Archive for the ‘Everyday Innovation’ Category

The technological legacy of Steve Jobs

Friday, October 7th, 2011

On Wednesday of this week, we lost a great industrialist and creator. Steve Jobs was a true innovator and has left us with many ideas to work with. Suzanne Fischer, The Henry Ford’s curator of technology, shared her thoughts on why we often clamor for the products Jobs and his company created. This blog post is co-posted here and on The Henry Ford’s blog.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, passed away yesterday, and the web is filled with an astounding outpouring of respect and gratitude for his work. It’s a testament to the impact personal technology — mass-produced consumer products — can have on people’s lives.

At The Henry Ford, we document not only the work of innovators, but the ways people use technology in their everyday lives. We collect artifacts that by their physicality and tangibility, their heft and their look, connect visitors to history and the lives of the people who used them. The Apple products in our collection — including an Apple IIe, a Lisa, a Macintosh, an iMac, an iPod and an iPhone — were used by ordinary people to write, teach, do business, play games, listen to music and connect to each other. Jobs’ product genius was in making those activities easy, transparent and fun — and in making the products highly desirable.

An Apple iMac, on display in the Your Place In Time exhibit inside Henry Ford Museum.

In the early 1980s, with Jobs at Apple’s helm, the company popularized the mouse and “graphic user interface” — the cheerful icons and desktop and folder metaphors that we still use in everyday computing. These innovations made computing accessible to everybody, not only people who could code. Over at our OnInnovation site, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s brilliant engineer co-found, talks about how making computing fun and easy was the company’s goal from the beginning.

Jobs famously described the company as located at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He infused a respect for creativity, intelligence and design into the company’s products — integrating color graphics quite early, for instance, and making one of his own passions, music, the key to a new kind of product, the digital music player.

The products Apple made under Jobs were never cheap. They were aspirational consumer goods that promised to make your life better, to make you a cool nonconformist, to make you “think different.” Did they? Maybe and maybe not, but Jobs’ legacy reminds us that our tools can change not only the way we live our lives, but the way we think about ourselves.

Amplifying The Maker Force

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We met Jeff Sturges at Maker Fair Detroit 2010, where he introduced us to Fab Lab and its impact with urban farming in Detroit.

Jeff came back for Maker Faire Detroit 2011 and left very inspired and motivated. In this guest blog post, Jeff shares his enthusiasm and shares ideas about how anyone can get involved in the wonderful world of DIY.

Maker Faire Detroit 2011 was truly a grand celebration of creative awesomeness! From the fire breathing Gon KiRin to the handmade Paper House Dolls, the grounds of the Henry Ford were covered with exhibitions and projects that were as incredible as they were ingenious. No matter what your passion, there was something exciting for everyone.

During the drive home after Maker Faire, my mind was abuzz with romantic visions of my own future projects. I envisioned many other wide-eyed makers and makers-to-be doing the same…dreaming of such silliness as robotic quadcopters equipped with mini-marshmallow shooters, or perhaps such seriousness as the next generation of alternative fuel automobile.

My musings simmered to concerns when I considered the dreams that might fade away before making it to reality…perhaps due to busy schedules, limited resources, lack of knowledge, or loss of drive. I also considered folks that may have been been bitten by the maker “bug” at the Faire, but left without an idea of how to connect with the local maker community. How does one get involved in the maker movement? How do we keep the Maker Force surging through our hands, hearts and minds long enough for our ideas to become real?

Doing It Yourself (DIY) vs. Doing It Together (DIT) – The power of community workshops and maker networks
There is a powerful energy created when groups ofenthusiastic people work together…either as a team on a single effort, or simply side-by-side focusing on their own projects. Joining or creating a community workshop where passionate people gather to share the space, tools, and knowledge of making concentrates energy and resources. This concentration often has an exponential effect on the speed, quality and enjoyability of making. Community workshops can and do exist on various scales and for various purposes. There are many examples to consider for either participation or startup.

