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Cuba and photos on Flickr

I've posted on Flickr my photos from Cuba this week. The Icograda Design Conference in Havana was interesting but less truly international than I expected. Westerners and Caucasians felt more present on the panels than in the audience which had lots of Cubans and felt more international. It was cool that they had simultaneous English and Spanish translations.

On the panel on Indigenous Design, the lack of indigenous representation on the panel was appalling, given then significant theoretically critique of the representation of indigenous people by non-indigenous people. That panel left me feeling that the indigenous element in design is more decorative than a significant part of national design practices, which even if the case, it should have been addressed as such.

The highlight presentation was of Ahn Sang Soo of Korea. His presentation on Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was the perfect example of design anthropology by combining the physical, material, cultural, and linguistic manifestation of human identity (both personal and social) with the highest standards of technical and aesthetic form-making. I was on the verge of tears with the poetry of his presentation (especially with a 50 hour trip and only 2 hours of sleep). He received the longest ovation from the audience.

Other highlights were the presentations of Maria Rogal, whose work and as a person I adore; Joi and Carmen of Motorola, Rafeal Vivanco and Sandra Tineo's presentation on cross-cultural design in the Peruvian design curriculum. They have four units of human development in their design curriculum at  la Escuela de Artes de la Universidad Católica Pontificia del Perú.

I got to meet lots of fascinating people. Not many Cubans because we were somewhat isolated by language and the Conference did not encourage much real mixing in some ways. I did get to spend some time talking to a Cuban family and visiting the City when I played hooky from the conference one day. But I don't have a real sense of Cuban life, which is hard to say as an anthropologist. All of this means that I have to return to explore more deeply the real life. I am determined to do so. 

Icograda-Arriving in Cuba

I finally made it to Cuba on the second try. Continuing my pan-African identity, I have been mistaken for Cuban throughout my travels. It seems to manifest itself (even when they find out I'm American) in better service and more engagement. It helps that I speak some Spanish. I have a great vibe from Cuba.

Cuba is so lush green. It reminds me a lot of Addis Ababa when I went to do my field work in 1997.  There are few cars on the highway, but there are new trucks from China. You look out at lush industrial complexes with chickens and cows roaming about in front. The houses seem to be similar in style as those in Addis Ababa. There are various levels of decay, with more decay in the outskirts and less decay in the city. The contrasts between classes in neighborhoods is striking. There are buildings that are rotting out from the inside and then near the conference center, there are mini-mansions.

The sustainability sessions were disappointing coming off of AIGA National, where many of the topics were covered with greater production values and more solution driven. There are too many American presenters, so there is not as much of a global perspective as I hoped. But tomorrow might be better.

More later, I have to attend the evening reception.

Almost to Cuba

So we get nearly there to Havana and they turned the plane back due to mechanical problems. We are waiting in the terminal until they decide what to do with us.

Hopefully, we will get to Cuba. At least it was beautiful to see the sun and clouds reflecting off the ocean.

Cuba: Miami airport

Cuba: Miami airport
All of the bags to Cuba are wrapped in blue plastic by the Secure Wrap company. It is too early to ask por que.

Miami is a cuidad latina. Even in the airplane from Chicago, spanish was the predominant language. I was lucky that my flight was so delayed that they rebooked me on a direct flight to Miami.

I'm really excited to go to Cuba.

Voy a Cuba

Hoy, voy a Cuba para la conferencia de ICOGRADA. Today I am going to Cuba for the ICOGRADA conference. I am really excited because I've never been to Cuba before. I have packed my camera because the only things as an American I can take out are photographs. Tee hee.

At NeoCon in Baltimore, I met this wonderful gentleman Rafael Fuentes, who left Cuba when he was 15 years old and have not been allowed to return in 36 years. There is great sadness is this form of exile.

So I hope that there is wifi access at the conference, as Ric Grefé once indicated. I will try to blog and take lots of photographs while there.

