August IDNY Meetup Centers on Problem-Solving, Functional Design

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Problem-solving design was the theme of the night yesterday at the August IDNY Meetup event (view photo video), held at Humanscale’s New York City showroom at 11 East 26th Street. A mix of about 250 architects, designers, students, and design enthusiasts, as well as media, were in attendance. (Photos by Josh Wong Photography)

While the event was only my second meet-up with the social networking and common interest group for architects and interior designers in New York City (started by A&D start-up company Designer Pages), I already recognized some familiar design faces from the IDNY July event, held at DuPont Corian’s showroom and enjoyed meeting a few new faces, as well. (Expanding that rolodex is always a plus in this industry!)

Last night’s meet-up was a particularly fascinating a design “double feature.” Firstly, event guests had the pleasure of hearing first-hand the announcement of the 2010 James Dyson Award national winners, as well as inspect the top-placing Copenhagen Wheel. Designed by Christine Outram and a team of MIT students, the product turns a regular bike into a smart, electric hybrid, in hopes that easier pedaling and operation will encourage more of the U.S. population to invest tin eco-friendly—not to mention healthier—means of transportation.

Other U.S. finalists of the James Dyson Award included:
* Seakettle – a life raft that desalinates sea water
* Empower By Me – a refillable HIV/AIDS medical kit for use in developing countries
* Travel pack – a bicycle travel case
* Public Bicycle Security System
* Kee to Safer Driving – a system requiring drivers to dock cell phones before starting car
* Parquinho – a play structure that incorporates activities for children with autism as well as those without disabilities
* Purify – a medical sanitation station
* Mantis – a portable dental chair and equipment dolly
* Guardian – an advanced fire extinguisher

The international winners will be announced next month, and James Dyson himself will select the global winner on Oct. 5. (View the product entries at

321141 The main event of the night was a panel discussion that focused on not only the significance of the James Dyson Awards, and this year’s winning products, but also on the growing importance for design to be functional and solve for common human problems. The panel was comprised of several design professionals: Katarina Posch, associate professor of history of art and design at Pratt Institute (moderator); Cara McCarty, curator of decorative arts, Cooper-Hewitt National Design museum (panelist); Mark McKenna, design director, Humanscale (panelist); Scott Henderson, founder, Scott Henderson Inc. (panelist); AssafBiderman, associate director, MIT SENSEable City Lab (panelist): and Kim Hoffman, James Dyson Award finalist for the Seakettle (panelist).

321143 Much of the discussion was a bit philosophical, centering on the importance and necessity of design today to find solutions for everyday human needs and problems. (Still being fairly new to the design industry—I just started with Contract in January—I readily will admit that some of the discussion was a bit above my head. Luckily, I could see that it was a bit abstract for a handful of the other audience members, as well, so I don’t feel too out of the loop.) One slightly heated debate that seemed to catch everyone’s attention was between panelists McKenna and Henderson, who conversed about the qualifications product manufacturers should look for when hiring new design graduate to their staffs. McKenna passionately argued that just-graduated design students who have technical know-how and proficiently can use the required design software are more desirable, as these skills will lead to the ability to capably design anything; while Henderson feels that the “poets” have more potential, as their passion and ideas will lead them to even greater success.

Another topic that struck a chord was the notion of water, and its desalination, which three of the panelists noted as the biggest area for design growth in the future. (Posch notes here how one of the finalists of the Dyson Awards was the Seakettle, an inflatable life raft that also serves as a means to desalinate water for its occupants.) Even after the panel was over, these sentiments sparked debate among the attendees, as they sipped the last of their cocktails. I overheard one group of designers questioning, “Really? You’re asked where you think design has the most potential to grow, and your response is water?” and “What about over-crowding of cities? Or hunger and the need for more natural resources?”

What do you think? What areas of design provide the most growth to designers today—water, sustainability, conservation, etc.? Where should the future problem-solvers focus their time?

The next IDNY Meetup will take place on September 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Allsteel’s New York City Resource Center, located at 233 Park Avenue South (19th Street), Floor 2. For more information, visit

–Stacy Straczynski

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