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Wednesday Sept 13

Source: Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World. Academy Chicago Publishers, 2nd edition. p. 225

This crude radio is one of my favorite "things to think with." It is the antithesis of the slick, glitzy designs you see in design magazines -- because the design process started from a human need. As Papanek tells it, there were parts of the world where "entire village populations were illiterate and unaware that they lived in, and were part of, a nation-state. Unable to read, and without enough power for radios or money for batteries, they were effectively cut off from all news and communication." It is interesting to note that Papanek started on this project after being approached by the US Army. He began work on the device in 1962.

Papanek describes the components: "earplug speaker, hand-woven copper radial antenna, an "earth" wire terminating in a (used) nail, tunnel-diode, and thermocouple..."

Some things I think about:

  • This project started from a need expressed by the US Army. Why were they interested?
  • When Papanek demonstrated the radio to the Army they were very concerned. "What if a Communist" starts to broadcast? They were thinking ahead to the consequences of dissemination. How far ahead should we think about consequences? Where does the responsibility of the designer begin, and where does it end?
  • Papanek focused on function, not aesthetics. Turns out that in some cases the users decorated the outside of their cans in a local style. What is the lesson from this?
  • Was it ethical for outsiders to decide that villagers should get information from the world at large? If we bring radio broadcasts, television, etc, into the lives of people, are there responsibilities that come along with this, for example to teach critical thinking about media? And is that cultural imperialism?
  • I want students to build these radios for themselves. What do you think students would learn by building their own tin can radio, that they don't learn just by listening to me talk about it?

More on listening and hearing: One idea that I think would be interesting and worthwhile to pursue

What if we stopped worrying about making hearing assistants invisible and discreet and starting making them hip?

What if we thought about the range of hearing applications noise canceling hearing protection?




...could we design one hip device for all of them?

Tuesday September 19

I was just exploring the word "heuristic" (which I think of as synonymous to "rule of thumb," although it has important other meanings as well) and discovered on Wikipedia a reference to a book called "How to Solve It" by mathematician George Polya. See the Wikipedia page on the book.

[Note on Wikipedia: It's very controversial among folks in the humanities, but when the article in Science appeared, reporting that Wikipedia entries on scientific topics were nearly as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica entries, I became a convert. My advice is always to read the discussion ("discussion" tab at the top) as well as the entry...then you can see what is controversial. I love this because it helps to train active and critical readers.]

Tuesday September 26

Had lunch with my mother today in the retirement community where she lives, and as we were going into the cafe, two elderly women were being wheeled out. Both of them had headphones, black and bright blue, of a style I've seen in electronics stores--that is, a type that is freely available on the retail market. One of the women held a small black box in her hand that had a wire to the headphones, and appeared also to have an antenna.

* Someone is working on this, but it still seems to be confined to the elderly.
* Watching the woman hold the receiver in her hand, I thought it looked awkward. We need to go look, listen, ask, and try when designing for others...we don't know what it would mean to people in their eighties and nineties to be wearing headphones, and to have to hold something in their hand or clipped to a belt.

Tuesday October 10

I can't wait to see the Critical Thinking materials Georges is bringing back. I've thought for a long time that critical thinking was important, and most universities give lip service to teaching critical thinking skills for students. But if we REALLY encouraged students to think critically, it would be very revolutionary, and very disruptive of the status quo. In academia, as in most other institutions, we are sometimes reluctant to ask the hard questions. Like, what is the core mission of the university? If it is to advance student learning, could we be doing a better job of this? And are we preparing students primarily to be employees, or to be citizens?

