Like most people I know, I tend to get caught up in the day-to-day juggling act and lose sight of my accomplishments and forward motion. So I have been taking time during this first week of the year to reflect on the events of 2011 that were significant for me, and set intentions for 2012. And so, 2011…
– On January 2, 2011 I joined Hot Studio as the Director of Social Innovation, to formalize the studio’s approach to social impact projects. The first project we did was for Eve Blossom, of Lulan Artisans. We all admire the work Eve is doing in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and India to strengthen communities in order to lessen the risk of girls being sold into the sex trade by desperate families. Over the course of a day, a group of interaction and visual designers helped her define a minimum viable product for a new service she will be launching at SXSW 2012. Eve had a strong vision of what she was aiming for, and she was a great sport as we ruthlessly pared down a giant list of things she wanted at launch to what we determined was essential to create value. That process is one of my favorite aspects of designing. It’s easy to add additional layers of complexity into a product or service over time. But it takes immense discipline and discernment to get to the essence of something. And rest there for a moment.
– I began my study of biomimicry and the sustainability canon in a more disciplined way. Thanks to my many friends who have been through the Presidio Green MBA program, creating a reading list was easy. Thanks to a 45 minute bus commute to work each day, finding reading time was easy. I’m convinced that an understanding of biological systems is essential for any designer whether you’re creating chairs, a mobile app, playgrounds or fighting poverty. And though I have friends who argue we need to think beyond sustainability, I’m not convinced that there’s even a clear understanding of sustainability yet, nevermind what’s next. I go with William McDonoughs citing of the definition offered by the World Commission on Environment and Development, ”Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I think that about covers what we need to continue as a species.
– On the life front, I took my first trip to Hawaii. Wow. I loved loved loved it. My wonderful husband and I stayed in the North Country of Maui. I underestimated it, having been in the habit of running east, usually to Europe at every opportunity to travel. It is so beautiful. Unlike the tease of the Pacific ocean in California, the water is gloriously swimmable. And it’s an easy distance for a week-long getaway from SF. I came back resolved to explore the other islands. This Feburary we’ll be heading to Kauaii.
– I flew to snowy Boulder, Colorado for IXD11 – the Interaction Design conference. There were some great talks, and a few standouts. Brenda Laurel gave a keynote and talked about all the product experiments she’s been a “crash test dummy” for over the years. She is wise and visionary. And consistently ahead of the market. That’s a tough place to be in many ways, and I have a lot of respect for her. Bruce Sterling gave an eviscerating (in a good way) closing keynote. He talked about how woefully inadequate we interaction designers or user experience designers or …. are at explaining to people what it is we do. And he’s right, of course. But why? We map the terrain of domains using research and empathy, see opportunity spaces, create definition around solutions that makes change manifest in the world. Wait. That’s as vague as the rest of the descriptions that drive me nuts. Still need to work on that.
– Started work on designing the Zinio e-reader for the world’s largest newsstand. It’s a means to read magazines, or articles from magazines on an tablet device or the web. I thought a lot about the future of reading. I’m always at home working on media projects, but diving deep into tablet technology was new for me. I learned a lot from my great dev partner who co-designed with me. It was a great example of designer + engineer togetherness magic.
– I went to Austin for SXSW. After getting skunked every year with a product launch or other work thing that seemed like a big deal at the time, I finally got to experience it. It was crazy fun. I roomed with my friend Deanna Zandt and we giggled like 6 year olds for the entire week together and had an incredibly fun and productive time. Days were spent dreaming, scheming and co-conspiring about projects over food, drinks, more food and more drinks. Many of the dreamings came to pass through the rest of the year. I met new friends, and had a great time hanging out with people I know from various corners of my work life.
– My sometime co-conspirator Renee Anderson and I did user experience strategy and design for our friends at Alter Eco that should be live first quarter of 2012. They work with farmers throughout the world to strengthen sustainable agricultural practices, cultivate indigenous crops and create fair-trade markets for their products. They import chocolate, quinoa, rice and sugar. And chocolate (again, for effect). They are a great organization, and I’m thrilled to see them doing a re-branding effort for all their in-store products and their digital presence.
– Started developing a lightweight workshop approach to working with social entrepreneurs who need help clarifying their mission and product strategy. Creating sustainable business models for work that sustains people and the planet is one of the biggest challenges that I, and everyone I know working in social innovation is faced with. It’s rough. Workshops seem like a viable way. We’re experimenting with them. More on that when Code for America comes into the picture later in the year.
– I started working on two projects that carried me through the entire summer; PopTech and SOCAP11. I have so much respect for the PopTech organization. They support social and science entrepreneurs, do accelerator projects and convene a truly great conference of world-changers in Camden, Maine every year. It was great to work with their team on developing a data visualization-driven iPad app. I created the conceptual themes for the application. It was a super inspiring love-fest with the PopTech team. We hope to do more collaborations together.
– It was year three of working with the SOCAP11 (Social Capital Markets) Conference Producing team. I curated a Design For Social Innovation track and brought together 24 of the most kick-ass designers and design educators out there for 6 sessions that spanned three days. It was humbling and inspiring.
– I participated in a product ideation brainstorm with the super-smart Cheryl Dahle, founder of Future of Fish and Barton Seaver, sustainably-minded chef, and Future of Fish social entrepreneur. Cheryl’s organization is working on systemic solutions for fixing the broken supply chain of the fishing industry. She thinks big and gets shit done.
– Spent a week in the Hot NYC office working continuing to work on the PopTech project, paying way too much for lunch at Dean & Deluca and having a great time with the NY hotties.
