A learn-by-doing community for creative professionals.


August, 2012

SketchUp and Tinkercad

These are two cool programs for anyone to do 3D modeling and design. The first is SketchUp which is a program created by Google that has attracted 30 million activations in the past year alone. The other is called Tinkercad and they offer people with no design experience the ability to design real things that come out of the 3D printer, into your life. Both allow you to share your designs with friends and explore things made by other makers.

I think there is going to be a big movement in the coming years of simplifying complex programs to a more accessible level for the masses (ie music production software, photoshop, website development, CAD, etc…). Take, for example, Tumblr and how easy it has made creating a well designed blog. I’m not sure these more mass designed programs will ever replace the full versions of programs because I believe a lot of progress is found in the expertise of the masters often using those programs. However, there is a big opportunity to create tools in, say in the music space, in between Garageband and Ableton or Reason.

The ability to solve ours and the world’s problems are increasingly right at our fingertips, it’s just a matter of picking up the right tools, finding the right partners, and getting our hands a little dirty. Consider these tools as you are working through the Experiment phase.

Unbounce landing page platform

When The Design Gym was getting up on its feet and starting to build a community, it was extremely important for us to get an MVP website (minimum viable product) up and running as quickly as possible. To do that we turned to Unbounce, a really powerful landing page platform. It operates on a ‘freemium model’, offering an awesome free service and various levels of paid versions with greater benefits. I’m most amazed at the tools and interface it gives you for designing your landing pages and customizing to make it something really special. There are unlimited ways you could use this tool from start-ups to weddings to events promotion. Keep it in mind as you are looking for ways to experiment and test ideas you’re coming up with.

Dieter Rams: 10 Principles for Good Design

Having come from a business background, it has been a wild journey to learn about design and all that exists around it. There is a whole lot to dip your toes into. It’s been really exciting to discover new brilliant things everyday. Dieter Rams: 10 Principles for Good Design is probably a staple in any trained designer’s repertoire, and I found it pretty awesome.

As the definition of ‘design’ continues to broaden, I think this still sums it up pretty well, despite having been written 30 years ago. Although Dieter is perhaps best known for his beautiful products, these principles are abstracted enough that you can apply them to whatever your own personal application of design is.


David Butler – Thinking Big (TEDx Atlanta)

This is a TEDx Atlanta talk from David Butler, VP Global Design for the Coca-Cola company. Butler talks about what it’s like to innovate at one of the biggest brands on Earth with over 500 brands in existence. Beyond the company, he talks about “the wicked problems that can only be solved through design”. These include topics of sustainability, consumer and shopper changes, massive growth goals that companies are faced with in a stagnant economy, a wealth shift from west to east, and how to utilize new supply chain technology without creating massive impact. At Coke they have created their own 5 part system to address innovation and think big about design. It’s an inspiring movie in that it demonstrates the value design can have within an organization. Coke has created what they call a system to generate this value, but it will look different for every organization and application. Just as we go into the world to learn about other people, it’s important to go inside our own organizations and talk to the people that exist there to learn about their needs, and then apply how design and thinking big can shift it as a whole in more positive directions.

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story (TED talk)

This TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie is called ‘The Danger of a Single Story’. Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, talks about the dangers of hearing only a single story. By sharing several personal stories of her own childhood, she stresses that only by accepting the overlap of various stories, are we able to get a true view on the world around us. For us, the importance of this talk is to realize how important it is to step outside of your own viewpoints; to look beyond what we’ve been taught is right or wrong. We need to be able to listen to people in a very deep way, and accept what they’re telling us regardless of whether it feels right or wrong – because at the end of the day, it’s what they believe.

The Future of Storytelling

Storytelling is a main component in the Distill stage, and we particularly love this recent study on the future of storytelling by international research consultancy, Latitude. Their study explored the evolution of audience expectations as their experiences of media constantly changes, new opportunities in best practices in storytelling.

Picture credit: Snapshot of The Future of Storytelling, Phase 1 by Latitude

By analyzing our participants’ responses and the storytelling concepts they generated, we were able to uncover four elements—the “4 I’s”—that will continue to play a significant role in our experiences with narrative-based media. Immersion and interactivity primarily help an audience to go deeper into a story, while integration and impact are about bringing a story of out of the screen, into our actual lives.

– Latitude

Check out their post and the full report of their findings here.

Multiple Independent Discovery

Last month, one group at our Design Gym Weekend workout came up with a system to help bicyclists and car drivers know when the other is around…so they can be extra careful and avoid accidents.

The next week, a friend who had been on hand to take photos of the event, sent me the article, GM working on Wi-Fi Direct-equipped cars to detect pedestrians and cyclists.

At first I was just proud that my Design Gymmers had come up with a world class idea…just maybe a little too late! It’s common knowledge that being first to market doesn’t equal being best in market…or even the most profitable. The iPod was not the first MP3 player, after all.

But there is something deeper going on that bears noticing. Steven Johnson’s excellent book, Where good ideas come from, references the idea of multiple discovery in the first chapter. In the early 1920s, Ogburn and Thomas, two Columbia scientists, tabulated as many instances of multiple discovery as they could and found some 148 times in human history when more than one person came up with the same thing, around the same time.

Johnson goes on to tell us that the nature of good ideas is that they are often made up of bits and pieces of other ideas – ideas on your desk, ideas in the air and in conversations. Ideas are not invented out of whole cloth, but from spare parts. (do read the book, it’s awesome.)

What’s the take home here? Have more spare parts. Don’t just have one idea, have lots of ideas. And borrow liberally from the ideas around you. GE and my group of students had nearly the same set of spare parts with regards to understanding human needs and availably technology. When pressed with the same problems, they came to similar conclusions. Just as Newton and Leibniz came up with calculus at the same time, just as Darwin and Wallace came up with evolution around the same time, so GE and my students both thought it was high time cars and bikes know when they are in each other’s presence. The pieces are all there…they just had to put the pieces together!

Service Design Prototyping

For another perspective on Prototyping and where, when and how to do it, check out this summary post from Engine Service design.


Prototypes provide insight on various service aspects – from desirability and usability, to viability. They can generate deeper understanding than written descriptions or visual depictions, which don’t deal as well with the time-related and intangible aspects of services.

Service prototypes can be rudimentary, comprising of acted-out scenarios with hand-sketched screens or improvised props. Conversely, they can be detailed mock-ups of systems, props, environments, and “trained staff” – to provide more realistic and convincing experiences.


Prototypes of varying fidelity can and should be made at any and all stages of design. During the Understand and Ideate phases, simple scenarios and storyboards can help flesh out ideas and hunches as we move forward.

Service Design Blueprint


Often, we need to describe a great deal of information in a simple and easy to understand way – the forest and trees, all at once.

When designing a service with multiple touchpoints, multiple user types and an expectation that the service may change or grow over time it can be hard to encapsulate all of this information at once.

Take a look at Service Design Tools and their post on Service Design Blueprints, which has some helpful examples. They can be a helpful lens for taking many types of information and making it comprehensible. A more abstract (and very clear) explanation of this tool can be found here.

Sketching across the process

CartoonistSketching is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. And just like any skill, it’s highly personal and individual. Getting good at a few basic shapes and items can go a long way to helping you express your ideas quickly to others…and yourself! Remember, if you don’t write your ideas down, it’s like it never happened!









Take a look at this video from Luxr, about rapid sketching…and clothespin man!


Also note: Dan Roam is a great source for these skills. Buy his book! And see for yourself (here) how simple pictures can tell a great story.