08 January 2014

A Dispatch from 2013

 Image from Stamp Auction Network 

It has been a long time since I took the time to write here.

I'm convinced this year offered a new phase of learning and growth and like most things that involve change, time is needed to sift through and settle on ideas before you can actually attach words to them. I know I like to write, need to write and must keep up my writing. It as part catharsis, part learning. So bear with me as I attempt to put down some initial thoughts about the last year in an attempt to make a foray back into this part of my practice.

Moving to Munich #lifeinthemuc
The most significant change was a move to a new country and city. The question most commonly asked of me is: "How is your German?" The answer is typically, "Not good," which means 2014 will find me doing my best to develop it further. I've been posting a photo a day on Instagram to document my first year in pictures since that seems to be easier than words.

Working at frog
Being hired as a Senior Design Researcher was a definite highlight of the year. Getting to work with all disciplines of design on various scales of projects has definitely brought life to my career. Having input from the likes of David Sherwin and Jan Chipchase has made the transition smoother than expected! I've also appreciated some of the nuances that arise when travelling and working in a European business context.

Reading books
I've been busier this year but have thankfully found the time to read a few books:
Hidden In Plain Sight highlights great stories, insights and examples of the type of work I do.
Creative Confidence was a great reminder of the joy found in being a creative and highlighted a few things worth remembering: the difference between resistance and procrastination, the value of nurturing a prepared mind and the benefit of having a language for constructive feedback.
Beautiful Ruins was a lovely read about life, love and travel.
Religion for Atheists offered me another chance to ingest the wonderful writing of Alain de Botton. I'm not an atheist but I appreciated his review of the way that faith and belief can be instructive in our lives.

Visiting cities
Vienna for a holiday: Double-decker bus tour, Hotel Daniel and Tasting Menu at Le Loft. Magical.
London for client meetings and research programs. I could visit this city regularly.
Leeds for a research program. Met a gardener who knew the history of the rich and famous there.
Stockholm for a research program. Down time? Cocktails in an ice bar.
Klaipeda for a speaking engagement, workshop on CAT and design research mentoring for the 2013 Global Sustainability Jam.
Paris for a conference workshop and talk. Je t'aime, Paris.
Toronto for my first ever interaction design conference. And a bout of shingles. Blergh.
Boston for client meetings. And OYSTERS!

Attending conferences
IxDA '13
Despite getting shingles while I was there, IxDA was a fabulous convergence of all the good design people I've met through the internets.
A highlight was meeting and talking with Ezio Manzini. Legend.
OuiShare Fest
Engaging discussions at the first sharing economy conference in Europe. Google and Airbnb participated and we hosted a fun CAT workshop.

All round good things
Being part of and seeing the launch of Regarding Humanity
Having my research and design be part of the first in-home food fortification program in Africa
Dancing with the Marines

Here's to pursuing more writing, books, cities, conferences and overall living!

31 December 2012

My 2012 Review

Sprinkles Rwanda
10 things that were awesome in my life and design career this year:

1) Finalizing the package design for a micronutrient in Rwanda
This outcome started with a process that began in 2010 with some field research in nearly 500 rural Rwandan homes. To see the product get named for a Rwandan market, finalized with all relevant copy and translations and find its way into the hands of women has definitely made my list design career highlights.

2) Seeing Amaluna (Cirque de Soleil) and being reminded of the importance of including backup in the system
“A businessman is a hybrid between a dancer and a calculator.” — Paul Valery

I love dancing; it is the thing I do to release tension and get myself sorted (contrary to many in Vancouver who seek yoga as a means of centering themselves). Beyond my own dance, I love to watch the professionals perform. More often than not, their performance brings tears to my eyes. I am amazed by their focus and commitment while also moved by the way strength and beauty work in tandem.

What was notable about this performance was how the choreography, that included gymnastic-esque moves and routines, actually incorporated pauses that required some dancers to be "on watch" while the others "flew through the air with the greatest of ease."

This visual metaphor has reminded me of the importance of support in my work - when you don't have back up you can run the risk of breakage, unnecessary failure and a glitch in the program. In short, Team is key to making something beautiful. And something that works.

3) Attending the Design and Social Change Lab hosted by Catapult Design
In simplest terms, when you hang out with like-minded folk, you get encouraged. And this is precisely what this day offered me - encouragement and a reminder that when it comes to using design to impact the world, you're not alone and not crazy. If you get a chance to participate in a lab, you won't be disappointed. It's a measure of craft, community and creative problem-solving.

