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Fri Forjindam SXSWestworldDoreen Lorenzo spoke with Fri Forjindam in a Fast Company interview for her Designing Women series featuring brilliant women throughout the design industry. Fri Forjindam is the co-owner and chief development officer for global entertainment development company Mycotoo that is responsible for creating award-winning destinations, from theme parks and live events to museums and immersive brand experiences worldwide.

After being raised in Cameroon, West Africa, Forjindam moved to the U.S. during high school where she discovered her love for theater. That love for theater took her to New York where theater thrived but then she then found herself moving to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. In L.A. she got a job as an executive assistant to the owners of a theme park design company. There, she got to listen in and understand how the executives were problem-solving, strategizing, and designing in the industry. This helped her develop a multidisciplinary skill set, work her way up in the industry and eventually launch Mycotoo with her two business partners.

Forjindam recalled Mycotoo’s humble roots starting off in a home garage with a vision to help passionate organizations and individuals create immersive worlds. But in less than two years they landed a contract to design a theme park in Dubai and grew from three people to more than 160 designers, artists, show set architects, writers, and engineers. Mycotoo went on to design two full theme parks and later leveraged their talents beyond the theme park industry. Mycotoo discovered themed entertainment as a new vertical for the company when they teamed up with the agency Giant Spoon to create a San Diego Comic-Con activation for Warner Bros.’ Blade Runner 2049 and later brought SXSWestworld to life in Austin during SXSW 2018. While theme parks are gated, Forjindam explained how themed entertainment is instead porous and immersive.

Just as the notion of what a destination is changed for Mycotoo, that definition evolved even further once the pandemic hit. The living room would become the new destination in the age of social distancing. “If that immersive sensibility is now coming to me in the comforts of my living space, that means I, as a consumer, am actually inviting or accepting that experience into my home. If this is the new paradigm, it’s a much more intimate form of delivering and sharing experiences and will become more of a lifestyle addition,” explained Forjindam. The pandemic made Mycotoo proactive, socially aware and even more politically conscious.

Forjindam ended her interview by offering advice to young designers. “That thing that keeps you up at night, that you’re really excited about, follow through with it and see where it goes. Don’t treat that nudging as a side hustle. Treat it as a calling, as a little knock on destiny’s door.”

Blokable Blog Series

Blokable, the Seattle-based vertically integrated modular housing developer, launched its new blog series exploring the root causes of the U.S. housing crisis and how private and public sector collaboration can chart a different course for housing development.

The first post in the series, The housing market isn’t broken, it’s working perfectly as designed, was published by Blokable Co-CEO’s Aaron Holm and Nelson Del Rio. In the post they outlined how the housing market currently functions and why it is unable to meet the staggering affordable housing demand. Despite the billions of dollars governments have spent trying to provide housing stability, there are 38 million people living in poverty as of 2018 — a number that has since been exacerbated by the economic effects of Covid-19.

Holm and Del Rio posed the question “Can a free market ever provide all of the housing needed in our society?” They then pointed to the structure of the housing market and the housing development process itself as holding the answer to achieving efficiency in the industry.

They described how the many players such as architects, developers, financial institutions and contractors compete to maximize profit and minimize risk in housing creation leading to fragmented interests strangling the housing market. Holm and Del Rio revealed that affordable housing is actually more expensive to produce than market rate with the per-door build costs for affordable apartments now ranging from $500K to $1M due to developers needing to pay additional costs associated with obtaining public subsidies and managing legal and financial compliance. And while construction innovations such as modular and panelized building systems have been presented as possible solutions, these have their own high material and labor costs and the competition between these providers actually discourages housing innovation.

The Blokable Co-CEOs concluded their introduction post to their blog series writing, “If all the money in the world won’t fix housing, then perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to fix it at all. Perhaps we need to create a new housing paradigm that leverages innovation to drive down costs, reduces the need for subsidies, and creates new wealth.”

 

Dori Tunstall on Decolonizing DesignIn a Fast Company feature, Dori Tunstall spoke with Doreen Lorenzo for Designing Women, a series of interviews with brilliant women in the design industry. Dori Tunstall is the dean of the faculty of design at Ontario College of Art and Design University, OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, and the first Black and Black female dean of a faculty of design anywhere in the world. 

 

Tunstall explained how she was only introduced to the world of design after completing her PhD in anthropology at Stanford University, where she focused on Ethiopian tourism and development. After graduating, she worked in high-tech consulting at Sapient where she first met professional designers and discovered her true interest in “design anthropology,” the study of what people make over time and space.

