Cornell Silicon Valley event designs for the future

March 21, 2012

CALIFORNIA — "If you live long enough, you may need my help down the line," said C.C. Chu, professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell, referring to his research on nature-inspired biomaterials for human body repair. His biomedical products have applications for drug delivery, wound healing, and synthetic vaccines, he said. Such discoveries, he added, could make Ithaca "the new Bionic Valley."

Speaking at Cornell Silicon Valley's March 14 event, "Designing the Future: Cornell and the Technology of Today and Tomorrow," at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, Chu was one of about 20 speakers, including Cornell President David Skorton, to address some 500 Cornell alumni, parents, and friends. Talks focused on product and gadget design, experiential and media design and designing connected, and sustainable cities of the future.

"The way we represent the world through art is a form of technology — everything is design, and in a sense, art," said Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning, in his introductory remarks.

Behance founder and CEO Scott Belsky '02 in the opening talk noted that, "Most ideas never happen, many suffer terrible odds." His firm, he said, in part serves as a think tank and shares best practices to help "creative" move beyond idea generation into idea execution.

In a panel discussion on product and gadget design that explored the tradeoffs that hardware and software designers make to bring products to market, Jon Rubinstein '78, former chairman and CEO of Palm Inc., noted, "There is tremendous art in designing products and getting the best feature set and right user experience."

Laura Weiss '85, executive at Taproot Foundation and formerly at the consulting firm IDEO, added, "Service design is the future of product design for two reasons: It offers new revenue streams and ways to keep consumers more engaged."

Hod Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, talked about "thinking" machines that come up with their own creative ideas. Another panel discussion grappled with trends in user-experience research and human-computer interaction. Kimon Tsinteros '02, a software engineer at Facebook and cofounder of digital book darling Push Pop Press, said touch-enabled and touchless devices that are sensor-based are the future. Jeff Hawkins '79, cofounder of Numenta, Handspring and Palm, said, "When users tell you what they want in a product, I've learned that they are fundamentally always wrong. You need to observe their actions - that's key to designing anything."

Skorton gave an overview of the planned New York City-based CornellNYC Tech - Home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. With hubs of concentration on social media, technology for a healthier life, and the built environment, the NYC campus ultimately will be home to some 2,500 graduate students and 280 faculty, he said.

"It's a startup, a real startup, and represents the first time a complete campus has been built 'on contract' with a municipality," said Skorton, adding that the planned campus has struck a resonant chord. "That's exciting."

In the final panel discussion of the day, which explored designing connected, "smart" cities of the future, Don Greenberg, professor of computer graphics at Cornell, predicted: "In the future, the designer and artist will command the greatest space."

By Nancy Tomkins, principal at Words By Design in Menlo Park, California

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