Those of you who came to Paul Graham's talk know that I was not altogether happy with what he had to say. I'm a great admirer of his essays even though I don't always agree with him. He has really great one liners that I think often get to the heart of an interesting and thorny issue. Sitting there in a 250 seat auditorium at MIT, and being one of perhaps a dozen females in the audience (how many of you noticed how few women were there?), really made me think about his message. I was a grad student at MIT, at a time when outside my department the ratio of men to women was about 10 to 1 (it is more even today), so I am used to being outnumbered, but this was really over the top. Why was his audience so imbalanced? Is it the topic, entrepreneurship? Is it the way he presents it? The pronouns in his talk assumed unproblematically that entrepreneurs were male. In my question to him I described his characterization of entrepreneurs as "the Lone Ranger;" he broke in and said, no, no, it's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. To me that's a distinction without a difference. I know a lot of men would not find that model appealing either, and that some women would, but the stereotype is certainly male.

Very much to the point, too, is that the entrepreneurial lifestyle he describes is incompatible with having a family. At least, with having any kind of family life. Is this absolutely necessary? Or just something we accept as given? In the study of workers in the Massachusetts Software and Internet industry that I recently concluded, one of our findings was that women in technical jobs were far less likely to have children (even stepchildren!) than were their male peers, and that they were also far less likely than other women--by a pretty wide margin. What does that tell us? Is this way of life sustainable? Do we want all our technologies to be designed by young guys without families? Nothing wrong with young guys without families, but there are a lot of other folk out there that don't get represented very well. That's part of what IDEO is trying to get at--designing for people who are not like you.

Wednesday November 29

Kipp Bradford's talk was fascinating and provocative, full of interesting things to think and talk about. Here are a few that I'm mulling over.


  • Toys reflect society in interesting and disturbing ways. A number of social scientists have examined our toys and what they say about us. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins edited a book called "From Barbie to Mortal Combat," with a series of essays on gender and computing.

Radical Design Class Notes
Sarah Kuhn
September 20, 2006

  • C heck out Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys

Today we brought the actual plastic thinking hats from de Bono, the IDEO method cards, the Thinkpak cards, and the Creative Whack Pack.

Georges demos the fingerwatch. He loves it for coaching soccer. It moves the watch from your wrist to your finger. G&M talk about pulling out the variables, including hidden variables.

Fred bought flipchart paper and post its for exercise.

  • check out WTO, world toilet organization

Students distributed around the room, writing the name of their product at the top of a piece of flipchart paper with a marker. Fred needed to go get new markers because there were not enough. Then they were supposed to write facts (white hat) about their product, leaving room on the paper for more writing.

  • Next, put on the red hat, go to someone else’s product, and write an (emotional) reaction on their paper.
  • Next, green hat, and go to yet another person’s product and write down a creative, generative new approach.
  • Black hats: what are the problems with this product, devil’s advocate. Risks, failure points, etc.
  • So now each flipchart has considerable writing on it, and they are distributed around the room.
  • Next we had students talk about their homework slides, one at a time.
  • Occasional technical difficulties getting stuff off GGGs computer and the Internet, but not major.

sphincter toilet. Use as a source of energy?

Computer work station: how to radicalize? [Good oppty for The Body at Work]

GGG: important to know the history of your product. SK: and possible futures, opportunities such as collaboration with Healthy Workplaces initiative at UML.

Janet Clark dashboard project

[I’m having trouble because I want to steer students toward the things I am interested in.]


  • I liked the book. Idea of parallel thinking is important but we have not mentioned it yet. It seems central.
  • We have not done the hats as a group so far, just as individuals (FM)
  • A company allows everyone 120 seconds to speak; I’m not convinced that the hat approach is better.
  • Effectiveness of a technique depends on the context
  • Need to approach a problem from different perspectives
  • But you use all the colors over time; ‘every book you have ever had has been printed one color at a time’
  • I was skeptical initially but when he talked about how the ego gets in the way, I agreed
  • He also observed that you can use the hats to get around social problems; you have the ‘cover’ of a hat

Took 10 min break

After break had students vote on favorite ideas. Each had 3 votes, no more than one vote per idea per person. Asked students to decide what to do now. Top vote getters got grouped into natural pairs, then students stood next to the pair they wanted. Only one person had to switch groups.

Each group has picked a secy/coordinator who will take responsibility for communication/making sure stuff is posted on the wiki.

