October 7, 2012

Um. This is AMAZING and, as MOMA design guru Paola Antonelli put it, “I want to go to there.” The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright visits a new installation at the Barbican in London, where visitors get to walk through a torrential downpour without getting in the slightest bit wet. Love the comment from one of the creators, Stuart Wood of the collective Random International, as he grapples with the perennial art vs design conundrum. “No would-be designer would create something that’s completely pointless,” he says, justifying his self-description as artist. That’s as maybe, but I for one find this type of installation far from pointless. Magical, in fact.

February 12, 2012

I’m a sucker for public art installations at the best of times, and Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture in Chicago is always pretty special. The massive, reflective installation and the ever-changing weather provide a novel, magical experience every time you see it. Now I’m trying to figure out how I can wangle a trip to the city (perhaps to Doblin’s head office, which is right near by) before February 20th, in order to catch this spectacular-looking night time video design/sound installation by Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier of local firm, Luftwerk. According to this piece in the Chicago Sun-Times, the piece was funded by a $100,000 tourism grant from the State of Illinois, with the hopes that out-of-towners will brave the winter and pour their tourism dollars right back into city businesses.

[via Janet Ginsburg.]

December 30, 2011
2011 reportedly had the lowest movie-going audiences since 1995. In I’ll Tell You Why Movie Revenue is Dropping, Roger Ebert breaks it down in words of one syllable. Turns out, the reasons are pretty simple: tickets are too expensive; there are feasible alternatives to watching a film at decent size and quality elsewhere; and the experience is all too-often marred by cell-phone users or those who see the theater as an extension of their living room, meaning they can chat busily throughout a film. Then there’s the rip-off at the concession stands. As Ebert writes:

It’s an open secret that the actual cost of soft drinks and popcorn is very low. To justify their inflated prices, theaters serve portions that are grotesquely oversized, and no longer offer what used to be a “small popcorn.” Today’s bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred.

I’m used to the cinemas in New York City, most of which provide perfect examples of Ebert’s concerns. I remember the experience being rather more civilized in Los Angeles, but movie executives who can get back to understanding why people actually stump up cash to come and watch movies on the big screen — what experience they’re actually looking for — would surely tap into a real advantage and maybe even reverse or stem those terrible business figures.
[Story via Tom Weaver. Photo of popcorn by PunkJr.]

2011 reportedly had the lowest movie-going audiences since 1995. In I’ll Tell You Why Movie Revenue is Dropping, Roger Ebert breaks it down in words of one syllable. Turns out, the reasons are pretty simple: tickets are too expensive; there are feasible alternatives to watching a film at decent size and quality elsewhere; and the experience is all too-often marred by cell-phone users or those who see the theater as an extension of their living room, meaning they can chat busily throughout a film. Then there’s the rip-off at the concession stands. As Ebert writes:

It’s an open secret that the actual cost of soft drinks and popcorn is very low. To justify their inflated prices, theaters serve portions that are grotesquely oversized, and no longer offer what used to be a “small popcorn.” Today’s bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred.

I’m used to the cinemas in New York City, most of which provide perfect examples of Ebert’s concerns. I remember the experience being rather more civilized in Los Angeles, but movie executives who can get back to understanding why people actually stump up cash to come and watch movies on the big screen — what experience they’re actually looking for — would surely tap into a real advantage and maybe even reverse or stem those terrible business figures.

[Story via Tom Weaver. Photo of popcorn by PunkJr.]

September 14, 2011

Rebecca Onie runs Health Leads (formerly known as Project Health, as she refers to in this video, shot when she won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009).

Based on the insight of one Dr Jack Geiger, who prescribed food for patients suffering from malnutrition, Onie started her own version of that initiative in 1996. As she told the audience at Mayo Clinic’s Transform conference, she’d been working in a Boston hospital when she realized that the staff there were operating a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. They were doing their best for their patients in the short time they got to see them, but the real problems were often social, not medical. Health Leads allows doctors to write prescriptions for unmet needs such as housing, food, or heating, forms that patients then take to the Health Leads desk at the clinic in order to work with staff to get the needs filled. 1000 volunteers currently work with nearly 10,000 patients on the east coast. 

At Transform, Onie was clear that for her, this work isn’t about being glamorous or high profile; it’s about getting stuff done. “There’s no systematic transformative change without the grueling and sometimes incredibly tedious work of getting things done,” she said. Her entire approach to Health Leads has been about rolling up her sleeves and getting on and trying to make an impact. “We’re looking to change the experience of delivery and healthcare,” she said, outlining the big challenge as she sees it: “How do we ensure that these innovations in fact yield transformation?”

