Designing for the Fringe at SwitchPoint.

I've just returned from the SwitchPoint conference in Saxapahaw, NC.

SwitchPoint is an invigorating and exhausting conference put on by Intrahealth to bring together people in the humanitarian innovation, global health and technology worlds. At the conference I hosted a microlab about Designing for the Fringe.

A porcupine helped people find my session. 

 Microlabs are limited to 30 attendees. A porcupine puppet passed out tickets to those who wanted to attend. 

Microlabs are limited to 30 attendees. A porcupine puppet passed out tickets to those who wanted to attend. 

My session was in an art gallery down the street from the ballroom. We had a mixed group of attendees; lots of makers, designers and writers but we also had some graduate students, photographers, policy makers, lawyers, mathematicians and healthcare workers. Most everyone had a global perspective and they were interested in learning about the fringe because of the long tail properties and the belief the resulting solutions that come out of designing for a unique audience would be more innovative than the ideas you get when designing for a general audience -- I like the way they think. :)

I presented my framework for designing for the fringe and then we brainstormed around topics.

Framework for designing for the fringe

  1. Focus on people, not on their inability.
    (read about my approach to caregivingVirginia S Ingram's retrospective and the Etsy shop for Virginia S Ingram)

  2. Focus on the continuum, not on the moment.
    (read about TransFatty Lives and Patrick O'Brien)

  3. Focus on togetherness, not on individuals.
    (read about homes for the elderly in the Netherlands

Three topics for brainstormed in the Workshop

  • Driverless Cars as I believe the perfect driver for the driverless car is the person who can't currently drive.   
  • 3D Printed Food is not just for party tricks anymore, learn how 3D printed food can make sense today, on earth. 
  • Inclusive Playgrounds aren't a given in our society, but playing together can help remove barriers for children who are a little bit different. 

We broke up into groups so everyone could have a chance to explore ideas. All of the groups had vibrant discussions. 

Driverless Cars

The team started out reading a modified version of this article which discusses a few possibilities for driverless cars designed for a fringe audience (the article has a few video explanations of how driverless cars work).

The participants debated infrastructure issues, what a car means to the person who drives it and whether or not it would be appealing to everyman if it is seen as a pharmaceutical. All interesting points.

In their presentation back to the group, the team talked about the obvious public safety risks of driverless cars as well as the autonomy and independence you feel as a driver of your own vehicle. They suggested the driverless cars would be best if there were different models based on your capabilities. For instance, you might have one model that targets the elderly and another that targets someone with epilepsy. Perhaps these cars could be controlled by voice or connected to your brain.  

Ultimately the team felt the freedom of being able to drive your own vehicle, by yourself, would be something really appealing to those who are considered to be on the fringe.  

For those who are interested in seeing more about driverless cars, here's a video of a driverless race car. 


3D Printed Food

Though this group was the smallest of the groups, they seemed to have the most fun discussing possibilities and the conversation continued for several days with one of the participants (my new pal Lisa Russell). Lisa's excitement about 3D printing was contagious, her eyes would light up as she'd talk about the possibilities and her enthusiasm easily drew in others. 

The group started by reading some examples of 3D printed food applications (click the link to see a pizza get printed and sampled as well as some examples of 3D printed chocolate, candy and carrots). They were ultimately excited about the possibilities with the organic market thinking they would focus on printing preservative-free food and nutrient-rich items.

The team presented several possibilities back to the group:

  • Knowing those with autism often have a sensitivity to texture, they imagined a world where you could print a wide variety of food with more nutrition at a tolerable texture. 
  • For individuals who don't want to take, or are incapable of taking, medicine they recommend blending medicine into the food and printing something delicious which included the medicine. 
  • For people who have anxiety about trying new things, it might be possible to print foods in a shape of something they already like. 
  • They also recommended printing plates and forks that could be eaten after the food is consumed (we later lamented an M&M plate could be a great solution here). 
  • And finally, they had two non-food ideas that were genius: make biodegradable tools for your garden or printing a fertile surface that includes seeds that you can use to start a garden. 

After the session Lisa, another friend and I had a really fun discussion with Peter Binkley of E-nable the Future. We exhausted my knowledge of 3D printed metals and 3D printed cars (here's another) and houses and got Peter to tell us more about E-nable the Future. 

Peter then blew our mind with discussions about 3D printed organs and skin at Wake Forest University (the skin is printed with a modified HP black and white printer, the kidney is printed with a modified color printer).

Since there was a lot of excitement about how 3D printing actually works, here are a few videos worth watching. 

3D printing in action

3D printed candy in a commercial printer.

3D printing organs explained.

3D printers available for purchase in the US (with notes on how they work).


Inclusive Playgrounds

There were so many people interested in inclusive playgrounds we broke the group into two and got twice the ideas.

Each group started by reading this article. The presentation also included statistics about the types of children they would be designing a playground for. 


Group One

The first group was interested in incorporating play prompts to help the kids understand how to play with the equipment and other children. Instead of spending lots of money up front, they thought it might make more sense to have ongoing supervision and camp counselor type person to encourage play and ideas. 

When they presented to the group they talked about making a paradigm switch on how playgrounds work in the US. Since open spaces are more inclusive they thought it would be better to have someone available during park hours to guide play based on the children who are at the park. They recommended creating a grant structure for fundraising, incorporating QR codes that shared ideas with the kids and suggested it would be helpful to look into legal issues about how specific instruction would work at the park.  

Group two

Group two had a discussion about how there are only small windows of time in your life when a playground is important to you; when you're the appropriate age for the playground and when you're the caregiver for someone who is the appropriate age for a playground. It's important to remember what it's like to have fun playing with other children and the more open the structure the better. One participant recalled that when she was a kid she played in the neighborhood with all the kids regardless of abilities. 

Ultimately this group, like the other group, decided open spaces are better. They acquiesced playing by sucks so having a playground where you're almost guaranteed to find other children is helpful. 

Because the needs of the children will change, they recommended implementing an Ikea-like model with a playground that can easily be scaled to accommodate the needs of the children. Add ons could be added and swapped out to keep it accessible and scalable. They would crowd fund the building and add ons of the playground so that others can be a part of the solution. This would also allow for additional socialization.  


All in all, I was excited about the solutions the teams brainstormed in just 15 short minutes.

If you attended the session and want to add to any of the ideas mentioned above, please let me know! You can also download my talking points and my presentation here. Use the password SwitchPoint2015.