Design as Energy Exchange

by on November 1, 2012
in book, design

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Infinite
The core concept that good design minimizes the exchange of human effort/or energy – to achieve a desired result.

Energy shows up in design as friction and how much human effort or energy, and resources are required to overcome it. The primary benefit of looking at a designed system through the ‘energy lens’ is that it surfaces mental friction sources, as well as physical hurdles. By articulating the emotional thought barriers of a design problem, we can more closely align solutions with unarticulated ’emotional’ human needs. By acknowledging each of the friction points (thought and physical) in this way we can think holistically about solutions that incorporate the emotional needs, as well as the (more typically addressed) physical needs of human beings within designed systems.

Before we jump in, I should hedge… because ‘people are snowflakes,’ none of us is completely alike. So while writing about something so abstract as ‘human thought energy’, please assume the best possible intent here. Don’t take this as a literal document of ‘how all people are.’ This is my sincerest attempt to articulate a human pattern that I have observed within myself, with other designers, customers, usability participants, colleagues, and all of the beautiful human beings that I have had the grace of sharing life with. Ok then, with that, let’s begin with a design problem.

‘Transportation from home to work for a new passenger, during the week, within a reasonable time constraint of thirty minutes.’

For example, ‘how many minutes does it take to get to work from home on the local transit?’ Is one poignant and simple measurement of a public transit system. And if we look more deeply, thinking about this scenario in terms of energy expenditure (overall human effort) what are the real costs? What are the true hurdles? What are the hidden barriers? What can we learn about humans and how they behave, make decisions, and take action? Let’s start by codifying the various friction points for the scenario above, ‘the morning commute on public transit’ and expose the subtle implications of human energies required to successfully navigate an existing system to the desired outcome.

Thought friction for a new passenger on public transit in the form of, questioning:
▪ How long will it take to get from my current location to my desired destination?
▪ Is this time investment acceptable relative to alternatives?
▪ What are the alternatives?
▪ How far away is the pickup or transit location from my current location?
▪ How long will it take to get to the pickup/transit location?
▪ What will the weather be like?
▪ Will I have to make other investments to do this sustainably?
▪ Will this be a sustainable solution?
▪ What will the impact to my day/other regular commitments be?
▪ Are there hidden costs I’m not taking into account?
▪ How much will this cost?
▪ How will I pay?
▪ How do the costs relate to the costs of alternatives?
▪ How will I feel doing this?
▪ How will others feel about me doing this?
▪ How will I feel about myself doing this?
▪ How will this impact my other needs (social, survival, etc.)?
▪ Will I still need to have other transportation alternatives?
▪ Who else relies on me now for transportation?
▪ Would it be easier if I lived somewhere else?
▪ Do I really want to relocate?
▪ Where can I get answers to all of my questions?
▪ This is overwhelming, what can I do?

I’m sure there are many, many more questions, but there’s enough here to provide a reliable example. As humans approaching any new solution to a life problem, we expend a lot of energy thinking, primarily in the form of questioning. We have very long, complex conversations with ourselves. This is how we begin. We question until we have created enough hunger, enough internal motivation, to take action by physically seeking information. This critical last question, ‘What can I do?’ is the question we ask ourselves to inspire action, and it is here that thought energy begins to trend towards action.

However, before actual action is taken, generally we (at least most of us) expend even more ‘thought energy’ solutioning. Solutioning is word that I use to imply the expenditure of energy simply thinking about different ways to solve problems, or more specifically to find answers to questions. The motivation and goal of solutioning is to find within ourself the most effective action that will produce the most beneficial solution to our satiate our self-invented hunger. Here are some examples of solutioning.

Thought friction for a new passenger on public transit in the form of, solutioning:
▪ I could look online at the metro website to get more information
▪ I could call metro and ask them questions about how all this works
▪ I could call my friend to ask him how he gets around
▪ I could map out various routes and figure out how much time is involved
▪ I could review my finances to figure how much I’m spending on vehicle payments, maintenance, repairs, and gas
▪ I could try it out when I don’t have other commitments, and see what it’s like
▪ What should I do first?
▪ What will give me the most important answers first?
▪ What do i need to know first?
▪ What is most important?

I just love this. This is human ingenuity at work from the perspective of pure thought energy. I love how amazingly powerful we humans are at solving problems. From here we are actively expending energy (literally burning calories) thinking about actionable solutions to our questions, but we are still just thinking. This is still energy, no physical action, yet. Additionally, we often do this segment of thinking in the blink of an eye, going through such a process often times so quickly that it might only be literally a few seconds, before we graduate to the next step, decision making.

Thought friction for a new passenger on public transit in the form of, decision making:

Deciding importance:
▪ I need to know how far it is to the station and how to get there
▪ Then I need to know how far the stop is from my work

Deciding actions:
▪ I’ll go online and figure that out
▪ Then I’ll try it out on Tuesday

Assumptions emerge – beliefs about the future:
▪ I assume I can just pay with my debit card when I get there

Aspirations emerge – visualizations of the future:
▪ I hope it isn’t raining, damn where is my umbrella

Wow, so all of this, in our own heads, before a single physical action is taken. How many calories were consumed just getting to an idea of what to actually do? Are these the right actions? Are we focused on the right things? What can we take away here as designers? What can we learn from the energy exchange of thinking to improve design solutions? What can we learn about ourselves, with regard to how our own expenditure of thought energy is leveraged, and most interestingly, how close is all of this to how your own mind works?

Architectural Application, And Systems Thinking

by on September 8, 2012
in book, design

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Infinite

I like to apply architectural or physical thinking to virtual systems and concepts. It can be very clarifying when working in a virtual space. Ask, where does this door go (a button or a link), what is the mood I’m looking to create in the lobby (home or landing page), how long do people have to wait in the waiting area (progress pages)? You might find some interesting answers. After all all design has it’s roots in architecture. All of the core principles started in the physical an analog world. It is also an effective means to communicate complex issues to team members in a simple and direct manner. The physical metaphor can be easily forgotten, but it is a powerful tool.

I also like to articulate system interactions architecturally. It helps me model and visualize how each component of a system works together. If you think about the internal combustion engine as a whole system it can seem quite complicated. but if you break it down into it’s sub-components, or sub-systems it starts to make a lot more sense, even to those who aren’t mechanically inclined. Starting with the base requirements, and engine needs, fuel, fire, oil and air to operate. There is a system for each. They each serve a specific function. The fuel system integrates with extra-system (the gas station) monitors and stores the fuel (gas tank, gas gauge), delivers fuel to the fire system (electrical / spark plugs) and so on and so forth. If you can break down your concept architecturally into sub-systems, or page patterns, it immediately becomes much more tangible.

Holistic Perspective

by on September 8, 2012
in book, design, life

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Infinite

Great so let’s say you have a vision. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Or even better, perhaps you’ve recognized you have a vision gap, and are considering manifesting a vision for your project. How is a vision leveraged?

Holistic perspective, is big picture thinking. It’s a right brained activity. It’s the act of taking a step back from the painting to evaluate the gestalt of the work. A good vision consists of the following ingredients:

   ▪ A single specific, quantifiable, difficult to achieve goal
   ▪ No more than two secondary goals that are also specific, quantifiable, and challenging
   ▪ Clear milestones with dates, including:
      ▫ Clear exit criteria for the current milestone
      ▫ Clear entrance criteria for the next milestone
   ▪ A concept to help the team visualize the vision
   ▪ A regular process to check-in, view progress holistically relative to the vision, and ratify (only if absolutely necessary)
   ▪ A communication / messaging plan for the vision
   ▪ Agreement and commitment from the team on the vision

While I have had the honor of learning from some of the best and the brightest in the industry, in working with vision, the item that has been lacking, has been “A regular process to check-in, view progress holistically relative to the vision, and ratify (only if absolutely necessary).” This is important, because in the world of technology today, things change so rapidly that there needs to be a release valve to adjust the plan but only if absolutely necessary. There also need to be a regular review, where teams “take-a-step-back” from their day to day deliverables and check-ins to measure progress relative to the concept. This will reinvigorate, empower, and motivate the group. By instrumenting this holistic perspective into the team, and making the review of progress, relative to a clearly articulated concept builds the muscle of holistic thinking into teams. It makes agreements on priorities, dates, commitments, easier. It helps everyone communicate consistently internally and externally, and has amazing impact on morale, and camaraderie.

So the action you can take is to kick-start the discussion to get a vision articulated. And assuming you’re a creative, start building your concept car.

