Medical Lighting and its Versatility

There are two windows in my room, but because my room is situated in the corner of the inside of the H-shaped 15 Westminster building, I do not get any light from the outside. So when I step out of the building to go to classes, it always amazes me how much light there is outside. It refreshes me, and it makes me feel that it is going to be a good day. On the other hand, if it is cloudy and dark when I exit the building, it feels almost disappointing and discouraging.

Lights have incredible impacts on humans, not just physically, but also psychologically. Therefore, lights, whether natural or artificial, have been used to aid people’s lives throughout history. The history of light therapy can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, who is known as the father of modern medicine, used to prescribe sunlight as a cure for a number of illnesses.

Nowadays, light is used for medical purposes to treat many different illnesses.

One of the many illnesses is the seasonal affective disorder. The best cure is the natural sunlight for this disorder, but the technology has let us create a product called the light box, which omits artificial light that is as intense as the sun light. These light boxes are almost like an everyday object to the people with the disorder, so it seems like careful considerations were taken into account when designing the “boxes.” There is a wide variety of light box designs, and they come in many different sizes and forms to fit into any kind of environment.

Among many different types of lights, the far infrared lights are known to help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, better blood circulation and fast recovery. The far infrared light is actually a band of light that we perceive as heat, and it is capable of penetrating deeper into human body without heating the air in between. The far infrared activate and ionize the water molecules in human body and aids in the healing and beauty purposes. Considering the fact that human bodies are composed of 90% water, the effect is tremendous. Nowadays, there are many different products to get the help of far infrared light therapy, such as a sauna box, light box, and so on.

The concept of light therapy has been adopted by the MINI Cooper. MINI Cooper has a feature called “mood lighting,” and lights are embedded in the interior of the car, like in the armrests and the footwells, in addition to the standard map and dome lighting. The colors range from blue through pink to orange, and different colors are to reflect different moods of the driver. Colored lights have been proved to have a significant impact on people’s moods, and MINI Cooper cleverly incorporated this concept into the design in order to provide the driver and the passengers with a more enjoyable experience.

Above is Apple’s MacBook Pro, with its “breathing” LED. Apple computers have this unique feature of breathing status LED indicator, which indicates when the computer is in the sleep mode. The blinking rate mimics the typical rhythm of breathing. This usage of light does not serve any medical purposes, but I found it relevant to the topic, since the calm, rhythmic “breathing” is almost therapeutic and Zen-like in a way. It is definitely not something that would be prescribed by a therapist or a doctor, but it has a pleasant visual appeal, and its anthropomorphic characteristic draws the user’s attention. It is an interesting and intriguing way of incorporating light into the design to make the product more engaging.

Lights are just versatile and can be applied to anything. As we have seen, even the concepts that were originally developed for medical purposes can be adapted to serve entertainment purpose in everyday life.



Honestly, I never imagined myself majoring in “design” until I came to RISD. In fact, I had never even thought of going to an art school until senior year in high school. But now, here I am, majoring in Industrial Design and RISD.

When I first came to RISD, my first choice major was Graphic Design. I had always enjoyed drawing and making posters, and I had always considered myself a “2-D person” prior to RISD, so Graphic Design appeared to be the most natural and obvious path to take. On the other hand, Industrial Design was something very foreign and vague. I had no idea what it was about. Back then, the way I defined Industrial Design was extremely simple; a “3-D” major.

After being in the Industrial Design department for almost a year and a half, ID is no longer just a “3-D” major to me. I am starting to sense the meaning of industrial design. I believe industrial design is about everything. It is about people and their stories. It is about solving problems and creating experiences. It is about the balance between function and emotion plus the aesthetics. It is about the three dimensions, x, y and z. It is also about the four dimensions, as the “experience” created by industrial design involves the user’s “time.” But it is also two-dimensional, since drawing and graphic/surface design are also a major part of ID. It is about the environment and sustainability. It is about asking the right question and answering it. It is about finding the right opportunity.

