Photo by Kyle West

By Elliot Fung

This year, the faculty of engineering and the DeGroote School of Business partnered up to introduce a newly-minted innovation minor for McMaster students from all faculties. The minor offers a diversity of courses for students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, with syllabus titles like “From Founder to CEO” and “Persuasion, Pitching Skills and Marketing.”

With enrollment far exceeding expectation, the brand-new innovation minor has started out on the right foot at the beginning of its inaugural year.

“The innovation minor is a nexus where academics meet startup culture,” says Monika Yazdanian, director of The Forge, a Hamilton-based startup incubator.

The Forge helps local startups to grow from an idea to a company. The Forge worked closely with the school of business and faculty of engineering to develop a unique curriculum and program structure.

The uniqueness and strength of the program can be attributed to the way the courses are taught. Classes are informed directly by successful local startups. In addition, chief executive officers and founders, such as Morgan Wyatt of Greenlid Envirosciences, are brought in to guest lecture about their experiences building companies from the ground up. Networking sessions allow students to talk directly with speakers and ask questions about startups.

The program becomes increasingly hands-on and experiential in the third and fourth year. For instance, students who pursue the minor have the opportunity to work directly with The Forge to develop and create their own startup.

Program enrollment far exceeded expectations, with the seventy five spots allocated for the first year course “The World of Entrepreneurship 1X03” filling within 48 hours of the open enrollment date. In light of the minor’s soaring demand, 1X03 will open up spots to 130 students in the winter term.

Nevertheless, as of yet, the program has not solidified any further plans to expand. Cameron Churchill, one of the directors of the minor and assistant professor of civil engineering, brings up the concern that larger classes might stymie intimate class conversation.

Although still early in the year, students seem to be engaging well with the courses. Students can be seen staying back after class to have conversations with instructors.

“Enthusiasm of students is high. They are insatiable for tips and love to chat,” said Churchill.

[spacer height="20px"]Third-year commerce student Darren Zhang, who is taking the first year 1X03 course, has been satisfied with the class so far as it provides him with the opportunity to learn about startups, something lacking from commerce and McMaster in general.

Although there have not been any major issues as of yet, Darren Zhang says that assignments and presentations could be a bit clearer. Another 1X03 student wishes there was a wider variety of startup case studies in more industries. The student also expected more hands-on experience in innovating products, delivering pitches and learning about tools to start businesses.

       Because the innovation minor is new, it is reasonable to expect some confusion from students as to what is taught in these courses and how they are evaluated. Courses will be refined with future iterations of the curriculum. Nevertheless, as of now, Churchill says the focus is on promoting the innovation minor to first and second year students before looking at any curriculum change.

The minor is open to all undergraduate students and includes specific innovation courses such as Innovate 1X03 and Innovate 2X03. Five second, third and fourth-year courses are going to be available within the next two years.  

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Every aspect of our world is designed in one way or another. From the appliances in our kitchens to the clothes on our backs, every switch and button has been meticulously considered and executed. Design — whether it be in buildings, laptops or can openers — weave through the fabric of our lives.

But things have changed. Today, we live in a throwaway society. We create and consume in abundance, forgoing detail for convenience. The mass production of virtually every product we use has fuelled a capitalist society that cares little for how things are made, only for how much revenue they garner. We gravitate towards products that give us more. The bigger, the better. The more functions, the better. The more we can afford to buy, the better. Gone are the days where good design, rather than cheap design, took centre stage in blueprints and on drawing boards.

In the world of design, there are few who have created as lasting an impact as Dieter Rams. Widely considered as one of the most influential designers of all time, and one of my personal idols, Rams is a visionary like no other. Nearly every product design created by him continues to be considered a classic today. In a society that is in a perpetual state of flux as a result of cultural and technological developments, that’s staying power.


