28 November 2009

Manifest This.

In light of a few of my posts this week – where I questioned if people really understand sustainable consumption, asked if visualization could offer a more valuable evaluation of literacy and imagined what design education would look like in the future – I found this information interesting and even, hopeful. While there have been many manifestos over the years, there is something significant when a mission statement gets presented a) outside of your own discipline and b) on a global scale. For some reason, perhaps naïve, it makes me believe it might have some stick. Here is an excerpt originally posted on Brian Collins' site, (which has now seemingly disappeared and I'm not sure why?):

The Global Agenda Council on Design is committed to applying design thinking to analyzing systemic problems, and to inventing and delivering creative solutions. We have identified six design principles, which should help us – and our fellow Global Agenda Councils – to develop new ideas and strategies to address the problems facing us all.

• Clarity: Complex problems require simple, clear and honest solutions.

• Inspiration: Successful solutions will move people by satisfying their needs, giving meaning to their lives, and raising their hopes and expectations.
• Transformation: Exceptional problems demand exceptional solutions that may be radical and even disruptive.
• Participation: Effective solutions will be collaborative, inclusive and developed with the people who will use them.
• Context: No solution should be developed or delivered in isolation but should recognize its context in terms of time, place and culture.
• Sustainability: Every solution needs to be robust, responsible and designed with regard to its long-term impact on the environment and society.
Based on our discussions with fellow councils we have developed three proposals for projects intended to fulfill the World Economic Forum’s mission of improving the state of the world:

Universal symbols to encourage sustainable consumption – Many consumers wish to behave more responsibly but are unsure as to how to do so. We propose to develop an internationally-recognized set of symbols – one to indicate the water footprint of a product and its packaging; the other to indicate their combined carbon footprint. This simple system will also encourage more consumers to follow suit in future and companies to behave more responsibly.
Design thinking within education – As design thinking is an invaluable tool to help us to think and act creatively, we propose to introduce it as a core subject on the K-12 curriculum all over the world. By providing students with a methodology for understanding global challenges and giving them the means with which to conceive and develop solutions, this would be a simple but effective way of nurturing a new generation of instinctive lateral thinkers and problem solvers.
Lifecycle-adjusted value system – This looks at the cost of existence including utilization and decomissioning costs. By visualizing and revealing these costs to society, this offers a new way of measuring value. It strives to convert a debt-focused society into an asset-focused society by changing the valuation system. It is a paradigm shift so that one generation creates assets for the next generation instead of debts.

Action plan, anyone?
Having attended a few conferences while in Rwanda, which looked at ways to respond to all sorts of development: urban infrastructure, environmental management and science/technology (to name a few), I was introduced to a popular question: What is your action plan? (which always sounded so lovely when said with force by my colleagues there: "Ack-shun Plahn").

In light of this mission statement, I am curious to see how the design community can and will act on this ideas. I know there has been much in the works to get to this stage. But how will we individually and collectively respond to this blueprint? What forms will it take? Grassroots? Corporate? Others?

I love to be inspired by grand ideas. I'm fairly sure I procure such notions on a daily basis – Just ask my friends! I am realizing more and more that what keeps me inspired is not the declaration of the hopeful future; rather it is the witness of tangible actions, which often seem to be inconsequential or perhaps even, dare I say, failures, that allow me to live into the declarations. In saying this, I suppose I'm suggesting that while I look forward to a collective action plan from the design community, I am also required to filter this into my own paradigm and act on it accordingly.

27 November 2009

Visually Literate

While my current research focus is on design for health care, I can't shake the thoughts I'm having  about technology and literacy (which I suppose aren't completely unrelated). When I first started my design training, I was given an assignment to create a newspaper ad that would present a concept of the how the rate of HIV/AIDS in Africa would lead to increased deaths, which would have a direct affect on the next generation's acquisition of knowledge. I take note of this piece simply because the quote suggests that these statistics will arrive by 2010. That's coming up soon, right?

unicef ad

I also recall my participation in a science and technology conference in Rwanda (and how the research activities of the participants could impact the economy of the country). What was notable to me during this experience was how many of the researchers did not have a backed up copy of their work that could shared (because it had been typed once on a typewriter). In this case, how does their knowledge get passed on and/or developed further? If there are hidden innovations, how can we learn about them?


