Design Object Series N. 002

Monopoly, the Fire Escape + the Medical Syringe

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three design objects from the turn of the century and the pioneering women behind them: Monopoly, the outrageously popular board game designed by Elizabeth Magie in 1904, the fire escape, designed by Anna Connelly in 1887, and the one-handed medical syringe, designed by Letitia Geer in 1899.

Monopoly

Design Objects: Monopoly
Monopoly was designed in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. Photo courtesy of Mike_Fleming.

You know the game: two to eight players battle it out for domination by buying and developing properties, and forcing their opponents into bankruptcy. These days you can play the classic game or one of hundreds of themed spin-offs; Star Wars, Pokemon, Game of Thrones, The Simpsons…it is an ever-expanding catalogue.

The game was developed and patented in Washington DC by stenographer and leftwing feminist Elizabeth Magie in 1903. It was originally called The Landlord’s Game and was in Magie’s words, “a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences. It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem[s] to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.”

The colorful boardgame that became Monopoly
The Landlord’s Game per Elizabeth Magie’s 1924 patent. Photo courtesy of Lucius Kwok.

Magie was a follower of American economist Henry George, and wanted to create a tool to teach others about the danger of wealth disparity and the exploitation of tenants by landlords. She had the bright idea of using a new, growing medium to engage the economic student: the board game. The game was immediately popular with children and adults alike, spreading by word of mouth and capitalizing on the pull of competitive play. Magie’s role as innovator was unfortunately overshadowed by the opportunistic entrepreneur who coopted her concept. The game was appropriated by Charles Darrow, who claimed it as his own invention and sold it to Parker Brothers in 1932, erasing Magie from the origin story as he made millions. The myth that Darrow is the creator persists to this day, but we know better.

The Fire Escape

Design Objects: Fire Escape
The fire escape was designed by Anna Connelly in 1887. Photo courtesy of Chris Bertram.

While Magie wanted to educate people about economics, the next pioneer wanted to save their lives. The fire escape is an emergency exit, usually exterior to a building (though not necessarily), that provides an alternative to a stairwell, which might be inaccessible or compromised in an emergency. For those in urban environments, they are an omnipresent feature of the landscape, peppering every multi-story building, particularly residential buildings. The Interwoven Design office is in Brooklyn, New York, so we see hundreds of fire escapes on residential brownstones every day. They can range from chunky and utilitarian to colorful and statement-making.

a blue fire escape with a mural on the building behind it
Fire escapes in cities today are often seen as a decorative opportunity, as with this blue fire escape in SoHo featuring a mural. Photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer.

Their invention was a response to 19th century building codes, which were in turn responding to the overcrowding in cities in England and the deaths that resulted from inadequate exits, especially by fire. Builders liked that they could be easily retrofit to existing buildings as well as inexpensively incorporated into new designs. While a range of strategies were developed independently in large cities during the industrial revolution, Connelly’s design is the ancestor of the modern fire escape, the classic zig zag structure running up an exterior. For a taste of historic detail, check out Connelly’s original patent.

While the fire escape was meeting a critical need in growing cities, there were problems with the concept. They weren’t uniformly effective, and the convenient platforms and railings were too tempting as makeshift patios, outdoor sleeping quarters, drying racks, and more, especially in poor neighborhoods. Even today, though technically illegal, repurposed fire escapes are a common sight.

One-handed Medical Syringe

Both the fire escape and the medical syringe have saved countless lives in the decades since their invention, and both objects have negative arguments against them in our current culture. The fire escapes are used in ways that were never intended, and the one-handed syringe has facilitated drug abuse for millions.

The concept of the syringe has been around since the ancient Roman era, but originally the devices were used topically to apply creams and ointments. Syringes weren’t used to inject substances subcutaneously until the development of the hollow needle in 1844, and weren’t tolerable until years later when the technology to make the needle much finer was available. In all that time, using a syringe was a two-handed affair for medical professionals. That all changed in 1899, when Letitia Mumford Geer, a nurse from New York, was granted a patent for an “in a hand-syringe”, or a one-handed syringe. This allowed a medical professional or even a patient to perform an injection with ease. While the materials of the syringe have been gradually improved over time, adopting material advancements as they became available, the fundamental technology has not changed. 