If not, then wish me buen viaje. Ir a Cuba en este momento de la historia será una gran aventura. To go to Cuba in this moment in history will be a great adventure.

Hasta luego. See you later.

AIGA Next Dori's presentation

Below is the script and my presentation at the AIGA Nationals. It was well-received based on the feedback that people were giving me the rest of the weekend. I was worried about it being too esoteric:

Download Yinyang_AIGA.pdf (PDF 2.0MB)

Slide 1
The YinYang of Anthropology and Design: Anthrodesigners and the Evolution of Graphic Design

Slide 2
In Taoist teachings, the human mind has two minds, Xin (i.e emotional mind) and Yi (i.e. wisdom mind). Providing the passion and direction to formulate ideas, the two minds are responsible for all human creations, which first start in your imagination. (Yang 2003:10). 

Slide 3:
Portrait of Anthrodesigner as a young woman.

Passion and direction. I exist at the liminality of passion and direction, emotion and wisdom. For 8 years, classically trained in the science of human wisdom, Je’ sui une anthropologist. But not in the way the French mean it., As the “philosophy de l’homme la femme.

Slide 4:
But the way the Americans mean it. Bryn Mawr and Papa Boas, Stanford and the Post-Structuralists I was disciplined in the approaches of the social and behavioral sciences. Which means questions and categories such as “How do we define Humaness in its biological, linguistic, material, and cultural diversity across time and space?

Slide 5:
I am disciplined in the cultural questions of “What pattern is your kinship diagram?

Slide 6:
Or biological questions such as “How did you get that opposable thumb which makes
finger snapping such a miracle act?”

Slide 7:
Using these questions and categories to guide nuanced understanding of Kenyan Street Children, Phone Sex and Gender, and Ethiopian tourism. My dissertation shows that I was not your average anthropologist.

Whereas wisdom is good and direction is fine. I am like the great Coyote Trickster figure in my Native American culture courses. It may take wisdom to understand the world, but it takes passion to change the world. While I was trained in the wisdom of understanding, it is elsewhere that I sought to train for the passion that can positively change the world.

Slide 8
De-sign. Design, with big D, is the act of changing the world. As Herbie Simon says, from existing conditions to better ones. So for past 8 years, I’ve played passionately in the field of  Design with big D. And sometimes little D, when I can’t afford a designer who can live up to my conceptual visions of how the world is and what it could be?

Little d, design skillful decisions about line, point, color, texture, pattern, form, type, and
image make manifest the ideas of Big D design and make actionable anthropological understandings.

Slide 9
So at the liminality, of wisdom and emotion, I speak to you.

Slide 10
At the liminality of guidance and passion, I call to you. And as Victor Turner says In my liminality, I am the germ of  “Future social developments, of society change.”

And I am not alone….So let’s talk of the Yin Yang of Design and Anthropology, the mutual contexts we share, how with our complementary ethos and skills of wisdom and emotion, guidance and passion can be a positive force for business, government, and society.

Slide 11:
Mutual Contexts of Design and Anthropology’s engagement

Whatever comes to you, you must engage it somehow. You receive it, you may alter the circumstance and let it go, you may inject something of your own into it, or you may knowingly let it pass. Whatever you do, there is no need to be apathetic toward life. Engagement, (Deng Ming-Dao 1992: 34)

Slide 12:
Anthropology and design have long histories of encounter since their establishment as “modern” practices in the 19th century. Notes and Queries on Anthropology, published in 1899 had sections on the analysis the production and consumption of material artifacts, which is the knowledge domain of design. Design requires a certain understanding of human biological and cultural variation to develop products and communications.

Yet, it only in the past 20 years that design and anthropology have deeply engaged with one another professionally. What has happened in the past 20 years to support this deeper engagement? The digitization and globalization. The conversion of the world to bits and the new appreciation for one’s place in the world introduced new challenges to the professional anthropologist and design. Opening the possibilities for anthrodesign collaborations.

