January 29, 2007

The Green House Project: Tangible Results from Empathetic Design

Green House residents at a communal meal
"Green Houses are homes for 6 to 10 elders who require skilled nursing care and want to live a rich life. They are a radical departure from traditional skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities, altering size, design, and organization to create a warm community. Their innovative architecture and services offer privacy, autonomy, support, enjoyment and a place to call home..."
from http://thegreenhouseproject.com/

I read a couple of articles last Spring about this project. One was in the UMNews, "Looks like a home, feels like a home," and the other was in the Chronicle of Philanthropy in the June issue (a treasure of articles on the positive effects design has on people) I swiped from my boss. I can't seem to link to that article online for free, so here are some compelling statements from it:

  • "In addition to giving residents more privacy and greater autonomy, the design of the Green Houses has led to significant medical benefits...the smaller scale of the Green Houses, she [Judith Rabig, co-director of the Green House Project] says, has allowed some residents to become less reliant on their wheelchairs and give them up altogether. Not only has that reduced the medical problems associated with immobility -- such as pressure sores and a greater chance of developing pneumonia or urinary tract infections -- but the increase in exercise has led to other health benefits...By expending more energy walking, says Ms. Rabig, residents have been sleeping better and eating more. When the first four Green Houses opened, some frail residents who moved from the old nursing home gained several pounds that first week; previously many of them struggled just to maintain their weight."
  • "When Mr. Johnson came to the Green House after having a stroke, staff members worried about how gaunt and thin he was. But he has since gained 20 pounds -- and will proudly tell visitors that his pants size has gone from a 32-inch waist to 36."
  • "An independent study found that residents in the Green Houses fell less often, and therefore sustained fewer injuries, than residents in traditional nursing home settings. The finding was a surprise, says Ms Rabig. she an her colleages had expected that because residents were walking more and, in some cases, had abandoned their wheelchairs, they would fall more often. She suspects that the increases exercise, better nutrition, and improved sleeping habits also increased residents' strength, which helped protect them against falls."
  • ..."The mantra of the whole design team from start to finish was 'Would you do that in your home?'"
  • "Mr. McAilly says that previously the residents in independent living never visited the nursing home, even if they had friends livin there. But they now frequent visitors in the Green Houses."

In researching this passage, I found another, more in depth article from NPR:
"Reformers Seek to Reinvent Nursing Homes"
Quotes from that 2-part article:

  • "'I believe that in [nursing homes] in America, really every year, thousands and thousands of people die of a broken heart," Thomas [author of What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World] says. "They die not so much because their organs fail, but because their grip on life has failed.'"
  • "These buildings [traditional style nursing homes] give those within their walls little reason to suspect that elderhood can be a rich, rewarding phase of human development. Long corridors disable frail people, forcing them into wheelchairs. Massive dining rooms are impersonal and intimidating and promote anxiety. There is limited access to outdoor space. Double rooms (laughably called "semiprivate" rooms) and shared bathrooms invade privacy. Furniture, floor coverings, and drapery are matched consistently throughout, as if the place were a chain hotel rather than the home it is meant to simulate. The grim institutional appearance damages the well-being of staff and residents alike."
  • "Our deepest cultural memories suffuse the hearth with the twin pleasures of food and fire. The hearth includes an open kitchen and a large table around which meals are shared. The importance of having such an arrangement is confirmed by research showing that people living with dementia benefit from taking their meals in communal settings. Because the hearth is the center of the design, each elder’s room opens onto this space. There are no long corridors."

"Design in Your Future:" Setting the Tone for the College of Design

A couple of quotes from the recent article "Design in Your Future" in UMNews written by Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design:

"Daniel Pink argues in his best-selling book, A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, that left-brain, analytical thinking will eventually be done with software or outsourced overseas, and that the greatest economic and social value will come from right-brain thinkers. The practical imagination of designers puts them near the top of Pink's list of those who will lead in the coming 'conceptual age.'"

"Though design is generally thought of as a way to make things look good and work better, more and more it is being recognized as a way to improve lives and make the world a healthier place. The College of Design educates students to be leaders in the field of social change via design and to be visionaries for a better future."

