Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks

Beloit College Anthropologist, Associate Professor Jennifer Esperanza was feeling frustrated. Why is there always images of "exotic" peoples on the cover of anthropology textbooks? "Why can't there be images of, for example, a group of white American women eating salads, on the cover?," she asked.

A quick Google image search of "anthropology textbooks" demonstrates her point: image 1.


Image 1: Screenshot of Google image search of "anthropology textbooks"

 Stephen Nugent (2007: 132) in his book, Scoping the Amazon: Image, Icon, and Ethnography, describes: 

Much of the writing on anthropological photography has sought to redress the indexical bias according to which Western image making of non-Westerners has, to put it as crudely as possible, objectified anthropological (and other) subjects.

The aim of the Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks is to offer a critique not just in words, but in counter images that make stark the construction of identities and the owner/subjects of the anthropological gaze in anthropological photography. For me, it is part of two larger projects in which I have been involved. The first is the Decolonizing Anthropology project, which was first articulated by Dr. Faye Harrison in 1991. Since becoming an anthropologist, I have accepted her challenge to work "to free the study of humankind from the prevailing forces of global inequality and dehumanization and to locate it firmly in the complex struggle for genuine transformation" (Harrison 1991: 10). The second is the Rebranding Anthropology project that I initiated in 2005 with other applied anthropologists. This project culminated in a 2006 workshop with the American Anthropological Association to reposition the field from its traditional stereotypes to its contemporary practices and competitors. It also led to the redesign of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology branding and logo mark in 2008 by University of Illinois at Chicago graphic design students.

The design brief that I offered to my former Swinburne Design Anthropology postgraduate students was the following:

Greetings Danthro Alums. I have a quick weekend project for you to do as a favor. A friend of mine pointed out how all anthropology textbooks have these "exotic" images of others on the covers and never an image of "white women eating salad". 

Me, being Dr. Smarty Pants, said, "Wouldn't it be great to replace those exotica images with those of middle class American/Australian Caucasians doing stuff, maybe even using stock photos?"

So, I would ask you to select a cover from a cultural anthropology textbook and replace the "exotica" image with an image equivalent of "white women eating salad." I would suggest creative commons instead of stock images so that we can use them in an article about this topic.

I selected as my template the textbook, Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human by Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz, 3rd Edition: image 2.


Image 2: Cover of Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human textbook

Then, I recreated the textbook with a set of two new images: image 3. The first image is one of my own and has the same Western "anthropological gaze" exotic style as the original textbook image. I used one of my own to avoid any future copyright issues in the reproduction of the project's images in articles, books, and exhibitions. It was also a good reminder for me of how many of the images in my iPhoto library adhered to the National Geographic style of representing the people and places where I have traveled for research. The second image is a decolonized version that shows a similar topic but with Western cultural practices as the subject. I downloaded the image from a Flickr Creative Commons image by colorblindPICASO.

RB Anthro textbooks1_dt

Image 3: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Woman in Store. Credit: Elizabeth Tunstall and colorblindPICASO CC BY-NC 2.0

Design anthropologist, business coach, and branding specialist, Julie Hill accepted the challenge and produced nine images for the project. She describes her experience below:

I found this exercise interesting and fun to explore. Especially focusing on the shift in the lens, from traditional anthropology to contemporary ethnography, and what that means. The longer I did it, the more interesting it got - I accessed deeper cultural themes, such as beauty, festivities or core cultural values. I liked the one where the North African guy is using modern technology (ipad) and the Western woman is practicing yoga, but maybe it would have been more effective if I had put a traditional Indian woman practicing yoga and then a western woman practicing yoga, to demonstrate a difference.

