The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Classical Usability

As we embark on a new year that positively seethes with potential, it seems appropriate to offer a blog post that somehow transcends the type of utilitarian posts we generally serve up.  We hope this story serves that purpose.  Please read it as our new year’s gift to our friends in the world of usability. Usability Sciences’ employees support a wide array of good causes.  The proceeds of our pumpkin design contest went to support Nick’s House in Alabama because the winner is a Crimson Tide supporter.  Our company’s half-day spent assembling kids’ toys supported the Grace House initiative in Grapevine, Texas.  We have made donations to animal shelters, breast cancer research, housing for veterans, the Girl Scouts, The Boy Scouts, and what feels like every elementary school in the region.  All of these causes are deserving of all the support we can provide.  Our most recent contribution, however, took us far away from our typical cause, and may be attached to the most uplifting story we have come across in the 24 years we have been in business.  It is all the more compelling because of its unique twist on the idea of usability. Here’s the background. Have you ever heard a Bach cello concerto played on an instrument assembled from discarded oil cans and tuning pegs made from a wooden tool used to tenderize beef?  It is divine.  Have you ever heard Handel played on instruments built from items salvaged from the filthy mass of a Paraguayan landfill? It is glorious. This is how a recent AP article tells the story: “What makes the music divine, what make it glorious, is how and from what it is being made.  This is how a recent AP news article tells the story: A chamber orchestra of 20 children uses instruments fashioned out of recycled materials from a landfill where their parents eke out livings as trash-pickers, regularly performing the music of Beethoven and Mozart, Henry Mancini and the Beatles. … Word is spreading about these kids from Cateura, a vast landfill outside Paraguay’s capital, where some 25,000 families live alongside reeking garbage in abject poverty.” The heroes of the Cateura orchestra saga emerge from backgrounds that typically crush the human spirit, not elevate it.  Favio Chavez is a social worker and music teacher who started the orchestra.  Nicolas Gamez is a trash-picker, whose imagination and fingers reveal a genius comparable to that of composers whose music his improvised instruments celebrate.  Gamez has taken the concept of usability into a realm few of us in the industry could ever imagine.  He has taken the unusable and made from it instruments of sublime usability.


Our donation does not go to the orchestra itself. It goes to support the completion of a documentary that tells this incredible story.  To quote the AP again: The documentary is being made by “Paraguayan filmmaker, Alejandra Amarilla Nash. She and film producer Juliana Penaranda-Loftus have followed the orchestra for years, joining Chavez in his social work while making their film ‘Landfill Harmonic’ on a shoestring budget. “The documentary is far from complete …  But last month, the filmmakers created a Facebook page and posted a short trailer on YouTube and Vimeo that has gone viral, quickly getting more than a million views altogether.” http://www.facebook.com/landfillharmonicmovie. You can follow a link on Facebook to donate. http://www.creativevisions.org/get-involved/cap/landfill-harmonic Donations are collected via the Creative Visions Foundation.  You can donate to the Creative Visions fund or, specifically, to the Landfill Harmonic project, which is what we did. Every charitable cause points to what is good in humanity.  This story points to what is sublime. Use the story.  Use it as inspiration.  For 2013.

-Roger Beynon, CSO, Usability Sciences Corporation


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