Ballio’s A3 experience

Participating in Project A3 has been one of the best experiences in my design career. It’s taught me quite a bit in a short few weeks. The whole idea of connecting Appalachia, AGI designers, and Automattic is a radical and exciting idea.

I had a really good time getting to know Ethan, who’s working on this website with me. We had a joyous interview which we both got to know each other a bit. As a designer growing up in Hong Kong, then moved to the United States, en route the suburbs of Utah, Los Angeles, and Austin, I had no idea what life is like in Paintsville, KY near the Appalachia.

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Interview with Ethan

Turns out living in Paintsville is not that different. Ethan and his peers go to high school. They play and love sports (Ethan, in particular, loves fishing!). They’re trying to explore what career paths are available to them. They tweet and post pictures on Instagram. They stress about the mock ACTs that’s going on in the past weeks. 🙂

What strikes me the most about these students is their interest and openness to learning about new ideas. It has reminded me of myself in school, sucking up every new piece of knowledge like a sponge. During the project, we all had an opportunity to remotely visit the ExCite center at Drexel University. Dr. Youngmoo Kim led us through his chocolate factory of a school. We get to peer at multiple projects and inventions the students at his school has cooked up. There are robots, high-tech fabrics, electronic-enhanced instruments floating around. I immediate felt like a kid all over again. The inspiration was flowing, to say the least.

The main event of the project, is getting to collaborate with legendary designer, Taku Satoh, from Japan. Mr. Satoh has designed some of the most ubiquitous packaging in Japan, including the Xylitol gum, which I have used it many times myself! For this project, Ethan and I got to collaborate with Mr. Satoh, as well as interview him via Skype along with my fellow Automattic designer, Takashi Irie, who has kindly helped us translate splendidly.

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Interview with Taku Satoh. He showed us the popular Japanese gum packaging that he designed, which he still uses often. He went on to tell us one of the goals of designing something so ubiquitous like a chewing gum — was to educate people about design.

Mr. Satoh has came up of the featured artwork on this website — the silhouette a man (Mr. Satoh himself) holding an upside-down umbrella. You’ll also find a few other folks who has contributed to the motif by submitting photos of themselves holding an upside-down umbrella. The idea behind the website is a reminder for all of us to think about how we can re-use and conserve water. Mr. Satoh explained that water is a scarce commodity that we all take for granted, yet we don’t think about how much water is wasted. Would you like to contribute a photo as well? Sure! Email me a photo of yourself holding an upside-down umbrella at I’ll put you live on the website shortly. 🙂

“Water” is a theme that Mr. Satoh has worked with for a long time, and it’s also very important to him. During the interview, he told us a story of how much water is needed to make a bowl of gyu-don (Japanese beef rice bowl). At least 1000 liters of water is required to make a gyu-don. That got him interested and thinking about the theme of “water” quite a bit after that. He’s since created different artworks and even an exhibit on water in Japan to raise attention for the public to learn more about water.

The interview with Mr. Satoh has been an insightful experience. Ethan has prepared great questions for the interview. He has taken copious notes and has written about his experience on this blog. The most memorable moment for me during the interview was Ethan’s question of “What is design?” Mr. Satoh then proceed to answer that:

Design is like water. We all need design to survive. And like water, design seeps through holes and cracks and can influence all aspects of life.

It’s amazing to hear someone think about design that way. This interview will forever be in my head. I’m very grateful to have done this project.