For Day 5, Fellows met at the Ferry Building to go on a surprise field trip. After walking along Embarcadero and hearing the Bay’s environmental history, we arrived at Autodesk, a multinational software corporation with the type of fabrication labs that designers dream about. Our tour guide told us that the shop is open to all employees, and “our job, with access to this space, is to make awesome.” We saw 5-axis CNC routers and 3D printers of all sizes, as well as a wood and metal shop with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fellows were delighted a few moments later when a fully “functional” R2D2 showed up in the next room! The proud designer came down to show us her paces - designed to be R2D2’s girlfriend in a film, the robot could “bleep bloop blurp” and move around.
Autodesk works at the convergence of machine learning and robotics - with projects like MX3D, a machine-designed bridge, and a LegoBot that has taught itself to pick up and assemble legos (is this the beginning of the robot takeover?). Other highlights included KidMob’s “Superhero Cyborg” project, for kids with limb differences to design body mod’s to be their best selves and show their true colors. One girl developed a unicorn spike arm with a glitter cannon, that can break, hinge and be put down, with a spot for a phone so she can text. Autodesk also helped design a new prosthetic, which costs a tenth of conventional designs, for a woman that won medals at the Paralympics, and they have open-source projects like Instructables, where you can teach yourself how to do thousands of amazing things for free.
We tore ourselves away from the very touchable prototypes to experience an out-of-this-world experience – a discussion with a real live astronaut! Ron Garan has had experiences from the heights to the depths, having lived in space and underwater. Since leaving NASA, Ron’s dedicated his life to our ‘pale blue dot,' and you can read his thoughts on our beautiful fragile planet in The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71,000 miles.
Many astronauts become outspoken environmentalists after traveling to outer space and witnessing our magnificent and fragile planet, but Ron believes “you don’t have to be in space to have an orbital perspective.” The problem is “we don’t understand how interconnected we are,” and Ron is working on some collaborative solutions. He wants to“figuratively transport people to the higher perspective” through projects like Overview, a free 20-minute video about seeing space, and through his MOOC (massive open online course) Introduction to the Orbital Perspective. Ron’s also the chief pilot for World View, a balloon-based space tourism company. Ron wants everyone to see that we are “one people traveling on one planet towards one common future.” Ron’s newest project is Constellation, a collaborative project to figure out where we want to be as a society in 2068. Ron’s forming a coalition to speak with world leaders and heads of industry to develop an “operating system for civilization” to present to the UN general assembly.
One Fellow asked what Ron thought about Elon Musk trying to colonize Mars. Ron isn’t on board, especially if it’s because we trash Earth. It’s easier to stop destroying our planet than trying to colonize another one, especially since all the materials would have to come from earth!
For our final fantastic session of the day, fellows got to learn from Jennings Hanna, an interactions designer. He regaled us with stories of consulting for companies like Code for America and Etsy, and played the trailer for his current work on Star Wars Battlefront II with EA. Wanting to work with “information rich, instead of simply data rich” design, Jennings uses tools like story dice and ethnography to develop more divergent design solutions.
Jennings told Fellows, “at the end of the day what makes me tick is when I shift stuff.” As a consulting designer, companies frequently don’t take your advice though, or if they do it’s years later and they don’t tell you about it. So make sure you love what you’re working on, and don’t ever compromise your ethics!
After Jennings shared his four-step process of Discovering, Validating, Building, and Shipping, he had fellows break out and try a partner communication exercise called Listening Lab. One person took notes on the ways in which their partner worked through constructing an origami giraffe with only a visual instruction sheet provided. Together, teams attempted to complete their paper animals in the allotted time and learned a lot about how we all communicate and listen in different ways. Jennings believes we need to get better at storytelling, so fellows got to try out Story Telling Dice as our final activity. After collaboratively telling a story about gremlins living in a castle that has internet, each fellow got to roll the dice for a personal reflection. One fellow reported, “this fellowship has made me uncomfortable in a marvellous way.”
We ended the day watching the poem "Shoulders" by Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long to reflect on the power of narrative (eyes were misty), then gathered to reflect on the last five days. Each Fellow shared their thoughts on one activity the group completed, and we were all amazed by how much we’ve accomplished in a few short days.
Finally, the fellows were assigned teams for the 24-hour design challenge, and sent away with a prompt to discuss their personal teamwork strengths and weaknesses before they dive into full challenge mode, all day tomorrow!