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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Technology’ Category

Thoughts and Images from FUSE14

Posted by Plish on April 11, 2014

The FUSE conference has come and gone.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the last day, but the first two days were pretty amazing.  It was a conference of great insights into the power of Design in creating powerful, memorable experiences of products/services/brands.

I made concept maps of all the presentations I sat in on.  You can check them out on SlideShare.

Day 1

Day 2

There’s a mashup from Twitter here and here.

If you can make this conference in the future, it’s well worth it. The speakers are top-notch, the facility is beautiful, and the food was excellent as well.

Some of my pics are below:

The conference was not just about the past and present.  It was about the future as well.   There are challenges presented by technology and human nature, challenges that could demean instead of elevate people if not addressed.

The conference was exciting, precisely because it acknowledged the multifaceted challenges that await those who seek to design better experiences, better products, a better, more human, sustainable future.

Posted in Best Practices, Brands, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Experience, innovation, Research, Service Design, Social Innovation, Sustainable Technology, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

How Monsanto Should Be Innovating

Posted by Plish on November 14, 2013

It seems that every week someone mentions something about Monsanto, and it’s very seldom good.  Doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or the news, someone is saying something.  A simple perusal of a Google Search of “Monsanto” can give one the impression that the company is a litigious giant  that doesn’t care about the well-being of people or the environment and instead is only concerned with making money.  Monsanto even has the dubious distinction of being named “The Most Evil Corporation” of 2013 in a Natural News poll.

Never the less, as far as corporations go, Monsanto is doing very well.  In spite of the bad press and mounting negative public opinion over GMO‘s, Monsanto continues to grow, innovating, patenting and licensing the agricultural technologies they develop.

Even though Monsanto  licenses its technologies to other seed companies,  many in the public perceive Monsanto as taking advantage of farmers as opposed to helping them.  After all, companies generally don’t sue their customers (even if any money won in a case does go to youth scholarship programs.)

To be fair, they really can’t be blamed for  protecting their intellectual property.  When a company invests millions of dollars a day in research, if it allowed people to use their technology in an unlicensed manner, the business could not sustain itself.

But, there is another way…

(Farmers are) the support system of the world’s economy, working day in and day out to feed, clothe and provide energy for our world. – Monsanto’s About Us webpage

There are literally millions and millions of farmers in the world. Small farms, large farms and everything in-between.  Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing: Improved, sustainable yields that don’t hurt people or the environment, but yet enable farmers to make a living.

Farmers are passionate about their calling. Each one is looking for an edge, for a way to get the most for the least amount of investment in time and money.  Each one is dealing with local microclimates, soil conditions, and pests; not to mention the economic climates.  They seek out new information, they build and utilize support networks, they experiment.  They are entrepreneurs. (Check out Farm Journal for just a tiny sample of the varied topics farmers digest)

Monsanto, as mentioned before, spends over 2 million dollars a day on research and patents are only good for 20 years (and some of the patents they’re defending now are expiring within the next few years.)  They employ 22,000 people worldwide. No matter how much they invest in R&D, or how many people they hire, they can never account for  all the variables farmers around the world deal with.

So what should they do?

Monsanto needs to begin Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Co-Creation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Food, innovation, Open Source, Science, Sustainability, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Goooooooooooal!!! An Innovation that Impacts Life Beyond the Soccer Field

Posted by Plish on June 7, 2012

Soccer is a sport that’s loved worldwide (where it’s often known as futbol/football/kickball). Just like this image I took when I was in Ukraine a few years back (which is co-hosting the Euro Cup this year), scenes like this one are playing out all over the world, even in countries that have crippling economic hardships. 

Being the son of Ukrainian born parents and living next door to folks born in Germany, I was playing soccer  early in life (long before “Soccer Mom” was even a phrase) and later played in Chicago’s Semi-Pro leagues.   I could never figure out why soccer wasn’t more common among my peers here in the US.   It’s a sport that is easy to outfit. All you need is a ball and somewhere to kick it.  And, like the above picture shows, the space doesn’t even need to be grass-covered.

So when I saw this innovation, I was blown away.

It’s all about the ball.

These two entrepreneurs hatched this brilliant idea as part of an ‘engineering for non-engineers’ class.  Check out the video.

 

Leveraging things you wouldn’t normally connect (that’s the key to great innovations!) – soccer and the need for energy in parts of the world that don’t have easy access to it – this amazing and fun innovation was born.