From an early age, Rams was strongly influenced by his grandfather’s role as a carpenter. After training as an architect in Germany in the early 1950s, Rams was recruited by the German electrical products company, Braun, in 1955. Follow the death of Erwin and Artur Braun’s father, Rams was tasked with modernizing the interiors of a company that continued to launch revolutionary products for households across the globe.

Soon, Rams became a star student of the Ulm School of Design and quickly became involved in product design at Braun. Due to his incomparable talent and eye for innovation, he was appointed as the head of design of Braun from 1961 to 1995. Along with the rest of his design team, Dieter Rams became the man responsible for many of the greatest domestic electrical products of the twentieth century.

Braun asserted itself as a leading consumer products company under the expert guidance of Rams. However, in the late 1970s, the designer became increasingly perturbed by the state of the world around him. He began to see his surroundings as “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Conscious that he was a prominent contributor to that world, he asked himself: is my design good design? He did not want to thoughtlessly feed into a world that was turning design into nothing more than dollar signs. To him, that was dishonest and irresponsible.

Rams wanted to advocate for a purist, almost imperceptible design; products that fit seamlessly into the lives of those who use it. As such, he came up with ten principles for good design. Often referred to as the “ten commandments of good design,” these principles remain as timeless fundaments of design theory and practice today: Good design is innovative. Good design makes a product useful. Good design is aesthetic. Good design makes a product understandable. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is honest. Good design is durable. Good design is consistent to the last detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. Good design is as little design as possible.


If you have used one of Rams’ products, you would have likely been able to check off the boxes beside each of the aforementioned principles. Each and every one of his creations are aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly and exceptionally practical. They are beautiful without being fashionable, and therefore never appear antiquated. There is no use of big buttons or bold colours or abstract lines; nothing detracts from the product’s function, which is clear and self-explanatory. The inherent simplicity of the design makes the product smart as it is able to express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. Perhaps one of the most important principles of the ten is the one that considers the preservation of the environment. Rams made it his primary goal to offer products to consumers that conserved resources and minimized physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product. All ten principles boil down to one thing: less but better. Simplicity allows for products to be elegant, supremely versatile and free of the burden of non-essentials.

Although the current reality is that most companies do not consider good design when pushing out products to the public, there are some that do. Apple is a prime example. Both Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, and Jony Ive, the company’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, were outspoken admirers of Rams’ work. If you compare some of Rams’ creations with Apple’s products, the similarities are astounding. It is fascinating to see the parallel between Braun’s speaker and Apple’s iMac. Thankfully, many newer start-ups and up-and-coming companies are now returning to the seeds that Rams had sowed. Unlike big, corporate giants, these new businesses recognize a gap in the market for carefully considered and expertly crafted products that reduce everything to the basics. Some examples that come to mind include Cereal Magazine, a store in Los Angeles called Formerly Yes and Vitsoe, a shelving company that Rams himself designed for. For these owners, Rams’ tenth principle — less but better — is their motto, and simplicity is their aim. They’ve adopted a new kind of social responsibility: to reduce products to their simplest form, thereby providing consumers with the best product possible.


Dieter Rams’ design ethos extends far beyond design — it is a philosophy that also applies to life. With so many new products being offered to us, it has become almost second nature to want more and to buy more. Abundance has become a sign of wealth; new versions of appliances, phones and clothes are readily available at a moment’s notice. We feed into this mindless cycle of producing more, buying more and, as a result, throwing away more. This produces both environmental noise and visual noise, exerting very real and tangible effects on our lives. Rarely does anything in our lives remain permanent anymore.

Consumers have been programmed to jump at the sight of a sale sign, and to scope out deals in order to buy as much as they can. It is therefore unsurprising to me that friends of mine would widen their eyes or even chastise me when I purchase an item of clothing that is more than what they would consider as “a steal.” Buying less clothes but buying better clothes is a way in which I’ve adopted Rams’ principles into my life. Instead of spending a certain amount of money on many articles of clothing, consider spending the same amount (or perhaps saving even more) to invest in one high-quality piece. This will not only ensure that you will love whatever it is you buy, it will also lead to less clutter in your closet and save you time in the mornings when getting ready, reducing the burden of choice.

