Design Processes, Project Validation, and Philosophy of Engagement

My personal design process would include several steps. First, I have found that a critical element of my process for achieving goals is to work where I am isolated from everything else. When I work on homework, or project, or study for exams, I tend to let my mind wander too much if I am in a place with too many distractions. I end up working much more efficiently when I isolate myself with the problem, thus ensuring I devote as much brain power to the issue as I can. I wish to incorporate this aspect into my personal design process. I have found in my personal experience that I produce the most effective ideas when I can surround myself with the problem and fully immerse myself in it. Inevitably, I will reach a point where I will get burnt out with trying to work on a project after being isolated with it for so long, and this is where the second element of my personal design process comes into play. To experience unrelated things, to wander, to become fully distracted with another idea, project, or activity. This element in my process is equally important as the first step is, because the purpose of this stage in my personal design process is to expose myself to new ideas and new concepts so that I can create new ideas that I can then apply and implement back into my original project. Inspiration can come from anything, and it does not even need to relative to a project. This stage works the same way that taking a long walk can help writers to clear their minds and ultimately write better. I am training my mind to take a walk. The third element in my design process is to assess the work that I have already completed, now with a fresh perspective. This stage is very important as it will help refine ideas into a more consolidated product and it also involves seeking input from others as a way to measure the marketability and likability of my design.

One aspect of my design process that I wish to improve upon is the prototyping stage. A flaw in my personal habit is to avoid failures, which is understandable but it is important to keep in mind that failures teach much more than successes do. This is the beauty of the rapid prototyping strategy. With rapid prototyping, the failures come quick and early, which ultimately accelerates the design process because the learning from these mistakes are also accelerated. I tend to want to hold off on creating a design until I have all the elements that I need, but an issue with this strategy is that I then have trouble incorporating all of my cumulative work at the same time without not knowing where to even begin creating a prototype.

One way that I wish to validate the Project Plastikan concept, tech, and other elements is to use this as an opportunity to apply the rapid prototyping model. Concrete attempts result in real failures which result in definitive learning and evidence, as well as hopefully resulting in direction on where to go next. I believe that having a portfolio of “prototype” business models and strategies for contacting other organizations will be very useful for several reasons. First, it will validate our project by showing concrete steps taken to create a successful end product. Second, it will be very easy to have a list of failures that can be shown to others as a means of demonstrating that the project is real and that real steps are being taken to accomplish our goals. Another way to validate the project is to keep in close contact with the various teams and organizations that we are working with. A direct line of communication (and effective communication) is an excellent way to have a natural system for keeping our team members accountable. The simple fact that other groups need the work that we produce is a good motivator and ultimately shows others that the project is valid.

My philosophy of engagement with communities, partners, and markets is to retain the values that make an effective team, to focus on results, and to always have end goals in mind. The values that make a team function well are effective communication, respect, and accountability. Communication is important for several reasons: to make sure that work is not lost or duplicated and to ensure that the team is adaptable when conflict or new obstacles arise. Respect is vital to make sure that meetings go smoothly and effectively, and is additionally important so that the team will carry the same respect into the communities that we will be working in. Maintaining a high level of respect for others is absolutely necessary to ensure that we receive as much cooperation as possible from outside groups and organizations. Another part of my philosophy of engagement is to focus on the results and to always keep in mind how these results apply to the overall goals of the team. Being able to focus on what the team ultimately wants out of any interactions with other organizations and groups will prove vital to keep meeting efficient and worthwhile. With what little the team has to accomplish the goals we want to accomplish, we cannot waste any time that we have when dealing with outside elements.

Biomimicry and Chasing Nature

Examples of how one might use nature as a model, mentor, or measure for designs and life:

  1. One example of using nature as a model is modeling solar panels after the leaves on a tree to make them lighter and more efficient.
  2. An example of using nature as a measure of a design is to compare the aerodynamics of planes to that of birds.
  3. An example of using nature as a mentor for a design is modeling the nose a bullet train after the beak of a kingfisher bird to increase the efficiency with which the train moves through the air of a tunnel.

