Tag Archives: context

Human centred principles of design — Two case studies (and films)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about key principles of design. One of the most important and emphasised principle of design is how it’s human-centred (or people-centred, customer-centred, user-centred, about customer-centricity, customer experience, user experience, to use other similar phrases). Some of the best demonstrations of this can be seen in two product design companies whom I have been a big fan of for many years. Not just for their human-centred approach, but because I am also a customer and user of their products, and find them incredibly functional and desirable to use.

The first case study is on Smart Design, the designers behind the popular OXO Good Grips potato peeler (or Swivel Peeler). I know this case study has been around for a long time, but it’s still so inspiring and so relevant today having revolutionised kitchen tools in the 1990s by making utensils more user-friendly and enjoyable to use.

In 1990 Smart Design worked in collaboration with OXO to launch the Swivel Peeler. Designed from user insight and questions like Why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can’t there be wonderfully comfortable tools that are easy to use? hundreds of prototype models were created before the Swivel Peeler was born. The film below, recently published online by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, reveals the Smart Design mindset, where they believe that “design should be for everyone” and kitchen tools should be “enablers” for us to do things (in our industrialised society we often see tools and machines as doing things for us, rather than seeing them as enablers).

In their process, Smart Design observed how people were most drawn to a rubberised bike handle, among hundreds of other handle models they collected for research. It was this observation, of people constantly picking up and playing with the bike handle, that inspired the designers to develop a key feature of the Swivel Peeler. The peeler handle was designed with rubber and fins for comfort and grip, just like you’d find on a bicycle.

Image from OXO website

In the film, Smart Design also discuss how they prototyped early rather than using a lot of sketching. This is a nice lesson for how to move a process forward quickly, by making and testing things early.

CooperHewitt Visits Smart Design

The second case study is of another company that makes kitchenware called Joseph Joseph. I discovered them while I was living in the UK and I love their products because they are thoughtful, well designed, well made and fun. The two brothers that comprise Joseph Joseph discuss in another short film (I recently found on YouTube) how they strive for “functional innovation” and then use colour to make their kitchen tools attractive, desirable and an accessory in the home. In homes of today, it is common for people to entertain in their kitchen, especially with the popularity of open living spaces where kitchens and living spaces are combined. Joseph Joseph discuss how the colours of their products create an additional accessory for the home.

In one of their most innovative and popular products, the Nest, Joseph Joseph speak of the user insight that led them to the design. In their research, when they looked into people’s kitchen drawers, they found a range of utensils stored messily in a small space. So they designed the Nest to combine 9 different kitchen utensils that sit inside one another, taking up half the space. The designers designed white and multi-coloured versions of the Nest, relaying that the muli-coloured version sold 10 times more because people were attracted to its vibrancy. I am too because I have a Nest and it’s functional and fun for cooking with. Also in our apartment it doesn’t take up very much space.

Joseph Joseph’s Nest™ 9 Plus. Image from Joseph Joseph website

Joseph Joseph also discuss in the film “great design”, of which they say “great design” is when you take a product home and it’s better than what you expect. It should “put a smile on people’s faces.”

Colorizing the Kitchen

I really love these insights into the design practices of Smart Design and Joseph Joseph. Imagine if we could apply their principles and philosophies in the development and conception of all products and services. All products and services would be:

  • Great for almost everyone
  • Enable us to do what we want to do, and more
  • Exceed our expectations
  • Functional
  • Fit into our lifestyles
  • Attractive and desirable and
  • Put a smile on our face

Imagine if we always thought about people first, doing design research for user insight and attempting to create things that could “put a smile on people’s faces.” Imagine how wonderful the all products and services in our world could be.


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Cape Town appointed World Design Capital 2014

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) founded in 1957 is “an international non-governmental organisation that aims to protect and promote the profession of industrial design.” Every four years (since 2008) Icsid designates, or will designate, a world city under the status of World Design Capital (WDC). The WDC initiative aims:

“… to promote and encourage the use of design to further the social, economic and cultural development of the world’s cities… The designation provides a distinctive opportunity for cities to showcase their accomplishments in attracting and promoting innovative design, as well as highlight successes in urban revitalisation strategies.”