Groupings: toilet/shower; hearing aids/headphones; workstation/chair.

  • Create a page on the wiki called ‘opportunities’
  • Healthy workplaces
  • P3
  • Janet’s Dashboard
  • GGGs Indicators project (with Annabelle)
  • Other competitions/funding options/projects at the university
  • Staples innovation contest

Debating the meaning and usefulness of the word ‘creativity’

Slide 10: the Create web site which lists and describes a huge number of techniques; then the ‘subway map’ which does NOT have a pop up message for “Why Bother?”

Analogy to Ethics as Design—analogy to IDEO methods??

  • IDEOs Secret Formula
  • Methodologies
  • Work practice
  • Culture
  • Infrastructure

We ended up running through the slides quickly at the end. We didn’t have them do any of the IDEO techniques in class BUT they had already tried some things in their homework. The techniques that the slides said we would do in class we didn’t do; out of time.


Constraints continued:

Design for X was a watchword of the 1990s

X = Environment


Workstation Group:

  • Make more space to lay out papers
  • Make a tree? Use vertical space
  • Used bodystorming
  • Walked around the building looking at

Toilet group:

  • lists from interviews about what people want in a toilet
  • Toto as ultimate fulfillment of people's wishes

Hearing group:

  • headphones+hearing aids+hearing protection
  • Great lead user interview with 12 year old kid

Damon says that his group has formed quickly, and that having 3 profs and seeing them debate and disagree helps students to feel more open to exploration and be interactive

This is the OPPOSITE of what all of us in CS have been taught which is to define the requirements first. With the template we tried, we start with a new form, then search for the function. Opposite of form follows function.

In this class, we had a significant problem. We worked our way through the template approach for 2 of the three products, then realized that we had done the templates incorrectly, presumably because we didn’t really understand them. Here is the email exchange that followed the class:

Fred: Yes, I definitely agree -- we must perform the exercise ourselves first.

We're learning the hard way!


Damon: i spoke with some students after class.

the overal impression was that we were fumbling around in the dark, that we (both the students and the instructors) were not entirely clear on the techniques.

i think this negative post-class impression was partly due to the fact the exercise degenerated into a bit of an argument.

i have since read the template and forecasting techniques in the book.

we missed or under-emphasized some points:

  • dependent and independant variables in the forecasting matrix:
  • we made symmetric matrices: if we put a 1 in location (1,2), we also put a 1 in location (2,1). this is not always the case.
  • we used variables in the replacement graph, were we were supposed to use components.

the book has some very clear examples:

  • the glass example for forecasting matrix and attribute dependancy template (tho this matrix is also symmetric).
  • the chair example for replacement template.

also, there is a good chart (6.2) illustrating the difference between components and variables.

i think if we had walked thru these examples before trying to put them into practice w/ our products, things would have gone much more smoothly.

a further suggestion for next years class:

  • the forecasting matrix for the glass (table 5.2 page 80) has letter labels for each cell in the matrix.
  • they go thru some of these letters, but not all.
  • if we had gone thru some of the letters they do go thru as example, we could then have used some of the letters they didn't go thru as examples of us trying to put the techniques into practice.
  • i think we would have had more success learning these techniques by example using this pre-existing glass matrix, as it is very well thought out, with consistent variables in terms of dependant/independant.

another advantage of using this glass example from the book as the class example: - if people are not entirely clear on what to do from the in class example, they can read/re-read in the book for clarification.

October 11, 2006

Last week we went to Paul Graham’s talk at MIT on Founding a Company while you are an Undergraduate. We didn’t have class.

Student comments on Graham: student projects usually look like class projects not like real products. In the real world you don’t get an A for hard work. Undergrads actually don’t make great startup founders.

Get the smallest possible thing out into the marketplace so you can get feedback. [Like Fred Brooks No Silver Bullet recommendation]

Flat organizations really a good idea? Need for marketing too. You need a Wozniak AND a Jobs.