One of Life’s Principles that resonates greatly with me is the concept of adaptability to changing conditions. As much as we may wish it not be so, life is constantly and consistently evolving, and an unwillingness or inability to adapt to these conditions may as well be a death sentence. I have found that one of the most important life skills that one can have is the ability to quickly adapt to overcome obstacles. Whether it be a new challenging course, a lifestyle change, or something as simple as making plans with friends. Adaptability is key. Some of the most effective students I know are those who are able to “wing it”, and wing it well. These are students who can blend into the frontier of their ability seamlessly. This is shown in the natural word as well. In the term “survival of the fittest,” the fittest are usually those who are able to adapt to new environmental changes the quickest, rather than just simply being the best at a certain quality like speed or strength. I find that it is a great exercise both of the mind and the body to always try to keep yourself at the edge of the comfort zone in life. I believe this because living life in this space is where you can sharpen your ability to adapt to new and unexpected circumstances, or simply put, to get better at winging it. While it may seem unrelated, the quote from the legendary boxer Mike Tyson sums up the importance of adaptability to hardship and the unexpected: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

The concept of cradle to cradle design is extremely relevant to the Project Plastikan Team as we are dealing with plastics, which are notorious for being unfriendly to the environment. Part of the philosophy of cradle to cradle design is to create a design with an endgame in mind, rather than simply designing to solve a short term problem. There is no changing the properties of plastics; we are forced to work with the inherent permanence of plastic products. It would be foolish to spend the little time our project has on trying to create a plastic that will biodegrade. Instead, we should focus on what ways the permanence of plastics can be a benefit and how to keep control on the reins of the properties that can prove harmful. One important benefit of plastics is that they can be easily cleaned and reused where other materials will degrade much faster. One idea to take advantage of the integrity of plastics is to create planters that will hold for a very long time, and can be reused over and over again. These planters ideally would be used to bring gardens to places that may be infeasible otherwise, such as dense metropolises such as metro Manila, Philippines. The ability of the plastics to resist degradation would be ideal for planters that should be used and reused. An additional part of cradle to cradle design that can be incorporated into a plastic planter is by looking far into the future of the possible product. Since it is inevitable that the plastic itself will outlive the shape of a planter, it is extremely important to take recycling and repurposing into account in any plastic design. Ways to accomplish may include inherent instructions on the product on how to recycle or to make the product easily stripped and ready to melted into recyclable materials.

 

Three things I learned from my friends:

  1. Ask questions. Every time I spend time with one of my very close friends from home, he always ends up asking the same question: “What is that?” This may seem like a trivial question at first, but it can be extremely potent in the long run. “That” may be some object that he doesn’t understand, or a new song he hasn’t heard before, or a new concept all together. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he is always learning about new things and ideas, and he is one of the most intelligent people I know. He taught me to not be afraid of asking questions at the expense of sounding dumb or uncultured, because asking questions make him smarter and more adaptable anyway. Recently I’ve adopted his technique of asking “what is that?” to myself or others, and it is unbelievable what ideas and avenues of thought can come of a three word question.
  2. Execution. Another one of my very close friends is one of the most consistent people I know. He is the poster child for putting your mind to something, be it an idea or project, and seeing it through all the way to the end, and never giving up or slacking off until the idea has been exhausted. To him, ideas aren’t a seed you plant in the soil and wait to let sprout. To him, ideas are the winds that fill your sails as you propel yourself forward. They’re fuel. And most importantly, he makes sure to see each and every idea to the end of its life, be it failure or success.
  3. Consistency. Another one of my friends is the type that is perfectly happy with doing the same activity over and over, such as playing sports and going to the gym. He is extremely predictable in what he does, yet there is something to be said for his consistency. Adaptability is extremely important, but the other side of the coin, consistency, has very rewarding results as well. There is a special type of experience that comes from devoting yourself to mastering something, whether it be a skill, sport, or otherwise.

Stakeholders and Credibility

One major stakeholder for our project are the various women’s rights groups in the area. Since our main goal is to benefit the Paradise Village Women’s Co-op, it is natural that local groups that support women’s rights will have an interest in our endeavor. Our goal is to design and build these four machines that the women can use and eventually create products that can be sold and will provide an income equal to the minimum wage in the Philippines. Providing an additional income to marginalized women is an excellent way to empower them and to give them more agency in their life. Since local rights groups also strive to empower women and give them more agency, they would be a valuable asset to our project due to our closely aligned goals.

Another major stakeholder is the University of the Philippines. The various student led teams at the UPD have been closely involved in this project for a long time, and much like the Lehigh team, their motivation is to learn as well as to enact positive social impact on their local community.

The third major stakeholder in our project is the Catholic church. Similar to the various women’s support groups in the area, the Catholic Church seeks to aid those who have been marginalized by society, and will also be a very important ally to our team. The Church has a very strong impact on communities in the Philippines, and can provide extremely valuable insight into the culture and characteristics of Metro Manila.

