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Spring break

It is officially spring break and I have two grant proposals and 2 articles due. So I will be back in a week. The crocuses are blooming here in Chicago, which reminds me that I need to get allergy medicine. Coming up topics this weekend, when I can write for fun again:

  1. The IRS and the scale of governance (John Jacobin a designer from the IRS was in town presenting to my students last Friday.)
  2. Last day of SOT III
  3. Why I "heart" NYC (I was at the Cooper Hewett Triennial last week and loved it).

Even more on AIGA SOT III

Tomorrow, I hope to finish up with the "Systems" panel at the end of Saturday, which was totally awesome, then my impressions of the roundtable discussions, the cool Adobe of the future Color platform, and Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel's closing performance.

I got my energy back for those so I have about 1000 words to organize and post. Good night.

AIGA SOT III PM Break Out #1

The Thorny Specialists /Generalist debate

Okay, my blood sugar had dropped to nil during this session. My notes are less than impressionistic and down right minimalists. I apologize in advance to presenters because there were some interesting ideas that I do not have the energy to capture.

The panel consists of:

  • Moderator: Kali Nikitas, Otis College of Art and Design
  • Tyler Galloway: Creating the Strategic Generalist
  • Doug Kisor and Alex Braidwood: Design Education and the Constancy of Change
  • Lisa Abendroth (presentation by Kelly Monico with Bryana Sylvester and Elysia Syriac): Tryptych:Perspectives on the formulation and effective of a college design curriculum

Kali begins with the statement that it’s a “Good time to be a design student.” She talks about how “Curriculum is living breathing thing.” She introduced the topic because it is one the has plagued her own identity as a designer and design educator.

Tyler Galloway

Tyler Galloway talks about IDEO and the notion of the T-shaped person. I have heard Parrish Hanna refer to this as well when describing our Experience Planning group. Generally the T-shaped person has a deep specialty, like graphic design, and general skills across human interaction, research, environmental understanding, business, etc.

According to Tyler, the T-shaped person is able to “…enhance multiple perspectives, build bridges…is valuable and meaningful in the workplace.”

He goes more into depth about what these means but I was not able to capture all of it. Cynically, the value of the T-shaped person is that he or she allows companies to hire one person to do the work of 5 separate roles. As an experience planner T-shaped person at Arc Worldwide, I performed the roles of business strategist, researcher, information architect, interaction designer, usability expert, and art director, which at Sapient before the bust, were seven distinct jobs with seven distinct people.

I perk back up when Tyler starts describing the role of education. As the undergraduate level, you need training in the social sciences as well as design to get the broad understanding. Graduate schools provide focus for high-level specialization.  The Ph.D. is involved in the generation of new knowledge in design research.

He concludes with how this operates in professional practice, where at IDEO people develop specializations either in media, audiences, or context.

Doug Kisor and Alex Braidwood’s

I missed almost all of Doug Kisor and Alex Braidwood’s presentation on design education and the constancy of change. They did not stand next to the mikes, read their papers, and failed to use engaging visuals. Thus the combination of low blood sugar and poor sound quality made it impossible for me to follow what they were saying. I did capture the note that “Collaboration is most important part of innovation.”

Kelly Monico, Bryana Sylvester, Elysia Syriac

Lisa Abendroth’s students’ “Triptych” presentation was the only one in which students actually presented. Kelly Monico, Bryana Sylvester, Elysia Syriac took turns describing their education at Denver Metro. They say that their curriculum includes broad visual thinking and design research. Students should avail themselves of marketing classes. When getting the first job, they realize they have to be jack of all trades, especially in small design firms. They wish their education provided more on design for interactive media and technology tools.

The Q&A was interesting, but I was beyond tired. Why are graphic designers so insecure?

AIGA SOT III PM Plenary #1

The truth of the matter is that after my presentation in the AM and lunch I began to fade out during the afternoon presentations. My notes are more impressionistic. The afternoon plenary was made up of Allen Chochinov, editor-in-chief of Core77, and Peter Lenefeld, executive editor, MediaWorks Pamphlets. It was moderated by Alice Twemlow.