Venture Capital Presentations:

  • Hearing Devices Group
  • One unitary hearing device for hearing protection, promotion, and recreation. Well done presentation, on the wiki. No pictures.

Workstation Group

  • Multiple monitors, lifted up off of desk, moveable. Much less detail than first group. Studies of monitor attention.

Toilet Group
Toilet room, a module that will slip into a slot of specified dimensions in a house. Infrared response. No mirror so don’t touch yourself. Clean with UV, Roomba. Reuse sink water for flushing. GGG: hospital applications. Power backup? Who will buy? Expensive private schools, high end elder care, green buildings. Highest end Toto is the competition, and it is $5K.

Environmental Presentations:

  • Toilet Group:
  • Clean, reusable materials.

Workstation Group:

  • Fully recycleable, upgradeable, using recycled and ecofriendly materials.

Hearing Devices:

  • Noise pollution, power consumption (motion generates power, like the flashlight you shake [ForeverFlashlight]), reuse and recycling of materials.

Gave students a two page handout from the web on what VCs look for. But they should focus on product issues, not financial plan.

Then Georges did slides on Product Analysis, Universal Design. SK did electronic waste and values in design.

Military contracting. Planned obsolescence.


Email exchange:

On Oct 18, 2006, at 12:24 AM, Georges Grinstein wrote:
Wow – this was harder than I thought it was going to be.
Here’s what I have so far – I will be working the rest tomorrow morning.

From: Fred G. Martin
looks really good so far. i didn't realize we'd be putting sample code in, but it's great idea. fred

Yes but it takes about 25 minutes per API.
And I’ve had to drop 2 as they were too hard to describe.
It’s good we’re doing this however as it really highlights the problem of “quick assessment”. ---ggg

From Damon Berry: what about heterogenous languages, re: api's. i.e.

 if i pick a c++ api, and my partner picks a java api,

it's is no small trick to combine these api's.

are all api's in the same language?

if not, they should be grouped by the language, and people should pick a language, and then pick api's from that language group.


1. Presentation of papers/project reports

Seemed to come as a surprise to students that they were supposed to present tonight. We said just do impromptu, whatever is new.

Hearing group….lots of good ideas and materials here. Extremely versatile, many applications.

Excellent. Promising product.

Workstation Group…felt that had cohesion in the process even tho most of the work was done alone. New environments was unanticipated use—storage of tools etc.

Toilet group…focus shifted from toilet only to a place to put a toilet. Basically a half bath, and it can be for home use or as stalls in a public washroom.

Made good use of user interviews and their problem statements. Radical uses for components—eg dishwasher, field surgery, etc.

Discussion of how each group worked on narrowing the focus to come up with something do-able. Damon says it is like carving marble where you take away and take away and end up with something.

Highlights the intelligence of groups and the ability to rapidly develop a product, in a few short weeks.


GGG presented API slideshow. What we think APIs should be: easy to learn, to use, simple, easy to maintain and extend, etc (see the slide). We had a pretty big debate over whether for example full blown languages like C++ are APIs. Are hardware components APIs? We will have to manage the selection of APIs by teams on a case by case basis.

Some APIs are really ugly; readability and simplicity are really important.

? See matrix that Matt posted

We are going to delete the scripting languages from the list.

Students claim 2 APIs, put their names next to them on the wiki, and create two slides for next time. Software folks build sample code, others look for applications.

If everyone is editing a wiki at the same time, it can be a trainwreck.

This seemed like a good class…speed dating developed good energy and came up with some interesting products. We have documentation of these.

October 25, 2006

We rearranged the desks into a horseshoe. Much better, I thought.