Rebrand Anth Text Hill1

Image 4: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Beauty Clay. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill2

Image 5: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Body Modification. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill3

Image 6: "Exotic" and decolonized images of The Interpretation of Culture. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill4

Image 7: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Dancing. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill5

Image 8: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Introducing Anthropology. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill6

Image 9: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Market. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill7

Image 10: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Cultural Anthropology textbook. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill8

Image 11: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Nubile Women. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

Rebrand Anth Text Hill9

Image 12: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Eating. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

 APA Citation: Tunstall, E. (2016, April 7). Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks [Web log post]. Retrieved from



Script for VA-Bib Infomercial

Today, we are discussing performance as a method of investigation in design research. Here is the script for my Infomercial to demonstrate how you can answer the questions required of any proposal, but do so in an engaging form.

The five questions are:

  1. What is your question, concept proposal, or hypothesis?
  2. How does it fit within the existing field of design?
  3. What are your methods or approach?
  4. What are your qualifications to conduct the project?
  5. What is your project's contribution to the field of design?

As long as the students answer the five questions in a compelling way, they can express themeselves in any form.

VA-Bib Infomercial

Script by Dori Tunstall

HDC002 Methods of Investigation

17 May 2010

DISCLAIMER: This program is/has been a paid presentation for VA-Bib, Visual Annotated Bibliography and is brought to you by Go-Diva Industries.


Teacher is clearly frustrated marking students’ papers. She marks an exaggerated N on one paper, then another, then another.

Why won’t these design students ever cite proper references?

She puts her head in her hands and drops her head on the table.


Wonder how you can get your design students to read and do proper citations?


Teacher looks up to see where the voice is coming from.

 Yes, yes, yes. They make me want to tear my hair out.

 She begins to tear her hair out.


 Don’t tear your hair out. I have just what you need.

The Hostess enters the frame. She removes the teacher’s hands from her hair and stands her up. 


What you need is the VA-Bib?


The Teacher looks puzzled.

The VA what?


The Hostess turns to the audience.  

 The VA-Bib or Visual Annotated Bibliography. Invented by Dr. Dori Tunstall in 2006. The VA-Bib is a method of investigation that gets design students reading through designing.


The Teacher turns to the audience.  

 Reading through designing? How does it do that?


Let me tell you how. The Visual Annotated Bibliography combines the scholarly activity of reading/viewing lots of text with the form making activities of design in four easy steps.

 The Hostess holds up a paper listing the steps and the instructions for each.  

 Step one: The student has to collect a list of references and skim them.

Step two: On a business-size card, the student has to write out an annotation for each reference, which includes a descriptive paragraph and an evaluative paragraph. 

Step three: The student has to select an image that visually explains the content of the reference.

Step four: The student has to map the references on a matrix made up of the top two themes and their opposites in the readings.

 The Hostess holds up four fingers and mimics a student enjoying reading and writing.

 So in four easy steps, your design students will get hours of enjoyment reading their texts in order to design the beautiful, handy-dandy VA-Bib.


The Teacher jumps up and down and clasps his or her hands. The sits staring at the hostess when the hostess is talking and then at the audience when she or he is talking.   

Wow, that is really awesome! How and why was the VA-Bib invented?


Let me show you how.

The Hostess mimics grading and tearing out his or her hair.

Dr. Dori Tunstall had the same problem you had: getting design students to cite proper references or even read books and articles. But she wanted to know why.

 First, she read articles on the challenges of academic writing in the art and design context. 

 The Hostess holds up blank papers as if they are articles.

 She looked at the 2004 writings on the projects of Lockheart, Edwards, Raein and Raatz on Writing Purposefully in Art and Design at the Royal College of the Arts. She followed the 2005 work by Susan Orr, Margo Blythman, and Joan Mullin about how art and design students feel a lack of control or personal connection to writing. She realized that the act of creating scholarship had to recognize what Nigel Cross  (2005) called Designerly Ways of Knowing.

 The Hostess holds blank books (e.g. books wrapped in white paper).

 Then, she looked at the ways in which experts performed knowledge. Inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu on the Role of Intellectual in the Modern World, she thought about his ideas on diminishing expertise of the expert and thus how designers can fit within the world of expertise. Their designerly visual orientation can be a form of expertise with the written-verbal.