Allen Chochinov

Allen Chochinov opens with the strangeness of coming to a graphic design conference as product designer. He provides an overview of Core77 and Coroflot and the number of participants in the community. He begins his talk in earnest with the provocative statements, “Product designers leave thing worse than they are. I’m actually afraid of the Internet.”

The crux of his presentation is the gap between artifact and the ideas of artifacts. He shows us a YouTube video called Sketch Furniture. Available at as well. In the video, two women sketch with some kind of polymer tables and chairs. He says that it does not matter whether he can sit on the chair or buy the table because he “…does not need to consume the product because can consume the image.”

He walks us through a series of images of designed artifacts, which are only virtual and posted to various community sharing sites like Worth 1000. He talks about the appearance of “remarkable pieces of design gestures” like the flat lamp and radio. 

This shift for him is important because we used to live in a world in which one “…would create artifacts that work in systems, experiences, and culture. Now we see through gestures, gestalt, and zeitgeist.”

It is important because it represents in many ways the opposite dynamic of designing “In the Bubble” of John Thackera or Bruce Mau’s “Massive Change.”

Peter Lenefeld

Peter Lenefeld begins by paying his respects to Jean Baudrillard and the ideas of simulation and simulacrum that Allen’s presentation evokes.

He explains the origin of his title “Bespoke Futures” and how it is related to the idea of a man’s custom tailored garment being bespoken for. He describes the illustration of student’s called Mutants in the Rose Bowl. It was his vision of humanity’s future. Peter’s talk centers on the idea that the only collective futures that design students can come up with are apocalyptic ones, although their individual futures may be rosy. He states, “We have a vision deficit.”

He describes Modernism as visualizing a happy future. I think he does so a bit uncritically about who are the people with this happy future. He continues, “Post modernism’s exuberance about the possibilities of living in virtual spaces in the 90s created surplus positive futurism.” Yet in the 21st century, everything is pessimistic. He pins this pessimism on the Dotcom bust, September 11, and global lack of accountability in governance.

He then opens the possibility that in the US this failure of vision is tied to design education and the lack of an American “Transnatcorp des-edu.” He states that Europe and Asia have national design education. But the US now is the primary training ground for foreign students, so it has abandoned national education for dollars. I personally tend to take a more global approach and am skeptical of all nationalist agendas, which tend to promote zenophobic attitudes.

He proposes that treat the future as if it is a probono client. We can use the scenario planning approaches of large corporations and the South African government in the post-apartheid transition. Again, the challenge of these approaches has to do with the lack of diversity of the people at these tables making the scenarios.

He revises some of the principles of Peter Schwartz’s Art of the Long View in terms of advocating:
-    Stay visionary
-    Keep in complexity
-    Design it interactively
-    Focus on the high goals
-    Draft enough scenarios to kill all but the best
-    Become strategically hopeful

He concludes with how “Hopefulness is critical.” He talks about the hopefulness of Treehugger and Open Architecture as the evolution of Architecture for Humanity.

He says, “Lots of dreams in 20th century did not come true. But connection through the Internet did come true.”

Is connection through the Internet the future scenario for a more positive humanity? It seems pretty neutral in terms of being the vehicle by which terrorist training modules are disseminated and medical information for developing countries. But perhaps my vision of the collective future suffers from a deficit.

AIGA SOT III AM Break Out #1

How is curriculum anticipating emerging practices?

This panel I found very interesting in terms of seeing which other programs are on the cutting edge of new formations of designing. The institutions highlighted: Art Center College of Design, Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, and USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy are really defining not so much new practices of design, but new forms of design + X hybrids. The fact that these are hybrids is very important. One of the slippages that kept happening in the conference was this celebration that designers can do writing, designers can do business strategy, designers can do anthropology, etc. Going back to Jen’s presentation, I kept wanting to say that designers can do X better with the help of people who have been doing X for the last 150 years. Who is your professional competitive set?

