2012 – A Year in Making

It’s been a busy 12 months! I’m finally getting a chance to recuperate back in Melbourne and am taking the opportunity to look back on 2012 and review my efforts in Making this past year…

OpenIDEO hit 42k users
We launched OpenIDEO.com in August of 2010 and celebrated our 2nd birthday in 2012, welcoming over 42,000 users. It’s a big deal for a small platform focused on innovating for social good, with only 6 team members spread between London, San Francisco and New Zealand (!). In the latter half of 2012, we’ve been joined by two fantastic and passionate individuals, Vincent Cheng and Nathan Maton, who will be looking after the OpenIDEO.com side of things.

New York University – Idea Exchange
We’ve been exploring the product side of OpenIDEO and in November launched the Global Idea Exchange for NYU. The Global Idea Exchange is powered by OpenIDEO and brings together over 70,000 students across NYU’s global campuses to tackle a more academically minded challenge: How might we activate the potential of cities to ignite a modern renaissance? With a video introduction from the President of NYU, John Sexton.

The results have been really inspiring and the winning teams will be meeting in Shanghai this March to refine their concepts for a week with mentors and professors. What a great way to spend Spring Break!

IDEO Make-a-thon
Impact and Making is a big passion for me. In February, I wondered if we could somehow bridge the gap between the online, virtual innovation happening on OpenIDEO.com with the tangible, physical prototyping of a hackathon event to bring some of those big (and small) ideas into reality. The IDEO Make-a-thon was born! Our amazing Experience Team at IDEO London created unforgettable spaces and feasts for the event and designers in the studio shepherded our attendees through a process of rapid, iterative ideation and prototyping. Read more about the Make-a-thon on the IDEO Labs blog.

Taking place over 2 days, we were joined by 60 designers, programmers, makers, systems thinkers to tackle briefs for social good, ranging from cycle safety to supporting human rights defenders with Amnesty International.

The results have included the prototyping of a mobile app for Amnesty that is being trialled in the field to help those in danger of being illegally detained by unjust regimes.

IDEO Chicago also ran a Make-a-thon in October and looks like this event will spread to other global offices in 2013.

60 Minutes
One of the amazing things about working at IDEO is the people I get to collaborate with across the globe. In July, I was able to work with a handful of talented, collaborative designers from all the IDEO offices. We met in Palo Alto to undertake a project for 60 Minutes, which fed into in this feature piece about David Kelley and IDEO, hosted by Charlie Rose. I am also a big Charlie Rose fan from way back and it was surreal to be in his presence.

I think Feel Hwang really summarised it best in her Facebook post…

EYIF Unconvention

In June I was invited to speak at the European Young Innovators Forum in Brussels. The Forum brings together a community of young people from across Europe and exposes them to new ideas, professional mentorship and stimulating conversation. I got a chance to talk about the power of bottom-up innovation and how that can transform the world and was incredibly inspired by how motivated these young innovators were to establish their own paths in life and make a difference in the world.

I was so inspired in fact that, for our OpenIDEO challenge tackling youth employment, I submitted an idea called YouthCafe, which proposed focused on in-person workshops to expose young people to the creative, design thinking process.

As a believer in making things real, I went about prototyping some YouthCafe sessions with the help of IDEO colleagues in London and New York. The result was 2 successful nights where young people gathered to listen to inspirational speakers talk about their careers and then spend some time brainstorming and prototyping new ideas – for some, it was the first time attempting this design process.

Keep an eye out on the Meetup page for YouthCafe events in 2013.

Japan Geigermap
The Japan Geigermap was really a project from 2011 and provided a simple map view showing crowd-sourced radiation geiger counter readings from across Japan. It was created in the wake of the Japan Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster and has seen 500,000+ visits from around the world.

At the end of 2011, I was invited to join a workshop in Tokyo with Safecast and travel with them to the Fukushima region to take readings. This kind of on-the-ground social action has stayed with me throughout 2012 and continues to drive my passion for doing innovation within and with local communities, especially for places in need.

