Category Design

Early Concept: “T2″

Visuals: “The Pursuit” (DRAFT)

(And I still don’t have a clear sense where all of this is going …)

The Original Plan.

In my final year of undergraduate studies, I and a few of my friends developed a computer game called “Meltdown 2018.”  The concept was based around a return to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant more than three decades after it’s unfortunate demise.

My work on the computer graphics portion of the game triggered a lengthy pursuit that would consume my life for the next ten years.  My goal was not necessarily to develop computer games, but rather to become immersed in computer graphics at its core; I wanted to understand graphics and mathematical concepts well enough to develop software applications based upon these ideas.

Fortunately, I was able to achieve several successes during this period:

  • I developed a modeling plug-in for a popular 3D modeling and rendering application.
  • I developed a NOAA weather satellite image interpreter.
  • I obtained an in-depth understanding of how wavelets are used for image compression (e.g. JPEG).
  • I developed a basic rendering application based on radiosity principles.

For numerous reasons, I eventually abandoned this technical pursuit and focused my energies on the creative-side (e.g. Maya, Gnomon Workshop, ZBrush).  While I have some regrets, I’ve gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience since that time.  However, for someone who loves playing in both areas, it’s hard not to return to this original path – at least for a short while!

Mental struggles aside, I thought it fitting to include a video of a software developer (Eric Soulvie) who continued the journey and developed a powerful physics plug-in for Modo (based upon the open source Bullet Physics engine).  It’s called Recoil.

It’s something that I am excited to play around with as I can already envision finding uses for such a tool in a design context.

Dyson II.

“If you think of doing the opposite of what should be done, you can often stimulate innovation and do something creative and interesting.”

- James Dyson

Eyes Wide Open II.

Several years ago, I designed a sugar dispenser for an industrial design class.  I decided on this particular challenge after seeing just how quickly sugar poured out of a similar dispenser at a local restaurant.  Through the design process, I discovered that it was my various interests that played a key role in the final product.

Here are a few examples:

Model Railroading: Once I had a general idea for what the dispenser would look like along with the relative dimensions, I created “sketch models” which are basically rough prototypes made from various materials.  Thinking back to my model railroading days, I chose styrene plastic for later prototypes along with the final model.  Styrene is typically used for the construction of miniature buildings used on a model railroad, and I decided that the material would work well for this project.

Architecture (Core): I wanted the dispenser to be very modern looking and sleek; ultimately something much different from those you would normally see in a restaurant.  I ultimately decided to model the dispenser similar in structure to a modern skyscraper, and I chose a variation of styrene to match the building’s fascade (narrow vertical lines without horizontal equivalents).

Architecture (Supplemental): While I liked the skyscraper concept, I felt that another design element was needed.  In one of my visits to the Los Angeles area I noticed a building that had a protruding metal “screen” with large-scale letters inset within (negative space).  I decided that I would do the reverse and project letters outward (positive space).  But what letters?

Chemistry & Flight Training: Here I combined my original undergraduate goal (chemical engineering) with my flight training experience to come up with the “surface layer” that would rest on one of the dispenser “walls.”  The chemical formula for sugar contains the elements Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen.  Similarly, the airport code relative where I was living is CHO (Charlottesville-Albemarle).  Clearly, the gods had spoken.

The process of designing an object, vehicle, experience, etc. that has value in the real world takes not only solid design skills, it requires the ability to pull from multiple disciplines and incorporate those findings into something powerful.

Until perhaps now, I have always believed that my desire for knowledge was simply leading me astray from a specialization of some sort.  My experiences over the past several years have altered this belief; I now believe my innate curiosity enables versatility and a strong design sense, two things that I highly value.

While I believe that specialization in a given field and/or domain is in my future (that was my original goal all along), I envision staying “plugged in” to just about everything and anything that interests me.  It’s these interests that will continue to play a key role in my technical and creative development – the combination of which will continue to grow beyond what I’ve accomplished to date.

 

Eyes Wide Open I.

I recently signed up to become a volunteer at a local hospital.  One of the many requirements to participate in such a program is to ensure you have been suitably vaccinated and aren’t subject to any serious infections (e.g. measles).

