30 November 2008

27 November 2008

Equal Conversations

Thinkpublic created this toolkit "to help instigate conversations about subjects common to everyone or shared interests." Their kit relates to my ideas if how to provide a method of communication that can be applied for understanding in the rural village.

25 November 2008

Can visual communcation be open-sourced?

Like this?

Quote(s) of the day

Because sometimes you need reminders...

Graduate design education is one of the most promising possibilities for the development of new information in the field and for the creation of ambitious models of operation.

All objects with which we surround ourselves are a language beyond language, an extension of ourselves, a visualization of the invisible, a self-portrait, a way of introducing ourselves, and an essential dimension of humanity.

Even though there can be beautiful computer keyboards, excellent typefaces and magnificent dining-room furniture, we concentrate on our typing, reading and eating.

1) Visual communication design is centred on human behaviour and not on visual forms.
2) Visual communication design applied to solve social problems can learn from [other disciplines].
3) The evaluation of the outcome of a communication campaign must be an integrated part of the design plan, and it requires achievable objectives and a substantial , reachable, reactive and measurable audience.
4) A thorough knowledge of the problem and of its socioeconomic impact is necessary to secure the resources required for the support of appropriate action.
5) Visual communication design is a professional responsibility that overflows the technical. A technically excellent but ethically and socially irresponsible designer is a social, cultural and ecological hazard.

Visual communication design has to strengthen its concern for what really matters: life, death, pain, happiness, and the welfare of people.

Jorge Frascara
User-Centered Graphic Design: Mass Media and Social Change

24 November 2008

The Word of the Day: Ethnomathematics

Ethnomathematics is the study of the relationship between mathematics and culture. It refers to a broad cluster of ideas ranging from distinct numerical and mathematical systems to multicultural mathematics education.

I was introduced to this idea today and find it so curious. Math is a language in its own right so how can one learn from this as it relates to design? Sort of like a biomimicry meets language and culture? I dare you to try using it in a sentence: "Isn't that so enthomathematical?"

Design Difference: Hippo Roller

22 November 2008

Internship Talk: Stories from the summer

Four of us will be sharing about our experience working as designers or film makers in another country. If you want to know more about my experience working in Rwanda, this is your chance!

21 November 2008

Design, The Future and the Human Spirit

...designers have to seek autonomy and use it, if possible, for socially and environmentally productive ends. They must confront a world that is becoming increasingly polarized: wealth versus poverty; fundamentalist religion versus secular humanism; environmental sustainability versus ecological destruction; and technological utopianism versus technological resistance. To position one's self among these and other oppositional forces requires an intensive reflection on one's own values, goals and social concerns. It also calls for an operational strategy to align one's self with other social actors and institutions, whose concerns are compatible with one's own.

by Victor Margolin
Design Issues: Volume 23, Number 3, Summer 2007

20 November 2008

Research Process 20.11.08

These images reflect a thought process. I am looking at how a "village" can be involved in the creation of their own communication tools. With difficult issues like climate change, how can someone aware of the related problems create a meaningful message that will help a community move toward a healthier and sustained life? Using my experience in Rwanda as the backdrop, I want to see if visual communication design tools can assist in the development of understanding where the content is inherently difficult information. Ideas that have surfaced by others in the field are the use of probes (Bill Gaver) and the concept of co-creation (as being discussed by Liz Sanders). These approaches could serve as methodologies that would create a non-verbal outcome while empowering the ideas of those who often don't have a voice (or technology).

Much of the research I come across has situated itself in a context of a Western or European arena. Conversely, projects that the industrial design community have attempted (Design for the other 90%, as a case study) seem to touch on these ideas in an attempt to take design tools and apply them to contexts outside our own (some successfully and others less so).

Ultimately, in anything cross-cultural, there are nuances (some big and some small) that impact these endeavours. The most significant and obvious is a shared language. This is where a new depth of understanding about visual representations become valuable. Other areas that emerge include identity, power and politics. While I can't address all of these in one thesis, I am aware of their impact on the tools I am aiming to create in order to involve those on the periphery the opportunity to understand how they might come up with ideas for their own concerns/circumstances.

I am investigating how designers in other countries, where the rural poor are significant members of a population, are using their skills to engage with meaningful experiences that help to shape difficult information into something accessible. From their research, I hope to see how this idea could be applied in contexts where a government is seeking to communicate policies but perhaps without success.

Everything's amazing and nobody is happy

My friend sent me this. And I cried because I laughed so hard. And it fits perfectly into my current analysis on how to communicate in a world that assumes technology is a given.

19 November 2008

18 November 2008

Stories from the front

illustration by Keri Smith

KARA: In my research, I'm considering the role of communication design in development where language isn't shared and often that means varied perceptions on issues. Can you give me any examples of what could help you in work if someone could come in and design something useful for you? Just want to make my research relevant even if I can't be back on the continent!