In this age of “There’s an app for that”, it truly is refreshing to see a fun innovation that fits so seamlessly into kids daily lives and provides a benefit going well beyond those that exercise provides.   And, if you donate one of these balls, you don’t just contribute to the well-being of kids, you contribute to the well-being of the communities they belong to.

Well done!!!

Posted in children, Customer Focus, Design, games, innovation, Play, Social Innovation, Sports Creativity, Start-Ups, Sustainable Technology, toys, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Innovation Can Change the World When Spelled: L-O-V-E

Posted by Plish on December 21, 2011

Products and services have to obey the laws of nature.  Some laws, like Newton’s Laws, can not be avoided.   Ignore them at your own risk.

Then there are those Laws that aren’t physical, but are no less real.  These are laws that deal with how people behave. They are embedded in who we are by nature, and/or are continually being transformed and modified through cultures and relationships between people and the Cosmos.   These laws are more elusive and difficult to characterize.  They are being observed, and deciphered, by psychologists, ethnographers, behavioral economists, poets and others.

One of these, is the Law of Love.

…the Law of Love is the deepest law of our nature, not something extraneous and alien to our nature. Our nature itself inclines us to love, and to love freely.  -Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

If, as Merton says, this law is the deepest law in our nature, shouldn’t it be the most prevalent law guiding our innovation efforts?

Yet, how often do we see design briefs, or product specifications stating, “Must incorporate Love.”?

Oh sure, it’s often inferred.  After all, we don’t want to hurt anyone, right?  We don’t want to pollute the world, right?

But still, there are people who use Chinese sweatshops to create magical products. There are people who create novel materials at the expense of effluents that taint the environment.

Love of others shouldn’t be inferred.  It should be active and visible in innovations.

During this holiday season, the word, “love”, gets used prolifically.  But, why can’t Love guide what we do, all the time?  What if we asked, “What would this product look like if I loved the person it’s being made for, and the place where she lives and the people making it and the places they live?”

In this day and age, innovation with L.O.V.E. shouldn’t be optional.

If it’s part of our nature, it should be imperative.

Posted in Authenticity, culture of innovation, Human Rights, innovation, love, problem solving, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology, The Future, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Customer Experience Suffers at the Expense of Packaging Technology – A Case Study

Posted by Plish on April 20, 2011

Courtesy of KFCs Website

Since May of last year, KFC has been rolling out reusable packaging to package their side orders.  These containers won a Greener Package  award. According to KFC’s website the new package,

  • Reduces the shipping cube by 14% over expanded polystyrene foam (EPS)
  • Replaces single-use, nonrecyclable expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) with a reusable and more widely recycled resin, polypropylene (PP)
  • Represents the highest value in stored energy when incinerated as an end-of-life solid waste component and part of a waste-to-energy program, at 38 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) per ton of material
  • Requires 25% less energy to produce than general-purpose polystyrene (PS) production
  • Generates half the amount of greenhouse gases as compared to general-purpose PS

These are all great things but there is a problem with this package. 

It’s a problem that stems from companies getting so excited about technology that they forget about how customers will use the product and how that helps create their experience.

What do I mean?

Today I went to KFC to get a couple of single piece meals for my wife and I.  As I was leaving she said, “Make sure you take the cole slaw out of the box before you leave there.”

Why would she say that?

KFC’s sides consist of mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, baked beans and green beans.  Some of these are served hot, others are served cold.  If you buy a single piece meal, you will receive a piece of chicken, a biscuit, and your choice of two sides.  Order two hot sides and there is no real problem; everything in the box is hot.  However, order one or two cold sides and there’s a very real problem.

The chicken, biscuit, and sides (Cole slaw and Mashed Potatoes/Gravy in my case) all get packed tightly in a small cardboard box.  If cold side servings, like cole slaw, are in the box, they get warm…really quickly.  If the drive home is more than a couple of minutes, the cole slaw (or cold dish) will become warm, sometimes disgustingly so (unless you like warm cole slaw).

KFC says this is their best packaging idea since the bucket.

Actually, the bucket did a great job as a package.  Because all the hot/warm chicken was lumped together in the bucket, the chicken stayed pretty warm.  It was also a great way to serve the chicken; just reach in and grab a piece.   The bucket was, and is, a good idea.

This package?

It’s great for the environment but it doesn’t deliver on basic functionality, and that translates to a lousy culinary experience.

