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Today's Urban Design Observation: Minimally-Connected Scaffolding Levelers


We think of sidewalks as level, until the first time you drop something round or cylindrical and watch it roll towards the curb. Sidewalks are of course graded to send rainwater into the gutters. Just how sharply they are graded can be seen anywhere there is scaffolding. Look at the height difference between these two parallel uprights, which by necessity must have level bases.

The base of the outermost uprights are always, at least in New York, raised up on a stack of 2x12 Douglas Fir cut-offs.

The cut-offs are toe-nailed together.

Here you can see a couple of nails are driven in the usual manner through holes in the base of the upright, and then the clinched nail technique is employed.

You might think that's not a very secure way to hold a scaffold upright in place. But in fact, the nails are not there to hold the uprights in place. They are there to prevent the 2x12 cut-offs from sliding around.

The weight of the scaffold, which consists of many members, is such that simple gravity will hold it securely in place. The cross-members prevent racking. It reminds me of those Chinese earthquake-proof temples, where the uprights are not even fastened to the stone pilings they rest on.

A Heated Jacket That Understands Your Temperature Preferences Better Than You Do


As a mid-winter beacon of hope for city commuters and outdoor enthusiasts, Ministry of Supply recently launched the Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket. There are a few other battery-powered thermal jackets on the market, but Mercury's machine learning capabilities make it kind of like wrapping yourself in a chic heated blanket that reads your mind. The jacket is able to analyze temperature, motion data and user preference to ultimately find your perfect heat settings, letting you live the ultimate cozy lifestyle.

Using the connected app, you can either set your jacket to begin heating before you leave your house or right when you step outside. Once outside, the jacket's sensors gather both temperature data from the outdoors and your own internal temperature to keep its heat in sync with your body. Heart rate is also measured and accounted for, which means as you pick up your pace, the jacket will begin lowering its temperature. Translated to New York commuter language: When you're all layered up running to catch the train in the winter, you'll be less of a sweaty mess. After three or four times using the app, Mercury is able to start learning your temperature preferences so you don't need to pull out your phone all of the time.

Mercury is lined with S.Cafe lining, which incorporates coffee grinds to help control odor, keeping the jacket feeling fresh. And for when it's not feeling fresh, Mercury is machine washable without needing to take the whole thing apart. While much of Mercury's design success stems from its unassuming silhouette created by previous Theory design director Jarlath Mellet, this strong material foundation acts as the bow that ties the sensors and fashion together in a complete package.

The sensors inside the jacket are surprisingly subtle, with just two taking up minimal space inside the lining near the pockets and one larger one in the back. They glow a slight red when heated, but are mostly masked by a ventilated section of the lining. Other than what you can see from the two sensors, the rest of the internal tech is hidden. The only tech that makes its way past the lining is the cable for the battery, which pokes out through one of the pockets. We were also pleased to see that the required battery pack is slimmer than expected and can double as a phone charger.

Overall this jacket is a step in  the right direction for smart clothing. I'm only nervous about two things: Even though Mercury is officially TSA approved, I'm hoping wearers will be able to get through the airport hassle-free. Although maybe I'm just paranoid—last time I flew, TSA was convinced I was wearing a money belt filled with cash because my sweatpants waistband was rolled twice over. 

The second is that you can summon Alexa to turn your jacket on and off, but I don't trust Alexa enough to relinquish outfit control to her—she might figure out how to tighten the wires around you or something...

Anyways, Ministry of Supply doubled Mercury's funding goal in less than one day, proving that a minimal heated jacket might be what the world needs right now.

Learn more about Mercury and secure one of your own here.

The Extreme Security Measures Taken at "America's Safest School"


In the 1950s, American schoolchildren were shown a training film called "Duck and Cover." Fear of a Soviet nuclear attack meant that students had to practice air raid drills as follows:

Times have changed and the air raid drills are long gone. Where schools once worried about us being killed by them, now the fear is of us being killed by us. Thus at schools like Southwestern High in Hanover, Indiana, mass shooter drills are the norm:

NBC calls it "America's Safest School," but it's unclear if that's hyperbole or documented fact. Or a marker of financial wealth; how many schools in America can afford the $400,000 that Southwestern reportedly spent on their security measures? What does that work out to, per student?

The sight of schoolkids huddled in the corner holding textbooks titled "The American Journey" in front of their faces is a sad one. Textbooks hold knowledge that is meant to educate people. They cannot stop ordinary bullets, let alone high-velocity rounds like the ones fired at the recent Parkland shooting. Yet this is where we're at.

Imagine telling the 1950s-era Soviet leaders that all they had to do was wait patiently, and eventually we Americans would begin turning on each other with both weapons and politics. They would have called it too good to be true.

Bulletproof Backpack Sales Spike, News Org. Tests One vs. AR-15 Rounds


Unsurprisingly, sales of bulletproof backpacks for schoolchildren is on the rise. Massachusetts-based company Bullet Blocker reported a 30% increase in orders the day after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Two days after that, Florida-based bulletproof backpack manufacturer Guard Dog Security reported a 150% increase, and at press time had run out of stock.

Bullet Blocker
Guard Dog Security
Bullet Blocker

The bulletproof backpacks from these manufacturers generally run in the $200 to $500 range and feature Kevlar inserts. As for the protection they offer, Yahoo News reports that

…the fabric "traps and slows down" bullets shot from a .357 Magnum, a .44 Magnum, a 9mm handgun, and a .45 caliber weapon.
"Recently, a woman in Hollywood, Calif., bought one for every child she knows, and the wife of a New England Patriots player ordered three for each of her children," says [Bullet Blocker founder Joe] Curran. "The idea is that kids can hold it up as a shield."

The calibers mentioned are for common handgun sizes. However the shooter at Parkland used an AR-15, which fires high-velocity rounds. ABC News hired a firearms instructor to pump rounds into one of the bags with both a Glock 19 handgun, which fires 9mm rounds, then an AR-15 to see the difference:

Neither company claims that their products will stop high-velocity rounds; indeed that would require steel plating, not Kevlar. For the forseeable future, the modern-day American parent will need to educate themselves on these matters.