Started with one hour of SK Design Responsibility slideshow, with student pair brainstorming on whiteboard some lists of wicked problems which they personally have encountered in their home area or where they live now. Those lists have been transcribed and posted to the wiki. Here is the list:

Wicked Problems generated in class (that we have some personal knowledge about)

Traffic Air Travel Security Special Needs students Health system

	Aging population

Individual health

	Vs time
	Vs choices

Bullies in schools

Obesity Federal budget deficit Inflation Income disparity Childhood drug use Internet addiction Fear/political pressure in the media

Homelessness Racism Sexism Global poverty Prejudice against homosexuality Religious conflict Environmental pollution Poor penmanship Lack of information flow between cultures/countries Malnutrition Lack of health insurance Drought

Farmers committing suicide Population is disconnected from its food supply Old or no infrastructure High medical costs Quality vs quantity of medical care

Oil shortage [fight for energy resources] Health problems/ obesity Political corruption and misrepresentation Pollution Health and education investments Deforestation and environmental issues

Unemployment Affordable health care Addiction Homelessness Poverty Illness Disability Discrimination Fatigue Educational inequality

Interesting exchanges with Fred and Georges during my presentation. Georges made assertions I still don’t understand about the importance of mathematizing wicked problems. By this he does not mean quantifying, but clarifying and defining. Intriguing. He also uses the Rittel and Webber piece, and can post it.

Then we marched through the students’ API presentations. Each did about 2, and briefly discussed them. ? Piccolo API is pretty interesting—like PPT but supports 3D motion. Cool.

[Idea of mashups of APIs and wicked problems…very intriguing. Is Ethics as Design helpful here?]

[Mashups a very interesting phenomenon! Co-evolving with interdisciplinary work. Postmodern? We were never modern.]

Processing ( is a very fast programming “language” for nonprogrammers. Fast and good for graphics. Compiles it into Java, and can compile it into an applet. is also fun, posted by Georges.

Fred tries to categorize APIs. Web services

	Calendar server

Map server App frameworks

	Delta 3D


	Open GL
	Calendar client

Port audio XVid Open haptics Lucene JScience Open physics Protocols

	Open sound



Web applet


Yahoo! UI

If you pick APIs across categories you may have problem integrating them.

When it came to the crucial process of forming groups we left them on their own. It was pretty chaotic. We had no plan. It is socially awkward. How to manage this marketplace? The first group to form was a group of four friends, who have similar schedules and see each other at school frequently.

November 8, 2006 Guest class by Pat Carlisle from Lancaster PA, from DeBono group. “Serious creativity” is what we see as important. PC got involved in DeBono in 1992 when he saw people become more effective and productive in a day. This approach used throughout the world.

We know 81% reduction in meeting time at JP Morgan 2640% return on the dollar for Sci Instrument co in Canada, lots of PhDs From 212 to 4—reduction of fights in the diamond minds From 33 to 2—Days per year for large Finnish company to make major business decisions

Exercise: take out a piece of paper, take a minute and a half to write down the list of things you know you have to complete successfully before December 15.

Then: write down what thinking tools you will use to do these things. Also a minute and a half for that.

What we are going to be discussing this evening is a set of thinking tools. DeBono is a physician, wrote “Mechanism of Mind.” Believes that thinking is a skill that can be improved. The skill of thinking needs tools.

In the academy we should be teaching the skill of thinking. Hats and other things are the TOOLS.

The way we are taught to think is that A’s idea and B’s idea can somehow be synthesized (the Greek ideal). A??B. When people disagree they argue, stop thinking, winners and losers. Benefits of argument are seeing things from other points of view, modifying your own, etc. BUT argument usually doesn’t change people’s minds.

We should change from adversarial to parallel thinking. The adversarial way of thinking, thousands of years old, is very good for analysis. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates. Their methods based on logic. But they did not know scientifically how the mind works. The first stage of thinking is perception, the second is logic. Research at Harvard showed that 90% of the errors in thinking came at the perception stage—you need a perception management tool. Otherwise people may misperceive or may have different perceptions and not know it.

You can teach the hats and lateral thinking to your children. Why don’t we teach our children thinking tools.

Parallel thinking is exploration. The hats method is a method to learn exploration.

[Trees process.]

