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Cradle to Cradle – William McDonough and Michael Braungart May 7, 2012

Posted by sunderraj3 in Design Thinking, Uncategorized.
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“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” -William  Mc Donough,  TED 2005 conference

“We do not want sustainability, because that is not enough. We want real quality.” – Michael Braungart

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough, an architect and Michael Braungart, a chemist is a seemingly utopian concept that challenges our current design principles and the ‘cradle to grave’ manufacturing models. The book is not just a commentary or an outcry on our present day design deficiencies and manufacturing externalities. It goes beyond that by laying out new remedial design principles, guidelines and even a case study to show that is more rooted in reality than it is in its utopian ideologies.

The physical book design in itself quite novel. Rather than using paper from wood pulp or cotton fiber, it uses synthetic paper made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. Apart from being waterproof, durable and recyclable, it also serves as a “technical nutrient”: one which can be broken down and circulated indefinitely in industrial cycles. This is the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ concept in action, where design enables an alternate upcycle-able material thus relieving precious trees from performing a diminutive role as a raw material for paper.

The book starts off with a critique of the current design and manufacturing guidelines that have their underpinnings in the Industrial Revolution. According to the authors, the economic revolution driven by the desire for acquisition of capital lead to the ‘Cradle to Grave’ concept and more emphasis on efficiency. They conclude that except a few generally known positive side effects, most industrial methods and materials are unintentionally depletive.

In a world in which we accept waste as the norm and less waste as an improvement, manufacture products that have been designed for the worst case scenario, use chemical and energy brute force to produce them and measure quality of living by high economic standards, the ones that go unaccounted for are the ecological health and in many ways human health as well. The authors see this as a design problem where we have unquestioningly accepted  flawed design principles that were by-products of the Industrial Revolution and call for a ‘Industrial Re-revolution’: The ‘Cradle to Cradle’, C2C design methodology.

I could see three underlying principles that drive the C2C methodology:

  • Eco-Effectiveness vs Eco-Efficiency: While eco-efficiency aims at improving existing industrial systems so that they can produce less waste and pollutants, eco-effectiveness aims at a new industrial system that does not generate pollutants or deplete natural resources. A good example would be replacing coal plants with wind mills or solar panels. The idea that materials should be ‘upcycled’ not just recycled is also one of the tenets of eco-effectiveness.

  • Waste Equals Food: This is a principle borrowed from nature where everything has a purpose and is a nutrient for something else. Similar to the biological nutrients, the ‘technical nutrients’ enable to create closed loops in our man-made world. Thus once a product has been designed, it is ‘upcycled’  to the industry, a number of times throughout its life cycle and then safely returned to nature.

  • Respect Diversity: This is C2C’s response to the current ‘one size fit all’ design principle. This principle necessitates respect not only for biodiversity but also  for geography, culture and the uniquely human element. Or more simply, its design that is adapted to local conditions using its unique ecological and cultural diversities.

As a methodology, I think C2C has immense scope for sustainable design. First, it recommends a mindset shift for designers to shed their  loyalty to the ‘Industrial Revolution’ age design principles and adopt a new principled approach for a sustainable future. Some of the suggested approaches are quite feasible and could be implemented with much less investment. One approach is to assess all the materials that are used in a product and categorize them on the levels of harm they pose to humans and the environment. Remove all chemicals that we definitely know are harmful. Another useful approach is to design products that are easy to disassemble and its different parts clearly marked so that they can be recycled effectively. These are elements that I think stretch C2C from a mere framework for sustainable design to an actionable toolkit.

I can also see the merits of the ‘respect for diversity’ principle and the ‘one size fit all’ shackles that designers bind themselves with. In my opinion, this is a more near term design challenge given that the consumption gravity is shifting away from the West towards China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. With much less notion of environmental awareness, safety and health, these young economies would soon find themselves caught up in a ‘Re-Industrial Revolution’ than a ‘Industrial Re-revolution’, that C2C advocates for. Designers could play a vital role if they could respect the diversity for the cultures and geographies that they design for and come up with more ‘eco-effective’ solutions.

However, I have two main concerns about this framework. First, the ‘Waste equals Food’ principle is one of the vital cogs of the C2C framework and I doubt if this is fungible. Even though exemplified by some examples, the book does not go beyond that to discuss ways to identify those systems. It’s unfair to expect the authors to come up with such a universal design rule too. May be only few materials qualify and a strict adherence to this principle might leave designers with very few options or might prove to be both expensive and time-consuming. With out this principle being validated for various situations, I doubt if it would differ much from other sustainable design principles such as ‘The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability’.

Second, the authors make it seem that the mass adoption of sustainable design would fruition if only designers could change their mindset about design. I think corporations and consumers and their respective mindsets towards sustainability also play an equal role if not greater in this regard. The authors did a great job in describing the drive for economic prosperity as the propeller for ‘Industrial revolution’ and the flawed design principles that it gave rise to. But did not address the fact the propeller has not changed even today and corporations do get rewarded more for short-term earnings than for long-term sustainability.  The main reason that corporations cite is the cost associated with revamping the entire organization, including the value chain and C2C’s cost expectation is no exception to this. Even when designers change their mindset to come up with eco-efficient C2C designs and when corporations are willing to introduce such a product to the market, consumers’ unwillingness to either change their behavior or value ecological benefits than economic, could be the killer. The less than  jubilant adoption of electric cars and solar energy without government incentives, despite their superior eco-effectiveness compared to their incumbents,  are good examples of these design issues.

In conclusion, I think C2C is a great framework for designers providing them a new way of thinking about sustainability. However, the C2C methodology is not an elixir for all the woes of an unsustainable future but rather a good nudge for designers and in some ways corporations, to start thinking about ecology in addition to economy and equity.