Design Job: Bring Your Dog to Work! Blue Buffalo Needs a Senior Packaging Artist in CT.


Work closely with Packaging Director to build complete files for packaging, marketing materials and displays. Print out and review proofs, release mechs to printers. As time allows, this position will also be available to support the Creative Director when production assistance is needed for all other marketing materials (brochures, collateral, POS). Also, this position will handle some large projects, like state regulatory changes and sell sheets.

View the full design job here

Hell in a Handbasket: "Bonkers Closets" is a Show Revealing How the 1% Store Their Luxury Goods


So Insider has launched a show called "Bonkers Closets" where rich people show off their closets, which are larger than some of our apartments. This socialite from Singapore has "designed" a fingerprint-locked closet system based on filing cabinets to hold all of her ball gowns. Then they move on to her insane assortment of footwear and her Hermes bag collection:

I like how they show you what everything is and splash the value across the screen.

Hell in a handbasket. Made by Hermes.

Today's Urban Design Observation: Improvised Road Signage Ballast


These are the signs that road crews use in NYC. You don't want a texting driver slamming into a bunch of repairmen, and the bright orange color of these, topped with flags and fronted with cones that have reflective tape on them, fulfill their function of being highly visible.

These are lightweight and designed to break down nearly flat. You can see here that the flag supports are held in place by simple Velcro straps and can all be folded in for transport.

One area where the designers fell short is in accounting for wind. To keep the sign from toppling over in a gust, the crew has thrown a bag of Quikrete over the legs. They either had these in the truck or bought it at the hardware store down the street, my guess being that it's the cheapest heavy thing they could buy.

I knew that bag wouldn't last in the rain, though. The next day I came by to see if it was still there. It wasn't.

Instead they'd replaced it with paving stones.

If you were the designer of this object, what would you do differently?

Even if this thing came with a sandbag, it would be easy enough for it to become separated from the unit in transportation or storage. I'd like to see how these things are stored at the depot or wherever. If we had that information we might be able to design a better way to keep this unit together with a ballast, in such a way that they're unlikely to become separated.

Update: Boston Dynamics' Door-Opening Robot Now Taught to Fight Through Adversity


So that SpotMini robot we showed you that can open doors? Boston Dynamics is now at the testing phase where they send a guy to harass it with a hockey stick and a strap, apparently hoping to rattle the thing into quitting:

For chrissakes, why can't they teach these things to give up on their dreams, like real people?

Tatyana Mamut on How Technology Has Changed the Way We Conduct Design Research


For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.

2018 Strategy & Research Jury Captain Tatyana Mamut is currently the Director of Product Management, Design & Engineering at Amazon Web Services—undoubtedly a crucial role at one of the most important companies in the world. In a way, Mamut's fascination with strategy and research is precisely what got her to where she is today. A trained economic anthropologist with past experience leading product design at Salesforce and notably the founder of "Design for Change" at IDEO, Mamut's experiences have equipped her with a wealth of knowledge on the proper ways to conduct research not only to gather accurate information about who you're designing for, but also how to use that knowledge to find success in your own life. We spoke with Mamut recently about her story as well as how the realm of strategy & research is changing with culture and technology. 

I've read that your background is originally in economic anthropology, so you clearly have a unique perspective within the design field—I'd love to hear a little about your background and what drew you to the world of design.

My first love is actually neoclassical economics—I was a bit of a hard-core economist in college, running mathematical regressions to model economic behavior. I interned at the Russian Conversion Information Center in New York, writing economic reports for the United Nations about the progress of conversion in Russia from a military to civilian economy. I worked under a student of Jeffrey Sachs and fully bought into neoclassical economic theory. Then in 1998, the Russian economic collapse happened and it shattered my world because I realized that all my economic theory was wrong and culture really, really matters. With this realization that culture is critical for economic outcomes, I decided to go into global advertising and—and then, to get a PhD in cultural anthropology. 

In grad school, I focused on how culture influences economic outcomes, both for businesses and for whole societies. As I was finishing the PhD, I decided I didn't just want to analyze economic change, I wanted to do something about it. Something tangible, something that would let me have a real impact on the world with my knowledge of economics and culture. It was then a seamless transition to IDEO, a company that was looking for someone with a global perspective and who had done deep ethnographic work—and was ready to roll up their sleeves and build big things with these tools. I learned Design on the job at IDEO, authoring the Human-Centered Design Toolkit which got me really deep into the design process, and then founding an leading the Organizational Design Practice at IDEO. After seven-and-a-half years at IDEO, I decided to do product strategy and design in-house in tech, which took me to Salesforce and then to Amazon. 

Can you explain a little bit about what you do now? How are you employing your skills at an online force like Amazon?

In my last 2 roles as a tech executive, I've been managing UX designers, Product Managers, and Engineers. People are often surprised by this because people assume that tech execs need to have degrees in computer science or engineering. But as you get deeper into the tech field, you realize that technology will not be the thing that differentiates a good product from a bad one. The really hard part of technology product development is the people part. And great technology leadership is just knowing how to organize people to build things for other people, that they will love. That's it. 

You're serving this year as the Jury Captain for the 2018 Core77 Design Awards Strategy & Research category. What's the difference to you between good and outstanding design research? 

Outstanding design research isn't really about the research, it's about the insight and decisions that can be derived from the research. Yes, the research method must be rigorous and the researcher must understand how their claims and generalizations are being generated. Those solid insights need to ladder up into ways of seeing the world that is both so creative and so believable that it's obvious how those insights leads to better decision making. 

How has the impact of research and strategy on design development changed in recent years?

I think design is less about UI and more about user experience, which means a deeper focus on people's mental models and expectations. "Research" in tech used to be primarily about usability and eye-tracking studies. That type of research can only happen once a design is developed. Now, more and more tech companies realize that research needs to happen before the first concept is ever generated. Research and Strategy are happening earlier and more upstream, as opposed to being used to validate the usability of designs. 

