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By (February 1, 2009) ()

Somehow everyone acquires a lot of different kinds mugs. Look in your cabinet. The plates and the silverware usually match. But not the mugs. They don’t match. I know that you’ve got at least eight different types of mugs: a local business mug, maybe a holiday mug, a state university mug, promotional  tech company mug from a conference, a personalized mug with a faded picture of Aunt Whoever on it. In any case, I used to have a mug that included an image of a few ducks in a pond. The caption under the picture read, “Make it look easy, but underneath paddle like hell.”

Designing with intent isn’t always easy. The readings from this week focused on a couple of emerging themes that include subtle messaging, discovery and pervasive design. One of my favorite examples included the park bench with “arm rests” to prevent people from sleeping on them.  There’s more to this design than one would immediately recognize.

As I was reading, the One Laptop Per Child initiative came to mind.  The mission statement for the project reads: “To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”

How can a team develop a computer that is powerful enough to foster a genuine learning environment while costing less than an iPod Nano? The One Laptop Per Child was able to do this by reinventing the personal computer to fit the needs a student. Anyone who has ever seen one of these machines knows that the interface looks nothing like a Mac or Windows machine. Well, why not? Think about it – modern computers are modeled using a desktop/office metaphor.  Implementing this same workflow in a computer developed for these children wouldn’t make any sense. The engineers needed to redesign everything. The OLPC team places its emphasis on creating software tools used for exploring and expressing.  The interface often utilizes simple figures and icons as the main mode of communication. Some of the activities (aka applications) include: music makers, painting programs, internet research, writing, measuring, communication, etc. It’s a powerful and capable machine.  All of the core software components are open source (to keep expenses down). The laptop itself is also extremely rugged and is able to withstand harsh weather conditions. But most importantly, the laptop is approachable.

February 1, 2009

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