Design Is Changing How We Work

The way we do our jobs is changing rapidly. See where everything from Big Mac-making to computer printing to work-life balancing is headed.


Garthen Leslie is an IT consultant and looks the part. He’s geeky, quiet, and middle-aged, sporting a long, untucked white polo, khakis, and wire-framed glasses. But today, very suddenly, he is also the face of a new ideal–a symbol of how invention itself is being reinvented.

“It was August and really hot,” Leslie says, recalling how it all began, as he reaches for an hors d’oeuvre at a media-saturated party being thrown in his honor in Manhattan’s Chelsea neigh­borhood (Martha Stewart will amble through the door in about 15 minutes). The 63-year-old had been commuting from Washington, D.C., to suburban Maryland, dreading the hellishly stuffy home that awaited him–but he didn’t want to leave his AC on all day, for fear of an equally hellish energy bill. “I thought, There are all kinds of applications for smartphones,” he says. “Why couldn’t we marry one to these window air conditioners?” He dreamt up a device that did just that and submitted it to a New York startup called Quirky, which turns great ideas into best-selling products.

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Your Eyeballs Are Your Password

Photo: Eva O’Leary and Harry Griffin

Your Eyeballs Are Your Password



Threats like the Heartbleed web bug mean we need more secure ways to do our work online. EyeLock, a New York–based company, has responded with Myris, a palm-size device that scans your irises to log you in to your favorite sites. While eye-scanning tech isn’t new, Myris, which costs $279, is likely the first for folks without Level 10 FBI clearance. The process is as simple as taking a selfie:

  1. Look into the USB–connected Myris as if it were a mirror. A camera briefly ­records your eyes, turning 240 iris traits into a unique ID.
  2. Enter the URLs and credentials for your most-frequented destinations–from Facebook to American Express.
  3. Log in to the sites by clicking an icon and glancing at the Myris, which boasts a 1 in 2 trillion error margin. Say cheese!

The Printer Grows A Set (Of Wheels)

Illustration: Tommy Chandra

The Printer Grows A Set (Of Wheels)

Pocket Printer

Zuta Labs


The way we work is increasingly mobile, but the standard printer has remained stubbornly tethered to the office–until now. Zuta Labs’ Kickstarter-funded Pocket Printer, a roving, smartphone-controlled robot carrying an ink cartridge, can slip easily into a bag and be pulled out whenever–and wherever–the user needs a tangible document. “There’s still the need for printing a page or two, especially on the go,” says cofounder and codesigner Tuvia Elbaum. The Pocket Printer, which recently surpassed its $400,000 Kickstarter goal, will be sold for $240 next year.

People Can Work In All New Ways

Workers’ choice: “Retention and satisfaction are very high,” says Miller of Business Talent Group. “People tell us they can’t find another job like this.”Photo: by Geordie Wood

People Can Work In All New Ways

Business Talent Group

Jody Greenstone Miller

When Jody Miller worked as COO of Americast, the digital television partnership between Disney and the regional telephone companies, she would fantasize about walking up to Disney CEO Bob Iger and asking him if she could run a division. “But let me figure out how to structure it,” she would tell him, “so that I can achieve the goals I want in the relationship between work and the rest of my life.”

In 2007, when she left to start a consulting firm, she got her chance. At Business Talent Group, which connects senior-level independent workers with the projects of clients from a range of fields, half of the company’s leader­ship team works part time. “Everyone is talking about flexibility and work-life balance, and I think those are becoming red herrings and are stopping us from solving the problem,” Miller says. “Flexibility is not sufficient if you still have a job that structured to require 50, 60 hours per week.”

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Fast Food Speeds Up

McDonald’s Newcastle

Fast Food Speeds Up

21st Century Operating Platform



Since opening its doors almost 75 years ago, McDonald’s has expanded its eight-item menu to include more than 100 options, which meant it needed a system that would “work better for our customers and business, but also better for our employees,” says Melody Roberts, senior director of experience innovation. What McDonald’s calls the 21st Century Operating Platform has been rolled out to thousands of restaurants globally since 2010. It includes “fast-forward” drive-throughs, ordering kiosks, digital menu boards, and a more efficient food-assembly process.

