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My Frustration with Design Research March 31, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in change, creativity, Innovation, Product Design, research.
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I have been reading design research posts to the point I am getting bogged down. I do not oppose research, else I wouldn’t be on the list and join the Design Research Society. I am a staunch believer of methodology, simply because without a sound and effective method of thinking, I cannot get my answers to existing problems.

People have several definitions to research. Design to many people means different things. Design to me is a specific term to a profession that looks into planning of given factors to form a solution. You could jolly call that Strategy, Plan, Architecture,Engineering etc. It basically means the same thing — systems orgainising and execution to form an finalised solution. It could be a policy, it could be a 2 dimensional product or it could be solid 3D form. It’s just that the dimension of the components are different. Different people are playing given factors to a problem differently. Hence the various sayings and arguements. At least that’s how I see it.

I usually do not take on to one theory that seriously. But I do view them as opinions mainly because different cultures sort problems differently. And I value and respect that seriously. They need to do so because that’s their way of living, seeing things in their own individual perspectives. People love to mention Rittel. Then they would also skew in Tim Brown, then John Chris Jones…or someone who can be recently become controversial as Don Norman ; and before you know it, people will start to debate about who failed to understand what and where it went wrong. Honestly, I don’t see that as important as to go down to earth and see the nature of the changing climate. What is crucial and neck cutting is to understand the different sets of problems. An effective design research is one that fully understands the nature of the problem. Once you’ve understood it, it applies to all different kinds of problems. That makes you a whole rounded poblem solver. Hence, to me, someone who cannot sort out social problems cannot be a true problem solver for a product which is going to be used by people. Products, in my eyes, are to be used by a living being. If we fail to understand the living interaction between a living being and the product, there is no point of desigining, and nevermind the innovation. People may dispute this, but I personally find it a good tool to coming up with ideas to solve problems quickly. We can fly to the edges of the universe, but we must always come back to the concept that we must solve problems permanently and not skirting around it in different fashions.

I often wonder when we can get out of the tangle. Perhaps taking the words out and place in pictures could solve part of the problem. Dan Roam and many others offer some cues to visual thinking. Or at some point, take away all the books and make people really brainstorm for a new way of seeing solutions. Then you will understand why I don’t appear to read too much into those books anymore. Not that I don’t respect them, but I won’t drool over them to the point of hanging there for ages. It sometimes gets you addicted, which is not that healthy for design research. To be able to do research, you must be free spirtited, sharp and quick to act on the materials given. Time is important and hence the aptness of mind to sort problems out outweighs stepping over the same areas again.– Karen Fu

Design for the New Climate March 29, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in climate change, design, environment.
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Recently, I saw The Ideas Economy’s website and posted 2 ideas that I thought it would be useful. One was to design modular mobile smart housing that acts as a self sustainable unit; and the other a kind of ‘lead net’ that covers the entire nuclear plant in several layers before it actually explodes.

It just came to me after reading and following up the number of natural and man-made disasters that seems to erupt in a short span of 3 years. Regardless if the Mayans had been right about 2012,  we have to prepare for a definite real climate that is today and the near future.Highly populated areas, usually in cities, do not have much open space for  escape. As such, I am thinking of the many possibilities of designing the units and the ‘safety net’.

Climate change does not confine to the natural environment, about melting ice caps and the rise of sea levels. We are now facing another impending problem that is more instaneous and dire: terrorism. While we can add in rows of CCTVs, sending police and guard dogs to patrol at stations, airports, and sub stations; we must first eliminate any possible attack inland. For that reason alone, nuclear plants, oil rigs in danger points should be seriously considered for a permanent removal.The energy that we should use must be some form that we can contain in a much higher possibility. With the recent Fukushima Nuclear accident, signs are begining to show that the spread of radioactive pollution is going world wide. I think that is itself an expensive lesson to take and we have yet to see the full impact of the disaster.

I particularly liked the idea of solar energy. Many may not for the actual costs of producing them as compared to nuclear energy. But recently I have accidentally stumbled upon a paper by the late John O Blackburn, who wrote ‘The Historic Crossover:Solar Energy is Now the Better Buy’.(see reference below)

I really wouldn’t want to try nuclear in the long term given the change of climates now where there appears to be a rise in the number of
earthquakes.Naturally people may doubt about statistics. Despite the nature of hard core research stats, we live under the sky to know what is really happening. Sometimes, a better trust is within us. Within me, myself, I do not believe that nuclear is the solution. It has never been. With the Fukushima Nuclear incident, I am more than adament to vote against nuclear energy. You know how the Japanese work. They are very merticulous and responsible people. If this could happen, I think its serious enough to make a resolution. — Karen Fu, adapted from my own post to PhD forum.


(A) The late John O. Blackburn, Duke University’s Professor Emeritus of
Economics and former Chancellor,
Solar and Nuclear Costs—The Historic Crossover: Solar Energy is Now
the Better Buy’ http://www.azocleantech.com/details.asp?newsID=11407

Obituary of  Dr John Blackburn, which reflects his personality:

Prof Blackburn’s paper:

(B)  Nuclear waste recycling problems:

(C) Nuclear reactors in quake zones: http://tinyurl.com/4kxux8u

Elfin’s wishes about Leaders & The Innovative Business of Harmony (for everyone) March 24, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in creativity, design, Economy, education, human quality, Singapore.
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Rubberband connection just snapped; post gone into oblivion-space. This is my n-th attempt connecting to the internet. It often makes me wonder about quality. Small things such as a broadband connection does offer one an inherent idea into how a business is run. And definitely businesses, for that very matter, is very dependent on small things like product and service quality. We can’t run away from the usual consumer expectations. The same could be said about leaders. They cannot overlook small issues. They all add up and it shows by the end of the line. People’s needs come from the tiniest of things. The same applies to designing any product or service. The idea is very much similar.

