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May 2007
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July 2007

The Diet Plate

This morning, I came across this story about the Diet Plate in the BBC. Here is the link to the actual website of the company.

Invented by former housewife, Kay Illingworth, it had a hard time getting manufactured. Note: she positions herself as an inventor not a designer -- a fascinating distinction. What I find interesting is the simplicity of the solution to weight management by embedding it in common everyday objects for eating.

So many diet plans are disruptive. Taking out the scales to weigh food, a calculator to count calories, ordering special meals to be delivered, eating only certain foods on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. They do not follow the everyday pattern of people’s lives. The Diet Plate is seamless in that you fix your plate and just make sure that the food fits within the space. I don’t know what they do with the height factor.

I wonder what other examples of health related products are there that are not disruptive but help within the process of your normal activiities.

Paper accepted to IASDR conference: going to Hong Kong

My paper, In Design We Trust: design, governmentality, and the tangibility of governance, was accepted without revision for the International Association of Societies of Design Research Conference in Hong Kong, November 12-15, 2007. Yippee, I'm going to China. I hope this will be the second of two international conferences I want to attend this year. The other is the Icograda Design Week in Cuba. I won't be presenting, but it would give me an opportunity to engage with international graphic design luminaries in a more intimate setting and go to forbidden Cuba.

Flirty Girl Fitness

As I walk my dog each morning on Randolph, I have passed by the soon to be opened Flirty Girl Fitness center. I thought, "Oh just another gym," until I saw a sign that read, "Are you fit enough to strip?" Basically, the Flirty Girl Fitness center will offer you for a monthly fee of $120 unlimited classes in stripping, pole dancing, lap dancing, and boxing with pink boxing gloves.

Having done my undergraduate thesis on phone sex, I've kept up on the sex work arguments and I think there is a certain empowerment that comes with having control over one's sexuality (if that is the case) and a viable choice of exploiting the higher profit margins of the sex industry. The rise of female producers, regulations about public health with the AIDS crisis, and safer working conditions has helped in the porn industry at least in the US. Street workers still are extremely vulnerable, but the shift to prosecuting the "John" instead of just the prostitute has at least in the legal sense made things more equitable. There is, of course, exploitation in the sex industry, but not more exploitation than in the mining industries, or the oil industries.

Yet, the idea of paying someone $120 per month to "lap dance your way to physical fitness" strikes me a somewhat problematic. Okay, for let's say, a 40+ white woman who has had her sexuality repressed by her suburban lifestyle, taking a weekly "Chair-strip tease" class can empower her by putting her back intouch with her sexuality. There are no men allowed in the class, so it is supposed to be a safe environment. But if you are a young woman, a woman of color, the oversexualization of your person is often the source of your disempowerment. Endulging in masculine fantasies of hyper-sexualization, is perhaps not the best route to reclaiming your sexuality. Looking at the gallery images of the Flirty Fitness site, the majority of the people are young women of various racial/ethnic groups.

I guess you could do it for yourself, but a trip to the Ole Sex Shop is probably a less expensive and more effective alternative therapy. So interesting enough on Randolph, there is a real strip tease club which I also pass by when walking the dog in the morning. It will be interesting to know what the women there will think of the new "gym" down the street. My bet is that they would want to tell the women to come there and earn the $120 as opposed to pay it out. One does not know which represents the true empowerment.


Ethiopia makes top story in NYTimes

Yesterday, Ethiopia, in a story written by Jeffrey Gettleman, made the top story in the NYTimes. It is always a troubling thing when Africa is in the American news, because the focus is always on war, AIDS, or famine. Ethiopia in particular has a branding problem because of the ubiquity of the images of the famine in the 1980s and the latest series of wars with Eritrea and now with Somalia.

This story was interesting for several reasons:

  1. It criticised current American foreign policy, which is militarily supporting the Ethiopian government against alleged terrorists and Islamist groups in Somalia and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which borders Somalia.
  2. It gave a balanced perspective of Ethiopia's history as a Moslem, Christian, and other nation. It also presented the claims and counter claims to the Ogaden region.
  3. It both praised the diplomatic savvy of Ethiopia's leaders, while attesting to their internal oppression and the human rights abuses of the government's soldiers.

While I wish that it could have been about a positive develop in Ethiopia, perhaps, journalism is getting better at representing the contextual depth of political situations.

NeoCon World Fair in Chicago

Last Tuesday, I presented with Ricardo Gomes, John Paul Kusz, and Dave Walker at the Chicago NeoCon World Fair. The session was sponsored by FocusOnDesign, an organization to support diverse designers in the Baltimore/DC area. I was a last minute replacement, but it was amazing how all the presentations aligned.

Ricardo Gomes, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Design and Industry at San Francisco State, was the moderator and provided an overview of key themes affecting socially-relevant design today: (1) changing demographics in terms of aging, (2) climate change and sustainability, and (3) migration and globalization. He providing statistics on the effects of these changes and what it means for design. He had a similar user-centered design process model as mine, which was cool to discover. I knew Ricardo from the IDSA conference in Austin. He does a lot of work in Africa and sustainable/inclusive design.

