Humane Design in the Face of Inhumanity


All it takes is a briefing of TIME’s list of the 25 best inventions of 2016 to realize that, despite what the newspapers, radio and TV tells us, we live in pretty good times. Not perfect times, mind you, because there is plenty of improvement work to be done. While empirically speaking, this is one of the safest times on more places on the planet than ever, but through our global digital environment we have easy access to the many (too many) horrors that we still inflict upon one another.

It’s an understatement to say that 2016 was a rough year on refugees, so it is really nice to see TIME give a nod to a design that works to protect them. The UN Refugee Agency and the IKEA Foundation joined forces to create Better Shelter – a social enterprise with a mission to improve the lives of the millions around the world who are displaced by armed conflicts and natural disasters.

Better Shelter dreams of a day when everyone has a safe place to call home, no matter where in the world home is. Until that day comes, the company is working tirelessly on spearheading a movement to provide shelter for the millions who are displaced. (more…)

Putting the Power in Kids’ Hands


The kid in us loves gadgets, but when it comes to actual kids and digital gadgets, they’ve been swimming in that pool since birth. At least that’s the case in much of the developed world.

Of course, not every kid is so lucky to be able to put wearables and technology on their holiday wish lists. For too many kids around the world, theirs is a wish for a simple meal so that they can survive another day. According to UNICEF, 16,000 children die every single day from causes we can prevent, like malnourishment and disease. In total, malnutrition takes about 3 million children’s lives each year globally. But now there’s a way for kids to use their technology for good and touch the lives of starving children around the world.

UNICEF (The United Nations arm famous for providing humanitarian aid to children in developing countries) collaborated with a design studio called Ammunition to create the Kid Power Band – a wearable that empowers kids to help the children in need. (more…)

A Microscope That Fits In Your Pocket

Bacterial infection. Rod-shaped bacteria, 3D illustration

Tuberculosis isn’t a disease we hear about too much in the United States, even if we experience almost 200,000 cases per year. It’s an infectious disease caused by bacteria that manifests itself in the lungs. It also manifests itself in developing countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa.

To diagnose the bacterial infection one must conduct a blood test and survey it with a microscope. Blood tests can be administered essentially anywhere – it’s the microscopes that cause some concern. In this TED Talk you’ll learn that microscopes aren’t designed for field-testing. For one, if you remember from science class, they are really heavy. Not exactly the kind of equipment one would throw in a backpack while trekking to a remote village. Secondly, they are costly.

Weight and cost restrictions don’t do much for accessibility, which is tough because it is precisely the places that need access to better health care that also run rampant with TB. (more…)

Giving Food Waste a Second Life

Food Waste

I live in Minnesota – a state known for its brutally cold winters. But this past weekend, in early November, our temperatures reached 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared to my wedding 25 years prior (known more widely as the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991) this weekend’s weather is a pretty conspicuous indicator of our warming world. Which is why I love seeing great ideas put into action now, and I mean right now. 

A town in England is taking the lead here.

The southwest British town of Keynsham is en route to being run almost entirely on food waste. You know the stuff – the leftovers you bring home from a restaurant but never get to, the lettuce that browns way too fast, the meatloaf that you couldn’t convince your kids to eat. Food waste, by the way, is a problem almost as big as melting glaciers. Forty percent of the food grown in the United States ends up somewhere other than someone’s stomach.

My first preference is to find ways to bring food about to be wasted into the hands of people who live with food insecurity. However, sometimes the scraps and spoilage mean that food can’t be used for eating. But that doesn’t mean that the food can’t be used. (more…)

Get a Cut, Nourish your Head

Round bookshelf in public library

Getting kids to read a book isn’t always the easiest trick up a parent’s sleeve. As a dad of two girls, I know this from a bit of experience: Getting kids started on a life of literature oftentimes has a rocky start. Lucky for the parents and teachers in Ypsilanti – a town just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan – an unlikely figure has taken the helm for getting children to practice their ABCs.

At The Fuller Cut barber shop, kids get $2 off their cut if they pick up a book and read to the stylist when they are getting their hair done. Now, haircuts don’t typically come out of kids’ pockets, but a $2 savings is big – like two candy bars big.

According to this NPR piece, barber Ryan Griffin was inspired by a literacy program he heard about in New York, so he brought some books from home to the shop and gave it a go himself. Weeks later, and after some word of mouth, his chairs were filled with children stumbling over words and he started receiving book donations. A week after NPR ran the first article they published a second one updating readers on the Read-to-a-Barber program, which has unsurprisingly gained attention in all corners of the world; from California to Australia and a stop off in Germany along the way. That’s a pretty big footprint for a little barbershop. (more…)

This is Not Just A Façade


Filled with terracotta roofs, green shutters and stone structures, the world-renown architecture of Italy is all but untouchable. Untouchable also means antiquated, however, and in today’s world of fossil fuels and depleting natural resources, antiquated is no longer an option. It’s time we start producing structures that self-sustain, or at the very least capture and generate energy like this and this. But what about all of the existing infrastructure on the planet? Certainly we are not going to break down ancient treasures so as to accommodate our energy consuming habits.