Analytic research has inevitably crept into the realm of design research; do you believe this addition to the process is a benefit, hindrance, or capable of both? What are some mainstays of design strategy & research that should remain despite tech advents?

Product analytics are a great complement to traditional forms of research (in-context interviews, surveys, diary studies, etc) and make our insights so much more interesting and robust. With good product analytics, you can discover gaps in user behaviors that can generate great ethnographic research questions. And with good product analytics you can understand much better how people actually use your product. For example, if you develop a customer journey, product analytics can help you understand if people are actually using your product in a way that is aligned with the customer journey. The usage numbers and click-path analyses will help you hone your customer journey maps and help you see the holes and blind spots in them. 

In your opinion, what is the most pressing topic in need of design research today?

Two topics are in dire need of good design research: 

One— Russian meddling in the US Elections via social media and how social media and social media audiences can be designed to combat it. 

Two— Bias in organizations, especially in hiring and promotions. What are the true dynamics and causes of systemic bias in business, government, and academia and what organizational levers can be designed to really combat bias?

Finally, what are hoping to see in design awards submissions? Considering the presentation of Strategy & Research projects involves plenty of complex information, do you have tips to pass on to people thinking about submitting?

This category is appropriately titled "Strategy & Research" not "Research & Strategy." In other words, the strategy and great decisions that have resulted from the research are more important than geeking out on the research methods themselves. The research should be methodologically sound, but submitters should explain the connection to the strategy and design in depth. 

Our jury is looking forward to seeing everyone's submissions and continuing to see our community raise the bar on Design Strategy & Research. Good luck everyone! 

The Core77 Design Awards Strategy & Research Jury

2018 Strategy & Research Jury Captain Tatyana Mamut will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:

Lionel Mohri, VP of Design, Intuit Innovation Practices
Nalini Kotamraju, Vice President of User Research & Analytics, Salesforce
Susan O'Malley, Head of Strategy, Office of the CEO at IDEO
Thinking of submitting to the Strategy & Research category in the 2018 Core77 Design Awards? Submit today—Regular Deadline ends March 8th!

Deadline This Sunday! Apply for the Core77 x A/D/O Design Residency Before It's Too Late


Designers: do you have a professional or passion project you're ready to get off the ground, but are lacking the space and support to make it happen? Well, we and our friends at the A/D/O design space in Brooklyn may be able to help. Beginning this spring, A/D/O, a creative space and dedicated workspace for designers in Brooklyn

View the full content here

The Global Futures Lab


Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), with the support of the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), is hosting a unique international symposium entitled Global Futures at MAXXI in Rome, Italy on March 2, 2018. If you are in the area, please come by for any or all of the day-long event. Free registration here. And the evening prior at 5:30pm will be the opening of the corresponding exhibition at 1/9unosunove gallery, via degli Specchi, 20. We will be attending and will follow up with Core77 event coverage, so stay tuned. –Bruce & Stephanie


Article by Paolo Cardini
Associate Professor of Industrial Design, RISD

The Global Futures Lab is a series of international workshops that aims to counteract the bias and stereotypes of so-called "Western futures" and foster different futures linked to specific geo-cultural locations. Students from Isfahan (Iran), Ahmedabad (India), Lima (Peru), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Havana (Cuba) were invited to reflect on their environments, traditions and beliefs, and to envision futures respectful of their cultural needs and coherent with their distinct idea of progress.

Sharing Masks, by Homa Abdoli, Mostafa Parsa, Amir Mohammad Sojudi

From Critical to Global Thinking
Moving past the traditional idea of design as a problem-solving modality, designers started querying rather than providing answers. Design artifacts now create thought-provoking scenarios that question the status quo, raise debates, and frequently criticize rather than promote technology. Speculative design, design futures, design probes, and design fiction, they all use fictional but credible/plausible objects and scenarios to reveal what the future would look like if certain technological, sociological, political or economic hypotheses were confirmed.

However, just as these speculative design practices have gathered accolades, they have become the subject of harsh critique against their lack of global perspective.

In recent years multiple voices have underlined a problem with critical design: that it is the introverted and self-referential expression of a small elite, what Matt Malpass reports as "design for designers" [1]. Luiza Prado and Pedro Oliveira have defined critical and speculative proposals as "made by, for and through the eyes of the Western, typically northern-European and US-American, intellectual middle classes" [2]. At the moment, movements for pluralism and inclusivity extend well beyond the critical design sphere. But the compound relation between culture and technological progress provides a particular multitude of platforms from which to observe the uneven design field. The Global Futures Lab aims to be one such platform, a space for students from around the globe to register their distinct opinion of progress.

Ramesh Srinivasan, in Whose Global Village?, keenly criticizes Nicholas Negroponte's dream to bring the internet and mobile phones to the "last billions." He argues against the Western presumption that everyone can't wait for the blessing of the West, for its culture and technology. The idea that society, with its behaviors and beliefs, must influence any technological development is also reflected in Donald Norman's words, when he juxtaposes a sort of cultural ergonomics to the current ruling technological determinism. Norman notes how, when technology determines peoples' activities, the influence of culture tends to dissipate. Design becomes a dumb servant of technology, forcing people to conform and adapt. At a global scale, "Cultural diversity, like biodiversity, is facing an extinction crisis"[3]. The Global Futures Lab is thus an attempt to invigorate cultural determinism, in which identity is the driving factor for any design development.

In my experience as educator and professional, I often work with future scenarios and speculations. At Rhode Island School of Design, we have a vastly international student body, and I'm always surprised at how the perception of the future can be deeply misaligned across cultures. I recall many moments when this glitch was extraordinarily evident and jarring. The first was when a group of students imagined a future in which people would wear masks to survive a hyper-polluted cityscape. Classmates from China soon pointed out that this unbearable dystopia is real life for their families and friends back in Beijing.

