Tag Archives: creativity

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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Design Thinking in school education

Earlier this year a short film ‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’ was produced and published online by Seymourpowell, the Design & Technology Association and the James Dyson Foundation. It promotes the importance of design and technology in education providing commentary by ‘UK Design Heavyweights on the Need for British Design Education.’ I found the film on Core 77 who write:

“The points in the video are all well-made, perfectly articulated and obviously sensible. So why do they have such an uphill battle to fight? Because while they are arguing for the education of children in the video, the video itself is designed to educate a far more difficult creature: The British politicians responsible for education policies.”

Here’s the film below.

‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’

In this month’s Object: Australian Centre for Design iPad magazine on ‘Design Thinking / Design Action’ I write about this topic area in an article ‘Design Thinking in education.’

Object recently launched the magazine on their website, so if you’re interested in this article please visit Object: Australian Centre for Design otherwise see a summary below.

In the article I profile design for school education programs, initiatives and projects happening around the world such as:

From these projects I summarise that Design Thinking brings to education:

  • Project-based, experiential learning approaches;
  • Personalised learning;
  • A mindset that promotes human-centeredness and collaboration; and
  • A process that guides the exploration and development of solutions to real-life challenges.

The ‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’ film is a great big picture perspective from design heavyweights on the importance of design and technology to the UK. My article goes into a bit more detail because as stated in my previous post, the concept of Design Thinking for local, national and world issues is easy to understand but the execution is the most challenging. Especially systemically scaling Design Thinking.

The projects I profile in my article are great exemplars of the different things designers and design can do for school education. There are many different ways to bring Design Thinking into the classroom to equip students with creativity¹ and tools² to prepare them for tomorrow’s world.

¹ Sir Ken Robinson advocates for more creativity in school education saying that currently “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued.”

² Ivan Illich (1973) critiqued the mass production model used in our education system saying it has inhibited “the contribution of autonomous individuals.” Illich offers ‘convivial tools’ as the antidote, that is tools that give people the capacity “to guarantee their right to independent efficiency.”


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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

Bringing back the lost art of letterpress

An old uni friend once said to me that he thought typography will become the gramophone record of the design industry due to our digital age. He thinks typography will be a ‘luxury’ where only a handful of designers will continue to design type and only a minority of clients will commission the design of a new typeface. I was thinking about such lost arts last week when I encountered a new letterpress printing studio in my local area and attended their opening party on Thursday night.

The Distillery is Sydney’s only letterpress printing studio run by Nathan and Jess who’s mission is ‘to help spread the love of letterpress in Australia.’

There are a few things that really struck me about The Distillery. Firstly their mission to reconnect designers and the public with the lost art of letterpress, a printing technique invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. Letterpress uses a plate to imprint ink onto cotton paper giving a slightly debossed feel and beautiful print quality. By the 20th century letterpress was taken over by modern techniques of printing (like digital) that were more cost effective and less labour intensive, so you don’t find that many letterpress studios around these days.

The Distillery’s printing press machine, a Heidelberg Windmill from 1959

Secondly, I absolutely love how they have set up the printing studio to look like a shop front. By doing so they allow the public to observe the process and tools of design, which is not often shown in such a way, and invite passersby to satisfy their curiosity and engage in a conversation about the art of letterpress. The studio is also open to having designers continue their involvement in the production process, to enter the space and watch the design work come off the press.

Image from The Distillery website

Finally, the creative entrepreneurship Nathan and Jess represent. Both passionate and honest about what they are doing and filling a creative niche bringing back a lost art in a new way (you can read more about in this article ‘Enter the new entrepreneurs‘). I thought it was also interesting that the both of them engaged a mentor, an expert in letterpress and retired head printing teacher at the Sydney Institute of TAFE, who taught them the craft, and how to use the machine that they affectionately call Wolfgang.

Nathan and Jess demonstrating how Wolfgang works at the opening party

The Distillery were the perfect hosts on their opening night. Check out some of the food below! I wish them all the best with growing their business and spreading the art of letterpress in Sydney and Australia.

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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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Coldplay gives us insight into the creative process

Somewhere between London and Sydney last December I spent an hour on the plane learning a whole lot more about British band, Coldplay. In the documentary that played in front of me I learnt how lead vocalist Chris Martin creates songs and I think he provides really great insight into the creative process. Designers often struggle to articulate their creative process and Chris Martin shows just how tricky it is to make it explicit.

Below is a short YouTube clip of Chris Martin speaking about and showing us how he created ‘Clocks’ one of Coldplay’s most well known songs. In the clip we see how a lot of creativity happens on feeling, intuition, collaboration and also just trying things out again and again (iteration) to get to where we want to be. Sometimes we know where we want to go but there is a process to get there. Sometimes we only know where we wanted to go when it is done. Unless we give things a chance and try them out, we’ll never know what could be created.

I think there are some really interesting insights and lessons into creativity and design here. Especially for design thinking, which is gaining a lot of popularity in Australia among business organisations and government.

Finally, here’s what the process became- ‘Clocks’ one of Coldplay’s most successful songs.


Filed under PhD research