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Leadership and courage: Atticus Finch

I have been feeling very anxious lately and my friend Gong Szeto sent me this quote from Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

"I wanted you to see what real courage is... It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

I have been thinking a lot about courage and leadership in terms of Obama, the economic meltdown, and the work I have been doing lately with government and policy.

Courage, leadership, and the Obama electoral victory

What made me feel most happy about the Obama victory was that for every person who voted for him it took courage. The victory was most improbable but the people who elected him saw it through no matter what (the what's being Rev. Wright, Bil Ayers, Sarah Palin, lies about Obama's Islamic faith, the economic meltdown, even Obama's citizenship). The strength of Obama's leadership is his ability to create the conditions for people to have this kind of courage. That's all good leadership does is create the conditions for collective courage.

Courage, leadership, and the economic meltdown

The economic meltdown demonstrates the ambiguity of Finch's words of wisdom. It is clear that traders and their highly compensated bosses saw it through no matter what their visions of immense profit based on passing the buck on risk to the next player. Those who were supposed to be accountable to risk management lacked courage, especially following the debacles of Enron, but one man's courage is another man's cowardice. What they lacked was leadership from Greenspan down to trade floor managers. The autopsy of the American financial body indicates that there were red flags everywhere and there were people who were waving those red flags. The leaders of these corporations refused to see  or when they did see, it was too late. In other words, they lacked the courage to lead, which meant doing things that might rein in their traders or reduce some of their windfall profit. The NY Times has a wonderful article, Talking Business, on how Dr. V. Y. Reddy, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, prevented the excesses of the US financial system from happening in India with his strict oversight and regulation.

Courage, leadership, and my work

My work in design and policy is always extremely frustrating because it is difficult to find leaders with courage. I find it most perplexing that those in the bureaucratic areas of government (who have some the greatest job security and benefits) are the most risk adverse. They have the least to lose and yet are afraid to risk anything. My own failures as a leader stem from my inability to get people to move forward with a progressive agenda, not because of their fear of failure, but their exposure as poor leaders. No matter how many times that I tell them that my job is to make them look good.

I can inspire the hell out of my students to achieve miraculous things, but not other leaders. It is something for me to work on and develop as a leader, but it sure is frustrating. Where is the line between keep going no matter what and just plain stubbornness? This is my challenge to conquer in myself.

And yet, for now, I keep moving that one day the Atticus Finches in my life will believe that I am the bravest person they ever knew.

Research Methods for Art and Design Final Presentations 2008

Here they are. The final visual presentations from my last Research Methods course at UIC. This year was really exciting because of the number and range of the students and UIC's participation in the INDEX: Aspen Design Challenge Water Brief. The purpose of the course is to provide participants with the anthropologically-based research techniques to inform creative conceptualization and its human impact. Techniques covered include secondary and archival research, interviewing, observation and participant observation, participant self-documentation, using scales to evaluate concepts and ideas, and affinity diagramming for data analysis. The course addresses important skills such as writing proposals for grants, data visualization and communication, and giving effective presentations.

The students had to address five basic questions of a creative concept proposal:

  1. What are your project’s questions and/or intentions?
  2. How does it fit within existing art and design knowledge?
  3. What evidence do you need to collect and your methods?
  4. What are your qualifications to do the project?
  5. What is its contribution to fields of art and design?

There were clear themes that emerged from student's interests: Health (mental, physical, social), the Water Brief responses, Cultures of the Design Process, and Food, Drink, Design. I have organized the presentations by those themes.

NOTE: Please do not share or circulate without giving credit to the design student. The purpose of posting is to expose people to their design thinking, which only works if you cite their work.


Chris Margelis, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Donation Research Proposal
Download AD418research08_finals_margelis (PDF 2.6 MB)

Brief Summary: To engage in this research on design, donating, and trust  in order  to: (1) build effective cause-marketing strategies, (2) create effective awareness materials, and (3) help inspire creative ways for people to donate.

Jennifer Tausch
, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Designing Systems Tool for Alternative Healing
Download AD418research08_finals_tausch (PDF 292 kB)

Brief Summary: Seek to understand how graphic design can aid in the creation of a comprehensive resource for the field of alternative healing by utilizing information systems to develop a user friendly tool that educates as well as build awareness of the fields of practice and their connection.