The Neighborhood Garage
The most creative spaces are often found in garages, basements, and even kitchens. Why not simply open yours to a few like-minded friends in your area? Perhaps meet at one location or even rotating locations if projects are portable? Maybe one evening per week, or two weekend afternoons per month?

The Back Room in The Community Center
Know of an underutilized space in a community center, school, or place of worship? Consider examples such as the Mt Elliott Makerspace in Detroit and Parts and Crafts in Cambridge, MI. Both workshops launched and continue to operate in church basements, and both focus on youth learning through making.

A Hackerspace is a collective of creative innovators that may include designers and engineers as well as artists and musicians. While In the past, the term “hacker” applied to software programmers breaking into computer mainframes, nowadays the term is associated with anyone who is involved in hands-on experimentation with materials, tools, and technologies. Participation in a hackerspace normally involves paying monthly dues to support the costs of operation, and sharing responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep. Members often range in age from 18 to 88 years, and number from 10 to over 75 people. Examples of local Michigan hackerspaces include OmniCorpDetroit in Detroit, i3Detroit in Ferndale and All Hands Active in Ann

Professional Workspaces
Community workshops also exist less in the form of collectives and more in the form of a professional workspaces. Examples include the upcoming Maker Works in Ann Arbor and TechShop in Allen Park. These workshops offer a wider range of advanced tools and resources that may not be available at a typical hackerspace.

Maker Networks
Prefer to work solo but desire some sort of a connection to other makers? Check out the various online community resources offered through Make Magazine such as their forum, community directory, newsletter, maker maps, etc. Attend local meetups such as hackerspace Open Hack nights where it is possible to mingle with local makers more about projects, organizations, and events. See the hackerspace websites listed above for schedules and details.

Small is Big – Start with small projects, and break up big projects into mini-projects
One of my all time favorite lessons…
Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

If you are a young maker or a maker-to-be (or a parent of either), I suggest developing skills and building confidence with small projects that are simple, quick, easy and cheap. Once the basics are mastered and the taste of success is palpable, it is easier to move on to more challenging and time-intensive projects. Examples might include LED throwies as found on Make: Projects, or Sock Puppets as found on Instructables. In addition, various kit-based projects are available such as the Drawdio sold via the MakerSHED or the MintyBoost sold by Adafruit Industries. For youth ages 6-12, HowToons brilliantly uses a comic format to present tutorials for simple projects that use common household materials.

If you are ready for an ambitious project, “eating the elephant one bite at a time” is key to keeping things manageable. Set up a schedule with specific times to work on projects, perhaps once per week for a few hours. Break up the project into smaller mini-projects, map out the associated tasks necessary to accomplish each mini-project, and plug these tasks into your schedule. Most importantly, maintain a positive mental attitude. Everything will take longer than expected, and problems and obstacles will arise. All of this you can and will overcome.

Over-Thinking leads to Under-Doing – Stop thinking and DO IT!
One of the most dreadful black holes for maker energy is over-thinking. Of course, careful planning is essential for the success of any project, but at a certain point one must stop planning and dive in. I have witnessed many people, including myself, plan and design a project to death. Trying to solve every problem and address every detail in the early stages leads to “paralysis by analysis.” Rarely are all problems solved on a sketchpad, and often you will uncover new problems in the process of making anyway, so you may as well get started! Once hand and mind begin working in beautiful harmony, brilliant solutions and new discoveries will present themselves.

Celebrate Progress – Join or create events where you can share your projects and ideas
An event need not be the colossal scale of the Detroit Maker Faire in order to generate the Maker Force. Attending, joining, or creating events that involve the display of projects provide occasions share your work, develop new ideas, and connect with other makers. Community groups, galleries and hackerspaces occasionally host events that include open calls for projects. Submit your work! Check out local newspapers such as the Detroit Metro Times for details on creative events such as the upcoming DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. Feeling particularly
ambitious? Consider starting a Mini Maker Faire in your city such as the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.

Keep the Maker Force strong! See you and your projects at Maker Faire Detroit 2012!