Lee, Deishin, Bony, Lionel, ‘Cradle to Cradle Design at Herman Miller: Moving Toward Environmental Sustainability’, Harvard Business School Case, May 2007

Stouthuysen, Peter, ‘C2C Theoretical Framework’, C2C Network (http://www.c2cn.eu/sites/default/files/C2C_theor_framework.pdf)

Additional Resources

William McDonough at TED 2005

Design & Thinking Movie April 30, 2012

Posted by Laura Brandner in Uncategorized.
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Hey, don’t we know that guy at 1:21??

Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (1971) by Victor Papanek (1923-1998) April 29, 2012

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Victor Papanek was probably one of the most controversial and influential figure in the history of sustainable design. He was a designer and educator who strongly advocated designs with social and ecological responsibilities. He disapproved designs that are showy, unsafe, and unless. He pointed out that “design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself)”. Triggered by social unrest, environmental damage, high levels of pollution, and potential depletion of the world’s resources in the 1960s, Papanek began to challenge the design establishment, criticize modern and unsustainable development, and suggest alternatives. He soon became the unpopular person among designers and corporations, because Kleenex culture was the dominating trend in American’s consumer market at that time. Four years after publishing the controversial Design for the Real World, Papanek was described as being “disliked, even loath by his contemporaries” in Design magazine. He was often savagely attacked by his peer designers and forced to resign from professional body, which threaten to boycott an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris if his work was included.  Yet the first edition of his book had been translated into more than 20 languages and had become the most widely read book on design in the world. Design for the Real World urges designers to take a more responsible role in a consumerist society. Even after his death in 1998, Papanek still remains hugely influential, and he is considered to be the pioneer of sustainable and humanitarian design.

Design Philosophy


 “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress other who don’t care……Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered file boxes, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people.” – Victor Papanek


This provocative tone permeates Papanek’s popular and highly polemical text, Design for the Real World. Papanek’s book accuses contemporary designers of squandering natural resources to devise trinkets, when their social and moral responsibilities are required to create designs that serve mankind’s basic needs and solve environmental crisis. In this book, Papanek identifies himself as a ‘world designer’ within the ‘social context’, influenced by third world groupings and underpinned with contempt for the modern consumer market. Essentially, he argues the need for reprogramming of designer rather than re-evaluating the present state of ‘purchasing- disposing’ consumer society.

To begin, Papanek defines design as the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaning order. The mode of action by which a design fulfills its purpose is function. Aesthetic value is just an inherent part of function.  He explains the six aspects of the function complex in his view as following:

  1. Methods: The interaction of tools, processes, and materials. An honest and optimal use of materials. Example: Dow Chemical’s ‘self-generating’ Styrofoam dome.
  2. Use: ‘Does it work?’ Example: A vitamin bottle should dispense pills singly.
  3. Need: Much design has satisfied only evanescent wants and desires while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected by the designers. The economic, psychological, spiritual, technological, and intellectual needs of a human being are usually more difficult and less profitable to satisfy than the carefully engineered and manipulated ‘wants’ inculcated by fad and fashion. Example: To prevent food from perishing in Third World countries.
  4. Thesis: ‘The deliberate, purposeful utilization of the processes of nature and society to obtain particular goals’. The content of a design must reflect the times and conditions that have given rise to it, and must fit in with the general human socio-economic order in which it is to operate. Example: Americans who try to couple a Japanese interior with an American living experience in their search for exotica find that many elements cannot be ripped out of their context.
  5. Association: Our psychological conditioning, often going back to earliest childhood memories, comes into play and provides us with antipathy against a given value. Example: what shape is most appropriate to a vitamin bottle: a candy jar, a perfume bottle or a style salt shaker?
  6. Aesthetics: A tool that helps in shaping design. However, there is no yardstick for the analysis of aesthetics. Thus, it is simply considered to be a personal expression fraught with mystery and surrounded with nonsense.

To continue, Papanek blames ‘The cancerous growth of the creative individual expressing himself egocentrically at the expense of spectator and/or consumer……” and advocates strongly for better design for the disabled, infirm, developing world community and others who are not normally benefiting from the work of ‘western’ design studios. Papanek sees a straightforward negotiation between customer and designer to produce rational, socially conscious designs that are relevant to the needs of people in the world today.

Moreover, he emphasizes the designer’s social and moral judgment must be brought into play long before he begins to design, since he has to make a priori judgment, as to whether ‘his design be on the side of the social good or not’. In order to see what might happen if social and moral obligations were removed from design, he wrote a satirical piece “The Lolita Project” with a proposition that, in a society that views women as objects for sexual gratification, an enterprising manufacturing might well begin for the production and marketing of artificial women. To his surprise, he received many responses, including a Ph.D. teaching social psychology at Harvard contacted him four times regarding a license to begin Flesh-like vinyl body manufacturing. This leaves him much contempt on the admittedly notional world of consumerism.

In the design of disposable items, Papanek advocates two rules: that an item’s price should reflect its disposability, and that the designer considers what happens to the item after it has been thrown away. He promotes pricing items based on how often they are replaced, and leasing often-replaced items. He envisions the development of ecological design and ‘green’ technology by commenting on biodegradable plastics, and new energy such as methane and wind-power. He was expecting to see the implementation of these new technologies within 10 years from the time his book was written.

In summary, Design for the Real World tries to awaken designers’ awareness on their social and moral responsibilities for the world today. Since Papanek first blamed the design profession for creating wasteful products and customer dissatisfaction, new product focused environmental legislation has been introduced. However, the fact still remains that mainstream product design draws on scarce resources to create and power products which often have little or no consideration for impact on society and the environment. Survival will depend upon designer’s ability to learn how to redesign. At last, he hopes that ‘the designer should not be a pimp for the excess of big business interests’, rather the designer can bring ‘the insights, the broad, nonspecialized, interactive overview of a time……combined with a sense of social responsibility’ to world problems.  

