A Love Letter to Fashion

I was born a fashionista. From the white socks with the rainbow beads tied around the edges to subscribing to Vogue, fashion has always been my lover. So imagine my delight when over the past few weeks I have been inundated with instances of how fashion and design are colliding in incredible ways.

These are not simply the latest fall trends. Nor are they highly tech oriented explorations which still have the Arduino boards attached to them. No. These are beautiful, refined pieces of fashion that go above and beyond the call of duty and achieve something truly remarkable.

The following are my 3 favorite instances:

1. Seated Design: As if I needed another reason to love NPR, they had to go and report on designer Lucy Jones. Inspired by her cousin who is paralyzed, she wanted to created a fashion line that was both stylish and usable for those in a wheel chair. What resulted was a refined collection with clean lines and user centered designs. The article goes on to talk about students at the Fashion Institute of Technology who designed for veterans with prosthesis and a blogger who lobbies for stores to carry accessible clothing.

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2. Danit Peleg: A brand new fashion design graduate, she promoted this video in july exploring an entire fashion collection made with a 3D printer. Not only are the designs lovely, but this collection pushed the boundaries of 3D printing bringing it out of the tech nerd’s lab and into a environment of elegance. I am so excited to see where she goes.

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3. Thinx: Finally, I have to give a shout out to any lady who can successfully use fashion to advocate for women’s rights. Just today, I stumbled upon the ladies of Thinx. They have developed what might be the most insane thing I have seen in a long time. They have designed underwear for your period sans pad or tampon! I know. It seems crazy, but as I (and Buzzfeed) looked into it, i discovered how brilliant these are, and how tirelessly these ladies have been working to develop Thinx. Also, can we just talk about the crazy good branding!? Plus, every pair your buy, supports reusable pads for school girls in developing countries. Being a cause close to my heart, I could definitely get behind that!?

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So, a huge “WOOO!!” to all the awsome ladies using fashion, design, and technology to help transform lives. Never have I been so proud to be a fashionista.

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A Wearable Tech Extravaganza

As of my last post, I was about to head back to Atlanta. Well, after 2 straight days of driving, I arrived in Atlanta late Thursday night. My thirst for sightseeing and the quest to take the ultimate travelogue photo with my 35mm put me significantly behind schedule, but I am hoping that the photos will make it worth it. Highlights included a fruitless search for Iowa’s largest frying pan, a visit to Metropolis, U.S.A., and some absolutely stunning Kentucky farm towns. All I need to do now is finish half a role of film and find a developer. Once that’s done, I’ll take these pictures and my other remnants to make a sort of “road trip info graphic” if you will.

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To the main event, however. For the next two days after my return to Atlanta I was running around as a volunteer for Georgia Tech’s 2015 Wearable Symposium. Like many areas of design, I knew very little about wearable tech. When you hear the term, most people think Fit Bits and Google Glass. While that’s not incorrect, those mass marketed product only scratch the surface of what wearable technology can be.

The speakers were as diverse as the field and ranged from textile companies developing chip integrated fabrics, to a researcher developing custom fit head products in Asian markets, and local firm talking about the role of cadence in interactive products. Every presenter and speaker had a new perspective to offer, and discussions ranged from fashion and planned obsolescence, to strategies for technology adoption. Tech was even able to toot their own horn and show off a range of projects including shoes that would allow parents to track children and a circuit embedded tee shirt that encouraged kids to learn about technology.

By the end of the event, I was exhausted and slap happy. All I could think is that if I was exhausted, I couldn’t imagine how our rock star organizers felt. After the final exhibit was taken down, the remaining volunteers sat around and popped the left over white wine, poured in a little Sprite and orange juice, and toasted to an incredible weekend. We divvied up the last of the food, loaded up our cars and parted ways.

I cannot say for certain if wearable tech will be part of my future, but I can say with complete certainty that it is an incredibly exciting field and one that is filled with tremendous potential and innovation.

Design Ethics and Global Waste

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In one my my courses, we recently had a lecture on design ethics. We looked at a range of design organizations including IDSA and ICSID, looking at their articles as well as looking for gaps. We were then instructed to create our own code of ethics as designers.

Not too shortly after this lecture, I came across the article Inside the Hellscape Where Our Computers Go to Die  written by in WIRED. In this article, he describes Agbogbloshie, Ghana, a dump for electronics that are burned and set to waste away. It’s a chilling and humanizing view on the impact our consumption is contributing to the global waste stream.

