October 20th, 2014

The Fast Company Innovation By Design Awards and Conference brings together creative minds from various industries to explore how design ideas in everything from apps to architecture are innovating the business.

In Part 1 of our Innovation by Design highlights, we covered the announcement of Coca-Cola’s new global startup initiative, how Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ inspired the world, and the debate around the use of algorithms in design, including a Mill+ POV on the topic.

We continue our coverage of the event with the closing panel debate on the topic of ‘dangerous design’ and our favorite ‘Innovation by Design’ award finalists.

The World's Most Dangerous Design

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The conference closed with one of the most entertaining panels, featuring four iconic designers sharing their take on ‘dangerous design.’ Each renowned designer provided examples of work that conveyed their interpretation of the term, and showed the power of design to harm, disrupt and revolutionize.

Panelist:Paula Scher, graphic designer and partner at design consultancy firm Pentagram

Dangerous Design: Prescription Drug Packaging

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Interpreting ‘dangerous design’ literally, Scher pointed to modern American drug labels as a dangerously designed product. The labels have been criticized in the past for providing a confusing and inconsistent experience that can lead to – dangerous – and even fatal mistakes. Scher described modern drug labels as ‘design done by committees, trying to solve problems in ways that don’t take into account how human behavior functions.’

Scher also shared that her former student Deborah Adler had solved the problem by designing ClearRx Medication System several years ago, but this award-winning approach has yet to become an industry standard beyond the red and white walls of Target retail stores.

Panelist: Yves Béhar, designer and founder of design/branding firm Fuseproject

Dangerous Design: Herman Miller PUBLIC Open Office Design

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Béhar’s translated ‘danger’ to mean ‘disruptive,’ commenting that, ‘We’ve come into a cycle now where danger and risk are seen as an opportunity.’ To showcase how design can successfully break the status quo, Béhar shared his PUBLIC Open Office Design, a collection of office furniture from Herman Miller that goes against the traditional office structure of cubicles and conference rooms. The designs include modular surfaces, storage, and seating that can be configured in a variety of settings, encouraging fluid transitions between moments of collaboration and moments where an individual focused work is needed.

By promoting transparency and collaboration over workplace hierarchy and a formal meetings structure, Béhar points to designs ability to alter more than just the visual aesthetic of an office by also “disrupting” its structure, communication and productivity.

Panelist: George Lois, legendary art director and adman, colorful storyteller

Dangerous Design: 1970s Campaign to free Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and The New Yorker cover - July 21, 2008 issue

Seasoned storyteller George Lois shared tales from the past to show how advertising and design can tap into controversial issues in a culture, putting both the creators and the subjects in danger.

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Lois shared the story behind his 1970’s campaign to free Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a middleweight boxing contender wrongly convicted in 1967 for murdering three whites in a Patterson, New Jersey bar. After reading Carter’s autobiography, Lois became convinced of his innocence and decided to use his experience in advertising to help. Despite the NY Times’ initial push back, Lois managed to publish an ad supporting Carter’s innocence on the second page of the paper’s news section in 1975.

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From there, Lois enlisted the help of celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Don King, Burt Reynolds, Ed Koch and even Bob Dylan, who wrote the protest song ‘Hurricane’ about Carter’s imprisonment. The movement gained momentum with a march of 10,000 people led by Muhammad Ali, from the prison to the state house, and a concert at Madison Square Gardens. Carter was eventually freed in 1985 with all charges being dismissed in 1990.

The campaign tapped into the underlying racism of the era, even causing Lois to receive death threats and lose a $6 million client account at the time for his support of a black man.

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‘The Politics of Fear’ by Barry Blatt, The New Yorker cover published July 21, 2008

The second story Lois shared with the audience involved the 2008 New Yorker cover ‘The Politics of Fear,’ an illustration featuring the then presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama dressed in Muslim garb while fist-bumping a gun toting militant Michelle Obama. The couple was pictured in the Oval Office in front of an American flag roasting in the fireplace below a photo of Osama bin Laden. At the time, Senator Obama was in the national spotlight as a candidate for President with a variety of inflammatory rumors being pushed from opposing groups.

Lois revealed how The New Yorker editor David Remnick had approached him in the past to discuss The New Yorker’s possible move away from illustration to photography, tapping into Lois’s experience designing over 92 covers for Esquire. Lois believed that Remnick and pubisher Condé Nast should keep the illustrated covers as it differentiated them from the crowd. The problem, according to Lois, was that the covers were too tame.

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Lois later regretted sharing that feedback when he saw the Obama cover, which he describes as dangerous design because it ‘exacerbated the racism’ that fueled the ridiculous rumors circulating at the time.

Remnick defended the cover, ‘The idea is to attack lies and misconceptions and distortions about the Obamas and their background and their politics.’ Barry Blitt, the cover’s creator, also responded to the backlash by stating, “It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.”

While an Obama’s spokesman described the cover as ‘tasteless and offensive,’ it certainly elicited a polarizing response, like many other New Yorker covers over the years. Lois believed that the cover ‘fed off the stupidity of half the country,’ taking it from illustration to caricature.

Innovation By Design Finalists and Winners

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The ‘Innovation By Design’ competition includes 10 categories: Apps, Data Visualization, Experience, Graphic, Health, Products, Social Good, Spaces and Students. Entries are judged by established designers and design-minded executives on their functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, depth of user insight, cultural impact, and business impact – or as Fast Company describes it, ‘the key ingredients for any innovation.’

While you can view all the very talented winners here, we share three of the finalists (and winners) we found interesting below:

1. ‘Experimental’ Winner & ‘Student’ Finalist: inFORM by MIT Tangible Media Group

inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, allowing users to interact with digital information in a tangible way. Alternately, users can also interact with an environment physically at a distance with inform. The group is still exploring a variety of applications for the technology including allowing 3D modelers/designers to prototype their 3D designs physically without having to 3D print.

The Tangible Media Group, led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii, focuses on vision-driven design to bypass technology’s ever-shortening lifespan and look beyond current-day limits.

inFORM is a step toward realizing their vision of Radical Atoms, a potential material in our future that would be able “to change form and appearance dynamically, becoming as reconfigurable as pixels on a screen.”

2. ‘Experimental’ Finalist: The Machine to Be Another By Be Another Lab

Designed as an interactive performance installation by art collective Be Another Lab, the ‘Machine’ explores the relationship between identity and empathy by offering users the possibility to interact with the story of another person by seeing themselves in their body and listening to their thoughts.

The experiment uses Oculus Rift and first-person cameras to immerse a participant in another’s world. While Be Another Lab has already explored gender identity with their ‘Gender Swap experiment,’ the concept’s possibilities for both entertainment and social good are endless, especially as the experience improves with advancements in virtual reality.

3. ‘Products’ Finalist: Pencil by FiftyThree

Pencil by FiftyThree is a Bluetooth stylus for iPads that you can use like a pencil, using one side to draw and the other to erase. The tool also mimics traditional features like the ability to blend and smudge “ink” with your fingers, while avoiding the mess of palm prints and accidental smudging through the ‘Palm Rejection’ feature.

While the product debuted last fall, FiftyThree recently introduced a new ‘Surface Pressure’ feature with the release of iOS8 that allows artists to easily create varying widths of a line with the angle of the pen-tip, making it a valuable tool for digital artists.


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