– Dove deep into trend research around the future of business for the PopTech app. The case studies that most piqued my interest were in reverse innovation.That is, the trend toward the creation of products and services for customers in the developing world, based on research around their needs (as in actual human-centered design) and bringing those innovations back to the developed world. I love thinking that the days of us creating crap that no one needs (but a bunch of spoiled North Americans buy) and attempting to foist it upon the rest of the world, are in their death throes. The most optimistic side of me hopes that is true.
– Began working with Jerry Michalski to design a workshop we can offer in 2012. He is a delight to collaborate with. We’re working on a structure that will help people re-envision their industries toward better possible futures. And hopefully spin out actionable projects in the process. Fingers crossed.
– Hot began a project with Code For America. If you don’t know them, you should. They are an amazing team of ~20 engineers, designers, writers and project managers who work to make city governments work better. Last year was their first year of fellows who were working in four different cities building apps for government transparency. Gov. 2.0 in a nutshell. That’s them. We worked with them as design coaches and mentors on their collaboration with Civic Commons to build the Civic Commons marketplace. It launched in January 2012. Check it out.
– Began writing a Design Column for Shareable Magazine. I kicked off by interviewing Ezio Manzini, one of the pioneers of Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability. What an honor. We hit it off, and will hopefully do more together in 2012. I think his concept of slow, local, open and connected is spot on. Slow as in slow food and slow money; local as in human-scale and connected to source; open as in open to ideas coming from any direction and connected as in connected to communities with the same values and ethos throughout the globe.
– Ezio introduced me to the work of Amartya Sen, the Nobel-prize winning economist who believes that the proper ultimate goal of development projects is Freedom; for civil rights, healthcare, access to opportunity in self-determining a life. I feel like I need to re-read it already. It’s deeply humanistic.
– Dog days of summer. Crunched on PopTech. Read lots. Geared up for the fall
– Interviewed Cheryl Heller for Shareable and found a kindred spirit. We planned a session for SOCAP on concepting with Erica Priggen of Free Range Studios and Heather Fleming of Catapult Design.
– Spoke at the Commonwealth Club with Kevin Jones, Fiona Hovendon and Gary Bolles. The program was focused on the SOCAP conference, the idea of the social capital market and the role of design in social innovation.
– After the many months of planning the SOCAP conference happened. The design sessions got great feedback.
– Hit the road for Greece and Turkey. Explored Athens, Istanbul, Crete and Santorini. It wasn’t enough time, but it was glorious. Of particular interest is the Minoan civilization in Crete. I’ve been wanting to go there forever. It was a civilization with highly developed aesthetics, agriculture, wine making, architecture, civic society, sport and most notably, absolutely zero sign of warfare. That’s one to ponder. I have the feeling that might have been the apex of humanity to date, right there. 3,000 bc.
– The team of Hotties who worked on the PopTech app travelled together to Camden Maine. I wrote about it here. We had a fantastic time at the conference.
– Met Paul Polak, author of The End of Poverty. Another great honor, courtesy of my friends Karin Hibma and Michael Cronan of :: CRONAN ::, who are working with him on a variety of new projects. He is now focused on collaborations with large companies to do co-development of products and services in the developing world (the theme of reverse innovation surfaces again). He tells corporate leaders that if they don’t consider bottom of the pyramid populations as potential customers they’ll become as anachronistic as the detroit auto manufacturers in 10 years.
– We participated in a designer bake-off sponsored by a healthcare company. After being provided a brief design brief, we had 2 days and a team of 6 people to design an application and pitch it to a panel of judges. We placed 4th of 8 teams. The firms that won + placed higher all had deep domain experience. We felt good about what we came up with. And we learned a lot in the process.
– Jerry and I did a dry run of our workshop at Hot studio on a Saturday with twelve friendlies. It went well. Our participants were very generous with their feedback and suggestions.
– I began as creative lead on another product innovation project at Hot. I got to dig into research around habits of millennials. There was more forecasting, travel and visioning. It was startup pace all the way through. I like that. We’ll start on interaction design and quick iteration cycles early in 2012.
– Wrote about Christina Worsing’s Clothing swap service design project called Give and Take, for Shareable Magazine.
– Accepted the position of AIGA Board Chair, Sustainability for the SF chapter. I will produce the Compostmodern conference in early 2013 as part of my role. I’m really excited about the opportunity.
– Crafted a short set of design principles on ethics and corporate social responsibility with Jessica Margolin. It needs to be fleshed out more fully, but we have the core of our point of view, and will move it forward early in the new year.
– Joined the Bay Area Biomimicry Network. Thanks to Lina Constantinovici, co-founder of the group, whom I know from involvement in the SF Hub Community.
– Began working with Code for America on training modules for the 2012 Fellows. We think it might look something like; research to uncover product/service opportunities, interaction design to frame design principles and develop high-level concepts, conducting a visual design workshop, and creating the basics of brand strategy.
– Met with Wes Selke who is running the Hub Ventures accelerator program. Hopefully we’ll provide some of the training modules we develop for CFA to the Hub Fellows who are focused specifically on building social enterprises.
– Maria Giudice, founder of Hot Studio has the generosity to give the Hotties a week off between Christmas and New Years. After a busy year it was great to take a break and head to the Ojai valley for some r + r. Four books were on the list and got read. Other than that it was a much appreciated time spent enjoying family and friends.
And here it is, week one of 2012. I’m feeling grounded, happy, rested and ready for a great year. Hope you are too. Here’s to beginners mind.