A writer all her life, Christine MacLean believes words well chosen make the world a better place. She's written for Herman Miller and other clients for more than 10 years.
November 23, 2010
On November 4, the Art Directors Club inducted designer, architect, and author George Nelson posthumously into its Hall of Fame. Every two years the Club honors individuals who have made “significant contributions to art direction and visual communications, and whose lifetime achievements represent the highest standards of creative excellence.” The others inducted this year include Fabien Baron, creative director; Matthew Carter, typographer; and Brigitte Lacombe, photographer.
Nelson is a big part of Herman Miller’s history. He was director of design here from 1946–1971 and he designed many iconic pieces, including the coconut chair, the marshmallow sofa, and the platform bench. And we think his design philosophy—“total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything”—is more relevant than ever.
If you’re in New York, you can see works by the new inductees free of charge at the ADC Gallery until November 23, 2010.
Nelson’s work is also part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
First published on Discover.
Design, Products, Technology
September 9, 2010
Designers excel at thinking about form and function. They are less adept at thinking about objects as cultural expression, says Prasad Boradkar, an associate professor of Industrial Design at Arizona State University and author of a new book, Designing Things: The Cultural Meaning of Objects.
“It’s not a part of normal design discourse to talk about theory—to talk about how we [designers] think about objects,” he says. He hopes the book, which is an interdisciplinary look at the cultural meanings of the things we use every day and the designer’s role in that process, will be the impetus for more discussion.
The book also explores the worth of things, the making things, the greed imperative, planned obsolescence, and even fetish objects, all the while using product examples from companies like Nike, Bling H2O, and Herman Miller.
He was inspired to include Herman Miller in the book not just because of the iconic nature of some products but also because of the company’s values, including the way it embraced design early and for the right reasons, its emphasis on durability (the 12-year warranty), and sustainability. And he admires the way the company engages external designers. It’s a great way, he says, for the company to get “a fresh perspective every time.”
Balance, Products, Technology
April 21, 2010
[Discover just ran this fascinating piece by Christine and I couldn't resist it for Lifework. I'd love to know if any of you try this software. You'll have to read to the end to see why I've included a photo of Jim and Pam's wedding from The Office, courtesy of NBC's official site. Cerentha]
It started where it always does, with me wishing for more time. Since 24 hours a day is all any of us get, I’d need to be more efficient. Enter RescueTime, software that records, in a very Big Brotherish way, where you spend your time on your computer. As you use Word or Excel, shop at zappos.com, or play Farmville on Facebook, RescueTime is running in the background, mercilessly recording ever minute of it.
Initially I thought it was cool. The very first day, RescueTime awarded me a blue ribbon and told me I was in the top two percent of users—oh, the rush! But it turned out I hadn’t properly launched the program the day before, and those stellar results were only for the previous five minutes.
I have several computers I use throughout the day for different projects. Every time I returned to the computer on which I’d installed the software, RescueTime demanded to know where I’d been. The default responses include “Leisure” and “Other work” and the program allows you to customize. (I created a category called “Doggy management,” since I have a high maintenance dog.)
Often it was tough to be accurate. On a normal day, I might be away from my main computer for four hours, during which I’ve worked on a client’s project, thrown meat in the crock pot, and played tennis. There’s no way to log those activities individually, unless you remember to return to your computer between each one.
Furthermore, I sometimes found myself responding to the constant “where have you been, young lady?” like a recalcitrant teenager, clicking on the “None of your business (don’t log this time)” button, even when the time had been spent productively. While this tactic was personally gratifying, it did not help my productivity score.
To its credit, RescueTime did curtail my Facebook habit. I work alone and Facebook is to me what the water cooler is to office workers. RescueTime noticed when I lingered there too long (something you can set in the preferences) and notified me. I learned how to go to Facebook, skim my friends’ status updates, comment on a few, and leave. No more disappearing down the rabbit hole!
That worked great until a friend emailed me a link to Superwolf Ogles, a Facebook page written by a cat who is in an open relationship and has political leanings (Meo-ism).
Impossible to resist, right? I took a quick peek. Soon I was looking at a picture of a young woman named Steffani sitting on the Great Wall of China, and then at wedding photos of another complete stranger.
RescueTime waggled its Big Brother finger at me, but, already on my way to the video clip of Jim and Pam’s wedding dance (on “The Office”), I just sneered. The only one who can rescue my time is still me.
February 11, 2010
You’ve probably seen the new Stanford research: Customers at Starbucks that listed calorie content of each food ordered 6% fewer calories per visit; calories per transaction fell by 26% in customers whose orders averaged more than 250 calories. It’s reassuring to know that if the information is staring us in the face, we make slightly better choices. Maybe America’s collective waistband will start to shrink.
Restaurants have been a part of the problem, skewing our idea of serving sizes, which are often two to four times larger than the government standards. If eating like that were confined to eating out, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. But, researchers say, serving sizes also ballooned at home (which is double trouble for those who work from home). When asked to bring in medium-sized potatoes, bagels, and cookies, students of one nutrition professor brought in foods that were at least twice the size of standard serving.
If you want a visual refresher on what really constitutes a serving size, the Mayo Clinic site does a nice job or use these comparisons to familiar objects. While you might end up right-sizing some foods, the Stanford research in Starbucks showed that coffee drinks are off limits. Listing the calories of those had little impact on buying behavior.
[The image above is from the May Clinic Guide to Portion Control]
February 10, 2010
Friends, neighbors, parents, inlaws, significant others—sometimes they all seem to be conspiring to make sure you don’t get any work done. As long as you don’t have your own kids underfoot (that’s an entirely different matter) here’s everything you need to know in 30 seconds or less.
1) Get Caller ID and use it.
