Posts filed under Culture:

Why I Curated a Design Exhibition/Pop-Up in Los Angeles

It seemed only natural to say yes when my friend and bike-riding partner, Ilan Dei, asked me to curate a design exhibition at his pop up retail shop focused on human-powered movement.

Ilan is a Venice-based furniture and environment designer. We share similar passions and run in the same professional circles. We’ve been riding buddies for 20 years, and for a long time we’ve wanted to collaborate on something. This seemed like an opportune time to finally do it.

We decided to bring design to the streets, sourcing the most innovative “people-powered” products designed and or manufactured in SoCal and highlighting them in Ilan’s pop up store on Abbot Kinney Blvd., where crowds perusing this strip of funky high-end shops and gourmet restaurants could wander in to view a colorful collection of products all available for purchase.

Our goal was twofold: to educate people about the innovative design happening here in our hometown, and to improve the health of our community. With that, we came up with the name “Moving LA: People-Powered Design.”

The double entendre encapsulated everything we wanted the exhibition to be about: the people of LA are physically moving about/around with the products on display, and LA moves us, or inspires us, to create and design.

Focusing the exhibition on physical movement was a perfect connection to my personal passion, as well as to Karten Design. My consultancy has been innovating in the health care industry for over 28 years, creating products that meaningfully improve people’s health experience.

The products on display at Ilan’s store are designed to get people moving across or in Los Angeles, from bikes and skateboards to hula-hoops and yoga equipment. They engage people to physically move and be active in their bodies and in their communities as they enjoy a healthy lifestyle. At Karten Design, my team and I are made aware every day through our work that not everyone has his or her health. To further promote wellness in our local community, Ilan and I decided to dedicate a portion of the proceeds from the exhibition to the Venice Family Clinic – a community health clinic that provides affordable, quality health care to 24,000 low-income, uninsured, and homeless patients each year – so they can help others operate a full power.

As a business owner and innovator, I also appreciate living and working in a hot bed of innovation. Los Angeles, where I’ve lived and worked for nearly 30 years, has deeply influenced my creativity, my perspective, and my mindset. The city is a hub for trends and groundbreaking ingenuity; it breeds freedom to create and innovate unlike anywhere else.

It wasn’t difficult to find fitness, health, and recreation products that are designed and manufactured in Southern California. This place is an incubator for innovation, particularly in these categories. Our temperate year-round climate and miles of beaches and mountain paths as well as the athletic community our environment has fostered drive creativity and ingenuity.

Over the past month, I’ve enjoyed learning about and meeting local, leading innovators who are creating positive experiences for active people. The common narrative, I learned, amongst these innovators is that they turned their hobby or passion or an experience they were missing into a business. The advantage with having this kind of story is that they are true insiders; they are incredibly in touch with their users and the values of their communities. In turn, they create meaningful, useful products that they themselves need and want to use. Some who participated in the exhibition even created new experiences through their products, such as surfskating and elliptical cycling.

The products we selected not only keep us active and introduce new functionalities, but they also look good. As seen in this design exhibition, Southern California innovators have combined the best of functional and aesthetic innovation; these are the kinds of creative thinkers powering LA.

To read more about the inspiration behind the exhibition and the innovation that came from local companies, check out the featured coverage in LA Weekly.

And thank you to all the companies who participated: Arbor Collective, Athletic Propulsion Labs, Carver Skateboards, ElliptiGo, Ellsworth, Hoopnotica, IntelliSkin, Loaded Boards, Malibu Kayaks, Poseidon Boards, Predator Cycling, Quickblade Paddles, Scott Anderson Surfboards, Sip N’Go, Valo Brand, and yogitoes.

Interview with Chris Wu


Karten Design is excited to welcome a new designer to the team, Chris Wu. Chris joins our studio with a breadth of experience applying his proven talents in a variety of industries. I sat down with Chris and took a few minutes to get to know him better. Our chat is detailed below.


What are you most looking forward to as a new Karten Designer?