After all, it is about care – about the world, people, the environment, beauty, or yourself. Some people say that ironically, ID is the major that damages the environment and creates the most landfills amongst all the majors at RISD. This may be true indeed, because practically, us making urethane foam models is nothing but using up resources and creating more “stuff” to be thrown away. But at least we are caring about something – thinking about someone. There are so many people in this world and every one of them has countless numbers of stories. Whatever we do will mean something to someone in this world. Industrial design is like the butterfly effect, and we, as industrial designers, are trying to create a positive and creative butterfly effect that solves some kind of problem in this world.

Perhaps, my definition of industrial design has not got any more specific. It is still very vague, but that is because the field does not have a boundary. Industrial design is about almost everything, and that is what I enjoy the most about the field; it means that I could basically do anything in the future.

I never really had a “dream” in my life. I always had so much trouble in elementary school when I had to do the assignments where you draw or write about what you want to become in the future. In high school, when my mother asked me about what I wanted to do in college and afterwards, I told her that I had no idea, and I remember my mother getting very, very worried about me.
I still do not have a dream. But now, I think I at least have some idea about what I want to do in the future. I want to be a part of making this world a better place, even if it is a very small part. I still remember Dr. Bruce Becker’s story about a boy and the starfish. Everything matters. I do not aspire to become super famous or prosperous. I just want to be able to contribute to bringing about a change – hopefully a positive change – in the world.

Until now, I think I have been living a rather spoiled life. I used to live in the Philippines, one of the less developed countries, when I was in middle school. And frankly speaking, I used to dislike the place a lot, because the air was polluted and I did not want to see the poor people. It hurt me to see the poor people, perhaps because I did not want to admit the fact that I was spoiled. Maybe that was why I enjoyed living in the Netherlands so much; because it was clean and peaceful, and everyone was well-off, so I did not have to face the depressing and unfortunate side of the world.

But now, I think it is time to face the reality, instead of running away from it. I would like to care. Care more about the world and the people. After my sophomore year in ID, I started caring more about the environment. Now that I have been through History of ID and attended the Better World by Design Conference this semester, I am starting to think more about the people as well.

Life is not eternal, and in fact, it is rather short, but I think it is long enough to care about something, and initiate a change.


the fine line between art and design

People often call Rhode Island School of Design an “art school,” despite the word “design” in its name. Even the RISD students, including myself, say “art school” when we refer to RISD, which I find rather strange. There is a fine line between fine arts and design, and the definitions of the two terms vary from artists to artists, from designers to designers.

Then, what is the difference between art and design? My roommate and I often discuss this topic by classifying each major into three categories: design, fine arts, and gray-area. Under “design,” there are Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Architecture, Interior Architecture, Apparel Design, Textiles, Film/Animation/Video, and Jewelry + Metalsmithing. Under “fine arts,” there are Painting, Glass, Ceramics, Sculpture, and Printmaking. We always have difficulties determining where to put Furniture, Photography, and Illustration under.

My roommate, who is in Graphic Design, recently commented that Industrial Design seems like the major that is the furthest away from fine arts. The reason she explained was that the main focuses of industrial design are usually the function and the users, not the designers themselves, and even the drawings are so technical and dry. Art usually involves the philosophy of the artist. However, to her, she said, nothing seems to be about the designer when it comes to Industrial Design.

Could this be true?

Can Industrial Design be artistic? Can it be considered to be fine arts? I had never considered industrial design as “fine arts,” but I had never thought of it to be on the other end of the spectrum, far, far away from “art” either. This is why I find this week’s topic in ID History very intriguing, and today, I am going to explore the boundaries between design and fine arts through the work of Tokujin Yoshioka.

TOYOTA Tokyo Motor Show 2007 by Tokujin Yoshioka

Tokujin Yoshioka is a Japanese designer, born in 1967, and he is the founder of Tokujin Yoshioka Design. He has worked extensively with Issey Miyake, and also with Nissan, Peugeot, BMW, Shiseido, and so on. He usually does the shop design or exhibit design for these companies. As for his product design, he has several series such as the Pane Chair, Tokyo-Pop Design, and Honey-Pop Chair, and so forth.
Issey Miyake "TO" by Tokujin Yoshioka

Tokujin Yoshioka seems to focus on delivering experiences – dramatic, subtle and poetic – to the users or the audience, both through his exhibit design and product design. His approach to work is not so much design-like, at least in a conventional sense, but rather artistic. He maximizes the characteristics of an object and creates an emotional space.

