Design is in the Details, Project Inkwell Case Study

What I hear, I forget.
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand.
    – Lao Tse, Chinese philosopher, b. 604 BC

Photo of the Spark

Picture of the Spark.

Amanda McCoy Bast, Senior Designer for Adobe in Seattle, joined our class last week to discuss design. Originally starting at Adobe as a Print Designer, Amanda provided us with a thorough overview of the design process from her perspective. While reading Moggridge in preparation for her presentation, she emphasized three items in the chapter that mirror what she does as a design professional: constraints, prototypes and proximity. Moggridge highlights an interview in his book between Charles Eames and Madame Amic, Eames says that design is “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose,” (p. 648). We’ll look at how this definition relates to Amanda’s key points from Moggridge and explore a design case study for Inkwell’s Spark.


A top nominee for the 2007 Index Award, Inkwell’s Spark was designed by IDEO to provide K-12 “students with a highly mobile device that supports collaboration and multimedia work through educational software.” In addition to those specifications, IDEO had to build within the constraints of durability, cost, ease of use and portability. These constraints helped IDEO create a set of parameters to work within. Without constraints, the sky would be the limit and the product would fail to meet the user’s expectations. As Mark Anderson, CEO of Project Inkwell states in an interview on KPLU, the durable design of the product is extremely important because of who your users are, in the example of the Spark, the users are primarily children.


After watching the Nightline Special “The Deep Dive” and seeing IDEO‘s design process first hand, I can image this product was just as fun to design as the shopping cart. I can envision the designers taking apart video games, dissecting children’s books, computers and toys trying to create the first Spark prototype. As Moggridge mentions, prototypes are “a representation of a design, made before the final solution exists” (p. 685). Amanda stressed the importance of prototypes because you get to see the product and interpret it right away; this is especially helpful when you are dealing with multiple versions of prototypes. To use the shopping cart design process as an example, the team built a few different prototypes and used the best elements of each to build their final design. In the case of the Spark, IDEO collected a group of experts “to understand and synthesize the needs and desires of students, and to prototype possible solutions.”


Proximity is also important because it is necessary to understand how things work within the design before building it. Amanda highlighted a great example from the Moggridge book in an interview with Mitch Kapor, “when you go to design a house, you talk to an architect first…because the criteria for what makes a good building fall substantially outside the domain of what engineering deals with,” (p. 657). If IDEO had brought in the computer programmers to start on the software first, you might not have settled on the durable, cost effective, stylish final product. Rather you might get another mobile device that is too costly to give to a child, let alone justify for educational use.


Another picture of the Spark

Another picture of the Spark

It is a little unclear if this device has been able to make strides in the educational space since its design in 2006. Coverage on this particular device and Inkwell seem limited during the brief internet search I conducted to write this post. That aside, it is important, as Amanda demonstrated in her real-life application of design concepts, that processes help shape better products and create a more successful vision.


Listen to Mark Anderson’s interview on KPLU, CEO of Project Inkwell


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