Moe Madar,
BFA Student in Industrial Design
Accidential Poisoning: A Closer Look at Chlorine and Its Byproducts
Download AD418research08_finals_madar (PDF 5.3 MB)

Brief Summary: Through this project I would like to examine and evaluate the process in which dioxins are created by consumers and manufacturers of products designed for everyday use, such as paper and leaded gas, through the use of chlorine.The information will then be used to design ways for consumers to lessen their dependency on such products or procedures.


Kelli Evans, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Visual Communications as a Catalyst for Change:  Creating Awareness of Water Conservancy Issues Facing the Great Lakes Basin Download AD418research08_finals_evans (PDF 5 MB)

Brief Summary: I intend to investigate the level of awareness of water conservancy issues by the “eco-aware” citizens of the Great Lakes Basin and what, if any, are their conservation practices in order to  identify the most effective ways to communicate the complex information surrounding the issues and then extrapolate how best to communicate this information for use in targeted campaigns for the general public.

Sarah Higgins,
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Bottled Water Project
Download AD418research08_finals_higgins (PDF 1.1 MB)

Brief Summary: To design a solution that aids in creating a greater awareness of global fresh water issues and the environmental impact of bottled water corporations while offering new innovative and sustainable alternatives to the purchase of bottled water.

Pei Chi (Brandy) Yang,
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Designing Water's Future
Download AD418research08_finals_yang (PDF 1.5 MB)

Brief Summary: The primary objective of this project is by studying the urban design project concerning Chicago water issue and comparing it with existing obstacles in the City’s visual designs, hoping to seek out more effective ways of cross-disciplinary aspects for graphic designers.

Jillian Lindner, 
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Fresh Water: Consumption, Conservation, Campaigns
Download AD418research08_finals_lindner (PDF 3.5 MB)

Brief Summary: My research focuses on how the average urban middle-class American consumes water and the success of water conservation campaigns in order to design a visual communication that will increase awareness of the global water crisis.


Jon Zayat, BFA Student in Industrial Design
Design for Intrinsic Reward
Download AD418research08_finals_zayat (PDF 180kB)

Brief Summary: The goal of my research is to investigate a variety of activities currently used in the making of goods to discover what elements of the processes provide users with the most intrinsic reward in order to design technology for the design and making of goods that would be very enjoyable to use.

Esi Abbam Elliot, PhD. Candidate in Business Administration
Cultural Metaphors and Enhancement of Product Pleasure
Download AD41808_Finalpresentation_abbam-elliot (PPT 1.5 MB)

Brief Summary: My research seeks to understand how cultural metaphors  embedded in products  could enhance representations of product pleasure for product innovation in Africa.

Susannah Kim, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Creative Reuse of Digital Trash
Download AD418research08_finals_kim (PDF 536 kB)

Brief Summary: Through this research project I would like to find threads or discussions that are of common interest to all humans in spam and how the technology of spam creation and reuse has changed in order to create work based upon the findings.

Alicia Kuri Alamillo, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
Political Communication and Design in the Obama Presidential Campaign
Download AD418research08_finals_kurialamillo (PDF 1.5 MB)

Brief Summary: This project proposes to examine the Barack Obama presidential campaign and its unique implementation of a “branding” system to reach target voter demographics as a case study for the ability of contemporary visual communications to encompass the communication needs of a culturally diverse audience.

Missing: Zhen (Jane) Xie because need to include her video. Will upload later.


Siobhan Gregory, MFA Candidate in Industrial Design
Urban Agriculture
Download AD418research08_finals_gregory (PDF 10 MB)

Brief Summary: This project seeks to learn about the unique challenges that urban farmers and gardeners makes and how they resolve those challenges through design.

Mary Clare Butler, BFA Student in Graphic Design
Organic Food and Consumer Trust
Download AD418research08_finals_butler (PDF 2.1 MB)

Brief Summary: This project seeks to understand the relationship between organic food, the customers who buy them, and the trust they place in organic products in order to explore how design can be used to honestly connect the consumer and producer without exploitation.

Mehmet Burak Birinci, MFA Candidate in Graphic Design
The Effects of Tea Packaging in the Consuming Process
Download AD418research08_finals_birinci (PDF 1 MB)

Brief Summary: The purpose of this research is to uncover the emotional and visual bond between the tea package and the consumer as part of a larger question of how branding and packaging design affect what people buy.

