Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for October, 2009

The Necessity of Reclaiming Drawing and Art as Tools for Communication

Posted by Plish on October 30, 2009

The Swimming Stags in Lascaux, France

Drawing -The Distinctly Human Endeavor

Long before humans were writing eloquent words with pen and paper, we were drawing pictures on walls, expressing our views of the world and even the future. 

The same thing can be said of each of us as individuals – we drew long before we could write words or sentences.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Yet our briefs, presentations, and books are filled with pages upon pages of words and often very few pictures.

Why is this?

Words that stir the imagination must be artfully combined to create effective and emotive communication,  or else they simply portray information in a boring fashion – they’re just words. 

It’s hard to convey emotions, information and perspectives with just words.

On the other hand, pictures, even the most basic, can convey information and emotion more effectively.  Take a look at these pictures made by children during the Spanish Civil War and tell me if you can’t get a pretty good idea of what was happening where and to whom in Spain.  How many pages would you have to read to get that information?

Children are great at drawing and illustrating.  In fact,  ask almost any parents and they’ll tell you that channeling the urge to draw and paint can be one of the most challenging tasks they have.  Drawing and communicating via art is natural for children.  As we get older we begin to judge our works more critically and receive more critical feedback.  We either deal with it and improve or we buckle under the scrutiny, say we don’t have any artistic talent and make ourselves masters of 75 page PowerPoint presentations filled with clip art and bullet points.

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

When in meetings, instead of asking people for opinions on what’s wrong, ask them to sketch it using stickfigures, finger paints, whatever!  The act of drawing it on paper will engage the person more than having them give a soliloquy. 

When submitting reports, make it a practice to draw the report and use that as the inspiration for words. 

We need to reclaim the use of drawings and other forms of art as communication tools. 

We’re Humans – We Draw!

If you’re still uptight about your drawing abilities, then check out the below three resources which I personally reference and recommend.

ID.Sketching – Fantastic website with sketching and drawing tutorials and information

Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design (Interactive Technologies)

Sketching: Drawing Techniques for Product Designers

Drawing – It’s not just for children any more…

Posted in Authenticity, Books, children, Conveying Information, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, imagination, Information Visualization, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Sketching, Society, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lessons in Design Process from the Egyptian Pyramids

Posted by Plish on October 26, 2009

Since the ancient Egyptians didn’t technically document their design process, I decided to do some reading and tease out the process that they used to design and construct the pyramids.  What I came up with is diagrammed below.  

pyramiddesign michaelplishka2009

Click to See Full Size

Their overarching concern was obvious: build a suitable eternal home for their ruler in a limited time

These constraints (italicized in the above sentence) bounded their design/build process.  If we agree with video game developer, Dino Dini, that the definition of a design process is, ‘the management of (negotiable and non-negotiable) constraints,” then in fact the Egyptians were indeed using a design process as they were accutely active in managing some very basic constraints:

1.  Materials

2.  Workers

3.  Guiding Perspectives on the Afterlife (Providing for the needs of the dead)

4.  Manufacturing/Construction/Artistic Techniques (Technology + Art)

5.  Time

Of the above 5 constraints,  two constraints  were non-negotiable: ‘Guiding Perspectives on the Afterlife’ and ‘Time’.

Their Perspectives on the Afterlife dictated what must be contained in the tomb from foodstuffs to boats, to how the tomb was constructed. 

Time, or rather, time to the death of the ruler, was a powerful, non-negotiable constraint.  The structure basically had to be completed in time for the entombment.

These two constraints impacted the other three constraints as is clear from the archeological record.   The materials used, the technologies chosen for building aspects of the tomb, the abandonment of various aspects of the tomb and focus on other areas, the use of more or less workers, the change in architectural layout during the course of construction, all these were done in response to the non-negotiable constraints.

While managing these constraints they were basically following the User Centered Design process as spelled out in ISO 13407 and summarized below:

Courtesy of devx.com

Only they were doing it over 5000 years ago…

Posted in creativity, Design, Funding Innovation, imagination, invention, Life Stages, problem solving, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Inventables – Great Idea Resource for Innovative Product Solutions

Posted by Plish on October 15, 2009

Click here to check out the page on inventables.com

Inevitably when trying to come up with innovative ways of solving sticky problems we have those times when we say, “If only I had XYZ I could make ABC.”

Enter:  Inventables -The Materials and Technology Marketplace.

Inventables is a free site (though a Premium service is also available)  that allows someone to browse through or search for enabling materials and technologies.  It’s as simple as typing in keywords or clicking in a cloud.  

For example, the dissolving fabric pictured above is one of 146 technologies I found while doing a search on “fabric”.  A particularly pleasing feature is that the results do not only tell you how the technologies are currently being used, but you will be given possible other uses, seductively getting those creative ideas flowing.

The contents of Inventables is a veritable symphony of technologies looking for a home; or in the words of Inventables’ long term mission statement: “(Inventables provides) a living showcase of what’s possible to deliver inspiration and innovation to the dreamers of the world.”