Analysis, Reflections, and Relevance to Today’s Life

Without doubt Design for the Real World is a historically important text, with widespread influence as a catalyst in the practice of design. It offers numerous examples of sidestepping formalism and self-conscious stylization. However, I feel Papanek’s views upon consumer are too dismissive: ‘A picture emerges of a moral weakling with an IQ of about 70, ready to accept whatever specious values the unholy trinity of Motivation Research, Market Analysis and Sales has decided to inculcate in him’. But his sharp-edged text is apocalyptic in many aspects such as ‘green’ technology, social and ecological responsibilities, etc. It also attempts to align design thinking with real needs, which is so crucial in our time as we are still facing oil crisis, global warming, unsolved poverty and social problems. This requires a radical change in designers’ thinking to consider wider implications of their actions in terms of purpose of design, quality of life, and the future of society.

After Papanek and other designers such as Packard and Bonsiepe first suggested the concept of design for sustainability in the 1960s, people like Manzini and Ryan urged to make radical changes in the 1990s. This trend has continued and gained momentum in our time as design for sustainability became more widespread. Although designers have been motivated and interested in improving the environmental and social impact of the products they produce, opportunity is still limited within the industrial context. Companies such as Apple, HP, Philips, IBM have already began to promote the work in this area. Large industry commitment to integrating environmental and social issues into product development has also continued to rise, but little effort has been observed in the commercial design industry.

Today, there’re many forms of active research in the field of design for sustainability, ranging from implementation of legislation, corporate social responsibility, to eco-redesign, impacts of user behavior. As designers of our century, we need to understand the breadth of the problem and be aware of many issues relating to sustainable development, not just recycling waste materials. Now I understand why Nathan said that it is depressing to read this book, because what Papanek wrote 40 years ago is still very applicable to the world today. We need to redesign in order to solve those “wicked problems”.

Designing Life: Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect April 23, 2012

Posted by keithgaff in Uncategorized.

Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) is a pre-eminent figure in American architecture.  His open-plan interior and ornament-free exterior design was radically ahead of his time and profoundly influenced modern western architecture and consequently the way we live and work today.  Yet, like many visionaries, Wright would endure the scorn of his peers and ostracization from the architectural profession before finally winning back widespread respect and accolades – well into his mid-life – with a design of  breathtaking elegance and daring.  A relatively small commission to design the summer home of a wealthy East Coast family led to the construction of “Fallingwater”; an almost pure distillation of Wright’s design philosophies, aesthetic aspirations and ego.

Kaufmann House "Fallingwater" - Mill Run, Pennsyllvania 1939.
Named "best all-time work of American architecture" in 1991 by members of the Amercian Institute of Architects (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallingwater)

After his “rebirth” as an architect, Wright was in high demand and would go on to design a diverse abundance of buildings over many decades until his death.  He designed and oversaw the construction of churches, office buildings, skyscrapers, houses, a gas station and the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue in New York City: his legacy is everywhere one cares to look.  Even the 1950’s ranch-style home that I  purchased in Fremont a year ago would likely not exist had Frank Lloyd Wright been discouraged in the pursuance of his design vision by the many who would take decades to “catch-up”.  Yet, it is the very home that I live in that made me wish to delve deeper into the man who so profoundly shaped the landscape of American architectural design and find out what made it so.


Like many of the entrepreneurial design “geniuses” we are familiar with today (such as Bill Gates, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and so on), Frank Lloyd Wright eschewed the path of formal education on his professional journey.

Born in Wisconsin, Wright was educated as a child by his mother using The Froebel Gifts – a series of educational aids consisting of geometric blocks and shapes aimed at developing spatial perception and awareness [McCarter 1991].   Wright dropped out of school at the age of 16 to support his family when his father left his mother.  He gained employment with civil engineer Prof. Alan D Conover at the University of Wisconsin-Madison assisting with construction projects and he attended classes in engineering at the university for two semesters but never gained a degree.  Instead, Wright primarily acquired his skills as an architect through on-the-job training and mentoring.  He left Wisconsin and gained work as a draftsman with the Chicago architecture firm Joseph Lyman Silsbee, later moving to the prestigious Chicago architecture firm Sullivan and Adler.  Wright was mentored by Sullivan himself and quickly rose to be head draftsman, but was fired when Sullivan discovered Wright working on his own private housing projects.  Being fired from a prestigious architectural firm might ruin the career of a less self-assured architect, but for Wright it fomented his drive to implement his developing philosophy of design free from the expectations of all that had come before.


To appreciate the originality and influence of Wright’s work it is necessary to understand the context within which he worked.  When Wright began his career as an independent architect the most popular architectural styles of the day were  Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Neo-classical architecture, all of which had considerable ornamentation, compartmentalized interior designs and destinctly vertical design elements.

Queen Anne style house - Lake City, Florida 1891

Design philosophy

“In organic architecture … it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishing another and its setting and environment still another”- Frank Lloyd Wright – Preface to Ausgefuehrte bauten und entwuefe, pulished by Wasmuth Berlin, 1910 [Kaufmann & Raeburn 1960]

Central to Wright’s design philosophy is the concept he expounded of organic architecture.  He proposed that the design of buildings should draw upon the natural landscape through the employment of simple design elements and the use of light, space and natural color.   Closely associated with this philosophy was his belief that the design of the house should unify all aspects of the design – the setting of the building upon the site, the form and layout, interior space, furnishings and decorations – to enhance the full experience of people using his buildings.

Wright’s architecture has strong horizontal design to harmonize with the ground, often featuring horizontal elements such as flattened roofs and expansive horizontal windows.   This is particularly evident in his Prairie-style houses; a style of architecture that he developed between 1901 and 1910.

Robie House - built 1909

Inside, Wright carefully designed both the interior and exterior of the house to manage the movement of people through and around the building.  This was the first of the open-plan interior spaces now commonplace in modern architecture and homes.  He designed his buildings right down to the smallest, seemingly most trivial details, including not only the furniture and carpets but even vases and dinner sets.   He made extensive use of built-in furnishings such as cupboards, closets, tables, shelves and benches to reduce clutter in his houses and thereby to create and control space [Maddex 2003].  He is reported to have required his clients to put their furnishings in the places specified in his plans and if they should rearrange them after taking residence, that they were to be returned to their specified places should he pay his clients a visit [Burns & Novick 1998].