Detroit Innovator’s Guild
On-the-ground social innovation was what I found in Detroit. In October, I was invited by the MIT Media Lab and the IDEO Boston office to travel to Detroit and take part in the first installment of the Innovator’s Guild, the brainchild of Joi Ito to foster innovation and collaboration within communities of need.

Our group was a mix of MIT Media Lab students, IDEO designers and inspiring folks from industry. We came together for 3 days to explore Detroit and do good and we really had no idea what to expect.

I was humbled to discover individuals, faced with hardship and a lack of resources, devoting their lives to the betterment of their own community.

Among them were Shaka Senghor, Clement Brown and Yousef Shakur.

Shaka had been serving a nineteen year prison sentence and while incarcerated, he turned his life around and became an author and inspirational leader to young people in the Detroit community. He met Yousef while in prison and Yousef has created a neighbourhood sanctuary providing computers, food and uplifting reading material for locals without much exposure to positive messages.

You can read Shaka’s account of his Innovator’s Guild experience here.

Playsettings – Enabled-by-Design-a-thon
It’s great to see the growing desire to infuse the hack-a-thon process with user insight, design and iterative prototyping. Enabled-by-design organised a Design-a-thon event in November, bringing together designers and those with physical challenges in their daily lives to make accessible products both desirable and fit-for-purpose.

My team created Playsettings, concepts for playful crockery that explore new ways to eat.

True North App
I had been wanting to create an iPhone app for some time, mainly as an excuse to learn Objective C and also for the nerd streetcred of having an app out there.

In June, I released True North, a personal compass that points to the places (and people) you care about. The inspiration and need for this came out of my own nomadic lifestyle and longing for the places I had left behind. Read more about the design process here.

One of the best pieces of feedback I have received to date was from a gentlemen who said he had the app pointed at the Mandarin Oriental in New York, which served as a compass to his reward if he achieved his health and business goals. Indeed, it’s been rewarding to find people repurposing it for their own intimate desires.

Is it the Internet of Things?
The irreverent streak in me is always looking for ways to question trends and buzzwords. My colleague, Tom Hulme, and I were discussing what traits qualified something as the Internet of Things when I found an opportunity to bring satire into the mix by creating Is It the Internet of Things? – a quiz that diagnoses if your project is indeed… the Internet of Things.

Christopher Hitchens
At the end of 2011, one of my personal heroes, whose writings have guided me in how I approach life and the world, passed away. I wrote a tribute to Christopher Hitchens here. As I think about guiding thoughts for 2013, I am reminded of a lesson from Hitchens in his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian. In it, he writes that one should live as if the world was what we imagined it to be, rather than succumbing to its less enviable qualities. Of course, he was talking about the oppression brought about despot regimes – and the rebellion of people like Oscar Wilde and Rosa Parks. I still think this notion of as if applies to our smaller daily lives, in which we, as designers & innovators, try to shape and create the world as if it was one in which we wanted to live.

Here’s Hitchen’s quote on the subject:

In the late Victorian period, Oscar Wilde – master of the pose but not a mere poseur – decided to live and act “as if” moral hypocrisy were not regnant. In the deep south in the early 1960s, Rosa Parks decided to act “as if” a hardworking black woman could sit down on a bus at the end of the day’s labour. In Moscow in the 1970s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to write “as if” an individual scholar could investigate the history of his own country and publish his findings. They all, by behaving literally, acted ironically. In each case, as we know now, the authorities were forced first to act crassly and then to look crass, and eventually to fall victim to stern verdicts from posterity. However, this was by no means the guaranteed outcome, and there must have been days when the “as if” style was exceedingly hard to keep up.

And on a more personal note…
My other motto for 2013 is to let your geek flag fly!

 Have a great 2013, everyone!


  1. Awesome Haiyan! Keep on shining:)

  2. Stay awzm Haiyan!!

    – colin

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