Friday, November 27, 2009

The Value of Design Thinking

Design is an active participatory and collaborative process. It is a verb not a noun. Design is really design thinking applied to problem solving or creatively surmounting challenges we face in business. Design and design thinking equals value creation. It's participatory because the design process does not operate in a vacuum.

The design thinking and doing process means engaging with others in value setting conversations and active design sessions of brainstorming, sketching, prototyping, pricing. These cycles of design move from the fuzzy blank paper stage to the implementation, creation, building, roll-out stage and finally into the living and using stage which is why it's so much fun.

It's also why it is so much work. So many factors effect design thinking on one hand it seems extremely complex and the other it is beautifully simple. The idea of honing down, clarifying, editing of design concepts into functioning, attractive and sustainable realities keeps me coming back for more. It is a process which builds upon itself. Good ideas become richer for it. So does the conversation and the learning!

If you think about it the action of design involves identifying something missing, whether it is designing a new workplace or home or better yet, redesigning an existing one, re-purposing and renewing it for a new chapter of living or working.

Marry the design thinking process with sustainable green design and game changing results can happen. A new re-energized future awaits you.

Address wherever you can in your process consider energy flows and usage, water conservation, resource conservation and recycling, creating long-term effective behavioral interactions, create and preserve healthy indoor air quality. Re-direct choices people make when using your product, service, building or software into greener more long-term value's driven decisions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seeking and Sensing the Sacred In Jerusalem_Part 2

Continued from the Part 1, 10/24/09 post....

Friday, Saturday, Sunday.....

...I also visited

each of the sacred sites during their weekly holy days. Each called the faithful to prayer and worship through sound. Five times a day the call to prayer of the Muslims rang out around the city. Fire-raid sirens shrilly whistled at sunset on Friday, not to blow again until the next night, signaling the beginning

or end of Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jews. On Sunday morning bells from church steeples rang all over the Old City heralding the holy day services of the Christians.

Together, their sounds indicated the coming to an end of the week and the beginning of yet another within the context of each religion’s holy year of festivals and sacred time. The calls to prayer, horns and bells all reached out and defined the sacred territory of their

neighborhood or section of the city in a sound net. Often, during the week, confusion and tension would result from overlaps in calls to worship where calls to prayer would occur when bells were being rung for Christian services.During these moments the heterogeneous nature of the city became apparent.

I befriended an Imam or teacher at the Mosque of Omar near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter. I asked if I might accompany him to Friday services at the great Al Aqsa Mosque adjacent to the Dome of the Rock within the Haram esh Sharif. This Mosque served all of the Muslims of East Jerusalem and the Old City, and was the equivalent of a great cathedral or synagogue which serves an entire city. He was delighted.

That Friday I met him at his small mosque, ritually washed myself at the wash-basin and walked with him towards the larger mosque area. We joined thousands of faithful pouring through the streets of the Old City towards the many gates which surrounded the mosque sanctuary space. Because it was Summer it was an outdoors service with everyone lined up facing the entry of the Aqsa Mosque in a great mass of humanity. From there the hour-long service was given. At different points, in unison, the many thousands of people prostrated

themselves on prayer mats directing their bodies and uttering their intentions towards Mecca to the south. My hair rose on my neck in reaction to the expressive sounds of unity.

By participating in this ritual, I suspended my fear of another faith and culture, willfully projecting myself into the service. The clapping and chants of thousands of people at once during different point of the service reinforced the sense of unity and harmony I felt in general between Islam and the Old City. The market areas or Suqs, as they are throughout the Islamic Middle East are the belly of the city, the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Friday Mosque, the spiritual heart. Together with nearby housing, they formed a hierarchy of large outdoor rooms connected by narrow canyon like streets.

Here also, the joy of movement and connection to the Land were of equal importance in serving and shaping sacred space and place. The sites were reached by walking through the Old City along proscribed routes each with their own quality of movement and path. To enter a succession of thresholds and interlocking spaces had to be passed through before gaining access to the innermost sanctums. Instead of the topography being shaped by the layout of the Old City, the hilly terrain and system of valleys and ridges radically affected the design of the city.

To gain access to these special places, one must ascend or descend in an almost choreographed or deliberate manner through narrow and dark streets. Some streets were like dark tunnels, burrowing below streets and housing above, with narrow skylights and ventilation shafts providing dusty air and sharply focused light striking the cobbled streets. Others were wider with more of a sense of the sky above.

All paths which led to the three great shrines, ended with a sense of wide expansion of space in contrast to the strong sense of compression felt earlier. Usually this was preceded by entering a gate and passing through a threshold. In this way, the sacred sanctuary differentiated itself from its profane surroundings. The cardinal directions of north, south, east and west in conjunction of the rise and fall of the sun and the moon contribute to the design and layout of the Holy places and shrines. Each employs movement in proscribed ways through their spaces in relation to these forces.

If asked where and what was my most sacred place and space in Jerusalem I would answer an earthwork sculpture by James Turrell located in the garden of the Israel Museum situated in West Jerusalem. There a large unobtrusive mound is sighted, the visitor descends along a path winding around behind the breast-like form to the single entry of the space to the west. It was named Space that Sees. Like much of the work of the Turrell, it presented a frame upon the sky above. You experienced it from below in a very simply detailed chamber of stone with seats located along the four walls of the space.

