Retro Refuse in an 8-Bit Can

Some of you are old enough to remember when the original Tetris, the extremely satisfying tile stacking game, was released in the mid-eighties. And those of you who weren’t around for the first version might have run into it in a “retro-release” form. Well it’s back again and in a surprising and satisfying new medium. Just make sure you’re not looking for it on your game console.

TetraBIN is an augmented reality trash can that rewards folks for throwing stuff away instead of littering. Sensors in the bin ignite LED lights to create an interactive Tetris-like experience on the exterior of the trashcan. The block’s patterns are discerned by the shape and size of the trash you deposit in combination with your timing – a heavy-hitting move that gamifies the simple and mindless, but important, act of throwing trash away. If you watch the video below you’ll get to see the trashcan in action.

Interested in exploring how technology can be used to motivate behavior changes, folks from the University of Sydney’s Design Lab collaborated on this project with the hopes of improving urban livability. Alumni Steven Bai and Sam Johnson worked with the Design Lab’s Director of the computing program, Martin Tomitsch, to find a way to make cities more welcoming, and one important way to do that is to keep them clean. And that is something that citizens benefit by taking an active role in, whether they acknowledge it or not. (more…)

An Old, Iconic Structure Becomes Relevant Again

Eiffel Tower. These two words evoke a lot of sentiments for a lot of people, many of which are likely nostalgia for great times spent in Paris. What few people – if any – probably think about when they hear of this famous tower is environmentally friendly. And why should they? This 128-year-old structure wasn’t designed in the times where “global warming” and “greenhouse gasses” dominated our headlines

In partnership with the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), a renewable energy firm called Urban Green Energy (UGE) installed two wind turbines on the second level of the tower last month. The turbines are expected to produce enough energy to offset the annual consumption of all the commercial activity on the tower’s first floor, according to UGE’s website. And if you’ve ever been to this landmark, you know the hustle and bustle that takes place on floor one.

The second level of the tower is approximately 400 feet above ground level, which is an optimal height for energy production. Because it’s so high in the sky, the turbines aren’t all that visible from below. But even if they were, they look kind of cool. If you view the video below you’ll get an idea of how little they disrupt the beauty of the tower. It really is an elegant design.


First Response is Gaining Height

Imagine if you were to call 911 in response to someone having a heart attack and the ambulance arrived within one minute. You’d hardly have time to panic before a medic arrived! When it comes to heart failure or terrible accidents, one minute is already pushing it, and it is nearly impossible that an ambulance could arrive that quickly.

A very bright graduate of the Technical University of Delft IDE located in the Netherlands has a solution to this time crunch problem. The Ambulance Drone is the result of Alec Momont’s Master’s thesis project and it’s got some real potential.

It’s a lightweight drone (made with an ultra light carbon fiber frame and 3D-printed materials) that can arrive on-scene in approximately 60 seconds. To answer the skeptics’ suspicions right off the bat – this is assuming that eventually these drones will be stocked anywhere ambulances are. The drone flies around 62 miles per hour and doesn’t have to wait for lights to change or for clueless drivers to get out of its way. (more…)

Shelter That Isn’t Just Powerful, but is Actually Power-Producing

I love architecture. Always have. And the best architecture doesn’t merely erect structures to contain humans, but soars with humanity integrated into every space. These days sustainable humanity through sustainable stewardship of natural resources presents a central design challenge. If you find the questions that emerge from that exploration compelling, you’re probably going to love the answers that this beauty of a house has exposed. Located just outside of Larvik, Norway, this home actually produces more energy than it uses – double the amount plus enough to power an electric car, in fact.

How can a structure this aesthetically pleasing (see the images below – unbelievable!) be quite so energy efficient? With extreme intention. Just about every nook and cranny in the design contributes to the cause. The slanted roof is covered with photovoltaic panels (a fancy way of saying solar cells), and is strategically southeast-facing so as to absorb the optimal amount of sunlight throughout the year, according to this Design Boom post.

The huge windows allow for ample natural sunlight, nearly eliminating the need for electric lights during the daytime. The home collects fresh rainwater, has a form of exterior sun shading (so you don’t need to run the AC) and taps into excess heat produced from the radiators to heat the running water, just to list a few more spectacular components. Of course that sizable outdoor pool is heated by solar-generated heat surplus as well.

The plus home (so named because it produces more energy than it consumes) was designed by a design firm called Snøhetta in conjunction with the Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB), which aims to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings. And by the sounds of it, their efforts are quite successful. Thanks to the popularity of this gorgeous and environmentally kind home, between 700 and 800 similarly designed homes are being developed in Bergen, Norway, according to this Inhabitat article. And as you’d imagine, it would seem that these creative environmental approaches just might migrate out of that small geography quite soon.

The structure has been nominated for something called the Mies van der Rohe Award. For those of you who aren’t architectural aficionados, Mies was one the founders of modern architecture and was all about expressing modern human possibility. Perhaps you’ve heard his famous quote, “God is in the details.” Given the many details contained in this house’s design, it’s not surprising that it has garnered the crème de la crème of architectural awards.

Follow this link to see a cool diagram that highlights 15 components of the home and how they contribute to its eco-friendliness.