This year was a bidding year for 2014 WDC status. The three cities of Cape Town, Bilbao and Dublin were shortlisted and as part of the selection process they submitted short films that give fascinating insight into each city, their challenges, strengths, and how design will help them. Each of the films are very different from the other, as Core 77 discuss on their post A Look at the World Design Capital Bid Videos. Below I’ve also posted the three city films so you can stay on this page to view them. Otherwise the films feature on Core 77 and the World Design Capital websites.

‘Live Design. Transform Life’ by Cape Town largely discusses a whole range of challenges faced by the city and how Cape Town designers understand design and its relevance to their local context.

‘The design of cities’ by Bilbao celebrates the numerous design aspects of their city and what it has brought to the city eg. tourism, technology etc.

‘Pivot’ by Dublin follows the conversations between a number of citizens for how Dublin can prosper through design.

Hearing of the WDC and watching the films makes me wonder if Sydney would ever consider running for the designation. How fantastic would it be to be involved in this global design platform which, as Icsid state:

“… would provide governments with a platform not only to raise the global awareness of design, but more importantly, to showcase the importance of design as an actor to enhance social, cultural, economic and environmental quality of life.”

Where would Sydney focus its attention for uses of design? What are our challenges that design can help improve (I blogged a few here in my ‘Signs of Sydney post but these are subjective and I am sure there are more)? How would we used design to benefit and improve our quality of life and well-being? A WDC bid process throws up many questions and I wonder if the process of a WDC bid would in itself be beneficial for some reflection on where we live, where we’ve come from, who we are and how we understand and use design to improve Sydney.

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Sydney Design Festival 2011 event review

The Sydney Design Festival 2011 came to a close over the weekend and the general feeling is that it has been a really successful two weeks. The festival has brought together many in the design community of interest, showcased local creative talent and also hosted a number of discussions around the state of design in Australia now and for the future. I’ve attended a few of events and short synopses of my key take-aways from them are below (and don’t forget the previous post on the film NOW and WHEN on ‘Speculative scenarios for Australia’s urban future.’)

Australian Design for the Next Decade
Thursday 4 August 5:45pm, UTS Architecture Kensington Street
Speakers: Greg More (OOM Creative), Susan Dimasi (MATERIALBYPRODUCT ), Dave Pigram (supermanoeuvre ) and glass artist Richard Whiteley . Facilitated by Anthony Burke, Head of School of Architecture, UTS.

On a balmy (yes in the middle of winter) night at the UTS Architecture warehouse, four Australian designers discussed their practices and the transformation of their practices over time. The panel session saw an architect who’s now a data visualiser, a glass sculptor who now solves sustainability issues and a fashion designer who initially rejected the fashion industry but now runs her own fashion house where design thinking is applied across the business. Susan Dimasi (MATERIALBYPRODUCT) used an interesting analogy for how she sometimes feels as a designer saying it is like ‘a dog on a chain’- sometimes close to the source (the core of the discipline) but at other times pulling away (stretching the limits). I thought this was quite a neat way to convey how the practices of designers are continually transforming. It reminds me of John Heskett’s description of the history and evolution of design of which he says can be seen as a process of layering “in which new developments are added over time to what already exists. This layer, moreover, is not just a process of accumulation or aggregation, but a dynamic interaction in which each new innovative stage changes the role, significance, and function of what survives.” (Heskett, 2002)

Design-led solutions to wicked problems
Tuesday 9 August 5:30pm, Powerhouse Museum

Speakers: Paul Pholeros (Health Habitat), Lauren Tan and Marie O’Mahony

Organised by the Australian Design Alliance (AdA) this event looked at how design was making a practical difference around the world from New York City to regional UK to right here in Australia in our urban to rural communities. Of particular interest was the organisation Health Habitat that has been working with communities to improve living environments and consequently community health. Health Habitat’s work has grown since 1985 to become a national Australian program which has also been scaled and used in New Zealand, the USA and Nepal.