Swarovski Ginza 2008 by Tokujin Yoshioka

His work seems to embrace the characteristics of fine arts. However, at the same time, his work, especially his product design lines, seem modular and almost practical that they remind me of industrial design. He plays with geometry, structure, simplicity, and honesty. The interesting part about his work is that these characteristics of his work remind me a lot of William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement, which was about linking arts, crafts, design, and production all together. Tokujin Yoshioka’s work is beautiful, artistic, well-crafted, delicate, and manufacturable.

Salone Del Mobile 2004

da drade "Kiss Me Good Bye" by Tokujin Yoshioka

Pane Chair 2006 by Tokujin Yoshioka

A lot of Tokujin Yoshioka’s works are not really all about him. He channels his point of view through the work, but the products are not really about his life or experience. Rather, it seems like he is in a position where he has stepped back a step, and is introducing a new idea about experience, while thinking about the user, the nature, the product, and his self. He is detached and attached to the work at the same time. I do not think that his exhibits and chairs tell much about Tokujin Yoshioka or his life. We, as users or audience, are to view and experience the space that he has created and think of whatever it means to us.

I find Tokujin Yoshioka’s work very difficult to categorize. It falls under the gray-area. At first, when we were introduced to his body or work in History of ID class, my primary reaction was that his work was definitely fine arts, according to my definition of art and design. However, the more I look into them, the more I realize that his work is not simply fine arts, but something in between art and design.

Now, this raises a few questions. What is industrial design? Does it always have to be about functionality, users, and manufacturing? There is definitely a “style” and a “point of view” of the designer in each product he or she may design, but does that include the designer’s “emotion?”

To me, design, especially industrial design, means solving problems and inventing experiences through the problem-solving. On the other hand, art is about the artist and his/her emotional world. Tokujin Yoshioka’s work reflects that industrial design could be both. Perhaps, it has the potential to be both at the same time.

Now, there is the question of practicality. In general, industrial design is heavily focused on efficiency and functionality. A lot of Tokujin Yoshioka’s work is very interesting, but does not seem too practical or functional. Does industrial design have to be functional and practical?

My answer is, “no.” I probably would have said “yes” before going through this exploration, but now, my view has changed. Many of Tokujin Yoshioka’s chairs were not truly practical. However, they were extremely inspiring and presented many opportunities that could be applied and developed into a new, more useful design. The “artistic” design pushes the boundaries and presents an idea. Then, the conventional design will take the idea and go through another level of innovation. Art and design are interrelated, and cannot be separated.

Going back to my roommate’s comment, industrial design may seem rather dry and direct usually, but it does not always have to be that way. An industrial designer could always take a slightly different path and go through an artistic exploration to achieve a new idea, which could be in turn applied to something beyond that. Everything is related to each other, in a very, very complicated manner, and at this point, I would say that industrial design is really about everything.

I find this funny. The more I try to define “industrial design,” the wider the definition becomes.


A Better World by Design: WorldBike.org

“Three. One. Three.”

This was one of the design strategies that Ross Evans proposed during his Shifting Landscapes lecture. The phrase means that a project should be initiated towards the third world countries, brought to the first world countries for further conceptualization and to correlate it with the advanced technology and industries, and finally, the concept that was previously developed should be taken back to the third world to be applied there.

Ross Evans describes himself as a “renaissentrepreneur,” a title which well-portrays his passion in both business and social design. He believes in the power of design, and strives to bring about good changes in the world and help the other 90% of humanity. He is the co-founder of a non-profit international organization called WorldBike, whose main goal is to solve problems of the world through bicycle designs. It connects bicycle designers, industry leaders and international development professionals, and strives to provide transportation solutions and create income-generating opportunities for the poor.

One of the projects that WorldBike has been working on is the development of the Big Boda. The name comes from the term “Boda Boda,” which is the name for bike-taxis in East Africa. The problems with these traditional Boda Bodas are that they are heavy and expensive, but not durable enough for the circumstance. The bicycle industries in the past had been focusing on the users in the first world countries only, to whom bicycling is mainly for recreational purposes. Thus, the bicycles were ill-suited for use in the developing countries. It was WorldBike who took the initiative to improve the situation by creating a bicycle that is less expensive, lighter, sturdier, and contextual.

