Structure of Communities and Moral Obligations of Designers

The design field is widening its scope as the world becomes smaller, tighter, and more complex. Designers need to be able to place themselves in the middle it all. Doing so, provides a vantage point to understand and make evident the invisible relationships present in the community. Depending on the context of these relationships, one will simply be rephrasing the same overall theme that is present in all communities. The community needs a responsible designer and the designer needs a responsive community. Otherwise, progress will not be based on an understanding that discovers subtle relationships.

from neuroscience and philosophy to design: some thoughts on thinking and solving

Design needs to leave its philosophical baggage at home, take a taxi to the airport, and fly to the far east. Our philosophical past, in reference to western philosophy is rooted in Descartes' dualism and his famous conclusion 'I think, therefore I am' (Meditations by Descartes). His conclusion was formed logically and consciously. This has created an adverse environment for proposing different ways of solving problems. We are stuck in the mindset that useful thinking only occurs on the conscious level.

The stories of great mathematicians, musicians, and philosophers that suddenly see the entire solution or composition in their mind’s eye as they walk to the coffee shop should have provided some clue as to the mind’s operations. People sometimes call this phenomenon intuition or a gut feeling. These misnamed terms incorrectly point to the emotions that appear to subjectively tilt people’s choices one way or another. They are pointing to the effect and not the cause. Intuition is the effect of subconscious processes and causes taking place just below our conscious mind (Mind time by Benjamin Libet). In the business and professional world, intuition is stigmatized and is a form of problem solving that is avoided. It is seen as illogical because the process is not explicit. On the contrary, human activity is implicit from day to day and realizing this will allow for a liberating design methodology.

Senior Design Project

Five person team designing and fabricating a three-wheel RC car. I designed the power train and used the machine shop to fabricate a few parts of our vehicle.

Wing Design

Four person team designing a wing to a set specification. I programmed a variation of the Monte Carlo Method into Matlab to create and optimize the structural design of our wing. I had to take into consideration variables such as location of spars and ribs and determine necessary wall thicknesses to withstand the required shear stresses, bending moments, and forces exerted throughout the structure.

Sample Return Mission to Mars

Within this twelve person team I cooperated with another teammate on trajectory analysis, and I focused on spacecraft propulsion systems and launch vehicle specifications. I calculated the required change in velocity from Earth to Mars and back again. This allowed for the quantification of fuel and thrust needed to be attained by a combination of launch vehicles, and chemical and ion propulsion systems. Thus, I could properly size the nozzles and fuel tanks.

Commercial Supersonic Transport (SST)

This project was the design of a SST for the 2030 to 2040 time frame. I worked on engine design, which was based on material advances planned to be available during the time period. I calculated performance, thrust, fuel consumption, and designed the necessary intakes with supersonic inlets inspired by the XB-70 and SR-71. Extensively using Matlab, I formulated a flight regime that would permit a theoretical 9000 nautical mile range and Mach 2 cruise capabilities. This six person team finally presented the designs to the professor and class.

Sustainable Design: Vacuum + Leaf Blower = V-Flower

In this project oriented class, my teammates and I developed a multifunctional device replacing both the vacuum and leaf blower. Our goal was to design a product with minimal environmental impact when measured from cradle to grave. We accomplished this by combining two separate products that are closely related. This created fewer overall parts, and we took into consideration ease of assembly and disassembly for the sake of recyclability. I was in charge of financial comparisons of materials that can be used and finding appropriate sustainable manufacturing processes. I used the Okala standard via Sustainable Minds software to enhance the design of our product.

Technology Management: Entrepreneurship - Renewable Energy Business Plan

Individuals would pitch a product or service idea to the rest of the class. Students would then form teams around the ideas that stood out against the others. I attracted enough interest from fellow classmates to form a team around my idea. I took the role of a mock CEO, leading a group of four in writing a business plan around an innovative small scale wind turbine concept for urban application. I coordinated the team to perform market analysis via SAS, provide marketing and sales solutions, manage possible risks, and prepare a five year financial plan.