Wright-designed dining table for Robie House

Wright summarized his design objectives as follows [Kaufmann & Raeburn 1960]:

  1. To reduce the number of necessary parts of the house and separate rooms to a minimum, and make all come together as enclosed space – so divided that light, air and vista permeated the whole with a sense of unity.
  2.  To associate the building as a whole with its site by extension and emphasis of the planes parallel to the ground, but keeping the floors off the best part of the site, thus leaving that better part for use in connection with the life of the house.
  3. To eliminate the room as a box… Make all space liberally human, with less wasted space in structure, and structure more appropriate to material and so the whole more livable.
  4. To get the unwholesome basement up out of the ground, entirely above it, as a low pedestal for the living portion of the home
  5. To harmonize all necessary openings to outside or inside with good human proportions and make them occur naturally – singly or as a series in the scheme of the whole building… The room as such was now the essential architectural expression.
  6. To eliminate combinations of different materials in favor of mono-material so far as possible; to use no ornament that did not come out of the nature of materials to make the whole building clearer and more expressive as a place to live in.
  7. To incorporate all heating, lighting, plumbing so that these systems became constituent parts of the building itself.
  8. To incorporate as organic architecture – so far as possible – furnishings, making them all one with the building and designing them in simple terms for machine work.   Again, straight lines and rectilinear forms.
  9. Eliminate the decorator.  He was all curves and all efflorescence.

Influences On Wright

There never was exterior influence upon my work, either foreign or native, other than that of Sullivan, Adler, Rebling, Whitman and Emerson, and the great poets of worldwide.   My work is original not only in fact but in spiritual fiber.  No practice by any European architect to this day has influenced mine in the least. Frank Lloyd Wright  [McCarter 1991]

Wright claimed that his architecture was entirely original and influenced only by his mentors Sullivan and Adler.  McCarter [1991] suggests Sullivan influenced Wright’s philosophy and instilled in Wright a desire to break from the past in an attempt to develop an indigenous architecture to suit the American landscape and democratic culture.   Additionally biographers [McCarter 1991, Hoppen 1993] cite his early education with the Froebel Gifts as influencial in developing his understanding of geometric patterns and form and in developing an sense of unity.   Frank Lloyd Wright was also keenly interested in and influenced by Japanese art [McCarter 1991].  He wrote an article on Japanese prints in 1900, visited Japan with clients in 1905 and built the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo between 1915 and 1923 .  Despite Wright’s claim that his architecture was entirely original, the influence of Japanese art and architecture can be seen in the strong horizontal lines flattened roofs and open-plan of his Prairie-style houses.

Ward Willits House - Highland Park, Illinois,1902

Master works

No really Italian building seems ill at ease in Italy.   All are happily content with what ornament and color they carry naturally. – Frank Lloyd Wright

Wright’s concept of organic architecture matured considerably after living in Italy for a year in 1911.  In addition to his Prairie-style houses, Wright is famous for the buildings he designed and constructed after his return from Italy, including the houses Taliesin (his home in Wisconsin), Taliesin West in Arizona (his winter house), the Fallingwater house, and finally the Usonian houses that were intended as low-cost housing for the masses.

Jacobs first house, the first of Wright's Usonian houses - Madison, Wisconsin 1936

Showing a continuation of form development and further maturation of the organic architectural style, Wright’s famous later works made greater use of curves, such as the Johnson Wax Headquarters with its giant lily-pad like columns and pyrex tubing ceiling and the Guggenheim Museum with its spiral interior and exterior.

Johnson Wax Headquarters – Racine, Wisconsin, 1939 (Photo: Bo Mackison)


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - 5th Avenue New York City, built 1959

Relevance to 20th-century architecture

Wright’s emphasis on ‘simple’ functional design, horizontal layout and open-plan interior space was a significant departure from the transplanted European design traditions that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His work has inspired much of modern architecture not only in the United States but also in Europe and throughout the western world.  European Modernist architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and other members of the International Modernism style cited Frank Lloyd Wright’s simple functional design as a major influence in their earlier work [Burns & Raeburn 1998].   Similarly Wright’s Usonian house with its compact, open-plan architecture and extensive use of built-in furnishings inspired the design of post-war ranch-style houses that populate tracts of the South Bay, including my own house and the area that I live in; a post-war designed residential community whose occupants are required to preserve the integrity of their ranch-style homes and open landscapes.

Critical analysis and reflections upon Wright’s designs

When I see Wright’s buildings I am moved by their simple beauty, their empathy for the landscape and the minute detail in his design.  Each one of his buildings stands today as a testament to the enduring relevance of his philisophy of organic architecture.

The modern architecture inspired by Wright’s design is usually, alas, a pale imitation: often merely austere and functional, it ignores the landscape and disregards the user’s aesthetic experience to the expedience of cost.   If only the Fremont ranch-style house in which I live had a few of the humanizing design elements Wright included!  While my house alludes to his concept of using natural light with its expansive windows, borrows from his notions of simple design, natural color and open-space, it lacks the overall integrated “flow” and harmony of Wright’s careful planning.  While each of Wright’s individual buildings harmonize with their surroundings in their own unique way, the 1950’s ranch-style homes – and the same could be said for many other modern construction zones – were built for en masse demand.  Developers seeking to meet the rapid demand for housing, while keeping costs low, clearly benefitted from the new aesthetic of minimal decoration and use of “mono-materials”, open-plans and simplified forms propounded by Wright and those who followed in his footsteps.  However, Wright’s philosophy of organically integrating the building into its surroundings and the occupants’ with the building is completely missing.

