Category Archives: Design for Good

5 Organizations Using Cool Tech Solutions and Research to Clean Up the Oceans

Like many other ecosystems, the oceans are threatened by various human activities like over-fishing, global warming, acidification, and above all, pollution. Here are five organizations and teams that are coming to the rescue with tech solutions and research to clean up the oceans.

Source: 5 Organizations Using Cool Tech Solutions and Research to Clean Up the Oceans

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3D Printed Houses: A Design Solution for Affordable Housing

This 3D Printed House Goes Up in a Day for Under $10,000

There aren’t a ton of ways to build a house other than the way houses have always been built, which is to say, by putting up four walls then adding a roof. This ages-old technique had to be modernized at some point, though, and as with everything else in our lives these days, technology’s delivering that modernization. In this case, instead of being built the old-fashioned way, houses can now be printed.
Last week at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, construction technologies startup ICON and housing nonprofit New Story unveiled their version of a 3D printed house. The model is 650 square feet and consists of a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and shaded porch. It went from zero to finished in under 24 hours, and it cost less than $10,000. Equivalent homes built in developing countries will cost a mere $4,000 each.
This isn’t the first 3D printed house to spring up (or, rather, to be plopped down); there are similar structures created with similar technology in Russia, Dubai, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, but this is the first permitted 3D printed home to go up in the US.
ICON’s crane-like printer is called the Vulcan, and it pours a concrete mix into a software-dictated pattern; instead of one wall going up at a time, one layer is put down at a time, the whole structure “growing” from the ground up. The printer consists of an axis set on a track, giving it a flexible and theoretically unlimited print area.

“With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability,” said Jason Ballard, ICON’s co-founder. “This isn’t 10 percent better, it’s 10 times better.”
The house has a greater purpose than just wowing techies, though. ICON and New Story’s vision is one of 3D printed houses acting as a safe, affordable housing alternative for people in need. New Story has already built over 800 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico, partnering with the communities they serve to hire local labor and purchase local materials rather than shipping everything in from abroad.
New Story is in the process of raising $600,000 to fund a planned 100-home community in El Salvador. It will be the first-ever community of 3D printed homes. Printing will begin later this year, and the goal is for families to be moving in by Q3 of 2019. Donors can fund a full house with just $4,000.
Six hundred and fifty square feet may not sound like much space for more than one to two people, but it’s a huge step up from the lean-tos and shacks that make up the slums where millions of people live. ICON and New Story hope the Salvadorian community will serve as a scalable model that can be exported to developing countries around the world, providing a high-quality housing option for the millions who currently lack  one.

slum-tent-Haiti

Image Credit: Adam Brophy


“Instead of waiting for profit motivation to bring construction advances to the global south, we are fast-tracking innovations like 3D home printing that can be a powerful tool toward ending homelessness,” said Alexandria Lafci, COO of New Story.
The homes are built to the International Building Code structural standard and are expected to last as long or longer than standard concrete masonry unit homes.
While 3D printed houses are a great alternative to the flimsy lean-tos millions of people call home, there are some limitations to consider in terms of them being a solution to global housing shortages.
The biggest need for affordable, safe housing in the developing world is in or near big cities; take the slums of Cape Town, Nairobi, or Mumbai as an example. Replacing families’ current homes in these locations with printed houses may prove difficult simply due to space constraints; 3D printed communities are far more practical in rural areas where there’s less population density, and may not be a truly scalable solution in urban areas until the communities get vertical. 3D printed high-rises are already in the works, though not yet for the purpose of affordable housing.
If skyscrapers can be printed and used as offices, it’s only a matter of time before they can be used for housing as well. And in the meantime, $4,000 a pop for a safe, cozy home where there was no home before is a solid step in the right direction.
Image Credit: New Story

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Designing for Emotional Wellness

Technology Can and Should Be Designed for Emotional Wellness

In an interview at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego, Nichol Bradford, co-founder and executive director of Sofia University’s Transformative Technology Lab, explored how new technologies are being designed to enhance emotional wellness and awareness.
Sofia University’s Transformative Technology Lab is certainly a unique space in Silicon Valley. The lab exists specifically to support entrepreneurs and innovators who are building new health and wellness-focused tech in an emerging field called transformative technology.
What exactly is transformative technology? The group defines the term as “science-based hardware and software that can produce reliable and positive changes in the human psychological experience.”

Bradford explains that within our psychological experience, or our wellness spectrum, there are a variety of technologies that can support specific conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and depression. One of Bradford’s favorite examples is an app called Ginger.io, which provides emotional support coaching and uses AI for pattern recognition in its users.
“With their permission the app performs a bit of phone monitoring and establishes a baseline for the user,” Bradford said.
“If someone who is depressed or has been depressed wants to avoid another episode, they can establish a baseline with the system. Then, if the person suddenly changes their behavior—if they’re slowly staying up really late or having a texting war—a coach from the system reaches out to them. This helps people get help in advance of an episode. That’s what a lot of this pattern recognition and live data tracking is allowing for.”
Bradford is most inspired by products like this, where user data is gathered then fed back to users in a way that helps them develop a higher level of self-awareness.
On the other end of the wellness spectrum is what Bradford refers to as exponential wellness. It focuses specifically on people who are using technology to push their psychological capabilities. Bradford said, “We have people in our community who are really pushing the mental and emotional capacity of human beings and pushing boundaries on what is possible for transformative leadership.”

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Bradford is also interested in companies that are using neuro-stimulation and biofeedback. She gave the example of a new FDA-approved electro-stimulation device by a company called Fisher Wallace. The device straps to a user’s forehead and is proven to effectively reduce depression without using traditional drugs.
One of Bradford’s key messages is that humans take direction and coaching really well, and that we should optimize technology around this notion.
“Many people in the wellness space feel like technology is the problem. I think the problem is not that it’s bad, but that it’s not good enough. It doesn’t have a human-centered design and there aren’t enough people saying, ‘how can we use technology to create intimacy and connection?’”
Image Credit: Patrick Foto / Shutterstock.com

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2017 SOLA/HACK!

Design Thinking and Social Entrepreneurship Hackathon for South L.A.

Members of a community are too often relegated to being mere spectators of change. How can they instead become active participants and influencers in the changes that affect them most?

In this third annual design hackathon event, participants used design thinking and UX methods in an entrepreneurial spirit to address social, economic, and environmental challenges specific to South LA Participants first learned about these challenges with two kick-off talks: Julian Scaff, organizer of the event and Design Director at the agency Interactivism, talked about economic and environmental challenges facing South LA, focusing particularly on the complex issue of gentrification. Zaneta Smith, director of TEDx Crenshaw and an expert in social work, talked about the socio-economic issues facing local residents, young people, and homeless population. Then participants formed teams to brainstorm and rapidly prototype solutions. At the end of the day all the teams pitched their projects, and a winner was decided by democratic vote. Eventually all the projects will be featured on the TEDx Crenshaw website so that they can be exposed to city officials and private investors to inspire real solutions in the local community.

The winning idea was a smartphone app called “Open Door” designed by Jessica Rahman, Sapphira Dai and Kiki Lowry. Lunch, prizes and space for the event were provided by General Assembly. Below is a description of their project with screens of what the app would look like.

Open Door App Proposal 

There are 44,000 people in Los Angeles County that are homeless. Of these, only 16-20% of adults are employed. There currently is no easy-to-navigate tool for this population to find job and housing opportunities in LA, despite existing resources.

Open Door is a mobile application connecting persons who are homeless and/or formerly incarcerated with employers and home listers, including social enterprises, who empathize with the aforementioned populations.

OpenDoor_4web1.jpg

Loading and sign-up screens.

OpenDoor_4web2

Job search and apply for job screens.

OpenDoor_4web3.jpg

On left: Confirmation screen. On right: Zaneta Smith, Jessica Rahman, Sapphira Dai, Kiki Lowry, and Julian Scaff.

 

Special thanks to Miki Reynolds, Kellie Cockrell and Auriel Jimenez at General Assembly for their invaluable help in making this event possible.

Designing Change for Good

The following is the original text from my talk at TEDx Crenshaw that took place in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 24, 2015. The video of the talk is included below. Special thanks to my editor Crystal Clayter for helping me write this piece and prepare for the talk.