Buying less and buying better should extend into every part of our lives as consumers. The next time you buy a top, cooking knives or perhaps even a couch, remember Dieter Rams’ ten principles. Good design should be so simple, fluid and considered that they almost camouflage into your surroundings. They should make you feel a deep, lasting satisfaction at the mere thought of owning them. It is not only our responsibility to ourselves, but also our responsibility to society to refrain from perpetuating a harmful consumer mindset that focuses on abundance. In truth, simplicity is something we should adopt into every facet of our busy lives. Less is more, and less is always better.

Photo Credit: Abisag Tüllman

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By: Rob Hardy

With society having been in the digital age for about two decades now, we are not unschooled in the many problems that technology can bring, along with its purported conveniences.  But with the explosive outreach of global communication and new smartphone apps every day, old problems are multiplying and morphing, while new ones are also rearing their ugly heads.

Viruses, Malware and Spyware are expanding their reach

It might seem all dandy that we have a plethora of tech options these days but the more avenues for digital plug-ins, the more opportunities for malicious programs to reach us. And with the number of devices most people have today, these problems now also easily spread to all of them, forcing us to debug not just our computers but phones and tablets as well.


Everything is becoming “linked in”

It feels convenient to have your Facebook linked to your email linked to your phone linked to everything else. But when our goals are to diligently divide our casual selves from a more cultivated professional image, sharing anything can cross paths and wind up on the wrong platform, clashing disastrously.

More automation means more to manage

Things going online have become a no-brainer that has made life convenient — until everything else did as well. Accessing your bank account, messages and grad school application on-the-go is a breeze, but multiply these online accounts by ten and suddenly having dozens of passwords, secret questions and website policies to keep up with is anything but effortless.

Even toasters are about to go digital

It's being sold as wonderful that we can now run our heating and home-security systems by using a smartphone. As the presence of these devices in our homes becomes normalizes, we are not paying enough attention to the security and privacy issues that arise. And fixing them will be hopelessly more elusive when they break down, as their very functionality depends on their electronic rather than mechanical components.


Meeting people often happens online

Gone are the days when we always met people face to face. Whether we are looking for employees or dating partners, we now demand to screen profiles so that abstract judgments can be made on whether to bother meeting for real. In this way, the days of scary science fiction have arrived. Don't like that “creepy” person on the bus? Just pretend that you need to text. It's a neat way to avoid unwanted interactions until you find yourself on the receiving end.

Advanced technology is disposable

It's ironic that with all the technological advances, things last for a much shorter time.  And when even “advanced warranties” lapse after a few short years, it's clear the company is telling you that whatever you are buying will break very quickly. Television sets used to last for 30 years — I still have one that works great. The future, however, is a landfill overflowing with broken electronics we have to perpetually replace, if we can even afford to do so.

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Once a year, students take the time to pay tribute to those people who make their education possible: their professors. After the recent announcement of this year’s MSU Teaching Awards, and the ceremony on March 14, the Silhouette sat down with some of the award winners to get their take on what it means to get recognized by their students.

Dr. Felicia Vulcu is not your typical professor. Hailing from Romania, Vulcu spent her high school years in Edmonton and was pointed to McMaster by her guidance counselor. After completing her undergraduate degree, Master’s, and PhD all at Mac, in 2008 she ended up with a job in the same department that had trained her. As an assistant professor and undergraduate advisor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Vulcu is focused on the learning experience, making her a perfect recipient for the Pedagogical Innovation Award.

What exactly do you do here at McMaster?

