In Hardware, Usability is Key

Four examples of hardware entrepreneurs and inventors that prioritize usability:

1. Leah Buechley celebrates 10 years of her invention the Lilypad Arduino, an affordable, easy-to-use electronics platform for prototyping wearable technology.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.37.43 AM

image via adafruit.com

 

2. Hardware startup Moxxly is acquired to redesign the breast pump experience

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.42.14 AM

image via designerfund.com

 

3. The Bare Conductive team makes tools that make prototyping electronics easy and fun. Check out their latest project here: bare conductive lamp project on kickstarter

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.45.41 AM

image via @BareConductive twitter feed

 

4. Heather Kerrick, Senior Research Engineer at Autodesk, explores usability issues for future products and users. Check out this rad interview

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.47.32 AM

image via adafruit.com

 

Advertisements

Write-storming

If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.

If you do a lot of team work, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting only half of the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. So a great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.

I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from safe&easy ideas to wild&challenging ones.

For more on the technique, check out this piece in FastCo called “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.” And if you like that, you’ll want to check out the book Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson.

Finally, if you have effective strategies for harnessing collective intelligence, or any insights into this problem, then please share them in the comments.

Repost: Encouraging Young Women in STEM

this piece origially appeared at IthacaGenerator.org

Last week, Ithaca Generator makerspace (IG) partnered with Xraise, the outreach program at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education, to host a week-long GERLS Camp for middle school girls. GERLS is an acronym developed by the program’s leaders Lora Hine, director of outreach at Xraise, and Claire Fox, education coordinator at IG. The acronym stands for “Girl Engineers Really Love Science!”

The camp had 11 girls participate from a number of area schools in Tompkins County. Additionally, several female mentors* from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and downtown institutions worked with the girls throughout the week.

THE FACTS ON WOMEN IN STEM

According to a 2012 Girls Scouts report titled, “Generation STEM,” women are not well represented in engineering, computing, and physics with only 20% of bachelor degrees in these areas earned by women and 26% of women with STEM degrees pursuing careers in STEM.

The report provides evidence on why these numbers are so low. While interest in STEM among high school girls is high, these same girls don’t necessarily want careers in STEM. They want jobs in which they can be creative, solve problems, work collaboratively, and make the world better. And the way that STEM is taught in many high schools now, it’s hard for girls to see that connection.

Another problem is that many girls don’t have STEM role models. When we asked one of the mentors at GERLS camp, computer scientist Jennifer Westling, why she thought there aren’t many women in STEM, she responded, “As a girl, I never knew any women engineers or scientists. As a result, I just didn’t envision myself in those roles.”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Research coming out of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT finds that there is a positive correlation between the number of women on a team and how smart the team is. So it’s important that women have opportunities to not only get in to these teams but to make sure these places are designed so that women can succeed once they are in.

GERLS Camp mentor Jenn Colt adds this insight, “We’re not going to solve the important problems facing us today if we have half the population convinced that they aren’t smart enough to take on these challenges. We don’t need everyone to be a scientist but we need everyone believing that they have important contributions to make and their gender doesn’t determine the value of their ideas.”

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

In a 2014 interview with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College–a place where they’ve worked to get over half of the students in computer science to be women–Dr. Klawe lays out her insights on how to engage more women in STEM. ‘First, the intro courses need to be compelling, tying STEM to real world problem solving and creativity. Second is building confidence in the community and encouraging students to ask each other for help. And finally, it’s important to offer joint majors where women can integrate subjects they feel confident in with STEM.’

GERLS CAMP

In line with Dr. Klawe’s insights, GERLS Camp was filled with real, hands-on activities, lots of encouragement to work collaboratively and to help each other, and the girls were allowed to bring their own interests into their projects. Many of the girls worked with the Gemma microcontroller, developed by STEM Innovator Limor Fried, to create wearable electronics that solved real problems they had like a hat that reminded them to put on sunblock or a purse that lit up on the inside when opened in a dark space.

Lora Hine adds, “Research shows that childhood interest in science, not performance in science, has been shown to be a greater predictor of choosing to concentrate in STEM as a career (Maltese and Tai, 2011).  The more we can do to positively influence a girl’s perception of what it means to ‘do’ science or to be a scientist, the more likely she will be to pursue science-related activities inside and outside of school time.”

The experience was great for the GERLS but also for the female mentors. Says Jennifer Westling, “I’d just like to show my appreciation to XRAISE and the Ithaca Generator for making these opportunities available, not just for the girls, but for women like myself, to share our passions with the next generation!”

To see more of our work encouraging Youth in STEM, come to the Maker Expo at Tompkins County Public Library on Saturday 23 August from 11am-1pm.