Data Poetry
Wednesday 10 August 6:30pm, UTS Design, Architecture and Building campus
Speakers: Elisa Lee, Ben Hosken (Flink Labs), Kate Sweetapple, Mitchell Whitelaw

On a much cooler winter evening, my old design school UTS was host to four designers discussing unconventional data visualisation practices that ranged from the poetic (see ‘Map of Sydney’ below) to the more prosaic. Conversations swirled with ideas such as seeing the data as material and data visualisation as exploratory, engaging and transforming. These thought provoking and intimate talks finished off with a tour of the Incidental Data exhibition making for a very pleasant and enjoyable evening.

‘Map of Sydney: Avian Surnames’ by Kate Sweetapple
Image from ‘visual writing: experiments with word & image’

What is the Object of Australia?
Friday 12 August 9:00am, Billy Blue College of Design
Speakers: Hannah Cutts (Cutts Creative), Lauren Tan, Kimberley Crofts (Meld Studios), Patrick Clair (Hungry Beast), Ruben Ocampo (Second Road) and Chris Maclean (Interbrand)

Friday’s all-day symposium heard from a wide array of designers discussing service design, user experience, social design, innovation systems, visual communication, design as a business, making motion graphics and branding. The day ended with a panel session of 7 Australian designers sharing their thoughts on design in Australia.

There was quite a lot to take in but here are some key themes I heard throughout the day:

  • Questioning and critiquing innovation in Australia: Reflecting and asking are we innovative. We explored the small things we can do, to the much bigger things, such as looking at what kind of enabling conditions would make Australia more innovative
  • The transformation of design practice: Like the Australian Design for the Next Decade event many of us shared personal stories and observations of the changing nature and transformation of design practice
  • Design in Australia: What is Australian design? Many countries have their own distinct style eg. there is a German design style which is functional, rationalist, engineered and there is a Japanese style which incorporates the ideas of zen, but is there an Australian design style? Is Australia still too young? Are we that ‘young child’ still growing up, lacking confidence and still looking to our parent countries (mostly Britain) for guidance?
  • Australian clients: The barriers and tensions between designers and clients is an old story- the lack of understanding, the unwillingness to take risks but when taken there are huge rewards. If clients still don’t ‘get’ design then shouldn’t designers be doing more to bridge that gap?

From today’s conversations here’s what I think we could do next (these conversations should inspire us to do something next):

  • Celebrate Australian design: Other countries celebrate their design achievements so why don’t we? And I’m not talking about just celebrating design among the design industry but going out to the public and international arenas. I feel there’s a big piece around public engagement in design here
  • Create more design networks: Australian designers work too much in silos. If the experience of servicedesigning.org taught me anything it was not to underestimate the value of face to face interactions and informal gatherings of professional individuals
  • Think less about the disciplines of design: Let’s do a little experiment and break free from defining ourselves by a specific design discipline and what kind of object we want to design. Instead, let’s think about what kinds of issues we can design for. Then use what we know of design to help tackle them
  • Discover our own backyards: As mentioned in the points above one of the big themes was discussing how we can make Australia more innovative. From a design perspective let’s take inspiration from Dott 07 that created framework of thematically organising issues. If we apply this to our own context, this would mean discovering what kind of issues and themes we might address here in Australia. Some of these are going to be relevant at a global scale, but most would be specific to our local and national context. Let’s us our energies to create responses to country-specific issues, things like Australia’s prone-ness to natural disasters (drought, floods and fires) which no other country deals with such frequency. There are so many reoccurring problems out there. Can design offer an alternative approach to addressing them?

Finally, a little side note from the symposium. I had to show this because I think it’s quite neat. Hannah Cutts spoke of this witty packaging design by Adelaide design company Black Squid Design. Their brief was to help a client increase cauliflower sales and the design response was to change habitual purchasing through a cheeky packaging design. The packaging design names individual cauliflower, giving each a personality and also suggesting different ways to serve them. As a customer it would certainly make me curious about vegetables.

Bob, Shirl, Doris & Doug – Cauliflower packaging
Image from Black Squid Design


Filed under Design events, Design thinking, Social and community, Sydney and Australia

Speculative scenarios for Australia’s urban future

Last night I attended the Sydney Design festival event, Designing Urban Futures, both a short film and talk on speculative scenarios for Australia’s urban future.