The Power and Importance of Vision

by on September 7, 2012
in book, design, life

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Infinite

“All art is the imagination of love” – W.J. Turner

To get to your destination you need three things:
1. A map – to guide you through your journey end-to-end
2. Headlights – to see/predict far enough in advance that you don’t run into something when it gets dark
3. Most importantly, a destination.

Your vision of where you are going is your ultimate destination. it’s not where you are now, but where you see yourself arriving. It’s your ultimate goal, your north star. It’s the thing that keeps you going, when the going gets tough, and with any project worth a damn – it will get tough. It’s also a tool that can be leveraged to elucidate goals/milestones/checkpoints, help manage internal team and external team/partnership agreements, as well as influence project priorities. Without a vision it’s quite simple, you don’t know where you or your project is going. More importantly without knowing where you are headed, how do you know what to do next? Do you turn right, or left?

Carrying the above metaphor through it is very clear how important a vision is. The more specific, tangible, and detailed you can be about where you are headed the better your chances of arriving. In my experiences working within large corporations, and even smaller companies, and startups, this has been one of the most common leadership errors in execution. A lack of a clear vision (or disagreement about a ‘common vision’ but more on this later) for the project and team to rally behind. This is simply a plan without a destination. Without an agreed upon destination your project will just become a series of day-to-day myopic events and deliverables, without an understanding of how the pieces fit together.

Also most importantly, without a vision there is no definition for success and/or failure, which is why I think they are so hard to come by. Folks with high seats in large companies have a vested interest in keeping them, a vision from leadership means accountability to metrics, and results.

Take a minute within your own project or task at hand and ask yourself the following questions:
▪ Why are you doing what you are doing?
▪ What is the most important thing with regard to your project?
▪ Is it clear how the piece you are working on fits into the larger system?
▪ Is the system clearly articulated end-to-end?
▪ What is the priority of what you are doing, relative to the contributions of others?
▪ What is the priority of what you are doing relative to what you could be doing?
▪ Based upon when you started, and how long it’s taken you to get where you are, when will you really arrive?
▪ Do you know if the actual arrival is acceptable?
▪ What do you tell other people, stakeholders, teams is most important about what you are doing?
▪ Do other members of your team, tell other people, stakeholders, and teams the same thing?
▪ Do you and members of your team agree on what’s most important?
▪ When you disagree with members on your team, how do you find common ground?
▪ Once you arrive with what you are currently working on, is it clear what is next?

These questions (among others) serve to clarify whether or not you have a clear agreed upon vision for your project.

So what can you do? Well gather the troops, identify all the important stakeholders, and go through the questions above. Once you’ve got answers to each of them you should be well on your way.

Specifically I like the idea of the concept car. A concept car is typically a radical (typically non-functional) prototype of an automobile to showcase a vision or a direction for the future. They are often used to spark debate, conversation about the future, and monitor public response relative to future investments. They are a vision! General Motors designer Harley Earl is generally credited with inventing the idea as far back as the 1950’s. If GM could do this sixty years ago with analog technology, we’re certainly far more capable of radicalizing vision today. I like concept cars because they are generally non-functional.

They’re simply a very specific, detailed, concrete idea. They force what I call the rubber-band effect, where they stretch organizations and teams to think differently about technological investments, and stretch themselves to innovate to meet or exceed the concept. In my experience within the world of technology, a good vision is about three years beyond what a team is capable of today. While this can be uncomfortable (more on coping with change later…) to introduce to an organization or team, good leadership will recognize the inherent value in such investments, and support such efforts. Without stretching themselves, teams tend to stagnate, falling into predictable patterns exercising the same muscles they already have, rather than training to strengthen and challenge themselves. A concept is an ultimate vision, because it challenges teams to grow.

The Infinite – Introduction

by on September 7, 2012
in book, design, life


There are generally two categories of design problems that need solving. Those that do not have an existing solution, and those that have an existing solution, but are in need of a better solution. This segment of the book focus on solving problems that may already have solutions, but are in need of improvement. This is the wheelhouse of innovation, and occasionally of invention. If you’re looking for the raw nuts and bolts, or the “how-to” guide to design, start with the other half. Do please come back and read this half as well.