Another memorable out-of-sync moment concerned a conversation on arranged marriages, in which students speculated about using artificial intelligence to improve the chances of everyone finding their best partners. Again, reality went way beyond any initial speculation. A couple of female students explained to the class that in India, websites already help families find the best match for their offspring while they are still children. Shadi.com matches personal data like caste, education, annual income or geographical location and presents the best options. In both cases, the lack of global empathy and the danger of a one-future-fits-all model was loud and clear. As Cameron Tonkinwise asserts, it is "morally repugnant that the worst things white people can imagine happening to them in some dystopian future are conditions they already impose on non-white people"[4].

In Search of Peace, by Aniket Kunte, Shilpa Sivaraman, Vyoma Haldipur, Subhrajit Ghosal

Universal Future and its stereotypes
In this Western predominance in matters of "the future," we can't forget how design speculations are integrally connected to science fiction. The overwhelming power of the visual imagery of sci-fi films or literature is unavoidable, polluting our ability to build virgin future design realities. From touch screens to augmented eyewear and self-driving cars, it's easy to see that some current design products are projections drawn from hundreds of Hollywood scripts and their catchy futuristic aesthetics. Today's design is thus a child of yesterday's sci-fi. An archive of stereotypes mostly assembled from a Western perspective, it is not only derivative but dangerous. Its claims for universality [5] assume these visions and aesthetics belong to all, when instead they are based on what anthropologists call "tacit ethnocentrism," that is the unquestioned assumption that somehow there is a normal human baseline and others deviate from that. In addition, this problematic set of stereotypes inhibits a genuinely imaginative approach that would enable culturally localized images of the future to unfold.

Utopic scenarios, in which glass high-rises stand above a green valley of Eden, and dystopic scenarios, in which hostile environments force people underground, are both biased dioramas, pre-packed futures from which our imagination can choose whatever is needed. Utopias and dystopias either project an unattainable ideal condition or the opposite, the worst possible fall of the human race. Both, however, are typically framed in no space and no time, an anonymity that inhibits cultural nuances, induces the use of stereotypes, and limits the variety of future perspectives. Due to Western technological determinism, cultural nuances are often neglected in current speculative design practice, but there are welcome exceptions, from the Neuro Speculative Afro Feminist group, which is adding afro-futurist nuances to VR, to islamscifi.com, a website devoted to questions like "How can Muslims pray during time travel?"

Time, and its perception, is one more element that seems out of sync in the realm of global futures. The Western concept of time is based on a linear scheme, where past-present-future is a one-way sequence. Even more significant perhaps, the collective imagination thinks that the future usually arrives first in places like Silicon Valley. In those places, the future is designed and crafted for the rest of humankind, "imagined and rolled-out from, rolled over our bones, our house and our hills" [6]. In reality, this linear perception of time is merely a Western position, while in many cultures time has a cyclical form, with no before and after nor temporal priority, where the future, for instance, could be seen as a repetition of the past [7]. In these temporal conditions, concepts like underdevelopment, primitivism, first or third world, delay or anticipation acquire an entirely new meaning.

Together and Different, by Ramzi Teshome, Makeda Dereje

Non-Western Speculative Contexts
I created Global Futures Lab as a call to action, a push toward a more comprehensive dialogue about the future. The future we envision through this project provides a space where more voices can be heard, not only as a socio-political negotiation but also as a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed picture [8]. Global Futures Lab focuses specifically on the idea of hyper-contextualized futures. It asks a simple question: "How do you see the future—not any future, but a unique one, tailored to your specific context?" The answers were provided by art, architecture and design students from Iran, India, Peru, Cuba and Ethiopia. They were delivered in the shape of objects, as diegetic prototypes, vehicles for the students' messages about their most desirable or frightening futures. In each of these very different cultural contexts, the students addressed their own realities, traditions, and aspirations, coped with the anxiety of being young adults, and expressed their urge to make their opinions relevant.

The speculative environment was crucial to providing students with a judgment-free space. During the workshops, students' stories crossed to the realm of the imaginary, no longer carrying the burden of the reality, which is often mired with consequences, disapprovals and limits. That freedom was embraced completely, but most of the projects also reveal a deep connection with the present, through the use of antithesis (juxtaposing a present condition with a more desirable one) and hyperbole (stretching elements of the present to extreme deformations).

The use of technology was also significant in these global contexts. Speculating allowed students to fantasize about using high-tech tools and devices that are still not accessible to them in real life. This opened up unexpected opportunities. Considering technologies "not for what they are but as tools created by people in certain places at particular times" the students used technologies as instruments that, in spite of flattening identities, helped them to augment local behavior and traditional practices [9]. Aesthetic choices were also unique and significant. Students quickly replaced the shiny plastics and crystal surfaces of Western industrial technology with local materials and traditional crafts, showing that the future can also be seen in a warm and cozy light.

The anthropologist Arturo Escobar calls that world where many worlds fit the "pluriverse" [10]. The Global Futures Lab imagines just that, through a collection of "souvenirs from the futures" in which no one is more important than another, no one is ahead or behind. This is simply a celebration of different dreams dreamed through the lens of a deeply contextual speculative design exercise.


1. Matt Malpass, "Between Wit and Reason: Defining Associative, Speculative, and Critical Design in Practice." Design and Culture 5, no. 3 (2013).

2. Luiza Prado and Pedro Oliveira, "Futuristic Gizmos, Conservative Ideals: On (Speculative) Anachronistic Design," http://modesofcriticism.org/modes-of-criticism-1/ (February 27, 2015).

3. Ramesh Srinivasan, Whose Global Village?: Rethinking How Technology Shapes Our World (New York: New York University Press, 2017).

4. Cameron Tonkinwise, "Just Design," Medium: https://medium.com/@camerontw/just-design-b1f97cb3996f (August 2015).

5. Sohail Inayatullah, "Future Thinking," Impakt archive: http://impakt.nl/archive/2012/essays/sohail-inayatullah-futures-dreaming/ (2012).

6. Pelle Ehn, Elisabet M. Nilsson, and Richard Topgaard, Making Futures: Marginal Notes on Innovation, Design, and Democracy (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014).