Photography by John Gollings  from the film, NOW and WHEN

The short film is titled, NOW and WHEN: Australian Urbanism, and presents 17 provocative and evocative scenarios for Australia’s future natural and build environment. The film was part of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010 and between 2 July and 25 September this year it will be playing (admission is free) at the Object Gallery (417 Bourke Street, Surry Hills). The film was created with 3D film technology, using projected photography and computer generated simulations, so the film experience is amazing. But equally as incredible are the speculative scenarios which are both alluring and also alarming. Here are some brief synopsis (from the NOW and WHEN pamphlet) of a few of these scenarios:

The Oceanic City
Built on biomimetic practices, is a floating group of mobile and modular ‘pods’ inspired by the separate organisms found in a bluebottle. The city of Siph sits safely under the water and rises to the surface when the weather permits to soak up the sunshine and provides power and photosynthesis. Ocean current, tides, waves and winds provide natural energy. Most importantly, the mobile nature of the city allows it to respond and change in harmony with the surrounding natural environment.

Film by: Arup

Image from The Oceanic City

Terra Form Australis
Proposes an Australia in which a vast larger population is accommodate on the continent. Through massive terra-intervention, a channel that allows seawater to flood the low-lying areas of the interior alleviates limited to urban growth and permits new sustainable cities to be built. Powered by 100% renewable energy, these new cities are in balance with native biodiversity – as well as being globally networked, diverse, and inclusive

Film by: HASSELL, Holopoint and The Environment Institute

Image from Terra Form Australis

Fear Free City
Is a city in which inhabitants no longer fear stepping from the private to the public realm. Movement is not limited to the ground level but rather pervades the volume through multi-level public spaces and visible links across and between all levels. Rather then ‘escaping’ from the city to the suburbs, this vision wants to liberate people from the fear of the city by offering infinite possibilities of urban choice.

Film by: Justyna Karakiewicz, Tom Kvan and Steve Hatzellis, Melbourne School of Design

Image from Fear Free City

After the film, a short talk was give by Arup’s Tim Jarvis, a well-known polar explorer, environmentalist and member of Arup’s sustainability team. He discussed our current global predicament in terms of sustainability highlighting the three most critical global issues of today as water, food and loss of biodiversity. He also spoke at length about urbanism and the impact this will have by 2050 when 75% of the 9 billion people who will live on earth, will live in cities.

To deal with these situations we have to move toward smarter uses of our natural resources, more intelligent thinking and solutions. Tim spoke of some exemplar models that already exist such as urban farming, renewable energy technology and last year’s appointment of a Commissioner for Integrated Design in South Australia. A role in state government which has a:

“key objective… to advocate the value of design and assume a whole of government (local and state) approach in advocating for, and advising on, ways to achieve excellence in the designed environment through an intelligent investment approach.

This kind of role (I hope) will inject more design thinking at a policy level to address the complexity and scale of problems requiring multiple stakeholder involvement, connection of systems and relationships, considered decisions for our artificial and built environment and also exploring, prototyping and implementing sustainable solutions for Australia’s future.

This is what I see the relevance of Dott 07 (my PhD case study) to be here in Australia. As exemplary models for sustainability in areas such as urban farming, reducing carbon consumption and increasing mobility (without putting more vehicles on the road) among other things. But I’ll have to write about those another day, for another post.

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Filed under Environment, Published papers, Sydney and Australia

What is the object of Australia (event)

The Sydney Design 2011 festival starts this week and as well as taking part in the Design-led solutions to wicked problems event, I’ll also be part of Billy Blue College of Design’s Symposium 2011 titled, What is the object of Australia?

Poster from Billy Blue College of Design on Tumblr

At this event, which ‘examine[s] the state of design, innovation and business within Australia’ I’m going to speak about my research on the changing role of the designer in contemporary society. I’ll be sharing my research findings on the different roles of the designer including the designer as strategist, researcher, facilitator, capability builder, co-creator, provocateur and social entrepreneur. I hope these insights can help us reflect on the roles of Australian designers today, and what could they be in the future.

More details about the event are below:

BBCD Design Symposium  2011
This year the Design symposium speakers will share insights responding to the theme: ‘What is the object of Australia?’ With the globalisation of our design and business sectors, we feel it is timely to examine the state of design, innovation and business within Australia 2011. What can we celebrate and what can we look forward to? Within the framework of design and innovation in Australia, our symposium will seek to expose the  influences and currents that point to our collective future.

