28 February 2009


This exercise is asking the participant to identify what they need (red dots) versus what they wish they had (green dots). Here is a rough image showing 6 of the 10 responses. The majority of images come from IDEO's HCD Toolkit.

Interestingly, one participant numbered the priority of each. They are hung here in order from number 1 to number 6 in each category. I am not certain as to how she interpreted each image but for my purposes I'm listing them as this:

1. Clean water
2. Truck
3. Books/education
4. Shop for amenities
5. Firewood
6. Cell phone

1. A better house
2. Tractor
3. Doctor
4. Jerrican (or fuel?)
5. Electricity
6. Computers

I have a lot of thoughts about these images but I'll save writing about them for my actual thesis paper.

27 February 2009

Scenes from the field

Lama took some shots to show what happened when the kits were delivered to the women.

(T-B, L-R: Signing the informed consent form, explaining the research, drawing in the notepad, and using a pencil crayon as a ruler)

26 February 2009

Photographic Dictionary

The Photographic Dictionary is dedicated to defining words through literal, figurative and personal meanings found in each photograph.

Quite an objective! In light of my research, this idea becomes quite intriguing (as I sit with drawings and photographs wondering how exactly to interpret them). In this case of the photographic dictionary, I am interested in two things:

a) What would happen if the text was removed?
b) How does everyone see each image and how could I know this interpretation?

The ideas inherent in this work remind me of the benefits of this.

25 February 2009

Through their lens

The film has been developed. A sampling of images that were returned from Rwanda.

24 February 2009

Green Gadget

While the focus of my research has shifted away from the talk of green on this continent, I still find myself curious about the form it takes in mass media. As revealed in this recent advertising for the 17" Mac. The strokes are like that of a crayon, which seemingly suggests low-tech and therefore no carbon emissions?

While I'm a Mac lover and value the fact that companies are changing their wayward practices because of climate change etc., I'm struck by how this gets messaged to the public. Organic strokes are seemingly the way to tell someone that something is "more green." Do you notice this?

22 February 2009

Kits come back to Canada

The research probes are now with me and I sit before 10 Ziploc bags filled with cameras, drawings and the like. Much to process, consider and write about as a result of this new piece of my research. If you're new to the storyline, these posts will fill you in (they start from the most recent and work backwards). More to come for sure.

19 February 2009

What if you had to collect your own water?

This ad comments on the unclean water that millions of people drink. As I designer, I'm struck by how they get the water, how much time it takes for this process and how heavy those jerricans actually are.

17 February 2009

Change This

Ah, manifestos. They have good intentions and yet in some ways I wonder if their very existence is a bit of a cry wolf in a world that has seemingly had its fill of mantras.
Regardless, I'm a fan of those who make a public statement about what they want to do in their lifetime. And then invite others along as they wish. Paul Polak's endeavours and background make me believe that design can and must look different in the 21st century. If you want to, you can vote too.

16 February 2009

Pictorial Communication Language


In my ongoing quest for the connections and tensions between image and text, I came across this project by Craig Frazier. While humorous, it reminds me of how we each interpret images and text so differently. I type this as I wait for my kits to return, and am ever so curious about the interpretations of the words and images I sent out.

14 February 2009

I heart Gui

Gui Bonsiepe could be considered a key voice on the discussion of design for development. Here are a few wonderful quotes that help in positioning the aims of my research.

From Design Issues: Volume 22, No. 2 Spring 2006

Design humanism is the exercise of design activities in order to interpret the needs of social groups, and to develop viable emancipative proposals in the form of material and semiotic artifacts. Why emancipative? Because humanism implies the reduction of domination. In the field of design, it also means to focus on the excluded, the discriminated, and economically less-favored groups (as they are called in economist jargon), which amounts to the majority of the population of this planet. I want to make it clear that I don’t propagate a universalistic attitude according to the pattern of design for the world. Also, I don’t believe that this claim should be interpreted as the expression of a naive idealism, supposedly out of touch with reality. On the contrary, each profession should face this uncomfortable question, not only the profession of designers. It would be an error to take this claim as the expression of a normative request of how a designer—exposed to the pressure of the market and the antinomies between reality and what could be reality—should act today. The intention is more modest, that is to foster a critical consciousness when facing the enormous imbalance between the centers of power and the people submitted to these powers, because the imbalance is deeply undemocratic insofar as it negates participation. It treats human beings as mere instances in the process of objectivization (Verdinglichung) and commodification.
To design means to deal with paradoxes and contradictions. In a society plagued by contradictions, design also is affected. It might be convenient to remember the dictum of Walter Benjamin that there is no document of civilization that is not, at the same time, a document of barbarism.

From Design Issues: Volume 19, No. 4 Autumn 2003
There seems to exist a hidden romantic notion of the periphery: that it should maintain its status of pristine purity that would be contaminated by any outside contact. It might be advisable to distinguish between influence and influence. I don’t see anything negative in the endeavor to contribute to a project of social emancipation. I did not come as a missionary to Latin America. What I did was to provide an operational base for concrete professional design action. People in peripheral countries, and Latin Americans particularly, are not as naive as sometimes is supposed. They are critical and demanding. I offered some operational tools in order to do product design, from agricultural machinery to wooden toys for children and low cost furniture, and get rid of the ballast of art tradition and art theory.
If I were called on today to assist in some program, I would focus on the importance of information technology and communication, which have not been considered as decisive factors in industrialization policies so far. I don’t know of any government plan in peripheral countries that takes into account,and tries to do something about, this sector of communication and information technology from a design perspective that puts people in the center. And I would say that design has a vast new field for activity.
"The center knows nothing about the periphery, and the periphery does not know anything about itself.“ This provocative sentence might serve as a breeding ground for reflections about the dialectic relationship between different discourses and practices of design. After all, we live in different places, but in one world!