These are our computers, our iPhones, our tablets and our smart devices. Not only as consumers, but as designers, I strongly believe that it should be within the ethics of our conscious to consider topics such as this. How do we, as designers, better design for disassembly? How do we create humane working conditions for the workers mining and dissembling these minerals? And how could we, rather than ignore our contribution to cycles of poverty, empower these communities?

This is a big issue, and I know that there are countless amazing people working around the globe to answer these questions. But its time that designers come to the table and not only acknowledge our part in the process, but use design thinking to solve these issues.

I’m Sorry, Arduino, For the Things I Said to You While I Was Angry and Under-Caffeinated

The other week, I said some mean things to Arduino. Now, please know that this wasn’t out of my dislike for you, or even my dis-love. It wasn’t you. It was me. So, with this blog post, I will try to make right the things I made wrong, and formally apologize for lashing out at you. After all, you are an inanimate object. I mean, it really wasn’t your fault.

For those who need a recap, my last blog post was ended with an emotionally distraught grad student (me) and an Arduino board content in its ivory tower and with a complete disregard for us mere mortals. The next day, I met my lab partner to go over our project only to find that she also had the newest Apple OS and was unable to run processing as well. BUT, she also had the ability to run Windows on her system. All was right in the world…at least for the time being.

But with two days left until our quiz, and 4 days left until the functional prototype, moral was still low. On Monday night, I sat with my coffee, bread board and wires trying code after code. I was reading Arduino forums, and had even started my own forum thread.

Suddenly, things started to change. I checked my email to find my previous blog post had solicited emails from several SparkFun associates. And after only mere hours of starting my thread, I had people responding. Complete strangers were taking their time to help ME with MY project! WOAH!

I had hope. So, I kept tinkering and downloading, and then it happened. I pressed a button, and my servo motor turned. I pressed it again, and it turned another time, and another time, and another. AND, when I pressed a different button, a light went off!! There was still a long way to go, and I honestly had no idea if any of the code was correct or just functioning because of dumb luck, but it was something.

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After a brief nap, I went to class and handed off my project to my partner. Related side note, I had received a ticket to see President Obama speak, and wasn’t going to let a quiz get in the way. Luckily, the professor was excusing any student seeing the president speak and told us to return to class as soon as it was finished.

After a rousing debate on education policy (lean about the Student Aid Bill of Rights here), I skipped back to class only to find that the quiz had been canceled! It turns out I was not the only student who saw the president and, because of this, the professor couldn’t make the quota for the quiz. To make things better, my partner had been one of the only people in class which meant her and the professor spent almost the whole time fixing all of our issue! PRAISE JESUS AND OBAMA, HALLELUJAH!

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To wrap things up, this gave us the next 2 days to really hone in our design and fix any last minute coding issues. When Thursday finally arrived, we had a great functioning prototype and were pretty darn proud of it. The function was quite simple. Pressing a button turned a servo motor into 1 of 5 positions. As it turned, 1 of 5 RFID tags were read by a reader. When the reader read the tag, and image an song played on a screen. In addition, pressing a button also activated a light that went off when the button was done being pressed.

…ok, maybe that’s not simple. Frankly, I don’t know. But regardless, we were happy. We called it The Lilly Box, and let the wires and components of the circuitry act as a feature.

With that, thank you, maker community. You are all awesome. Now all I have to do is get through our final project on wearable, and maybe I can pass as moderately competent in Arduino.

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Arduino, Arduino, I Hate You. You Stink.

…I wish I could flush you down the sink.

I’m going to be honest. Technology scares me. The thought of having to do anything remotely high tech paralyzes me. Even using the laser cutter to cut cardboard took encouragement from my peers. But it’s an inevitable truth of my new profession that I will one day need to admit defeat and learn how to CAD, program and wire.

In an attempts to mitigate this fear, I signed up for a course entitled “Interactive Products.” In this course we would learn about integrating technology, inputs and outputs into designs. The first part of the semester was doable, filled with Little Bits and Lego Mindstorms. I was on a high. I can do this! IMG_20150307_141830_417

But then the day came. This week, we began the Arduino project. Suddenly I was confronted with wires, and sensors, and coding, and programming, and inputs, and outputs, and lions, and tigers, and bears…oh my! In less that a week, I was supposed to design a toy or game that had two inputs (including and RFID) as well as 2 outputs that included an audio/visual output.

