Who is out there?


Who are you magical people that read my rambling blog? Where do you come from and what leads you here?

I recently passed 100 posts, which feels like a lot, and I wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who has ever visited. Knowing there is an audience out there for my thoughts is humbling and inspiring. More recently I’ve begun to take my writing a little more seriously and am workshopping a few different ideas. So I’d love to know more about who you are, and begin to understand what is emerging on Bouncing Ideas.

Please comment me below, or if you’d prefer to send a private email: bouncingideascarl[at]gmail.com.

I’m really curious:

  • Where are you in the world?
    • Just last week there was a boost in people from Egypt and Sri Lanka – who are you?
  • What is your background?
    • Design? Biology? Business? Professional Juggler?
  • What are you looking for when you come here?
    • Biomimicry? Design Thinking? Technology? Sustainability?
  • Is there anything missing that you wished I would explore?
    • Even better – is there anything you wish to contribute?

Many, many thanks again!

Abductive Thinking, Sensemaking and the Meaning of Life

Design Synthesis

Abductive thinking and Sensemaking were  terms that I had been struggling with until I stumbled upon Jon Kolko’s writing that has begun to put it all into context. Thanks Jon, my mind is gently being blown. Jon is prolific and appears to be in the process of completing the design trifecta: worked at frog, spoke at TED, and now in the education as as a founder and director of the Austin Center for Design.

In an article written for  Core77 and then published in The Alpine Review – a delightful critical thinking and art mag that I am currently obsessing over – Jon outlines why systems thinking is crucial and how “sensemaking” is a bona fide practice of generating tangible actions out of large and often incongruous observations.

As I begin to explore more of his writing, I am seeing an obsession with “synthesis” as a design activity that needs further unpacking, development and practice with clear purpose. This is so deeply aligned with questions I have been bouncing around that it proves to me that designers are all trapped inside a singular brain space, like some kind of weird black t-shirt, jeans wearing ant colony.

Jon defines “sensemaking” as:

“the ability to synthesize large quantities of often incomplete or conflicting information… connecting discrete insights… depth of thinking, rigor of connections and strategic and creative reasoning.”

More specifically the challenge is bringing clarity to messy investigations that are a natural outcome of any systems research.

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The Challenges of Creating Toys: Idealism, play and commercial design.

My students hard at work in class...

I may have mentioned earlier that this year I am finally teaching a course in toy design. Since leaving the industry over five years ago, it has always been a goal to set up a class exploring play  and what toy design could really be. Quite surprisingly it has been a solid challenge, especially trying to balance the commercial business opportunity with the idealism of play for children.

The greatest challenge within the course is that I wanted to focus on “inventive thinking” rather than traditional design. The difference is subtle to any non-designers, but in fact completely turns design process upside down. Inventive thinking encourages something to emerge from a creative process, rather than seeking a solution to a problem that has been defined through design research. A toy design project is more likely to identify a category, age group, or brand, that requires expansion or updating (almost all toy lines are heavily renewed every year), where as an emergent, inventive process explores the open concept of “play” and looks for opportunities.

Are toys “problems” to be solved?

Photo Credit: brooklinemama - Trying to design a toy better than a cardboard box is an impossible task.

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Play is More than Fun – please watch this

A superb TED talk that offers a broad overview of the importance of play.

Stuart Brown’s TED talk delivers a superbly dry, scientific and humorous overview of the value and importance of play. I’m revisiting a bunch of these talks as I prepare for a new course on Toy Design and Invention (which I am getting ridiculously excited about) and it is reminding me of a range of lessons and insights that I may have been ignoring.

Stop taking design process so seriously

My last few posts have been analytical and cold discussions of design process and research methodologies and as I reflect on them, they were getting a bit heavy. The processes outlined do not sound fun. The discussion is not playful, and yet, that is fundamentally what drives me personally, and I think is a critical ingredient to any creative process.

I get nervous outlining specific design methodologies because it suggests there are right and wrong ways of acting, but the reality is that all process is incredibly flexible. The decision about “what should we do next” is likely as easily solved by identifying what ideas suggest the most opportunity for play within your project.

If you need a boost, there are a bunch of other PLAY/CREATIVITY based talks on TED full of juicy goodness below:

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Apologies for Disappearing

Sorry for people who are checking in on the site – and who are champing on the bit to dive into the Science Design Dialogue project. My holiday has been surprisingly light on the internet access – and my brain may have turned off while sipping wines in the New Zealand Marlborough region…

Will be back in action later next week, and have a bunch of ideas ready to bounce around. 