12 February 2009

Less Than $1 A Day

I came across this on my walk home from school.
It struck me how this statement means one thing for the New York Times and something completely other in light of assessing those who must live on this amount.
A documentary series that investigates this further.

10 February 2009


I love this on so many levels:
1) the way it is made and its lifecycle
2) the involvement of youth in its packaging design
3) the fact that the team pictures were drawn by young people
4) the short video made by Sam that shows me simply how it works

09 February 2009


To track the process of the kits, I am including an email I received today to show what questions emerged in their delivery. This inquiry is as much a part of the project as are the physical kits and their contents.

Finally went to Gashora, yesterday. It's been crazy busy trying to coordinate the trip. The women loved the projects. They thank you for the portraits, the stamp and thinking about them. They said they miss you too.

I have 2 quick questions:
1. I know they will return the photos back to Canada for processing.
Where do you want the dots to be placed on?
2. Are there any specific photos you need for the interaction during
the cultural probe?

What was interesting to me is that there were questions about the dots exercise (which I had assumed would be clear).

This could be due to the stress of getting to the village, the issue of time or any other possibility. But something to consider in creating a communication tool.

07 February 2009

I walked into a Roots store today and saw this Village Pack (in a vibrant red colour and selling at 50% off the regular price!). What was more notable than the price, was the way it was made and its construction has given me more fodder to consider for my field kits. And yes, I am tempted to go back and get that one I saw.

06 February 2009


Ideas are brewing.

05 February 2009

You lose what you don't hold

With my research has come a new interest in:
a) sewing/crafting/tactile making
b) multiple uses for one thing
c) fabrics and textures

This bag (and the other products in this line) targets the ideas I imagine when I consider future iterations of my field kit. Multi-purposed and beautiful applications make me happy.

Don't Click It
This is such a cool site and a bit disconcerting for those of us who are used to the click!

04 February 2009

Read more

03 February 2009

More designers for social impact: DAHRA & Winterhouse.

02 February 2009

IDSA Talk: Subtle Technologies

Today I participated in IDSA's Design for the Majority webinar, Subtle Technologies: What I've Learned in India About Design.

Ken Botnick shared his insights about design and how in the world of the everyday usable object, the craftsman remains a vital part of Indian society with some (possible) lessons for the West. Ken talked about his observations that were focused on low use of energy, local cultural traditions, and efficient use of materials.

Leslie Speer, IDSA, Chair of the Design for the Majority Section, and Deb Johnson (in NYC), former Chair of the IDSA's NYC Chapter and Academic Director of Sustainability at Pratt Institute also participated.

Some questions asked by Ken included, "How can embedded knowledge in grassroots designers be maintained?" and "Is there innate design thinking?"

Deb asked, "How do you have people moving out of poverty, where buying becomes increased, and do this in a rational way (by rational she was referring to the attempt to move "forward" while holding to a sustainable ethic)?"

I've been in contact with Leslie about these ideas and as a communication designer was pleased to see the synergy between industrial design and communication design in our discussions. She's been a great person to bounce my ideas off of (as she's had a lot of experience working outside of the Western context).

What was also interesting to me is the idea of observation and how we learn from others (as referenced by Ken's visuals in the presentation). In my research, I'm curious about how we as "outsiders" can actually watch without getting in the way.

The daily ritual of Kolam

A new non-profit I learned about: Design in Kind.

01 February 2009

Visual Anthropology

Image of Karl G. Heider, professor of ethnographic studies at Harvard

Notes from a reading of Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method by John and Malcolm Collier, 1986.

Man has always used images to give form to his concepts of reality (8).

Jacob Riis turned to the camera to present slum conditions in New York City [...] These early records of "urban anthropology" helped establish the first building codes and apartment regulations. [...] [T]he sociologist, Lewis Hine recorded the entry of immigrants through Ellis Island [...and he] also turned the camera to children, and his images were influential in passing the first child labor laws (data from Beaumont Newhall's 1949 book "The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day"). (9)

The nonverbal language of photorealism is a language that is most understood interculturally and cross culturally (9).

Photography is an abstracting process of observation but very different from the fieldworker's inscribed notebook where information is preserved in literate code. Photography also gathers selective information, but the information is specific, with qualifying and contextual relationships that are usually missing from codified written notes. Photographs are precise records of material reality (10).

Seeing the stranger as he "really" is, in ethnography as in all human relations, too often becomes a casualty of our personal values and incomplete observation. Social scientists appreciate that there is little we can see that is truly free from bias or personal projection (10).

Bridges of communication, established by the visual medium, can offer him rewarding collaborations within the field of study (24).

Visual anthropology is the search for cultural patterns (35).

Both art and science face the challenge of abstracting new insights and experience from the visible shape of reality. This creative process goes beyond documentation, for discovery is an act of creation, and reality must pass through an alchemy in which the documentary record becomes new knowledge that creates a new reality. Such creation is a the core of scientific discovery just as it is at the core of art. Just as a fine artist leads us to see things in new perspective, so Einstein led scientists to see a new reality in time and space (169).