I like being a part of everything. As a designer, I find that it is important to be well versed in all facets. Whether it is the product, graphic, interaction, or overall strategy, it’s important to be able to speak to all of them in order to really have a hand in everything design has to offer. My goal has always been to see and do as much as I can, and find a place where I can do that. This was what really attracted me to Karten Design. I’m looking forward to working on the incredible diversity of projects we bring in to the studio. Even in the short time I’ve been here, I have already had a hand in consumer electronics, medical equipment, and business strategy. But more than anything, Karten Design has already shown to be a place where I can express and apply my passion for creating truly innovative products. Here, I’ve found a place where not only do I have the ability but am also encouraged to test the limits of what is possible.

Aside from working here, you also teach a class at Art Center. How did you get involved in teaching?

Honestly, I had no interest in teaching until I had Norm Schureman as an instructor at Art Center. He was someone who was incredibly passionate about teaching and his students. Norm took an interest to help me grow as a designer, and after I took his class, I became his T.A.  In my time working with him he showed me that design is just as much about the work as it is about the people. Before he passed he imparted an undeniable love for teaching on me. Today, I teach to not only carry on his passion and what he gave me, but to also have the ability to affect other people (the way he did me). Every time I step foot in my classroom, I attempt to convey the same passion for design my professor had and hopefully drive my students to love design and become great.

You teach to inspire others. Has teaching inspired you?

Teaching has definitely helped me in my profession. In the real world it’s easy for us [designers] to become jaded. There is something wonderfully naïve about school – students haven’t had someone tell them they can’t, and because of this I have been amazed by some of the stuff they come up with. We in the real world have the burden of knowledge and practicality, but students…they go all in, and as a result come up with amazing ideas despite their lack of experience. More than inspiring, it has been recharging for me to see how passionate and stoked the students get about an idea, which is just the boost I need to stay fresh, fearless, and innovative with my own work.

What work are you most proud of?

There isn’t one project that I am more proud of than others. If I think about it, when a project is successful and the final product is rich and useful, I am proud not because of the final result but rather because it is a testament that we gave the design process the right amount of time and energy. I am most proud of the depth we dove into the process so that the final product does its job. I design because I want to create solutions and help people, and when I know I’ve done the work to achieve this, that’s what I enjoy the most.

You’ve been a great curator of music in the studio. We’re curious – what are you listening to on your iPod right now?

Right now? Let’s see…Two Door Cinema, Walk the Moon, Young the Giant, and The Black Keys. These are all bands I’ve discovered through trial and error using Spotify. Without trying to make it sound too much like a commercial, Spotify has been great because it really shifts the traditional model of how we consume music by making it easy to “try” music without feeling like you need to invest in a CD.

It seems like you have a particular interest in sustainability. Can you share your thoughts on this with us?

There is this preconceived notion that sustainability means to be environmentally friendly, but to me, sustainability is a philosophy of design. It’s the idea and practice of being thoughtful, mindful, and respectful to those you are designing for and those providing their resources in the design. This philosophy must be established before you even start designing, and it starts by considering and thinking about whether or not what we are creating deserves to be in existence. We, as a forward-thinking design community, need to be catalysts, empowering other designers and even the people around us with a deeper understanding of how to live, create, and consume more conscientiously. The fact is that we have become so adept at designing stuff at a record place that we’re filling landfills at a record pace. We need to shift the paradigm of creating just things that are ephemeral into a realm of conscious and responsible design that is enduring and makes a difference. Designers aren’t here to create more stuff; what we want and need is to manifest things we and our users feel strongly about. With this mindset, the opportunity then lies in the idea that sustainability can and needs to be a baseline to everything. The quicker we embrace that we live in a world where sustainability is no longer a feature but instead a baseline, the quicker we can make greater strides towards crafting a world that we all are proud to live in.

What is your favorite place in Los Angeles?

The Standard Rooftop. Not only because it’s a great place but also because when you are there you become more aware that there is a part of L.A. that is actually city-like. I grew up in the Valley where everything is super flat and spread out so there is something interesting and unique about being amongst buildings that are vertical and dynamic. Rooftops in a city provide an oasis from the busyness that is Los Angeles.

Last question. You can tell a lot about someone by what they keep in their ‘fridge. Since I can’t see your fridge, I will ask you: What did you make for breakfast this morning?