 This led her to look at the field of visual rhetoric in the book, Defining Visual Rhetoric by Charles Hill and Marguerie Helmers, and articles on C.S. Peirce’s Systems of Decorative, Indicative, and Informative visual rhetoric.

 The Hostess holds paper with C.S. Peirce’s system from article. 

 This helped her to think through how to combine the textual rhetoric with visual rhetoric in an exercise.

 The Hostess holds paper with light bulb.  

This exercise became what is now known as the VA-Bib, the visual annotated bibliography.


Designerly Ways of Knowing, I had never thought about that. So how will I know that it will work for my students?


 The Hostess holds paper with sign says: Only $499.99   

 Besides our money back guarantee, for only $499.99 more we will throw in a series of investigations on how your students might respond to the VA-Bib.

 The Hostess mimics conducting a survey with pen and paper at the door.  

 Our first method will be a survey on how many of your design students like or do not like to read and write in classes and why.

 The Hostess mimics packing a bag of materials (paper balls in plastic bag) and throws it out to the audience.  

 Based on that survey, we will ask about 24 students fill out cultural probes as developed by Gaver in 1999. From that we will get a sense of the creative culture of design students and how they feel about specific types of writing.

 The Hostess mimics following someone and then interviewing.

 From the cultural probes, we will select 12 students of different genders, international/national profiles, and comfort with writing for shadowing and in-context interviews. These more intimate techniques will take us deep into the students thoughts, actions, and feelings about doing the VA-Bib.

 The Hostess mimics counting and moving post it notes.

 We will use a combination of frequency analysis for the survey and affinity diagramming analysis with Hanna’s Post It Note Manifesto for the cultural probes, shadowing, and interviews.

 The Hostess plops down in front of the teacher a bunch of papers.

 Then we will develop a report on the student’s experience of the VA-Bib for you to use as a benchmark against your Student Feedback Survey data each year.


Wow, the VA-Bib, and the studies for only $499.99 more. What a deal! How do I know that I can trust you?


The Hostess tries to look honest.

 We at Go-Diva Industries have worked in the field of Edutainment for over 25 years. The VA-Bib has been tested globally among a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate studies, here and in the U.S. Dr. Dori Tunstall is a well-recognized expert in the field of Design Anthropology, which combines social science with designerly ways of knowing. And we offer a money back guarantee.


Okay, I’m convinced. But what will be the benefits of the VA-Bib for my students and the world of design in general?


 The Hostess mimics the actions: being bored, cutting and pasting, and feeling happy.

Do your students find reading and writing boring? The VA-Bib can change that by turning reading into a fun, engaging design-making project. Cutting and pasting, selecting images and words, the VA-Bib makes reading feel like coloring with crayons as a child.

 The Hostess holds her head like she is confused, but then mimics making out the grid with the cards.

 Do your students have a hard time organizing their thoughts? The VA-Bib can change that by showing them how to map their complex thoughts into a simple 2 X 2 grid for easy communication. 

 The Hostess looks sad and humiliated and then proud.

 Have your students ever felt like the world of academia does not respect the way they express themselves? The VA-Bib can change that by showing that visual content has the same conceptual interpretation and communication power as textual content.

 The VA-Bib has provided many benefits for other design students all over the world, and will provide these benefits to your students as well.


The Teacher looks at the audience

 Ok, I’m sold on the VA-Bib. How do I get some for my students?


The Hostess holds up the phone number.

 Just call 03 5555 5555 and order your VA-Bib kit for only $49,999.99. That’s right, for only $49,999.99 you get the instruction booklet, business cards, and poster board with pre-drawn matrix for over 500 students.  Just call 03 5555 5555.

If you act now, you also get for only $499.99 the VA-Bib student evaluation package.

Just call 03 5555 5555.

That’s right for less than $50,500 you get the VA-Bib Kit and student evaluation package. So call 03 5555 5555

Operators are standing by.

Design Thinking, HBR, and cultural anthropology appropriation?

