How to Communicate Complexity

Simon Roberts is a researcher at Arup, an engineering group doing amazing research and pioneering work. You may remember a previous post where I shared recent obsessions around systems thinking, and so this continues along the theme of understanding and communicating complex systems.

You might be a little confused why I share this movie for the first, but at about halfway everything goes bonkers, with graphs and arrows and chaos that becomes a huge, wild map of excitement. Most excellently, the logic becomes clear and the big messy visual begins to make some deep sense.

While the topic is out of my league to comment – England’s economy is hardly an area I’ve considered a lot of – the economic driver that Simon recommends for further review is in the area of service innovation which is something I’m reflecting a lot upon recently, and will likely post on soon.

So enjoy this one, and a huge thanks to Simon and Arup for sharing:

4see model and introduction to poster from Simon Roberts on Vimeo.

Insights into Design Education

Image by Danielle Jedral: A superb overview of design process from the mind of a second year industrial design student.

In my Industrial Design studio classes at OCAD University, the students are tasked with keeping a design journal. Their “job” is to collect the thoughts between projects. In particular, I am looking for the insights that capture their increasing awareness of design and their personal role in this creative space.

For some the task is difficult, because it requires a certain amount of honest reflection and a particular kind of discipline, but in every single one of these journals there is a page that stands out. The best ones capture a sneak peak of a young design student’s mind as they begin to play in this space.

What is Industrial Design

Danielle Jedral was a student from last semester, and I’ve included a page from her journal here. It came out of a conversation at the very beginning of the semester as the class and I explored different ways of defining what design is, and what their roles would be in the semester. I love the page for its simple logic. Danielle offered that I could share this, which I thought was pretty special, but it means you should all go and visit her side project here.

Learning from a Barrel Cactus

Image by Rui Felix: Above banner is a small crop from one of the many rich images Rui developed for this project. Each image file is quite big, and has a lot of great content to process.

I have recently developed a slight obsession around barrel cactus. They have become my go to organism when introducing biomimicry, especially in workshop exercises that gets an audience engaged in biomimicry.

To start the biomimicry class this year we ran the Barrel Cactus project and had a huge success. I have several case studies I want to share, and today’s is from an Environmental Design undergraduate student from OCAD University; Rui Felix. And I will warn you in advance, the images are superb, and you may want to set aside some time to really process the content.

Project Overview

The project we ran began in class and stretched over a couple of weeks. The core learning objectives included; general awareness around biomimicry, early concepts of biology, and practicing skills of observation and abstraction.

We began with a general discussion around “selective pressures”, defining the context for the barrel cactus, encouraging students to recognize that visual “features” of a cactus are actually “adaptations” to survival. Or from a design perspective; “solutions” to “problems” posed within the habitat. The exercise deliberately merges language of biology with design, to encourage students to engage using similar observation tools they would use in other design research investigations.

Observation through Sketching

Image by Rui Felix: Observational Sketches and Diagrams outlining insights from the Barrel Cactus

Rui Felix has outlined a stunning page above that summarizes the diverse observations made in class around the barrel cactus. You can see both sketches of form and process. Personal favourites are the digrams of light and shade, comparing the cactus ribs to a circle or square cross section.

This is an example of design research communicating biology in a way that is accessible to a diverse audience. I believe this general format should be integrated into tools such as Ask Nature.

Read the rest of this entry »

Designing a Racing Canoe – Biomimicry Design Process

Introduction to Sabs Feigler's Bio-Inspired Racing Canoe Redesign

I’ve begun to dust off old student projects that I have been looking forward to sharing since I first began this blog. To start, I thought I would share a project from Sabs Feigler that is an excellent example of visual design thinking. This was a three week project at the end of our first semester class, where students are given the opportunity to select a project they are working on in other classes and go through a quick biomimicry process. The emphasis is on gathering biological research and connecting to the design project.

Visual Thinking, Processing Diverse Information

Sabs Feigler: Communicating Biology Research Visually

Read the rest of this entry »

Biomimicry and Design Definition

Charles Eames definition of design on the left, my personal definition of biomimicry design on the right. Initial diagram found here.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations about what design’s role, and value, is within biomimicry, and the reverse conversation that explores biomimicry’s value to design. The conversation seems painfully circular, so I wanted to attempt a diagram that could help me give shape to the conversation.