Been looking around on the internet and read the papers. Not that I enjoy politcs that much but because it hangs on to everything one does in an urban place and indeed in any part of the world. I can’t run away into an no man’s island and dream all the ideas without knowing the practical facts of politics, no matter how much I dislike it. So I have been dwelling in it in a diplomatic way, asking questions.


The problem of politics in the way of innovation 

In every part of the advanced world, the world ‘innovation’ has become even a larger buzz word. Talk is easy, but where is the nice cosy dinner? I often thought our innovative ideas must come from people serious in true designs in different aspects of thought, service and products.

Idealistically, I do not want any part of politics to run in any innovative endeavours. I believe it spoils both time and effort which could have been better placed for designing up policies or products for a better lifestyle. Something that is comfortable, sustainable and doesn’t waste resources. Such ideation of concepts can only come in free when the mind is pure and free. I don’t see original design solutions coming from a corrupt mind, because a messy mind cannot solve problems.

The problem with many innovators, I find is socialising. Quiet innovators simply suffer. Quiet innovators who are short of politicking skills suffer more. But ironically very good innovators are usually born introverts. So this could be a great loss not only to such innovators but also to us too. No one benefits from this kind of loss.

Leaders around the world have changed faces these few years. With constant natural calamities happening these months, I cannot but think that leaders need a new set of qualities to keep different social economic factors in good balance. To add on, the general election appears to be around the corner makes me think about leaders. Not just leaders of political parties but more so on leaders in general ‘cos every line of industry plays a part in designing a harmonious, interesting and positive world.  Certain traditions are worthy to keep while certain areas needs to be changed depending on the culture and the current situation. One group of thinking may not run feasible in another. But there is always a general rule that works for all. But somehow there are always leaders who choose to sacrifice certain areas.

Honestly, I have only recently catching up with the latest events and candidates. I do not have any political preference. i only want good leaders lead by a great leader. Someone who has an impeccable logic, innovative ideas, dare to spit guts into the face of obstacles of any kind and deliever us a sustainable life without having to worry about any kind of problems pertaining to life. We do need people with the creativity and the depth to produce innovative solutions, not to merely follow what others are doing. We need experts in the right ministries and I am hoping we have these leaders standby. Not just academically bright, its about being brilliantly talented. In dire times, the great leader must be able to deliver the chops against deals that do not benefit citizens. We are a tiny city state. And by that the leadership character cannot be as small as the size of our country (Singapore).

Social-economic cohesion :

From transportation to medical; from education to entertainment; from business to commerce and other social economic problems pertaining social cohesion that keeps every race sane are only some of the major issues. Ignore this at one’s own peril. Racial harmony, national harmony as well as keeping social status of various groups democratically are just some of the major aspects. I was told at some point that I overestimate the power of education that it could control social minds. Frankly I still couldn’t understand how education could not do so. I have always thought that education can control minds and the way a society functions. Education can also make or break social cohesion amongst different peoples, race, economic status and all. Education includes not only the learning of skills but also moral character and the formation of one’s mind. Education may not necessary be from schools, colleges and universities. It could be your social environment. They all contribute to how a mind works. It is, in my opinion, the greatest tool to handle any problems.

What would be horrifying is to allow the wrong education system in place that brain washes people into dogmatically stuck onto one form or regidly believes in only one line of thought about what success is. For example, a society that only focuses on materialism and financial success usually hinders other beautiful thoughts of wonder such as innovation in other areas in the arts, humanities etc in the purest form. The idea of putting money as the centre of the success universe has potentially dire consequences; usually results in the form of social unrest in the form of meanacing fight for money and status. Other breeds of hypocrisy might emerge.


Branding is vital for you and me; branding is vital for every establishment.

The same could be said of any organization. You read the face of the business, and you set an image. That image is sustained by yourself,  your colleagues from your business partners down to the your pet dog that runs the business logo image. The fact is, if you don’t deliver to what you’ve promised, then your customers will go.  And you have to please people. You can’t do it for all, but at least you must do it for a large majority. If you can’t, then its time to change business whatever business you are in.Or you will be out.


‘Swarm of flies’ can kill your image. Certain risk-taking is simply not worth it.

Sometimes problems could smell from afar before they start to stink. Sometimes we need to let in a swarm of flies because the climate has changed and we need a huge swat to swat them after they fly in. Hell is when and how much can we tolerate flies. Problems sometimes can be sorted out by allowing the problem to grow a little bigger before solving them. It can sometimes be eradicated better since all the baddies have been lured out to the open. I notice that some policies are done this way.

However it really depends. Certain risk taking may not be well worth the swat. Your swat may not be big enough or your force is not huge enough. Then all the flies will fling in and before you know it, they breed and just gotten bigger. In this case, you’ll have a looming problem that is almost unstoppable.


Better network for assistance.

We will always have problems. Large or small, national or international. We will, at certain points in time, need help. When help is offered, and problems solved, then will there be less loopholes for pending trouble to appear. What I would like to think is that there are leaders who could make sure that help is available when we need one. Designing such access to assistance without any sort of red tape needs creativity. When we do not find a good leader in our area, there should be an alternative for us to move across the restricted boundaries to seek remedy beyond boundaries of any kind.

Impending problems would be the further widening of the rich-poor gap due to the global inflation as well as a large disparity in educational qualifications and wealth. When the poor fails to make ends meet despite hard work, and when policies don’t work to bring in jobs; then we will have a mess. It is already happening everywhere and the trend is towards chaos. Many areas of chaos comes from the point of misunderstanding cultures. Yet we still do it. I find that such mistrusts and disappointments can raise to the kind of hatred that is often being underestimated. And that is really being shortsighted.

I’ll stop here for now. — Karen Fu