Later Tunstall returned to academia, but this time to teach and train young people to become design anthropologists themselves. She created a master’s program in design anthropology at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia where she worked with local Indigenous communities and integrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing into the design curriculum. When OCAD U was looking for a dean who could help them with decolonization, diversity, and equity, she brought that work to Canada.

 

Since becoming a dean At OCAD U, Tunstall started the Black Youth Design Initiative with a group of Black alumni, students, and faculty to help Black youth build the confidence to solve problems through design. She has also hired a more diverse faculty of  Black, Indigenous, and POC educators who represent the students they teach and are able to authentically tell stories of how harmful design has been. That sense of authenticity transfers over to the students as they embrace the uniqueness of their own identities through the projects they create. Tunstall has helped rewrite the curriculum at OCAD U by bringing in different cultures and embracing an ethos of “respectful design”.

 

To harness empathy in design, “design education has to be decolonizing” expressed Tunstall.  In Canada, classes begin with a land acknowledgement of the Indigenous traditional owners who are custodians of the land on which they are gathered. This is critical to shifting perspectives. Meanwhile Indigenous sovereignty and the stealing of Indigenous land has not been addressed at all in the United States. Tunstall pointed out how design harkens back to when Europeans exploited the labor of Black people and the land of Indigenous people. “We can’t decouple colonialism from design or the way we understand and practice design. They’re deeply linked and implicated.” 

 

Tunstall ended her interview with a message to incoming design students, “Learn to be respectful designers… It’s about the kind of person you are inside, your strength and confidence, and how that’s connected to everything else that will make you an ethical, creative, innovative, and caring designer. Those are the kind of designers we need in the world.”

Battery innovator Cuberg announced that its electric aviation battery technology demonstrated an exceptional combination of specific energy, specific power, and cycle life in an independent testing and verification process conducted by Idaho National Laboratory (INL) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. The announcement of this achievement in the performance and maturity of battery technology was featured in key industry trade publications including Aviation Week, eVTOL.com, TransportUP, and Sustainable Skies.

 

Three key battery performance measures need to be optimized in balance for successful use in aviation: specific energy, which allows for longer flight times and ranges at a given weight; specific power output, which enables greater aircraft weights and payload capacity; and cycle life, which impacts cost of ownership. With testing that included an up to 80% increase in specific energy relative to Lithium-ion cells of comparable high-power output, Cuberg became the first company to successfully combine this level of energy with high power and competitive cycle life under realistic operating conditions. These results represent a major step forward in battery technology for the future of electric mobility.

 

“Cuberg’s mission is to deliver next-gen batteries to power the rise of electric mobility, and an essential part of our strategy is to achieve independent verification and transparency of our results,” said Richard Wang, co-founder and CEO of Cuberg. “We are gratified to receive this verification by INL of the industry-leading performance and reliability of our technology, and excited to be working with our customers to begin full-scale flight testing in their aircrafts in the next year.”

Proprio, the Seattle-based surgical navigation company, announced a $23M Series A financing round led by DCVC (Data Collective) with additional investment from Cota Capital and existing investors BOLD Capital Partners and Alan Frazier, founder of East Seattle Partners and Frazier Healthcare Partners. The Series A funding announcement was featured in Geekwire, Forbes, Pitchbook, and Fortune Term Sheet.

 

Proprio is a computational imaging company providing enhanced visualization systems for precise surgical execution. The Proprio system integrates advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision to simplify surgical workflow, improve procedural accuracy, and reduce or eliminate exposure to radiation.  

 

“Proprio’s mission is to improve the precision and efficiency of surgery,” said Gabriel Jones, CEO and Co-founder of Proprio. “This investment supports our world-class team to deliver a surgical navigation system that leverages the latest technological advancements in imaging and machine learning, making it easier to perform high-quality surgeries.” 

 

With the Series A investment, Proprio added Armen Vidian, a DCVC partner with extensive operational experience in healthcare and medical devices, including early market development for first-in-class technologies, to its Board of Directors as well as Alan Cohen, a DCVC partner with broad expertise in product development and go-to-market strategy for multiple billion-dollar companies, who joined as a Board Observer. 

