David Carlson and Peer Eriksson introduce the Designboost event

Back in February, I blogged about the Designboost Web site, likening it to a periodic table of design knowledge. This time, Peer Eriksson and David Carlson were here at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to run the first BoostEvent in the United States. The theme was “Design Beyond Design,” a title that seemed to puzzle some of the participants, but was certainly thought-provoking. The way those words make you pause and think reminds me of the title of the Design Research conference that Ezio Manzini put on in Turin in 2008, called “Changing the Change”.

A break for refreshments on the Museum’s Arthur Ross Terrace

The event was a collaboration between Designboost, Cooper-Hewitt as the location host, Material ConneXion, the Consulate General of Sweden in New York, and Prime PR. On the BoostChat day, we split into discussion groups to address eighteen challenges about “Design Beyond Design,” with six groups in three sessions. For example, this was one of the challenges that I contributed to: Absolute focus or portfolio mind? Do we really need absolute focus, or is it better to have more of a portfolio mind? Will the designer of tomorrow be part scientist, part activist, part gardener, and part nutritionist, or is a specialist with absolute focus better when it comes to innovation? Who will find new opportunities and open up for real differentiation? We talked about “T-shaped” people (both excellent in a discipline and interested in collaborating with those from other backgrounds) and designing food. Towards the end of each session, Peer would steal away a spokesperson or two from the group and interview them on video, so that soon you will find a lively report on the Designboost Web site.

Peer Eriksson interviewing a group spokesperson for the online video record

The BoostChat day ended with dinner at Serafina. There was plenty of wine and conversation before sitting down to eat, but then the pace accelerated. The Designboost signature event is a speed-dating dinner, where you have four minutes to tell your story to the person opposite, before moving seats to meet the next person. David was a demanding timekeeper, banging a metal plate warmer every four minutes. Lubrication was provided at the start with a tasting of Swedish whiskey from Mackmyra.

Enjoying Swedish whiskey from Mackmyra

The second day was filled with a series of very interesting presentations. The BoostTalk formula is to limit the talks to fifteen minutes, with five more minutes for discussion, which gives the event an energetic urgency and enjoyable rhythm. Here are eight examples that particularly appealed to me.

David Gresham of Material ConneXion said that the well-publicized technology transfer from military to civilian applications was limited in scope, but went on to give examples of transfers across commercial examples, such as a carbon-reinforced sail informing the structure of a running shoe.

Philip Tiongson of Potion showed dining tables augmented by interactive information projected from above, as well as a recently launched free iPad App called Biblion for the New York Public Library about the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Anna Rabinowicz of Rablabs talked about bio-inspired design with examples that connected neatly with the information from Material ConneXion. Examples included the shark scale–inspired Speedo Fastskin swimsuit and the StickyBot from Stanford’s Biomimetics & Dextrous Manipulation Lab, based on the suction feet of a Gecko.

Ellen Lupton, Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper-Hewitt, commented that the future of books will be more about making than reading, as the information content migrates to electronic devices. She also told a beautifully illustrated and witty story about a girl who loves her Kindle, is introduced to iPad and finds its responsiveness irresistible, and falls for FaceTime.

Jamer Hunt, Director of the Graduate Program in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons, explained “Design Beyond Design” through the concept of scale, introduced with a clip of the classic Eames Powers of Ten film. He demonstrated the implications of scale with an example of bicycle use in cities, where we start with design of the bicycle, increase by a power of ten to think about designing city streets, again for services, and once more for national policy and perhaps even globalization.

Bruce Nussbaum, author and Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons, talked about the new book that he is immersed in writing. He questioned whether ethnographic research techniques went far enough to yield significant insights, as deep knowledge seems to need the designer to live in the culture and context of the design. He also recommended more sophisticated ways to frame design contexts


Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, encouraged the use of play in design, as games induce flow, help skill development, and must be learnable, measurable, and offer timely feedback in order to succeed. He also explained the division of our brains into “like” and “want” parts, with one giving you satisfaction from doing things that you like, and the other driving you forward with a burning desire to do the things that you want.

Susannah Drake, Principal of dlandstudio, warned that when it rains hard in Manhattan, 2.4 million gallons of combined sewage and drainage flow into the harbor every hour. Her Sponge Park in Flushing Bay is designed to absorb such overflows. She practices “Design Beyond Design” at a planning level, with designers and design processes helping to decide the future of our environment.

Watch the entire series on our YouTube channel

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *