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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From Scratching to Coding

Li’l Robin’s founder Anke Stohlmann at <codr> presentation, June 5, 2014.

For today’s students, coding is the new literacy: If they don’t know how to code, their job prospects will most certainly be limited in the future. In a YouTube video posted for Computer Science Education Week last December, President Barack Obama asked the U.S. to learn how to code: “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

Block-based code (Scratch), left; professional code, right.

Many children are now learning basic coding skills in Scratch, a popular programming environment that teaches the concepts of coding using a simple visual system based on building blocks. But it’s a big leap from Scratch to the “real” programming languages of Javascript, Python and Processing, and it’s hard to know which language to learn next. <codr> is a new app that helps kids “graduate” from Scratch to the more complex text-based programming languages that are used at a professional level. L’il Robin founder Anke Stohlmann collaborated on the creation of the app with the educator Keledy Kenkel and the developers Adam Wooton and Hassan Abdel-Rahman.

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Connecting People Through Stories

Panel Detail from Interactive exhibit by Collective Story at Border Crossers' Gala

Interactive exhibit by Collective Story at the Border Crossers’ Gala, May 8th, 2014

Telling stories is a time-tested, universal and appealing form of expression that allows people to creatively engage with the world around them. Collective Story is a new project that uses the power of storytelling to start community conversations. Designed as a simple, low-fidelity intervention—an oversized piece of paper posted in a public area—Collective Story invites passersby to begin a dialogue, use their imaginations, or voice their concerns. The approach promotes civic engagement and critical thinking in a collaborative way that also happens to be a lot of fun.

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