People don’t go to KFC to replenish their container stash at home.  They go there for the food – for hot chicken, warm mashed potatoes and gravy, and cold cole slaw.

I look forward to packaging improvements that not only benefit the environment, but win awards because they actually preserve, and protect the food for the trip home.  After all, that’s the real need. 

It’s such a simple concept really. 

Maybe that’s why it was forgotten.

Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Experience, Food, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

So you want to Design for the Senses? Don’t Forget These!

Posted by Plish on January 15, 2011

When we think about the senses we usually default to the five primary senses of  Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste and  Touch.

We could further subdivide the taste  (sweet, salty, etc.) and touch (cold, hot, pain, etc.) categories but usually those distinctions are useful only under certain circumstances.

There are however, four other “Senses” that humans all use to some extent or another, and these also play (or at least should play) key roles in designing products and services.   These are:

1. Motion/Balance

This sense is tied into our experience of moving through the world or for that matter, standing still and not tipping over on an incline.  We even speak of  a  ‘sense of balance.’  The body is especially sensitive to changes in acceleration.  This sense gets reinforcement from the sense of sight which explains why some people get more nauseous experiencing a movie of a roller coaster in a theater than they do on the roller coaster itself. This is because the eyes are telling the brain there is movement but the vestibular organs responsible for sensing movement are saying, “you’re sitting still,” and the confusion messes with your gut.  The Wii and various video games leverage this sense as do vehicles.  Think of how nice a strong acceleration feels when you’re trying to get into traffic from a short entry lane.

2. Proprioception

This is the body’s ability to know where its various parts are in relation to each other, even when we can’t see those other parts.  The ‘touch the tip of your finger to your nose with your eyes closed’ test is for this sense.  When people (factory workers, athletes, physicians, etc.) are training various limbs to repeatably do certain tasks, products need to be designed to not interfere with this sense. This is why professional baseball players’ bats are made to tight specifications at an athlete’s request.  Any small variation in the bat could, and most likely will, interfere with this sense and alter the player’s swing. 

3. Time 

Time is something that is poorly designed for, if at all.   We often design to minimize the amount of time being spent but fail to realize that most people have a tendency to overestimate the amount of time it takes to do something when that task is unpleasant.   It’s essential to design products and services such that the passage of time be more pleasurable or useful.   Remember, if you design something that results in a boring three-minute wait, it will feel like ten to the person waiting and it will leave people with a bad experience. 

4. Morality

Here again, like the phrase, “sense of balance,’ we use the phrase, “sense of morality,” in everyday language.  This sense, which also may rely on the other senses to inform it, can influence design in many ways.  Moral sense undergirds the  Sustainable or Green design movements.  Failure to pay attention to this aspect of design can be problematic.  In the 1990′s, it became known that Nike was using sweatshop labor to manufacture its shoes.  Since then, Nike has been on a mission to improve labor conditions, as well as its reputation.  Over the years, they have made great advances, as have other industries like the leather industry where innovative tanning methods have been developed so that workers are not exposed to toxic chemicals.  This interconnected world is starting to breath with a pan-cultural sense of morality.  Ignore it in your designs at your own risk.

So, next time you’re designing something that you want to impact the senses, don’t forget to go beyond the realm of sight, touch, sound, smell and taste.  Innovations that do will be better received, and most likely, better for the world.

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Tools, Social Responsibility, Society, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Eight Insights in Design from the World of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2010

This past weekend I was at the Midwest Bonsai Expo at Chicago’s Botanical Garden.  While there, I had the pleasure to watch and listen to a demonstration workshop by bonsai expert Michael Hagedorn.

While it was fascinating watching him transform a tree through his thoughtful touch, it was even more interesting to listen to his insights and reflections on bonsai, bonsai design, and hence design in general.

 Here are some thoughts of his from the workshop:

1. A good tree (design) should have three aspects: A – Elegance; B- Dignity; C – Presence.   However, it is not uncommon for these three to be doled out in different proportions.

I love this observation. It is no doubt influenced by his training in Japan.  How do designs (or even brands!) that you know of stack up?

2. “I should be invisible as an artist”  The tree is designed so that it stands on its own; that even though it’s been pruned and manipulated by the artist, it doesn’t look it.  It retains itself, or, “takes possession of itself,” once the designing part is over.  Think of it: after a product is released into the market place it stands on its own and grows into its own.