7. Øyvind Dahl, "When the Future Comes from Behind: Malagasy and Other Time Concepts and Some Consequences for Communication," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 19, no. 2 (1995).

8. Arjun Appadurai, The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (London: Verso/New Left Books, 2013).

9. Srinivasan, Whose Global Village?

10. Arturo Escobar, "Sustainability: Design for the Pluriverse," Development 54, no. 2 (2011).

Shop Class Skills vs. Mass Shooters: High School Student Invents Clever Classroom Security Device


In a time when our leaders are not devising intelligent solutions to keep students safe from shootings, the students themselves are stepping up. Justin Rivard, a senior at Somerset High School in Wisconsin, can't prevent an armed maniac from pulling up to a school with bad intentions. But his invention can prevent them from entering a classroom.

Rivard used his skills in shop class to devise a simple, compact object, made from bar stock and steel plate, that can be used to quickly render a door impassable. Look at how it works:

As stated in the video, after seeing the device Rivard's school district ordered 94 units in total, covering every classroom for the elementary, junior high and high schools.

It's not a cure-all, of course; a shooter might time a rampage for when he knows students will be in the hallway, and the Parkland shooter deviously pulled the fire alarm in order to provide himself with ample targets. But at least Rivard is trying to do something to mitigate the problem. That's more than I can say for our so-called leaders. Amidst their lack of worakable solutions, hopefully more smart students will step up and figure out what else needs to be done.

Unusual Furniture Design: These Super-Beds from China Come Loaded With Accessories


I think the hours we spend sleeping are enough time to spend in a single piece of furniture. But for those who disagree, there are these sort of super-bed designs coming out of China.

They feature a chaise-longue-style massage unit, storage for books or clothes, a pop-up laptop desk, optional pull-out footstools, long-term storage beneath the mattress, an onboard stereo, built-in outlets, and two Caucasian people who have been Photoshopped in for international legitimacy.

You can peruse all of the variants of these designs--which, in China, retail in the sub-USD-$500 range, if the listings are to be believed--here.

Design Job: Develop High-End Audio Products with an Attention to Detail as an Industrial Designer for Master & Dynamic


Industrial Designer Master & Dynamic is a New York City-based premium audio brand with a deep passion for building beautifully crafted, richly appointed, technically sophisticated personal audio products. The company’s growing product line includes a wireless speaker, headphones, earphones and accessories. We are

View the full design job here

Micki Krimmel on Finding Factories, Breaking into New Industries and Using Crowdfunding as a Marketing Tool


#IMakeaLiving is a series of free, traveling events powered by FreshBooks that focuses on bringing together an eclectic group of small business owners for a lively, candid, and often hilarious, conversation. In light of the series' second year, we're interviewing business-owning designers on how they brought their companies to the next level. 

After coming to the frustrating realization that plus sized women weren't receiving fair treatment in the athletic wear market, Micki Krimmel set out to change state of the industry with her size inclusive performance wear line, Superfit Hero.

Krimmel combined her knowledge gathered from founding previous startups with her passion for fitness—specifically roller derby—to plan Superfit Hero's development in the same spirit as a tech company. Before launching her Kickstarter campaign, she conducted extensive market research and consumer interviews. With the support of the roller derby community combined with her interesting business strategies, Krimmel cleverly figured out how to zero in on a supportive audience she had a deep understanding of—a group who would eventually help crowdfund her campaign to success.

Even after her thorough planning, bringing real product to life has been no easy task for Krimmel. In this interview, the Superfit Hero founder goes into detail about the realities of crowdfunding and bringing your very first product run to life:

Core77: What is Superfit Hero, who is it for and what led you to the decision of starting your own brand?

Micki Krimmel: I originally started in entertainment working for the social change-focused film company, Participant Media. I led their tech initiatives and created social action campaigns back when blogs were new, and it was a very optimistic time focused on how technology was going to democratize media and connect people. From there I worked at an early-on YouTube competitor, which was really my first jump into startups.

The first startup I founded after that was NeighborGoods, which was one of the first sharing economy services. It was a website that connected neighbors to share things like power tools and lawn mowers. It was one of those really great ideas that help kickstart a whole industry, but it never really took off on its own.  

I knew I wanted my next startup to support my passion for fitness. I started researching and quickly discovered that there was a hole in the activewear market where plus size women didn't have access to high quality performance wear. 67% of women are what we call plus size, so actually the majority of women fall into this category. During my research I found that a lot of brands shop by sport online. The categories would be, yoga, weight lifting, crossfit, and then there'd be a separate category just for plus size. From a fashion perspective that didn't make sense. 

Fitness and sport have the potential to help women discover their super powers, if you will. They help women develop their confidence and their leadership ability. What we see in fitness marketing is the opposite—it's just about aesthetics. It's about women taking up less space and fitting some hyper sexualized idealized view of what a man thinks your body should look like. I felt like that was undermining the real benefits of fitness, which are self-confidence and strength. So, Superfit Hero is a size inclusive, body positive fitness lifestyle brand that serves women extra small to 4XL.

I actually just retired playing roller derby—my team was number four in the world when I stopped playing a year ago. As far as amateur sports go, we were basically professional athletes aside from not getting paid. It's pretty intense. That experience is what sparked my interest in all this, but it also gave me access to a supportive feminist athletic community that I knew would support me on Kickstarter. The summer of two and a half years ago, we did a really great Kickstarter campaign and raised around $55,000 to do the first production. Then I fulfilled orders and launched the brand online in November of 2015. 

"People think of Kickstarter as the beginning and the end, but I didn't at all. Kickstarter for me was the launch of the brand, and it was tied into a marketing strategy that was developed for three years out."

A common point of stress people face once they succeed in getting funded is figuring out next steps. How did you prepare for brand success after a successful campaign?

There's no way to do a successful Kickstarter without treating it as a marketing platform, but I think people just don't think of it as a marketing platform. I very much did. The Kickstarter was a part of the launch of the business. It was a PR play as much as it was a fundraising tool. Don't get me wrong, I needed the money to start the business, but I did all the legwork ahead of time. I already spent my own money to meet with factories and get the fit and test it with people and test it with athletes and make sure it was legit.

