Design for humanity

On one hand, designers aim to make useful, attractive products or services. On the other hand, capitalism aims to make money for investors. When these two things are put together, designers can lose. Designs become more a means of profit than things of beauty and utility.

Investors want to get a high return on investment. So, they continually push for new products. If there isn't a demand for that product, they try to create demand. They use advertising to persuade consumers to buy unneeded products. On top of that, profit-driven companies create products that don't last and can't be repaired easily, so people have to keep buying new ones.

Designers, unfortunately, have little or no say in the matter. Designers often want to make beautiful, sustainable products, but can't. They simply have to satisfy the profit-driven executives.

Benjamin Hubert: Designing for all

Benjamin Hubert, founder of the design company LAYER, believes that design should be for the people, not for galleries. LAYER’s vision is to solve everyday problems in the best way possible. For example, a client approached them about a new wheelchair. This was a company with no relationship to design—they just needed a better wheelchair. According to Hubert, “clients approach us because they want a functional and affordable product that’s also beautiful.” 

Hubert founded the LAYER start-up in 2010 after working for a large agency for a few years. He recommends to all founders of start-up companies that they work for someone else first. That way you learn about all the aspects of a business.

Lateral thinking: The stuck truck

There's an insightful story that's used to explain lateral thinking, or thinking "outside the box". It goes like this:

A truck driver tried to pass under a low bridge, but the truck was too tall and got stuck. Traffic piled up behind it, and soon emergency workers, engineers, firefighters, and other truck drivers gathered to try to help.

Each one thought of possible solutions based on their own field of expertise. Mechanics thought of dismantling the truck piece by piece. Engineers thought of chipping away at the bridge. But none of the solutions were feasible. Then a boy who knew nothing of mechanics or engineering came along...

How would you solve the problem? Pitch a potential solution. Then your teacher will tell you the rest of the story and how the problem was eventually solved.

Dune sequel set for release

After the box office success of Dune last year, director Denis Villeneuve confirms a second chapter of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic is in the making.

“Right now,” he announced, “I’m in what you call ‘soft prep’… It’s that beautiful part where it’s just dreaming, looking at the ceiling and thinking about the movie storyboards… It’s the moment where everything is possible, before we have the shock of reality that will come.”

Like many films of the COVID era, Dune was originally slated for release in 2020 but wound up being postponed to 2021. Despite the roadblock, the sci-fi epic has managed to live up to the hype, with anticipation now building for a sequel.

“[The sequel] has direct continuity to the first movie,” stated Villeneuve. “[So] it's important for me that the audiences see Part Two as soon as possible.” Though an official release date is yet to be set for the new film, Warner Bros anticipates its appearance late 2023.

Cities are designed for tall men

According to The Guardian, the renowned Swiss architect Le Corbusier developed a system that has shaped much of the world. It dictates everything from the height of a door handle to the scale of a staircase. But the system, Le Modulor, developed in the 1940s, was created with a handsome six-foot-tall British policeman in mind. So all sizes are governed by the need to make everything as convenient as possible for Le Corbusier’s ideal man.

The system's influence even extended to the size of city blocks, since these responded to the size and needs of the car the ideal man drove to work.

By the 1980s, some women had had enough. After decades of struggling with prams and shopping trolleys, navigating dark underpasses, blind alleyways and subways in the cities mostly made by men, it was time for a different approach.

The importance of liberal arts

In 2008, research teams at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executives and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. They learned that, although a degree made a big difference in the success of an entrepreneur, the field it was in and the school that it was from were not significant. YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, for instance, majored in history and literature; Slack founder Stewart Butterfield in English; Airbnb founder Brian Chesky in the fine arts. And, in China, Alibaba chief executive Jack Ma has a bachelor’s in English.

The key to good design is a combination of empathy and knowledge of the arts and humanities. Musicians and artists inherently have the greatest sense of creativity. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools; turning engineers into artists is anther story.

Hong Kong O-Pod 'tube homes'

Hong Kong has one of the worst housing crises in the world, and has been ranked the least affordable city for housing for the last eight years.

Hong Kong architect James Law has designed a low-cost solution to the problem: stackable, retro-fitted water pipe "tube homes" called "O-Pods" that could be rented cheaply to young people.

"If we can work with governments, and even private landowners and manufacturers, we could very cheaply build the O-Pods, and we could rent them out very cheaply to young people who are struggling to afford housing."

Law sees the design as an "open-source" solution for housing crises around the world.

The first O-Pod development is being built in Shenzhen, China and due to open in July.

A whole new world map

The standard classroom maps we all learned geography from are based on the Mercator projection, a 16th century rendering that preserved lines used for navigation while hideously distorting the true sizes of continents and oceans further from the equator. The result is a widespread misconception that Greenland is as big as Africa, Siberia and Canada are disproportionally massive, and that Antarctica apparently just goes on forever.

In reality though, Africa is larger than all of North America, and the Antarctic is about as big as Australia. A new map created in 2016, the AuthaGraph, however, may be the pinnacle of accuracy. 

Amazon's design strategy

Vice president of Amazon Echo, Mike George, explained: "We have a thing called 'working backwards.' The first thing we do is we write a press release, ignoring every technical thing we can’t do for now. It’s our aspirations. We also write FAQs where we identify every question we would receive as if we issued the press release. We answer the question in aspirational ways too, ignoring, for the moment, the technical hurdles. In some cases we actually build things."

The idea is to dream about what this product could be. The next step is to hash out the idea between a team of experts that would potentially work on the new product. "There's a team in there, in a room, debating, from vice presidents to junior software developers," he says.

Everyone is not only encouraged to speak their mind, they are obligated to, he says. That's because Amazon has a motto: "Have backbone." It means that Amazon wants all the people working on a new product to be on board with the idea.