I sat in class staring at the bread board for over an hour, my professor and TA preoccupied with other students. It seemed like everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing and that I was being left in the dust. But I remained strong!

On Saturday, I enlisted my roommate who is getting her masters in electrical engineering. There were hickups, and mishaps, buy things were chugging along. We had this in the bag! No sweat! That is…until we got the evil Java error message. Well, over the next 3.5 hours I consulted my roommate, my classmate who is an Arduino god, my TA, and just about every other person I knew who had any knowledge of Arduino. Nothing. I took a break for a few hours, and revisited it later in the evening. Nothing. I even consulted my roommate getting her masters in Aerospace Engineering, as had the Arduino God take control of my computer remotely to figure it out.

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By this point, I was a ball of mush. I was at my wits end. Finally, we figured it out. The problem? Well, it turns out that my brand new fancy pants computer is SO new, th

at it was not compatible with the processing software used with Arduino. So much for a new computer! But, it was OK. I still had my old Mac. I could just download it there.

NOPE!

Turns out my old mac is too old. It was a case of Goldilocks and the 2 Macs. I then proceeded to try and download Windows onto my Mac only to find that I didn’t have a properly sized USB, and that I would need to…oh yeah…buy Windows. So, I guess that’s not an option.

And this brings me to today. With the assignment due Tuesday, and no progress made, I ask you to excuse me while I go turn into a ball of mush in the corner of my apartment while eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and watching Notting Hill. Say a prayer for me, good friends, and send me any good Karma you can spare.

Good luck, my brave Arduino warriors.

Object Permanence: Associating Nostalgia with Object Value

In January of 2008, I bought my very first computer. It was a white MacBook, and I had been saving waitressing tips for months in order to pay for it. It was arguably the most expensive thing I had ever purchased. I was entering my first semester of college and I knew couldn’t show up to the first day of school without a shiny new plaything.

Seven years later, to the date, I found myself purchasing my second MacBook. This time, however, the $1500 price tag seemed like chump change compared to my student loan debt and surprisingly high credit limit. The employee at the Apple store was beaming with excitement over my purchase, exclaiming, “Oh, how exciting! Are you not so excited to get home and set this up?”

I appreciated her enthusiasm, truly, but there was something oddly bittersweet about the whole experience. Granted, I now had the latest and greatest MacBook Pro. It had a retina display, fancy interface features, and more ram, guts and glory than I knew what to do with. But as I got home and plugged my Time Machine into my new computer, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad staring at my first MacBook now relocated to the corner of my living room.
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How often is it that we own something for seven years? Cars? Technology? Clothes? There are very few things I have owned for as long as my Mac. The past 7 years of my life have been incredibly transformational, filled with the highest highs and lowest lows and little consistency in between. So, when an object, such as a computer, has served as one of the few common denominators in my life, it seems natural that I would form an attachment to it. Right? I wrote term papers on my Mac, watched movies with my friends, emailed far away crushes and lovers, and procrastinated on Buzzfeed. My MacBook was an undeniable fixture of my life. It housed my creative writing, my art, my favorite cooking blogs—all of the things that made me…me.

I remember a few years back reading an article by the president of Patagonia. In the article, he spoke at length about the importance of investing in quality products. He argued that it was critical to consider the longevity of an object’s life, while also weighing the ethics behinds its production, and the quality of its material. When we do this, he stated that we would be more likely to financially invest more, and also be less likely to dispose of them thereby contributing less to the global waste stream.

I found a significant amount of validity in his argument. In fact, as a burgeoning industrial designer, this is one of the ideas that I grapple with the most. When the success of my career relies on making desirable things, how do I ensure that I make quality goods consumers will value and not merely discard for the next best thing? How do I, as a designer, make my profession’s equivalent of the MacBook Pro—and object that can last over seven years, and be valued not merely for its function but its significance in the users daily life.

As my Time Machine sync finished, I placed on the Two Sisters Cafe sticker I had been saving for a new computer since I went to visit my brother in Alaska this past August. It was the first step in making this new machine my own. I don’t know how long I will have this new computer. Nor can I say what the next seven years of my life will look like. I can only hope that this machine will stay with me for as long as the first one did, and that I hope the next seven years are as blessed and transformative as the past seven have been.

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