Given the enormous design intentions of a new generation of architects and rapid advances in technology, I don’t think it’s overly ambitious to consider a day in which all new buildings are designed to produce more energy than they consume. Snøhetta, by building one of the most (if not the most) eco-friendly homes in the world has produced something that is deeply beautiful. Not just for how it looks and not just for what it does, but also for what it means.

I’ve always taken the position that the world’s environmental challenges aren’t so much a problem to be fixed but rather an ongoing dilemma to be better managed. Designs like this give me confidence that progress against that dilemma is being constructed all around us.



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Farm-to-Table, But Not Where You’d Expect

I love to read about, listen to and discuss healthcare. Being a resident of Minnesota, I am exposed to some of the most progressive and commendable healthcare initiatives taking place in our fair nation, and I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to see much of it develop. What really excites me is when I see activity that is intended to change the underlying design from one that is focused on sickness to one that further develops the “health” in healthcare. In other words: designs that promote, preserve and monetize keeping us away from sickness. It’s not often that you see these designs in hospitals, but when those worlds are melded it makes for a particularly noteworthy effort.

For example last December I blogged about a Detroit-area hospital’s progressive culinary initiative – an on-site greenhouse to provide patients with natural and nutritious foods. And this past August I wrote about a hospital’s upgraded rooms that resulted in a huge decrease in requests for medicines from the patients.

Well I’ve got another example of hospital ingenuity to file away in the healthcare folder: the Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin has an in-house restaurant with food so excellent that it attracts members of the community – not just those visiting the patients. Yes, the restaurant is part of the hospital’s “food service” offering, but the plates are of such a high quality that people travel to consume it. The hospital is situated near a farm that pumps them with produce, which yielded 60 crops this year! They even source local meat, purchasing two full cows annually. (more…)

Designing Good Neighborhoods One Commercial Space at a Time

Have you ever noticed a piece of prime real estate in your neighborhood that goes from restaurant concept to restaurant concept but never really makes it? Are you tired of being a passive spectator to the commercial development around you?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could crowdsource the amenities that make your neighborhood … your neighborhood?

Welcome to HoodStarter, a startup that gives you, the mighty residents of your community, some say about what should go into that vacant commercial space around the corner. No more sitting by and wondering what might pop up next – HoodStarter gives you the megaphone for the voice you never knew you had.


A Spoonful of Good Design

My grandma Molly was an old school class act. Perhaps you know the type; she was a lady who dressed up for dinner and liked to set a proper table. But as she aged she suffered from tremors in her hands, and one of the things that changed was the ability to eat with nice silverware. She lost a bit of her independence and a bit of her dignity, and I remember how sad that made her. To be sure, for many of us picking up a spoon is among the easiest things we do in a day, but to someone whose hands face constant involuntary oscillations, digging into a simple bowl of soup isn’t that simple at all.

Because of those memories, it was hard not to think of Molly when I came upon this article via the Yahoo! News Digest app (which, by the way, has recently become one of my favorite hand-held news sources). It seems that some very smart, creative and caring folks have been putting time, money and effort into designing a utensil to help alleviate the difficulties tremors bring on.

Google is producing something called the Liftware Spoon, a utensil meant to assist those who suffer from uncontrollable shaking. Lift Labs, whose founder began to study motion stabilization in graduate school, originally designed the Liftware Spoon and this past September Google acquired the company and continues to fund the spoon’s development. (more…)

Stepping Away From the Blackboard and Sitting in a Desk Facing It

Great design not only comes from addressing an important need, but in responding to it with deep empathy and understanding from the point of view of a user. It’s true: walk in the shoes of your customer and try and assume where their head is at and you will have a much better chance of producing something that is truly valued, truly appreciated and truly lasting. That’s design thinking 101.

Perhaps that’s why it’s particularly painful to watch bad design, especially when the need that is being addressed is so important. Enter our traditional education designs of schools, classrooms, curricula and teaching. The whole tool set has huge impact but it is not a hot bed of empathetic design; at least if you agree that the “user” in this case is a student. From elementary school all the way up to post-doctorates, students spend hours upon hours sitting in their seats hurriedly scribbling notes so as not to forget what the teacher is saying, all in the quest of repeating it back on the next test. That’s but one typical example of a series of activities that students experience, and the data shows that the design just isn’t cutting it. Deep and lasting learning isn’t resulting from that activity nearly enough. Learning is the need, isn’t it?

Veteran high school teacher Alexis Wiggins decided to shadow two high schoolers for two days (one day per student), to learn a little bit about what her students’ days were like. She learned some lessons and wrote about them in a post that was read by hundreds of thousands of people. The Washington Post picked it up and it exploded on social media.

She starts off her post saying, “I have made a terrible mistake.” (more…)

A Weaving Factory That Strengthens Your Future and Your Community

I reserve this blog space for the purpose of highlighting people and communities that do cool things. Many are products that have a great social impact or people using their influence and talents to do good things. It recently dawned on me that I haven’t yet written about something that I personally have been spending a lot (OK a ton) of my mental fuel on – something called Studio/E.

The story goes like this: lifelong friend Tom Wiese (counsel & master deal architect) and I were out hiking in Colorado a few years back when we asked ourselves a couple of questions: we work with a wide variety of leaders across just about every sector, so what is the one thing that is stressing them out? And what could we offer to help them be even more fulfilled and successful on their journeys? (more…)