Very little is known about Geer beyond the US census records and the information on the patent itself. She was born in New York 1853 and died there in 1935 at the age of 83. She had three brothers, and she was a nurse. Unfortunately this is all we know about her, despite her incredible contribution to medical design.

The device was described as consisting of “a cylinder, a piston and an operating-rod which is bent upon itself to form a smooth and rigid arm terminating in a hand, which, in its extreme positions, is located within reach of the fingers of the hand which holds the cylinder, thus permitting one hand to hold and operate the syringe.” 

A diagram of Geer’s syringe design per her 1899 patent. Image via the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent outlines the operation of the syringe as follows: 

“The handle can be drawn into a position near to the cylinder while injecting the medicine by the use of one hand, thereby enabling the operator to use the syringe himself without the aid of an assistant. The advantages of the medical syringe are several. The syringe is very simple and cheap. It can be operated with one hand.”

The syringe opened up the possibility of self-administering medicine, and could be produced inexpensively. The glass components could be sterilized, a development that evolved into more and more of the parts of the syringe being glass or metal to allow a greater level of hygiene in injections. These improvements, better sterilization and one-handed action, have saved countless lives over the decades since Geer’s invention.

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Design Object Series N. 001

The Ford Probe, the London Eye + the High Line

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. After spending months focusing on women we admire in the design industry, we decided to flip the script and shift our focus to the objects designed by such women, allowing the story of the object to reveal the impact that is possible through intelligent, empathetic design. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to the design industry have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three contemporary designs and the innovative women behind them: the Ford Probe, designed by Mimi Vandermelon in 1992, the London Eye, designed by Julia Barfield in 1998, and the High Line, designed by Elizabeth Diller in 2014.

The Ford Probe

promotional image of Ford Probe by Mimi Vandermelon, 1992
The Ford Probe was designed by Mimi Vandermelon in 1992. Photo courtesy of aldenjewell.

In the late 1980s the shortcomings of the classic Mustang were increasingly evident to Ford developers. New models from Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Toyota brought front or all-wheel drive, turbochargers, and other new technology to the market. These efficient coupes had better mileage and gas prices were on the rise. The Mustang, originally launched in the 1960s, was slated for a replacement that would involve a complete redesign. Ford worked with Mazda to develop the Mustang SN8, a front-wheel drive sports car built in the United States that used an existing front-wheel drive platform from one of Mazda’s best-selling sedan models at the time. 

Just as production was about to begin, images of the design were leaked to an automotive magazine and thousands of outraged, die-hard Mustang fans flooded the Ford offices with complaints. Although they had already submitted an order for thousands of units, the response from the customer base was so negative that Ford canceled the Mustang redesign and pivoted, marketing the car as a new model; the Ford Probe. After side-stepping the Mustang debacle, the 1989 Probe was released with great success, and was scheduled to be redesigned in 1993. 

lifestyle image of the 1993 Probe driving up a hill
Photo courtesy of IFHP97.

Ford wanted a lighter, sportier look, and tapped Mimi Vandermolen, who had recently led the interior design of the 1986 Ford Taurus to great acclaim. Ford called the Taurus “a rounded edge revolution” and it was a catalyst for the explosion of oval-inspired styling that has dominated the market ever since. It was one of the earliest models to be developed by a cross-disciplinary team, meaning that the designers working on the exterior worked in concert with those working on the interior, and engineers, dealers, and promoters were also included. Vandermolen was the designer who realized that the key to a successful design would be to have the aesthetic of the interior reflect the lines and styling of the exterior. She thought explicitly about designing the car for women and told her boss, “If I can solve all the problems inherent in operating a vehicle for a woman, that’ll make it that much easier for a man to use.”

When they brought Vandermolen on, the Ford Design Studio hadn’t hired a woman in twenty years—not since World War II. Vandermolen was one of very few female designers in the automotive industry.  She is famous for thinking first about whether or not the internal controls were friendly for the user, and much of what we think of as standard ergonomics for car interiors—which were originally designed for the convenience of engineers and not drivers—we owe to her influence. 