DIY: An Innovative Movement

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Something that has really caught my eye recently has been Do-It-Yourself culture and how incredibly innovative it is. They are true makers and their innovations—everything from clothing to make-shift inventions to sustainable variations—are just astounding.

What set me on the DIY quest was my lack of air-conditioning during the recent, massive New England heat wave. At some point in my heat-induced delirium (clarity of mind, perhaps?) I decided the best thing to do, rather than attempt to scour the local department stores fighting over the last AC units that were no doubt not very energy efficient, was to fashion my own air conditioning that was more cost effective to run. And so my search for designs began—which, thanks to Instructables, there are step-by-step DIY instructions for these awesome inventions. There were fancy ones that were definitely out of my skills to build (or build within the wanted-it-yesterday timeframe). And then there were simpler ones, but immediately I worried about structural integrity, materials, and also, cutting plastic by myself with a knife. A key point I’ve found while innovating is to remember your limitations while keeping design freedom. Innovations that can never be brought to fruition are great experiments, but they don’t get the job done.

I ended up going the cheapest and easiest route: Using the window fan I already had, I put a towel down over the bookcase in front of it, and put a large bag of ice in a cake pan. Simple, low-tech, and old-fashioned: air conditioning for the tune of $1.79 to buy a bag of ice. The next day, I froze a large block of ice in another cake pan to completely revert to using only what I already owned and had access to. Some friends suggested to boost the cooling power of my AC with salt—I was skeptical, but it seemed to work. Another key point of innovation I found: caution is okay, but don’t be afraid to experiment. It might just turn out to be the answer you were looking for!

What have you innovated lately?

Cooking as an Innovative Process

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

I have this habit, you see. When I’m in the grocery store I sometimes buy food I don’t know how to make. Usually I’ve eaten it before in a restaurant, but there was one occasion I hadn’t even done that. I’ll have a vague idea of what the end meal will be, and what other ingredients I need to achieve my creative fancy. I utilize my senses to gauge flavors and how they’ll mesh together. I’m not actively part of the food blogger community, but I do follow several foodies on twitter and facebook. I like reading food reviews, and actively post restaurant reviews on Yelp and CitySearch. I like good food. I use these past experiences as research and basis for my cooking expeditions. But how is cooking with a never before used ingredient innovative?

It’s the process I’m using. I draw upon my knowledge and resources to prepare a framework of what I want to accomplish with the unknown potential of the ingredient. Once a general idea has been established for what the projected outcome will be, I gather materials to assist and facilitate my project. I continue further research to maximize success my success rate (such as recipes on how to properly cook the ingredient so that I don’t end up with an inedible meal or food poisoning.

Once in the kitchen however, it’s down to me and my cooking skills. The actual implementation of my innovative process requires patience, finesse and a little bit of luck. Some of the magic of innovation happens right in the middle of cooking. What if I added this? How will that change the outcome? How much do I add? Innovation in many ways is just cooking an idea to produce a new solution.

What I’ve learned about using an innovative process while cooking:

  • Rely on all of your senses. Things are not always what they seem, and all senses should be used to approach the project—edible or not. Your greatest resource is knowledge.Design a general idea of what you’d like to accomplish, and think of how you might accomplish it.
  • Research. Write in the details of exactly how you will accomplish your plan, supported through your research. Fill in whatever unknown variables that you can.
  • Be flexible. Innovation is not about rigidity, but a fluid transition from one state to another. Even with research and planning, things don’t always go the way you’d like them to. Having a contingency plan helps (I keep frozen dinners in case my meal ends up inedible).
  • Take risks. Sometimes, you just don’t know until you try—and the worst that happens is that you fail and you’re armed with better knowledge for another attempt.
  • Try, try again. Failure is no excuse to give up. All great innovators went through failure before finding success. Find out what failed, approach the situation again from another angle. Someday, I’ll make a perfect casserole. Until then, I’ll keep trying (and suffering through the leftovers!).

What about you? In what ways do you use innovative processes in your daily life?

Photo Credit: KimmiK