2) Hide your car. If you don’t have a garage, park the car a few streets away.
3) Hide out in a room that’s not easily seen from the front door. Pull the shades. Then play dead. Your curiosity will be your own worst enemy when the doorbell rings. Don’t give into it!
If, in spite of 1, 2, and 3, these people still manage to get through to you, then 4) say no. No, I can’t go fishing. No, I can’t watch your darling toddler “for a minute.” No, I can’t fly to Bora Bora with you—even if you have a free ticket for me. Say firmly, I’m working. I’ll call you back after 5:00 (or whenever) to set up a time when we can go fishing, when I can watch your toddler, when I will fly to Bora Bora. Many telecommuters find that they are their own worst enemy and research shows that 44% of all work interruptions are self-imposed, e.g., stopping to check e-mail. If you need help overcoming distractions of all kinds, you might try reading this.
By the way, Amazon sells the “Go Away Come In” door mat pictured above for $23.49.
January 22, 2010
Job satisfaction among workers is at its lowest point in 22 years—just 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work, down from 61% in 1987, when the Conference Board conducted its first survey. Workers are dispirited by having fewer raises, more financial responsibility for their healthcare, and uninteresting work. Only 51% find their jobs interesting today, compared to 70% in 1987.
While there’s no research on what’s happened to worker satisfaction among telecommuters lately, they’re likely less satisfied, too, since they are subject to the same business realities. People who work from home probably still have more job satisfaction than their office-bound counterparts, however; they can comfort themselves with “at least I get to work from home.”
But not everyone who can telecommute should do so all the time. Research from the University of Connecticut shows that while a worker’s job satisfaction initially increases, satisfaction “tapers off at higher levels of telecommuting.” Worker autonomy is a factor, too. The researchers found that “if you regularly depend upon others to do your job or have limited job discretion, extensive telecommuting could put your sense of job satisfaction at serious risk.”
January 20, 2010
Whether you’re working from an office or from home, stress is a part of work. We manage it by eating right, exercising, and owning a dog. Yes, having a dog can reduce stress—but only until the dog starts barking during an important call, causing your blood pressure to shoot through the roof.
Here are a few things to try if you have an excessively barky dog. If the dog is yours, it is possible to train it not to bark, but it’s going to take some dedicated time. Consider how much time it took you to potty train a child. That’s the kind of dedicated time we’re talking about here.
Another option is the bark collar, which come in several varieties. There are ones that emit a high frequency sound dogs don’t like (effective only about 50% of the time), ones that shock the dog (not recommended for obvious reasons), and ones that release a puff of citronella, which is effective about nine out of ten times.
If the dog is your neighbor’s and you’ve already talked to the owner but the situation hasn’t changed, consider posting a video of the offending dog in all its barking glory on YouTube’s Barking Dog Video Group. The folks at barkingdogs.net say people have reported that “their recalcitrant neighbors finally quieted their habitually barking dogs after they learned that YouTube featured footage that showed the animal barking disruptively.” It’s unclear whether it’s because they are ashamed or because it finally forces them to see the problem with some objectivity.
January 5, 2010
According to the Telework Trendlines 2009 report, more men than women telecommute (defined as working at least one day a month from home or another remote location during normal business hours). Sixty-one percent of men telecommuted in 2008, compared to 39% of women. While the percentage of men telecommuting increased by 8% between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of women decreased by 8%. The demographic profile of today’s telecommuter: 40-year-old male college graduate living in a household earning $75,000 or more a year. Does anyone else find it surprising that more men than women telecommute? Maybe that’s only because of the way the research defined telecommute—just one day/month.
Less surprising is the location telecommuters most often choose to do their work; 87% of telecommuters said they telecommute from home, 41% work from client offices, and 37% work in the car. There’s still no place like home.
December 28, 2009
You hear it from parents everywhere: “Young people today seem to have a hard time growing up. When I was that age, I already. . .” Fill in the blank. Had a mortgage. Had two kids. Owned my own company.
But the economy certainly isn’t doing young adults any favors. One in 10 adults aged 18 – 34 who have moved in with their parents say the recession made them do it, according to the Pew Research Center. Thirteen percent of adults with grown children say one of their children has moved back home in the last year.
That makes life interesting when your office is at home, says “Karen,” who works from her home office every day and asked not to be identified. When her son graduated from college, he moved back for a few months while he looked for a job. Although he’d been self-sufficient through college, “as soon as he moved back home, bam, his expectations were back to high school,” she says. “If I was in the house, he assumed I was at his disposal–for chatting, if nothing more substantive.” She solved it by using a trick teenagers know well—earbuds. “If I couldn’t hear him, I didn’t feel compelled to respond.”
December 21, 2009
One of the best—and worst–things about working in a home office is that anytime you’re hungry, you can eat. Potato chips, ice cream, and that last slice of pie are to a home office worker what the Sirens’ songs were to Ulysses—simply irresistible. Binding yourself to your chair, the way Ulysses was bound to the mast, might work, but there’s a better way.
Margaret Dosland, a registered dietitian in Olympia, Washington, says the key is to have healthy food close at hand that is also satisfying. Dosland, who sometimes works from home, keeps a stash of unsalted almonds in her desk drawer and eats a small handful mid-morning. They are a great source of calcium, magnesium, Vitamin E and Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and dietary fiber. A hard boiled egg or single-serving size pack of tuna have protein and can keep you going strong until lunch. Clementines, carrots, sweet potato sticks and blueberries are all snacks that pack a nutritional wallop.
And if you want to think, don’t forget to drink! “Dehydration reduces the volume of blood in the body, and that means less oxygen to your brain,” says Dosland.
Finally, are chips ever okay? Absolutely, she says–if you plan to take a nap.