Further reading about work from the College of Design:
Saving the past

December 14, 2006

Design Matters

Something to think about...
I was listening in the background today to a recent speech by Jonathan Kozol to Carlton students. Jonathan Kozol is a former teacher that now writes about public education -- especially the inequality and segregation of today's schools.
In his speech, he describes the stark differences in the quality of school life of the all-black schools he visited compared to the suburban all-white schools of privalege he is familiar with. He describes in detail the differences in atmosphere -- the way the lunch rooms, classrooms, and study rooms compare in aesthetic -- and he makes this point:

"...Here's what I think: I happen to believe that aesthetic counts. Beautiful surroundings refine the souls of children. Filthy settings coursen their mentalities. It's one of the most absolute and dramatic ways by which we draw the line of race and caste within American society..."

The atmosphere we provide for people to learn, work, and live communicates to them how much we value them. What kind of difference do you think it would make just to have a beautiful or even just "nice looking" atmosphere to learn in?

I have more to write on this later...

June 16, 2006

One of the many reasons I love where I work

Whenever people in my office are staying home sick, they are supposed to send an email to the department mail list explaining that they will be out of the office. Just after I started working here about six years ago, someone came up with the extra stipulation that you had your write your reason for being out as a haiku. This leads to highly entertaining and creative emails and sometimes generates a good deal of email discussion amongst developers on whether or not the haiku submitted meets proper haiku form. My favorite haiku has to be one sent today, when Tom, also the developer on my current project, sent this:
1 0 0 1 0
1 1 0 1 1 0 1
1 0 1 1 2?


PS - I can be reached at home or by email
which garnered this response from Dan:
Ooo, sorry, but zero officially has two syllables, however if you say it really fast, the haiku works...
and the continued conversation throughout the morning:
But what does the zero represent? A one syllable mystery...

"Nothing" is also two syllables ...
Maybe it should be read:
True False False True False.....
but what is that 2 doing there ?
My bad... perhaps it was meant to be read as 'oh'. The '2' is where the haiku throws a NumberFormatException and Windows blue-screens...
Maybe it's a FLAG to indicate EOF (or 9999 in the olden days)?


How many teams do you think can have that much fun with out-of-the-office notifications?

March 13, 2006

You can find me at South by Southwest

Kim (a fellow designer) and I are at South by Southwest (SXSW). We are lucky devils and if you are not jealous, you ought to be. Not to rub it in...ha! Anyway, we are blogging about our experiences at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/toll0076/muui. Check it out!

January 26, 2006

Current and Upcoming Exhibits and Lectures

Some items of interest:
graphic noise
MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design) is hosting an exhibit of band posters. The show is titled "Graphic Noise." I was really sad I didn't find out about the opening party until the day after, but there is some coverage of the party on Minnesota Stories.
Dates:January 15th-February 19th
Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.

Some interesting lectures at the U of M through the TEL seminars:
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
402 Walter Library
East Bank, Twin Cities campus
The panelists will discuss how they use digital audio for teaching and research.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006
12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
155 Peters Hall
St. Paul, Twin Cities campus
The panelists will discuss using disruptive Web technologies, including blogs and wikis, for teaching and learning.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006
12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
402 Walter Library
East Bank, Twin Cities campus
DMC faculty fellows will demonstrate uses of technology that fundamentally change teaching practices and learning experiences.

It looks like there is an interesting exhibition of portraits at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. It is called "Only Human: Exploring Contemporary Portraits." Jason complains a lot that there is little new and interesting to do with photography right now, especially portraits. I'm honestly not even 1/5 as educated in art as he is (even though my BA was in Art), so for better or for worse, I am still in awe by several of the "contemporary" portrait artists. While the movement is small, I am still inspired by some of the aesthetic innovations. I guess you'll have to judge for yourself.
The show runs January 21 through March 26, 2006. I couldn't find their hours on the site, so I guess you'll have to call: 651-266-1030.