Provocation: illustrated by the story of Solomon, who proposed to cut the baby in half. This provocation made it clear who the real mother was.

We have people learn how to set up a provocation. An example of a provocation: “cars have square wheels.” Similar to poetry, supposing, etc. Out of cars have square wheels came better suspension. PO = the art of yes and no. PO is the opposite of NO.

My perception of a situation comes out of my past. How do we change the perception.

In a typical meeting, people express their views, then the person with the clearest statement, or the most power, or the one who fights the hardest wins.

Tools have the advantage of directing your thinking—tells you what to do—directs your attention. After 9/11, in the companies we work with, there are half the number of people and they have more work than they can handle.

Exercise: Divide into groups of at least 4, with team members in same group. Spend 3 min deciding which project your group is going to focus on for this exercise (blue hat).

Then for 4 min, think of 3 ways of re-expressing/reframing your project. This helps to reveal and extend the perceptions that group members have, with respect to the project.

Pat says it is important to have the physical hats present. It depersonalizes it. Without the physical presence of the hats it’s just me and you.

Pat told story of guy named Batchelder in Cambodia, there to install potable water system. People didn’t want to talk to him. But he was teaching his daughter 6 hats, and she taught the villagers, who then came to him and asked him about it. Helped a group of 6 villages to move effectively to clean water and health care systems.

1. analysis and critique 2. parallel thinking 3. lateral thinking

are now three methods that we have available to us.

Red hat is about expressing emotion without explaining. Honors people’s ability to feel, and feel safe talking about feelings. Feelings simply are and do not need explanation. But people have to play by the rules.

The hats are about disciplined thinking.

Pat makes an aside about Kohlberg and Gilligan, who in his telling demonstrated that some people are focused on rules, some on maintaining the relationship. The red hat gets people together.

Exercise: Use the hats in a sequence to discuss the project. PC will be the timekeeper and manage the process, but each person in the group should also have their own blue hat.

“Teach Your Child How to Think” is a good primer. Can also be used at the college level.

World Center for New Thinking is DeBono operation in Malta; wants to develop this in US also.

What this process does is: 1) help people focus their attention and 2) help people discipline their thinking.

Look at the hats software again? What is going on in it?

Design is forward movement. Design needs a thinking methodology. Analysis is not a design methodology. Design is future oriented, not about making things more complex. We have enough complexity. Provocation is a design methodology. Random word can be a provocation.

“Lets say the focus is ‘teaching innovation’” Our randomly generated word is “hose.” Our output is new ideas re teaching innovation. From hose we generate other associated words: garden, fire, water, silk. Then generate ideas…help students plant seeds of knowing…teach outside…teaching with passion…fire bad teachers…give resources…

Now what are the implications of for example teaching underwater…you’d need a new set of materials, teaching in a different universe.

  • [marry thinking tools and exertion interfaces]

December 13, 2006

Discussion with Curt before class: we should pre-screen APIs. 1) language compatibility, 2) manageable size (30 calls max) 3) nature of performance (real time vs. non real time). Also need coaching of the groups once they have selected their APIs.

[How much emphasis should we put on the different elements? Framing a problem, selecting APIs, investigating possible users, making robust, etc.]

Class final presentations of radical products:

Haptics project: To what extent was this a group project, or was it mostly or all Alex? He talks of this in the first person singular. What were the barriers to contribution by the other two?

The new micro API allows you to create essentially a marimba, with bars of glass, wood, and metal. As you change size you get different sounds. Very few options with this first micro API. Then you can think of how many things you would like to add in for a slightly more complex set of functions.

Student records project: Apache, PHP, and MySQL. Charming false records and attractive design. Dropped the blogger stuff; wasn’t working out. How to apply in their domains of plastics and RESD? Basically it’s a shared database, remotely accessible.

Sick Laser sound project: Showed code but had no hardware working yet. Will have hardware tomorrow for demo.

SlangMapper group: Cool

Email reader: Radical adaptation is an indexer that matches documents to other related documents.

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