But is the cheapened distortion of Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture wholly lamentable?  It is clear to me that while Wright’s work has had a profound effect on our lives and is testament to the power of excellent design, even he realized after his attempt to design the Usonian homes for “ordinary people” that he was unable to marry his philosophy to the budgetary constraints of ordinary people.  When designing large projects with abundant budgets Wright was renowned for excessive cost overuns in order to achieve his complete design.  Furthermore, while he designed space to allow for the “free movement” of persons through that space, his rigid proscription of furniture placement and wish for complete control of even the smallest of design elements in “his” homes would not be agreeable to how most people would wish to live.  Wright purported to be developing an “indigenous architecture to suit the American landscape and democratic culture”, while also being reluctant to yield his control over the minutest aspects of his designs and how people should live within his buildings – even dictating the dinnerware they should keep in their cupboards!  In this we see an internal contradiction to Wright’s design aspirations and philosophy which renders it unworkable as a philosophic design for the masses.

So when I think about the ways in which my ranch-style home fail to live-up to the grand aspirations of the master of the design’s origins, I also rejoice in having the freedom to play with the space as my own, to be able to choose my own furniture and decorative elements and to open-up or close-off spaces within the house to suit my own aesthetic sense.  I sincerely hope, however, that Wright’s philosophy of organic integration of a building with its surroundings and empathy to the landscape is ready to be heard again, as we lose something vital to the human condition when we close ourselves off to the environment in which we live.  Perhaps we may see a re-emergence of Wright’s influence on design in this area as people continue to look for ways to accommodate environmental concerns into their office and housing designs?


Burns K & Novick L 1998, “Frank Lloyd Wright: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick”,  PBS Home Video

Hoppen DW, 1993 “The seven ages of Frank Lloyd Wright”, Dover Publications, Mineola NY.

Kaufmann E, 1955 “An American architecture.  Frank Lloyd Wright”, Horizon Press, New York

Kaufmann E & Raeburn B, 1960 “Frank Lloyd Wright.  Writings and buildings”, Horizon Press, New York

Maddex D, 1993 “Wright-sized houses.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s solutions for making small houses feel big.

McCarter R, 1991 “Frank Lloyd Wright.   A primer on architectural principles”, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

wikipedia 2012  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lloyd_Wright  accessed 04/20/2012

resonate by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Matt Lopez in Uncategorized, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

Resonant is defined by Merriam-Webster as “continuing to sound”.

Nancy Duarte’s book resonate provides the reader with tools to create presentations that will “continue to sound” with their audience and ultimately lead to the acceptance of your idea. Duarte recognizes that the majority of presentations are full of too much information, poorly structured and downright boring. She presents nine rules throughout the book that should be taken into account when creating your next presentation. These rules range from storytelling to getting to know your audience to designing your presentation around one big idea. The big idea in resonate is that people do not take enough time to develop a presentation to ensure that it will creating a lasting impression on the audience. The lack of preparation could be determining the main idea of the presentation, the structure of the presentation, understanding the target audience, rehearsing the presentation and soliciting feedback or in a number of other areas. The book was written to help people transform their presentations that typical consistent of a PowerPoint slide show with charts and bullet points to an actual presentation with a balance of credibility, emotion and analytics.

Below I have summarized my key takeaways from Duarte’s book:

  • The power of story. Stories have been told to teach lessons since the beginning of time, so why not use them in your presentations? Stories tend to remain with audiences far longer than bullet points on a slide and have the ability to evoke emotions from your audience which can be used to adopt your idea. Additionally, stories bring contrast and conflict into the picture and people want to see how it is resolved or how they can be a part of the solution.
  • Understand your audience before you present. Before an interview, you try and learn as much as possible about the company and the person you will be meeting so that you can connect with them and show why you are the right person to fill their need. Your presentation should be the same way. If you head into a presentation without knowing your audience, it will be very difficult for them to buy into your idea, so do your homework.
  • Show the audience the way. People in general are resistant to change unless they can clearly see the benefit of the new idea that is being proposed. When you propose your new idea people can either accept that idea or make a conscious decision to not accept it. To increase the chance of acceptance, you need to show them the reason why they should, the path to acceptance and the troubles that they may encounter along the way. Ignoring the problems that they may come across will only hurt your credibility as people may believe that you did not think the idea all the way through.
  • One big idea, not many. Duarte emphasizes that not only should your presentation have one big idea, but each slide in your presentation should only have one idea. Having one clear and concise idea in your presentation makes it much easier for the audience to follow and it will ensure that they key message they take away from your presentation is the right one. The material that winds up in your presentation should support this idea. Having only one idea per slide is also helpful for the audience because it is clear to them what you are trying to convey. Breaking a slide into two or three does not cost any more money and changing slides frequently will actually keep the audience’s interest better.

While none of Duarte’s insights are earth-shattering, I think that she does a nice job of compiling and presenting key ideas on how to engage the audience and increasing the chance of adoption of your idea. Duarte references her own personal experiences, as well as the experiences of other effective presenters which reinforce the points that she is trying to make. Based on my own experience of presenting and watching presentations, I fully agree with Duarte in that most people do not spend enough time developing their presentations and as a result they are less impactful and engaging. She also hammers home the point about the power of storytelling through the many stories that are told in the book. The most memorable parts of the book for me are in fact the stories and because of where they were placed, it is easy to recall the main points of the book purely through the stories. Where I do have some slight disagreement is around the rehearsal of the speech. Duarte recommends having a screening that is around three times as long as your presentation to get feedback on all aspects of your presentation. While this sounds nice in theory, it is much harder in reality. Finding a group of people to listen to your presentation and provide you feedback can be challenging enough and to ask them to do it for three hours (assuming a one hour speech) seems impossible. I don’t agree that this would be helpful, but it does not seem realistic.