3. “Great people and great trees are the same.”  This is with regards to how the tree(design) ages, how it shows the scars of life and still comes through it all with Elegance, Dignity and Presence (see #1).

Some additional observations of mine:

4.  A good bonsai (design) is a result of the artist(designer) embracing the constraints.  A tree has branches, roots, soil, certain nutritional needs.  If any one constraint is ignored the result is a sickly tree (design) or worse.

5. It’s not about adding to the tree as much as it is taking away from the design and redirecting the tree to achieve Elegance, Dignity and Presence.  However…

6.  There are  wildcards like weather, those things outside of our control, that can scuttle all our bests efforts.  So all we can do is prepare the tree(design) for whatever the future may hold and hope for the best.

7. While bonsai are shown and meant to be seen from their ‘ front’,  really good bonsai (design) it seems, have something to look at from any direction.

8. Bonsai is a type for metadesign.  The self-building, synergistic, holistic, fractalesque nature of working with bonsai is beyond regular design.  Bonsai is an ongoing relationship and dialogue between the designer and the designed.

So what do you think?  Do these eight insights resonate with your own experience?  Can you think of examples that highlight or contradict them?

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, Design, imagination, Life Stages, Meta-Design, nature, Nature of Creativity, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Reframing The Chicago Traffic Problem – A Possible Solution That Won’t Cost Drivers

Posted by Plish on July 16, 2010

Pic Courtesy of Johnnyjet.com

Chicago has the third worst automotive congestion in the country. 

The traffic is unpredictable.

What can be a half-an-hour trip one day, can be a 1.5 hour drive the next, and that’s in good weather.

The proposed solution?

Create special, express lanes with controlled traffic flows.  If you want to use them you pay extra.

Now, irrespective of the fact that Illinoisans are already paying for roads with their taxes, and the Illinois Tollway system, and are still driving on what are arguably some of the worst roads in the country, this idea is a perfect example of how a poorly framed problem statement can lead to mediocre solutions.

 Let me explain.

The current solution is,  no doubt, a direct descendant of the following:

  • Chicago has the third worst traffic in the country
  • There will be a 12% increase of traffic in 20 years
  • We need money to help rebuild the roads damaged by this increased traffic
  • We need to help the environment by reducing pollution from stuck traffic

Given the above, we naturally frame the problem statement as, “How can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads?”

Let’s see… money and land is scarce, so building new roads is not a terribly attractive option.  Buuuut, charging money for using the existing roads and using technology to control the flows is something that has been shown to work in other cities.  Voila! Problem solved!

Not a bad idea, but also not a good one, and also not a fiscally responsible one.

What do I mean?

If the  above list included:

  • The State of Illinois has a tendency to poorly budget, over-spend and under-deliver,

the proposed “pay to drive” solution probably wouldn’t even be considered a solution.

So, in the name of realism, let’s include the above statement about  Illinois’ fiscal/political situation and reframe the problem as:

“In what ways can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads without using additional taxpayer money, while working within current budget constraints?”

Whoa…Since we can’t rely on taxpayers to foot the bill, nor can we rely on an overly expanded budget, what can we do???

Let’s take a step back and ask this relatively obvious question:  Can we get people to work without using their cars?

Yes. 

It’s called: Telecommuting!

It’s an obvious solution and one that needs to be researched more deeply.   Consider this:

According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommuted two days per week.

The study also found that 84 percent of Americans depend on their own means of transportation to travel to and from work. On average, these workers spend $2,052 on gas and 264 hours of travel time a year just on commuting alone.

Research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time.¹

How many people could telecommute?

… 92 percent of (American) workers believe that their job can be completed by telecommuting, though only 39 percent telework on a regular basis.¹

So, while most people seem to be in favor of it, and at the same time,  telecommuting technologies continue to improve, most businesses, unfortunately, still have a paranoia about having people work from home.     But, if they instead structured themselves to accommodate telecommuting, and if the State and Federal governments provided incentives to people and companies to support telecommuting, this could very well take a considerable burden of the roads of Illinois and the country.

Let’s see….

Less traffic, less damage to roads, less pollution, better productivity, and best of all, more money in the pockets of Illinois drivers.

 I personally think it’s a better solution.  What do you think?

