Designing for Unnatural Selection: Bionic Bunny Ears for Bengal Tigers?

Guest blog post by Zak Brazen, our May Cooper Parlor moderator and Creative Strategist for Brazenworks

Prefabitats for polar bears? A jet pack for pandas? Bionic bunny ears for Bengal tigers? It’s amazing how much ingenuity 55 people can exhibit in two short hours. But that’s just what can happen when you facilitate a motley crew (wink) of design professionals, biologists, and technologists toward a common goal. Entitled, WTF, Evolution? Designing Unnatural Selection, the Cooper Parlor on May 23rd explored the science and fantasy of creating gadgets for animals to ‘leap frog’ the 6th wave of extinction. As Karolina, one of our attendees put it, “Still buzzing after today’s Parlor & lively presentation. Pandas need design advocates too!”

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It’s Never Just a Website Redesign: Transforming Business Through Design

At Cooper’s UX Boot Camp, facilitated by Kendra Shimmell, Stefan Klocek, and Teresa Brazen, held between March 25th and March 28th at Monkey Ranch in Petaluma, CA, Fair Trade USA looked to participants for ideas around how to raise awareness of their mission and inspire consumers to purchase Fair Trade products.

Fair Trade USA enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model through certifying and promoting Fair Trade products. Their work benefits everyone from farmers and workers to consumers, industry and the environment, and yet only 20-30 percent of Americans even know what Fair Trade means. Why? The issues are complex, but as students dug into this problem they identified key factors behind this disconnect, including a lack of brand awareness of the business case for Fair Trade, low brand adoption, and limited Fair Trade product presence in stores.

From those explorations, the following goals emerged:

  • Motivate and inspire brands to adopt and evangelize Fair Trade practices.
  • Put more Fair Trade products in front of consumers.
  • Build “pop culture” awareness of Fair Trade to get more brands to buy into the movement.

To get there, student teams went beyond the initial concept of a website redesign and took on the bigger questions that lead to business transformation. For a look behind the scenes as the teams approached this challenge, check out the following video filmed during the Fair Trade USA Boot Camp, and read more to take a look at the Fair Trade USA ecosystem model and what the students came up with in the pitch decks that follow.

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WTF, Evolution?

Designing for Unnatural Selection at the next Cooper Parlor


The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design.

Upcoming Salon: WTF, Evolution? Designing for Unnatural Selection

Moderator: Zak Brazen, Creative Strategist, Brazenworks
Cost: $10
When: Thursday, May 23rd from 6:30-8:30 (doors open at 6)
Where: Cooper Offices, 85 2nd St, 8th Floor, San Francisco, CA
Get your tickets here.

Like it or not, the sixth wave of extinction is upon us. By the end of the century nearly 50% of all species on the planet will be gone. Most will perish simply because they do not have enough time to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions. But what if there were gadgets (or services) that would help plants and animals transcend time and make the evolutionary leap? What if there was a Whole Earth Catalog for the non- human among us (eat your heart out, Stewart Brand)?

In this seriously tongue-in-cheek Parlor, Creative Strategist Zak Brazen, of Brazenworks Design and Ingenuity Lab, will explore design opportunities for the near future, when plants and animals are your clients. Parlor participants will imagine, prototype and design tools, gadgets and services that give plants and animals the resources they need to cope with climate change in real time.

Disruptive? To say the least.

Save your spot now, before these seats become extinct.

Related Reading

What does sustainable interaction look like?

In the past few years the design community has taken sustainability from a mere
buzzword into a call for action. Eli Belvis, Tony Fry and Cooper’s own
David Fore have all championed the idea that the practice of
interaction design must promote and encourage sustainable decision-making. The Designer’s Accord
has emerged as a mandate to turn the the goodwill into commitment and a
plan of action, improving the role of design in sustainability.

This is all good, it’s all needed, but we also need to get down to brass tacks. A cursory survey of the
reveals a hunger for actionable discourse about sustainable interaction design. What does sustainable interaction design look like in the wild? What does sustainable mean when it comes to designing software? What are practical design choices that encourage sustainable behavior on the part of the end user of software?

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Economizer: A Cooper service concept

People are looking for ways to economize in these uncertain times. We can all see the evidence of environmental crisis brewing alongside the economic downturn, and it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such global forces. With politicians and businesses seeking avenues to a sustainable future, Cooper wondered how design might help individuals cut costs while also encouraging behavior that was environmentally responsible.

This all started when Environmental Defense approached Cooper, asking us to imagine new ways to make it easier for people to save resources. We performed research throughout the Bay Area, then collaborated with Environmental Defense to model our findings and identify design opportunities. From this point of inspiration, we continued on our own, crafting a quick eco-friendly concept: Economizer, a service that helps consumers save money while making sustainable choices. The service consists of a core set of internet-aware services with optional components such as hardware data collectors, social networking applications, and dedicated smart phone interfaces.

Economizer: Scenario 1 on Vimeo
(Watch this video in fullscreen mode by clicking the icon in the lower right of the player.)
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Feeling passionate about Amazon’s Frustration-Free packaging

As my fellow Cooperistas will attest, I’m passionate about a lot of things: interaction design, birthday cake, shoes… But product packaging? No, I wouldn’t have included that last one in the list – at least, not until I caught myself swooning over Amazon’s new Frustration-Free packaging.