Art Shanty Projects on Medicine Lake
I've always has this special fascination with traditional hard-core winter Minnesotan activities like ice fishing, snow shoeing and dog sledding. Maybe because my family only went camping once and that was about the extent of our outdoor adventuring. Anyway, I love the idea of this project and its tie to Minnesota roots. Here's the schedule of events for this weekend:
Jan 28th Saturday
New! Kari Reardon's Lure
come take your picture with the biggest lure in Minnesota.
and send it to k_reardon@hotmail.com
10-4pm The Science Shanty will be open, come find out what Limnology
is and see plankton from Medicine Lake!
11-5pm Knitting Shanty open for knitting, bring your own or learn to knit on
the Shanty Scarf.
12-3pm Jesse Hemminger and his incredible robot will be carving the
surface of the ice!
12-4pm Mike Hoyt's Norae Shanty will be open for singing.
12-4 Seamus Leonard invites musicians to a noise jazz improv on the
ice . Musicians need to bring instruments, a chair, or something to
sit on, and some type of cheap recorder.
1-5pm Vista Shanty open for tea and games
1-5:30pm Rendezvous cafe will be open serving hot drinks and snacks in
exchange for stories.
2pm Author Gretchen Legler will read from her book, "On The Ice" about
her experiences at McMurdo Station in Antartica, the per capita
lesbian capital of the world, on the ice of balmy Medicine Lake.
3pm Fish House Fashion photo shoot, Mary Johnson with Kristen
Abhalter, Helen Franzen, Nikki Schultz, Kelsey Myron, Annie Hanauer,
Brittney Carapezza.
6pm 'After the Fall' a canastoria perfomance by Soozin Hirschmugl
7-10pm: Movies will be shown on David Pitman's CineShanty. (please
note that the movies are not drive-ins at this time so dress warm.)
Jan 29th Sunday
12-4pm Knitting Shanty open for knitting, bring your own or learn to knit on
the Shanty Scarf.
12-3pm Jesse Hemminger and his incredible robot will be carving the
surface of the ice!
1-5pm Vista Shanty open for tea and games
1-5:30pm Rendezvous cafe will be open serving hot drinks and snacks in
exchange for stories
3pm knot tying (or maybe the phonetic alphabet) seminar by Peter
Haakon Thompson in the Think Tank

P.S. and yeah, I totally stole this picture from Rich's blog. :) It was prettier than the other pictures I found.

I'm excited to announce I'm going to the South by Southwest (aka SXSW) festival in Austin, TX in March! Work is sending me to the interactive portion with a colleague, but I've decided to stay on my own for the film and music parts too! Drop me a line if you'll be there or know anyone planning to be there and we'll hook up.

December 20, 2005

Searching By Color

A while back, when I was searching for stock photos for a project, I noticed this little tool as part of the search interface on istockphoto:


I clicked one of the color swatches and recieved this result:


Very cool, an innovative and useful tool. I don't think I've seen the ability to search a photo database by color before. I can't even count how many times I've tweaked an image's overall color to better fit a design - to create more contrast or better match the tone of the rest of the colors in the design.

As I was writing this post, I noticed another helpful part of the search function:

The search returns the keywords most commonly attached to the pictures in your results to help you brainstorm additional terms you could search on. Your search can also include limiting to horizontal or vertical orientated photos, photos/illustrations/vector drawings, and images with people only.

In general, I continue to be impressed by istockphoto -- in addition to reasonable prices and a useful variety of photos, they seem to excel at usable interface design and they foster creativity and interaction in their user group of graphic artists, designers, and photographers. I love the articles, forums (which are always very active and interesting), and artist-of-the-week profiles. This is a great example of a site that nurtures communication with their users and takes their feedback and suggestions to heart with great success.

December 19, 2005

Saint Martin's Table

Cool on the Hill (a blog I found on MNSpeak that I've been reading for St. Paul Hip-ness tips) reminded me about St Martin's Table. It's on the West Bank, right by my office (and the North Country Co-op), but I haven't eaten there in at least a year and a half. I keep meaning to go back. Apparently it's still delicious (and has been since the 80's). Hearty vegetarian cuisine, and the volunteer servers donate 85% of their tips to the monthly cause (this month is ORMEDA, the Oromo Relief Medical Educational Development Association). Worth a trip if you haven't been there. Mmmmm...what I wouldn't do for a bowl of piping hot homemade soup on a cold day like today...
You can call Mysti Murphy at (612) 339-3920 if you want to volunteer to serve over a lunch hour. I am going to do this on Monday the 26th if people are still needed or maybe a Saturday some weekend instead. Anyone up for joining me, zip me an email!