Museum Muse: Lessons in Design

The Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation in Pittsfield, Mass., (which I wrote about once), explores not just inventors but the way all types of new ideas are born.

It changes its exhibits now and then to showcase new ideas and disciplines, and currently, it’s focused on design in all its forms — from graphic to interior to industrial. Regardless of what type of design you employ in your life, though, there are some lessons with legs to be had in this exhibit — here are a few I picked out.

Preparing to Design – Are you in the Zone?

“Being in the zone is a state of perfect balance between relaxed and focused, allowing you to operate at peak performance.”

I’m over-generalizing here but the basic message of this pod is relax. Using Mindball as a tool to illustrate how, ironically, creativity is boosted when cognitive activity is reduced, we learned how to get “unstuck” by decluttering our minds.

Playing with the Design – Flexible Rules

While the topographical sandbox is not a formal part of the innovation exhibit, it is a great place to start. As the landscape changes, so do the colors; plains turn green, ponds and rivers blue, and mountains a deep burgundy. It’s a great way to play with design within a framework… those hills will always be red, but can be turned into a nearly-purple lake with the swipe of a hand.

Troubleshooting the Design – Tight Lips Sink Ships

“Sometimes the maker finds issues the designer missed.”

This should be an intrinsic part of the design process, but too often, it’s not. Especially when the ‘maker’ is too head-strong to listen to the designer. That’s when ad campaigns go south, packaging falls apart, and Titanic-sized ships sink.

Revising the Design – Coulda, Shoulda

“Sketch the ways you might improve these designs to make the user more likely to adopt their intended function.”

This part of the show included a Flowbee, a book about crafting with cat hair, and a talking toilet-paper dispenser, among other sundries. We were tasked with improving on the design — either the product tiled or its packaging — to make it more palatable to the buying public. It was a great exercise, but I’m still not sure how we improve on cat-hair finger puppets.

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