4) Participating in the Social Capital Markets Conference
If the lab encouraged me through the meeting of minds within a smaller collective of creatives, SoCap brought it up a few notches to include a diverse range of sectors. From business to non-profit, and creative to financial, Fort Mason saw a global audience gather to learn and exchange ways to discuss and act effectively within the realm of the social sector. I was privileged to be included as a design co-leader in a "Design Series" that saw facilitators from frog, Hot Studio and CCA's dMBA program gather to collaborate around creative ways to engage attendees in the various workshops offered. By using design tools to facilitate discussion, we were able to witness some powerful conversations as opposed to one-way soliloquies that can often plague conferences of this nature.

5) Returning to Hip Hop Dance Classes
As per #2 above, you may understand why this made my list. I'm not the top of the class but I walk out smiling every time I go.

6) Developing and hosting Parking Lot Patio
You can read more about this concept here but suffice it to say, I love it when food and sunshine work in tandem. Add in conversation about ways that design can impact the world and you have me gushing.

7) Getting to share at World IA Day
Hanging out with a diverse crew of people who care about the planning and details in design is a very happy place for me. I'm grateful to have had the chance to speak about my passion for the details in Rwanda but more so I love how this community wants to work in some unexpected design spaces (like government and transportation) to make life more manageable for humans.

8) Hiking and Kayaking = Connecting with the Nature
I am a city dweller. Full stop. I make no apology for loving my city digs and actually gain much insight about my life by being present to its chaotic rhythms. But I am also aware that there is much beauty in this region of the world and for that I am GRATEFUL. So this year found me taking it in. In ways I hadn't before. Weekly hikes and a first-time sea kayak excursion have definitely brought inspiration and sanctuary to my soul.

9) Returning to NYC with a 1969 Pratt Alumnus
My pops and I have been planning this trip for the whole year and decided to make the pilgrimage back in the fall. Watching him visit with old classmates, eat at the local haunts and visit the print department was a definite highlight. And it helped me understand myself a little bit more too (The (big) apple doesn't fall so far from the tree, and all that jazz). 

10) People, people, people 
And all of the above is made possible by the amazing people I get to work with, meet, hang out with, talk to, hold, high-five and then some. I am who I am because of the people I've encountered. This is truly a gift and one that I don't hold lightly. This year I got to meet Twitter handles in real life! And all the distances that got covered by air miles, Skype calls or social-media-spaces...each moment was part of shaping my 2012. Thank you for being part of it. It has changed and transformed parts of me. And this is very, very good.

Happy New Year!


Photo credit: UBC Public Affairs

16 December 2012

Words to shape you (from those who have gone before)

Sunset “I want first of all... to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact ― to borrow from the language of the saints ― to live "in grace" as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, "May the outward and inward man be one." I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

23 July 2012

Parking Lot Patio

Parking Lot Patio If you know me, it should come as no surprise that I love the way a meal can bring people together.

In the last 6 months, I've been working at Dossier as a Design Research Specialist. With this new post, comes a new desk chair, location and community. We're located in Railtown (in simplest terms, it's the area between a set of railroad tracks and Hastings Street in Vancouver and yes, I have aspirations to brand it as per the subtle identity suggestion), which means there is a beautiful mixture of the industrial, the creative and the social. But we still long for more cafes and restaurants to make the community more communal (like they do, in say, Gastown). Railtown wants more linger. And we want to meet and connect with our neighbours!

But in our neighbourhood, there are a lot of Parking Lots. And with a lot of Parking Lots, we have fewer options to sit outside and linger (and by default, fewer options to connect). So a few of us at Dossier wanted to prototype an outdoor space where food could be shared/consumed and where creative ideas could be exchanged! The parking lot has been paved so what if we brought some paradise back to it?

So in the past month, we've set up a little patio space (aka the Parking Lot Patio) in the No Parking area of our lot at 611 Alexander and have been delighted to have folks from UGM, Dialog and Aritizia join us at the table. In our lunch hour chats, we've discovered a passion for creating community in this neighbourhood (not to mention some aspirations for a future block party) and a desire to make an impact.

The summer has just begun (Vancouver weather hasn't always been as supportive) but we're pleased to be part of testing a new way to do lunch (and if we may suggest) and a new way to change the world.

21 March 2012

My Idea Worth Spreading

One of the most amazing experiences of my life. Highlight? Meeting a hero.

09 March 2012

An Online Advocacy Code of Ethics

I regularly contemplate the topic of ethics as it relates to my design practice. Awhile ago, I came across a great list of questions to ask about any design. As a designer, this code of ethics for online advocacy also holds rich and worthwhile content that merits a read and some reflection.

An Online Advocacy Code of Ethics

Definition: “Advocacy is a political process by an individual or a group that aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.” (Wikipedia)

Respectful and ethical advocacy works in partnership with the people it supports, and ultimately takes their side. Advocacy promotes social inclusion, equality and social justice.

Online advocacy, specifically, involves taking existing advocacy work to the Web, email, all social media, and any other online channels, creating new ways to gain support for the specific issues, cause, or individuals.

