How to Apply Eames’s Legendary “Powers of 10” to Real-life Problems

Since our technical systems are wholly mixed up with our natural systems, that creates additional levels of complexity. In order to design within these confounding contexts, we need to be able to scale up and scale down as we design: to consider both the granularity of the things we are designing as well as the much larger contexts within which they exist.

Here’s what I mean. A designer considering urban mobility may start at the level of 10^1and consider only the automobile. But zoom out a bit, and you realize that it’s essential to think not just of the automobile, but also of other competing modes of transportation — buses, bicycles, pedestrians, skateboards — that may determine the speed and feasibility of movement. Zoom out to 10^3, and you must understand the dynamics of the neighborhood, and the impact that automobile traffic has on livability, public health, or retail viability.


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This October 10, 2010 is Powers of Ten day — 10/10/10, a milestone on the design thinking calendar. It’s named for the film Powers of Ten, made by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968. And for designers, it’s an opportunity to both celebrate the Eames Office’s groundbreaking film as well as a chance to recognize the power of scale in shaping our understanding of the world around us. There will be festivities around the world. Check out the Powers of Ten website, as well as the powersof10 blog that lists some events.

If you haven’t yet seen the film, take a moment to watch it.

Powers of Ten is arguably more relevant now than it was the year it was released. The simple idea executed in the film has become a powerful construct for thinking through design problems today. In it, Charles and Ray Eames guide us through a deceptively straightforward exercise — zooming out to 10^24 and then back in to 10^-16 — re-framing a simple scene by showing it within ever-larger and then smaller contexts. Leer más “How to Apply Eames’s Legendary “Powers of 10” to Real-life Problems”