Leave it to the Italians to so passionately want to preserve the beauty of their ancient cities that they have come up with a way to be eco-friendly while protecting the very important building aesthetics.

Dyaqua is an Italian research lab that produces Invisible Solar, or solar modules that blend right in with the buildings. Instead of a rooftop covered with panel after panel of sun-reflecting eyesores, Invisible Solar imitates architectural elements of all types. We’re talking wood, terracotta, stone and concrete – materials that truly look like the original surface they are adorning. This means that historical structures around the globe are able to get the environmental facelift they need to pull their weight without ruining the stories the structures tell.  (more…)

Turning a Sports Car into a Story Car


Oh how I love products and ideas that go beyond telling a good story and actually produce good outcomes. Whether its a prayer space in Berlin that welcomes Christians, Muslims and Jews or a clothing designer that creates gorgeous garments out of material scraps, I love them. So when I came across a car that goes beyond producing a good story, well, I had to read on.

You see, I dig cars. I can’t deny it: Fast cars, vintage cars, cars that are as sophisticated as an iPhone. And yet I also can’t deny that there are some big issues that these rolling sculptures introduce into our communities. Issues like congestion and of course, pollution. And because of that, I find it remarkable that the three most expensive, highest of the high performance cars available today are hybrids. The advent of plug-in electric cars is also very cool (as long as the electricity is being produced in more progressive ways as well).

But now I’ve found an automotive design that is undeniably harmonizing a love of cars and a hatred of pollution.

A tech company called NanoFlowcell has built a sports car that is fueled entirely by saltwater. Called the Quantino, this city-sized electric car doesn’t require charging and can go for up to 14 hours without refueling. Before you get too excited, the fuel isn’t seawater, but rather it is a water solution comprised of a scientific mixture of organic and inorganic salts. The fluid is called bi-Ion, and according to this BBC article, it is a technology that NASA gave up on in the 70s because the energy density was too poor. (more…)

Follow the Plastic Waste Road


India is a magical place. It is a country of extremes, from the beauty of the Taj Mahal (pictures really cannot do it justice) to the horrors of beggars purposefully maimed to increase the prospect of someone parting with their Rupees. I love the place because I can’t fully comprehend it …  its diversity, its color and its textures play upon a scale that’s hard to grasp.

As the second-most populous country on the planet, falling just behind China in ranks of the largest population in the world, India boasts over a billion people. Or 1,331,249,400 people at the time of writing. (Just because it’s interesting, check out this live ticker of the country’s population. It’s jaw dropping to say the least). As such, it isn’t hard to imagine that this enormous population produces an immense amount of waste and in particular, plastic waste. According to this video, 15,000 tons of plastic waste are generated in India every single day.

To make a big issue bigger, the second largest population is squeezed into the seventh largest country area-wise, so the waste produced has even less room for accumulation. But a chemistry professor named Rajagopalan Vasuvedan has come up with a new use for waste, and it is pretty remarkable. (more…)

Learning Good Behavior from a Monster Named Mojo


Screenshot from ClassDojo Video

Academic achievement is important. But unless you know how to apply your smarts in real situations with real people, it’s going to be tough sledding out there. Reading, writing, arithmetic … these school subjects have been the standards for many, many years. Possibly even since the inception of a formal educational system. Knowing how to read has served us all really well, too. But there are some other subjects that these three core focuses need to share space with at school, like social and emotional learning. Called SEL amongst educators, social and emotional learning encompasses behaviors like self-awareness, relationship building and responsible decision-making.

Now, these may sound like things we should be learning at home while sitting in between mom and dad around the dinner table, but there is increasing evidence that teaching these life skills in school helps children with performance, as well as increases what is called prosocial behaviors, or the good things we cultivate like kindness and forgiveness. The problem, however, is that schools are held to such high standards regarding test scores that it can be difficult to move over the math in lieu of teaching less concrete skills that kids aren’t tested on. And really, folks, that’s just a shame. (more…)

Keeping Vaccines Cool For the Final Mile

set of medical syringes and vials

Did you get your flu shot this year? If so, did you walk into your primary care clinic to receive it? Or maybe the stop was even more convenient and you popped into a local pharmacy for a quick hypodermic shot or a sniff of nasal spray and you were off and on to other important things. For many of us, these weapons of mass public health are so accessible that we don’t even give it a second thought.

That’s not the case in the developing world, of course. Vaccines arrive to small rural communities only after being transported from the metropolises that produce them. And the proper way to store and handle vaccines is a little less than simple. If you are so inclined, you can read the CDC’s storage and handling guidelines here. It seems that vaccines are super finicky in how they’re handled. They must be refrigerated at specific temperatures depending on the strain, plus they need to be packaged safely so they don’t break. All this while traveling on rutted roads from the city out to the remote villages where they are so desperately needed.

How badly are they needed? The Guardian says an estimated 19.4 million children failed to receive their immunizations last year, 60 percent of which were living in developing countries. (more…)