The Risk of Creativity

I just read a gorgeous little essay from a furniture maker’s blog I discovered through core 77. Mark’s thinking explores the increased personal return he feels due to the physical commitment he makes to creation. Here’s a gorgeous quote from his entry:

… it’s mistakes like this that keep me interested in working wood.  They remind me (with a costly jolt) that this craft involves risk. Something is at stake. Always. And the stakes increase as work on a piece progresses. Ruining a leg blank ten minutes after pulling it down from the lumber rack isn’t a crisis. But ruining a leg that’s been shaped, sanded, and mortised means losing hours of work.

Creativity can be a complicated thing for even those very comfortable with the idea. There is always the niggling doubt, for anyone who puts themselves out there, that this can go wrong. But that’s the pleasure of the process. By taking the risk to explore new territory, there is the possibility of new discovery. Or failure. Which is just fine as long as you can dig deep and keep going. Mark says it beautifully here;

Challenging the risk of failure is part of each endeavor. It keeps me in the moment and it sweetens the accomplishment when I succeed. Risk is part of my craft.

Please explore his musings here.

Let’s Bounce Ideas

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Scenario B.5: Mass Customization – Unique Solutions

One product for one person. A solution for every personal need.

Scenarios of Sustainability for Design

Nobody knows... the troubles we've seen...

If you could make the perfect digital camera. Would you need a new one? If you played an active role in the design and creation of your winter coat, would it last more than one season? If the couch was uniquely and individually yours, would it make the trip to your new home intact, rather than left by the side of the road in anticipation for something “new” from IKEA?

Mass customization and personal fabrication is becoming a thing of the present. It is being written about aggressively in WIRED magazine and is a very real movement. Design is becoming more democratic, the tools available to more people and the process of turning idea from concept to reality is being fuelled by emerging entrepreneurial models and micro-financing.

"The Oona is a simple, versatile smart phone stand that can do as much in the physical world as your phone can do in the virtual." Just what we need...

Does this mean we will have better stuff that will last longer, meet more individual needs, and slow down cycles of consumption?

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Does Biomimicry as a Tool = Sustainability?

Recently I have begun to learn the difference between vision, strategy and tactic. These are not new concepts for me, personally, but until now I had never understood why the specifics necessarily mattered. To help explain this let me summarize these concepts as best I can.

Strategy = What. Tactic = How. Vision = Why.

(Note: enormous thanks to Alex Manu, and apologies for enormous over simplification).

What problem needs to be solved? What need must be met? What opportunity must be taken? These are questions of strategy, that guide the success of an individual, organization or business. The tactical challenge is to resolve those problems, meet the needs, or seize the opportunities. The vision is the driving force behind why anyone would commit to undertaking those challenges.

This has become important to me recently as I realized I was focusing on a tactical tool, while overlooking any strategic vision. If it sounds as though I am speaking in riddles, then you get a small glimpse into the circling chaos inside my mind as these ideas collide painfully together. Let me explain.

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Getting Outside Your Bubble

Popping the bubble

Author unknown, image found here.

Recently I became very aware of living in my own bubble of self interests. Unknowingly I had created a personal echo-chamber where the people I spent time with, read on line and in books, or watched on TV all bounced around ideas and opinions that I mostly agreed with. It makes for a wonderful self full filling environment that depending on your world views can leave you very positive that things are happening the way you want them to happen. Reading nothing but your favourite sport and gadgets makes you think that the latest whizz bangery and winning the game at all costs may be the purpose of the world. Or if your a fan of doom and gloom and you only follow those that let your world view is proven that we are all in serious trouble.

But I realized, especially when I read this paper (one of the co-authors, Jutta Trevianus is now at OCAD University), that I was missing the bigger picture. It might also mean I was  weakening my potential for creative problem solving that would require looking at a subject from many different frames of mind. Framed this way in the conclusion of the paper:

“Diversity [of media] promotes innovation and creativity and results in better problem solving. Mathematical modeling shows that this phenomenon is partly due to the increased coverage of possible options that a diversity of perspectives and therefore diversity of paths enables…”

So, only reading the basketball news of your favourite team, the fashion magazine that reflects the beauty of your culture, the newspaper that supports your political and ideological beliefs, and blogs that feed your personal interests, may actually make you a worse person?

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