We, as online campaigners, understand that we serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for the people, organizations, and issues that we represent.

Our work is guided by: Respect for the people on whose behalf we advocate and the audience we are trying to engage; relevance of the issues and proposed solutions to the people on whose behalf we advocate, and resonance with their identity, culture, and recognized challenges.

We further provide an accurate and truthful voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints in support of an informed public debate, and an engaged and active citizenry.
Our Conduct Must be Guided By:

1. Integrity: First, do no Harm. This means consciously avoiding harmful actions, omissions, or unintended consequences of information and campaigns.

2. Respect: We recognize that our work is best served by respecting the agency and ultimate self-advocacy of the individuals or groups on whose behalf we advocate. We also recognize that our field is best served when we respect the audiences we target to make informed and intelligent choices about the causes and issues they engage in. In online advocacy campaigns, we do not condone depictions that in any way undermine human dignity or any form of discrimination, including that based upon race, national origin, religion, sex or age. We do not condone playing on fear or superstition in online advocacy campaigns.

3. Honesty: In all of our online advocacy campaigns, we promote honesty and transparency in our practices and methods. Information that we provide in all forms of online communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. Information provided as part of online advocacy campaigns should not contain any statement or visual presentation which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is likely to mislead our intended audience.

We believe that online advocacy is a creative endeavor that strives to convince our audience that our issues and causes are important, necessary, or valuable but we reject all forms of deception of manipulation in the process of engaging with our audience. We further believe that it is imperative to be accurate in all communications, to act promptly to correct erroneous communications, to investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released by us on behalf of organizations that we work for, to clearly reveal the sponsors for causes and the interests represented, and to disclose any financial interests we might have (such as consulting contracts) with organizations or causes that we represent.

4. Responsibility:
We believe that working with or in any way targeting vulnerable populations such as children and youth requires particular sensitivity and care, given their particular credulity and inexperience.

5. Privacy: We respect the privacy of of our audience as well as those of our beneficiaries, and encourage practices that promote the most effective means to promote such privacy.

This includes but is not limited to: Information collected from audiences should be confidential and used only for expressed purposes. All data, especially confidential data, should be safeguarded against unauthorized access. The expressed wishes of others with regard to any communication should be respected via opt-in communications with clear ways to opt out. We also note that it is critical for us to abide by respectful and privacy-protecting use of images, video, and audio, especially of children or other vulnerable populations.

Photo via FullStop.net
Code of Ethics via Katrin Verclas

06 January 2012

The Word "And"

Nothing makes me melt more than an ampersand. I don't really have words for this gushing that occurs but seeing as I'm about to host a significant version of one in my home, I've found myself pondering the word "and" and its impact on what we say or do.

This excerpt from Richard Rohr seemed fitting to share. Because it can be easier to say "but," I'm going to work on speaking more "and" this year.

"And" teaches us to say yes
"And" allows us to be both - and
"And" keeps us from either - or
"And" teaches us to be patient and long-suffering
"And" is willing to wait for insight and integration
"And" keeps us from dualistic thinking
"And" helps us to live in the imperfect now
"And" keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything
"And" demands that our contemplation become action
"And" insists that our action is also contemplative
"And" allows us to critique both sides of things
"And" allows us to enjoy both sides of things
"And" allows us to ask forgiveness and apologize
"And" is the mystery of paradox in all things
"And" allows us to be distinct and yet united

03 January 2012

Made By Hand: On Competence

Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

In light of my recent post on competence, I couldn't resist posting this. As someone who has moved from a degree in English Literature to a career in Design, I relate to this.


"There needs to be a human element in the making of these things."

31 December 2011

2011 Pivotal Moments

As I contemplate the end of 2011 and reflect on some insights for the year (as I've done previously), I've decided to share Valerie Casey's talk at the 2011 AIGA Pivot Conference as the culmination of my learning because I believe she has done a great job of framing many of the ideas that have been percolating in my head over the past year. As this year closes, this was a "pivotal conversation" I wanted (and needed) to have in order to orient and prepare me for my aspirations in 2012. I hope it does the same for you.

The 5 key points are listed below but I'd suggest that you watch the talk in full to absorb the content that links them all together.

1. Creativity makes people nervous
Valerie shares about a study that has shown how corporations are attracted to the idea of creativity while at the same time express hesitations about it that could be compared to the way society has responded to issues of gender and race.

2. We rely on China being poor and polluted
What we see in the media about China (or elsewhere for that matter) doesn't tell the whole story. Information sourced from the IMF Data Mapper suggests how the rapid growth of China requires that we must reflect on our global reality with more scrutiny.

3. Designing the artifact is meaningless unless you create the conditions for its success
Example: The Single Use Syringe

4. The democratization of design is the best thing that has happened to the profession
In these days of debate about spec work and other "design crimes," our argument needs to be that we can do something better. Because we live in a time of "nexus problems," we must move beyond these debates and think more systemically.

