Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘world’

11 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Book Spotlight: Design Revolution


What soccer balls have to do with blind children and water transportation in Africa.

In 2008, in the midst of the “going green” craze, San-Francisco-based product designer and activist Emily Pilloton came to the restless realization that design can be so much more than pure aesthetics, and certainly more than a mere fad — it could, with a completely nonpageantry sentiment, really change the world.

So she launched, with $1,000 from her desk at Architecture for Humanity, Project H Design — a radical nonprofit supporting initiatives for “Humanity, Habitats, Health and Happiness.”

With hundreds of international volunteer designers and 9 global chapters, Project H crusades for industrial design as a potent solution for social issues. From education in Uganda to homelessness in L.A., the project’s global-to-local model offers a tangible, truly transformational implementation of design as a change agent.

This fall, Project H is releasing Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People — a fascinating anthology of 100 contemporary design products and systems that change lives in brilliantly elegant ways.

From a high-tech waterless washing machine, to low-cost prosthetics for landmine victims, to Braille-based Lego-style building blocks for blind children, to a DIY soccer ball, the book reads like a manual, thinks like a manifesto, and feels like a powerful jolt of fire-in-your-belly inspiration.

Pilloton was recently awarded a $15,000 Adobe Foundation grant to support work on the book. Here, she talks — passionately and candidly — about the Project H mission and the very real, practical ways in which design matters.

Get yourself a copy of Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People — we couldn’t recommend it more.

via TrackerNews

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04 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Visualization of Global Bottled Water Consumption


Why de-bluing the developed world makes the whole world a greener place.

For this Friday’s short-and-sweet, we’re doing a Brain Pickings original — after stumbling upon some data on global bottled water consumption in The Guardian, we did a quick visualization of it. Because we hate (HATE) bottled water and all of its environmental implications, and the data was striking in a number of ways.

Click to enlarge

The bluer an area, the more plastic-chugging takes place there - the cyan value in CMYK is set to the percentage of total bottled water consumption each geographic area accounts for. (Click image to enlarge.)

There are two curious pieces of insight here:

First, it’s obvious the developed world is by far the bluest. Which is unsurprising, yet ironic — because the whitest parts are not only in climates where water is that much more integral to survival, but also areas where the lack of safe drinking water is among the leading causes of death.

Secondly, the data is quite old — the visualization is based on the latest data in the set, but even that is from 2004. And while there’s a marked increase in consumption between 1997 and 2004, with the recent backlash against bottled water, it would be interesting to see how not only total consumption, but also the ratios change. Because the developed world, while still no doubt the most massive plastic-chugger by far, is also the target of all that media attention to the issue. So we can expect — or at least hope for — a significant de-bluing of North America and Europe over the next decade.

Until then, though, please get yourself a water filtration pitcher and a reusable bottle, eh? We like Brita and Sigg.

30 JULY, 2009

World Beats:


Auditory voyeurism, globe-trotting musicology, and why New York and Brooklyn are different cities altogether.

The city is a living organism with distinct character, taste, smell, sound. Its thriving music scene offers a special kind of storytelling about the city’s personality quirks and cultural passions — an auditory window into the soul of the city. opens a dozen such fascinating windows by delivering the latest music from some of the world’s most interesting cities, from Sydney to Stockholm to San Francisco.

Developed by Swedish digital geek duo Henrik Berggren and David Kjelkerud for London’s Music Hack Day, the project uses professional audio platform SoundCloud‘s API to fetch the music and streams it to build an immersive global soundscape. comes on the trails of The Present Sounds of London, an audio tour of the iconic city’s distinct urban onomatopoeias — perhaps a trend towards a newfound fascination with the auditory “brands” of urban epicenters?

09 JUNE, 2009

In-Formed: Physical Objects as Data Visualization


The other side of our silver platter, or what dinnerware and Africa have in common.

Data visualization is of special stature around here and makes frequent cameos — usually in the form of beautifully designed infographics or high-tech jaw-droppers. But designer Nadeem Haidary is creating a form of data viz so unorthodox and unexpected it constitutes its own genre — physical objects modified to visualize statistics about the activities they’re involved in.

The project, titled In-Formed, is part data visualization, part industrial design, part social awareness, exposing little-known facts designed to effect actual behavioral change by inspiring us to be a bit less wasteful.

It consists of three case studies, each embedding contextually relevant information into everyday objects related to the data.

Each prong represents the per-capita countries caloric intake of a different country. Each fork depicts the United States and three other countries ordered alphabetically.

[Statistics] may be striking when you first read them, but without context or placement in the physical world, they are rarely remembered and rarely change people’s behavior. What if this kind of information crawled off the page and seeped into the products that surround us?

The surface area of each of plate is proportionate to the food consumption in the region depicted on the plate.

There’s something incredibly powerful about infusing data with the physical reality it inhabits — an idea arguably pioneered by the incredible Chris Jordan, whom we’ve featured multiple times. It breeds a kind of visceral mindfulness missing from more traditional forms of data visualization — and, hopefully, that’s what makes the leap from awareness to action.

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