I do a lot of things in the program, but mainly I was hired to run the teaching labs. We are very research intensive, so we have a full-year second year lab — that’s the one I won the award for. The idea behind it was to introduce students to research but really sneak in techniques, instead of just giving them techniques. [We have them] do many different things – some inquiry, some presentation. I try to minimize their stress, especially with assessments. That’s my goal in life. For me it’s not to get students to learn, because I think everybody learns. It’s to get them to understand the research process, and then see if they like it, because if they like it, they should stick with it.

How did you end up in your current job?

I had no plan on getting here. I know people sometimes sculpt, but I bumped through life. I didn’t know what to do in my undergrad. I liked the research concept, and when I went in, I loved it. Then I matured and I saw who I was as a person, what I wanted out of my own personal life—I wanted to be happy, and I wanted to have a social job, where I interact with people. I saw that the researcher job…didn’t fit my personality. I applied to every job known to man, and I just bumped into this. You can say it was luck—it was dumb luck. But once I got in it, I absolutely loved it.

What does this award mean to you?

It was not something that I set out to do—I just enjoy teaching. Getting this was very humbling for me, so I just felt warm all over. When the students give me something like this, it means that they really are responding to me. But it’s not just me doing this—we make a huge effort in our department to be innovative to get students to just see how passionate we are about research. It was huge for us—everyone in the department is happy that this program is being recognized. You can’t be innovative on your own.


Joe Argentino always knew that music was his calling. And now, as an Assistant Professor in Music Theory in the School of the Arts, he lives that dream and teaches music skills, as well as and music history for non-music majors. First coming to McMaster to fill a position for a professor on sabbatical, he has found a home at Mac over the past four years. As the teaching award winner for the Faculty of Humanities, and a nominee for last year’s awards, it’s clear that students like having him here.

What exactly do you do here at McMaster?

I teach skills classes, such as sight singing and keyboard harmony. I also teach upper level theory courses, in twentieth century analysis and history courses, and courses for non-music majors. This year it was my keyboard harmony class that nominated me. Most of them were from this 2D03 class. It’s not usually a very popular course—it’s one of those classes where students are constantly assessed. Last year I was nominated for a sight singing class, which most people don’t like because they have to sing in front of their friends and it’s a bit scary. And obviously teaching is as important to me as research; they’re neck and neck. For my research, I generally analyze music from the twentieth century, and I would consider myself an expert on the music of Schoenberg. I try to bring new approaches to the music. Sometimes this type of analysis I do can be very math heavy, and some of the work that I do takes the math away from it and makes it user friendly.

What do you hope students get out of your classes?

I generally want my students to enjoy themselves in my class. I want it to be an experience where they feel fulfilled, even just being there. Of course, I always have the goal to get through the content, but to be better thinkers, to have confidence in themselves…I try in all my classes where it’ll benefit them regardless of where they end up. I just think I try to make my classes very relaxed, so people can approach me. I use a lot of humour and try to be as encouraging as possible all the time, but at the same time…I really want people to excel and do their absolute best. People are not afraid to talk to me, ask me questions, or make mistakes in front of me.

What does this award mean to you?

To be nominated, already I’d felt like I’d won. There’s nothing better than getting that recognition from my students. Sometimes you don’t know—last year when I was nominated, I was really surprised. I had no idea my students were enjoying the class. And this year it was kind of the same thing. Sitting at the ceremony, I felt very emotional. I wasn’t expecting to feel that. Having won, being on stage—it was the absolute highlight of my career so far. I can’t remember ever having experienced a better feeling.


Mac students tap into Hamilton's potential

By their fourth year of university, most McMaster students would hope to be on track to earn their degree, have some work experience and be prepared to graduate without too much debt.

Mohamed El Mahallawy has something better.

The fourth-year Psychology and Economics student is CEO and founder of his own business, called Nervu, that won third place on Oct. 4 in Hamilton’s Lion’s Lair competition.

The Lion’s Lair contest, which has a premise similar to that of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business idea to a panel of local business owners in the hopes of earning start-up funds.