5. Design for scale
We need to move beyond awareness campaigns (among other things) and pursue our strengths in strategic thinking and doing.


You might read this list as five disparate ideas but I love how Casey was able to weave them together to suggest that design has more to offer in these complex times. Each point raises an issue that challenges me to consider my place in the midst of it.

Her final point was notable for me as it touched on the four stages of competence in learning. I found this to be helpful in articulating how design is at an "inflection point" that can shape what it will become as we move forward into 2012. (Ric Grefe).

The model suggests that a person will move through stages of expertise. At each stage, he or she will come to develop competence once the relevance of their incompetence has been understood. Here are the four proposed phases:

1. Unconscious incompetence: "the person must become conscious of their incompetence before development of the new skill or learning can begin"
2. Conscious incompetence: "the person realizes that by improving their skill or ability in this area their effectiveness will improve"
3. Conscious competence: "the person will not reliably perform the skill unless thinking about it - the skill is not yet 'second nature' or 'automatic'"
4. Unconscious competence: "the skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain - it becomes 'second nature'"

Notably, a fifth stage has been identified in the model. In reviewing this theory, some postulate that it is at this point that we become complacent while others suggest it is a shift toward a reflective competence, in which a person holds a conscious competence of unconscious competence and can teach others how to move forward in their own learning. This seems key as we consider Casey's five talking points.

At this stage in my work and career, I can identify where I have become complacent. I can also see where I've pursued deeper reflection. Based on this model, there are some things that I have not yet realized so I can see where this juxtaposition of consciousness and competence can bring a new level of insight and confidence to my work. The secret ingredient to moving forward with this insight? Practice: The pathway to moving toward an unconscious competence.

In the midst of this, I am also aware that even with more competence and confidence, design isn't the sole profession that will solve all the world's problems. But I do believe that it is a profession that can align itself in new arenas and connect with the systems that will benefit from its strategic inclinations. A personal highlight (and challenge) that allowed me to pursue design in this capacity was to be invited to work on a nutrition project in Rwanda. In this situation, I was made aware of the need for a different kind of engagement that moved me beyond the design of a logo, product or website in order to design something with impact.

Speaking of impact, Casey's work on Necessary Projects hits the mark of why I want to be a designer (or rather a human) today. It challenges us to be aware of the systems we share and encourages us to consider how we might work collectively to steward our resources well.

To me, this type of thinking (and acting) offers promise for an engaging 2012.

Happy New Year!

05 October 2011

Make Me A Manifesto

(image source: Ken Garland)

The idea of the manifesto in design is not a new one and this isn't the first time I've written about it. If you didn't know this already, there's a growing list of them that you can reference.

Today, after talking about the Futurist Manifesto (1909) in Design Culture class, a group of second year design students got to contemplating what they might address if they were going to create a manifesto for this time. Here are a few they came up with:

1. Make it beautiful
2. Make it environmentally friendly
3. Make it sustainably functional
4. Make it easier
5. Make it evocative
6. Make it cross-cultural
7. Make it fix problems
8. Make it simple
9. Making something mediocre is okay. It doesn't always have to be the newest thing.
10. Make it human
11. Make it understandable
12. Be future-aware
13. Wear it in rather than wear it out
14. Get rid of the unnecessary

We also discussed how manifestos were typically made by the "periphery" as a reaction against something. From this point, we wondered, "What is this generation reacting against and how would that impact our manifesto?" For some, they figured that:

a) the manifesto is dead
b) they hadn't actually encountered a revolution that they needed to react against.

Two notable points as I consider the future of the next generation of designers. In light of this discussion, I wonder how you might respond? If you were to create one today, what would it include? Do we still need a manifesto?

02 August 2011

Living in the Liminal


Last week I had the opportunity to initiate a dialogue with a team of folks at the frog Seattle office. The topic I chose to focus on related to my last blog post and begged the question of how much failure is really allowed in a development-related design project.

During this conversation, I suggested that I find myself existing in a liminal space as a designer in this context:

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") refers to in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.

A few folks in the room resonated with this and since returning home I'm asking myself, "What are the consequences of holding such a space?"

In reality, all designers find themselves here. Whether it be navigating a client relationship or a multidisciplinary project, we exist in a space that may find us dislocated from established structures or uncertain about future outcomes. While this may sound acceptable among our design comrades, I'm not always sure how it plays out with those who find less comfort in the liminal space.

So it begs a new question for me:

How do you navigate the liminal space?

