If you're happy and you know it…

Growing up, my mother cooked dinner while watching the daily news. I would say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a news channel that only showed happy news?”

An engineering student at Northwestern University created a Happiness Club. The group spreads joy around campus, helping students smile and laugh during stressful times. From blowing bubbles to handing out temporary tattoos during exam week, the club lifts student spirit on campus. Through the help of Happiness Club, Northwestern builds comaradie, rapport and a successful environment.

In the workplace, laughter and smiling increases effectiveness and reduces stress. At HB, we listen to Pandora (we decided today it was time for Christmas tunes), enjoy fresh baked cookies, have a beer, throw a football and laugh when someone busts a move. These simple tactics alter the collective mood and develop a creative, team-based environment with increased project discussion and team feedback.

So… Smile. Laugh. Giggle. Dance.

Clean-Tech Post-It Note

As a fan of design and sustainability, I keep a post-it note on my daily planner of interesting product designs that help reduce impact on the environment. The list has recently begun to tear and is now in three pieces… so there’s no better time to share these interesting tid-bits before my post-it needs to be recycled:

  • Levi’s Green Jeans and Waterless Jeans: Not only is the fabric organic, but so are the other components. In fact, the entire garment-making process is organic.
  • Scott Toilet Paper: The company announces the first tubeless toilet paper role – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Read more.
  • Kindvines: An Arizona wine brand that uses a 100% reusable glass bottle. Read more.
  • Method Household Cleaners: A product that’s cool design form meets function. Read more.
  • Burt’s Bees: A company that speaks the truth – natural products that are actually natural. Read more.
  • Tau Speakers: If you think that waste paper cannot be recycled into electrical devices, then you are in for a surprise. Read more.

We are always posting cool new designs on Twitter. Check it out and share with us.

Rethinking Public Spaces

I recently took a trip to New York City to visit family. The highlight was a visit to Lincoln Center and the redesign of its public space (which I can proudly say that my brother-in-law, who works for FXFOWLE, helped architect!).

The redesign creates a direct connection to the city by creatively incorporating green space around the many buildings that comprise Lincoln Center.

The Center’s main public space, Hearst Plaza, consists of a green roof atop a restaurant, a reflecting pool featuring a sculpture by Henry Moore, and a tree-filled grove. The rooftop begins at terrace level, where patrons can use it as recreation space and climb upward towards the city skyscrapers.

Perhaps the most striking part of the redesign was the number of details that had to be carefully planned. For instance,

Trees lifted over the buildings by cranes

  • The trees and sculpture were moved via a crane OVER Lincoln Center because of the city location. This meant measurements had to be perfect for their placement.
  • A honeycomb-like web stretches over the green roof to stabilize the soil until roots are established.
  • Over 3,000 species of grass were considered for  resiliency and ability to retain a lush green color during the winter, and the London Plane species of tree was chosen because of its ability to withstand harsh weather and disease.
  • The benches were designed to be minimally invasive to the waterproofing system. Due to the complexity, a specific concrete from Quebec was used.

One simple mistake can cause a series of events that negatively impact the bottom line, time-frame, and ultimately, the outcome and public perception.

Details are often taken for granted. But details tell the design’s story and help to achieve excellence.

Race to the Top Funding

When it was announced that Massachusetts was one of the 12 states awarded federal funds for education reform, HB began to partner with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a brochure detailing the state’s Race to the Top plan.

The brochure provides information about the program, goals, strategy and how the funds will be allocated. Governor Deval Patrick describes the Race to the Top plan as, “the next chapter of education reform in Massachusetts.”

The design incorporates messages of transformation, innovation and reform of the school system through vivid, tactile imagery and illustrations.

Kites: More than a Child's Toy

Did you ever imagine a kite, the toy you played with as a child, might be a source of energy? My memory of a kite as a child was trying to get the kite to remain in the air for at least 30 seconds before it came crashing to the ground.

Some experts estimate that the total wind energy available for harvest is significantly greater than the current amount of energy required by everyone in the world. The number becomes much greater if you include high altitude wind energy, which is far beyond the reach of wind turbines, which have a reach of about 300 feet. The higher reach, the more wind that is present, which means more power. Researchers are looking at ways to trap this wind energy.

How about kites as a way to capture this energy? Researchers are working on creating kite turbines that create surprising amounts of clean, renewable energy. Nothing definitive yet, but a fascinating — and hopeful — idea.

Learn more by checking out this video.

1 Billion Pounds of E-Waste

Does your basement look like a high-tech salvage shop? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three-quarters of the computers sold in the US are piled in garages and closets.

