Teach Design: The Importance of Failure

Ongoing investigations into a project that brings design to a local high school in Austin. design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of...

Ongoing investigations into a project that brings design to a local high school in Austin.

design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of design by the editors of design mind magazine.

I won’t pretend to know a lot about Samuel Beckett or his writing, but the notion of "failing better" resonates very strongly with me. Design is all about failure. It's about taking an initial swag at something and seeing how it works. Does your design solve the problem? Does it create a delightful, intuitive experience? Not quite? Well, then tweak it. Rev it. Iterate it. The more you experiment, the more you iterate, the better.

Why is that? Well, when doing design work, you're drawing up plans. But plans are just that—mental thoughts that you project on a subject matter. In the words of the architect Louis Kahn, you're trying to create "meaningful order." Order is pretty easy: Just pick and organizing principle or a pattern and you've got order. But meaningful? That's the tricky part. What is meaningful? To whom is it meaningful? Is it universally meaningful or is it just meaningful to a particular audience?

Creating meaning is the hardest part of design; you're not going to get it right the first time. But you can iterate it. Not just once, but many times. And the sooner you're doing iterations in the actual materials of the finished product, the better the design will be. Because you can't perfectly premeditate meaningful experiences. You have to experiment and see what happens.

Our joint design project with McCallum High School is no exception. We've been working with 12 students to develop a concept called "Bubbles" which consists of a set of interactive outdoor seating arrangements. We decided to incorporate sonar proximity sensors to create playful behavior with lights when people approach and move away from the bubbles. Our first thought was to make the lights get brighter as people approach, and dimmer as they move away, and we thought it would be a good idea to properly diffuse the LED lights so that there were no bright spots—just one smooth, seamless gradient of color growing brighter and dimmer.

So, one of our brilliant technologists from frog hooked up the sonar sensor, a Phidgets board (an open hardware platform), and the LEDs and then wrote an Adobe AIR app that took in the proximity readings and controlled the LEDs accordingly. And then something unpredictable happened. But that seamless gradient of color? Not so much. Instead, the lights seemed to be going off almost randomly. They did follow some sort of pattern (as you got closer, more of them turned on) and you could definitely see the "spots" where the LEDs were, so we covered the LEDs with crumpled paper. The result looked like a lightning storm! It was so cool!

So was that failure? It was definitely a small failure in the sense that result was not what we had designed on paper. But somehow, the "failed" behavior was meaningful. It mapped to our collective memories of lightning storms and it resonated with us.

That experience reminded us that we shouldn't spend too much time premeditating designs. Instead, we should experiment, play, get our hands on real materials and see what they tell us. What do concrete, wood, and LEDs have to say? What do they, as materials and agents, lend themselves to? Maybe they'll tell us something we didn't expect.

So, we're actually going to start failing more often now. We're going to divide up into two teams and experiment with our materials. Each team will have different ideas. And each team will probably experience lots of little failures; but that's how we'll learn. And that's how we'll create a more meaningful design.

Teach design by experimentation. Don't be afraid of failure.


This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

via WFMZ / YouTube

John Perez was acquitted on Friday, February 21, for charges stemming from an altercation with Allentown, Pennsylvania police that was caught on video.

Footage from September 2018 shows an officer pushing Perez to the ground. After Perez got to his feet, multiple officers kicked and punched him in an attempt to get him back on the ground.

Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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