Presenter 1 and moderator: Anne Burdick, Art Center College of Design

Anne opens by addressing the themes of designing since AIGA 2003 Power of Design. Namely that design is not what it used to be because of social and technological changes. She states, “Designers need to be cognitive theorists, engineers, and MBAs.” 

Again, my perspective is that designers need to be able to work with these others and gain an understanding and appreciation for their skills. If you become an MBA, then perhaps you are no longer a designer, but rather an MBA or a Desbiz hybrid.

To be fair, later in the talk Anne does say that there are no illusions that designers can do it all and they have to work with collaborators in other fields.

What was cool is her descriptions of the hybridized practices that the ACC graduate students are the leading with:
-    Design cinema, being more than motion graphics.
-    Design archaeology, use of archaeological methods to study contemporary artifact culture
-    Mediatecture, the intersections of media and architecture
-    Strange design, science fiction and design
-    Speculative design
-    Experiential prototyping
-    Blank devices
-    Open interfaces
-    Life-sized design in support of human-sized interactions.

Even more impressive is that the student’s employers created new positions to accommodate the student’s unusual expertise.

Anne ends her talk with a set of questions, “What is design’s expertise? Where is work positioned in wider context?” She calls for Design to get Meta. She emphasizes how “Designers are knowledge makers and strategic thinkers.”

What I have always wondered in a design-as-universal-practice sense is whether the characterizations of design thinking are unique to designers or designing at all. Meaning, I am not a trained designer. Yet I can creatively frame and solve problems using tools of verbal communication as well as visualization. And have always done so, like other engineers, MBAs, and anthropologists I have known.

Before getting to the nuts and bolts of the program, she describes how “Design is propositional. What happens if designers are the change agents?” Her response is that design needs to call upon mixtures of theories, approaches, and expertise to be able to fufil those roles.

Nuts and bolts of the graduate design program at Art Center College of Design:
-    Accepts 12 students per year.
-    Students choose 2 design faculty members on their thesis teams and an additional 3 interdisciplinary members
-    It works because they are able to draw from LA innovators

Presenter 2: Chris Vice, Herron School of Art and Design.

I used to take weekend art classes at Herron School for the Arts when I was in grade school and junior high, so I have a soft spot for the Indianapolis-based school.

Serving in a similar mode of ID at IIT or Parson’s Design Management at the undergraduate level, Herron has an MFA program in Design Leadership as part of its Visual Communications degree.

Chris describes that the emphasis of the program is on design thinking and design leadership. He defines leadership not as “positional leadership” about people being in charge, but rather relational leadership.

He uses what I have heard from Ric Grefé’s the definition of the experience design as “Designing across form, content, context, and time.”

Again what I find interesting is that the definitive work of an anthropologist is to understand and communicate meaning across contexts (cross-cultural comparison) and time (evolutionary approach). This again is part of the Yin Yang of anthropology and design as the both converge in the realm of meaning.

He describes the evolution of designing from the focus on artifacts to the position of leadership to engage problems and solutions. So Design 1.0 is craft and artifacts. Design 2.0 is akin to Herb Simon’s definition of design as problem solving as noted by Nigel Cross and his discussions of planning and framing. Design 3.0 is designing in the position of leadership to sit at the table and frame the agendas that affect culture and society. This is the table that everyone wants to be at. This is the table anthropology used to be at until the 1940s, and now wants to return to again.

Chris then shifts his discussion to one of citizenship as form of leadership. He cites Harry Boyte’s book Everyday Politics, which is one of the core texts I am using to frame design and governmentality. Actually, Chris and I have very similar reading lists.

He proposes that design’s role in the development of civic skills relates to its ability to enable collective decision-making, critical thinking, and broad and clear communication.