I will preface by stating that the intention of this segment, “The Infinite” is to focus on the pure infinite joy of creativity. The true inner spirit where creative ideas manifest, the physiological responses of gut-feeling and instinct, acceptance of deterministic decision making, and the absolution of problem solving. As for any finite problem there are next to Infinite solutions. The trick is identifying the right solution.

Henceforth, quite organically this segment of the book will move forward organically, may feel unorganized, will run on at times, may get temperamental even emotional, will most certainly wax philosophical, and even touch upon spiritual themes. After all it is the inner creative joyful spirit within us that put me on the path to writing this book, and you on the creative path which ultimately lead to reading this book. It is a privilege to have you. I promise I won’t waste your time.

I remember being a kid alive with an infinite imagination. All of the wondrous unknown possibilities spread out before me like the raw wake of the ocean. It’s vast energy unfathomable, intimidating, incredibly powerful, unknowable in volume, capacity, depth, and darkness. If you’ve ever stood on the shore, staring out at the ocean crashing down before you, then trickling up the shore, wetting your toes sinking into the sand, then you know this intimacy. I also recall camping as a kid, pretending to be asleep, and then getting up in the middle of the night, simply to marvel for hours at the millions of stars overhead. Sometimes my parents would wake up, and stare with me, and remember.

It has been my lifetime experiences that have led me to the belief that this raw infinite nature surrounds us always. This river of energy flowing through us is unending. We are it. It is us. It is within us. We are of it. To truly harness the full capabilities and capacity of the infinite nature of creation and destruction, we must get in touch with this way of experiencing and perceiving. For those who have long forgotten the incredible miracle of a fallen leaf, or snowflake, remember that these things were created, albeit abstracted just enough that we don’t perceive their creation. Fortunately we have the power to witness and manifest our own creations, all from the same infinite source.

For many, creativity is a process of remembering, reawakening, and reconnecting with these sorts of experiences, the pure joy we felt as a child wondering at the marvels of the universe.

For some this may be scary. We’re all conditioned (especially in western cultures) to not ask “the big questions”, and instead to focus, perform in school, perform in sports, to please authority figures (parents, teachers, older siblings, the boss…), and ultimately to specialize in a skill, following-the-pack, to earn a living, to survive. From this root perspective, reconnecting with “creativity” may even trigger an ego response of, flight, fight, or freeze. Check-in with yourself, if reading about gazing at the ocean, or staring at the stars, made you feel scared, angry, or trepidatious, this may be an uncomfortable read for you. Nonetheless, I will ask you to persevere, at the risk that you may gain insight into perspectives that are within you, just long forgotten. For others this may be more an exercise in simply turning down the volume of our noisy neighbor; the linear, logical, evaluative, judging, critic of the left half of our brain, or most likely it’s some fuzzy combination of all of the above.

Nevertheless, the first goal is to open up, to reestablish a connection with the infinite creative nature within us. The more we are able to tap this river within ourselves, adapt this perspective, harness is, and direct it with intention, the greater the magnitude and potential for our creations.

It is from here that we begin, welcome to the Infinite.

-Kynan Antos

The Finite & The Infinite – Outline

by on September 7, 2012
in book, design, life

THE FINITE & THE INFINITE – The Cycle of Manifestation
To navigate the unruly waters of the world –we must connect our finite horizon with the infinite stars.

THE FINITE – “People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.” – Albert Einstein
1. Introduction

2. The value of the FINITE
▪ Managing the big constraints, time, scope, and quality
▪ Reductive reasoning, and focus
▪ Depth of thinking vs. breadth of understanding
▪ Designing to design
▪ Importance of feasibility

3. The FINITE within the cycle of manifestation

4. Applying the FINITE principles
▪ Agree on problems first, then solutions
▪ Define clear principles
▪ Codify concise goals
▪ Time box
▪ Disciplined action
   ▫ Maintain focus
   ▫ No new ideas
   ▫ Execute
   ▫ Measure progress

5. Translating to the INFINITE
▪ Communicating FINITE principles
▪ Predictability and managing expectations
▪ What may be getting lost in the signal

6. FINITE methods and tools
▪ Stakeholder evaluation, roles, and responsibilities
▪ Estimating work, and communicating costs
▪ Time boxing
▪ Rapid interface prototyping (RIP)
▪ Status communication