This book is valuable, not only to people that have given a limited number of presentations, but also to people that have given many presentations over the course of their life. It provides the reader with key ideas to keep in mind when developing their next presentation and ways to improve their next presentation using their previous one. The book examines in detail the process of designing presentations in the same way that a company would look at the process of designing a new product or service offering. Duarte comments in the book that presentations are broken and she provides the groundwork to fix them so that they are more effective, clear and concise. During one’s education, many classes are taken on mathematics, history and science, but often times that person may only be exposed to one class on communication/presentation. For this reason, I would recommend this book to anyone that has not had extensive training in the art form of the presentation. I found the book to be helpful and even if I had heard some of the arguments before, it served as a good reminder and I will be sure to use the book as a reference when I design my next presentation.

For me the book was highly relevant as I give both internal and external presentations at work, as well as at school. While reading the book, I related to a lot of the problems that Duarte raised about presentations and immediately started thinking about how I can improve my presentations with a little more effort. The book also made me reflect on the times that I have been an audience member and counted down the seconds until I could leave because they were so poor. I found it encouraging that Duarte emphasized storytelling in presentations so much because I enjoy telling stories to friends and family and see the emotional impact that stories can have on the audience. I think that it will be challenging to design a presentation that has all of the elements that Duarte mentions and it will take a number of presentations before getting most of them, but even if I can add a few right away, I have no doubt that my presentations will be more effective.

Presentation Zen Design, Garr Reynolds April 16, 2012

Posted by Marina Shrago in Uncategorized.

Garr Reynolds is one of the leading authorities on presentation design and delivery, former corporate trainer for Sumimoto Electric and currently Associate Professor of Management at Kansai Gaidai University.   He draws on his experience of life in Japan for examples and metaphors throughout the book as well as for fascinating asides on things like Zen aesthetics, bento boxes and umbrellas.  His blog is at http://www.presentationzen.com/ and is very much worth reading regularly.

Presentation Zen Design is a “practice” follow-up volume to Presentation Zen “theory” volume that gives general concepts of good presentation design illustrated by slide examples.  Despite its practicality it is an inspiring book.  The author fully believes that every presentation has the potential to change the world for the better, and with that plank set it is psychologically difficult to just copy last year’s slides.  Despite the commonplaces, such as praise of Apple’s keynote speeches and overuse of the phrase “death by Power Point” it’s a very worthwhile read.

The Presentation Zen approach is to see that most existing presentations are “out-of-kilter” with how people actually learn and communicate.   However, if one deliberately designs a presentation with an aim to make it efficient and graceful (rather like a mathematical formula) it can make a striking difference both to the audience and to one’s career.  Although Presentation Zen says that there is not “an inflexible list of rules to be followed by all in the same way” there are some basics that will work well for most presentations and these are shown in Presentation Zen Design.  Like Presentation Zen this book also includes inserts from other recognized presentation design experts.   Unsurprisingly Presentation Zen Design sets the same general aim for presentations as Presentation Zen:

  1. Restraint in preparation
  2. Simplicity in design
  3. Naturalness in delivery

Presentation as a whole is taken to consist of three parts: the slides, the speech, and the take-away document (not necessarily a printout) with the details that frees the listener from the necessity of taking notes. Presentation Zen Design is concerned primarily with the slides, so need to convey data (as opposed to a story) is presumed to be minimal.   To make a slide set stronger and stickier it is made to be more like a rock garden.  However, a lot of attention is given to practicing the speech itself, merging it seamlessly with the visuals, and there are some useful descriptions of what should go into the take-away document.

The value-add of Presentation Zen Design are sections on color, type, data and video and more specific tips and tricks on things like use of white space or putting together a color scheme.   Emphasis is on creating powerful visuals.  Wherever possible an emotionally charged image is substituted for text.   This is explained by references to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  Many slides used as examples are by Duarte Design and there is a side note by Nancy Duarte.  We are rapidly nearing the point where class reading circles its wagons and becomes self-referential.

Some of the tips are very basic (e. g. making sure size of the images within the same slide is balanced, making sure that the text can be easily associated with the image), yet too many people ignore or are ignorant of even the basics. Others, like correct text/image placing, may be basic, but were news to me.

I feel that Presentation Zen Design  is more useful than Presentation Zen because many of the ideas (especially in the section on color) can be used for everyday presentations as well as for strategic presentations, however, the main focus of both books are strategic, life-altering presentations and the author does not seem to recognize the existence of any other kind.  At times, I was stricken with a powerful desire to see the author give an annual financials presentation to the board of a medium-sized bank.  He would probably try to substitute a report.  Boards like to have someone on hand to present and answer questions.  Another example of an orientation away from everyday presentation is the author’s insistence on the use of professional stock photos.  I have yet to work in a company that provides a budget for purchasing professional stock photos to most employees for most presentations.  Of course, no one would consider illegally using copyrighted images.

That said, reviewing even everyday presentations from the Zen approach is an unusual experience.  Try designing a presentation with a clear and deliberate intent.  Ignore existing slides, charts, and the corporate color scheme, starting from scratch and using a sketch pad before you approach a computer.  Try making a set of slides without bullet points, with ample white space, with a conscious use of color and shape balance.  Try ruthlessly to exclude everything inconsequential and to add meaningful, thought-out elements, explaining to yourself the intent behind each inclusion. You may not succeed, but you will be forced to think about what you are trying to say in a new way, and this freshness of thought will transfer to your speech.

Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Matt Chwierut in Uncategorized.

“Similarly, presentations all too often reflect the agenda of the presenter rather than build a connection with the audience.”

For me, this quote summed up they main thrust of the Duarte’s manifesto about powerpoint and presentations.   She borrows the term ‘sliduments’ from Presentation Zen to describe what powerpoint has too often become – slides of small text, layers of sub-bullets, dense and complex diagrams.  Slide:ology is about building a new ideaology for presentations, built on good design, visual reinforcement of ideas, and a connection with the audience.

I thought the ideas below formed the core of her arguments for this ideology.