I have posted before about my ambiguity with the concept of design thinking. In the past few weeks, design thinking has hit mainstream in terms of the Harvard Business Review's recent article by Tim Brown defining of Design Thinking. His opening statement and use of Thomas Edison as the exemplar symbolizes for me all the anxieties and reservations I have about the concept of design thinking:

Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes—and even strategy.

He lists five attributes of a design thinker: empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism, and collaboration, but caveats that design thinkers are not only created by design schools. So I wonder what other fields produce such personality profiles? One of which is anthropology, which is why I have such a hard time accepting the concept of design thinking (which implies a both originary, unique, and proprietary ownership of these characteristics by the field of design or as Brown posits of the designer).

Empathy, integrative thinking, experiementalism, and collaboration are hallmarks of cultural anthropology. Ethnography was developed as both the philosophical, tactical, and representational strategy for gaining empathy and demonstrating the difference of another's perspective to understanding human phenomenon. Integrative thinking is call holistic thinking in anthropological circles which drives the desire to understand things across time (thus the historical bent) and space (thus cross-cultural comparison). The field work experience is one of experiementalism where one tries many and different approaches (from observational to participatory, unstructured to structured) to figure out how to solve problems of human understanding. Even in its most colonial form, the anthropological endeavor was collaborative albeit with unequal power relations.  The derogatory term "informants" allude to the dependency relationship between the researcher and the subject populations. The only thing that anthropology lacks is a sense of optimism, but that is mostly because you often are so close to people's pain when you live with them. So does that mean that cultural anthropologists are design thinkers or are they cultural anthropologists?

If in the world of branding, you must demonstrate  uniqueness and differentiation in the market. If a cultural anthropologist meets the criteria of design thinking (without any interaction with design), then design thinking fails as a brand of design. Design thinking positions itself as the alternative to business thinking. It is a means for designers to enter the strategy game, which is more lucrative and of higher social value. I get it and directly participate in this effort by training my students to do more strategic design.

My problem is that design thinking draws many of its attributes from its encounter with anthropology, yet by calling it "design thinking" the encounter becomes more an act of appropriation without recognition than collaboration. I cannot tell you how many times I go to a conference and someone describes a complex design project, say around service design, and they talk about what the designers did strategically, until they finally, when probed, admit that 1/2 of the designers were anthropologists or psychologists or some other social scientists.

I always characterize my work and that of my students as being hybrid between design and the social sciences, design anthropology or anthro-design. The absence of anthropology/ethnography from the discourse of design thinking makes me think that  I cannot play a part in a world where I clearly play a part because the core aspect of my identity as an anthropologists is being shut out by the discourse of design thinking, which implies that you are a designer or trained as one. Or why call do they call it design thinking and not hermeneutics? But perhaps I feel threatened mostly because Design Thinking is copping the brand of anthropology and there was great value in my anthropological training that will be lost if people feel they can get it from a design department (as most are currently configured). Again, the irony is that I am providing that anthropological perspective within a design school.

Treatment is King

Yesterday, Michael Rock of 2 x 4 design gave a lecture at UIC for the architecture lecture series. Bob Sobal, director of the school of architecture, made a statement that he asked Michael to come because he was a designer content with just designing and had not given into the call for research. That ruffled my feathers, but as I listened to what Michael was saying I realized that this was not true. What Michael was describing was the essence of graphic designing, which is about the mastery in which you treat the content that you are provided by the client. 

Michael made a very astute statement about how as a designer you cannot control the content, all you control is the treatment of the content. Beyond cries for designer as author, I believe in most cases that is true. I know this to be true because on almost every project that I've worked on with a designer, I had to come up with the content. My disappointments with working with designers is the inability to generate content as well as form. I think the call for designer as author is tied to the perception that somehow this focus on treatment is being superficial. The calls for design thinking is about proving that the thought process behind the selection of treatment is deep. Which is true, but it is true because good designers are gifted in discerning the best technique to get the essence of the content.