Illustrations: Aaron Lloyd Barr

Old Way

  1. Mom approaches the counter during dinner rush hour and orders five meals for her and the kids she’s hauling from soccer practice.
  2. The employee logs each item into the register.
  3. Mom pays, while workers in an assembly line prep the burgers. Another employee at the end of the line bags the meals, then scrambles around the kitchen to grab sodas and desserts, increasing wait time.
  4. Mom and kids loiter by the counter, creating crowding and confusion, until the bags land at an unspecified space between registers.
Illustrations: Aaron Lloyd Barr

New Way

  1. Mom walks up to an electronic, credit-card-enabled McDonald’s kiosk and begins tapping in the orders.
  2. Items are sent to a hub, where ­employees work separately, but in parallel, to complete the order, ­resulting in less running around in the kitchen.
  3. Mom glides over to the designated pickup section.
  4. She grabs the McDonald’s bags before the kids even realize they were waiting.

New Productivity Tools Offer An Extra Boost

Illustration: Nicolas Castro

New Productivity Tools Offer An Extra Boost

Designers are leading us past the to-do list to get more done, more efficiently.


An app for Workers to expense company purchases and get reimbursed the next day

How it works: Employers and employees simply connect their bank accounts and approved expenses will be paid securely, automatically, and quickly. “[With other apps] I can order delivery, concerts, and cars in real time,” says cofounder Omar Qari. “But at work, I submit a report, and I’ll eventually get the money back.”

Who It’s for: Businesses with a distributed workforce. The on-demand cleaning service HomeJoy, for example, uses it to reimburse staff who buy supplies for an assignment.

Why It Matters: Currently available for $5 per employee, per month, Abacus could end the need for corporate cards, obliterate that stack of reimbursement forms sitting on the payroll manager’s desk, and make sure workers don’t have to eat ramen until the check comes in.

Bullet Journal

An improved, analog method of taking notes and cataloging tasks.


How it works: Users write out tasks and draw a symbol beside them–duties with immediate deadlines are starred, while notes are bulleted, and events get an empty circle. The upshot is a simulated “table of contents” effect on the brain.

Who It’s for: Busy creatives who prefer pen and pencil to touch screens but still want to be organized and efficient.

Why It Matters: “It creates friction,” designer Ryder Carroll says of the method, which requires users to index all tasks–completed or not–at the start of each new month. (He teaches the free technique on his site.) “You recall things easier when you write them down. That’s lost in digital to-do lists.”


A headband that monitors your brain waves to help you stay focused.

How it works: Sensors in the Melon measure electrical signals (i.e., brain activity), then sync that data with your laptop or mobile device via Bluetooth and alert you if your mind is wandering. “It’s about researching yourself,” says cofounder Arye Barnehama, “whether you’re playing an instrument or in a creative meeting.”

Who It’s for: The scatterbrained office worker too distracted by YouTube–or too drowsy from last night’s happy hour–to get everything done.


Why It Matters: By seeing how the brain behaves at certain times and in different circumstances, users can spot problem areas and develop new habits to work more efficiently (e.g., scheduling phone calls in the afternoon to combat lethargy instead of diving into a backlog of reports). A release is planned for later this year.


A technology that improves reading speed and recall

How it works: Spritz exploits something called the optimal recognition point–the area that the brain uses to process a word. Readers keep their eyes focused in this position while words flash individually on their device’s screen. With a Spritz-enabled device or app, users can digest text at up to 1,000 words per minute (nearly five times the average).

Who It’s for: People who want to squeeze a little more time out of their commute or lunch break, say, to read articles or blaze through a chunk of unopened emails.

Why It Matters: “Publishing has changed, from Gutenberg to e-readers, but reading had not,” says Maik Maurer, cofounder and CTO. Spritz, which launched last spring on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 smartwatch, claims it can increase a user’s natural reading speed by 50%.