Slide 13:
Digital Design and Digital Anthropology
According to Nicolas Negropointe , by 1995, the future had become about the world of bits as much as the world of atoms. The digitalization of information and communication technologies had a profound affect on the production and distribution of design and anthropological artifacts and knowledge.

The popularization of AutoCAD in the 1980s, desktop computing with graphic user interfaces (GUI) in the 1990s, and the Internet itself in the 1990s brought about the mass digitalization of design. Loretta Staples describes how desktop publishing and laser printing “…supplanted professional typesetting and offset printing as the preferred low-end prepress and printing option.  Peter Bil’ak in his overview of typography in the 1990s states, “The arrival of digital technology meant that typeface design was no longer the domain of specialists. Few people realized that the democratization of typography might also endanger the existence of professional designers.”

Yet, the ubiquity of design tools of production led to new design outputs and design practitioners. The combination of these new digital tools and the digital platform of the Internet created new categories of design outputs on screens and interfaces and of web and interface designers to create them.

Digital Anthropology
Anthropology has always been savvy about technologies of recording. As far back as the 1880s, anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Alfred Cort Hadden were early adopters of still photography and film to enhance their ethnographic fieldwork (Pink 2006: 5). When digital versions of these technologies appeared, Anthropologists eagerly pleaded with the National Science Foundation to grant them the latest laptop computer, digital camera, and now iPod “recorder” for professional fieldwork. Maybe its because early fieldworkers are often in their 20s. Yet, anthropologists have been less comfortable with digital technologies of distribution such as the Internet and cable television. This is because digital technologies of distribution challenge the core of the anthropologist’s expertise: the eyewitness and thus expert “merchant of the exotic”.

The rise of cheap flights, the Internet, and cable TV channels like the Discovery Channel removed the structural barriers that separated researchers from “natives,” and specialists from tourists. For example, in the analog days, a representation of life in Vanuatu came from the rigorous publications of books and articles by a “defined” external expert on the subject. Today, the Internet enables the people of Vanuatu to represent their own culture and life much easier and with wider distribution. Digital technologies accelerated the redistribution of power relations between the research and the “native” that was started in the 1980s by the challenges of native and halfie anthropologists. This digital extension has been labeled Anthropology 2.0, drawing from Bill O’Reilly’s description of Web 2.0. The goal of the Anthropology 2.0 movement to make anthropological knowledge more open and accessible through information and communication technologies (Anthropology2.0 wiki  2007). Generationally, the discipline continues to be split between those who are comfortable or not with digitalization and what it means for professional anthropological expertise.

Slide 16:

David Harvey talks about the compression of time and space made possible through our digital technologies. Over one million people all over the world can watch the winning kick of the World Cup match through digital satellites beaming to TVs, PDAs, computers, and mobile phones. This makes some people think that digitalization caused globalization. But according to systems theorist, Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), processes of globalization began around 1500. Rather digitalization accelerated globalization’s reach and impact.

Slide 17
How did it affect professional designers and anthropologists? Actually, in similar ways. Both anthropological and design practices where traditionally framed by the focus on “locally bounded” societies. Whether the design societies of Chicago, New York, or West Coast design for designers or the remote native villages for anthropologists.

Slide 18:
After the 1980s, both designers and anthropologists began to focus on the dynamic flows of what Arjun Appadurai (1996) called “…ethnoscapes, mediascapes, techoscapes, financialscapes, and ideoscapes.” The response to these cross-cultural flows of people, media, technology, money, and ideas was varied. It ranged from fear of disenfranchisement as it was perceived that the Chinese, Japanese, Indians would take “American” jobs by offering lower prices for the same quality. But it also led to the embrace of the possibilities of difference.

Slide 19
It is this embrace of differences in human experience that has deepened the engagement of anthropology and design together. Professional designers have had to understand the differences in human experiences and draw upon anthropological knowledge to support that understanding. These new practices take the forms of Design 3.0, Cross-cultural design, Green design and sustainability, Universal design, or Socially relevant design.