Now my second time in the hospital in less than a year (this time on purpose), I made a point to again survey my surroundings.  In particular, I took a closer look at the heart monitor adjacent to where I was sitting along with the tools the nurse used to take blood from my arm.

Here are a few things I noticed in just 30 seconds:

Center of Gravity: The monitor rested on a short pole connected to a set of wheels that were arranged in 90 degree angles to one another.  What was interesting about this is that the pole was lowered approximately two inches so that its center of gravity was lower to the ground.  This allows the unit to be moved much more easily and rapidly with reduced risk of toppling over.

Robust Power Cord: The end of the power plug was larger in size than a standard power plug.  This allowed the cable to be removed from the wall with little effort, allowing for rapid transport to different locations within the hospital.

Protection: The needle that was used to draw blood from my arm had a plastic cover that was attached just below the collection tube.  After the blood was drawn, as if reading my mind, the nurse rotated the cover (using one hand) until it snapped in place, completely protecting her from the needle end.

Color: The unit was a bright blue color, making it much easier to spot in case of immediate need.

One of the main reasons I mention this experience is because one can find any number of design strengths or opportunities in virtually any situation.  While I have not had the need to use a heart monitor, I could still glean a few key design traits from the device that I could, in theory, use in future designs of my own.

Nurses and doctors who use the device on a routine basis may skim over what I’ve just mentioned, and instead highlight other traits that are more familiar to them.  For example, they may comment on the size of the display or the height of the actual unit; traits that I would take for granted given my lack of experience and exposure.

A good designer is always taking in the world around them to see what’s working and what’s not.  Similarly, design elements used in one situation or context can be employed in an entirely different situation; it just takes knowledge and understanding to enable the transition to occur.

In my next post I’ll give a real-world example and go a step deeper into this cross-pollination concept.

 

ACD: “IOM Swarm”

Dyson I.

“The more original your idea, the more resistance you will meet.”

- James Dyson

Abstract: “Iom”

I actually created these earlier this year but decided to do some slight Photoshop modification to convey a digital, yet organic feel.  The organism possesses energy but it is unclear whether this is potential energy or kinetic within a harsh environment.  Is the system shutting down or in its infancy?

Frameworks.

I think I’ve always been interested in solving problems, and when I’m asked to describe my strengths, “problem solver” is a phrase that immediately comes to mind.

In my experience, there are three steps to problem solving:

  1. Identify & understand the problem
  2. Choose or build a framework in which to solve the problem
  3. Come up with the solution (or solutions)

For many of the problems I’ve tackled over the past several years (many in the form of specific projects), the “framework” has remained fairly constant: it typically involves the creation of a team organizational chart and a conceptual visual that depicts the project’s “end state.”

While this model works well for project management, it doesn’t fare as well for creating business models.

Historically, business models tend to be verbose and full of financial analysis and risk-oriented topics.  In many cases, this results in a business model that is too detailed, lacks true understanding and prone to gaps / errors.

In the book “Business Model Generation“, the authors present a different way of creating business models through the use of a modular graphic, or “canvas.”

This “canvas” approach streamlines the process of creating new business models by allowing participants to focus on the core subject matter vs. having to constantly remember how the pieces “fit” and whether anything has been missed.

Here is what this framework looks like:

I found this approach to be particularly useful, so much so in fact that I used it during a recent interview.  One of the questions posed involved identifying several key aspects of introducing a credit card portfolio to a company’s product suite.

To answer this question, I drew two canvas’ on the whiteboard.  The first represented the “as is” state and the second represented the future state, one where I had successfully integrated a credit card portfolio into their business model.

I used these two visuals to explain or identify:

  • what would need to change
  • where resources would be required
  • sources of revenue
  • potential opportunities
  • sources of risk

Once I was able to tell this initial story, I found I was able to answer additional questions much more easily now that I had a solid foundation to work from.

When problem solving, the use of a problem solving framework is, I think, essential to long-term success.  Once you find the right framework, you can continue to refine and expand its use, which can lead to more efficient use of your time and can open up possibilities in other areas as well.

When asked a problem that involves getting from point A to point B (physical location or point in time), duplicate the framework to show what sections need to change.  Once you have a grasp on the original framework, replicating and showing the delta between the two versions is easy.

It’s at this point where you can spend most of your energy solving the real problem, and that’s where the fun really begins!