BEV: In development (more than relief) communication is vital. We have seen in our water projects that when things are not communicated in a tangible, cultural context, they are often misunderstood.

Example: explaining to women that if they lay their "washed" clothes on the ground to dry they can still get bugs in them and they can get skin diseases such as scabies. Now, most women in Africa - especially West Africa, have never been told that:
a) there are bugs that cause disease (they just think its from the 'gods')
b) the link to the bugs on the ground getting into clothes on the ground (the whole germ theory of just cause you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there is not understood at all)

So how do I tell them what they are doing is not good for them?

Solution: We often make simple posters to explain the germ theory, or how disease is spread. We are thinking more to doing skits, as African's in general LOVE skits - to portray a message. Also, in Liberia proverbs and parables are a huge way of communicating in the village - it's really cool actually. An example of one would be "Don't sell your tooth to buy a palm nut" a palm nut is really hard and it needs all of your teeth to crack - so if you sell you tooth, how can you eat the nut you have bought?

Your research: The first thing for designing something would be knowing the specific culture - there is African culture, and then there is West African culture, and then there is Liberian culture. You probably saw that in East Africa, and then in Rwanda on a micro-scale. Then there are cultures of tribes - and this gets tricky! In Niger where I am right now, we are working in the north near the Mali border along the Niger river. The Zarma people are Muslim (mostly by tradition) and have lived along the river for generations. The river is their friend, they bathe in it, drink its water, put their animals in it, wash their clothes and dishes in it. You get the picture. But their kids have dysentery, some have died and they attribute it to, "It's the will of Allah". You and I know it's the water from the river.

Now here is the challenge: How do you communicate to them that the very thing they have been told is their friend and has given them so much, is actually causing sickness and death?

Sigh. When you find an answer to this please let me know! We have filters in that village and people still go to the river. It's behavioural change and that takes time, lots of it, and capacity building, and creative ways of communicating to them the importance of water and sanitation.

So what is your idea for the design? Do you need a country to test it in? I know of one;)

I would love to talk to you more about it. There is so much more I can say especially in regards to gender, HIV/AIDS, health. Yeah, I could go off.

Thanks for seeing the bigger picture of this. It makes my heart happy;)

17 November 2008

Design Thinking

A video about the need for design thinking in business. A great way to look differently at what design is about: creative thinking and innovative ideas. I can't help but filter these ideas through the lens of the rural community that is looking for economic development solutions.

16 November 2008

A Sufficiency Revolution

An ecology of means has to be accompanied by an ecology of ends. The efficiency revolution will remain counterproductive if it is not accompanied by a sufficiency revolution. Nothing is as irrational as running with high speed with the utmost efficiency in the wrong direction.

Wolfgang Sachs
Social Scientist

Afrikan Alphabets

This makes me happy.
The book.

14 November 2008

The Development Set

The Development Set
by Ross Coggins
"Adult Education and Development"
September 1976

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I'm off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I've had all my shots
I have traveller's checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution --
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like "epigenetic"
"Micro", "macro", and "logarithmetic"

It pleasures us to be esoteric --
It's so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you're feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, "Is it really development?"

Or say, "That's fine in practice, but don't you see:
It doesn't work out in theory!"
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses - on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

12 November 2008

We interrupt your programming

For this reminder of why we love London.

London (harder, better, faster, stronger) from David Hubert on Vimeo.

11 November 2008

Just another design manifesto?

Manifesto is a big word in my books. Especially since this isn't the first one ever crafted. The word has a weight of permanence that can often sound militant or exclusive. But that isn't to say that the content doesn't merit reading. I am grateful for the understanding this manifesto presents when it comes to the various areas that design can inhabit. I've italicized where I think I could situate my contributions below. And I guess until we resolve to living out these ideas, a little militance might be necessary?

“Throughout history, design has been an agent of change. It helps us to understand the changes in the world around us, and to turn them to our advantage by translating them into things that can make our lives better. Now, at a time of crisis and unprecedented change in every area of our lives – economic, political, environmental, societal and in science and technology – design is more valuable than ever.

The crisis comes at a time when design has evolved. Once a tool of consumption chiefly involved in the production of objects and images, design is now also engaged with developing and building systems and strategies, and in changing behaviour often in collaboration with different disciplines.

Design is being used to:
· Gain insight about people’s needs and desires
· Build strategic foresight to discover new opportunities
· Generate creative possibilities
· Invent, prototype and test novel solutions of value
· Deliver solutions into the world as innovations adopted at scale

In the current climate, the biggest challenges for design and also its greatest opportunities are:

Design can make an important contribution to the redefinition and delivery of social services by addressing acute problems such as ageing, youth crime, housing and health. Many designers are striving to enable people all over the world to lead their lives with dignity, especially the deprived majority of the global population - “the other 90%” who have the greatest need of design innovation.