The Big Boda is their lowest cost design, and it was developed in partnership with Kickstart International to assist the bike-taxi drivers in East Africa (mainly Kisumu, Kenya.) It is a bicycle with a longer wheelbase and higher durability. It has a cargo space or a space for passengers that won’t interfere with the performance of the driver. It is also lighter and more stable to haul on. The Big Boda, the extended, improved version of Boda Boda, definitely confronts and solves the problems.

During his lecture, Ross Evans emphasized that you cannot successfully design something for the third world countries without actually going there and spending time with the people. In the process of designing the bicycle for Kenya, he actually went there, became friends with the Kenyan people, and sat on the ground, surrounding a bowl of food that they all shared. As he showed us some of the photos from when he worked in Kenya, he explained the significance of experiencing the lives of the people, and integrating that experience into the design, in order to truly capture the essence of what they need. Knowledge is power. Without knowing what the needs are, it is difficult to design something that is actually useful when it is put into the context.

The great part about this design is that its application is not restricted to the developing countries only. Instead, it has a wide range of applicability. Ross Evans is also a co-founder of a company called Xtracycle. This company produces bicycles that are more targeted towards the users in the first world countries, but the main concept is essentially the same. The Xtracycle bicycles have extended storage capacity, so that people can use their bicycles for everyday use, such as grocery shopping or picking up a child. Plus, they can be used for recreational purposes, such as family camping. This encourages people to think about and contribute to sustainability.

Frankly speaking, when I attended his presentation, at first, I did not quite understand how a bicycle could possibly conduct a social change. But now, it makes sense. Once you find the right opportunity and understand the problem, anything can bring a change to this world. As Ross Evans said during his presentation, once you identify the problem, “the problem will always pick and follow you.”

Some Random Thoughts on Design

I find this semester amazingly coincidental.

I am taking Out of gas! for my advanced studio. In this studio, we are to build a green urban vehicle. We selected Kisumu, Kenya and Providence, Rhode Island as our two primary markets, and this gave me a chance to ponder over the relationship between design and the world. Then, we started discussing the concept of “Design for the Other 90%” in our History of ID class. And on the weekend of that very week when we talked about humanitarian design, A Better World by Design Conference took place. Furthermore, on Wednesday right after the Conference, we talked about sustainability and green design in Manufacturing Techniques!

All my classes are correlating to each other, orbiting around the topic of sustainability and social design. This semester has been a lot of thinking and investigations for me.

What is the definition of “design?”
What does “design” mean to the world?
What is our role, as designers, in this world?
What can we, as designers, do?
Can we solve anything? Do we want to solve anything? Do we need to solve anything?
What does “design” mean to me?
What do I want to do?
What kind of problems are we trying to solve? What are the problems?
What can I do?

I still do not know for sure what I it is that I want to do as a designer. There are so many different needs and so many different people – there are just so many problems in this world. It is overwhelming to even think about it. But I am going to try to focus. Focus – that was perhaps one of the most important things I learned from the Better World by Design Conference. Instead of trying to tackle all the gazillion problems that exist in the world, we need to focus, and start. Start. Starting is the most important step. Nothing can happen unless we start somewhere, somehow.

Someone recently told me that we, as designers, have so much power – the power to CHANGE something. I do not quite remember who it was that said this…I think it was either Dave or Michael, but maybe it was one of the speakers at the Conference, or one of my friends. But anyway, I think this is true, and that is why I chose to be in Industrial Design. I have no idea where I will go in the future. Maybe I will be designing for the top 10% at one point. I admit that that will just create even more landfills, but there is a need for that, since the world is not simply black and white. But I would love to be able to contribute somehow to the world, to the other 90%. Even if the change does not happen directly in my lifetime, it will be amazing if whatever I do could lead to making this world a better place to live.


Solar Cookers and their Infinite Possibilities

I still clearly remember this one photograph that Dr. Bruce Becker showed us in class last week; the one where there are numerous solar cookers laid out under the sun. I have come to believe that solar cookers are one of the best products that have been designed in this world. The solar cooker systems can be implemented in basically anywhere, including the refugee camps, less developed countries, or even, the most developed countries.