This space between is a designer's raison d'être and yet it is often the space where many can find themselves stuck or misunderstood. In my talk, I raised four things that I feel I am try to navigate when working on projects with diverse teams. Each poses a question that I feel needs to be answered by all involved in order to allow for the project to be clearly defined and pursued (with some of us remaining in the liminal):

Posture: Why do we do what we do?
Process: How do we do what we do?
Patterns: What do we do or make?
Presence: Who do we do it with and how much face time is required to understand the liminal space?

I love the word liminal and would value hearing how others exist at this threshold of dislocation and uncertainty.

29 May 2011

Fail often to succeed sooner: Can this idea truly work in development?

boite a suggestions
I have not known where to begin writing about this trip to Rwanda. Suffice it to say that in a short amount of time I have learned much more about collaboration in a cross-cultural/multidisciplinary context than I could have imagined.

To bring you up to speed: My current role is to develop packaging and communication tools to support the implementation of a micronutrient that is often referred to as Sprinkles:

Sprinkles are an innovation in home fortification, addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This unique delivery system provides micronutrients to vulnerable populations by enabling families to fortify many different semi-solid foods in the home.

Sprinkles are sachets (like small packets of sugar) containing a blend of micronutrients in powder form, which are easily sprinkled onto foods prepared in the home. Any homemade food can be instantly fortified by adding Sprinkles. Coating of the iron prevents changes to the taste, color or texture of the food to which Sprinkles are added.

As a designer, this opportunity is interesting in and of itself as I begin developing tools and messages to support the adoption of a new behavior based on community research. Add to this a diverse group of people who have various interests and required protocols and this project just got amplified. During this short trip, I’ve been introduced to the partners (of which there are 4 NGOs, 2 universities and the Ministry of Health) and listened in on meetings about budgets, methodologies, and requirements. I’ve looked at a range of visuals that are either in use or in development (and vary from organization to organization).

In the next week, I will be briefing a photographer about a photo shoot, seeking to acquire proper translations for technical data, obtaining all current visual tools (and prospective ones as well) to prepare for future messages and tools and ideally getting a package design created so as to get approval from the partners and ultimately signoff by the MoH. In the midst of this, I am contacting micronutrient distributors to ensure the best price and ease of supply to the country.

While this list of to-dos might sound like a normal day in the life of a designer, it has subtle nuances that are not typical in my North American experience. Notably, the idea of iterating on ideas to come up with a final solution isn’t necessarily the modus operandi in the context of development. Budgets are on the line, donors want proof and you don't want to mess around with things like someone's state of health. This caution begs a question for me:

Can design process (which often includes the acceptance of “failure”) truly be permitted in a development project? If so, what does it actually look like when collaborating with other disciplines?

If you’ve been in this domain, you know what I’m talking about. There are enough projects out there that had the best of intentions and yet were not able to be sustained or implemented for of a variety of reasons. Engineers Without Borders are already reacting to the typical need for a success story by reframing the way of talking about development: Let’s just admit our failure.

But what if the entire process permitted failure more fluidly in order to ensure deeper understandings, new insights or alternate solutions? How would you introduce this idea to key partners within the country so that it became an asset rather than a potential liability? Is there a better word to make the idea more palatable from the beginning?

I’m still wrestling with this idea so this post is merely a starting point. If you are reading this with any level of interest I would welcome your comments or thoughts on the topic. I’m sure there are others who have more experience and insight.

03 April 2011

The New Language of Design

Recently, Allan Chochinov gave a talk at Emily Carr University in which he used a word I can't shake: Fluency.

During his talk, he suggested that fluency was a skill that designers needed to exercise. We often associate fluency with travels to a foreign land. If I can acquire some key phrases like "Where is the toilet?" or "How much does this cost?" then I feel more comfortable making my way in an unknown environment.

Translate this idea to the design space and one could suggest that a designer needs to be fluent in their particular craft, process or software. While this is part of it, the kind of fluency I'm curious to uncover is the kind that I need when I'm travelling in a foreign land of business. Or health care. Or politics.

I wrote about this idea awhile ago in considering how design education could influence one's fluency. But I don't believe we should rely on educators alone. As I've stepped away from school and into the business, health care or non-profit sectors, I've experienced my own need for language and insight as I worked alongside these other disciplines. In many cases, we might be talking about the same thing but we often find ourselves using different terms and this simple nuance can cause much confusion and frustration (especially when it comes to the journey from idea to outcome/process to deliverable).

Maggie Breslin is a senior designer/researcher in the Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic. In one talk, she identified herself a junior doctor with the amount of learning she had acquired after working for four years in this self-pioneered role at Mayo.

Derek Miller is the director of Policy Lab and is participating in a variety of activities and research around the implementation of design into public policy. In a recent email exchange he said,

It is barely on the radar screens of the public policy world yet, and while development work has contracted designers to come up with physical solutions to things, the notion of design as a process — and the area of service design itself, for example — is entirely alien.