Haha. I had a boiled egg and a cup of Orange Juice. I’m not really a morning person. But I love breakfast food. I just don’t like waking up to eat it.


You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn, or send him a note to say hi, welcome, or ask him any questions you might have.

4 Things That Ninth-Graders Can Teach You About Risk-Taking Design

This post originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Design

If you’re like me, you discovered design as a career option later in life–in college, or even after graduating and working in another field. By that point, most of us had already lost the mindset most beneficial for creative design. I find that life teaches us some bad habits as we grow up that get in the way of our creativity. Chief among them are perfectionism and professionalism. They have their proper place and time, but such control-based habits need to be put aside during the early phases of an innovation project, when raw creative power is essential.

We start to learn these habits in school. Leading thinkers such as Ken Robinson have reported extensively on how schools kill creativity. With an emphasis on performance and mastery, they encourage perfection at the expense of the ability to experiment and possibly fail. Then comes the workplace, where corporate professionalism requires that business be dealt with rationally and dispassionately. Before I founded Karten Design, I worked as an in-house designer in the corporate world. I quickly realized that to succeed in this type of environment you couldn’t display any type of emotion. People never got mad or excited in meetings. They wore tightly controlled masks that hid their core, unpolished selves–their source of creativity.

With perfectionism and professionalism instilled in people early in life, how do we ensure that designers of the future enter the profession with the right mindset? Catch them while they’re still young, before they learn many of those inhibiting rules in schools and in the workplace.

Recently, I decided to do something about it. Karten Design partnered with the Da Vinci Design High School, an independent charter school in the South Bay of Los Angeles with a hands-on, project-based learning model, to teach the freshman class about product design. In a project aimed at combining physics curriculum in electromagnetism with a humanities unit on social-change poetry, we presented students with a set of driving questions: What would headphones look like if they were meant to transmit a message of social change? How would they look if they were intended to appeal to a certain target audience, so they could deliver their message to the right set of ears? To answer this question, students would design and build a pair of working headphones to address those questions.


Karten Design Introduces “Book Klub”: A place to Gather, Learn and Cultivate


“In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through,
but rather how many can get through to you.”

Mortimer Jerome Adler – American Author and Philosopher

Recently our studio instated its first official book club, which we have coined Book Klub to give it a more personal touch. I had been thinking about starting one for quite some time, as I felt it was important to inject learning into our culture more directly. And in full disclosure, I thought it’d be a good way to motivate me to finish books.

Karten Design has long fostered a culture of learning – we not only hire those with an innate thirst for learning, but we also make sure to provide outlets to learn in our studio through events like our Conversations series and Lunch N’ Learns. But a book club provides an entirely different learning venue for us. We get to seek knowledge, explore current thinking, and learn together.

The books we’ve chosen thus far incorporate relevant, tangible practices that are near and dear to how we operate and what we deliver to our clients. They inspire us to further design ourselves personally and as a design firm to be better at what we do.

We’ve read three books now, and, for me, the best part hasn’t been reading – though I like that too – but rather the group discourse that has transpired. These talks remind me of what I loved most about my lit classes in high school and college: really digging into whatever book we were reading. That same level of in-depth analysis and dissection that took place in the classroom is taking place on the patio of our studio.

Similar to a classroom, we’ve formed a place to gather and share thoughts, ideas, and emotions. I am able to see how my team thinks, what stood out to some people and what stood out to others. I learn more about my employees and what they care about. What was the most refreshing, though, was the honesty and insights that were brought to the table. Our monthly Book Klub meetings are a time when we can truly blend together, build community, and cultivate our office culture.

The net effect of this discourse? We end up turning the mirror inward. Book Klub becomes an open forum where anyone can weigh in. It is an organic opportunity for our entire organization to share their opinions, ideas, and rants in a non-judgmental environment. In this setting, we are able to examine and dissect, relate and compare these cited case studies and practices to what we are doing and what we are not doing, for good and for bad. As the principal of a studio, it is pretty cool to hear everyone’s perspective on how to implement change and successful practices that we’ve read to our work.