 

I want to share with you a couple of things about my way of thinking. I have always viewed the world as one large interconnected system, and I’ve always wanted to use that understanding to make a real difference. John Muir once said “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” and Ice Cube once said “The worst thing you can do about a situation is nothing.” And you know what’s really cool? I think I might be the first TEDx speaker in history to quote John Muir and Ice Cube in the same sentence! So now that we’ve gotten that milestone out of the way, I want to tell you about something happening right here in South L.A. that illustrates these two ideas.

A few months ago I heard a story on NPR news about a project called “Green Alleys” in the neighborhood surrounding Avalon and 52nd Street. Alleys are important for pedestrian traffic in this neighborhood, but they’re ugly, full of trash, and unsafe. When it rains, they flood with water and people can’t use them. The Green Alleys Project is addressing all of these problems with a unified solution. Solar recharging lights are going to allow people to safely use the alleys at night. A new type of pavement will let water seep into the ground, preventing floods and naturally filtering out pollution. Drought tolerant plants will beautify the alleys and help control dust, and public art projects will foster appreciation of culture. Promoting safe use of the alleys helps people get to and from work, helps kids move between school and home, and is good for both the environment and economy.

This project is important because it doesn’t treat all of these problems as separate issues. It recognizes that they’re all connected. We can’t effectively deal with one problem without addressing all of them.

I believe that the challenges we face in our community, and the world, are so big and complex, that we can’t fix them without a holistic approach. I present to you a solution that has the power to bring about vast changes: something called Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a collaborative method for problem-solving. You start by identifying the problem. You come up with and test many divergent ideas on how to address all facets of the problem. You bring together the ideas that work, and discard the ones that don’t. You repeat these steps, as necessary, refining your ideas on each go around. And finally, you execute a solution.

The three most important aspects of design thinking are:

  1. Empathy. That’s why it’s often called human-centered design.
  2. Collaboration. You don’t have to be a designer to take part, and diverse viewpoints are highly valuable.
  3. Empowerment. Design thinking is about enabling people to become active participants in their own destiny.

Design is not just the domain of the creative class sealed in their little bubble. I teach user experience design at a postgraduate college called General Assembly, and I believe that teaching people design is teaching people empowerment. My students come from a vast range of backgrounds, and I really believe that anyone can take part in design. We cannot predict the future, but together we can invent it.

In service of this idea, I recently organized a Design Hackathon at General Assembly in South LA. With teams of students and alumni from General Assembly and USC, we spent a day applying design thinking to the challenges facing our local community. The teams came up with amazing, inspirational ideas. Unfortunately I don’t have time to share all of them with you today, but I want to show you a couple of them so it’s clear what people can do in just a matter of hours, working together and using Design Thinking.

screenshots.001

 

This is a smart phone app called “Urban Green”. As many of you know, South LA has over 3,000 empty lots, many of them used for nothing more than dumping trash. An organization called LA Open Acres has mapped all these sites, but the Urban Green App goes further. Using geolocation on your phone, you can see all the empty lots in your vicinity, who owns them and if they’re available to be reclaimed. You can also connect with others in your community to organize and work together. This app empowers people to turn trash dumps into parks, playgrounds, and public gardens, with positive impacts for the local economy, culture, public safety, and the environment.

This is Design Thinking.

screenshots.002

Here is another smart phone app called “100 & Rising”. One of the challenges of local business is how to draw investments, in order to grow and withstand the pressures of gentrification. This app is designed to empower local minority-owned businesses to seek micro-investment from the community. It also helps local entrepreneurs to raise funds for starting new businesses. The benefits include sustainable job growth, community pride, and profits from locally-owned businesses stay in the community, rather than being exported to another state or off shore bank account. 100 & Rising allows local minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to be participants rather than spectators in the economy.

This is Design Thinking.

Earlier this year, in Ohio, an educator ran an experiment called Prototype Design Camp with students from both public and private high schools. In the camp the high schoolers were taught methods of design thinking, organized into teams, and then allowed to work on projects.

Now, you’d probably expect high schoolers to be interested in designing new smart phone games or meme generators. But that’s not what they did.