This article caught my attention this week because it speaks to how we value literacy in this media age. How this gets measured is a whole other conversation but I'm left wondering how media literacy applies to those who might still be waiting for the media to show up? I continue to hear about technological advances in the urban space but am getting more excited to see how this gets translated to those who dwell in a rural context. There are innovations waiting to abound but how do they get realized, shared or built upon?


What would it look like if we allowed people to create a visual business plan instead of a textual one? What if presenting an evaluation to a potential funder meant creating a video? Or a book of sketches? What if a farmer, looking for remedies to a low crop yield, received all his information visually?  On a mobile device?

If text hinders someone from moving forward economically or otherwise, are we limiting the innovators who have ideas but can't write them down?

These are lofty questions at this point. I'm not completely sure what to do with them, except get them on a page and consider how their adolescent qualities might mature. If you have thoughts or ideas to contribute to my ramblings, I'd love to hear them. Or better yet, see them.
Image source

Perfect. Desktop wallpaper from Veer. Click on image to see it larger.

24 November 2009

barbie uses only natural materials
Last year I wrote a wee book that posed the idea that Barbie should become the poster child for the "green movement." While I think we're well beyond some of our naive ideas about the word "green," I was reminded that many continue to be overwhelmed by the shift in conversation — and are left wondering how to uncover the truth in this message of a more sustainable future. Here's an excerpt:

And so, this is why I have been toying with (pun intended) how Barbie (a fake plastic pop icon) might speak to the issue of changing to a greener life. If the switch to green continues to be about how we respond to the external qualities of our life (and not the deeper roots of our existence), maybe Barbie could justify our wayward ways. In her 50-year history, Barbie has represented many things. She is both traditional and controversial. She has responded to various cultural realities by turning herself into an animal-loving anthropocentric or a calculator-carrying corporate maven. Last year, a Muslim Barbie was developed to allow for a new era of doll based on the values and traditions of the Muslim culture. If this culture wanted a doll to reflect its values with alternative external apparel, could Barbie speak to the ideologies of green similarly? Are we suggesting that what you add to the outside reflects what is really going on inside?

Do you agree? Do you think people continue to be overwhelmed or have we navigated a reasonable path at this point?

If you want to read more, here's where to get your hands on it: I Am Not A Plastic Bag

23 November 2009

Drawing: A Fundamental Instrument to Understand Reality

After using drawing as part of my design process in Rwanda, I have taken a great interest in its role as a means for communication in low-literacy communities (and how this might affect the way mobile systems are designed and implemented). Beyond that, I am also keen on how it can help us access other cognitive levels in the complexities of daily experience.

This short video (via BoingBoing) about Milton Glaser highlights how drawing can play a role in looking at things more carefully and encourage a consciousness about what we see. He also suggests that it need not be "accurate" in order to have benefit. To me, this becomes extremely interesting when we are seeking to understand complex issues in our world.

If "drawing is thinking" then we have a broader capacity for understanding these complexities as we move beyond a typical read of them. Statistics and texts offer one dimension of this information. And while this is valid, it is often postured as the most reliable way of understanding complexity (especially when said complexity incorporates unknown cross-cultural or demographic details). Visualizing this information seems to allow for a broader read and allows for new possibilities to interpret what we see. When we are dealing with complex issues, like those I witnessed in Rwanda, I believe that we need other ways of seeing if we are to find ways of addressing new solutions.