I think with most Kickstarter campaigns, people launch them earlier in the process, so they don't have the product ironed out yet—they're not sure which factory they're going to work with, etc. I did that the other way around. I did all the product development and fit testing ahead of time. So I had the patterns, and I had everything ready to go so that as soon as I had the funding from the campaign I could pay the factory and we would have product in house.

People think of Kickstarter as the beginning and the end, but I didn't at all. Kickstarter for me was the launch of the brand, and it was tied into a marketing strategy that was developed for three years out. So I actually didn't have that problem because I did a lot of preparation. Before I launched the Kickstarter campaign, I prepared for eight months.

This preparation put me in a position where I was ready and able to fulfill two months after the Kickstarter. I obviously used the Kickstarter money to make the products to fulfill Kickstarter orders, but I also used it to stock the online store because I wanted people to have somewhere to go after the campaign. I wanted them to be able to continue to support me. So we launched the website the same week that we did all of the Kickstarter fulfillment, and we started taking orders right away because we had the stock. I was just thinking ahead—I saw Kickstarter for what it is, which is really a great marketing platform.

What was the main challenge of breaking into the fashion industry with no prior experience?

The technology industry has a real culture and tradition of sharing knowledge and making introductions. It's a very social industry with a lot of public speaking and conferences, and everybody is always sharing and collaborating in that way. Fashion doesn't share that culture. People hold their vendors close, and they don't share that information, and factories don't have websites. They don't advertise their services. There are a few factories set up to work with newcomers because they see that as a viable market, and it is, but those factories aren't necessarily the same ones you want to work with once you're a few years in.

"The factory that gets you started is not necessarily set up to be the same one to fulfill larger orders down the road."

I originally thought that you find a factory and work with them forever, but it just doesn't really work that way. The factory that gets you started is not necessarily set up to be the same one to fulfill larger orders down the road. My requirements changed pretty quickly, so I also had to shift factories quite a few times. Finding the right people to work with was a huge challenge, and I'm still solving it. I'm just now switching to a new factory again. I think this is my sixth factory in three years, but I think that's normal.

How did you end up finding the first factory you worked with?

I found the very first one on a service called Maker's Row, and I definitely recommend them for people just starting out. They're trying to be like the Yelp of factories, so that when people want to make products, they can go on Maker's Row and search by product type and send messages and get connected.

There are thousands and thousands of factories in Los Angeles, and a very, very small percentage of them are on Maker's Row. But the ones that are on Maker's Row are the ones that are really eager to work with newcomers, so that's actually a really great place to start. I found a few vendors on there, and they tend to be more forward-thinking and understand technology.

The challenge when you're new is that you end up paying a lot. In my case, every time I switch factories, I end up paying more. It got to the point where the business wasn't going to make financial sense unless I could bring my production prices down. This was mid last year. At that point, I actually hired someone who does sourcing for larger activewear brands. I hired her as a contractor to help me find the right factory. She's been in the business for 20 years and has all the contacts—you're essentially paying for access to those contacts.

She went through all her contacts and basically found the ones that were interested in a smaller client, and she was able to get me in with a factory that works with much larger activewear brands. They shove me in between their bigger orders as a way to keep their people busy, so it's a really great fit for them. For me, I just have to be a little bit flexible with my timeline working with them, but the quality's great, the price is great, and it's a fully licensed, ethical operation here in Los Angeles.

Do you have any advice when it comes to interacting with factories and telling them exactly what you want?

"By advocating for my customers, I found the confidence to be demanding because I knew what I wanted before I went in there."

I'm really honest about what I know and what I don't know, but I'm also very demanding about what I require. At first, that was a challenging balance for me to strike because I would think, "I don't even know what I'm talking about, and who am I to be so demanding?" But the reality is I do know what I'm talking about because before I went in to meet with any factory, I did a ton of research with my actual customers, and I found out what they needed.

By advocating for my customers, I found the confidence to be demanding because I knew what I wanted before I went in there. I didn't have all the technical terminology, but I knew how I needed the product to fit, and I knew what problems I was trying to solve. I had to be really strict and then let the professionals fill in the gap.

Did any factories turn you down because of the wide size range you carry?

I was turned down and pushed out of factories not because of the size range but because of my order size. We have this vision of giant factories and thousands of people sewing, and that's actually not how it is. Most factories are like little garage operations with 20 to 40 people working there, and they're used to working for big brands. 

Most of the work for a factory is in the setup—getting the patterns right, getting the markers right, and figuring out how to cut the fabric. That amount of work is insane, whether they're doing 500 pieces or 3,000 pieces, so obviously, they're going to opt for the larger job. I've been in business for a couple of years, and I'm still barely making the minimum for the larger factories, but I am making the minimum, so I have more options now.

The factories definitely aren't used to the size range, though. Most brands go from a size small and then they grade from there. I had to be more specific because I didn't want them to just add a half an inch to each size—people don't get taller just because their size is larger. I wanted the rise in the back to grade more to make more room for women that have more in the backside and things like that. Thankfully there wasn't really pushback on this—it was just an instance where I had to be really specific about what I needed.

Your overall goal with Superfit Hero was to design the perfect fitting leggings for athletes of all sizes. How did you approach this very challenging task from a design perspective?

Visual design is not really my forte, so I hire designers to do that and artists to design the prints. I come from a tech background, so I treated the production for Superfit Hero like a tech product. I conducted a bunch of research and interviews, and I got feedback and learned what people liked and didn't like about a pair of leggings. The idea is that if we're trying to build a fitness company that's all about confidence, then the product has to make athletes feel amazing while they're wearing it.

I went through this whole testing process where I started by pulling bits and pieces from other pairs. "I like this, I don't like that." I found a factory that worked with me on putting a pattern together based on that testing process. Then we created a series of samples in all the size runs. We had athletes test them for yoga, crossfit, roller derby, and we even had a medieval combat trainer wearing them... Running was my key thing, though. I thought that if I could get plus size runners to wear these leggings and have them not droop or fall down then I'd know I was on to something.

