Lessons from DIY + Design


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Last June 2-7, I participated in something called a “DIY + Design” workshop.

The first half was a design thinking workshop in which students collaborated with partners in the local community to create solutions for them and their businesses. The second half was a woodworking workshop that taught the students and community partners how to work with scarcity of materials – only three sizes of lumber (2x2’s, 2x4’s, and 2x6’s), screws, and nails were available.

What resulted was an experience I’ll never forget.


About the organizers


Ishinomaki Lab handled the woodworking workshop. It was spawned from the wreckage created during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's east coast. They began running workshops for the local community to restore businesses in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. They’ve since taken their workshops across the world.


Hub of Innovation For Inclusion, or HiFi, is a space for students of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde to capitalize on their ideas to create social good in their community. They helped connect us with the community partners.


The design thinking workshop was handled by Habi Education Lab. They exist to educate people, from students to professionals, about the design process, design thinking, and how design can benefit businesses and communities.


Managing expectations

The first lesson I learned was one that was learned collectively. The community partners, most of them being street vendors, expected that we were going to be making food carts. Even I expected food carts – it wasn’t until we started woodworking, and finding that there were no wheels available, that we realized that wasn’t the case.

Thankfully, nothing spiraled out of control. Earlier in the workshop, we defined a design statement and design principles, which acted as a set of parameters that made sure that we were solving the right problems with our product, regardless of its form.

Our group aimed to create an environment that encouraged people to stick around rather than leave immediately after purchasing. The community partners we teamed with remarked that when there’s a place for them to stay, people become more attracted to buy their products. I liken it to the business model of coffeeshops.


Working within constraints

I mentioned already our constraints with materials, which was entirely the point of the workshop, but we were also pressed for time. We didn’t know that there was another batch of participants for the woodworking workshop, so that cut our total working time by about 4 hours. This is partly why making food carts became a blurry possibility.

On top of that, not all the community partners could be there for the whole duration of the workshop, and one of the later batches of lumber was significantly thicker than the previous ones.

Our team had to focus on what could be done, rather than overshooting expectations and ending up being constrained by insufficient resources, whether that be by a lack of materials or time. We settled on a design that was simple enough to exist within all our parameters.



We designed a bench and table that could be quickly taken apart and stored in a light, compact form.




Total number of parts for the bench.

Total number of parts for the bench.


They’re easy to repair. They each have a small number of parts that are easily replaceable.


Designing with purpose

To me, design without the end user in mind is vain and vacuous. I’ve always thought this, but it seems much truer having been a part of something like this.

Beyond the catharsis of coming up with an idea and seeing it through, or the enjoyment of working at wood with various tools, or even the excitement of working with people I’ve never met before, what I’m really glad about is that our product won’t be sticking around at some exhibit somewhere for the rest of its lifespan. It will be used and enjoyed by people.

It puts things into perspective. It makes an obvious notion like design itself – bringing about something new into the world to achieve a goal – a lot more real to me.



Milton Glasser's "Ten Things I Have Learned"

Took me a while, but I finally came around to reading this famous essay by designer Milton Glasser. I’m really glad I did. Lots of quality, salient advice not just for design, but for living life.

Here are some bits that I enjoyed reading… On “less is more”:

If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realize that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’

I thought this part, with the heading "Less is not necessarily more”, would be difficult to agree with since I heavily subscribe to the Dieter Rams school of thought that’s literally summed up by the term “less is more”, but I think both arrive at the same place – the alternative that Glasser proposes.

On personal style:

If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. I mean, after all, you have developed a vocabulary, a form that is your own. It is one of the ways that you distinguish yourself from your peers, and establish your identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. The question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult...

...anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.

On being open to new ideas, including the possibility that you’re wrong:

There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture…

Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you. Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy.

Reminds me of this Vlogbrothers video by Hank Green about acknowledging your own ignorance and how simple ideas can gradually, unnoticeably germinate into established, limiting cultures. Sadly, societal structures and systems seem to neglect this reality. Instead they demand and reward perfection in whatever sense, or purvey the notion that it’s even an attainable thing.

I completed a trifecta here, but the whole thing shows phenomenal insight that I’m sure I’ll keep looking back at. I wish I read this before going to university.

Update – August 2017

I think I’m at a crossroads with the blog. For the first time I pondered shutting things down. My subscription with Squarespace expires in September and at the pace I’m writing now, it’s hard to bring myself to renew it.

