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Review: "Design for the Other 90%"

An exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, highlights the role of design in the developing world

6 min read

The designs now on display at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, aren't as sleek as an iPhone. They're not as glossy as a pair of Nike Shox, nor are they as sexy as a souped-up Bugatti. ”The majority of the world's designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10 percent of the world's customers,” said entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Polak, whose work inspired the exhibit. ”Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90 percent.” But that 90 percent lives in parts of the world where poverty is inescapable and luxuries are uncommon. So how can design--often understood as superficial--save and transform lives?

”Design for the Other 90%,” on view until 23 September in the New York City museum's Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden, showcases design's potential to address the developing world's most pressing concerns. Chief among these are the need for safe and reliable energy, shelter, education, transportation, health, and water. Making cheap, clean water accessible to impoverished rural communities has been the main focus of Polak's work since 1981. Multiple water solutions are on display, and each one illustrates the sophisticated thinking that must go into filling a basic need. The answers to vexing, large-scale problems are packaged in the deceptively simple form of a plastic water jug, a bucket, and a straw. Some designs are more successful than others.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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