Do you want to get into the heads of the top initiators and performers from the architectural community? If so, we heartily welcome you to Archipreneur Insights! In this interview series, we talk to the leaders and key players who have created outstanding work and projects within the fields of architecture, building and development. Get to know how they did it and learn how you could do the same for your own business and projects.
This week’s interview is with Anna Kenoff, an architect, curator, and a co-creator of the software company Morpholio.
Morpholio was founded by Anna and three more architects who wanted smarter mobile tools for all phases of the design process. From our interview with Jim Keen we already know how amazing architectural illustrations can be by using Morpholio Trace. Besides Trace, for sketching and drafting, the suite for iPad and iPhone includes Morpholio, a digital portfolio, Board, for mood and design boards, and Journal, a sketchbook for drawing.
Morpholio believes that design tools should amplify the creative process, that thinking with your hands is critical, and that smart software should be accessible everywhere. And almost two million downloads and users in over 150 countries speak for themselves! The apps put designers first as they fuse the fluidity and speed of working by hand with the intelligence and precision of device and CAD technology.
Keep on reading to learn how architects founded this tech startup and how Morpholio could help your practice.
Enjoy the interview!
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I am an architect. I worked in New York City as an architect for almost ten years, spending the most time at Work AC, an OMA offshoot, and then at Columbia University curating and creating public programs, publications and exhibitions at the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. A notable exhibition from that time was Foreclosed: ReHousing the American Dream in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art. My interest was always in the way that design interacts with the public and it’s ability to shape culture.
What made you decide to found/create Morpholio and who are the co-founders?
Morpholio happened when the first iPad came out, in 2009. Suddenly, we were carrying these incredible devices, but they weren’t meeting any of our creative or professional needs. We were first struck by the beauty and mobility, and therefore created a portfolio app so that we could share and present our work anywhere. But, as a team, we felt strongly, even from this early moment, that the touch screen was a gift to creatives. We believed that the ability to interact with our work in a new way – by hand as opposed to mouse – would have tremendous potential for designers and artists.
My co-founders were friends from the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University who were starting to build apps, as well as another architect.
Because we all knew design culture so well, it was easy to generate ideas about how it might translate into device culture.
What is your role in the company?
We all collaborate on designing the features and experience of the software. I also handle all of the PR and work hard to build relationships with our community and share their stories.
What is Morpholio’s business model?
Our business model is based on subscriptions. The app is free for basic use. Pro Tools have a free trial and then a monthly $3.99 or yearly $11.99 subscription.
Morphilio’s flagship app is Trace. Could you give us some examples of how it can be used and how it helps architectural practices?
Canary yellow trace paper is very familiar to architects. It’s a tool we’ve used for decades as a drawing medium, and yet, it was one of the last things to get translated into the digital workflow. Architects use so many programs fluidly, but hand sketching is ultimately the way we communicate to create, develop, and discuss ideas.
This is where Morpholio Trace comes in. It is the only tool that takes you through the entire design workflow. From start to finish, whether you are sketching early ideas over a site photo, developing massing that require scale and measuring tools, marking up drawing sets and details, or capturing images on-site and making notes to share with a contractor, all you need these days is your iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.
It takes the fluidity of hand drawing and merges it with the precision and smart tools of CAD.
This means that not only can professionals benefit from this fast new intersection of thinking and drawing enhanced by digital magic, but that anyone can experience architecture and have access to design-specific tools that will help them start a renovation or dream up a new plan for their home or office.
Morpholio has just lanched two new augumented reality tools. Could you tell us a little about them?
Yes! Morpholio is excited to add augmented reality to Trace with the launch of AR Perspective Finder. This new drawing tool lets users uncover virtual perspective girds, to scale, anywhere — making complex sketching easy and accessible. The scaling of the projected grids is revolutionary, and is only made possible by the power of iPad and ARKit to read and interpret the environment for you. You can now capture any space and sketch on top with perspective grides and guides to help you get it right!
Morpholio is also exploring new territories in Augmented Reality with the launch of AR Color Capture, a new feature in its already popular Board app, a mood boarding app primarily for interior design ideas. The new tool lets anyone virtually sample, experience and record colors from the world around them. Not only is this a new way of experiencing color, but also a new way of allowing color to influence décor, design and sourcing.
