Design is everywhere.
The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and the buildings we work in all incorporate design in one way or another. In a society that has become increasingly dependent on cell phones, iPods and laptops, design is becoming a vital component of these and many other technologies.
Electronic Ink is an international design consultancy that is dedicated to improving the way users interact with technology by focusing on improving their design.
The firm has partnered with DesignPhiladelphia, an initiative created in 2005 to further the creative advancement of technology in Philadelphia and to showcase the city as one of innovation and vibrancy.
For 10 days, DesignPhiladelphia, which is partnered with the University of the Arts, is holding events, lectures and round table discussions to create opportunities for people to interact across a vast range of design categories.
“With 110 events happenings over 11 days, there’s really something for every type of interest,” said Beth Van Why, the programming director for DesignPhiladelphia.
Electronic Ink took part in the kick-off party on Oct. 7 at The Design Lot on South Broad Street to help celebrate the start of DesignPhiladelphia’s sixth year. The event played host to a few different exhibits, including the West Philly Hybrid X Team car, designed by high school students in West Philadelphia and Illuminating Graffiti, a LED light project created by The Hacktory.
“By bringing all of the events into one place, we can showcase a lot of different avenues of what DesignPhiladelphia can be,” said Van Why, who has been working to support the initiative for over four and a half years.
She first got involved when she was a student and entered her own work. Over time, she has seen design evolve as designers begin to explore the multiple dimensions of design.
Electronic Ink has seen these changes taking place first hand. The firm’s goal at DesignPhiladelphia 2010 is to demonstrate that designers are at work in places people might not expect like inside the software in hospitals, said CEO Harold Hambrose.
“We’ve got designers who are designing products, who are designing posters and who are designing skyscrapers,” he added.
The 21-year-old firm consults for the largest businesses around the world, said Hambrose. The company’s clients include Rite Aid Inc., Saint Jude, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T, Gamervision and more than 150 others.
“We help them understand through the design process how their businesses operate, and we help them use design to see how their business could perform better,” he said. The end result, Hambrose noted, is often software developed in partnership by both technologists and designers.
The designers at Electronic Ink are committed to putting users first in everything they do – something that technologists are not as likely to consider doing when writing software.
“When designers come to the table, they help us clearly understand what the problems and challenges are that technology can solve,” Hambrose said. “[Designers] give us a safe and effective way of exploring what technology could be in order to solve those problems before we go off and write the code,” he added.
Hambrose, who is from Haddon Heights, N.J., considers himself a Philadelphia native. His consulting firm has been in Philadelphia for all of its history – almost.
When Hambrose first started up the firm, he took the company to London. A large project in Europe presented Hambrose and his company with a new opportunity for the designers. It was a time when there was not yet a precedent for how designers could become involved in software development.
Once the project had ended, Hambrose brought the company back to Philadelphia, where he is very happy now, he said.
“This has been a fantastic city for design because of the cultural institutions that are here, the attention it gives to the arts and the importance of a creative economy,” he said.
The company left its roots in England with a satellite office. “It was a great experiment and really gave us a global mindset from the beginning,” Hambrose said.
Hambrose’s focus on globalizing design has proved to be a great feature of the company. In September, Electronic Ink was selected as the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce 2011 Technological Excellence of the Year award winner. The award category was one of 10 that acknowledged the accomplishments of small businesses in the region and how their work contributes to the area.
“In the Technological Excellence category, Electronic Ink quickly rose to the top,” Co-chair of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Small Business Board, Jesse Kramer wrote in a press release. “The fact that they are an international player providing solid solutions for a multitude of diverse clients made them a strong candidate.”
On Oct. 12, Hambrose spoke as part of the DuPont Corian Dialogues on Design series at an event called ‘Design: The Key to Business Innovation,’ focusing on the need for forward-thinking and the integration of designers into business and technology models.
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