This leads Chris to ask, “What are boundaries of design? All students work across disciplines to define problems and solutions.”

The actual structure of the program is that the first year is spent mastering design thinking skills. S1 supports research skills, S2 emphasize synthesis, S3 focuses on design optimization, and S4 on design implementation.

For Chris, the example of design thinking and design leadership is Design for Democracy. It is strange how UIC does not get as much attention for being the model for new engagements of design thinking. The organization and the individuals get recognized, but not the institution. We definitely need better PR.

Presenter 3: Holly Willis, USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy

This program I found fascinating as well and wish I could expose the EV students to more. It seems to have started with a lunch of tuna fish sandwiches about 10 years ago between George Lucas and a Dean or President at UIC. The idea was that people don’t need just textual literacy but multimedia literacy as well. The approach was to create an Institute for Multimedia Literacy.

Holly starts by showing us a project from one of the students in the program. It used typography, sound, and moving image to convey the meaning of an Asian poem. It was a perfect example of how this is not your grandmother’s visual communication.

Holly addresses the uniqueness of the program from a critical studies and rhetoric perspective. The institute does not start from text or communications, but rather with cinema. Students do not produce textual interpretations or critiques. They only produce multimedia projects.

The program has expanded into part of the general education, where students have to make an argument using video, 3D graphics, as well as text and images. This would be great for the interactive media undergrads at UIC.

Holly rhapsodizes about the work. Its about “Pieces of moving image that situated on the web… the immediacy of the stream.” She talks about students engaging with delicious, Furl, Wikis, and Second Life.  She describes how they introduce to the academy the idea of collective intelligence and networked scholarship. She states, “We cannot find names for what they do. There is no perfect term for multimedia scholarship. It borrows from many genres from rhetoric to music videos.” She waxes, “We create obstructions, but it’s computational work. Algorhythmic. Remix. Open source pedagogy.” What clearly is the shift in the Institute is that as she says, “Education less about hierarchy and more collaborative.”

This again is my experience of teaching students at UIC. They are my co-participants in the journey of learning, not my students. Perhaps that is the case with all emerging practices.

My AIGA SOT III presentation

I have yet to get the bandwidth to post my notes. Many need to be cleaned up, but I will try to do it this weekend. I will post my presentation. It went much better than I expected and was well received. Download SOT3_anthropologist.pdf

The conference was really cool for me in terms of figuring out where I belong in the Graphic Design community. It is cool to realize that Chris Vice and I have the same "design for democracy" reading lists and that many of the things I have been thinking about in terms of the structuring of various communities in design; others have been thinking about as well.

I realized that everyone knows Philip Burton. I have a list of twenty people who wanted me to say hi to him, which makes me so happy because he is truely on of the Design Deities, but also one of the sweetest people whom I adore unreservedly.

UIC is doing really cool stuff. We are the avant guarde in many ways, but there are other institutions doing really cool stuff with whom we can partner and exchange.

So hopefully with this new found "posse" when I go to AIGA nationals, it will be like a family reunion.

AIGA SOT III AM Plenary_Jens Gehlhaar

The morning started off great. I am meeting very exciting people.

The first plenary session is with Jena Gelaar and Sonin Kim, moderated by Alice Twemlow. As Alice stated, the focus of the conference is to "map the terrain of contemporary design and its relationship to design education." But the question that she asks applies to all fields, "How do you map what is shifting? How then you read the map and how does it hlep navigate design education?"

The first two speakers addressed these shifts.

Jens Gehlhaar is "one of the branding heavies of the LA design scene." He started in German print design and now is into media and film. Jens opened the presentation with a discussion of the his overlap with filmakers and other imagemakers (photographers and illustrators) in his field.  Not quite motion graphics, not quite film, not just production, he described a terrain in where the categories of moving image and sound creation shifts.  But within the network of the industry, one needs to be commercial or film director or an art director.