How has your architectural training helped you in the actual running of your businesses? What specific/transferable skills have proved the most useful?
Practically, architects are trained to work very hard, and to try their hand at a variety of skills – from graphic design to various software and techniques – which means that we are well versed to tackle the day to day needs of a startup as they arise.
But, above all, architects are taught to look at problems differently. When faced with a challenge, we are encouraged to rethink the angle, look at it from a new perspective, maybe even reframe the question in order to propose something that is both smart and novel.
The building industry is known for being slow to adapt to now technologies. How is your experience with this?
We’ve found designers to generally be early adopters. They are not afraid to try new things and genuinely enthusiastic about finding ways to make their work smarter, faster and more productive.
Do you have any advice for Archipreneurs who want to start and build their own business?
Go for it! But stay lean. We’ve built a creative team that allowed us to do most of the work on our own without expensive outsourcing. They say that startups that have to make tough decisions early on about priorities sometimes make smarter decisions than those who take investment and don’t have the same constraints. Don’t be afraid to take risks and fail along the way, it’s all about experimenting and getting feedback as you build a community.
In which areas (outside of traditional practice) can you see major business opportunities for up and coming architects?
I believe technology is opening so many doors for makers. We see this in the Brooklyn neighborhoods where warehouses and office have been transformed into furniture, fabric and product studios and showrooms. Digital processes and fabrication are really creating new possibilities for creatives and architects already know how to work with materials and details.
On the other had, we’re seeing really interesting think tanks gather teams around solving problems across the city. I heard a story about a startup gathering architects, technologists, urban planners and public health specialists to rethink a group of disfunctional neighborhood health clinics into a highly performing network of care providers that could also better track the data, and therefore the needs, of the population they were serving. This feat required the application of both technology and design. I imagine this is more of a “social” opportunity than a “business” opportunity, but certainly an interesting segue career that could have various immeasurable rewards.
About Anna Kenoff
Anna Kenoff is an architect, curator, and a co-creator of Morpholio, a software company that makes mobile design tools for creatives and professionals such as architects and designers. As an architect, she worked in New York City leading projects for Work Architecture Company, and exhibitions and public programming for Columbia University’s Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
Anna would love to see your work and hear about your experience with Morpholio Trace or Board. Drop her a line at email@example.com
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No matter what walk of life you come from, what industry you’re interested in pursuing or how much experience you’ve already garnered, we’ve all seen firsthand the importance of critical thinking skills. In fact, lacking such skills can truly make or break a person’s career, as the consequences of one’s inability to process and analyze information effectively can be massive.
“The ability to think critically is more important now than it has ever been,” urges Kris Potrafka, founder and CEO of Music Firsthand. “Everything is at risk if we don’t all learn to think more critically.” If people cannot think critically, he explains, they not only lessen their prospects of climbing the ladder in their respective industries, but they also become easily susceptible to things like fraud and manipulation.
With that in mind, you’re likely wondering what you can do to make sure you’re not one of those people. Developing your critical thinking skills is something that takes concentrated work. It can be best to begin by exploring the definition of critical thinking and the skills it includes—once you do, you can then venture toward the crucial question at hand: How can I improve?
This is no easy task, which is why we aimed to help break down the basic elements of critical thinking and offer suggestions on how you can refine the skills that drive your own critical thinking abilities.
What is critical thinking?
Even if you want to be a better critical thinker, it’s hard to improve upon something you can’t define. Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it. Ideally, critical thinking is to be done objectively—meaning without influence from personal feelings, opinions or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information.
Critical thinking is a skill that allows you to make logical and informed decisions to the best of your ability. For example, a child who has not yet developed such skills might believe the Tooth Fairy left money under their pillow based on stories their parents told them. A critical thinker, however, can quickly conclude that the existence of such a thing is probably unlikely—even if there are a few bucks under their pillow.
6 Crucial critical thinking skills (and how you can improve them)
While there’s no universal standard for what skills are included in the critical thinking process, we’ve boiled it down to the following six.
The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation or problem as well as the factors that may influence it. Once you have a clear picture of the situation and the people, groups or factors that may be influenced, you can then begin to dive deeper into an issue and its potential solutions.
How to improve: When facing any new situation, question or scenario, stop to take a mental inventory of the state of affairs and ask the following questions:
- Who is doing what?
- What seems to be the reason for this happening?