Designers can play a critical role in ensuring that products, systems and services are developed, produced, shipped, sold and will eventually be disposed of in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner. Thereby meeting - and surpassing - consumers’ expectations.

Design can help to rebuild the education system to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Another challenge is to redefine or reorient the design education system at a time of unprecedented demand when thousands of new design schools are being built worldwide and design is increasingly being integrated into other curricula. Designers are also deploying their skill at communication and visualization to explain and interpret the overwhelming volume of extraordinary complex information.

Designers are continuing to develop and deliver innovative new products at a turbulent time when consumer attitudes are changing dramatically thereby creating new and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the current crisis. They are increasingly using their expertise to innovate in new areas such as the creation of new business models and adoption of a strategic and systemic role in both the public and the private sector.”

by Bruce Nussbaum at the World Economic Forum in Dubai

10 November 2008

On wrecking and doing nothing

I needed this book a long time ago. Perfect.

Keri Smith is an illustrator who has, through her blog, introduced me to a book I want to get my hands on: One-Straw Revolution. She compares the idea of the author's discussion of natural farming to what a career in design ought to be. I'll be able to comment more readily once I've read it but I'm keen on the idea from what she describes so far. The idea that there are natural rhythms in this world, while not a new concept, is something I'm trying to sort out in light of the advancement of technologies.

08 November 2008


If you are trying to juggle your priorities, the reality is, you're just juggling.
--Dr. James Orbinski's response to a question posed at the recent Terry event at UBC

Recent Exchanges

The interweb can truly be a gift when you want to find out what other people are doing in other parts of the world. I've been receiving some great correspondence of late that I find incredibly helpful in my process of thesis research:

Information and education are critical resources in managing poverty in rural areas and there are numerous opportunities to use information and communication strategies and design to help local people cope with their issues and problems. Learning and expanding their cognitive abilities as well as awareness and ability building that maybe called soft skills are critically dependent on their ability to use information and have access to it as and when needed.

Prof M P Ranjan
Faculty of Design
Head, Centre for Bamboo Initiatives
National Institute of Design

He directed me to a former student who is showing how to engage the rural community in the process of design.

Lester Beall and Information Design

Lester Beall designed these posters in the late 1930s for the US Government's Rural Electrification Administration.

The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was an agency of the United States federal government created on May 11, 1935 through efforts of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The REA's task was to promote electrification in rural areas, which in the 1930s rarely were provided with electricity due to the unwillingness of power companies to serve farmsteads. America lagged significantly behind European countries in rural electrification. Private electric utilities argued that the government had no right to compete with or regulate private enterprise, despite many of these utilities having refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of profitability. Since private power companies set rural rates four times as high as city rates, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

These posters are an interesting point of discussion for me as I consider how communication design can articulate environmental messages to the rural communities of Africa. On one level, we can look at these posters as somewhat ironic (because of our current awareness of energy consumption). But the graphic design (in its modernist form and attempted function) are simple, seemingly clear and almost fit into an information design category. In these post-modern times, does Beall's poster have a relevance we might typically overlook? Can this form influence how one might consider communicating universally?

Clearly, the ideas inherent in the rural electrification administration process are outdated but I like how these images present data pictorially (and without being obvious suggest a place for some leapfrogging):

07 November 2008

Information Design meets video

I'm in love with information design these days.

05 November 2008

This Women's Work

Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman's work,
This woman's world.
Ooh, it's hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking

Of all the things I should've said,
That I never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things I should've given,
But I didn't.

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.
Give me that little kiss.
Give me your hand.

(I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.)

I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking

Of all the things we should've said,
That were never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should've given,
But I didn't.

Oh, darling, make it go away.
Just make it go away now.

Kate Bush


Once upon a time,

there was a group of women who lived in a village far away from here. This village was hidden from the main road and because of this very few cars drove by. A bumpy road could take you to where they lived and worked hard. If you saw the sign in time.

Here, in a bullet-ridden building, this group of women sat together on mats to weave baskets. To somehow craft a living.

Their work began before this, however. They first had to walk many miles to extract a plant that would eventually become a fiber they could work with. This plant grew over their lakes and rivers and dried up their precious water, all the while killing off life forms that lived in that water.

Into the murky swamp, they would step, many with their small children wrapped about their backs, to extract this invasive plant. Each tendril was removed from the root, ironed by hand and spread on the road to dry in the morning sun.

Then they would wait while this plant dried. While they waited, they looked after their children and husbands. They worked the farm, made the food, fetched the water, and then some. They walked everywhere.

