Category Archives: Program

Connecting across the Disciplines — Emotionally Durable Design

In the digital age of email, Skype, Google Hangout and the cloud-based document sharing, people sometimes wonder why they really need to meet face-to-face.  When our agenda is narrowly focused on a list of chores we need other people to help us check off, taking the trouble to meet them in person can seem like a burdensome waste of time.

But that approach forecloses the possibility of surprise.  It’s only when you’re co-located in a place with dozens of other people in person that you accidentally bump into people that you didn’t know you were going to see again, or meet new people whom you never expected to see, and leave yourself open to the possibility that your checklist is inferior to a plethora of possibilities.

But it turns out that face-to-face meetings accelerate innovation. Here’s a an excerpt from the ASEE blog “Connections” that summarizes some new research on innovation and what’s called “social tie density”:

Double the population of a city, and its economic productivity – both total and per-capital – shoots up an average 130 percent, according to 2010 research from the Santa Fe Institute. Now MIT researchers think they’ve found a cause for so-called “superlinear scaling”: Face-to-face interaction appears to boost corporate productivity. The team, led by Wei Pan, a computer science Ph.D. student, developed a formula using a variety of data – including cellphone data, location-tracking services and contagious disease rates – that can assign a city a social-tie-density score. A high score proves to be a very good predictor of a city’s productivity, using GDP and patenting rates as metrics. The formula could help urban planners do a better job in designing the several hundred new, large cities now on planning boards in China and India. While superlinear scaling occurs in U.S. and European cities, the phenomenon often dissipates in poorer countries, mainly because urban transportation is so rotten. Because social-tie density relies on face time to work its productivity magic, it tends to fall apart if people can’t move around a city fairly freely.

Xanthe Matychak, Make Better Stuff

Xanthe Matychak, Make Better Stuff

I asked Xanthe Matychak to come to ISSST2013 in Cincinnati just a couple of weeks before the conference was scheduled to begin.

Fortunately, she could could fly in from Ithaca NY, where she leads a movement called Make Better Stuff.  We slotted her into vacant spot in the program created by a cancellation and she came with an open mind.

Colin Fitzpatrick, University of Limerick

Colin Fitzpatrick, University of Limerick

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At some point, she met Colin Fitpatrick, from the University of Limerick.

The result of that meeting is this interview, posted here at Core77,  that explores the concept of “emotionally durable design”.


“I recently met Colin Fitzpatrick at the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies, where he spoke about the IAMECO, a product service system that he and his research group worked on with an Irish SME, MicroPro Computers. Colin is at MIT this summer, researching “Conflict Minerals,” which are the raw materials used in electronics that come from the war torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. Needless to say, he’s doing great work in the area of sustainable electronics. And lucky for us, he had some time to chat about his work and where he thinks all of this is going in the near future.”

ISSST Logo Draft

Here is a draft of an ISSST logo.  The design is inspired by Alan Jenn’s design, doodled on some paper at the Dinner Cruise at ISSST 2013.  The original design looked something like this:


And the version we’re considering looks like this:

ISSST Logo, maybe?

Comments?  Questions?  Opinions or suggestions?  We want to hear from the people who make this conference.



ISSST2014 – UNconference proposals?

Alan Bush came up to me at ISSST2013 and asked me what I thought of have an UNsession at ISSST2014.  As he explained it, the session wouldn’t have an agenda — just an overall theme.  The agenda would then be formulated by the participants, on the spot.

I loved it.

I said, “Alan, I want you to submit an UNabstract for your UNsession next Fall when we release the next Call for Papers.  Take a whole morning or afternoon, if you need it, and propose to produce some sort of product from it that can be shared with others.”

Alan tells me that this approach is called Open-Space Technology, and that it typically uses a bulletin board or some other approach for creating a marketplace or exchange for ideas.

I think many of us have probably experienced group brainstorming sessions where we use sketch pads and sticky notes to try and organize the collective ideas of the group.  At ISSST2013, Alan demonstrated something a little different called PollEverywhere, in which the audience uses cell phones to text message answers to a survey question, with the results of the survey appearing on the screen in real time. The results of Alan’s poll are here:


In a recent email, Alan explained how a real-time technology like this might be incorporated into a Open Space session at ISSST2014:

Dr. Seager,

As a follow up to our polling experiment, I would suggest the following if you were to attempt to do this at 2014:

  1. Ask presenters to submit 1-3 questions for the audience to respond to.
  2. Questions get projected on a separate smaller screen, so the presenter doesn’t have to be responsible for it during the presentation. This obviously requires more equipment.
  3. All questions get routed through the same platform, like poll everywhere.  This allows for some aggregation of data. See below for further possibilities.

also possible:

  • have a general question or two for the audience to respond to. This would allow for cross-case comparison on things like: did you find this presentation insightful? What larger questions this presentation bring up for you? What could the presenter do to present the content more clearly?
  • When this was done at a conference at UT, the convener for each session would post questions between each on the main screen.

Thanks again, and I hope to be in touch.