Much of Book Klub was founded out of the collective desire to continually grow and eventually change for the better in the workplace and in our personal lives. And I can see this beginning to happen. By reading about habits in Charles Duigg’s The Power of Habit, for example, we learned how our behaviors could be distilled into one “keystone habit.” At Alcoa, creating a keystone habit of safety revolutionized every facet of its business. This example opened up a dialogue on our habits – good and bad – at Karten Design. Another example of this is from our last meeting on Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. In the book, Lehrer writes about Pixar to illustrate the power of group creativity. Teamwork, he writes, and the belief that you can learn a lot from your coworkers have been the secrets of Pixar’s success. This got us thinking about how we work together in the studio, and what we can do maximize our creativity through more collaboration.

We are still learning how to adapt and implement these lessons into our daily routines, work habits, procedures and processes, and culture. With time, I am confident that this unique forum where we can gather together and engage in a higher level of conversation than we normally have will benefit us…stay tuned as we discover how…

Changing Tides: Conversations with Jim Moriarty

Karten Design’s 2012 Conversations series started out with a bang with Jim Moriarty, CEO of Surfrider Foundation, as our guest speaker.

Founded in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves, and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research, and education.

We were honored to have Jim come speak with us not only because Surfrider’s mission resonates with everyone in our studio, but also because he is extremely talented and accomplished. It can be said that Jim has found the secret sauce to harnessing people’s passion around an idea and inspiring them to create change. His 20+ years of leadership, business, and team building experience has helped refine the ingredients he uses to connect and engage people to affect fundamental change, and transform cultures and communities through Surfrider Foundation.

No matter what industry you’re from or passions you have, the following three strategies can be used by anyone for inspiring change.


After seven years working with Surfrider, Jim has learned that the foolproof way you get people to care is to connect to their love. He encouraged us that we only live life once and in our life we need to figure out a few things. “One of the things,” he said, “is figure out what you love, and know that love or else you will skip stones through life and never really dig in.” Once you find what you love, he urges, act on that love because as Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great things is to love what you do.”

Connecting people through their love of the coast is what makes Surfrider Foundation so successful. They’ve found the sweet spot in so many people’s lives and hearts and leveraged it. And it works. While it seems simple to communicate that love, it’s significantly harder than we think, Jim said, so he advised, “focus your message.”


When Jim first got to Surfrider Foundation, he wanted to change the fact that nobody knew what they did. He admits that they weren’t focused on packaging what they did so a consumer could understand it. That ambiguity that he and so many other people experienced ceased once Jim decided to focus Surfrider’s message on victories. A victory for Surfrider Foundation, Jim explained, is a coastal decision made by a formal governing body that leaves the coasts better off. This really crisp messaging has been the key to the organization’s success, but as Jim asserts, arriving at the simplicity of that message “was the hardest thing.” Yet, once you have a focus, he explains, everything else becomes easy because your message is tight and it’s repetitive.

Jim also kept his message to us tight and focused. He asked us “if you leave this talk and do just one thing, never accept another single-use plastic bottle or bag.” I challenge you, reader, to ask yourselves: if your audience could change or do ONE thing, what would it be?  …Not as easy as it sounds, right? Most of us have three or four things that come to mind that are, to us, of equal importance. But choosing just one message and one goal is critical. No matter if you work on a corporate 20-person team or for a small two person business, it is always beneficial to have a focused message so that you know what you are working for, what you can rally around, what you have in common.


“What makes us different? What is Surfrider’s special sauce?” he asked. “The reason we kick ass all over the world is our powerful activist network.” What makes their activist network so powerful, you might ask? Answer: Because Jim runs Surfrider Foundation like a city, not a company.

The theory of acting like a city, not as a company is described in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine. Cities and companies are very similar, Lehrer writes, except for one thing: cities never die and companies do. He attributes this to a few ideas, but to put it simply “cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant.”

Top down programs, such as those seen in large companies, stifle what they are trying to create. If you give people the autonomy to create on their own and not try to maximize creativity, they will be more creative. In Surfrider’s case, when given more autonomy, chapters and members are more inclined to volunteer their time, do everything in their power to protect the coast, and spread the word about Surfrider Foundation.