Eventually, the dried fiber would be braided into long strips that could then be used to weave baskets, hats and sandals. Items that would garner them a meager wage: about $2 a day. Their husbands saw this as a reasonable contribution to the household if they could actually persist with it.

But the orders didn’t come in. And they never got better at weaving so the quality of their work didn’t improve. Because of this, they had to return to their work on the farm in order to ensure there was secure income and food for their families. The art of weaving was about to be lost in their community.

And then one day,
Something changed.

They awoke to find that instead of having a run-down building, they had a large factory. This factory is clean and has all the necessary space and tools allowing them to work comfortably and effectively.

Their weaving is known to be some of the best in the region.
They even have a store where they sell their products.
They are no longer making small baskets but rather crafting furniture and other functional items that garner them about $150 per week.
They no longer work on the farm because they are at the factory full-time in order to keep up with the demand.
And they are receiving orders from all over. On their mobile phones.
They have a bank account.
They have a solid business plan, which means they are sustaining themselves without wondering where the funding will come from.
They have invented their own designs for the products they make.
They are training the youth to be the next generation of workers in their community factory.

Their young children have space to play and rest nearby while their school-aged children are busy learning at the local school.
They each have a bicycle they can ride. It carries children, food and other things.
They have water to drink. And it is clean and easily accessed.
They are seeing the water levels return to proper levels in the lakes and rivers.
Their community is eating fish again.
They have found alternate uses for the plant so that they can solve other needs like having enough safe cooking fuel.
They are being recognized as innovators in their country.
They are living longer.
They can support their family, contribute to their community and help protect their precious environment.

Kara Pecknold
Narrative Inquiry

What is design?

I appreciate this little video by the Design Council UK. While I think there is more to be said, I appreciate the simple ways it breaks design down and makes it accessible.

04 November 2008

Yes he did.

03 November 2008

Think of the poorest person you have ever seen and ask if your next act will be of any use to him.

UN University: Priority Africa

PRIORITY AFRICA - Climate Change from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

I'm trying to get a read on what forms communication design could take in light of the issues surrounding sustainable adaptations for Africa as mentioned in this video from UN University. This dialogue is recurrent and is one I am investigating in order to figure out what the differences are for those who are not contributing directly to the climate change problem. How can Africa respond and how will it become equipped to adapt to the changes at a community level (not to mention nationally)?

I wrestle with this as one who sits outside the reality (minus my three months in Rwanda). What form could my design possible take in this cultural setting? How would my design need to change? Process or content? Or both?

And at the end of it all, I wish I could get back on a plane to pursue this in its rightful context. And appreciate Thackara's words on the idea of design for development too.

Space changes things

High ceilings spur creative thinking, study finds lower rooms encourage people to process in a much more concrete and detailed fashion, a UBC marketing professor says

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Designers and real estate agents have long sung the praises of dramatic cathedral ceilings, but a new study reveals the height of a room can actually change the way people's minds work.

"The general wisdom is that these environmental factors -- whether the room has a window, the ceiling height, the brightness -- should affect the way we think and behave," says Rui (Juliet) Zhu, an assistant marketing professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, who co-authored the paper. But until now, no one had actually tested how and why such features affect people, she says.

For the study, which will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, the researchers used two test rooms, one with an eight-foot ceiling and the other 10 feet high, and suspended colourful Chinese lanterns to emphasize the height. In one experiment, they showed 100 volunteers pictures of a wine rack and a coffee table that were smooth and sleek except for a few awkward features. When they asked the volunteers to describe the "products," those in the low-ceilinged room zeroed in on the imperfections, while the ones in the taller room took a more generalized view and ignored the glitches.

"When a person is in a high-ceiling environment, they are going to process information in a more abstract, creative fashion," Zhu says. "Those inside a room with relatively lower ceilings will process in a much more concrete, detail-oriented fashion." That's because people in a high-ceilinged room are "primed" to think broadly because of the sense of freedom associated with the space, she says, while the containment of a lower room encourages people to think small and focused.

She and co-author Joan Meyers-Levy at the University of Minnesota proved their hypothesis in a retail context, but the findings could easily be applied to all sorts of spaces in which people live and work, Zhu says. She suggests hospitals could design post-surgery recovery rooms with tall ceilings so patients will "focus on the bigger picture," rather than momentary pain or anxiety. But bigger isn't always an advantage, she points out, and a surgeon may be better off in a low-ceilinged operating room that encourages focused attention to detail.

The field of "atmospherics" examines the ways in which people's environment affects their thinking and well-being, Zhu says, but until now most research had focused on sensory factors such as smell or background music, not structural aspects.

Shannon Proudfoot
CanWest News Service