Symposium Speakers

Hannah Cutts | Cutts Creative

Lauren Tan | PhD Candidate at Northumbria University

Kimberley Crofts | Meld Studios

Patrick Clair | Motion Designer (Hungry Beast)

Ruben Ocampo | Second Road

Chris Maclean | Interbrand

And more to come,  we are gathering a special guest panel to discuss the future of Australian Creative Industries. Stay tuned!!!

Date: Friday 12th August 2011
Time: All day event 
8.30 am : Registration 
9.00 am – 5.30 pm : Guest Speakers to be announced
$20 for Industry / Educators $10 Students.
Tickets can be purchased online here . Please make sure you book your seats in advance as seats are limited.
Bookings/ticket sales enquiries:
Lulu Ruttley, projectspace@billyblue.edu.au Ph:94923228
Billy Blue College of Design Auditorium. Level 9 Northpoint Building 
171 Pacific Highway 
North Sydney 2060

Who should attend?
Educators, Industry Professionals, Design Students, Business and affiliates of the Design Industry.

Websites: http://bbetween.tumblr.com, Sydney Design 2011

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Critical voices and research into design for social good

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time revising the Introduction to my PhD thesis. To set the context of my thesis I’ve been re-reading papers on design for social good. Otherwise know as social design, design for social innovation, design for social impact, design for sustainability, transformation design, design for public service etc. etc. the use of these phrases are dependent on which country, which design thinker, which academic researcher, which design company you are looking into. I stated in my thesis that I’ll use the phrase ‘design for social good’ as an umbrella term to bring together all these different phrases and concepts where designers direct their design work first and foremost toward social causes.

In the last few years I have noticed many papers and writing that has surfaced on design for social good. And actually less advocating it and more critical voices that outline the weaknesses of design in this context (See Mulgan, 2009), its limitations (See Drenttel in Harrison, 2010; Emilson et al, 2011), the essential need for designers to work with other disciplines to better address social issues (See Schulman, 2010) and its politics, or lack thereof (Fast Company, 2010; Tonkinwise, 2010).

A photo I took of a poster from New Designers, London in 2009 asking exhibition guests ‘Is design political?’ I think the response is pretty interesting. My blog post of the New Designers 2009 exhibition here.

While I have no problem with critical thinking (in fact in a meeting I was in today creatives and designers from industry mentioned there was very little design criticism in Australia) what I have come to realise throughout my research is that we don’t fully understand, and are not clear yet, on what designers actually do contribute in the space of design for social good. One of the most authoritative voices in the area is design and innovation firm IDEO. They identify user research, synthesis and prototyping in design thinking for social innovation (See Brown and Wyatt, 2009). But I have actually found that the most insightful understanding of design for social good actually comes from people outside the design discipline (in literature such as previously referenced Mulgan, 2009 and Schulman, 2010 and also at roundtables and meetings I have attended). Geoff Mulgan who is not a designer, but Chief Executive of NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) provides his perspective on the strengths of design for social good. From his observations of working with designers he outlines the strengths as visualisation, novel insight, providing a user perspective and prototyping (Mulgan, 2009). The weaknesses, he says, are lack of economical and organisational skills, inability to drive implementation, the cost of design consultants, a lack of knowledge of evidence and field experiences.

I think Mulgan’s insight are great, but is this the best position for the design discipline to be in- to have others inform us of what we do well (and not so well)? Shouldn’t designers put their own voice to this? Shouldn’t we be confident in communicating the value we bring? Maybe it’s the case that objective voices are more credible because they balance the positive with the critical. But I think it’s because we, as designers, don’t really understand the value we bring when we design for social good.

Furthermore, many academics have sought to frame research agendas for design for social good, such as Margolin and Margolin (2002) and Manzini (2008). This shows that this area of design is still very young and very emergent.

I am often asked to provide a more critical voice to my research. But before I provide a critical voice, I think it’s really important to better understand the concept of design for social good and understand ourselves as designers. This means understanding what we’re doing in these contexts and identifying what value we bring. These, I believe, are just as important as recognising the weaknesses and limitations of design.