The London Eye

Design Objects: London Eye
The London Eye was designed by Julia Barfield in 1998. Photo courtesy of jimmyharris.

Mimi Vandermelon’s use of ovoid curves shifted the aesthetic of car design in the US, and a circle is the ultimate curve. The London Eye is a massive circle on the London skyline, reminding us how beautiful and how unusual a circle is in this urban context. From 1999, when it was built, to 2006, the London Eye was the tallest ferris wheel in the world, measuring 443 feet in height. The vantage point of the highest observation position provides a stunning view of London and the Eye remains a popular tourist attraction to this day, often credited with the boom in ferris wheel construction that followed its success.

In 1993, wife and husband team Julia Barfield and David Marks submitted the concept to a competition for a new London landmark to celebrate the then impending millenium. Though no winner was declared, Marks and Barfield undertook the construction themselves, locating a site on the south bank of the Thames river. Originally the installation was only meant to stand for five years but the overwhelming popularity of the attraction led it to be preserved and, in 2006, illuminated with LED lights so as to be a landmark on the London skyline at night as well as during the day.

The London Eye is lit up at night
Thousands of LEDs make the London Eye a distinct element in the London skyline day or night. Photo courtesy of otrocalpe.

The wheel of the Eye measures 394 feet and is connected to a central hub with 64 cables. 32 passenger cabins are mounted along the wheel, a number that is symbolic of the 32 boroughs that make up Greater London. The wheel rotates at just two revolutions per hour, allowing each passenger a long look at the historic city.

The High Line

The High Line: Elizabeth Diller, 2014
The High Line was designed by Elizabeth Diller in 2014. Photo courtesy of joevare.

Like the London Eye, the High Line is an iconic installation in a giant city that makes incredible use of public, outdoor space. Where the London Eye provides a stunning overview of the city from a high vantage point, the High Line provides a gently elevated perspective; not like the view from the Empire State Building, but not like a view from any other park in NYC, either. The urban landscape rises up around visitors to this elevated park, the buildings becoming like trees and shrubs as they integrate with the native plant life. The High Line is a 1.45 mile long greenway suspended above the city sidewalks, repurposing old train lines that were scheduled for demolition before the proposal for a park went through. It is not only a park but a public space for arts, community events, food, plants, and convenient access points to the neighborhoods below. The elevated train lines, developed in the 1930s, were in decline throughout the 60s and 70s and completely defunct by the 80s. In 1999 CSX Transportation, the owner of the elevated rail line, invited proposals for recreational renovation, and in the early 2000s the land was rezoned as a public park. The non-profit conservancy Friends of the High Line was founded to oversee the development of the park. The founders noticed that, while considered by many to be an eyesore, wild plants were thriving on the abandoned rail line. A team that included a landscape architecture firm, a planting designer, and a design studio came together to create a unique public park dedicated to native plant species. The planting designer was Piet Oudolf, the Dutch plantsman famous for a revolution in the use of grasses and native plants.

Black eyed Susans pepper the High Line
The High Line is planted with a thoughtful range of native species that shift and change with the seasons. Photo courtesy of Andreas Komodromos.

The design studio was Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an interdisciplinary studio that combines architecture as well as visual and performing arts. Elizabeth Diller is an architect famous for her “alternative strategies in space-making.” She took an interest in activism and community issues early in life, and carried a passion for social activism into her career as an architect and designer. Through her subversive lens, anything could be architecture. Of the practice she founded with her husband, Richard Scofidio, she explained, “We wanted to question habits of space.” She questions the very concepts of space and architecture to expand our ideas of what these terms can signify, how they can be integrated into the landscape, and how they can impact our daily lives.

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What is Wearable Technology?

What is Wearable Technology?

Here at Interwoven Design our design niche is the intersection of soft goods and wearable technology. We love the challenge of making rigid components work seamlessly with body mechanics, which is an area of design that pushes for innovation in materials and construction as well as in electronic components and integration strategies. We explained what soft goods design is, but what do we mean by wearable technology? What does anyone mean by it? 