Unlike all of the other historically sacred places in the Old City, this one was devoid of all narrative imagery, decoration and cultural conflicts. Instead of being focused on an altar or inner sanctum, the changing qualities of the sky above dominated the space. On hillsides near the Old City, similar older sepulchers or burial chambers and deep cisterns punctuated the landscape. Turrell’s earthwork captured a primordial element common to these spaces, framing nature and its forces in a peaceful, yet spiritual manner.

Playing my harmonica and singing softly, I played an ode to the primordial spiritual forces of the Land pervading the place, enframed in the sky-frame above. My harmonica and voice activated the space, inert before my sounds, into a place of celebration and joy. I participated with and made a place sacred through my own self-made ritual. By doing so, I experienced how these places are mere instruments whose walls, ceilings and roofs stand inert until engaged by action of the people using it. I could make up my own narrative in this simple, abstract space strikingly modern, yet of the earth and sky, endearingly primal to its core.

I finally found my own sacred place and space.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The importance of constant communication with clients

It's important to constantly talk and interact with clients, manage their expectations, requests and yes even their demands. Doing so helps keep the flow going on projects and keeps you in their mind's eye on an ongoing basis. I'm reminded of this everyday. Usually because I'm not as effective at this as I can be and suffer somewhat from not doing this as effectively as can be.

Avoiding interactions, not talking or deferring to a later time, especially in this economic climate, is not a good idea. Being direct, communicative and clear is essential to being effective. Plus it makes it easier to do business. Go figure.

Am I great at this. No way! But, I am learning how to do this better. It is certainly going to be a lifelong passion as far as I can tell. Hey just think of all the great conversations that haven't been had yet...and relationships to be built...this sounds like good business and good fun!

Any feedback from you cultural creative designer types? We're not always wired to do this well out of the box. Effective communication isn't a typical course in design or architecture schools.

So, to sum up, try to be in constant communication as much as possible with your clients and folks in your network. It really matters to be in touch. Especially as we all move together organically into our quasi social / professional networking sites like LinkedIN and Facebook, Plaxo etc. It's important to be alive on the internet and to be alive in face to face communication.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Images of the Imaginary City and Waste Oil

A few years ago I painted this blue on blue image of any imaginary city with various levels of clarity. It's haunting blue coloration has stayed with me with it's simplicity and striking mood. When I was making it I was imagining how I felt during 9/11 which certainly wasn't very settled or happy, but rather downcast and confused, although now I can see I was trying to structure and control the uncontrollable with a composition of four figures against the sky.

Contrast this with the following more expressive painting of oil cans I made demonstrating the alternative and eirie beauty of painted words found on oil cans in Rutland, VT leaning against a Garage wall. I wanted to create a message with the piece causing the viewer to reflect on the
idea of beauty from such a ordinary and ugly fixture of our oil dependent society.

What are your thoughts or readings?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good Design Takes Time

Good design is exhausting. It's rigorous. It demands communication on all levels.

Good design is relentless and not for the faint of heart or for those who need lots of sleep!

Design matters, so does honest and open, clear communication, setting realistic expectations and maintaining them internally and externally.

Good design is taking care of your customer as best as possible.

Good design listens and learns. It also takes time. Time to think, time to make, time to explain and clarify, time to produce...and then time to enjoy and reflect......

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Check Out "Global Warming: Are Brtitains' TV Ads too Scary For Children?"

The Christian Science Monitor had an interesting article on recent TV ads shown in Britain about Global Warming and shifting to greener behavior. I often ask myself how dire versus how optimistic a message or mood to share with people when discussing Global Warming.

My friends and family seem to be divided on whether they believe or not and often it brings up difficult but necessary conversations. Is the CSM right on with their assessment of the ads and the questions they raise? How do you deal with explaining Global Warming to others? Are what the Brits doing helpful or not? What do you think? Should we air TV ads like this here in the US? Maybe we already are? If so, send me links or information. Thanks, Steve

Sunday, November 1, 2009

DOE Solar Decathalon Winners_Let the Sun Shine on Innovation

When I was in graduate school in the the early 1990's sustainable design was just getting off of the ground in the way we know it now. (I know it's been around since Mesa Verde, but the current generation of thinking)

I wish programs such as the Solar Decathalon held each year in the fall in Washington D.C. were around then. It is sponsored by the US Dept of Energy and teams from universities and colleges from all across the world compete in it. It provides an oppourtunity for pursuing design innovation and experiential learning on a small solar home scale. What a fantastic all around oppourtunity!

The program has six-goals worth noting. The basic premise is to invigorate interest, research and developing marketable technologies able to be brought to the market-place. Another one is to help develop zero energy homes which is something many of us want to know more about.

The winners this year, especially the top three, offer a wide ranging view of how to solve the design challenge. Check out the winners! I wonder if teams from Norwich University or Yestermorrow Design Build School have ever entered? It seems like this program would be right up their respective areas of focus. I'll have to check with friends who teach there.

See photostreams of the homes on Flickr and Hi-res Gallery of Homes on the DOE site.

Enjoy seeing what the next generation of design leaders are up to!