As designers, we need to better articulate what we do and our value instead of waiting for others speak for us. We also need to look at other disciplines, recognise what they are doing and identify what we actually contribute when we work and collaborate with them. Social issues are complex. Designers are not subject matter, policy, economic or cultural experts. We need to work with others to understand social issues, different contexts, and other discipline approaches so that we can use design to enhance, not replace or take over, how we help address and respond to complex social issues. We will be better at outlining our roles as part of these teams, if we know and articulate better what we do and the value we bring to the table.

Update (14 July 2011)

I should mention that in a few months time Object (Australian centre for craft and design) will be publishing their digital magazine and in this edition I profile ‘Design thinking for social innovation.’ I’ll update you here when it is published so I can actually begin to answer some of the questions I ask above! In the mean time check out Object’s current iPad magazine here. Or their past print editions (via Issuu) here. All the latest news from Object on Twitter is here.


Filed under PhD research, Social and community

Sydney Design 2011 (30 July – 14 August)

Sydney Design 2011 starts at the end of this month and for two weeks will be “unpacking design, connecting people and creating meaningful dialogue around design issues.”

The event is produced annually by the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney’s museum of science, technology,design, decorative arts and social history) and will contain exhibitions, workshops, master classes, talks, installations and tours. Here’s an excerpt from the website:

We are living in a world where change is so rapid that our notions of ‘normal’ are constantly shifting. In all areas of design – such as product design, architecture, fashion and graphic design, practitioners everywhere are mining tradition and marrying cutting edge technology with an artisanal and human sensibility.

Sound exciting to you? I’ve just been flicking through the website and here are some things I’m thinking of attending.

Design-led solutions to wicked problems (Tuesday 9 August 5.30pm)
If my post a few months ago on a A Design Policy for Australia interested you then check into this discussion which explores ideas of how design can make a difference to Australia’s future and the contributions of designers across a government policy spectrum.

What is the object of Australia (Friday 12 August 8.30am – 5.30pm)
This discussion explore various issues in design education, taking a look at current trends and future needs, and how these issues will be taught to young designers in the near future.

Designing Urban Futures (Tuesday 2 August 6pm – 8pm)
Imagines design for possible urban futures especially in cities which “rely on old ideas of community, connectivity and the physical spaces that support them but the future will also require radical new design thinking.”

Australian design for the next decade (Thursday 4 August 5:45pm – 8pm.)
A panel of designers consider how design has the potential to effect major change in the decade ahead, profiling design projects that have transformed the way we live.

How to make the old ways of kindness and collectivism new again (Friday 5 August 7 – 8pm)
Fascinating title. This event is a talk that sees that “Not that long ago, kindness, general etiquette and collectivism were the norm, so why have they gone out the window in the 21st century? This discussion investigates ways to return these values to society.”

Collaboration in Experimental Design Research Symposium (Friday 5 August 1 – 5pm. 6 August Saturday 10am – 5pm)
This two-day conference explores design collaborations in the global socio-economic contexts.

Sculpture Walk, Sydney City Architecture Walk, and City Bar Tour (30 July, 6 August, 13 August, 2 August, 6 August)
The Australian Architecture Association host walking tours around the Sydney CBD to explore the city’s architecture.

Transparent Seams: Upcycle Fashion! (workshop on 6 August, Saturday 1 – 4pm.)
An exhibition and practical workshop giving guests the tools to upcycle unwanted items from their wardrobe to create something new (and wearable again). I suspect I might see my sister of Melissa Tan Australia around this event as she’s been designing and making from vintage, recycled and reclaimed materials for many years now and lately reinventing (or upcycling) some of my wardrobe!

Factory as Studio (2 August – 26 August. Artist Talk Thursday 11 August 2pm)
I popped this one in as I recently visited a wonderful local letterpress studio called The Distillery (how much do you love their shop front? Click on the link to see a pic) who have been reconnecting creatives with the art of letterpress. The Factory as Studio event is right up this alley, encouraging designers to re-connect with traditional industry, using existing machinery and industrial processes in collaboration with new technology within their practice.

Hope to see you around at Sydney Design 2011 otherwise I’ll write up a few observations and notes on this blog. Stay tuned!

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