What I've been thinking about lately is really locking in on the brand, the vision and the purpose. From the design of the product to how we respond to customer service to which content we post, how we market stuff, how many times we email you—every single decision is driven by the customer, and I'm constantly thinking about how we can respect them even more.


Interested in listening to more start-up stories? #IMakeaLiving Powered by FreshBooks will be hosting their next event on March 28th in Toronto. Learn more and register here, and in the meantime you can listen to the #IMakeaLiving podcast here.

Patagonia's Materials Choices and Their Impacts, Part 1: Organic Cotton


In the past, a designer's engagement with materials was to understand the material's properties and how to exploit them to serve the end user. Having that grasp was enough to be considered a responsible designer where materials were concerned.

Today the demands are very different, as our understanding of science has grown. A responsible designer or manufacturer must consider the impact of the materials they are using and the very business practices by which that material is being acquired and sold. Not considering these things is how we wound up with H&M's disastrous (and enduring) "fast fashion" trend, which profits by viewing clothing as short-lived, disposable objects. The materials used to make clothing are often resource-intensive, and by hastening their journey into landfill we are ripping off the planet.

The company on the opposite end of the spectrum from H&M is Patagonia. The company's careful and continuous consideration and monitoring of their materials, along with a deep sense of corporate responsibility, provide the clear--and admittedly very difficult--path of behavior that all mass manufacturers should take.

In this series we'll look at three materials Patagonia sources and the impacts that those materials mitigate. While there is considerable overlap between the following three categories, for the sake of simplicity we'll break it down into "Better for the environment," "Better for animal welfare" and "Better for the end user."

Better for the Environment

Being all-natural, 100% cotton sounds like great stuff. If you asked any hippie environmentalist in the 1960s what they'd like to wear, it's fair to say 100% cotton would be high up on the list.

But as it turns out, conventionally-grown cotton is an environmental disaster. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund), "It can take more than 20,000 litres (5,283 gallons) of water to produce 1kg (2.2 pounds) of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans." On top of that, "2.4% of the world's crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively."

The Organic Trade Association has the water figures of conventionally-grown cotton slightly lower, at "more than 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water to make one conventional cotton t-shirt, and almost 11,000 (2,905 gallons) to make a pair of jeans," which is still staggering.

Additionally, the OTA points out that conventionally-grown cotton crops are laced with pesticides like glyphosate, ethephon, trifluralin, acetochlor, tribufos, sodium chlorate, acephate, s-metolachlor, diuron, and paraquat. Those chemicals have landed on a variety of unappealing lists: Possible, probable and known carcinogens, toxic pesticides, possible or known endocrine disruptors. Glyphosate has been found in air and water near crops its used on, and subsequently has made its way into food like Cheerios, Ritz Crackers and even honey.

"As it happens, very little is pure or natural about cotton when it is raised conventionally," Patagonia writes. "We learned this in the early 1990s when we started looking more closely into our cotton supply chains. At that time…every year, conventional cotton crops in California alone were doused with 6.9 million pounds of chemicals. And research showed that extensive and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, soil additives, defoliants and other substances wreak terrible havoc on soil, water, air and many, many living things."

Thus Patagonia began looking into alternatives, and found a viable one in a movement that had started just a few years earlier, in the 1980s: Organically grown cotton. In the book "Sustainability in Denim," textiles sustainability expert Dr. Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu writes that "Organic cotton is...grown from nongenetically modified plants [and] grown without the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides." In her book "Textiles and Fashion: Materials, Design and Technology," design instructor and textiles expert Rose Sinclair writes that "organic cotton promotes and enhances biodiversity and biological cycles and so is beneficial to human health and the environment."

To produce viable yields, organic cotton farmers use natural tricks to deter pests, like using garlic, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. They use natural fertilizers like compost and animal manure, which reduces carbon and nitrogen emissions. Some even weed by hand. All of this is more time-consuming to produce--which makes it more expensive. So the question any business would have to ask itself: Would customers pay extra for something to prevent an environmental problem that was invisible to them?

Ultimately, Patagonia decided it didn't matter: "We believed we had no choice," they write. "In 1996, we began the exclusive use of organically grown cotton in all of our cotton products. Our decision was not without considerable financial risks, but we decided never to go back to conventional cotton, regardless of the outcome."

The company turned out to be on the right side not only of the environment, but of the viability of organic cotton farming, which has continued to grow over the years. In America "20,681 acres (8,369 hectares) were planted with organic cotton [in 2016], yielding 4,524 metric tons (approximately 20,800 bales), or slightly higher than one bale/acre," according to the Organic Trade Association. "This represented a 15 percent increase in bales from 2015."

"As it turned out, the move [to organic cotton] didn't compromise quality," Patagonia writes. "It provoked a fundamental change in our attitudes about agriculture. As part of our organic cotton program, hundreds of us took tours of cotton fields, and we saw for ourselves the dangers of pesticide use and the benefits of organic farming. Many of us have since shifted to buying organic foods and clothing."

Here is a list of the clothing and accessories the company makes from organic cotton.

Lastly, even though this series is focused on materials, I must point out that responsible material selection alone is not enough to do true good. For instance, according to Textile Exchange's 2017 Organic Cotton Market Report, in 2016 the #2 purchaser by volume of organic cotton was H&M--the company I'd maligned in the intro.

Much smaller Patagonia only made #7 of the "Top 10 by Growth" list. But the difference is that just "13.7% of the cotton H&M uses is organic," according to Quartz. Patagonia's figure is 100%.

And the main reason I will continue to buy Patagonia rather than H&M is simple. H&M's goal is to move as much product as possible on a fast fashion cycle, which gets clothing into landfill far faster than it can be recycled. Patagonia's goal is for you to keep and use your garment as long as possible. We'll look at how they have addressed this with another smart materials choice in Part 2 of this series. Stay tuned.