How does biomimicry challenge designers?
How can designers validate biomimicry?

For those sensitive to my obsessive use of design, please insert; “creative problem solver” in my following exploration.

Charles Eames diagram of Design

Read the rest of this entry »

Bridging Science and Design – Update

Evolution at it's best here!

Peter (Mr Scelop) made a superb addition to Alena’s already superb diagram and I was too eager to let it sit in my inbox.

Up-Cycle like a Nudibranch

The humble nudibranch, or sea slug, could be an incredible inspiration for how designers view recycling and up-cycling, and possibly even concepts around regenerative design. It’s taken me a little while, since Tim first told me this story, but here goes my first real attempt to put my money where my mouth is around the concept of visual communication in biomimicry. Looking forward to any feedback and ideas…

Nematocyst Up-cycling

Image 1 - Anemone

Image 2 Nematocysts

Read the rest of this entry »

Moonbot – Evolution of Storytelling

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore iPad App Trailer from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

There has been a lot of talk of the iPad “killing” the traditional book, and how children will read in a completely new way in the future. I’ve experimented with a few of these examples, including a gorgeous four year old proudly reading us a book off her jet-lagged parents’ iPad this summer, but until recently I haven’t seen many examples that have surprised me.

Moonbot is a gorgeous example of animation, interactivity and storytelling merging into the same medium. While I don’t have an iPad and therefore haven’t spent a lot of time with the story, there is obviously some gorgeous magic here that is a sign for things to come in the future.

Inkling is a company pushing electronic textbooks, a concept much promised, but mostly failed, especially in the Kindle market. There are a couple of great articles by the company outlining how and why they have developed the e-books, and like the children’s story above, there are some simple, yet powerful insights.

Interactivity not “just” an add on

Read the rest of this entry »

Project: Science Design Dialogue

I might have got myself in trouble here…

A recent post stirred up some great conversation, and someone actually called me on an idea, and now I have to put my money where my mouth is. My question to the internet was;

“Is anyone interested in starting a dialogue around science with non-scientists?”

The answer was yes (thanks to Peter “Scelop” Nierowski and the mighty Tim McGee), and so now we have to think about setting this up.

Using this blog as the sounding board to get the initial discussion going, here is the game plan, and all you beautiful people out there, let me know what you think.

Here’s the the big goal:

To fuel deep dialogue about research, that includes a diverse array of voices, that opens science to a broader audience.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

A paper is selected for its scientific merit and opportunity. A group of motivated people start a free flowing dialogue that includes written discussions, questions, debates, hopes and dreams.

After a period of time, we call it quits and assemble some sort of review summarizing the discussion. It may be something like RSAnimate, or maybe a snippet of Design Fiction, or a paper that could be presented in a biomimicry conference. This could be a research project housed in a university, non-profit, or another model.

In the mean time a new dialogue would have begun around a different paper, and possibly an entirely new topic, for people to connect around.

The big hairy ambitious goal includes the possibility of this dialogue fuelling further research in different labs and institutions that might lead to some game changing insights and discoveries. Or to an incredible book discussing the implications of science in the broader community. At this point, who knows, the vision is broad, but emergent, and will respond to whatever brews up from the discussions.

Let’s do it – here comes the action plan!

Read the rest of this entry »

Digital Education – Storytelling and the Internet

Continuing on from the last post regarding RSAnimate, I just wanted to throw another pioneer of online education and communication.

Salman Khan started tutoring his niece on Maths (sorry to the Americans out there but I still include the “s”), by doing little digital lecture workshops and tracking her progress. It helped that he has a capacity with software programming and a range of different skills that made him particularly adept at weaving together the digital content.

What I appreciate is the simplicity of the format. A single voice, drawing simple diagrams to support the discussion, in short bursts of very specific information. Below is an example; he walks through a VERY brief introduction to evolution, but my personal favourites are his explanations of financial processes.

For more, here is a link to the Khan Academy website.

What is the impact of a compelling story?

Read the rest of this entry »