Professional anthropologists have had to more effectively communicate with humans who have different expressive experiences. They now draw upon the designerly knowledge to support those communications in ways that are intuitive to different audiences. These new practices take the forms of Engaged anthropology, Public anthropology, and Anthropology 2.0.

All of these designerly and anthropology practices mark a greater engagement with positively affecting the life.

Slide 20
That is why the ancient scriptures say that from the One comes two, because there must be duality for there to be existence. These two are called yin and yang. We need white to know black, We need space to see a line. Everything in life we know because of distinctions. Two, (Deng Ming-Dao 1996: 217)

Slide 21
Yin Yang; Complementary Practices and Perspectives.

The ethos and skills of designers and anthropologist are not binary. Designers understand and Anthropologists create, but there are differences in the relative amount of time, energy, and effort spent in each activity. Having practiced Tai Chi for over 5 years, I’ve found that the Taoist concept of Yin Yang is one way in which one cane approach differences without resorting to binary oppositions. Yin Yang are modalities of engagement with life based on disciplinary histories and personal passions.

Slide 22
The Yin modality or energy is about yielding to the world around you. Going with the flow in order to cultivate the internal contemplation to better understand the world. When encountering force, you bend to the energy in order to neutralize its negative effects. One seeks to be small and insubstantial so as to minimize your negative impact on the world.

Slide 23
The Yang modality or energy is about acting on the world around you. Crafting new flows in order to extend and advance the world.  You are a force of external action, creating new energy to positive effect. One seeks to be big and substantial to open new possibility in the world.

Slide 24
Anthropology, by disciplinary history and personal passion, often operates in the Yin modality. One yields oneself to the cultural context, whether of a society, an institution, or a business to understand its energies and flows.

Slide 25
Design, by disciplinary history and personal passion, operates in the Yang modality. Envisioning oneself as the creator of the future, one acts on a society, institution, or business to redirect its energies and flows.

Slide 26
Anthropology and Design are the Yin Yang complementary modalities of the world.

Slide 27
They represent the human potentialities for both action and understanding.

Slide 28
Design provides the knowledge and passion for functional success in artifacts, messages, experiences, and systems. Anthropology provides the knowledge and understanding for contextual success in which design operates.

Slide 29
We need each other. The complexity of the problems and contexts in which professional designers and anthropologists are being forced to and are choosing to address means that our separate skills are not enough anymore. We need to cultivate of the skills for both Yin Yang modalities of engagement. It is imperative for the success of both disciplines in their intentions to be progressive forces for business, government, and society.

Slide 30
The intellect uses discrimination, categorization, and dualistic distinctions in highly sophisticated ways. By contrast, spiritual contemplation involves no discrimination, categorization, and no dualism, so it has little need for scholasticism. It is pure action that requires the totality of our inner beings…The proper use of the intellect is to give it free play, develop it to an extraordinary degree, and yet leave it behind when spiritual action is required. A sage knows how to balance and combine both. Scholasticism, (Deng Ming-Dao 1992: 138)
It’s about being able to balance and combine both.

Slide 31
In the liminality of anthrodesigner hybridity, I and others have already begun to use the combined Yin Yang modalities of Anthropology and Design to be progressive forces for business, government, and society.

Slide 32
As pioneered by places like Doblin, E-lab, Xerox Park, Sapient, Sonic Rim, hybrid anthrodesigners successfully brought together deep human understanding and designerly creative action to change the practices of businesses. The humanizing effect of anthropology and the clarifying and prioritizing effect of design help business become more accountable to its customers.

Slide 33
Changing the value basis of business from mere numbers to actionable human needs, wants, desires, expectations, design and anthropology combined their Yin Yang energies to create a more holistic picture of the return on human investment. A picture that continues to expand as business uses design and anthropology to understand, model, and adapt its effects on individuals, groups, communities, societies, and ecosystems.