These two scenarios suggest that designers do have a role to play in other spheres but in order to move design beyond the "alien" or physical solutions, one must acquire the ability to converse articulately on the issues involved in these realms.

So this begs the question, "If design can play a role in these "other lands," how can designers become more fluent so as to make an effective impact?"

What do you think needs to happen for new designers/students? And what about people with years of experience who are seeking to contribute their design in other spheres like health care, public policy or international development?

How do we become fluent?

31 March 2011

An Ode To Common Things

I have a crazy,
crazy love of things.
I like pliers,
and scissors.
I love
and bowls -
not to speak, of course,
of hats.
I love
all things,
not just
the grandest,
small -
and flower vases.
Oh yes,
the planet
is sublime!
It’s full of pipes
through tobacco smoke,
and keys
and salt shakers -
I mean,
that is made
by the hand of man, every little thing:
shapely shoes,
and fabric,
and each new
bloodless birth
of gold,
carpenter’s nails,
clocks, compasses,
coins, and the so-soft
softness of chairs.
Mankind has
oh so many
Built them of wool
and of wood,
of glass and
of rope:
ships, and stairways.
I love
not because they are
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
this ocean is yours,
and mine;
these buttons
and wheels
and little
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms
glasses, knives and
scissors -
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
in the depths of forgetfulness.
I pause in houses,
streets and
touching things,
identifying objects
that I secretly covet;
this one because it rings,
that one because
it’s as soft
as the softness of a woman’s hip,
that one there for its deep-sea color,
and that one for its velvet feel.
O irrevocable
of things:
no one can say
that I loved
or the plants of the jungle and the field,
that I loved
those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.
It’s not true:
many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
they were
so close
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.

Pablo Neruda

13 March 2011

An Interactive Sketchbook

Sketchbook Project Austin
As I created my sketchbook for the Art House Coop's Sketchbook Project, I wanted to include an aspect of interactivity in it.

I'm pleased to report that someone has contributed an idea to my search for a typographic tattoo! I now have the addition of Lubalin's ampersand (centre image). And ironically, it happened during the South by Southwest Interactive festival.

If you live in any of the cities included on the tour, please take some time to check my book out (and contribute)!

Photos courtesy of Zach Bulick

10 March 2011

Design Thinking de Bono style

The main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us.

Western thinking is concerned with "what is," which is determined by analysis, judgment and argument...but there is a whole other aspect of thinking that is concerned with "what can be," which involves constructive thinking, creative thinking and "designing a way forward."

-Edward de Bono


I am currently reading de Bono's Six Thinking Hats and today used it as a method for students to work through the various layers of problems they wanted to solve in their communities.

The great thing about this process? Because you aren't thinking in multiple directions you are less likely to get lost in the complexity of an issue. By focusing on a common way for everyone to think about a topic or concern, you can avoid frustration and enable a group of people to come to the table on equal footing.

As we worked through an issue, I asked them to all think about it by focusing on one way of thinking at a time. Here are the colors/hats and the corresponding ways of thinking:

White Hat: neutral, objective, facts, figures
Red Hat: emotional view
Black Hat: cautious, careful, points out the weakness of the idea
Yellow Hat: positive, optimistic, hopeful
Green Hat: creativity, new ideas
Blue Hat: control, organization of thinking process

It was fun to watch the groups attempt to keep focused on one particular type of thinking and not default to what may have been more familiar or comfortable. Through this experience, I was reminded how these other systems/tools of thinking can be useful in breaking down barriers with multidisciplinary teams, which is common when working in research or social impact design spaces.

03 March 2011

Dialogue Through Design
I'm going to be talking about my work in Rwanda with the chair of the IDSA Design For The Majority section. Feel free to listen in!

02 March 2011

Brainstorm 101

Designing Social Change kicked off last night and because of the diversity of backgrounds and experiences, I like to start the course with an exercise where we engage divergent thinking when approaching a problem we want to solve (instead of defaulting to our typical convergent posture). In this case, we sought to re-imagine common objects. Before we look to tackle something more intensive, we want to be sure we have the ability to frame something that is a little less complex. For this class, it was a Ziploc bag, a fork, chopsticks and a bulldog clip.

To facilitate this process, I draw on the resources of IDEO (and the d.school) to help students brainstorm in a new way:

#1 Defer judgment: there are no bad ideas at this point because there's plenty of time to judge after

#2 Encourage wild ideas: it's the wild ideas that often provide the breakthroughs and we can always bring ideas down to earth later, we need new paths for non obvious ideas

#3 Build on the ideas of others: think 'and' rather than 'but'

#4 Stay focused on topic: you get better output if everyone is disciplined

#5 One conversation at a time: that way all ideas can be heard and built upon

#6 Be visual: sometimes a picture really can speak a thousand words

#7 Go for quantity, not quality: set an outrageous goal and surpass it!