I had a chance to attend the conference, “A Better World by Design,” which was held between Brown University and RISD this weekend. The main theme of the conference was to discuss sustainability and social design, and it offered various panels and workshops. Among the workshops, there happened to be a workshop about the solar cookers, and I, being greatly interested in solar cookers, had to attend the workshop.

The Solar Cookers workshop was hosted by Virginio Mendonça and Eric Fedus, the two active professionals in the field. They discussed the simplicity, practicality, and the infinite possibilities of solar cookers.

Solar cookers are not just solar cookers. They can be implemented anywhere, and depending on the context they are put into, they can transform into various other useful things. First of all, the benefit of using solar cookers is that they save tremendous amount of energy. There is no need for gas, wood or electricity, but the sun light (all you need is 20 minutes of sunlight every hour.) Virginio Mendonça explained that solar cookers can be adapted to producing charcoal as well, to save wood. To make charcoal, you need to burn a lot of wood in order to heat up the wood that becomes charcoal. This process requires a lot of wood to be wasted, and solar cookers can help to better this situation. Plus, he also pointed out that solar cookers can solve a lot of health problems that women and children in the third world countries face. In those places, they mostly burn wood to cook, and the kitchen is oftentimes located in the corner of the house, without any chimney or proper ventilation systems. So, the women and the children’s health are often affected by the smoke produced during cooking. This problem can be easily helped with solar cookers, as they do not require any wood-burning, and therefore no smoke! I was struck by these ideas, as I had never thought about this kind of potentials of solar cookers.

As the workshop continued, Eric Fedus explained how solar cookers are changing their forms and functions over the years, adapting to the context they are in. For example, he mentioned that in India, they made some adjustments to the solar cookers and added an electrical backup cooking option for in case there is not enough sunlight. This reflects that solar cookers are starting to become something that is more permanent, rather than just a temporary cooking option.

Eric Fedus also introduced the Scheffler Reflectors, invented by a German inventor, Wolfgang Scheffler. What is different about Scheffler Reflectors is that they transfer the energy/heat to the indoor kitchen so that people do not have to go outside to cook. (One of the questions he raised about solar cookers was that nobody is really used to cooking outside these days.) His parabolic reflectors have been distributed worldwide, serving in community kitchens, bakeries, etc. A number of these reflectors can be installed on the roof of a building, and boil water using solar power. The boiled water produces steam, and that steam gets transferred to indoors and provides energy for cooking. According to Eric Fedus, the current largest working system in the world is in India, where there are 104 of Scheffler Reflectors on the roof of a temple, providing 30,000 meals a day.

I also learned at the workshop that there are such things as solar water boilers, solar dryers, solar washing machines, and even, a solar cremation! I was thrilled when I heard these possibilities, especially when I heard solar cremation. There really is NO limit whatsoever! Those options were all developed based off of solar cookers. I find it astonishing that something as simple as solar cookers can be transformed and evolve into something else, meeting many different needs.

I believe design should be that way, too. It should be simple but concrete. It should be practical and meet people’s needs. It should solve problems – not just the problems of the users, but also the environmental problems. It should be able to adapt to many different contexts, and evolve from there. Design should be beautiful, not just in a formal sense, but also in the way it addresses and solves problems.

Now I am a huge fan of solar cookers. I believe in its bottomless potentials, and I would love to invest in one in the future. Actually, perhaps I could just make one myself, because all I need is a couple of boxes of different sizes, some newspaper for insulation, some aluminum foil, an absorber plate, and a few other materials. It will cost me about $5, according to Virginio.


Design, Gender, and Hair

How many people cringed when they saw the image above, because of the armpit hair?

I remember reading an interesting blog article about shaving some time ago on the Internet. The article was about an advertisement poster of a famous actress from about twenty years ago. In the poster, the actress was wearing a swimming suit and her armpit hair had not been shaved. The owner of the blog called it an “accident,” because the actress was everyone’s idol at the time and it is a shame that she had to embarrass herself like that. The owner of the blog also stated that it makes him/her cringe when he/she sees a woman with armpit hair.

