When Data Meets Design: Finding Collaboration & New Direction at the Rev Hardware Accelerator

When Data Meets Design: Finding Collaboration & New Direction at the Rev Hardware Accelerator

Xanthe Matychak was enchanted by the idea of utilizing light to visualize biological data. She participated in the 2015 Rev Hardware Accelerator to explore a product  concept that helps people tune their lives to nature through smart lighting.

Wicked Device, a high-tech hardware, manufacturing, and electrical engineering consulting company, came to the Hardware Accelerator to iterate a new product idea as well.

“I believe with all of my heart that art is the bridge between scientific data and human agency…If you can deliver data to people in a way that feels meaningful, then they are much more likely to be moved to do something.”

-Xanthe Matychak, Designer

By the end of the summer, the two project teams discovered an overlap between their individual missions. Matychak desired to reframe data and technology in a way that is joyful and creates a lasting relationship with the users; Wicked Device aimed to portray its data in a more enrapturing way. Matychak recognized an opportunity for collaboration, and they began work on a project called, “Illuminating Air Quality” (working title).

The Rev Hardware Accelerator was created to strengthen the hardware entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Southern Tier of New York State, taking advantage of the region’s assets in engineering, manufacturing, and business incubation to diversify the economy and employment in upstate New York. Last year, the Hardware Accelerator supported 9 teams by providing funding, mentorship, and access to a state-of-the-art prototyping lab to develop their ideas.

“Rev provided a place for me to take my projects to the next level,” said Matychak. She initially contracted Wicked Device to help with the lighting technology she needed to visualize biological data about the moon, sun, and weather. “It was great working with people that I already knew and trusted.”

“I think it’s super important for Rev to act as a seed for this community. Our collaboration is an example of where it has paid off.”

-Dirk Swart, co-founder of Wicked Device

Partway through the summer, Dirk Swart, co-founder of Wicked Device, was invited to give a talk at the Accelerator on how to work with contract manufacturers. One of Wicked Device’s products is the Air Quality Egg, which monitors air pollution in real-time. That day, Matychak identified the connection between her lighting concept and its ability to amplify the effects of the Air Quality Egg’s data visualization.

Matychak has an interdisciplinary design background, and she’s driven by the concept of “making better stuff.” She believes that integrating sustainability values with maker values can lead to products that are intentional, with the purpose of being good for people and the planet. Products that are accessible, easy to upgrade and repair, and that celebrate nature, culture, and also strengthen relationships, are valuable. Designing with these factors in mind provides more meaning for creators and users.

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Wicked Device is a high-tech company based in Ithaca, NY. The Air Quality Egg’s international success is significant, but Swart often received feedback about making improvements to the product’s data reporting. How could the data be conveyed in a more engaging way?

Matychak approached Swart and his business partner, Vic Aprea, about collaborating. They started work on a lighting concept that would connect to the Egg’s data in real-time, and change color as the air quality altered throughout the day.

“The shift [in product purpose] just felt right. It felt less conceptual, and more pragmatic,” Matychak said.

“I believe with all of my heart that art is the bridge between scientific data and human agency. Data is often hard to read – it feels cold. But if you can deliver it to people in a way that feels meaningful, then they are much more likely to be moved to do something,” explained Matychak.

Wicked Device solved its problem of visualizing data, and Matychak helped the company pivot towards a more thoughtful strategy for the Egg.

She gave an example where students could install Air Quality Eggs and connected lights in their classrooms. Students might notice that the lights change color when school buses are idling outside at the end of the school day, which would indicate an alteration in air quality. A dynamic display in the classroom could move teachers, students, and parents to work together with school administrators to assess the data and make a change.

There’s a quote from James Gustave Steph, former administrator of the UN Development Programme and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, that says, “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy–and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

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Xanthe Matychak explains the Illuminating Air Quality display at the Ithaca College EdTech Conference

 

The Illuminating Air Quality project helped Wicked Device overcome the common gap between scientific products and necessary cultural integration.

It used a design that celebrates nature and technology, strengthens the relationship with users, and motivates action. Wicked Device solved its problem of visualizing data, and Matychak helped the company pivot towards a more thoughtful strategy for the Egg.

“I aligned our collective capacities with something that I knew was meaningful to [Wicked Device],” she said.

Last year, the Hardware Accelerator supported 9 teams by providing funding, mentorship, and access to a state-of-the-art prototyping lab to develop their ideas.

The future of the project is bright: an app is being developed, and the Illuminating Air Quality project continues to be displayed and improved. The team is working on customer research. “We’re not sure if the lights will become a commercial product, but I think they have breathed new life into an existing one: Air Quality Egg,” Matychak concluded.

Swart is excited for the future of the project, and thankful for the collaboration that happened at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works. “One of the biggest offerings that Rev can provide is this idea of creating a community. I think it’s super important for Rev to act as a seed for this community. Our collaboration is an example of where it has paid off.”

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Kristi Krulcik is a Marketing & Communications Associate for the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. To stay up-to-date on new resources from Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, join our email newsletter.

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