Although I gave it a bit more thought and I figured that I could overcome this lull like I have others before: just by starting and gaining momentum. So I’m gonna give that a shot in August, not without a few other changes...

I’ve been pretty headstrong with maintaining my shortform style since I started using it, and it’s really helped transform the blog. Now that I have much less time on my hands since starting, I think a similar change is warranted.

I don’t know exactly how this change will manifest yet, but my gut’s telling me it has to happen if I still want to be writing here at all, and I do. Maybe I’ll delve into different topics. Maybe I’ll shift the tone a lil’ bit here and there. Maybe I’ll be posting photos again. (I will.) And yeah, I’ll make sure the site will keep being about what it’s always been about while I’m at it.

So stay tuned. It might be the last month of The Solitary Hideout, but if she goes down, she’ll go down swingin’.

Also hope you like the new coat of paint.

Fear and Creativity

In case you needed this like I did: photography YouTuber Ted Forbes talks about the fear of getting yourself and your work out there.

Apart from a lack of time and energy, this kind of fear is partly why I had a hard time coming back to writing. There are also several other things I’m starting to pursue – it’s probably at this stage that the fear is most real. Oftentimes it manifests itself as crippling doubt.

The best way I know how to overcome it is to overlook it – to see the bigger picture. At the end of the day, as with anything, there are practical steps to achieving even the loftiest of goals.

Art Fair Philippines 2017 – Pt. 1

Some friends and I were already hanging out in the area where this was happening. The tickets were cheap and it seemed like a big deal with all the lines by the entrance.


The fair took place in a shopping mall carpark, which made little sense to me at first, but it gave the space a bit of that artsy grit and liveliness lacking in, say, a typical modern art museum. It made the fair feel like a little town for the art pieces and its onlookers.


A few sponsor booths were present – thankfully they didn't detract much from the art.



I imagine this one being a painstaking piece. Puts into perspective the manhours put into everything shown at the event.


This collection of surrealist figures greets visitors near the entrance – it's among my favorites.


I learned I have a soft spot for textured artworks like these.


The gears actually moved on this one. An explicit one, but incredible still.


Reminds me of KAWS.


Already looking forward to next year's. More photos soon.

Update – December 2016

The Solitary Hideout will return on Friday, December 16, 2016. I’ve got a few longform posts on the way regarding Apple’s “Hello Again” event from October and the Nintendo Switch.

Also expect the usual shortform posts on design and technology.

Hope you’re still with me on this. 

In the Meantime, Give These Sites a Visit

While I'm gone, get your fix of nice tech-related (and non-tech-related) things to read and watch while I'm away.

One more thing. If you're an avid article reader like myself, you'll want to check out Instapaper since they just made their premium features completely free.

To Pocket users: if you're not a fan of the slightly kitschy design and font choices of Pocket, Instapaper's for you. You can easily import your articles, too. (Export from here.) I recently made the switch.

Update - November 2016

In short, it’s time for a hiatus.

Schoolwork is taking virtually all of my time, and there’s simply too much news passing me by to make sense of it all at the moment. (Don’t get me started with the MacBook Pro outcry. Ugh.)

I guess now’s a good time as any to let you know that, strangely, I’m still quite active on Twitter. So if you’re into even shorter form content, sprinkled with personal updates and ramblings here and there, follow me on Twitter.

I should be back around Christmas break, starting mid-December, which isn’t too long from now. 

The Solitary Hideout Redesign 1

No, you’re not in a trance. I have updated the site colors from old, drab navy blue to the fluorescent neon orange and pink you see before you now.

I’ve been told in the past that while the site looked nice, the blue/grey scheme I had going on for a while was… well, simply put, boring. While I’ll always maintain the blue/grey scheme as the most suitable for the site considering its content, the new colors are a needed breath of fresh air.

That’s pretty much all my rationale behind it – it looks livelier and it’s different. Very different. I’ll probably think that more than anyone else since, by nature of being its owner, I have to stare at it the most. Might as well make it more visually stimulating.

I also wanted to pick colors that didn’t clash with the content on the site too much, either. I thought orange (with pink as an accent) created the cutting edge feel I wanted to maintain from the old design.

The Facebook and Twitter pages have also been updated to reflect the site’s redesign. Again, you can click the buttons in the sidebar to follow the site through those.

I’ll probably return the Solitary Hideout back to its original (canonical!) colors sometime in the future, but I can imagine that being hard to do for a long, long while. So I really hope you enjoy the eye-candy.