So, how do you dispose of your old computer properly? And, where does your computer go when you recycle it? Watch out! Your computer might show up on a Best Buy billboard.

Best Buy has begun a creative marketing campaign to announce its new recycling initiative. The company’s goal is to collect one billion pounds of e-waste over the next five years. The program will allow individuals to bring electronics, regardless of where they were purchased, to Best Buy stores. Consumers that trade-in their electronics can receive gift cards for future purchases. As a way to announce its easy recycling program, Best Buy has plastered a giant billboard in Times Square with old electronics.

According to the US EPA, about 1.9 million tons of hazardous e-waste ended up in US landfills in 2005, but most e-waste sadly ends up in Africa and Asia. Only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled. Best Buy hopes that consumers will see it as a responsible retailer and therefore will prefer to shop in its stores. Frankly, it’s not just the retailers and manufacturers that need to be more responsible – it is all about consumers.

Sipping Wine, Helping our Planet

In need for a relaxing vacation? I have just the place! A week ago, I returned from a trip of rest and relaxation in Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley and San Francisco. My time at the vineyards was spent sipping wine and picnicking with delicious warm pesto bread, rosemary cheese, a creamy sheep cheese, fresh apricots and of course, chocolate.

While driving with the windows down over rolling hills of grape vines, I began to take note of the advancements in science and technology that the vineyards have incorporated.

One particular vineyard I visited, Grgich Hills Cellar, has an impressive commitment to sustainability and biodynamic farming. Installed on the rooftop are waterproof solar panels that generate 150kw of clean energy on a daily basis. The winery only needs 120kw, so the winery receives rebates for the additional energy generated. The winery saves about $70,000 a year!

The biodynamic farming technique at Grgich relies on natural cycles of the earth and cosmos, as well as natural farming techniques over artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The winery uses a mixture of dried horsetails and chamomile as an alternative to harmful sprays. The difference between biodynamic and organic farming is that biodynamic recognizes cosmic forces and uses them to enhance and balance the vine growth. Biodynamic farming treats the Earth as a living organism.

The outcome is a winery that acts as a large, pulsing, self-contained, self-sustaining eco-system.

If you have the opportunity, make a trip to Grgich and taste the highly praised Chardonnay with a buttery and subtle oak flavor. Or, as founder Mike Grgich describes the oak taste, “layers of  bouquet, complexity, and a little bit of extra joy to the finished product.”

If you have been to the area and have some preferred spots – or noticed your own use of sustainable agriculture or energy usage, please feel free to comment and tell us about it.

Grown-Up Fieldtrip

In the art world, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is considered one of the nation’s most esteemed art schools. Although I would never trade the education I received at GW (Go Colonials!), I’ve always been curious about RISD. I recently took a road trip and visited the prestigious school. Despite the pouring rain, cold, and miserable weather, the school’s creative energy broke through the clouds and provided an incredible experience.

While on-campus, I spent most of my time at the Musuem of Art. The most moving piece was a project by twelve RISD students and artist Pat Steir. It was a series of wall drawings that completely covered a 4,000 square foot room. The pencil drawings were drawn directly on the wall and were an examination of the human body. The drawings explored different shapes of eyes, ears, noses, lips, and other features. Imagine a wall entirely covered in eyes – round, winking, sad, excited, gleeful, and scared, all staring back at the viewer. It was a wonderful study of the expressions of the human body.

As designers, it is key to explore the complexity of every line, crease and wrinkle and the emotions they evoke. Every element of a design should have meaning and therefore every line should be treated with the utmost importance.

A Little Extra Creativity

Even though I am a graphic designer, doing fine arts brings out a different kind of creativity in me. There’s something about getting my hands covered with ink (who I am kidding, all over my arms, on my face, in my hair) that sparks my imagination. It activates something in my body that feels like an “itch” to keep designing; like the feeling you get when you drink too much coffee. It felt so good to be creating something with my hands.

We spent most of the semester doing monoprints and drypoint etching. On the right, is one of the prints I created and the printmaking plate.

Learn more about the technique at http://www.kettererkunst.com/dict/drypoint-etching.shtml.

Cheesy, Gooey Pizza

greenbox

I am a sucker for great packaging; it definitely influences my decisions. I am amazed when I come across packaging that is clever and useful. The GreenBox is a pizza box made from 100 percent recycled material that breaks down into serving plates and a storage container for leftover pizza. GreenBox produces varieties of five different sizes and has four patents pending, including containers for coffee, doughnuts and wings.

Check out this video on how the box works.