 

RELATED READING

GIRLS SCOUTS 2012 REPORT

http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/generation_stem_full_report.pdf

2014 INTERVIEW WITH MARIA KLAWE

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/31/women-in-engineering_n_5631834.html

TOMPKINS COUNTY STEM INNOVATORS FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE

http://www.lansingstar.com/business-archive/10102-women-entrepreneurs-on-the-cutting-edge

Xraise, Cornell University

http://www.classe.cornell.edu/Outreach/WebHome.html

 

MENTORS

Romy Fain – graduate researcher in the Nanophotonics group

http://nanophotonics.ece.cornell.edu/

Saramoira Shields AKA MathematiGal http://mathematigal.com/ Math major at Cornell, Research Assistant in a soft robotics Lab http://www.mae.cornell.edu/research/groups/shepherd/

Eva Luna – MS Biological and Environmental Engineering, assistant at the Engineering Teaching Excellence Institute at Cornell

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/eva-r-luna/19/269/b32

Jenn Colt – UX Designer at Cornell University Library and IG Board Member

www.linkedin.com/in/jenncoltdemaree

Xanthe Matychak – Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College and IG Board Member

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/xanthe-matychak-mfa/57/1a5/37

Jennifer Westling – Computer Scientist and IG Member

www.linkedin.com/pub/jennifer-westling/19/32/645

Dr. Rebecca MacDonald – Swanson Director of Engineering Teams at Cornell Universiy http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/magazine/features/macdonaldqa.cfm

Lina Sanchez Botero – Graduate Student, Fiber Science Department, Cornell University

http://nanotextiles.human.cornell.edu/people.htm

Denise Lee – Coordinator of the Saturday Science and Mathematic Academy, Ithaca New York

Today’s DIY is Tomorrow’s Made in America

Last week The White House hosted its first ever Maker Faire, a celebration of individuals and groups of people who work on DIY projects. The title of this post is a quote from the president at the event. It couldn’t be more right on.

from The White House web site:

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. But in recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything….

…The rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States. Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing.

Here in Ithaca, I’m proud to serve on the board of our local makerspace, Ithaca Generator. It’s a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to explore twenty-first century tools and technologies that have the potential to revitalize American manufacturing. We’re open to the public so check out our events calendar and come on down!

http://ithacagenerator.org/events/calendar/

 

related:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

http://makezine.com/

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick visits Ithaca Generator

Ithaca Generator featured on page # 14 of this WH report: http://mac.madwolf.com/sites/default/files/FINAL%20Maker%20Mayor%20Action%20Report_0.pdf

“We’re all designers now…

…so we might as well get good at it.”

This is the opening line to chapter four in Chris Anderson’s book Makers: The Next Industrial Revolution. Okay, I buy it. But just how do we get good at design? C. A. says that we need to learn to use software and hardware of the maker revolution. You can teach yourself or pop into any makerspace for classes on Arduino and 3D Printing and so on.

But there’s another thing that makes us “good at design.” And it’s not something you’ll likely find in a class at a makerspace. It’s the human side of design. And I argue that human centered design (HCD) skills are just as important as tech skills if we want to be designers who make stuff that matters.

To develop HCD skills, I propose we understand and practice three principles: Expertise, Empathy, and Emotion. I’ll flesh these out a bit right here:

EXPERTISE. In David Weinberger’s book Too Big To Know, he argues that the internet has changed our understanding of knowledge and expertise as we transition from a world in which knowledge is disseminated by individual experts via paper to a world in which knowledge is shared through and created by a network. He defines this transition  here:

This transition from expertise modeled on books to expertise modeled on networks is uncomfortable, especially now as we live through the messy transition. We know the value of traditional expertise. We can see a new type emerging that offers different values. From credentialed to uncredentialed. From certitude to ambivalence. From consistency to plenitude. From the opacity conferred from authority to a constant demand for transparency. From contained and knowable to linked and unmasterable.

So if we’re all designers, the first thing we have to understand is that we aren’t 20th century design experts; rather, we are 21st century networked designers. And thus we need to transition from experts who know it all to designers who know how to harness the collective intelligence of a network.

EMPATHY. This transition is uncomfortable, Weinberger warns. How do we let go of our know-it-all status and harness the collective intelligence of our networks? First we have to believe that diversity of perspective will lead to richer solutions than solutions designed by a lone genius. If we believe that, then we are open to gaining empathy for multiple stakeholders in a problem.

How do we do that? We talk to people. And we don’t just listen to what they say, we observe what they do. We listen for the messages between the lines. Or listen for what’s not being said. This close listening will help us gain insights into multiple ways to approach a problem.

And btw, we don’t get these insights from online surveys or conference room focus groups. As entrepreneurship guru Steve Blank says, we need to “get out of the building.” Visit people in their homes, at their places or work, on the street. If we’re trying to design a grocery store experience, well then we best be spending a lot of time at the grocery store.

EMOTION. Once we gain empathy for the people we are designing with — note that I didn’t say “the people we are designing for” — then we can design something that resonates. Why is resonance important? Because despite what classical economists would have us believe, we aren’t only rational. Pure functionality isn’t the only thing that engages us. We respond to emotional details in products and systems. The brainy quotes printed large on each Adafruit invoice, that’s an emotional detail. It’s a wink, an intimate gesture from the company to the customer that says, “Hey, you and I know each other, don’t we.”

Brainy quotes are one way to design for emotion. Another is less explicit: implied metaphor. Implied metaphors in design compel us to transfer to the new design the positive qualities of a familiar thing. Jonathan Chapman, author of Emotionally Durable Design, says, “Its easy to design a toaster that will last twenty years. It’s harder to design a toaster that someone will want to keep for twenty years.” So we need to look for metaphors for things that get better with age, and ask ourselves as designers how we might design those qualities into our work. A wooden laptop might make you want to keep it for longer than a metal one that scratches more easily, because it has taken on an heirloom quality for you.

Now that’s good design. Learn the tech tools. Yes, you must. But also learn humanity in design by redefining expertise, gaining empathy for all types of people, then design with emotion.