In a DCVC blog post about the funding, Vidian and Cohen described why they chose to invest in the Proprio team and their technology: “When we first met Gabriel Jones, Jim Youngquist, Dr. Sam Browd, and Josh Smith, we saw a perfect fusion of clinical, technical, and entrepreneurial leadership skills at work. We saw how Proprio, with its advanced surgical navigation system is combining surgical expertise with computational advances to change surgical efficiency. Then we met the rest of the extended team in their offices in Seattle, we came away with one distinct impression: this was one of the best Series A teams we had ever seen.”

Proprio co-founder and CEO Gabriel Jones hosted a virtual session followed by a live Q&A during AWE 2020, which occurred May 26 – 29, 2020 entirely online. Highlighted by Forbes as “the most essential AR/VR conference and expo,” Augmented World Expo (AWE) covers augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, and all enabling emerging technologies such as AI haptics and 5G. In its 11th year, AWE Online took the annual conference global with its first all-digital version of the event. 

Jones’ session entitled, “More than a Simulation: How Mixed Reality will Give Surgeons Superpowers,” took place on May 29, 2020 as part of the online conference’s Healthcare & Wellness track. During his virtual session Jones discussed how computer vision, robotics, machine learning, and immersive interfaces are converging to transform how surgeons perform in the operating room, and shared how Proprio’s interdisciplinary team of product designers, engineers, and surgeons are working together to solve hard problems in healthcare. His presentation was immediately followed by a live Q&A session where audience members had the opportunity to interact and connect with him from anywhere in the world.

International design consultancy ustwo studios won Mobile Design of the Year in the 2020 Indigo Awards for their immersive mobile app, Headed South. ustwo developed Headed South in collaboration with Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group as a novel gaming experience meant to onboard Pixel 4 users to the device’s new Motion Sense features. 

Motion Sense allows users to control their mobile phone without touching the screen, via simple hand gestures like a swipe or wave. In Headed South, users play the role of a bird named Soli, learning tricks and new gestures as they fly with different flocks. The free soaring and flight expression are controlled by touch and gestures combined, and the story is brought to life in vividly illustrated scenes. To make the gesture-based interaction feel right, ustwo used a combination of visual, sound, and haptic feedback, and ensured the experience offered a sense of control without being overwhelming. Uniting the best of game and UX design for emerging tech, ustwo and Google created an engaging experience that establishes an intuitive way of interacting with a new technology.

Apart from winning Mobile Design of the Year, Headed South also received the following 2020 Indigo Award recognitions: Gold in Interactive Design, Gold in UX, Interface & Navigation, Gold in Innovative Use of Mobile Technology, Gold in Mobile Interaction & Experience, Gold in Mobile App, Silver in UX, Interface & Navigation, and Silver in Apps. 

Co-founder and president of Tessellate Studio, Emily Conrad spoke to Doreen Lorenzo in an interview for her Designing Women series in Fast Company. Tessellate is an integrated design and technology studio where Conrad and her team think about design for museums, exhibit spaces, and how visitors are going to interact in physical space in ways that are meaningful for them.

Conrad recounted her interest in design beginning at a young age when she got the chance to visit a product factory and likened the full creation process to a “magic show.” That interest led to her eventually moving to New York to work as a sculptor for many years, but after a poignant visit to the Whitney Museum where she saw their bitstream digital media exhibit on display, an interest in technology and interactivity sparked in her and she began to think that her sculptures could come alive in a really different way. 

She then attended ITP, the Interactive Telecommunications Program founded by Red Burns, an important influence on Conrad. Burns once pulled her aside and told her, “Emily, I want you to know something. As a designer who is understanding technology, you’re going to be faced with a lot of engineers and people who are going to tell you that something can’t be done. You just have to look them in the face and tell them that it can.” She recalled this unforgettable moment as the greatest piece of advice she ever received.

Tessellate is often tasked with designing a whole space. Conrad explained how their job is to determine what the master narrative is and design the best way to convey and teach an idea. Projects of theirs like BioBus and Mobile Food Lab have brought the thrill of discovery to children by sparking their imagination through unconventional environments curated for exploration.

 

Proprio announced the appointment of Dr. Takeo Kanade to its Advisory Board. One of the world’s foremost researchers in computer vision and robotics, Dr. Kanade is the U.A. and Helen Whitaker Professor of Computer Science and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He joined Proprio’s growing technical advisory board which includes Dr. Desney Tan, General Manager of Microsoft Healthcare, and Dr. Joshua Smith, the Zeutschel Professor in Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Washington’s Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering and the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“It has become clear that robotic-assisted surgery is the next wave of surgical performance. Imaging and navigation need to advance to fully enable it,” said Gabriel Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Proprio. “As we approach commercialization of our breakthrough surgical imaging and navigation system, we are honored to have the guidance and support of world-class scientists like Dr. Kanade who has been a pioneer in computer vision and robotics.”

