Our Summer Reading List, 2015

Whether we’re digging into a new design manifesto or getting caught up in a classic novel, summer vacation is our favorite time to clear our heads, hit reset and expose ourselves to fresh ideas and ways of looking at the world by reading a good book. Earlier this summer Li’l Robin founder Anke Stohlmann completed her thesis in the School of Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design program. For this year’s edition of our annual reading list, we asked nine of our fellow 2015 SVA IxD graduates and one alumni to recommend books that have inspired them—during their time in the program, over the course of their careers, or simply what they’re reading right now. Now that our studies are over—and as a new school year begins for others—these titles will help us continue to learn.

The selected books explore how design and technology intersects with our lives, how organization can lead to creative breakthroughs (two readers chose the same book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), and include more than a few good novels and visual narratives. Here’s what we’re downloading now. You can also find them on our bookshelf.

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Learning Through Stories

Image of two girls using Li'l Stories in the physical and digital world

When we were very young, stories helped us make sense of the world, and in many ways they laid the foundation for how we’ve interacted with information—and people—ever since. (The irresistible appeal of a good story lasts well into adulthood, as our late-night reading and binge-viewing habits demonstrate.) Whether children are the ones doing the telling or are simply listening to a parent or teacher, stories give kids the opportunity to fire up their imaginations, put themselves in other people’s shoes, and learn how to communicate. Story structures and elements like characters, plots and settings engage the developing mind in ways that help organize thinking and make connections between words and images—the fundamentals of reading and writing. Storytelling is an amazing catalyst: When children build narratives around content they have learned in class or at home, they strengthen and enhance what they have learned. They begin to make ideas their own.

Li'l Stories product image

Li’l Stories framework: storyboard, app, and web site.

Li’l Stories is an educational framework that helps teach first through third graders to express themselves through visual, spoken and written storytelling. Structured as a classroom activity, the framework guides students through the collaborative creation of a visual narrative. The system supports the teaching of communication, creative thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as self-expression and confidence with others. It also establishes concepts of physical and digital production, and how the two are linked. An accompanying app and website give students the opportunity to capture their stories, so teachers can assess them and share them with parents.

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A Year of Connection

Red Hook Hub ribbon cutting event

Red Hook Hub ribbon cutting event at the Brooklyn Public Library in Red Hook, December 6, 2014

Human-centered design is the focus of our practice, and over the past year we’ve had a chance to work on diverse projects that have connected people—communities, students, and readers—with information, and with each other.

Working with AIGA/NY Design/Relief, an initiative to support areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, we helped create The Hub, a new information system for Red Hook, Brooklyn, which officially launched last month. (Read more about The Hub in our November newsletter.) For students and educators, we collaborated on <codr>, an online tool that helps kids move from the building block-based coding language Scratch to text-based coding languages like Javascript and Python. And finally, somewhere in between it all, we got to spend time with subjects as varied as Paul McCartney, James Dean, Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Tony Bennett, the Vietnam War era, and “The Wizard of Oz,” as part of our ongoing design of the LIFE Books series.

We had an inspiring 2014 and look forward to staying in touch in 2015. Happy New Year!

Connecting a Community With Design

Image of the Red Hook Fest, June 2014

Introducing The Hub at the Red Hook Fest, June 16, 2014.

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was largely unprepared for the storm’s fury. The physical vulnerability of the area was matched by a fragile system of communication that left many residents wondering what to do, both during and after the disaster.

The Hub is a new communication system that will make sure Red Hook stays informed about future emergencies—and everything else that’s going on in the neighborhood, one of New York’s most exciting places to live, work and visit. Working with AIGA/NY’s Design/Relief initiative, Li’l Robin developed the project as part of a team that includes the design studio MGMT. design, the non-profit strategists Amplifier Project, and the communications specialist David Al-Ibrahim.

Red Hook is particularly close to our hearts: Li’l Robin founder Anke Stohlmann lives in the adjacent neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, and has seen first-hand the effect Sandy has had on the community.

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Our Summer Reading List, 2014

Illustration of a stack of books

As dedicated but typically distracted readers, we often wonder what titles our friends and colleagues are reading—and wishing we had the time to take in the books ourselves. Summer gives us an opportunity to play catch up, and a chance to ask around for recommendations. In our continuing tradition of gathering summer reading lists, we consulted several of our inspiring collaborators from the design projects and programs we’ve been involved in over the past year. The polled include our fellow participants in “Implementing Impact! The Business of Social Design,” a one-week workshop on design for social impact, presented by the School of Visual Arts Impact: Design for Social Change program; our partners in <codr>, an app we helped create as part of the 12-Week Prototyping Bootcamp for educators and technologists, presented by EDesign Lab and 4.0 Schools; and our teammates in Design/Relief, the AIGA/NY initiative to help areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.

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