This made me think. Is it that much of a shameful and unpleasant image when a woman does not shave? Does hairlessness define feminine beauty? Why is it acceptable for men to leave their hair unshaven, like beard and leg hair, while women cannot even dare wear shorts before shaving their legs? When did this tradition of shaving start?

Men have been shaving throughout history. The history of shaving goes as far back as to 100,000 B.C. Men started plucking their hair using sea shells as tweezers. First razor blades came into play after that, around 30,000 B.C., when men started using crude blades made from flint and horns. Around 3,000 B.C., as humans started making copper tools, this new technology was quickly applied to creating copper razors. The custom of shaving was strongly promoted by Alexander the Great around 330 B.C., and this quickly spread all over Greece and Rome, and to Egypt. Men continued to shave their body hair, originally for hygienic purposes and perhaps for aesthetic reasons as well, and shaving soon acquired a social significance – it started to connote civility. Shaving was considered not just clean but also sophisticated, while “unbarbered” men were considered uncivilized and shameful (hence, the word “barbarians.”) It had become a statement of personal hygiene and fashion.

On the other hand, as for women, there are not much records of shaving. This is perhaps because women are relatively less hairy compared to men, so shaving was not as much of a big deal as it is for men. However, it is clear that hairlessness has been somewhat related to idealistic beauty. In archaic paintings and sculptures, women are often portrayed perfectly smooth and hairless, except for their heads and sometimes, pubic hair. This reflects how women were viewed more beautiful and feminine if they were hairless, and this indicates women may have been shaving throughout history as well.

Later in the history, the razor technology saw a rapid advancement, but a lot of these improvements were developed around men, rather than women. The first straight steel razor was developed in Sheffield, England in the early 19th century. These straight razors, also known as “cut-throat” razors, were used by barbers, who were specially trained to groom men, and most men around this time would go to the barbers to have their beards shaved. These straight razors remained popular until late 19th century, and in 1901, King Camp Gillette invented the concept of the safe, “disposable” razor blades. However, even this revolutionary invention was marketed towards men.

The concept of women removing their armpit hair became a huge trend in the 1920s. The beginning was the May 1915 edition of a magazine, called Harper’s Bazaar, in which a model appeared in a sleeveless evening gown with smooth, hairless armpits. This is around when Gillette started producing small razors, specially designed for women. This trend set the idea that hairless armpits and legs connoted femininity and beauty, which eventually led to our stereotype today that it is unfeminine if a woman has hairy armpits and legs.

Electric razors were created by a Canadian inventor, Jacob Schick, in the 1920s. However, it was not until 1947 when the first electric razor for women started being marketed by Remington. These razors for ladies had more feminine shapes and colors (such as pink) and this started the trend of differentiating men’s and women’s razors by color and form.

Nowadays, razors of masculine and feminine designs and colors are produced in order to appeal to both genders. Various shaving methods, such as waxing and hair removal cream, have been introduced to promote shaving. The interesting point is that oftentimes, these products, especially leg hair removing products, would not specify if they are meant for women or men, but they would have a feminine look with a female model on the package or advertisement. It seems as if the society is encouraging women to shave more than men. Plus, men’s beards and moustaches have become a fashion statement. Traditionally, it has been more of a men’s task to shave. However, nowadays, it is a bigger deal if a woman does not shave.

Even in Asia, where people are known to be relatively less hairy, shaving has become a standard task for both men and women these days. When a celebrity appears on the TV screen without having his/her armpit shaved, that will become a heated topic on Internet forums and blogs that very same day. What is interesting is that in the traditional Korean society, where life was based on the principles of Confucianism, it was actually considered dishonorable to cut one’s hair; hair is something that is given from his/her parents, and thus, it is righteous to preserve it. Therefore, even men used to let their hair grow out. However, these days, it is not an uncommon idea for a man to shave his leg hair, or even his eye brows. As for women, shaving is almost a “must,” especially in the summer, when shorts and sleeveless shirts are in fashion.

Ever since the one image in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, the social significance of shaving has switched from men to women. The trend and demand in the society stimulated the development of special razors for “ladies,” and this in turn aided the consolidation of the stereotype. The society and culture influences the design decisions, and the designs bestow themselves a meaning and a socio-cultural function.