We also had a virtual guest! Tim Brown's TED Talk is a lovely way to introduce the ideas of design thinking to a multi-disciplinary team.

24 January 2011

Visual Meaning
I introduced my Design One class to the work of Richard Serra today. He has a list of verbs that he has developed and he aims to enact these verbs in his work.

We had a warm up sketch session and then I asked them to see if they could translate one of their sketched ideas into a larger scale version by using a different material: yarn and pins. We went around the room to see if people could identify what each "sketch" meant. And we wanted to ask the interwebs to also review the work and let us know what they see.

Can you tell what each of the above images represent (please post in the comments)? Here is part of Serra's list to help you along:

to roll
to crease
to fold
to store
to bend
to shorten
to twist
to shave
to tear
to chip
to split
to cut
to sever
to drop
to remove
to simplify
to differ
to disarrange
to open
to mix
to splash
to knot
to spill
to droop
to flow
to curve
to lift
to inlay
to impress
to fire
to flood
to smear
to rotate
to swirl
to support
to hook
to suspend
to spread
to hang
to collect
to grasp
to tighten
to bundle
to heap
to gather
to scatter
to discard
to pair
to distribute
to compliment
to enclose
to surround
to encircle
to hole
to cover
to wrap
to dig
to tie
to bind
to weave
to join
to match
to bond
to hinge
to mark
to expand
to dilute
to light
to stretch
to bounce
to erase
to force
to continue

13 January 2011

Picture 1
Students in my Ecological Perspectives in Design seminar were given the chance to contemplate what they want to know about "sustainability" as it relates to design. As this is a required course, I did a quick read to find out how many people really wanted to be in the class. Today's stats revealed a fairly even split between "no desire" and "keen." The point of this session was to allow students to remain essentially anonymous in their uncertainties about this complex topic and highlight areas that are likely important to them but continue to remain ambiguous.

Here's the list (taken from all their Post-its). We're going to revisit these at the end of the term to find out what assumptions were shaken and what new learning arose. Don't we all struggle with answers to some of these?

Can markets survive without importing/exporting?
Why do some designers/people not feel sustainability is important?
If everyone were to consume 90% less of natural resources, how many jobs would be lost?
Where does our garbage go?
What have designers done to improve environmental circumstances?
How to approach non-designers and teach them about sustainability?
If the world's population keeps growing, will we run out of food?
What is happening to 95% of the drinkable water in Canada?
How can we push past economic concerns to focus on environmental?
How do designers get more information about what kind of sustainable/non-sustainable products/materials are being used currently?
Why do kids continue to die from starvation and how can designers help reduce this?
Have the precautions people are taking been enough of a change to see improvement in the environment?
What materials are good for the environment?
Why do we think so lightly about this topic?
Why do some feel the need to be rebellious toward the environmental movement?
How can I cooperate with the environment through CD?
How can we design sustainably as graphic designers and be successful at it when the industry is so reliant on non-sustainable items? (a few of these)
What will happen to our landfills in the future?
Why are we talking about this now?
Is the earth meant to last forever considering everything eventually dies?
What is being done in Canada in the design world as it relates to this issue?
More solutions than just recycling and using less water.
Factual statistics about what we take for granted (eg. paper vs. plastic)
What is an example of something sustainable?
Who are the worst offenders?
What is the most dangerous thing we can do to our planet?
Is this subject only talked about at ECUAD? Are other universities talking about this subject?
Is there a formula to find the truth?
Learn about the process of going green
Why hasn't the Canadian govt banned the use of plastic bags yet?
What comes after sustainable design? What does the future look like?
How can we package products with the intent of sustainable design?
More about the garment industry
How long do we have?
How can we hit the 90% (reduced consumption)?
More strategies to educate the public.
How to solve the rise in gas prices?
What will it take for people to realize what is needed?
How much money is spent annually trying to be sustainable?
What can I learn and put into practice everyday that can help me make a positive ecological difference?
Is there a silver lining and how can I find it?
Environmental impact measurements
How can we convince politics that becoming a sustainable country has huge economic potential?

Polar bears are homeless
Styrofoam takes like a billion years to decompose
There is a crazy amount of plastic in the world
I like to buy new stuff
There are islands being created from plastic yet we are still making things with plastic
It's cheaper to make things without thinking about the environment
It's getting hot in here
I'm pretty ignorant about the facts
The basics: recycling and moderate use of water
Sustainable design is systems thinking
BC's economy is entirely based on unsustainable resource extraction
If humans disappeared from the planet other forms of life would flourish
Cars pollute
Big changes can be made by forming small habits
Canada is doing poorly with sustainability on a global scale
Local is usually better
The ice caps are melting

After reading this, I'm reminded that we all have the potential to exist with assumptions and this can hinder our ability to be open to innovations or better ways of doing things. The education space offers the room to challenge with less fear of repercussion.