Suddenly, it all came back to me in a rush of emotion: the anger, frustration, and threat of serious injury when struggling to extract a tiny memory card from its giant plastic “clamshell” package. The tedium and anxiety of twisting countless plastic-coated wire ties in a seemingly never-ending effort to release toy components from incarceration before the child loses interest and starts playing with an empty box instead. The disbelief and disgust over the trail of excessive plastic waste left behind after opening a single product. And I am not alone. To tap into the packaging-frustration zeitgeist, Amazon has encouraged customers to post pictures and videos of their worst experiences to the Gallery of Wrap Rage, and the responses are pouring in.

These consumer-hostile packaging practices are a perfect example of business needs trumping user needs. For far too long, companies have designed packaging that serves only two masters: product marketing and theft reduction. Mark Hurst’s This Is Broken features a particularly rich example of product packaging that fails to address the need to get the item out of the package.

Because Amazon doesn’t have to deal with retail display or shoplifting, they were in a unique position to sidestep the usual drivers for package design and think (pardon the pun) “outside the box”, focusing on customers’ goal of liberating products from the package so they can actually use them! And as Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos notes in his letter to customers introducing the program, “in addition to making packages easier to open, a major goal of the Frustration-Free Packaging initiative is to be more environmentally friendly by using less packaging material.” According to their FAQs, products with Frustration-Free Packaging can often be shipped in their own boxes, without an additional shipping box.

Just in time for the holiday consume-a-thon, Amazon delivers human-friendly, eco-friendly package design. Now really, who wouldn’t be passionate about that? Read More

Beautiful Monsters: Green vs. Green

Jonzing to take part in another 120-mile speed-skating race? You might have to wait 18 years, which is the likely interval between one Elfstedentocht and the next, owing to the effects of global warming.


As you wait for the ice to thicken, you can drive (in an energy-efficient manner) to one of the sustainable dance clubs popping up all over, and sweat your prayers.

So we can (almost all) agree the climate is changing. Not simply the climate that’s melting the ice, though. Also the economic climate, the one threatening to wash away your job. And the political climate, the one that can keep us all afloat.

Just a few months ago, business leaders habitually dismissed arguments in favor of ecologically responsible development because they were too busy pumping gobs of money out of the ground. Now that the price of oil has plummeted along with the rosy profit forecasts from Reykjavik to Whitefish, guess what some “hard-nosed realists” argue? You got it! Investing in clean- and green-tech is now unwise because of the credit tsunami sucking all the cash out to sea, an economic recession that promises to be as deep as it will be broad, hyperventilating stock markets, dazed and confused finance
, and a crumbling government in Washington that’s trying to bring down thousands of animal and
plant species with it

Who has time for the love of bugs and bunnies when the sky is falling
and you’ve got mouths to feed! When the weather’s fine, there’s no apparent need to fix the leak in the roof. And, anyway, you’re too busy enjoying the sunshine. But when it’s raining nobody wants to go out on a slippery roof. In other words, it’s hard to set aside the time to look ahead. But in times of turmoil we all want to know what’s coming around the bend.

The best way to predict the future, as everyone knows, is to make it yourself. Particularly if you’re a designer, since your job is to anticipate future needs and desires and create what fits the bill.

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Beautiful Monsters: Check your assumptions at the door

Every product, service, or business model is defined in large measure by what designers take for granted. These assumptions can be held so deeply as to be invisible to the designers themselves. And yet their acknowledgment, and negotiation, are key to industrial evolution, profit, and harmonious relationships to various ecosystems.

In the early days, for instance, you could assume that those with access to computers were backed by organizations willing to invest the funds necessary to acquire or build the complex infrastructure required by computational behemoths. But with the advent of microprocessors and other such developments, that all changed. Now the intrusion of computers into every corner of our lives is nearly complete, with 11 percent of the people recently polled saying they’d like their email deliver directly into their brains in the ultimate post-media consumer fad. Read More

Beautiful Monsters: Be the change

san-francisco-urban-form_crop-e.jpgThe Market Street grid, Courtesy: bricoleurbanism.

This week, San Francisco started choosing sides for another Market Street Mêlée, which we fight once every ten years or so. On one side of the double-yellow line are arrayed various assorted starry-eyed, bipedal dreamers who propose closing down the main artery of our fair city to most carbon-emitting traffic so as to give pedestrians and bicyclists a break, reduce pollution, and increase the beauty and overall mellow vibe of the grid. On the other side stand the self-styled hard-nosed rationalists who see in this as a pedal-powered economic and moral calamity in the making. Read More

Beautiful Monsters: The odds are in

Beautiful Monsters is a series by David Fore, head of Cooper’s consulting practice. It is intended encourage conversation about how interaction designers can grow more sustainable practices, with the goals of improving our fortunes, our relationships, and the health of our planet. Start at the beginning, or read the latest installment below.

Critics may charge that I’m loving on WunderMap too much. But these guys have vision. They provide fantastic resources for visualizing many of the changes afoot, which is a necessary precursor to visualizing solutions. But what they haven’t done yet is provide us the coordinates of our honeybees, one in three of which have disappeared from these parts. Without honeybees we don’t have agriculture as we know it — and, ipso facto, culture.


How would our federal government respond if 1 out of every 3 cows was dying?” a scientist recently asked a bovine Congress. Read More