Jim admitted that he misguessed this truth. He initially thought that pushing power – including fundraising ability – to local chapters wouldn’t work. But he quickly learned that it does. He has found that at every Surfrider meeting he’s been to around the world the people are so intentional. There is a stewardship element that exists that perhaps wouldn’t if people felt they were being stifled by a larger power such as Jim and the board of Surfrider Foundation.

Chapters provide a forum for locals to voice what they care about, get involved, and take action. All the campaigns each chapter picks are picked locally, said Jim. Never has he dictated what a chapter is involved in. By placing that autonomy in the hands of the members, and allowing them to make the local chapter their own, more action happens, more victories occur, and the Surfrider network grows – in short, Surfrider’s overarching goals get achieved more often. Jim indicated that if he were playing “campaign cop or Surfrider cop” the same results wouldn’t happen, but he also notes that though chapters have autonomy, they are all aligned where it counts: around one, simple message: protecting something people love – the coast – through victories.

CEOs, managers, bosses – take note. If you want your team members/employees to be more productive and creative, and to make things happen – give them the freedom and space to do so. Let them take ownership and add value to their work and the workplace because they want to. Let them have a voice. Act like a freewheeling city.

Taking what I learned from Jim, I will leave you with one, simple message: Jim Moriarty was a fantastic speaker.


Creating Healthy Habits

In this special to Orange Juice, graphic designer Erin Williams shares her experience with a new digital health technology in her quest for fitness.

For five years, bicycling was my primary mode of transportation. I rarely felt the need to hit the gym, because I logged 16 miles a day with my daily commute. But while cycling was great for my legs and my heart, the last year of this journey grew increasingly stressful as tensions with L.A. drivers escalated, landing me in the hospital with a head injury last summer. When I finally gave in and bought a car, my family and coworkers were relieved not to have to worry, but I found new things that I need to worry about. In my first month of driving, I gained five pounds. Five! In one month! I realized that I could no longer count on my heart rate and blood pressure being excellent every time I went to the doctor, could no longer eat a plate of pasta just because I went for a long ride.

I had been getting all of my exercise without ever having to think about it; getting on my bike in the morning was simply habitual.

At the office, I’ve been learning about how new technologies are changing the way people approach healthcare—changing the conversation from disease management to preventative care and healthy lifestyles, and getting patients more engaged and invested in their own outcomes.

I decided to test some of the Connected Health tools I was learning about at the office. CONTINUE »

Studio Predictions Revisited: What trends took off in 2011?

Were pies really the dessert of choice this year? And did more people buy Droids than iPhones?

In January, our studio looked at some cultural trends and made a few predictions for the year ahead. As 2011 comes to an end, we wondered, how did we do? We decided to revisit the studio’s predictions for trends that would take off this year to see if any of them came true.

If you didn’t catch our predictions in January, check them out here.

Several of our predictions proved true, or at least close. Take Chris, for example, who predicted that the success of the Snuggie would make us more accepting of comfort over style. And he couldn’t have been more right as the “Forever Lazy” was introduced this year. While anyone wearing it would immediately be qualified to be on the show “What Not to Wear,” it is promoted as coming in three stylish colors and, as if we aren’t lazy enough – here it is folks! – there are zippered hatches in the front and back “for when duty calls”!

Thankfully, this next trend might redeem our society from complete laziness. In October, the LA Times’ Book section reported that the New York Public Library’s eBook lending was up 81% from last year. As Anne predicted, the proliferation of eBooks and tablets have increased reading so much so that 75,000 eBooks were leant out this year. And the more than 9,000 public libraries across the country have experienced growth in eBook demand as well. The Library also reported that more people are actually coming in to check out books than in years past, giving testament to the reading trend.

While hardcover books have not lost their appeal, screens are still the platform of choice. The same goes for choosing a cell phone. At the end of last year, Erin predicted that Droid phones would take over iPhones in 2011. It was a tight race, and the winner has yet to be determined, as both Apple and Motorola released their most high-tech phones to date this year. Motorola’s DROID RAZR (RM 1999) and Apple’s iPhone 4S are pretty comparable, but with the 4S’s features like Retina Display and Siri, it’s hard to say if there was as big of a push towards Droid phones as Erin predicted.