1. http://earth911.com/news/2010/03/12/telecommuting-two-days-a-week-could-save-billions/

Posted in creativity, Design, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology, Trends, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Road to Ecologically Sustainable Design and the Sacred Space Paradox

Posted by Plish on July 8, 2010

We set things apart for special use all the time.  We keep a special set of plates and silverware for special occasions.  We give those utensils and plates extra special treatment, washing them in special ways, storing them in extra safe locations,  being extra careful not to break or chip them.

On the other hand, the every day stuff we’re more careless with.  We clean the stuff using everyday cleaning methods, and if we break something, it’s okay because we can always replace it. 

There are two different mindsets at work.  In the former case we’re  elevating objects to the level of being sacred.  We’re acknowledging that these objects are special, perhaps even holy.  In the latter, there is a sense of mundaneness – we could say that the objects are profane.  (Anthropologically speaking, sacred/profane is not equal to good/evil.  Sacred/profane can be good/bad, bad/good, etc.) 

Just like we reserve a set of dinnerware for special purposes, it’s been a common practice over the course of the last century or so, for governments to set aside chunks of land and designate them as preserves, as land set aside for a special purpose, as ‘sacred’ land.  While this is usually viewed in a positive light, and it has undoubtedly saved land from misuse and abuse, it has an interesting side effect.

Just as having the dichotomy between special and everyday dinnerware creates two sets of rules in how the dinnerware gets treated, so too, creating nature preserves as separate sacred entities fosters two sets of rules in dealing with the environment.

The two rules are, “Do what you want outside the preserves  as long as you try and minimize your impact on others and the world, but inside the preserves  nothing is allowed except appreciation and minimal interference.” 

The preserves are disconnected from the greater whole and are treated as closed, ‘sacred’ systems.  The rest of the world is viewed by default, not as “sacred” per se, but as profane.  Oh sure, people try to be eco-friendly, but we’re willing to stretch the rules a little bit because after all, we’re not in the middle of a preserve like the Grand Canyon.  Admit it, when you see a cup lying in the gutter of a city it usually doesn’t create the same visceral reaction as seeing the same cup floating down a river, does it?

And that’s the problem.

While the idea of setting aside preserves is indeed noble and well intentioned, is this really what we want?  Wouldn’t it be better if every part of the world was treated as sacred space?  How might a city be different if it treated its ecosystem as sacred as opposed to excusing it by saying, “It’s a city.  It’s okay if it alters the landscape and water absorption and wind patterns.”  Instead, if everything was seen as sacred,  manufacturing and  water purification processes would be designed with the goal of putting water back into the environment at equal or better quality than what they started with!  

This phenomenon isn’t only present on the macro level.  It’s present on the micro-level as well, as hospitals operate Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, nature, Politics, Religion, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

What’s to Come of Present Innovations in the Future? It’s All in the Beginnings

Posted by Plish on June 25, 2010

Here’s the scenario: 

You play the piano. You need to come up with a system for transferring musical notes into something that a computer and other keyboards and electronic instruments will understand. 

Odds are, you’ll come up with something like MIDI.  MIDI stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface.”    It’s a protocol that enables electronic instruments to communicate with each other.  Go to any non-classical music concert and odds are, somewhere in the mix, MIDI is playing a role (The pun really isn’t intended).  The interesting thing is that  MIDI doesn’t actually transmit any music per se.  It transmits information such as when a certain note stops and starts, its pitch, loudness and what type of instrument is sounding the note. 

So, what does MIDI look like? 

When people see MIDI instruments working, all people usually see are a bunch of cables connecting everything together.  What they don’t see is what the information looks like when depicted on a screen. 

When writing songs and depicting a piece in MIDI you use something called a piano roll.  

Piano Roll Courtesy of Musikality.net

 

The piano is depicted along the left hand side.  Time moves from left to right.  The above example shows each measure of four beats. You hit a virtual key on the piano at the left (or on an actual electronic piano connected to the computer) and a corresponding square at the proper time gets colored in indicating that note.  Those little squares, along with some instrument identifiers (even drums can be communicated via MIDI) ,  contain the information that dictates what you’re going to hear coming out of the speakers. 

It’s actually pretty minimalistic and elegant.  

It’s also based on the piano (and the piano roll comes from player pianos!). All digital instruments, whether they’re guitars, trumpets, vuvuzelas, or drums, somehow are described by the same basic parameters (note on, note off, loudness, pitch) that are present when someone hits a key on a piano. 

What really is fascinating though is how the MIDI technology, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Evolution, innovation, Musical Creativity, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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