Michael described the evolution of two treatment motifs that 2 X 4 has explored for mostly Prada, but also Brooklyn Museum, the Muhammed Ali Museum, and Chanel. The first was the motif of fauna, where through pixelized patterns 2 x 4 treats mostly walls as interactive surfaces of perspective play. Figures only become clear from the distance of an airplane as in the facade of the Muhammed Ali museum. Microscopic pollen patterns close up becomes rich but indistinct decorative wall paper at a distance. The idea that there are teaming lifeforms that exist if you are close enough or far enough from them becomes both a visual treatment, but also social commentary in the world of high luxury goods.

The second motif was flora, which describes their use of organic flower shapes to comment upon mostly cold modernist structures.  He described the work they did for Vitra furniture where they turned modern chairs into flowers, see case study at 2 X 4 site. The flower logo for the Brooklyn museum, and the really cool flower-inspired Waist Down exhibit of skirts.

What I appreciated is the fact that Michael was confident in his identity as a designer, who uses the language of form to give appropriate meaning to whatever content comes his way.  That is the value-add of design.  So while it is not the kind of design I would engage with because I am more on the information design side of things, it was great to get an appreciation for the kinds of work that 2 x 4 does. And reminds me of the diversity of perspectives in design.

Files from NCSU workshop

I finally can upload the files from my workshop. They are:
the lecture presentation that I gave, Communitas Digitas. Download communitas_nscu_prez.pdf (PDF 5.4 Mb)
the assignment sheet I passed out to the students Download communitas_digitas_assignment.pdf (PDF 56 kb)

The assignment was to:

  1. Select a digital community with various aspects of “learning” part of it. This can be a broad as “learning” about products (ex. EBay, Slashdot, iTunes) or as specific as an educational institution (ex. MIT OpenCourseware).
  2. Define the common values (i.e. charter, constitution) of the community and how they are made tangible to community members.
  3. Define the major categories of features, functions, and content on the digital platform that make manifest those values and represent the ritual behaviors of the group.
  4. Rank on a 5-point Likert scales (from Completely weakens, Partially weakens, Neutral, Partially supports, Completely supports) the extent to which the top 10-15 major features, functions, and/or content support historical consciousness, life goals, organizational structure, agency, and relationships.
  5. Visualize the communitas of the community using your scales, categories, and values.
  6. Report your findings to the group in a 15-minute presentation. Try to make your presentation capture the essence of the communitas.

I will probably give a review of the student's work this weekend. But suffice to say they produced in less than 12 hours that which would have taken weeks by others. This is the list of participating Masters of Design students and the links to the sites they analyzed using the assignment:

  • Kelly Cunningham analyzed, I Can Has Cheez Burger, I cannot explain LOLcats. You have to see them to believe them.
  • Steve Harjula analyzed Fixed Gear, to quote Steve "amateur bike porn"
  • Samyul Kim analyzed Croquet Consortium, multiplatform 2D, 3D, network
  • Marty Lane (former UIC graduate) analyzed Slow Food Charlotte, local chapter of the Slow Food Movement
  • Valentina Miosuro analyzed Children with, which is a cool site that treats diabetes as a lifestyle not just a medical condition
  • Matt Munoz analyzed, which is like slashdot for political news junkies
  • Kelly Murdoch-Kitt analyzed, which is a social networking book recommendation site. Really cool.
  • Robert Ruehlman analyzed, a music database that we were not sure counted as a community
  • Alberto Rigau analyzed Facebook, if you don't know I cannot help you. Tee hee.
  • Gretchen Rinnert analyzed Sports Shooter, the online resource for photojournalist.
  • Rebecca Tegtmeyer analyzed Our Kids, an art expression blog for parents with children with autism
  • Michele Wong Kung Fong analyzed Google Docs, which we were not sure counted as community but perhaps was only a tool for a community

They totally rocked. See what you analysis would be if you follow the assignment. Feel free to post in comments.

Headin' South

Today I go to North Carolina for a workshop and public lecture tomorrow at North Carolina State University and Meredith Davis's interaction design class.