John Paul Kusz is at the Stuart Business School at IIT.  He further developed Ricardo's arguments by providing historical and scholarly references and frameworks for socially and environmentally sustainable design. I was very excited by his call to develop metrics for the social and environmental return on investments as well as economic ones.

I was up next and I talked about design and government policy. I addressed in depth policy as designed and design standards from my mind map. It went okay, but it was not as polished as I like to be and the audience was more architecture and interior design focused, whereas my examples were from graphic design.

As the resident architect, Dave Walker's presentation was the one that garnered the most interest. He was describing a project that his former company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, did developing an environmentally and socially sustainable island for displaced farmers near Shanghai, China. It is truely amazing that they, commissioned by the Chinese government, designed from scratch 3 new cities, a nature preserve, villages, etc. in an environmentally sustainable way.

The Q&A focused mostly on Dave's presentation. In the audience was Myron Smith and Meshella Woods Johnson of FocusOnDesign. Myron is the one who suggested me as a replacement. Also, I met some of the local Chicago black designers Althea and Vernon Lockwood of Project Osmosis and other black designers.   

After the presentation, we all went out to dinner and had wonderful conversations about design, ethnicity, politics, and the best chocolate cake in the city of Chicago.  It was very life affirming to hang out with designers of color who cared about the social impact of designing.

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.

MoMA and Richard Serra

Went to the MoMA yesterday to see his 40 year retrospective. I love the kineasthetic and aural experiences of his sculptures. There was another women going around singing "boop boop" to hear the acoustic resonance of the structures. What I love was the sense of dizziness I get from walking around the concave scultures. There is something hardwired about straight lines that makes you dizzy when there are not any.

I saw some really amazing work which reminded me of how much I love art and how much I am learning about design.

The Comic exhibition was so cool. I instantly recognized the work of Julie Mehretu's with its multple levels of drawing and painting. I kept trying to get closer and closer, then back away.

One thing that you don't realize by looking at pictures in books is the scale of the artwork. I have a loft and most of it could not fit on my walls. So first you have to have the walls for art, then the art itself.

It was an amazing day, feel of beauty and introspection. I had no appointments with people so I was free to wander on my own time. I like that feeling.

Going to New York on vacation

Tomorrow, I go to New York on vacation to visit my best friend from college, Claire. It will be the only vacation of the summer as I am so overextended and keep piling things on. But I'm excited.

I'll go to the MoMA to see the Richard Serra exhibit. I saw his work in Bilbao, Spain. I really like the enclosed experiences of his sculpture. I am also going to see the Comic exhibit.

I hope to visit with friends, Manual, Frank, and Meg. Everyone else is going out of town or have someone coming in. It will be chaotic, but I actually will get to use my mobile phone to blog.

So good night, check you in NYC tomorrow.

Two reasons for the failure of design policy

This is an excerpt from a paper I am writing. I post this section because I hope to get some feedback as to whether this is the case.

The history of design promotion and design policy supports pessimistic views. John Heskett (2002: 181) describes the reduction of the activities of the British Design Council and Rat für Fromgebung of Germany due to budget cuts. Recent British Council budget cuts closed its RED initiative in 2006, which was one of the best examples of design policy for governance.  John Heskett (2002: 182) and John Thackara on his blog,, document the closing of the Netherlands Design Institute in 2000. H. Alpay Er (2002: 15) describes design policy in Turkey as a “negative case.” Design Management Institute discussions in 1993 were pessimistic about the necessity and viability of a US national design policy for industry (Kash 1993, McAusland 1993, Walton 1993, Walton 2004).

The reasons for this skepticism or pessimism vary, but are often tied to design policy’s failure to adequately respond to the social contexts and social issues of how policy is Designed in particular governments. I suggest that the structural bias of design policy for national economic competition is responsible for design policy failures for two reasons. First, design policy for national economic competition does not embed itself in the actual practices of government – the conduct of conduct that is essence of governance. Design innovation and promotion policies frame design as to-be-supported industries separate from the structures, training, information, environments, procedures, methods, forms, and communications that are the practices of government. While there are listed objectives for government procurement in some of the most successful design policies – the Danish National Design Policy comes to mind – they are of lower priority and often focus on the procurement of furniture or architecture.

Second, of those design policies that intend, often as a side benefit, to enhance the cultural “quality of life” of the public, they do so to the neglect of the important role of design in mediating trust in government. Exhibitions, competitions, and museums may succeed in promoting design, but the message is often design as “cool,” not design as necessary to one’s everyday self-governance and trust in the government. The DOTT07 project in Britain is an exception. Design policy for national economic competition treats government as a legal and economic abstraction. By adopting Foucault’s notion of governmentality, design policies can be created that engage in the tangible, real, and improvisational practices of government