The prize? Fifteen thousand dollars.

He and two fellow McMaster students Bilal Husain and Shawn McTigue developed the business and chose to pitch it in the competition, organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and Innovation Factory.

And in fact, it was Innovation Factory, a Hamilton not-for-profit organization funded by the Ontario Network of Excellence, that helped get his business started through Innovation Night, a networking event for local startups.

“I shot a few ideas here and there with my dad and my friends, but I never really had the guts to do it,” El Mahallawy explained. “Once I found out about Innovation Night, and I actually went … I realized maybe my idea actually had some potential. Why not maybe go out and pursue it?”

El Mahallawy said that at first, Lion’s Lair didn’t seem accessible for him as a student, since no students had ever entered before.

“When we first became a client [at Innovation Factory] we thought, no way, it’s never going to happen, [but] Lion’s Lair was an open window that we … just tried.”

Their company, Nervu, is a text-message based service that allows its users to choose brands in order to receive notifications about sales or deals they have.

El Mahallawy and his colleagues, who all hail from the GTA, had good things to say about Hamilton as an incubator for new businesses.

“Hamilton is no longer the ‘armpit of Ontario,’” he said. “The only thing is, we don’t have a very thriving economy. And that’s why I think [that] entrepreneurship in Hamilton, that’s really key … [it] creates jobs … and that grows and puts Hamilton on the map.”

He feels that McMaster, on the other hand, could afford to offer more encouragement and support to entrepreneurs.

Recognizing that significant funds and resources are dedicated to medical and scientific research, El Mahallawy said, “there’s not really any resources or any help for startups.” He also claims the school lacks “incubation space.”

McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering is one area, outside of the undergraduate commerce program, that offers entrepreneurship support in an academic setting. As of last fall, the faculty offers an entrepreneurship stream through the faculty’s five-year Engineering and Management program.

The optional specialization is meant to give undergrads “the opportunity to test the feasibility of new business start-up ideas while they are introduced to the concepts and tools used for new business creation.”

The Engineering and Management program was unavailable for comment.

“I believe it is more of a science school, as well as an engineering [school] so it’d be nice to see entrepreneurship and resources and whatnot here,” El Mahallawy said of Mac.

Whether or not McMaster is providing similar support to students, El Mahallawy, Husain and McTigue will walk away from this experience happy.

“It really taught us a lot, from things like what to wear in front of a camera, how to speak to a journalist, to … organizing our pitch and whatnot.”

And what of their $15,000?

“We’ll be using it to accelerate the development [of Nervu],” said El Mahallawy.

This morning, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation Brad Duguid announced the opening of a $90 million IBM data centre in Barrie.

The new facility will support a $210 million research and development project launched in partnership between IBM Canada, seven universities including McMaster and the government of Ontario.

The data centre allows IBM to provide advanced data storage space, security, and disaster recovery spaces.

In time, it is expected to use 'cloud' computing, in which data is stored remotely on servers for users to access, to help support a new virtual research centre in Ontario.

The IBM Canada Research and Development Centre was initiated by the McGuinty government to drive investment in Ontario’s R & D sector in a competitive business climate. The goal is to bring innovative discoveries in certain areas to the marketplace by collaborating with scientists and researchers in academia.

Research at the virtual centre will focus on data management for healthcare, water conservation and management, energy management, ageing infrastructure and rapid urbanization in Ontario cities.

The ministry says the project will create 145 highly skilled jobs in the R & D sector and secures thousands of existing jobs at IBM in Ontario.

IBM has committed to investing $175 million over two years (until December 2014) to the initiative, the province of Ontario has invested $15 million, and the federal government is providing the remaining $20 million.

The IBM Canada Research and Development Centre adds to IBM's more than $6-billion global R & D investment last year.

The project is led by the University of Toronto and Western University, in collaboration with McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, Queen's University, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and the University of Waterloo.



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