On the surface, wearable technology is exactly what it sounds like: technology that is worn on the body. That said, as with any product category, there’s a bit more to understanding it than that. At least these days, technology here usually means smart electronics, or electronics that can ‘talk’ with other devices. Wearable tends to mean close to or actually on the skin, allowing for the detection, analysis, and transmission of information about the body. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are popular examples of wearable technology, or wearables, for short. For their smart technologies to function, you have to wear them throughout your day.

A baby wearing the WithMe device. WithMe is a small, repositionable sensing unit designed by Interwoven that works with a smart-enabled device to deliver vital information about a baby’s wellbeing to a phone or tablet.

How does wearable technology work?

The capabilities of wearables are all over the place, ranging from basic to complex, which means that how they function varies a lot, too, and often depends on the product category in question. Usually they use micro-sensors to gather information, and some combination of microprocessors, batteries, internet connectivity, and bluetooth technology to be able to sync with other devices. This synchronization is most likely in real time, providing immediate biofeedback in the case of a wearable collecting biometric data, like a fitness tracker, or location services in the case of personal safety devices. They are an important and growing category in the Internet of things that creates an ever-expanding network of devices around us.

What is wearable technology for?

The applications for wearable technology are numerous and growing. Wearables might be medical devices, clothing or clothing accessories, fitness devices, jewelry, or something else entirely. They might be assisting with navigation or rescue, providing biofeedback to refine athletic performance (like the Remo Haptic Training system), facilitating medical monitoring (like the WithMe baby monitor), providing entertainment, as with AR and VR headsets, offering consumer convenience, as with smartwatches and wireless earbuds, and much more. As they are worn on the body, they are hands-free devices that offer the wearer unencumbered movement along with the service they provide. 

Interwoven Wearable Technology Case Study:

Delta Gloves

a figure lifts weight wearing smart technology fitness gloves: Turn reps into results faster with gloves that track your workout.
The Delta Gloves track your workout in real time and transmit the data to an app on your smartphone.

We worked with PureCarbon to develop the Delta Gloves, connected strength training gloves that track people’s workouts, including exercise performed, sets, reps and weight.  All the information is transmitted to an app on your smartphone.

We considered a wide range of criteria,  including fit considerations, strength, breathability, insulation from the electronics and moisture management. In the case of this specific wearable, an electronic circuit contains sensors to detect weight. That circuit is printed onto a flexible film that’s laminated onto fabric and placed in the lining of the glove.

A figure lifts a weight wearing smart technology fitness gloves
A circuit is printed onto a flexible film that is laminated onto fabric and placed in the lining of the glove.

One of the key innovations in this project was the developing a fit for the glove that would allow for high athletic performance as well as high electronic circuit performance. Circuits printed on flexible TPU film allow for a greatly expanded range of applications in wearable technology, being flexible, washable, and durable. They don’t offer much stretch, however, and they don’t breathe. We worked through these limitations by applying the film only to select areas between the lining and the shell, and by using materials with moisture-management properties. We added mesh ventilation inserts between the fingers to release heat accumulating within the glove. 

Mesh ventilation inserts between the fingers allow heat accumulating within the glove to be released.

What are some more examples of wearable technology?

Medical, Health & Fitness

Using wearables to track health and fitness metrics is incredibly popular. Devices that track metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, calorie intake, and menstrual cycles are increasingly prominent in the market, in part boosted by the rise in personal health and hygiene caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Devices developed specifically for use in hospitals and the medical community are a growing subcategory.

Smart Clothing

Smart watches, shoes, clothing, and jewelry fall into the category of smart clothing, also called intelligent fashion. These are wearable devices that offer service and fashion in one, integrating technology to provide useful data, or perhaps to create a dramatic visual statement, as in the case of the Fiber Optic Tutus we created for the Brooklyn Ballet. 

Gaming

The gaming and entertainment industries were key pioneers in exploring wearables like smart glasses, VR and AR headsets, and specialty controllers. These remain at the cutting edge of what these industries have to offer, and aim to create increasingly seamless interactions between the user and the media experience. 

There you have it!

Wearable technology is our wheelhouse, so we could talk about it all day. Wearables are devices that incorporate smart technology and interface with the body to generate data that can be used in a number of ways, from medical health and daily fitness to virtual entertainment and fashion innovation. Check out our Insight posts to learn more about what we do at Interwoven Design. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!