Category Archives: Eric Zimmerman


Comparing Spheres

The process of creating spheres made me think about how we value the objects we’ve created, especially as the production process forces us to make necessary trade-offs. The radar chart above was created to help visualize how I experienced the production process and the resulting attachment I felt for each object (except the cast sphere). I’ve added a few additional thoughts on the process below. 

The first sphere I whittled looks like a diseased woodblock. It’s lumpy, stubbly, and wobbly. Although I spent many hours attempting to shape its ragged edges, it remains a block of wood (with great spheroid potential). The amount of time I spent whittling it is directly proportional to my attachment to it. It is also a reminder of the value of a true craftsman.

The second sphere I turned on the lathe looks very sleek in comparison, and it only took 45 minutes to complete. A bit of caution was necessary to prevent the sphere from deteriorating into a football, but it was completed in less than 1/10th the time of the half-whittled sphere.

The third 3D printed sphere was color printed in a little over an hour. The production process was technical and detached. It’s a beauty to behold, but it will disintegrate in water unless coated with a special protective finish. It seems less alive than the wood spheres, even though it was printed with corn starch, a once living material.

The fourth sphere I cast took about 45 minutes of prep time to set up the mold and begin the process, with another 12 hours or so required for the plaster to set. This process was more hands on at first, but after the mold had set, there was not much we could do to modify the final form.

What I appreciated most about each of these experiments was the ability to iterate as we progressed. Each process had its necessary trade-offs between time, effort, and the resulting attachment to each object. Although there is not a one-to-one correlation, it seems clear that my personal attachment (the affection or connection I felt with each object) was inversely related to the more digital process of prototyping.

Nigel Cross reminded me that even designers are mortals

Most problems in the public health sphere are what Nigel Cross calls “ill-defined” problems. For example, the leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s, diabetes mellitus, kidney diseases, influenza, and suicide. Six out of ten of these leading causes of death are chronic diseases—and the best way to deal with them is through prevention, basically just healthy eating and living. Yet more than 1.2 million people in the United States died from the three leading causes in 2011.


What does this tells us? For one, prevention isn’t easy. We aren’t going to wiggle our way out of most of these problems through education and public health campaigns. Real solutions will require us to look across many disciplines for answers and inspiring new ways of combatting these health issues.

Although it was written in 1982, Cross’ article still gives me a bit of hope that some of the other modes of “designerly ways of knowing” are bubbling up in more fields and seeping through porous silos within public health agencies and beyond. By now many people are already sick of the phrase “design thinking,” and I can’t blame them. The next steps must be more concrete.

The article also provides a jumping off point for thinking about the application of the other designerly ways of knowing he summarizes at the end of the article. How might these be applied to public health in a very concrete, constructive, and solution-focused way?

Updated Timeline (1900-2016) and CATTt Rumblings

I began (very roughly) mapping out a timeline of significant moments in the history of healthcare in the United States from 1900 through 2016. The majority of the current moments are related to significant legislation and shifts in costs, health outcomes, and types of public/private health coverage. As I continue to collect information, I will begin thinking in more detail about how to layer per capita cost data over the existing timeline to contrast the expansions of coverage to price since Medicaid and Medicare were established in 1965.


Besides developing the timeline of healthcare legislation/costs, I have also began rethinking a previous design problem using the CATTt method. This project laid out the first steps of a qualitative research proposal designed to improve an existing carpooling app. See the brief project description below.

“Carma is a digital carpooling service used by commuters in the United States and Europe. The company has a working relationship with the City of Austin and an ongoing financial incentive program to promote usage, yet the service remains underutilized. The purpose of this research study proposal is to explore how user research could improve the service and increase usage.”

The Endowment Effect and a Few Random Questions


As I whittled my sphere over the past two weeks, I was reminded of a phenomenon from behavioral economics called the endowment effect, which basically suggests that people often demand much more to give up an object than they would be willing to pay to acquire it.

I acutely feel this effect with my sad looking block of wood. I would likely pay nothing to acquire a similar block of half-whittled wood, but I would not give mine up for anything less than, say, $10. Although I have paid nothing for it, I have definitely put at least 6 hours of work into it so far, 6 hours that I could have spent doing many other things.

Due to a loss of feeling in my pointer finger (see compression neuropathy), I have stopped whittling for the immediate future. However, I have enjoyed the meditative act of whittling, and I hope to finish the sphere before the end of the semester.

A few related questions that popped into my head upon further reflection:

  • How might we as designers work to integrate end users into the process of design and creation to help instill ownership and attachment to our (their) designs?
  • What effects might this have on consumption in the long-term?
  • With the growth of 3D printing and customizable consumer products (e.g. customizable, on-demand shoe colors/styles from Nike), how might this impact the amount of value an individual ascribes to a product?
  • Do you think individuals will be as likely to discard a customized product as a generic one with equal wear? Does it matter?