Apple wasn’t the only top company to introduce some changes this year. Facebook had its share of updates in 2011, most notably the Timeline layout. And as Eric O. predicted, we saw a further expansion of Facebook statuses such as those from the FitBit. The FitBit is a motion tracking device that monitors calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, and sleep quality so users can maximize their health and well being. Little did users know that the device had a default activity sharing setting to share with other users via social networking features. Thus unbeknownst to them, their complete daily exercise log and information, including sexual activities, were publicly posted online – talk about over-sharing! And while Eric’s prediction for a “how are you feeling?” status has not come to fruition, this sort of over sharing is clearly not far off.

The coolest trend we saw this year, though, was the intersection of fashion and technology. As Sigita predicted, the line blurred between what we ‘use’ and what we ‘wear.’ Take the electric rock guitar shirt – you use it to play guitar and make simplistic music, and you also wear it to, obviously, cover your torso. Similar “line blurring” has also influenced haute couture. A Berlin based fashion label, called Moon Berlin, combined light technique with high fashion to create an elegant and classic collection of dresses that have LED lights minimally displayed through the fabric via circuits.

And while we’re still not sure whether 2011 really was the year for pie, or if cupcakes still rule the dessert universe, what we do know is that 2011 was a great year for the Karten Design team. You can read more about our highlights on our news page. Thanks to all of our employees, clients and partners who made it possible!

Motivating Men: Stories from Movember

Reflecting on Movember, Karten Design Designer Jonathan Abarbanel discusses the role of storytelling in men’s health.

Karten Design just finished up a successful Movember. By growing mustaches for a month, 10 of our men used their faces to start conversations about men’s health and raise almost $1,000 dollars to fund men’s health research and education.

We’ve had a lot of conversations in our studio during Movember. Most were about mustaches, but a few were about larger issues of health. I wonder, as Movember turns into December and most of the men at Karten Design shave their Mo-staches, what the experiences and conversations have meant to those of us who participated.

Last week I sat down with our Movember Team Captain Jonathan Abarbanel to get his point of view. A father of two young children and the husband of a children’s librarian, Jonathan is something of an expert at storytelling. Recently, Jonathan took a class in Narrative and Digital Media at UCLA Extension, and it’s made him think about the role that stories play in our everyday lives. He believes that stories are all around us, and we uncover new stories by doing new things. I asked Jonathan what sorts of stories he’s found in Movember. CONTINUE »

5 Storytelling Concepts That Health Care Firms Are Using To Change Patient Behavior

Originally published on Fast Company’s Co.Design

With the introduction of Timeline a few weeks ago, Facebook emphasized the importance of life stories in human interaction. This interface taps into the way that people innately understand their own lives with a narrative structure that allows users to express a whole identity, rather than a fragmented view of events and photos.

Timeline is just one example of how companies can tap into the power of narrative to communicate with customers on a meaningful level. Recently, my team found inspiration in an unlikely source: health care. The USC Body Computing Conference 5.0 highlighted organizations that are blurring the lines between medicine and entertainment to change how consumers view their health. I asked Karten Design’s resident storyteller, Anne Ramallo, to expand on what our designers and researchers took away from the event.


Necessary Ingredients for Creativity

The desire for innovation is not limited to the world of product design. Culinary innovation takes the spotlight with Food Network’s new show Sweet Genius. Now, you might have your “fill” (pun intended) of food challenge/elimination shows on TV today, but Sweet Genius stands out for its unique combination of constraints, inspirational elements and the unexpected.

Master chef Ron Ben-Israel, the ultimate sweet genius, critiques the 4 chefs in each episode based on their ability to handle constraints and unexpected curveballs such as additional necessary ingredients which are presented halfway through the challenge. A true “sweet genius” would be someone who can embrace the constraints and tweak their creative process to merge any combination of ingredients – and end up with an innovative and delicious result.
As a Food Network aficionado, I am interested in this show for several reasons: for Ron Ben-Israel’s addictively dramatic one-word critiques (“Disaster!”), for the surprisingly random inspirational elements (ex. “cat”) that contestants must express in their meals, and for the odd necessary ingredients (ex. squid ink). Most of all, I am interested in this show because it touches on something I’ve experienced firsthand: constraints as an opportunity to breed creativity.