The fourth stakeholder is the surrounding community in metro manila, Philippines. One of the major components to our project aside from empowering the marginalized women in the co-op is to create a means of recycling the plastic waste generated by the community, such as plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and other common plastic waste products. Ideally, our project would help the surrounding community by finding a use for the plastic waste, and create worthwhile artisan products that in turn make the community that much more “green”. The benefit of this project is that there are many different potential beneficiaries once our project gains solid footing in the area.

Lastly, the fifth stakeholder is the women’s co-op itself. Naturally it is in their best interest that the project will be a success because it would be an opportunity to greatly benefit the members of the co-op. It will be very important to maintain a good relationship with them to not only benefit the center, but to also provide the most effective learning environment for the students on our team. Ideally, our project would impact everyone in a positive way; it would benefit the local community’s plastic recycling efforts, it would provide an excellent real world learning experience to the student teams at Lehigh an UPD, and most importantly it would create a valuable means of providing an income for the women at the Paradise village Women’s center.

One way that we can validate our project and enhance our credibility over the course of the semester is to maintain a very close line of communication with all of the major stakeholders in our project field. It is extremely important that we share our findings with the student teams at the University of the Philippines and vice versa. After all, we are splitting up the machine designs and therefore must coordinate our efforts to ensure that the project is a success. Having a tangible line of communication and collaboration with UPD will validate our team;s project as we will have not only contributed to our own research, but we will have also contributed to an international research effort as well.

Another means of validating our project and boosting our credibility is to keep track of our accomplishments and to set a reasonable schedule over the course of the semester. Having a tangible set of goals that we can gauge our successes along the way will prove to be an invaluable benchmarking tool and will show others that we are actually on our way to accomplishing the overall project goals that we set out to achieve.

Lastly, the third way to ensure that the work we are putting into our project is worthwhile and credible is to create actual prototype recycled plastic products while we are still in the United States. It is very important that we create test product designs before going abroad, for several reasons. First, we do not want to waste any of the limited time that we have abroad, and it is important not to waste any of that time tinkering with prototype designs. We should have a list of products nailed down so that we can hit the ground running and start training the women at the women’s co-op to use the machinery immediately.

GSIF Blog Post #2

One example of how cultural issues affect the Philippines plastics project is figuring out what handmade plastics product would be marketable to an audience in metro Manila. For example, products that boost “made in the USA”, that they are made by the hands of artisans, or sourced from eco-friendly materials is a pretty good way to grab a buyer’s attention in the United States. It is clear that the “made in the USA” aspect does not mean the same to a Filipino citizen as it does to an American one. A product that is in high demand in the United States does not necessarily mean it is in high demand elsewhere, and this trait demonstrates the importance of understanding the culture of the Philippines as well as communicating with UPD to see what they believe is marketable.

Another example is the view on Women’s rights in each nation. While the Philippines are a moderately developed nation, our team is not yet familiar enough with the cultural customs and views on the roles of women. This could affect our project’s success as it is imperative that local people or firms will want to purchase goods that are made in a women’s shelter.

A third example of cultural issues and differences affecting our project is the perception of American students coming to do fieldwork for their project. As was discussed in lecture, it is a common sentiment outside of the United States that what Americans value most is power over time, money, family, or other typical values. This perception may hinder our project in that we may be perceived as aloof and that we may have different motives than we actually do. It is extremely important that we make sure that those we deal with know that our project is focused on benefiting the women’s center in Paradise Village, and NOT about power. After all, we are university students and are in the project to not only create a positive impact but to learn while doing so.

One example of these issues in action comes from my recent trip to London, England. One night, my friends and I decided to go to a local pub. As is usual in the united states, we all wore brightly colored clothing, from colorful flannels to graphic t shirts. We stuck out like a sore thumb, because we quickly learned that a general fashion pattern in England is to wear lots of dark colors like black. It was very obvious to those around us that we were not locals, and were from the United States.

In addition, another cultural issue at home is the initial mistrust of those from other countries. One example is the commonly shouted “immigrants are stealing our jobs” complaints that can always be heard around elections. It is common all over the world to inherently trust fellow citizens over those from another country, partially due to bias but also simply due to a difference in culture. It is unfortunate that even with the ease of global communication, that there still exists mistrust across nation borders.