Also See:

- Patagonia and REI Selling Used Gear/Clothing at Great Prices

- The Sweater Stone, Patagonia, Product Longevity, and How to Keep Customers for Life

What Do Luxury Sleeper Cabs for Long-Haul Truck Drivers Look Like?


The life of a long-haul trucker can be tough, even when they're not behind the wheel. When it's time to get some shuteye in the truck's cab, some of them have a scant 36" behind the seats in which to stuff a twin mattress, and there's barely enough room to turn around back there, let alone get dressed and undressed. And for the trucker who brings their spouse on the road—yes, husband-and-wife trucker teams exist—it's simply not enough space for two people to live out of.

View the full content here

Design Job: Mix Art and Culture with Sport and Style as a Sr. Designer for New Era Ca


The Sr. Designer is a core member of the Marketing Creative Services Team, who are themselves responsible for conceptualizing, generating, guiding and approving all creative and visual marketing elements of the brand. This role sits squarely within that function and is about enhancing storytelling, visualizing concepts, harnessing creativity and being immersed in all of the external expressions of the brand.

View the full design job here

How Digital Fabrication has Disrupted the Gun Control Argument: People Can Now Build Their Own AR-15s and Other Firearms


The gun control debate may be over. In order to understand why, we need to look at the anatomy of the AR-15, the assault rifle that's currently dominating the headlines.

One reason that the AR-15 is popular among gun enthusiasts is because it's infinitely customizable. Owners can select from a variety of different barrels, stocks, upper receivers, scopes and sights; the Ballistic Advantage blog refers to the AR-15 as "LEGO kits for adults." Those parts can be purchased from a variety of manufacturers with little difficulty.

If all of those parts can be swapped, then what makes an AR-15 an AR-15? Technically, it's this:

That's called the lower receiver. The lower receiver houses the grip, the trigger assembly, the safety, the magazine and the magazine release button. The lower receiver is the only part of the rifle with a serial number on it--because it's the only part that the government regulates. If you want to manufacture, import or sell the lower receiver, you need a Federal Firearms License, or FFL.

To skirt this, a variety of companies manufacture what are called "80% lower receivers:"

These are cast and partially machined billets of aluminum or polymer that are, as the title implies, roughly 80% of what a finished lower receiver is; they lack the final machining to accommodate the moving parts that would make it work. There is no legal obligation to put serial numbers on these and they can be purchased for as little as $50. In the eyes of the law, this is not a firearm, just a chunk of metal. The images below are how the ATF defines them:

With a drill press, a milling machine and some patience, one could pocket out the space for the trigger, the fire control cavity and the holes for the pins, bringing the part to completion. This is legal, if you're making it for yourself. According to the ATF, "Firearms may be lawfully made by persons who do not hold a manufacturer's license under the GCA [Gun Control Act] provided they are not for sale or distribution and the maker is not prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms."

Previously, someone would still need some mechanical aptitude and access to machine tools to complete a lower receiver. But now Defense Distributed, the "anti-monopolist digital publishing" company founded by Cody Wilson to promulgate the efficacy of DIY digitally-fabricated firearms, has largely removed that last barrier by creating the Ghost Gunner.

The Ghost Gunner (now in its second iteration) is a highly precise, $1,675 desktop-sized open-source CNC mill with a horizontal spindle. With this machine, virtually anyone can turn 80% lower receivers for AR-15s and M1911 pistols into finished, functioning parts.

In the first half of the video below, you'll see just how easy this is to do. In the second half, you'll see a 3D-printed-gun hobbyist who has managed to design and print a firearm with a lower receiver made from PLA plastic. Plastic was previously deemed not durable enough for firearms applications, but said hobbyist estimates he has fired roughly 5,000 rounds with his and it's still ticking:

In the video below, Wilson explains what led him to create the Ghost Gunner, and the answer was not the typical pro-gun rhetoric that I expected:

Lastly, here's Andy Greenberg from Wired, a man who admits he has no experience with tools, seeing if he can build his own AR-15:

It goes without saying that this makes our current gun legislation, and the debate we're so evenly split on, kind of moot. We already don't know the precise number of assault rifles currently in circulation in the U.S. And that refers to just the ones that have serial numbers and were legally purchased. Now that virtually anyone can build one without reporting it, tracking these guns, let alone regulating who can and cannot have them, seems virtually impossible.

Old School Drafting Tool: Watch This Incredible 1920s Gadget That Lets You Draw Perfect Dotted Lines By Hand


In the 1920s German manufacturer Eugene Dietzgen Co. designed and produced this brilliant drawing tool, the 932S Excello, for draftsmen. Check out how it works:

Amazing, no? Although the tool is German, the Smithsonian has one of these in their collection at their National Museum of American History. This one was used at Kenyon College. Here's the little case it came in, and the description:

This 2-1/4" German silver and steel metal drawing instrument consists of a teardrop-shaped plate to which is attached a mechanism that is supposed to hold a larger serrated wheel and a smaller pattern wheel. The mechanism links the wheels to a bar that holds a pen point. When the larger wheel is rolled along the edge of a T-square or straight edge, the pen point bounces up and down to make a dotted line that formed part of an engineering drawing.
The larger wheel (5/8" diameter) is marked with one of the trademarks for the Eugene Dietzgen Co., the superimposed letters E and D inside a circle formed by the letters C and o. The six smaller wheels (9/16" diameter) also have this trademark and are numbered from 1 to 6, representing six possible dotting patterns. All the wheels are made of brass. The instrument also has the trademark and is marked: EXCELLO. The arm holding the pen point is marked: DIETZGEN (/) GERMANY. The instrument is in a rectangular wooden bar-lock case covered with black leather and lined with green velvet. The top of the case is marked: DIETZGEN (/) "EXCELLO". The top is also marked: GERMANY.
This dotting instrument was advertised as model 932S in the 1926 Dietzgen catalog and sold for $5.15. It was part of the Excello product line, Dietzgen's second-highest level of drawing instruments. This object was used in the physics department at Kenyon College.

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