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June 2015

Toronto's Civic Design Camp - The Keynotes

Toronto, and Canada's, first Civic Design Camp was held on Friday, June 26 bringing together designers, public servants, and civic innovators to harness the power of design to create better citizen experiences and tackle public challenges. Autodesk Research participated to learn and help people imagine, design and create a better world.

Civic Design Camp

Toronto's Civic Design Camp was hosted at MaRS by Joeri van den Steenhoven of the MaRS Solution Lab (MSL). MSL is currently collaborating on four challenges with citizens, government, foundations, corporations, and NGOs:

  • Future of Health
  • Future of Food
  • Future of Work and Learning
  • Future of Government

Joeri kicked off the day and introduced three great speakers on design challenges, approaches and obligations towards improving citizen involvement for creating a better world:

Nigel explained that New Urban Mechanics is the R+D lab for the Mayor of Boston. They cast a wide net for ideas, try them out as quickly and cheaply as possible and embrace failure as success - if they're not failing, they're not trying enough new and different things - failure leads to innovation.

Nigel talked about a bunch of the projects they had worked on. One of the coolest being the mobile city hall; a truck that can drive around to different neighbourhoods offering many of the city services like access to marriage and pet licenses.


Katie Verigen summed up Nigel's three main points with respect to citizens and governement working together in her sketchnotes as:

  1. Good design makes people like you
  2. Good design encourages real conversations
  3. Good design is about learning

Cdc3Next up was Jess McMullin talking about Big Picture Design and the interconnectedness of systems, strategy, policy and delivery caught in a rising storm of complexity. His first example was of water pipes breaking in a hospital in Edmonton. Getting this fixed seems like an easy thing to do but factor in the oil-based economy and current low prices and it becomes more complicated. Things that seem easy, can result in problems if you don't keep the big picture in mind when designing - a couple other examples:

  • Florida's butterfly ballot that confused and disappointed voters
  • Presto transit cards and the complications for setting up payments


Going further, Jess talked about Healthcare.Gov placing one big bet on 80 contractors versus breaking the challenge down into chunks and making some smaller, less risky bets. Their focus on the interface lost out to cultural issues.

In looking at the big picture, spend time up front where the cost of changes is low.


As a positive example, he used the California State Tax Ready Return that does your taxes for you. It sends you the statement and if you agree, you just pay what it says. This is easy fir tax payers and easier for the government to collect - everybody's happy (at least relatively).

The third and final keynote speaker was Dana Chisnell, co-founder of the Center for Civic Design. Dana had a number of great points for civic designers to consider when engaging with government:

  • Government wants technology but needs design: this doesn't mean that designers should charge in thinking they will save the day. They should bring their skills in gently and help to train public servants in good design practice. They should be patient and solve one problem at a time 
  • Government is filled with designers but they don't have design in their job title or description: Like any designer, these people take charge, they solve problems with passion and ingenuity.

 And perhaps Dana's most important note on design: focus on problems!


In an upcoming post we'll talk about the Civic Design Camp Unconference, design challenges and solutions - see you soon! 

You can see more about the Civic Design Camp from Amanada Judd on Storify:

Autodesk releases the Molecule Viewer to Labs

Have you ever wanted to view molecules in high-fidelity from the comfort of your own web browser? Well now you can thanks to the Bio/Nano group at Autodesk Research

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer

Merry Wang from the group explains that the Bio/Nano group is building on Autodesk's expertise as a toolmaker for designers of things like buildings, cars and roads. This group is making tools to design living things. They're starting with a tool to visualize complex data at the nanoscale.

 In the image below, you can see a sample of the viewer displaying a Recombinant Hemoglobin molecule.  

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer Hemoglobin

Users of the Molecule Viewer can bring in their own custom data or draw from the RCSB Protein Data Bank (PDB). Here's a view of the Crystal Structure of Human Fibrogen.

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer Human Fibrogen
Here's an alternate view but instead of looking at the structure in Ribbon mode, we are looking at a combination of Ball & Stick with Surface display. The highlighted portion starting at the top left is Chain B.

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer Fibrogen

Each display mode has a number of options such as chain, residue and bfactor as you can see below in this view of Crystal Structure of the full-length Human RAGE Extracellular Domain (aka 4lp5) - the RCSB PDB Molecule of the Month of June.

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer

The UI is nicely laid out and allows you to explore the Chains, Residues and Atoms of the molecule quickly and easily.

Autodesk Research Molecule Viewer

Sounds exciting, right? Head on over to Autodesk Labs and try it out! You can also check out the Wet Lab Accelerator for assistance in running your tests.


Designing a Motorcycle Swingarm with Project Dreamcatcher

Question: When does a motorcycle swingarm look like a pelvic bone?

Answer: When it's designed with Project Dreamcatcher!

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Motorcycle Swingarm

A swingarm is the main component of the rear suspension of a motorcycle. It attaches the rear wheel to the motorcycle. The swingarms you see below are designed with Project Dreamcatcher and get their organic shape as the system iteratively tests the strength of the piece and removes unnecessary material as you can see below.

To set up for this simulation a designer needs to specify their objectives. In this case, the objectives include the forces, the bounding space for the swingarm (as seen in the initial state above - effectively stating that the finished solution must live within this space), the connection points (where the swingarm connects to the wheel and motorcyle) and objects that must be considered in the space (the wheels and chain).

Autodesk Research Dreamcatcher Connections
Connection points for the swingarm
Autodesk Research Dreamcatcher
Obstacles for the swingarm - a chain is placed on both sides to create a symmetrical result

Dreamcatcher can produce many options for a designer to choose from. Here are some alternative swingarms.


From these options a designer could then decide to do further work, such as:

  • change the shape if they want something less organic and more traditional looking
  • develop wings for a footrest or saddlebags
  • add decorations like an embossed logo

Dreamcatcher is a collaboration between the Design Research and Computational Science groups at Autodesk Research. The Computational Science group is looking at the simulation and generation of these shapes using high performance computing options like GPU's and the cloud. The Design Research group is exploring the user experience for designers and how to push beyond the limits of what is possible today. This makes for a lot of exciting possibilities with Project Dreamcatcher - what would you like to design?