- What are the end results, and how could they change?
When comparing arguments about an issue, independent research ability is key. Arguments are meant to be persuasive—that means the facts and figures presented in their favor might be lacking in context or come from questionable sources. The best way to combat this is independent verification; find the source of the information and evaluate.
How to improve: It can be helpful to develop an eye for unsourced claims. Does the person posing the argument offer where they got this information from? If you ask or try to find it yourself and there’s no clear answer, that should be considered a red flag. It’s also important to know that not all sources are equally valid—take the time to learn the difference between popular and scholarly articles.
3. Identifying biases
This skill can be exceedingly difficult, as even the smartest among us can fail to recognize biases. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively. Think of yourself as a judge in that you want to evaluate the claims of both sides of an argument, but you’ll also need to keep in mind the biases each side may possess.
It is equally important—and arguably more difficult—to learn how to set aside your own personal biases that may cloud your judgement. “Have the courage to debate and argue with your own thoughts and assumptions,” Potrafka encourages. “This is essential for learning to see things from different viewpoints.”
How to improve: “Challenge yourself to identify the evidence that forms your beliefs, and assess whether or not your sources are credible,” offers Ruth Wilson, director of development at Brightmont Academy.
First and foremost, you must be aware that bias exists. When evaluating information or an argument, ask yourself the following:
- Who does this benefit?
- Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda?
- Is the source overlooking, ignoring or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims?
- Is this source using unnecessary language to sway an audience’s perception of a fact?
The ability to infer and draw conclusions based on the information presented to you is another important skill for mastering critical thinking. Information doesn’t always come with a summary that spells out what it means. You’ll often need to assess the information given and draw conclusions based upon raw data.
The ability to infer allows you to extrapolate and discover potential outcomes when assessing a scenario. It is also important to note that not all inferences will be correct. For example, if you read that someone weighs 260 pounds, you might infer they are overweight or unhealthy. Other data points like height and body composition, however, may alter that conclusion.
How to improve: An inference is an educated guess, and your ability to infer correctly can be polished by making a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions. When faced with a new scenario or situation to evaluate, first try skimming for clues—things like headlines, images and prominently featured statistics—and then make a point to ask yourself what you think is going on.
5. Determining relevance
One of the most challenging parts of any critical thinking scenario is figuring out what information is the most important for your consideration. In many scenarios, you’ll be presented with information that may seem important, but it may pan out to be only a minor data point to consider.
How to improve: The best way to get better at determining relevance is by establishing a clear direction in what you’re trying to figure out. Are you tasked with finding a solution? Should you be identifying a trend? If you figure out your end goal, you can use this to inform your judgement of what is relevant.
Even with a clear objective, however, it can still be difficult to determine what information is truly relevant. One strategy for combating this is to make a physical list of data points ranked in order of relevance. When you parse it out this way, you’ll likely end up with a list that includes a couple of obviously relevant pieces of information at the top of your list, in addition to some points at the bottom that you can likely disregard. From there, you can narrow your focus on the less clear-cut topics that reside in the middle of your list for further evaluation.
It’s incredibly easy to sit back and take everything presented to you at face value, but that can also be also a recipe for disaster when faced with a scenario that requires critical thinking. It’s true that we’re all naturally curious—just ask any parent who has faced an onslaught of “Why?” questions from their child. As we get older, it can be easier to get in the habit of keeping that impulse to ask questions at bay. But that’s not a winning approach for critical thinking.
How to improve: While it might seem like a curious mind is just something you’re born with, you can still train yourself to foster that curiosity productively. All it takes is a conscious effort to ask open-ended questions about the things you see in your everyday life, and you can then invest the time to follow up on these questions.
“Being able to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop—and bonus points for being able to probe,” Potrafka says.
Put your critical thinking skills to work
Critical thinking skills are vital for anyone looking to have a successful college career and a fruitful professional life upon graduation. Your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate complex subjects and situations will always be useful. Unlock your potential by practicing and refining the six critical thinking skills above.
Most professionals credit their time in college as having been crucial in the development of their critical thinking abilities. If you’re looking to improve your skills in a way that can impact your life and career moving forward, higher education is a fantastic venue through which to achieve that. For some of the surefire signs you’re ready to take the next step in your education, visit our article, “6 Signs You’re Ready to Be a College Student.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2012. It has since been updated.