Prepare to dream…

Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, Creative Thinking Techniques, Design, idea generation, Innovation Tools, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Laughter, Creativity and Innovation

Posted by Plish on October 13, 2009

laughingfinal michaelplishka2009

When trying to increase creative output and come up with ideas to solve sticky problems  we often look for a cool tool or app that will help us make that obtuse connection, or spur an amazing insight.  What may be more helpful is finding a video of your favorite comedy, kicking back and laughing your way to success!

There is an increasingly robust body  of research that highlights the fact that laughter is not only good for the body and soul but good for business.  People who laugh more are, in general, happier people as well.  The benefits are astounding. 

Courtesy of Helpguide.org

Courtesy of Helpguide.org

(It’s worth reading the entire article  from which the above clip was taken.)

In fact, according to this article from Paul McGhee, PhD of LaughterRemedy.com,

“There has been research since the 1950s documenting the close relationship between humor/fun and creativity. For example, simply listening to a humorous recording increases scores on a subsequently given creativity test. People also perform more creatively on a task when it is framed as “play” than when it is framed as “work.” Simply watching comedy films is enough to improve creative problem solving, and the amount of improvement is greater than after watching a serious movie.”

This is illustrated in this tidbit from FastCompany in which it was noted that the founders of DNA, “… spent a lot of time lollygagging and goofing off, going to parties and (b.s.-ing) over coffee.”

So next time someone says that you’re spending too much time laughing and you need to get serious, point them to the above resources and this amazing paper from the American Psychological Association, and tell them that seriousness won’t necessarily solve problems – but happy, laughing people will.

Science backs you up.

Posted in Best Practices, Creative Environments, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Health Concerns, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Play, problem solving, Research, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Innovation Lessons From the History of Pulse Oximetry (or, How One Person’s Noise is Another’s Symphony)

Posted by Plish on October 6, 2009


pulseox michaelplishka2009If anyone has ever been in an emergency room, hospital or had a medical procedure done, you no doubt have had a pulse oximeter placed on your finger (or perhaps earlobe).  The device functions by shining certain wavelengths of  light at your skin and reading the amount of light that comes back or through the tissue.

It’s a really cool device and quite simple in its operation – you could build one yourself if you wanted to.  Yet, what is today a standard in medical monitoring, was once an annoying artifact.

In the early 1970’s, Japanese BioEngineer Takuo Aoyagi was studying ways of measuring cardiac output.  At the time, the established method involved injecting dye into the blood, diverting this dyed blood from an artery through an external tube and then shining light through the tube and measuring the light that’s transmitted. 

Although it was effective it was also pretty invasive.  So, building upon this technique, researchers tried using the same technology on a person’s earlobe – shine a light through the earlobe and measure the transmitted light.  While this was a step in the right direction, the readings were spoiled by the pulsatile nature of the signal.

Enter Aoyagi-San who developed a technique to filter out the pulsatile effect.  Great, right?


Even after this adjustment it was difficult to obtain consistent values – something was creating noise in the system.  Mr. Aoyagi correctly postulated the fluctuation was due to changing amounts of oxygen bound to hemoglobin in the blood.   Rather than simply filter out the noise to obtain clean signals he focused his efforts on capturing the ‘noise’ of the fluctuations in a repeatable manner.  

The non-invasive pulse oximeter was born.

What’s the takeaway?

When designing new products we have a tendency to focus on achieving certain goals while working around, ignoring or minimizing the noise.  Instead, we should make friends with the noise and find out what it has to say to us.  We then have to have enough fortitude to pursue the elusive at the expense of what was originally the goal! 

Everyone hears the noise; only the innovative hear the symphony…

Click here to read the full story of pulse oximetry.

Posted in Case Studies, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Great Creative Minds, innovation, invention, patents, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Beginnings of Design/Innovation

Posted by Plish on October 3, 2009

beginnings of design001a michaelplishka2009

I made the above sketch while listening to  a panel discussion with David Armano, Dan Saffer, Jon Kolko and Ben Jacobson at the IIT Design Research Conference

What are your thoughts on this representation of the beginnings of design/innovation?

How could it be improved?

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Sketching, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Museum or Warehouse? Insights on Featuritis from the IIT Design Research Conference

Posted by Plish on October 2, 2009


Today while I was at the Design Research Conferencein Chicago, I listened to the presentation of Jason Fried of 37 Signals.  While primarily discussing his design process through the lens of software design,  he touched upon one particular aspect that is true for all types of design.  In short, he said that good software comes from people who are more like curators vs. designers. 

What does he mean?

Software Designers (in this particular example) have a tendency to want to constantly add more and more features.  Version 11.0 almost always has more features than Version 10.0 and Version 12.0 will have even more than Version 11.0 He built upon his illustration by saying that if you stick every painting in the world in a building you don’t have a museum, but a warehouse of art. 

It’s when you pick certain paintings and put them in a room, when you play the rule of curator, now you have a museum, not a warehouse.

The point is a good one.

The best design is an embodiment of the essentials and not the result of Creeping Featuritis

Posted in Best Practices, Customer Focus, Design, innovation, software | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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