A third situation that is present at home is the demand for certain products across different regions. Products with terms like “organic” or “locally sourced” can fetch a higher price in a market that is removed from farms, such as urban centers like New York City. Whereas these labels would not attract any attention at all in rural areas that are always surrounded by organic and locally sourced food, because that is what all food is. Similarly, different regions have different demand for products. Tractor sales in downtown Los Angeles are pretty low, and few people in rural North Dakota have a need for a fully electric car.

One example of how cultural practices can be leveraged to address community and market problems is to invoke a common cultural priority. Arguments like “it saves money, it saves time, it brings the family together” are good first steps to reaching your audience culturally.

Another example of leveraging cultural practices to address market problems is that a difference in value on wasted goods such as old water bottles and plastic bags can mean a larger profit on the goods that are made from these materials since they can be bought for cheaper.

Lastly, since there is a very strong sense of Catholicism in the Philippines, it would be very advantageous to get the support of local churches. This would mean that the members of these churches would in turn be willing to aid our project how they can and it would mean that we would gain a general favorable view from local markets. The Church would be a very helpful ally in gathering information and input from locals as well.

GSIF Blog Post #1

I enrolled in this course for several reasons. I am very interested in applying what I have learned to create solutions outside the classroom, and I am passionate about creating a positive impact on the world around me. One of my favorite parts about being a mechanical engineering student is that as I learn more, I get better equipped to create new solutions to everyday problems, as well as gaining new methods for coming up with these solutions. I also am very curious to see how the field of mechanical engineering works in conjunction with other fields that are relevant to my project. I want to see how the “baton” gets passed from engineering to business and beyond, and this program is an excellent way of seeing this process in action. In addition, I enrolled in this course to be able to immerse myself in a real world problem solving environment and to be able to make the best use of such an experience early on in my college career.

I envision this course making me a better mechanical engineering student by providing me with unique problems to tackle as well as allowing me to create stronger connections to my peers and faculty members while I work on this project. So far in my academic pursuits an a mechanical engineering student in the college of engineering, I have had very little exposure to the “real world”. However I am sure that the Creative Inquiry project will grant me that exposure. The benefit of this experience is that not only will I be better prepared for what mechanical engineering will be like after I graduate, but I will also have a better understanding of how the knowledge that I gained in class applies to my future career as an engineer. Additionally, I hope to gain more effective communication, organization, and time management skills from my time as a member of the Project Plastikan project. Something that this course offers that engineering courses do not is the opportunity to interact with my peers who are not engineers: business students, arts students, and science students. Being able to communicate and collaborate effectively is an important life skill that can’t be honed when I only interact with students in similar fields as I.

I think that an important element to a good solution to help reduce the number of people without proper eye wear is to avoid creating a brand new solution from the ground-up, as this would require additional resources and energy compared to improving upon existing attempts to solve the problem. Upon further research, I have found that there are existing organizations dedicated to trying to solve this issue, such as OneSight and Eyes on Africa. I think that a good start to trying to solve this issue is to more closely study the shortcomings and successes of these groups to see where we can improvise and improve. A benefit to mimicking some of the strategies of an existing organization is that they have likely overcome many if not all of the obstacles that come with trying to engineer a solution to a problem from the ground-up. The startup costs, the distribution systems and other aspects of a large scale project are good benchmarks to measure one’s new solution by. Additionally, a possible solution to solve the issue of a lack of optometrists is to produce a cheap eyecare self-diagnosis kit that can be easily distributed to many people so that they can better understand what kind of care they require. These kits could include instructions on how to set up a simple eyesight exam to get an estimate on what kind of glasses are needed. A benefit to this idea is that these kits can be very cheap and easy to produce and distribute, and would prevent low income individuals from purchasing a pair of glasses that does not help their condition. Another benefit would be that people would not need to travel far and save up to pay to see an optometrist. Obviously, a limitation is that these kits would not be nearly as effective as actually seeing an eye care specialist, but I believe that this would serve as a much needed intermediary between those in need of glasses and the rare optometrist.

These hypothetical self-diagnosis kits would include a means of mailing/sending the relevant information on what kind of glasses are required and where they are required. With this, the kits would serve almost as sensors in the field, and would provide valuable information to organizations like OneSight and Eyes on Africa, information such as how many pairs of glasses need to be produced and where they are needed. This data can be used to figure out how to streamline the distribution process and as a result cut down on costs and increase of the affordability of glasses, thus giving more people access to glasses who need them.