So Jens showed us various examples of the work his design firm Brand New School produces. He showed us some poster work in an animation piece that was rejected by AIGA because  it did not fit the criteria for the poster category. He showed us animations done for MTV. One of the things he noted was how in the piece the animation was not strong, neither the filming or illustration, but what he got out of the experience was the realizaton that he now has to compete with film makers not just other designers.

This for me is the main contribution of his talk. As graphic designers expand into other fields, this spaces are not uninhabited. Designers seem to think that they can do everything, but fail to understand that they are in competition not just with the mediocre of the fields but with the best of those fields, so they need to develop those skills to that level. "Type design has to compete with the best. Image making has to compete with the best."

He closed with a posing of the question, "What is graphic design good at?"

  1. the craft of typography (this is the main differentiator)
  2. the range of expression
  3. clarity
  4. futurism, which is shared wth fashion designers and commercial designers as well.

I missed the second presentation because I had to do tech check for my presentation later that day.

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.

Goin' back to Cali

Tomorrow after class, I head to California for the AIGA Design Education conference.  I will miss the opening festivities, but I hope to blog from on site Saturday and Sunday. This is my first AIGA Design Education conference, so it will be exciting to meet this community.

The weather this weekend in Pasadena will be in the 80s and 90s. I miss California in these cold Chicago days of winter. It will be nice to be in a warm place for a couple of days. I just don't know if I have any summery clothes. Tee hee.

The panel is about multi-inter-super disciplinariness. Lance Carlson is the moderator. Co-presenters are Hugh Dubberly and Geof Fried. I am eager to meet Hugh, because I have heard so much about him from Parrish Hanna. Since Parrish and I have the same taste in people, I am %100 sure that I will like him.

Now, I just have to do laundry for summer clothes and put together my presentation. I must admit I feel nervous creating visuals for so esteemed a group. What if my rags are bad? Will I have time to kern my 1s? Should I use Helvetica Neue or Georgia? Where is Philip Burton when I need him? Tee hee.

Catch you live on Saturday at 9am PST.

Congress of the Oppressed II

My first year in graduate school I had a class with Renato Rosaldo called Cultural Citizenship, which was the first time since 4th grade I had been in the class were the majority of participants were people of color. There were 5-6 Native Americans (East Coast, West Coast, and South), 4 African-Americans (2 biracials and 2 monoracials, including me), 3 Asians (1 Indo-American, 1 Asian-American, and 1 Chinese male), 2-3 latinos, 1 jewish woman, and 1 white gay male. I named the class the Congress of the Oppressed, because every participant comes from a group who suffers from the dominant society's oppression.

What was fascinating about the class was that we had so much internalized the modes of engagement of the "oppressor" that in a class with no heterosexual,  WASP males, we started to oppress each other. This was accomplished by using alienating jargons and competitive argumentation styles that silenced one another. It was painful and heartbreaking that those who should know better did not.

The miracle was that half way through the class, we realized what we were doing, could discuss it, and then changed the dynamics. We began to engage with each other through poetry, music, drawings about the themes and experiences of cultural citizenship. That Congress of the Oppressed experience changed my life, because it made me aware of how in the words of Audre Lorde, "the master's tools can never dismantle his house" and that it is possible to build new houses with new tools for each other.

This is what makes me sad about the news that the Cherokee Nation has removed the 2,800 descendents of black slaves they owned from their roll of citizens by deciding that citizenship is based on "blood." Seventy-six percent had voted in favor of the amendment, thus barring the freedmen from receiving benefits from the $300 million budget, 80% funded by the US federal Government as reported by Daniel Walker of the Coffeyville Journal. In the same article, he mentions how this is part of a long history of racial discrimination by the Cherokee Nation against blacks, including the original enslavement, denial of education and attempts to confiscate their land in the 1880s.

One of the things we talked about in the cultural citizenship class was how blacks, Native Americans, and latinos all jockey for the position of the most oppressed. Thanks to the Cherokee Nation, it seems that the blacks have "won" that title today.