My lecture is on digital community, as it relations to Victor Turner's idea of communitas and Benedict Anderson's Imagined Community. I then take, from an old Sapient Project, the idea the community is experienced through one's historical identity, goals in life, the community structure, one's agency within the structure, and the relationships you have. That project was a really good report.

I also give a public lecture on the Yin Yang of Design and Anthropology. I realize I have two versions of that lecture: the one I did at Wayne State (more informational) and the one I did for AIGA (more lyrical). I'm giving the informational version for this audience.

So I will look forward to the warmer weather, although it's only gotten cold again in Chicago today.

the value of education at Riverside Middle School

Last Thursday, I gave a series of talks to Claire Yannacones 8th grade students at Riverhead Middle School on Long Island, NY. It was really fun, inspirational, and depressing at the same time.

The fun part was just seeing the kinds of things that students are interested in and getting a glimpse into their worlds. Claire says that 7th and 8th grades are the most difficult because you don't know who you are or what you are going to become. In other words, you lack focus and thus are so easily swayed by bad influences at school (gangs and such) or at home (with neglectful or abusive family members). Yet they are full of so much energy and are at this stage of deep internal searching that is fascinating to be around. They were interested about animals. I had talked about how bipedal locamotion, stereoscopic color vision, opposible thumbs, larynyx that producese vowels, etc. were uniquely human traits. So they asked why cats can move so fast. They were interested in Ethiopia. I wrote out people's names in Amharic. They were interested in the research I had done on male grooming. They kept wondering how we got video tape of people in showers.

It was inspirational to be an inspiration. I had spoken to Claire's 7th grade class last year and she said that it worked. Meaning, a bunch of them said to her that they were now thinking about college when they had not before. The whole role model thing I find fascinating because it is both deep and the superficial.

I'm a role model because I am a young African-American woman, who came out of a quasi-working class background to make good through higher education. The superficial part is that I can better reach African-American students in terms of modeling a path towards "success" because of my gender and color of my skin. The deep part is that this "works" because of the assumed black experiences that I've had concerning racism and low expectations.

I had an interesting conversation with Frank Romagosa about that on Friday. From very early on, it was always assumed that I was going to be "successful." So I never had that much experience with low expectations at home or in school. I encountered racism, but only in the form of not being "black enough" or being "so articulate" because of my scholastic achievements. Everyone was supportive of the "fact" that I was meant to be part of what was considered the "white" world of success and prepared me for it from learning how to walk (finishing school with my sister Tasha from age 5-7 where our Mom worked) and talk (Mr. Selvy grade 8), to making sure I went to museums and the theater (all my Aunts and Uncles, and Grandparents) for living in that world.

But again it was depressing to see how uninterested in learning and education kids are. I loved learning so it is always a shock when I meet kids who are indifferent to their educations. So Claire and I focused on two key messages:

  1. Don't think that just because you don't find school interesting now, that it will always be boring. I addressed how Anthropology is not a topic even offered in high school. You may have to wait to you get to college to find a subject that you can fall passionately in love with. But if you don't make it through middle school and high school, you may not ever discover it.
  2. The value of education is to have something to share with people that they may not think they need or want. This is where I talked about the fact that because I am this little black women, people often will at first dismiss me. Then, I will get up and say or will be introduced as, "Dr. Elizabeth Tunstall" and all of the sudden people have to rethink what they thought about me. They perk up with interest in what expertise I have to share with them because I have "Dr." in my title. Who am I? What do I know? Suddenly, knowing and figuring me out on my terms because of value to them. And this is what you want in life, for people to know and learn about you on your terms, to be able to define yourself.

I had not realized how important that last part was about the value of my education. People learn to value me because I have something to share with them that they may need or want. They have to value my knowledge if not me, myself.

Actually, as I write this, I sometimes think that people value my knowledge more than they value me as a person. I cannot count how many times people have taken an idea or concept of mine and said, "thanks now, we no longer need your services." Of course in the end, I am always validated, but it does make me wonder if there is some latent racism or sexism that makes it so easy for people to disassociate the knowledge I possess from me the person. To want what I know (information) but not the full person that comes with that knowledge.