Proprio is developing a new type of surgical imaging and navigation system which provides a dramatic extension of the surgeon’s eyesight. The Proprio system integrates recent advancements in robotics,  computer vision, and graphics processing to let surgeons see and interact with patients as never before, reduce the complexity of surgical procedures, and create a valuable new visual data set to enhance medical training and drive healthcare innovation.

“I am impressed by the innovative and meticulous work Proprio has done to fully understand the challenges facing surgeons and patients in the operating room,” said Dr. Kanade. “Vision systems are critical to surgical performance, and the Proprio team has integrated robotics and computer vision in a novel way to address the shortcomings of conventional technologies. I look forward to working with them to bring their first system to market and develop future systems to improve both surgical efficiency and accuracy.”

Sink-integrated compost system Sepura Home garnered industry-wide recognition for its innovation in food waste and sustainability after making its debut at the world’s biggest tech show CES 2020. Manufactured by Anvy Technologies, Sepura Home is a garbage disposal alternative that collects food waste for composting rather than grinding and flushing it down the drain. 

Popular technology publications featured Sepura as a standout at the event including CNET, Techlicious, and Engadget, which also nominated the product as a finalist for Best Connected Home Product in its Best of CES awards. Sepura also received accolades from Sunset Magazine, which named it Best Eco-Conscious Design at CES 2020, as well as from leading food-tech publication The Spoon, which included the product in its CES 2020 Kitchen Tech Report as an innovative new concept in food waste reduction. Sepura continued to appear in several post-event roundups, cementing its status as a breakthrough food waste innovator from CES 2020.

In a Core77 feature, senior editor Rain Noe wrote about the launch of UT Austin’s new Master of Arts in Design in Health program. After his own recent experiences in well-designed hospitals, Noe recognized that the healthcare industry is now paying a lot more attention to design than they were twenty years ago. Despite this, no design schools had offered healthcare-specific programs until now.

UT’s new one-year degree program focusing on the application of human-centered design in health is offered jointly through the School of Design and Creative Technologies in the College of Fine Arts and Dell Medical School’s Design Institute for Health with the program set to start August 2020. 

“The Design in Health Master’s degree was uniquely constructed so that Dell Med students and innovative professionals could work collaboratively to solve real-world problems that impact the health and health care of millions of Americans every day,” said Doreen Lorenzo, assistant dean of the School of Design and Creative Technologies. “Learners explore the many facets of design to creatively design solutions that revolutionize the way people get and stay healthy.”

Noe shared an optimistic outlook for the future of the healthcare industry if the new design program was to be successful and emulated since it aims to address critically important health factors across the spectrum of conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, while taking a systems design approach to encouraging collaborations across sectors that were not designed to work together.

 

Dr. Joshua R. Smith, a Proprio Co-founder and Technical Advisor as well as a University of Washington Professor, became the 16th UW faculty member to achieve IEEE Fellow status. He was named a Fellow of the IEEE in recognition of his contributions to electric field sensing, far- and near-field wireless power, and backscatter communication.

A UW news release announced Dr. Smith’s achievement alongside other faculty and alumni. Dr. Smith, who is the Zeutschel Professor of Entrepreneurial Excellence at the Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering as well as the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, also leads the university’s Sensor Systems Lab. 

“I am so grateful for this award, which recognizes the impact of work with many wonderful students and collaborators over the years,” said Dr. Smith. “I thank my family for their support and enthusiasm over so many years.”

Dr. Smith worked with Jim Youngquist, who is one of his doctoral students as well as a Proprio Co-founder and Head of Engineering, to develop the technology that became Proprio’s immersive surgical imaging and navigation platform. 

Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. with Neil Gershenfeld at the MIT Media Lab, where he did groundbreaking work in electrical field sensing that has yielded real-life applications in areas such as automotive passenger sensing in smart airbag systems. His work on electric field sensing has also influenced the multi-touch capacitive sensing products that have been incorporated in smartphones since the iPhone. 

He began his career as Chief Scientist at Escher Group, a startup born at MIT. Prior to joining the UW faculty, he worked as a Principal Engineer at Intel. At the University of Washington, Dr. Smith’s Sensor Systems Lab has spun out two other venture-backed companies: Jeeva Wireless and Wibotic.