Instead, they designed new schools with better learning environments. They designed better classrooms. And they designed new ways to build social movements.

In other words, they wanted to think BIG. Just by teaching a new approach to thinking about and solving problems, high schoolers were more engaged, more proactive in their learning process, and they were thinking in systems. This potential exists in the young people in this community as well. It’s time we harness it.

The challenges facing our community and the world are big, complex, interconnected, and urgent. We need a new way of thinking to meet these challenges. We need to be teaching design thinking to young people, at least at the high school level, if not earlier.

In the words of Dr. King, we must embrace “the fierce urgency of Now…Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Now is the time to design our own future.

SOLA/HACK! A Design Hackathon for Change in South LA

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~Alice Walker

sola_hack_graphic_web

SOLA/HACK was a design hackathon I organized, hosted by General Assembly’s downtown L.A. campus. Participants included current students and alumni from General Assembly and USC. The objective of the hackathon was to apply design thinking and UX design principles to issues specific to the South L.A. community, with an eye toward how appropriate uses of technology could be used to help address social, economic, and environmental problems. While technology can be a powerful tool for change (think of the crucial role of cell phones during the Arab Spring uprising) it was stressed that there is not an easy techno-fix to every social problem. So participants were encouraged to look beyond just apps or websites and employ systems-based thinking on their solutions.

Some of the problems and challenges facing South L.A. include:

  • The area is a food desert, with half the number of grocery stores as other parts of the city.
  • It has the worst pollution levels in L.A. county.
  • South L.A. has an 8.4% unemployment rate, compared to 7.6% for the rest of the city, and per capita income  is half of what it is for the rest of the city.
  • South L.A. is starting to gentrify, which will push  out lower income residents. Risk factors for gentrification in the area include a a high proportion of renters, access to transportation via major freeways and expansion of public transit affords easy access to job centers, and housing values are low while architectural merit is high. Further, the affluent neighborhoods in L.A. have skyrocketing real estate prices for both buyers and renters, and in some cases are depopulating due to restrictive zoning laws. Recent studies have identified this as the real engine behind gentrification.

Zaneta Smith, a social worker and community leader in South L.A. who is also the organizer of the TEDxCrenshaw event, was a guest speaker and mentor for the hackathon. She opened the hackathon with invaluable information on the myriad challenges facing the local community, and mentored the teams on their projects.

Zaneta Smith talks with participants at SOLA/HACK.

Zaneta Smith talks with participants at SOLA/HACK.

Sofia Khan, a UX designer with Iteration Group and instructor at General Assembly, provided invaluable support and mentorship to the participants. Sofia and General Assembly alumn Alan Ortiz also taught a workshop on rapid prototyping, a critical tool for UX designers to empirically test ideas.

Participants were encouraged to think outside the box, think in systems, and draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas. The primary objective is innovation through collective brainstorming and rapid prototyping.

“The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.” ~Marty Neumeier

At the conclusion of the hackathon, the participants voted on a winner. The vote was very close as all of the proposals were extremely strong and innovative. But in the end an app called Urban Green took the top prize. Below is a synopsis of this app, followed by the proposals from the other teams.


 

Winner: Urban Green by Karen Murphy, Bryan James, Natalie Sacks, and Kelsey Klemme

Winner: Urban Green by Karen Murphy, Bryan James, Natalie Sacks, and Kelsey Klemme.

Winner: Urban Green by Karen Murphy, Bryan James, Natalie Sacks, and Kelsey Klemme.

“Urban Green” is a smart phone app that addresses the issue of empty lots in South LA— over 3,000, many of which are used for nothing more than dumping trash. An organization called LA Open Acres has mapped all these sites, but the Urban Green App goes further. Using geolocation on your phone, you can see all the empty lots in your vicinity, who owns them and if they’re available to be reclaimed. You can also connect with others in your community to organize and work together. This app empowers people to turn trash dumps into parks, playgrounds, and public gardens, with positive impacts for the local economy, culture, public safety, and the environment.


100 & Rising by Rachel McLeod, Leon Baham, and Evangeline Hsiao

100 & Rising by Rachel McLeod, Leon Baham, and Evangeline Hsiao.