It’s about way more than slides: ultimately, great presentations build a relationship between speaker and audience that is based on understanding and inspiration.  Such a relationship is built on more than slides, however good, and you need a design approach to all elements of “the presentation ecosystem.”  This leapt out as a particularly interesting paradigm shift that changed how I approached presentations, even seemingly mundane ones.  It shows how complex the system of presentation considerations should be.

The Presentation Ecosystem

Great presentations harmonize visual story, delivery, and message.

Practice Design, Not Decoration: or, as she puts it elsewhere – “Just because your slides look great does not mean they convey useful meaning.”  Rather, she emphasizes many design ideas that are core to the class – a user-centered approach to communication and using aesthetics to simplify and convey meaning rather than to just awe an audience.

Treat audience as King: they deserve more than boring text and confusing diagrams, and you should go through the work of thinking through what will resonate with them most.  As such, building the slides themselves comes after hours and hours of research, brainstorming, storyboarding, and writing.

Devote time time time.  She has a sobering recommendation that a 1-hour, 30-slide presentation should take a total of 36 – 90 hours of total preparation time (research, storyboarding, slide building, rehearsing).  I’m sure this is daunting to any reader who has waited until the last moment to throw together some slides.  While this kind of time probably is not realistic in most work environments, it is an ambitious target that, even just trying to hit it will be rewarding.

This ideology is argued well, but the real power of Duarte’s book is the countless pieces of well summarized design insights.  She draws from color theory, animation design, font and typography, even kerning (spacing between letters).  She descends into technical minutiae that seem like trade secrets, but she contextualizes them and gives pointed examples.  She also provides a library of potential diagrams, color palette combinations, and grid patterns.  This makes the book not just a good argument for thinking about presentations differently but a manual to actually overhaul them.  The book answers not just what and why but again and again, how – and it does so with great clarity.

For example, she devotes a section to working with data, and in one page, visually sums up some of the main points that visualization theorists devote chapters and workshops to.

Working with Data

Great data visualizations have only the minimum required level of detail and focuses attention on the key point.

Finally, she also brings her points to life with great before/after comparisons.Image

The book reinforces the importance of visual grammar in good design.  So much of our class emphasizes the design process, which is necessary in a world that thinks of design as pretty colors – but, Duarte makes a great case for how powerful good visual control is for conveying meaning.  When she brings the visual design process down to the tiny but important distinctions between serif and sans serif font, she brings design tools to life in very powerful ways.

Understanding Fonts

Serif fonts (with the small horizontal line at the bottom) are generally good for blocks of text, while sans serif fonts (without the horizontal line) are great for titles, captions, and small

This level of specificity has lead to more “a-ha” moments than the other design books we’ve been reading (and understandably so, given that it’s about visual grammar and not just process).  Even if you already get her main message, I’d highly recommend this book just to have a library of contextualized hints about making great presentations.

I would argue that there are three challenges with this book.

First, I got lost in the myriad tools and tips in the book, but at the end, I wasn’t sure how it would all fit together in a single presentation.  Duarte lays out so many powerful tools for powerpoint: images, words, visual frameworks, templates, etc., but one couldn’t use them all in a single presentation…or could they?  She shows how diverse the presentation world is, so what kinds of presentations are most useful when?  What’s required for inspiring a consumer base v. pitching an idea to a CEO v. a TED-style talk?  She does provide some pieces of advice, such as the 10-20-30 rule from Guy Kawasaki: 10 slides, 20 minutes, no smaller than 30 point font.  But I think a section at the end that involved an in-depth case study or two about a presentation from beginning to end, with all the design decisions made along the way, would have helped draw it all together.

Second, she emphasizes that slides are not the star in a great presentation, and that it’s ultimately about a relationship between presenter and audience.  In doing this, the books skirts around the fact that often, great presentations are built on charismatic presenters, and that is not easily trained.  I’m sure we’ve all seen great slides delivered poorly and poor slides delivered by a highly engaging speaker.  It’s obviously outside the scope of the book to take this topic head on, and it’s not good message, but it is an important one.

Third, she does rightly criticize sliduments and argues that great slides are reinforcement to a presenter’s message, but the reality is that in more organizations, slides are used to store and pass information without presentations.  Her point that size 11 font buried in 5-tiered bullets is well taken, but visuals and diagrams can still bring a slidument to life, but when there’s no verbal explanation, pictures without words are difficult to digest.  This is sadly the reality of how powerpoint is often used, and it’s arguably better than pure text in a report.  How should we navigate that?  There are two helpful pages at the end on presentations that are posted online, but more would have been helpful.

Finally, I’ll end with one of the best quote adaptations I’ve ever seen.

Courtesy of Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln on Power(point)

Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Joyce Bao in Uncategorized.


This is definitely not a PowerPoint for Dummies that merely lists a bunch of “How-to’s” on slide-making. Instead, it is an extremely rich and powerful book filled with practical tools and techniques that will transform average presentations way beyond their audiences’ expectations. A closer look at the title shows how it really captures the main message that the author is trying to convey, which is the importance of linking slides with ideology. This book critically challenges the readers to think of presentations not as simple slides, but as a powerful means of inspiring change in people’s ideologies.


Nancy guides the readers through her book by starting out with a broad overview of the history of visual aids and importance of building better presentations. She then delves into the nitty-gritty details of using different tools and techniques to frame information, rearranging individual elements of a presentation, and ultimately bringing different components together to create a movement. Lastly, she discusses presentations at a corporate level and also introduces alternatives to using PowerPoint presentations, such as flip charts, props, and gestures. Throughout the book, Nancy constantly shines spotlight on the personal and multidimensional aspect of slides as she brings visual presentations to life. By the end, the readers learn how to create ideas, translate them into pictures, display them effectively, and deliver them in a way that is natural to them.

If you don’t want to bother reading the entire book, the last chapter summarizes Nancy Duarte’s main points into 5 timeless principles that the readers and ingest and apply to their new approach of communicating and presenting information:

  1. Treat your audience as king.
  2. Spread ideas and move people.
  3. Help them see what you’re saying by thinking like a designer and guiding your audience through ideas.
  4. Practice design, not decoration. It’s an intricate and complex process that requires 36-90 hours of extensive brainstorming, revisions, refinement, and practice.
  5. Cultivate a healthy and meaningful relationship between you, your slides, and your audience. Connect with people rather than focusing on what you need as a visual aid.