Could drawing help us show this information in a more accessible way? Could this activity make something like the MDGs more understandable to those who are being evaluated by their success or failure? I don't presume to have all the answers but I can see that there is room to expand:

The impact of communication can be jeopardized by not having accurate information about the needs of the counterparts and by the reliability of available tools. Experience in monitoring and evaluating the impact of communication initiatives is comparatively weak, leading to the re-use of formats and campaigns regardless of their effectiveness in improving conditions of marginalized groups. Paola Pagliani, The MDGs as a Communication Tool for Development

Map source

20 November 2009

Tweet Translations: The Number 25

After my talk at Practivism II last night, a few people tweeted this quote so I wanted to clarify its source and some of my thoughts around it for those who weren't able to attend.

If you haven't had good conversations, with your eyes open, with at least twenty-five poor people before you start designing, don't bother.

This quote comes from Paul Polak's book, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. It contains an amazing amount of information for a designer who has interest in designing with rural communities. In one section, Polak suggests there are some basic principles when designing for the “other 90%.” The former quote represents one of them.

The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%. (Polak)

His recommended design principles put the poor customer at the centre of the design process in order to develop the most sustainable offerings. To know your customer, you need to talk to your customer. I'm not sure why he suggests that it should be twenty-five people. I don't know that it's a magical number but I'll assume that talking to more people will help overcome the large assumptions that can surface after only talking to one or two. It may take more time but this is a much better option; otherwise, we have the potential to waste a lot of money and time on a product or service that won't actually be useful or successful.

At my talk last night, I suggested that if we are to design appropriately at this time in history, it shouldn't matter what demographic we are working with - talking with and including people in the process will be a key to the quality of deliverables we produce. My work in Rwanda forced me to consider how to have these good conversations when language was not shared. I highlighted how this diversity of language and culture we exist in requires us to think creatively about the best ways to design and deliver appropriate solutions in this very global world.

If you're interested in more, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum has presented a wonderful exhibit on what this type of design could look like.

19 November 2009

Stanford Social Innovation Review recently published an article by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO. The whole article highlights the many ways that design thinking and process are being applied to complex global problems. You can download it for free here.

This quote is from the article and describes my adaptation of the HCD toolkit:

Earlier this year, Kara Pecknold, a student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, took an internship with a women’s cooperative in Rwanda. Her task was to develop a Web site to connect rural Rwandan weavers with the world. Pecknold soon discovered that the weavers had little or no access to computers and the Internet. Rather than ask them to maintain a Web site, she reframed the brief, broadening it to ask what services could be provided to the community to help them improve their livelihoods. Pecknold used various design thinking techniques, drawing partly from her training and partly from Ideo’s Human Centered Design toolkit, to understand the women’s aspirations.

Because Pecknold didn’t speak the women’s language, she asked them to document their lives and aspirations with a camera and draw pictures that expressed what success looked like in their community. Through these activities, the women were able to see for themselves what was important and valuable, rather than having an outsider make those assumptions for them. During the project, Pecknold also provided each participant with the equivalent of a day’s wages (500 francs, or roughly $1) to see what each person did with the money. Doing this gave her further insight into the people’s lives and aspirations. Meanwhile, the women found that a mere 500 francs a day could be a significant, lifechanging sum. This visualization process helped both Pecknold and the women prioritize their planning for the community.

17 November 2009

I talked to a radio reporter today. She'd learned that I was going to be speaking at Practivism II. In the course of our conversation the words, "human-centered design" came up and she didn't understand what it meant so I attempted to explain it to her from my perspective. In light of this chat, I'm curious to know how others might define it (especially to someone outside of design)?

16 November 2009

I came across this image in Wendy Macnaughton's work and it acts as a great visual reminder that while there are things we can't know, don't know, possibly fear or suspect, we have the chance to imagine what could be. So perhaps I'd draw a circle around it all and suggest that this is "the place where designers live everyday."

View image larger

I suppose my thoughts have been heightened by reading a few books and watching a few TED talks that are focused on the role of design and how it is shifting/has shifted. Last month, I devoured Tim Brown's book on a flight to New York and I'm about to ingest some Glimmer.