THE CYCLE OF MANIFESTATION – “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” – Albert Einstein
1. Overview
▪ Energy exchange and design
▪ Everyone is a designer
▪ Momentum

2. The manifestation principles of destruction
▪ The core reductive methods of destruction, the underlying phycology, and perspectives for deliberation

3. The manifestation principles of creation
▪ The core additive methods of creation, the underlying phycology, and perspectives for deliberation

4. Wielding the principles with intention, mindfulness, and compassion
▪ Transference
▪ Synergy
▪ Communication
   ▫ Self awareness of ego, mind, and nature energies
   ▫ Establishing credibility
   ▫ Building trust
   ▫ Agreement without consensus
   ▫ Knowing when to yield, and when to press
   ▫ Translating and understanding others

THE INFINITE – “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
1. Introduction

2. The value of the INFINITE
▪ The power and importance of vision
▪ Holistic perspective, architectural application, and systems thinking
▪ Being supportive and disruptive with intention
▪ Innovation vs. invention
▪ The value of failure
▪ Don’t get lost

3. The INFINITE within the cycle of manifestation
▪ Identify, understand, and capitalize on existing solutions
▪ Challenge and extend convention
▪ Explore, pioneer, and educate

4. Applying the INFINITE principles
▪ Courage and conviction
▪ Expansive ideation
▪ Let go of attachment to an outcome
▪ You’re only as great as the last great thing you did
▪ Decision making

5. Translating to the FINITE
▪ Meeting resistance with patience, and perseverance
▪ Mitigating fear of ambiguity
▪ Expect to be misunderstood
▪ The power of precedent
▪ Judgment and criticism are prerequisite

6. INFINITE methods and tools
▪ John Kotter’s Change Model
▪ Brainstorming
▪ Affinity mapping
▪ Pattern recognition
▪ Opposite thinking
▪ Iteration and feedback spiral

1. About the author
2. Dedication

The Finite & The Infinite – Preface

by on September 6, 2012
in book, design, life

I’ve been creating things ever since I was old enough to hold crayon to wall. From building a Batman Utility belt and Dick Tracy prototype radio watch out of film canisters, Legos, Pez dispensers, electricians tape, enamel paint, and Sharpie markers, to playing role-playing games, painting and modifying miniatures, to illustrating my own comics, many late nights at Kinkos’ with X-Acto knives and glue sticks making Zines, to self publishing a book of poetry and performing spoken word, to desktop publishing, always, always drawing, painting, filmmaking, playing music, and eventually designing websites, interactive web applications, Win32 software, and mobile user interface, I have been “creating things” as long as I can remember. And now that I’m done trying to build credibility with you the reader… I’ll be straight with you right from the beginning.

This is a book of advice. It’s a summary of all of the things I’ve learned over the past fifteen years designing things professionally. It’s a manifesto of what has worked for me. A treatise of what hasn’t. It’s everything no one will teach you in school, and it’s even more so a dissertation of all of the difficult, uncomfortable, philosophical, and esoteric topics that actually matter while living the life of a creative person. This is my honest attempt to spill all the details and lessons of the creative life that you won’t learn in the world of academia, and are hard earned in the world of business. This book aims to tell the truth.

This book is for the generations of creators which precede us and those to come. If you are creative, have an aptitude for tinkering, creating things out of ideas, or posses that internal tick to see opportunity all around you, or if you simply hope to leave the world a better place than the way you found it; then this book is for you.

My name is Kynan. I have to spell it for most people, and It’s hard to pronounce correctly. When I was a kid in school I was lost. There wasn’t a place for people like me. I struggled. I made appearances in the wood and metal shop, hung out in the back of the art studio, hid out in the photo lab darkroom, and did my best to stay out of trouble, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of never feeling like I fit in. From a very early age I knew I wasn’t like other people, and I never felt like I belonged. I know there are more of you out there. I’m writing this book to let you know that you’re not alone, and that maybe by sharing some of my own experiences, I can help you find your muse, and recognize that there are lots of us out there, making a damn fine living.

Fortunately I had a very creative, spiritual, supportive, inspiring mother, a patient guiding, motivating, and inspiring father, and an older bother who helped me find my way.

Hopefully there is something of value in here somewhere for you, and if nothing else, pass it along to someone you know who might benefit.

For now that is all. Onward and upward.
-Kynan Antos

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