100 & Rising by Rachel McLeod, Leon Baham, and Evangeline Hsiao.

“100 & Rising” is a smart phone app designed to empower minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. One of the challenges of local business is how to draw investments, in order to grow, expand capacity and withstand the pressures of gentrification. This app provides a tool for local minority-owned businesses to seek micro-investment from the community. It also helps local entrepreneurs to raise funds for starting new businesses. The benefits include sustainable job growth, community pride, and profits from locally-owned businesses stay in the community, rather than being exported to another state or off shore bank account. 100 & Rising empowers local minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to be participants rather than spectators in the economy.


Help a Family Grow by Bianca Byfield, Viannka Lopez, Min Ryu, and Marvin Monserrat Jr.

Help a Family Grow by Bianca Byfield, Viannka Lopez, Min Ryu, and Marvin Monserrat Jr.

Help a Family Grow by Bianca Byfield, Viannka Lopez, Min Ryu, and Marvin Monserrat Jr.

“Help a Family Grow” takes an innovative approach to the challenge of foster care youth at the transitional age range of 16-24 known as “Transitional Age of Youth” or TAY. South L.A. has the highest number of foster care children in L.A. County, and many Transitional Age of Youth (TAY) do not have access to good schools, or good support and mentorship for transitioning to adulthood and independence. Help a Family Grow matches these youth at the ages of 18-24 with businesses who can provide not only on-the-job training but also housing, by utilizing existing state foster care subsidies.

The program goes well beyond a website and app, helping to build relationships between youth and business owners. The subsidies allow businesses to increase staffing levels, and provides youth invaluable job skills and experience. This systems-based approach is built on a forward-thinking model of partnering county and state governments with local business in a solution that benefits all.

Concept sketches for the "Help a Family Grow" app design.

Concept sketches for the “Help a Family Grow” app design.

 


Voice of South L.A. by Ellie Hoshizaki, Philipe Navarro, Kendrick Parks, and Poy Yeung

Voice of South L.A. by Ellie Hoshizaki, Philipe Navarro, Kendrick Parks, and Poy Yeung.

Voice of South L.A. by Ellie Hoshizaki, Philipe Navarro, Kendrick Parks, and Poy Yeung.

“Voice of South L.A.” is an app that gives people a voice to their representatives in government. People often feel powerless and far removed from their political representatives, and this powerlessness contributes to South L.A. having the lowest voter turnout and civic involvement in the county. “Voice of South L.A.” provides pre-populated forms for sending messages directly to local government officials, and also allows you to share your message with others to organize and inspire. It is a tool that empowers any individual person to participate in the democratic process and hold their representatives accountable. Greater civic involvement has vast positive direct and indirect effects on a broad range of social and economic issues.


SoLocal by Hassan Latif, Brooke Newberry, Tiffany Koh, and Melissa Jeffries

SoLocal by Hassan Latif, Brooke Newberry, Tiffany Koh, and Melissa Jeffries.

SoLocal by Hassan Latif, Brooke Newberry, Tiffany Koh, and Melissa Jeffries.

Small minority-owned businesses in South L.A. are feeling the early pressures of gentrification which include rising rental prices and shifting demographics. SoLocal is an app for consumers to find and support local minority-owned businesses using geolocation. Going even further than finding business, the app cross-lists items for sale and services in multiple businesses, allowing users to create shopping lists and do virtual window shopping by searching across different genres of retailers. Based on user’s shopping preferences the app would also make suggestions for stores that carry similar goods. SoLocal is a hub for creating a community that is both an online community and physical community for local minority-owned businesses and consumers.


Conclusion

The problems facing the local community in South L.A. are complex, interconnected, and in many cases long-standing and deeply-rooted. Technology alone cannot solve these issues. What will work is a systems-based approach that recognizes that socieity, theeconomy, and the environment are part of an interconnected eco-system. The participants in SOLA/HACK demonstrated that by taking a systems-based approach and employing design thinking, innovative and forward-thinking solutions are in our grasp. Indeed, the most innovative advances in UX design in the next decade will be in design for social good. I intend to use design thinking to be the change I want to see and to teach others to do the same.