Another manifesto has surfaced and of late, I'm particularly drawn to #3, #7, #9 and #10 because they remind me I'm not crazy:

1. A designer does not have the luxury of cynicism.

2. It is easier to react than to create.

3. You must keep moving away from what you know.

4. A designer’s gotta have the guts to be truthful at all times.

5. People don’t fund problems, they fund solutions.

6. Many believe the world just is. Designers believe we can make the world be.

7. It can be helpful to think about an idea from a point of view that makes no sense.

8. Through the act of making things, we discover ideas.

9. When you’re totally unqualified for a job, that’s when you do your best work.

10. The goal is to be an expert coming out, not going in.

11. To bring about real change, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.

12. When the world isn’t working well, you have the makings of a great design project.

Processing these statements leads me to consider the idea of how this shift will be addressed in education. Equipping the next generation of designers is a concept that gets me really excited! I would love to see what could happen when a group of design students worked collaboratively with students from other disciplines on current wicked problems. I know some schools are already moving in this direction (and I look forward to hearing some ideas from Nathan Shedroff's talk at Practivism II) but I can see how there is room for more. I hope to explore some of the possibilities in a course I'm preparing to teach in the spring.

In the meantime, I'm trying to live in the space between what I may not yet understand and that which I can imagine. Here (or after September 14, 2009, according to Wendy Macnaugton), life gets interesting. View image larger

12 November 2009

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.

To arrive at the point that you don't know, you must take the road that you don't know.
--St John of the Cross

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

In searching out the truth, be ready for the unexpected, for it is difficult to find and puzzling when you find it.

Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
--Robert F. Kennedy

Our inventions are likely to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
--Henry David Thoreau

07 November 2009

I just returned from a ten day trip to New York and San Francisco. One of the highlights was being able to visit the Cooper Hewitt and see the Design USA: Contemporary Innovation and Design for a Living World exhibitions.

During this experience, while visiting Jonathan Ives' work for Apple, I overheard these two women bantering about the problems they were having with their interactive tool: the iTouch program designed by 2x4 that would help them to interact with the exhibit.

In her thick New York accent, Marge calls out,"Blanche! It's not working! It's broken."

Notably, their frustrations were not quiet musings in the corner. With headphones on, they were talking quite loudly in the midst of a large group of museum-goers. One women, who was just as unfamiliar with the iTouch, attempted to assist. I walked over, seeing the irritation on other people's faces, and attempted to offer my two bits. I tried to demonstrate how the interface worked (at one point, the screen was completely black) and eventually saw them move along with some measure of ease.

There are multiple layers to this experience: from human to environmental to technological. Did it matter that these women were seemingly disruptive? Should the museum be quiet? Or is interactivity meant to be a bit disruptive? How else could interactivity create conversations with people? Was this disruption actually a way to connect the human quality of the museum experience? Did the technology that was intended to assist create a profitable distraction? Could it be more communal and less individual?

As you can imagine, the list of questions could go on.

I don't know these women so I didn't want to intrude on their museum experience anymore than I already had. But I would be curious talk with the "Marge's and Blanche's" to uncover their ideas about an "interactive museum experience" to see what might have surfaced. Maybe they would have suggested improvements to the current and familiar system or maybe their ideas could push it in a new direction that wasn't expected?

Ironically, after this trip to New York, I headed over to California to participate in the ACM Creativity and Cognition conference. The Berkeley Art Museum hosted a diverse group of individuals who were focused on creativity research. The final keynote was Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, who is best known for his work on creativity and flow. During the 3 days of conferencing, I also heard from a group at Queen Mary University of London who are looking into democratizing technology for marginalized communities. Specifically, they have worked with elderly individuals who often find themselves outside of the "third wave." The presentation revealed their research and demonstrated the power in accessing the voices of those who are least connected with technology. It would seem someone is talking to the Marge's and Blanche's of this world - and inviting them to participate in the process.