At one point, Onie told a story of a creative clinic director figuring out that in order to get people to pay attention to the Health Leads prescription sheets internally, they should pin them directly to billing notices. I commented that this was a great example of the importance of finding a champion for innovation, for discovering someone willing to take a chance, to do something different and to make change happen organically. Onie agreed, and then added that she wants to push this even further. For her, it’s not merely a question of finding champions, but educating and nurturing them. That, she said, is why Health Leads specifically targets undergraduate college students as its volunteers. This way, by the time the graduates enter the professional workforce, they’ll have been steeped in the social ideas of the program, and be more willing and able to continue to push for systemic change throughout their careers. It’s the slow and steady approach to radical transformation.

August 30, 2011
"Buy experiences instead of things; buy many small pleasures instead of a few big ones; pay now for things you can look forward to and enjoy later."

David Brooks channels academics Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson in his NYT op ed, The Haimish Line, a lovely look at how we so often miss the point of what’s really important in our quest to live life to the full. He writes:

We also live in a highly individualistic culture. When we’re shopping for a vacation we’re primarily thinking about Where. The travel companies offer brochures showing private beaches and phenomenal sights. But when you come back from vacation, you primarily treasure the memories of Who — the people you met from faraway places, and the lives you came in contact with.

Lovely.

** Update. On posting this to Twitter, I got a super interesting backlash/response. Cameron Tonkinwise wrote scathingly that “Brooks Bourgeois” has missed the point. “Plenty of wealthy baby boomers are decluttering to experience the good life: that leads to this.” Sam Potts also chimed in, pointing out that an organized safari is “hardly an authentic experience of Kenya and Tanzania. It’s all a script.” I still think that Brooks offers a useful recasting, from Where to Who, but these notes are a good reminder to remember that just because you feel at one with the apparently happy, jolly servers in the down-home tourist center, that doesn’t mean your glow of goodwill to all men is necessarily reciprocated.

June 15, 2011
"Extraordinary food alone does not an extraordinary restaurant make. The experience of eating at Masa can clash, sometimes greatly, with the grace, simplicity and excellence of the cuisine on display."

— Sam Sifton’s New York Times review of Masa tunes into the fact that being strong in one discipline is no longer enough. In this case, exquisite food isn’t enough to make up for awkward service, even at Masayoshi Takayama’s legendary Japanese restaurant in New York’s Time Warner Center. This is a regular topic of conversation at Doblin, particularly in relation to the theory of the Ten Types of Innovation, which says that one type of innovation is all well and good, but it won’t be anywhere near enough to build a lasting business.

May 16, 2011
"In a sense we need to view the supermarket as an intervention. If you want to influence behavior and health on a population level, what would that experience need to be?" So asks public health expert Rupal Sanghvi in A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets, which contains some fascinating, depressing stats about the current design of many U.S-based food emporia. 
Sanghvi founded the innovation initiative HealthxDesign after she saw data charting the direct correlation between diet-related disease and the location of grocery stores. Her thought is to harness design processes to try out a range of new ideas. And while the concept of “gamification” in a supermarket context might make more jaded observers sigh, she’s asking some interesting questions and this is certainly an area in which smart design might make a real difference.
(Image c/o British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s.)

"In a sense we need to view the supermarket as an intervention. If you want to influence behavior and health on a population level, what would that experience need to be?" So asks public health expert Rupal Sanghvi in A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets, which contains some fascinating, depressing stats about the current design of many U.S-based food emporia. 

Sanghvi founded the innovation initiative HealthxDesign after she saw data charting the direct correlation between diet-related disease and the location of grocery stores. Her thought is to harness design processes to try out a range of new ideas. And while the concept of “gamification” in a supermarket context might make more jaded observers sigh, she’s asking some interesting questions and this is certainly an area in which smart design might make a real difference.

(Image c/o British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s.)

April 17, 2011

There’s a lot of talk about the need for interdisciplinary teams to execute innovation, but they’re still far from the norm. Nonetheless, the importance of such thinking, along with the need for all of us to remain open to the possibility afforded by experimentation, was brought home by this video. The short film pairs the cello virtuosity of Yo-Yo Ma with the flexibility and contortions of Los Angeles dancer, Lil Buck and shows the magic that can come from unexpected juxtaposition. I particularly love the pair’s hug at the end, a mark of respect and affection from two people who know they just shared a unique experience. (Link via Allen Murray.)