Slide 34
My personal work is at the intersections of design and government. Previously with Design for Democracy, and now through the City Design Center at UIC, anthrodesigners like myself are changing the practices of governance by bringing the same accountability, humanization, and clarity in business to government. Providing clear models of complex human processes and interactions, the Yin Yang energies of anthropology and design are translating the values of democracy into tangible experiences among diverse peoples. Anthropology helping to understand what those values are from the perspective of the people themselves.

Slide 35
Design acting of the translator of those values. The tangibility of them through artifacts enabling the iteration process to achieve alignment between the values and peoples’ actually experiences.

Slide 36
The Yin Yang modalities of anthropology and design demonstrate that even a micro-artifact like a hospital bill can represent the entire macro-enterprise of an organization and people’s relationship to it.

Slide 37
Anthrodesigners are taking what they have learned from business and government and applying it to wider society. The work of anthrodesigners like Saki Mafundikwa of Africa or MP Ranjan in India are showing how the Yin Yang of deep yielding to local and global cultural conditions can lead to actionable design innovations that are culturally, economically, technically, and environmentally appropriate. And if we are to further engage in a global design, we need both Yin Yang energies to be sensitive yet passionate about social and economic justice.

Slide 38
But we don’t always have to go far from home, we can have positive effects by addressing social concerns that cause deep tragedy in our lives.

Slide 39
If we can combine the intellect and direct experience with our meditative mind, then there will be no barrier to the wordless perception of reality. Intellect, (Deng Ming-Dao 1992: 84)

Anthrodesigners and the evolution of graphic design

As I stated in the beginning, I am not alone in my liminality. There are many students who now journey this path with me at UIC. We’ve learned to combine anthropological knowledge with designerly ways of knowing to understand the ethical responsibilities of being a graphic designer today and tomorrow.

Slide 40
Combining passion and wisdom, action and understanding, functional and contextual success, they are the future of graphic design and what it can do in the world.

Slide 41
And they are the hybrid Yin Yang masters of this new world. From their thesis projects to their personal convictions, they are writing a new disciplinary history and future for the graphic design field. One that accentuates the creative redesigning of the world which is the hallmark of design, but seeks to use anthropology to ground the impact of their power in what is appropriate, ethical, and humanly sustainable. And they are changed forever.

Slide 42
Passion and direction. We exist at the liminality of passion and direction, emotion and wisdom.  We are the germ of  “Future social developments, of society change.” And we are not alone… Thank you.


Appardurai, Arjun, ed. The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Bil'ak, Peter. "Type Design in the 1990s, Demystification and Re-Mystification".  The Hague, Netherlands, 2000.  Typothegue. July 10, 2007 2007. <>.

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity. New York: Blackwell Publishers, 1989.

Ming-Dao, Deng. 365 Tao Daily Meditations. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992.

Negropointe, Nicholas. Being Digital. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Pink, Sarah. The Future of Visual Anthropology: Engaging the Senses. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Simon, Herbert.  The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.

Staples, Loretta. "Typography and the Screen: A Technical Chronology of Digital Typography 1984-1997." Design Issues 16.3 (2000): 19-34.

Turner, Victor. "Liminality and Communitas."  The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1969. 94-113, 25-30.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System Vol. 1. New York: Academic Press, 1974.

AIGA Next Blaise Aguera y Arcas

Blaise Aguera y Arcas, Pre-History of the Metaverse

He wants to do more than talk about photosynth. There was idea that with networks that we would see cyberspace. Then web came along and it was within reach. It was simple and made use of things we already knew how to deal with.

Cyberspace now means being online. What motivating is bringing back the original vision of seeing cyberspace. Came to Microsoft with because we had much less than what we have now because of collaboration.

Seadragon ingine. Have large number of photos and accessing them very fluidly. The way they think about interacting with documents is a little bit broken. We think about opening a document; we download. If too big, take long time.

Need to think about documents as sources of information.

Gaming is really interested in it. The GPU can be done in 3D because using the graphics hardwear. It was just a toy until saw photo tourism at U Washington and Microsoft. Microsoft Research is the Bell Labs of computer research. Almost 1/4 and 1/3 of SIGGRAPH papers had a Microsoft Research co-author. He made a 3D reconstruction of Notre Dame from photos showing the position of the cameras that were taking them.

