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June 2008

Elections coming up in Santa Fe

Yesterday, I brought out my real camera to take some pictures. One of my favorites is of the Voter Parking outside the Santa Fe Municipal Building. I've been following it semi-interestingly from the context of what I am writing about American democratic values versus the real lived experience. But more about that later. Now, just pretty pictures.


My Santa Fe Bicycle

My Santa Fe Bicycle
I just bought a bike, so now I'm mobile. Luckily the place is near the bus line so I was able to take one there and will take it back. I'm not ready for a 3 mike bike trip in the midday sun at 7000 ft. Plus the bus is only $1.00.

Jerry in Santa Fe

Jerry is such a people magnet, here in Santa Fe. He is getting petted by everyone, especially tourists who miss their pets at home. We go for long walks 3 or more times per day. He is loving it.

In Design We Trust book hook

After going to the Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams exhibit today, I broke my discipline about not writing. It was a good thing because I found the hook narrative to begin the introduction of the In Design We Trust book. It was not easy to discover. I tried to find a quote or story from one of the many books I've read. Should I start with something about how the Declaration of Independence was printed as if a throw-a-way document, which indicated our Founding Father's lack of belief that the experiment of American democracy was to endure? Do I find a passage from literature about how someone first felt about getting their Medicaid card or first time voting on an Optical-scan ballot? How do I begin?

After mulling and reading for hours, it hit me. Begin with a box of government cheese. More than anything it speaks of why this is an important project for me. So here is the beginning hook of the book. Since it is in its infant stage, any and all comments are welcomed. In fact, after reading, it would be cool if you shared your first tangible experiences with government, perhaps it was a box of government cheese, too. Tee hee.


Introduction: Design, Trust, and Governmentality

Raised in a working class, African-American family in the 1980s, my first tangible experience of the US Federal government came in a plain, brown cardboard, rectangular box. Inside this non-package was a bright orange/yellow block of “government cheese”. Being perhaps only 10 or 11 years old at the time, I was mortified that my father had brought into our home a box of “government cheese”. Velveeta cheese product was a staple in our diet, so it wasn’t about the cheese. It was about what that undecorated box said about our family. While there was honor in being working class, that box said something different. It said that we were poor. We were poor in the eyes of the Federal Government, although I was more concerned with the neighborhood kids.

I knew nothing about 1982 Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program of the Food and Nutrition Service, probably neither did my father, or my grandmother on disability from whose house the cheese had actually come. I knew that the stable working class neighborhood of my early childhood had became drug and gang infested as my friends’ parents lost their high paying manufacturing jobs. I knew I did not trust the government or the values of my own middle class aspirations. Yet, this distrust was not experienced as welfare policy or even Reaganomics; it was experienced as a plain, brown cardboard, rectangular box, inside of which was a block of processed cheese.

Although now I understand better abstract government policies like the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, I still experience government through tangible things like forms to fill out at the DMV, displaying my drivers license or US passport, annual tax forms and information booklets, ballots, parking meters, and oak benches in courtrooms. These things are designed, sometimes, by professional designers and other times not. But like my experience of the anti-design of the plain, brown cardboard, box of government cheese, the formal elements of design such as color, texture, 3D form, etc. affect both my functional and symbolic understandings of my relationship to US Federal, State, and local governments.

This book is about how everyday people like my father, my grandmother, and even myself experience the government through tangible “things” and how the intentional design of those things affect one’s sense of trust, citizenship, and the values of democracy within American governance. It asks the questions: What does it mean to say “In Design We Trust”? How do the processes and artifacts of design helped define what it means to be an American citizen? What are the relationships among the values of democracy, the design of tangible communications and objects, and people’s actual experiences of those values? It seeks to answer those questions not in the languages of economics or law that are the dominate languages of governmental expertise, but rather in the language of design, which, while still an expert language, speaks to everyday people’s experiences of government.

My article on design anthropology at Abobe Think Tank

Hey, I just noticed that my article on Design Anthropology: What can it add to your design practice?  just came out on Adobe Think Tank.  It was lots of fun to write and David Womack is a great editor. I now want a personal editor.  Here is the teaser:

Designers primarily concern themselves with how to create a "successful" communication, product, or experience. But with the past 10 years of globalization, digitalization, and ever increasing design complexity, designers have come to realize that to answer the question of design "success" requires that they answer that question of how the processes and artifacts of design help define what it means to be human.

Also in my publishing forays, I was quoted by Rick Poyner in his May 2008 ID Magazine article, Down with Innovation. The quote was “There is an inherent intelligence to beauty, which is about the depth and passion we feel for the world.” Tee hee. I did not even know I was quoted in the article until an ID undergrad student told me. The quote comes from a comment I left on Design Observer about the power of beauty.

Weird and productive day in Santa Fe

So this morning started out very weird. I woke up worrying about my apartment catching on fire because I left one light on. Later when I called a friend to leave a birthday message, he told me that there was a fire in his home. Spooky.

Each day, Jerry and I explore more of Santa Fe to see what is similar and different from my other trips. The local cafe where I was looking forward to spending my mornings has been replaced by a clothing shop. The self-serve laundromat that I was looking forward to washing my clothes at is gone. I need to get a bike to go to the next "nearest" one, but bikes are so expensive here. Even on Craigslist, the cheapest bike was $200 dollars and they were all for men.

The afternoon I spent doing cool research for the book. I've laid out the chapters of the book, In Design We Trust: Design, Democratic Values, and People's Experiences of American Governance:

1. Introduction: Governmentality, Values, Design, Experience

Part 1: Of ballots and ballot boxes
2.    A design history of American fraud
3.    Design for Democracy and governmentality

Part 2: Insuring good health
4.    A design history of government health insurance
5.    Cook County Bureau of Health services patient billing and payment policy

Part 3: Policy is designed
6.    Mapping design policy
7.    Citizen-centered policy design

8.    Conclusion: DIY policy design

The chapters from Part 3 have been written based on conference presentations. They will just need to be cleaned up and recontexualized within the broader themes of the book.

I am conducting the research for Part 1 on the design history of ballots (for graphic design) and ballot boxes (for industrial design). Today, I searched through all of the US Patents regarding ballots and ballot boxes. It was really exciting because you have all of the sketches and  the designer's intentions written in the documentation of the patent. From a Values|Design|Experience perspective, this will go nicely with the newspaper articles that capture the citizen's experiences of ballots and ballot boxes. I spent the afternoon flagging the instances in which design enabled election fraud in the book, Deliver the Vote: a History of Election Fraud by Tracy Campbell (Published by Carroll and Graf 2005). The design history chapters are framed by the elements and principles of design and their effect on democracy.

For example, I track several instances from the 1700s to the 1800s when the color of ballots were used by partisans to know which political party a citizen voted for and thus intimidate or violently attack the voter. The story seems to be about design trying to stay one step ahead of election fraud.

I found the local independent bookstore today and met the owner, so I can order any books I need from him. Luckily, I am less than a block for UPS when I have to ship my books back home.

This week I hope to wrap up the research of ballot history so that I can begin writing that chapter next week. I think I am going to do a strict 9am to 12pm, lunch and reading siesta until 3pm, 3pm-7pm writing schedule. Not including breaks to walk Jerry, of course. 

Design Research Society Meetings

So I just realized today that the days of the DRS meetings are the same days that I have to return from Santa Fe to Chicago. I am so bummed that I am going to miss the meetings. It is the one organization that feels the most like my communitas. But, it would be too difficult  and expensive to try to fly there for one day and get back, pack up everything, and return to Chicago. I cannot believe that I screwed up so badly.