Critical Analysis

Despite the fact that the author considers this book a reference book, I find it to be well-designed because there is a logical flow that weaves all the different chapters together. It’s almost as if the book itself is a perfect example of many of the points about presentation that the author is trying to illustrate. The presentation style is both visual and informative. The author used a consistent color scheme throughout the book so that readers can easily pick out important points on each page.  The actual content in the book is also interesting to read because various quotes, graphs, images, slide illustrations from influential presenters and well-known corporations, such as HP and Cisco, are incorporated to support and validate the book’s main points.


One of the interesting points I found in the book was the idea of the presentation ecosystem. I find this to be the crux of the author’s main argument for the way we should approach presentations because it really shows the complexity and delicacy within the process of designing a great presentation. The ecosystem diagram that Nancy illustrated includes 3 primary components – message, visual story, and delivery. It’s clear that the issue with many presentations we see is that they don’t fully address all of the components and fail to use visual story to properly deliver the main message. Thinking back to how I typically approach my presentations, I realized that I often skip the message section entirely and just straight into dumping information onto my slides. The ecosystem framework navigates the readers through the complexity of a presentation by keeping in mind what is important.


Another great point Nancy raised throughout the book is the presenters’ over-dependence on slides as a crutch.  Nancy stressed that presentation is just a tool that helps the presenter better convey the message they want to deliver to the audience. I noticed that during many class presentations, students tend to read directly from their slides and fail to engage with the audience. Nancy urged the readers to try to let go of texts as much as possible and use her Three R’s of Letting Go approach, which is to Reduce, Record, and Repeat, so that they can de-clutter presentation slides and make them more meaningful.

Lastly, I find the following tools very useful and will recommend readers to try them for their future presentations:

  • 10/20/30 Rule: presentation with 10 slides, lasts no more than 20 minutes, and has font size no smaller than 30 points
  • Lessig method: a fast-paced delivery method of using a lot of slides but each with only 1 big idea
  • Create powerful pauses in presentations by inserting white or black blank slides
  • Use Pecha Kucha format of 20 slides and 20-second each to force the presenter to work with constraints

Bottom line: This is definitely a book worth keeping because it is great reference book that you will want to revisit regularly in order improve and master the techniques illustrated in the book.

Additional Resources:

  • Nancy Duarte’s TED Talk: The secret of structure of great talks:

  • Resonate by Nancy Duarte: this book focuses more on the art of communication and crafting stronger and more impressionable visual stories.

Made to Stick April 15, 2012

Posted by belinda Lyons-Newman in Made to Stick, Uncategorized.


Made to Stick, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, provides insight into what makes ideas stick along with advice about how to put these insights into practice. The book is written in a similar style to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and is intended as a complement to Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” in that it identifies specific traits that make ideas stick while Tipping Point looked at what makes social trends leap from a small group of people to a large group epidemic. Although the authors say that there is no formula for a sticky idea, sticky ideas do draw from a common set of traits, which make them more likely to succeed. The authors put forward their SUCCESs framework with six core principles that make ideas stick:

  • Simplicity: Prioritize and exclude relentlessly to uncover your core message
  • Unexpectedness: Generate and sustain people’s interest and curiosity with unexpected information. Our curiosity rises when we feel a gap in our knowledge and we experience it like an itch that needs scratching.
  • Concreteness: Ideas are easier to remember when they are concrete. Ideas will be stickier when explained in terms of sensory information and people’s actions.
  • Credibility: Information from a credible authority such as a person with personal experience, a celebrity or expert helps to make an idea stick. Statistics by themselves are not very sticky. They should be used only to illustrate a relationship, which people will remember.
  • Emotions: Make people care by forming an association between the thing you are introducing and something they care about in a way that taps into their identities and their aspirations.
  • Stories: Stories encompass many of the above principles. They inspire people to act. Stories drive action through providing an experience of simulation and providing inspiration.

The biggest challenge to stickiness and the common factor in ideas that don’t stick is what the Heath brothers call the Curse of Knowledge. When we know a lot of information about something it becomes difficult to put oneself in the perspective of someone who does not know it and it becomes difficult to imagine what it is like not to know it. The SUCCESs framework and exercises in the book instruct the reader on how to transform ideas to beat the Curse of Knowledge.

The authors are credible in part because the straightforward story-telling style of the book implements and serves as an example of the stickiness principles. The lessons in the book are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and told in stories. It is an engaging book and the principles are easy to take in and remember. The stories in the book are convincing because they document countless stories of the SUCCESs model principles effectively making ideas stick.

Although the authors do an excellent job of incorporating exercises and examples of how to design sticky ideas and transform important messages communicated in an un-sticky way into a more sticky format, most of the book is still nevertheless focused on success stories where we are looking retroactively at what made an idea stick. As I think about how I will incorporate the lessons from Made to Stick into my own work, I hope that it will be as easy to proactively create sticky-ness as it is to see what is successful about ideas that have already successfully stuck.

Made To Stick addresses a critical component of the design process where once such care has been taken to develop a good idea, we must then determine how to communicate it effectively so that it catches on. In this implementation design phase, once the research has been done and a good idea is in process, the SUCCESs principles can be used to think about how to communicate the idea. This part of the process is critical since even the best of ideas cannot get traction if they do not stick.

Other books I have read on similar topics include Tipping Point, Presentation Zen and marketing communications textbooks. Made to Stick reinforces some of the key messages from these other books, for example, Presentation Zen also focuses on the high value of simplicity. I will certainly use the lessons from Made To Stick in my future presentations and in crafting messages for my consulting work helping nonprofit organizations to maximize their social impact including in how they think about communicating their causes.