The idea of reconstructing 3D from images has a long history. Noah was using off the shelf technique. Instead of making a quake level for images, it is better to do so from photos. Putting the photos into context and how they are related to each other.

Algorithm: feature extraction, matching, then 3D reconstruction. David Lowe in 1999 did Photo tourism. The key to do reconstruction of features, and find similar features in other photos.

Feature gets a descriptor, unique and robust of 128 numbers from different points of view. Match the features in others and reconstruct when see features looking at the same thing. Can solve question of where does it need to be in 3D space, estimate geometry.

They should use this for the AIGA archives. Authoring can be done with digital camera not coding for say for example a commercial website for a kitchen design firm. Can do hyperlinks of images.

It uses off the shelf parts. Digital photos. Materials are there already, can put them together. It will be emergent and come from many people's images.


AIGA Next Alex Steffen

Alex Steffen and Worldchanging

We inherited a broken future. We are using more bioresources than available. Have 4 billion people climbing out of prosperity. One billion people are at risk of climate change. Have created environmental refugees.

There is time to change the future. We can have sustainable prosperity. Need a new model: bring our ecological footprint to our lifestyle. We have a 10 planet lifestyle. We need to cut use of materials etc. by 90% by 2030. US needs to be the one because we caused the problems. As 5% of the planet, we are 30% of the CO2.

Environmentalism is completely mainstream. There are people who know we need to act and those who are wrong. Small steps can't solve this problem. This is the privatization of the responsibility. We need new systems and the ability to participate.

We are getting part of the way with engineering. Light our streets with moonlights. Use roofs as gardens. We can build in more energy efficient way. We are capable of going further. All that is not enough.

We cannot get there thru brute force of engineering. We need to dematerialize stuff we don't need. Netflix dematerialized 4 trips. Urban design dematerialize trips and infrastructure. Walkshed is how comfortable you are walking.

Ze Frank did make an earth sandwich. When you know where things are, you know what you want. When you know where things, you could share them. When you share things, you dematerialize things. So for every car you share, you dematerialize 6 and some places 20 cars. What can be shared?

Power drill gets used 6 to 20 minutes in a lifetime.  We want the hole that the drill makes, not the drill itself.

Move energy meters into the home, changes behavior. Chips in Britain have CO2 label. Raw data does not help. Transparency needs translation. Need the story, our choices, and the relationship between the two. We need the backstory of the product. What the choice makes of us.

There is pleasure in the backstory. The slow food movement. Who grew the food? Some stories of simple and some stories are more complex.

Good companies have good back stories. The bad companies are avoiding backstories but they will get caught because of the truth.  We don't understand the technique to show how to engage in the story of how we fit in the system.

Need to show us that the future can be beautiful. More sustainable, pleasurable, and fulfilling. We are not happier in our more affluent life. Bucky Fuller, a solution has to be beautiful.

This talk does a great job at getting at something I was talking about as the power of beauty.

AIGA Next Command X semi-finals

It is the last three remaining contestants, Kelly Dorsey, Matt Munoz, and Nichelle Narcici.  Grand prize is $1000 and Adobe CS3.

Assignment was get people between 18 and 24 to vote.

Kelly's concept was to tell youth to Vote: they won't expect it. Displayed on college campuses. Vote it will keep them guessing.

Matt concept is to demystify the voting process, create personal meaning, and bring relevance and transparent to issue.  He proposes a little information book and create blog and other touch points. Companion site to elucidate issue. He had an concept of showing the relevance of the Iraq war to the death of 18-24 year olds. The comment is design thinking.

Nichelle concept is to make youth seem like they are part of the out group. Her concept, Except you. Its a PDF which youth can print off and put on bulletin board or cars. "Everyone counts, except you." It was a clean white background and helvetica type.

Nichelle should win based on the Except You campaign itself. But it is about the power of design thinking in this last task.