Project Osmosis

Yesterday, I attended the Design Youth Forum held by the organization Project Osmosis, which provides design mentoring for K-12 students. I only heard about the forum a few days before the event, which was shocking since it has been held at UIC Art and Architecture for over 6 years.

It was moving to see so many people of color engaged in creative design. The forum consists of simultaneously workshops in graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, architecture, interior design, and multimedia. Each workshop was lead by 2 or more professional designers, all of whom were black. The overall theme as democracy so students were led through exercises where they designed sustainable homes using tracings, cutouts, and modeling sticks; created campaign ads through flash; visualized democracy through typography; develop concepts for a voting machine; and design an office interior. Dave Pabellon showed the work done by Design for Democracy. I came in late but during lunch welcomed everyone to UIC and discussed what I did as a design anthropologist.

Chuck Harrison came by and was the one to call and make sure that they got me involved. But I met some really cool people involved with Project Osmosis whom I hope to develop further relationships with as colleagues and peers. It was good to meet Vernon Lockhart who is joining the AIGA National Board. He is definitely going to shake things up at AIGA in ways that are good for the organization, because he knows that its about the diversity of perspectives not just visual representation.

Here are some photos from the event. The students were really inspiring.






More soon AIGA SOT III

The AIGA School's of Thought III conference is going very well. I will be posting more extensive notes later but some of the major themes.

Everyone has converted to design thinking. Craft is important but the future is also in thinking. Lots of curriculums are being written this way.

Lots of focus on systems and systems thinking. This is the panel I am in now.

More later, but its good to be here and learn about how design educators are approach design and the world.

Graphic design: on and off the page

Yesterday, we held the 1st year student's graphic design reviews. As always, it is an interesting adventure in observation participation for me. What was most striking was the reaction to Hal Kugeler's assignment for one of the studio classes. Similar to Joerg Becker's assignment last semester, the focus was on shaping the designer's thinking as opposed to formal making skills. The assignment was for the students to come up with "objective" rubrics of what defines "Good Design" in order to create a design language for client's beyond "I like it." The students came up with 12 rubrics which they tested using visual examples of good or bad representations of that rubric. The rubrics ranged from authenticity, does it work, humility, clarity of intent, economy of means, moderation, to simplicity, etc. What was interesting is how some of the colleagues related to the assignment and the conflict between thinking about graphic design in relationship to what happens on a page versus its wider context.

When the rubrics related to "good design" in its wider context (authenticity, humility, does it work, etc.) some of the faculty members struggled with finding ways to critique the work beyond (1) not understanding the assignment, (2) disagreeing with the assignment, or  (3) disagreeing with the comparative visuals selected to indicate good and bad examples of the rubric. There was a sense of discomfort with the discussion of design outside of the confines of the page, expressed in the impatience to "get to the work." The implication was that the design thinking the students are doing is not an equal part of the work. This is especially disheartening within the confines of a academic institution.

I am concerned for the students because if the "new" emphasis in the US is on design thinking as well as making, then these types of more conceptual assignments are the way to engage with that thinking without the additional burden of making. This means the kind of critical facility that a professor brings to the critique of typographical choice on a poster, they should bring to conceptual intentionality and impact of these other assignments.

The one presentation of the assignment that they liked was one in which the student expressed her rubric in terms of questionings and explorations as opposed to providing visuals "answers." Again, while this made the presentation engaging; it does not achieve the objective of the assignment, which was to find an "objective" language to talk about good design to clients.

But I am happy that my students are having to think hard about these questions as a form of design research and philosophy.  Constructive critiques were to have the students select among good and okay designs instead of extremely good and horrible. This I think would help with developing a more nuanced sense of visual discernment that they need. Another would be to define rubrics that are within the page versus outside of the page. The last would be to find visuals that work across multiple (5-6) rubrics and see if they define "good design."  I would also recommend reading  Del Coates' Watches Tell More than Time (McGraw Hill 2002), where in talks about concinnity.