My other favorite bit? Asking students to take the #2011awesome ball and share what they hoped for this year. I was touched by both the humor and intentionality many revealed:

Forgive people who I haven't
Become a stronger person
Bike across BC
Learn to sew and take flamenco dance lessons
Cook something instead of eating pizza
Work on one pack in my six pack
Live more consciously

Photo credit: Teux Deux

16 December 2010

The Stick To It Award
A piece of driftwood from the shores of the Baltic Sea made the perfect icon to create an award that I gave to Sam Carter of Emily Carr University. After 36 years of teaching, he is retiring and his contributions to education and the creative community are significant.

In short, he has continued to live his life by sticking to it.

Because Sam is also very globally minded, having this wood come from another part of the world also held meaning for me. He has a great love of other cultures and materials so driftwood seemed like a perfect fit. Who knew driftwood could do all of this?

[It] provides shelter and food for birds, fish and other aquatic species as it floats in the ocean. Gribbles, shipworms and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are reintroduced to the food web. Sometimes, the partially decomposed wood washes ashore, where it also shelters birds, plants, and other species. Driftwood can become the foundation for sand dunes."

Douglas Coupland reflected on Sam's influence and shared that he owed him his life.
Sam, like the driftwood, provides a space for others to be sheltered and nourished. And because of this, I realize that I now want to be on the lookout for other reasons to give this award. There is nothing more powerful than meeting someone who lives their life to give it away. So don't be surprised if you find me combing the beaches of the world hunting for more sticks of driftwood. Because we need more like Sam who live it to stick to it.

12 December 2010

Screen shot 2010-12-12 at 10.42.05 AM
This image represents my thoughts on how design can act as a conduit for conversation and collaboration (especially when working in contexts/cultures that are unfamiliar). The expert mindset can reduce the opportunity for sustainable solutions. And the expert posture assumes we've nothing to learn from others.

Conversely, when we aim to design a solution or service together, we have the opportunity to imagine alternate possibilities and in turn apply some of these learnings in other environments.

I've put the continent of Africa in my diagram because of how my design work in Rwanda has influenced my ideas on the topic significantly. But I wouldn't limit these notions to what is often perceived as design "over there" or "for development." There is great potential for this way of working to be applied in my own backyard.

This image has been included in this discussion if you have more interest in the topic:
Aid as a conversation between cultures

05 December 2010

When Milton Glaser was illustrating Dante's Purgatory, he become interested in the "Road to Hell" and developed a little questionnaire to see where he stood in terms of his own willingness to lie. Beginning with fairly minor misdemeanors, the following twelve steps increase to some major indiscretions.

1. Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf.

2. Designing an ad for a slow, boring film to make it seem like a light-hearted comedy.

3. Designing a crest for a new vineyard to suggest that it has been in business for a long time.

4. Designing a jacket for a book whose sexual content you find personally repellent.

5. Designing a medal using steel from the World Trade Center to be sold as a profit-making souvenir of September 11.

6. Designing an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring.

7. Designing a package for children whose contents you know are low in nutrition value and high in sugar content.

8. Designing a line of T-shirts for a manufacturer that employs child labor.

9. Designing a promotion for a diet product that you know doesn't work.

10. Designing an ad for a political candidate whose policies you believe would be harmful to the general public.

11. Designing a brochure for an SUV that turned over frequently in emergency conditions and was known to have killed 150 people.

12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user's death.

(excerpt from Steven Heller on DT&G Interviews)

If you enjoyed this, you might like his Ten Things I Have Learned essay.

30 November 2010

"While the first generation of publications on green design were 'how to do it' guides, written quickly to meet the demand for basic information, the next generation of publications in the 1990s is likely to be more considered and carefully researched, more critical and synergistic, more aware of the full complexity of design and sustainable development in both the developed and developing worlds."

Pauline Madge, 1993

Pictured: The Green Book, 2007

28 November 2010

TEDx Vancouver 2010 - West Vancouver, BC
I got to attend my first TEDxVancouver event and was super impressed by the professionalism and organization that was evident from the moment you entered Kay Meek Centre. Stellar swag, truly tangible interactions and like minded TEDsters made it a day well spent.

These are 5 talks I'd love to revisit:

Josh Fox: Using the banjo to complement a narrative while talking = awesome, skills
Michael Green: Visualizing world housing needs = making information accessible and relevant
FYI: MGB is the firm that made the awesome 5500+ books-changing room space at LYNNsteven
Nardwuar: Crowd surfing to end your talk = using a metaphor to encapsulate your message
Dr. Jack Horner: Science lesson turned into story = reframing education
Rives: Linking history by filtering it through the 4am time slot = brilliant

Bonus track: Mash up by Don Alder and Kyprios

(photo by Kris Krüg)