Kimberlee Hartelius, MFA Candidate in Industrial Design
Stay-at-Home Parents and Their Packaging
Download ad41808_finalpres_hartelius-1 (PPT 18.9 MB)

Brief Summary: The purpose of this research is to understand the effects of packaging design on the food purchasing decisions of stay-at-home parents in order to design packaging that seeks to enhance family.

Final time teaching AD418 Research Methods for Art and Design

Tomorrow is the final presentations for my Research Methods for Art and Design Class at UIC. At the end of the Spring semester, I will be going to take a position at another University. Won't post where, because the official announcement has not come out, yet.

It makes me a bit sad for the UIC students, who have come to see the "thesis class" as a core part of their learning experience at UIC. It has transformed the way students think and make at UIC, both at the undergrad and graduate levels. While I will be teaching the class at my new academic home, the way in which the course supported the Interdisciplinary Product Development course, or balanced the very formal design focus of the graphic design program will not be replicated in the same way.

So it is with bittersweetness that I will teach AD418 for the last time at UIC, but I am excited about the work the students have done and am eager to post it on the site like I do every year since teaching it.

What was the US National Design Policy Summit? (brief)

Following people's comments in the blogosphere, I realized that people may have an incomplete picture of what the Summit was about. I guess when people think of Summits, they are thinking of "important people" getting up giving presentations on what, in this case, a design policy should be. The Design Management Institute had a couple of these types of  forums captured in their Design Management Reviews in 1993 and 2004. And as Ric Grefe of AIGA had pointed out to me, there had been other attempts to get the design organizations together to build a unified policy.

So this Summit was NOT a talking head Summit, where we needed to gather anyone and everyone who represented the design communities, design education communities, and government design. To put together something like that was way beyond my volunteer resources of five unpaid students and former students and my non-existent budget. Also, it was of no interest to me to have another discussion about the merits of a US National Design Policy. I was beyond that because I had been travelling the world looking at the design policies of other countries and felt that the US design communities and government were already engaged in design policy, they just wasn't calling it that. My question was "What would a US National Design Policy need to look like?"

Thus, I got the German Marshall Fund to lend us the 2nd floor conference room of their DC headquarters (very swank). The 2008 US National Design Summit was organized as a two-day super-intense workshop with the goal of creating a shared actionable agenda of U.S. design policy for economic competitiveness and democratic governance among the professional design associations, design educational bodies, and the design-related Federal government agencies.

DAY 01

Borrowing from the theme of the first US Federal Design Assembly held in 1973, the first day was about outlining the Design Necessity, in terms of the initiatives, programs, projects, and even legislative rules that design needs from the government to support the government’s meeting of the economic and democratic needs of the US people. This was accomplished by:

  1. Providing an inclusive framework for design policy based on my research, which included as design policy the activities of design promotion, innovation policy (both design innovation and human innovation), design standards for safety, inclusion, sustainability, and quality; and Policy as designed (which is the role of design in the formulation and implementation of government policy). I provided a global tour of what others in the world were doing around design policy.
  2. Presenting an overview of the Federal Design Improvement Program in the 1970s, which provides a precedent for having a US National Design Policy. It was established by mandate of Richard Nixon, and run by then Nancy Hicks of the National Endowment for the Arts.
  3. Having participants add to a map of all of their current design policy related activities, so that we knew we were actually doing the same activities as many of the countries with national design policies. This was done with the aid of Nina Simone music in the background.
  4. Doing rotating brainstorming of ideas based on the four-area framework of design policy and building off of one another's ideas. This was faciliated by the Jeopardy game show thinking music in which participants posted policy proposals under one policy area and then rotated to the next when the Jeopardy music played. 

The group developed over:

  • 70 proposals to support Design Promotion for economic competitiveness
  • 46 proposals to support Innovation Policy for economic competitiveness
  • 60 proposals to support Design Standards for democratic governance
  • 80 proposals to support Policy as Designed (i.e. the role of design in the formation, understanding, and implementation of policy) for democratic governance

In the evening, there was a group dinner at Cafe Trope, which was excellent if anyone is looking for a DC resturant near Dupont Circle.

DAY 02

Borrowing the theme of the 2nd US Federal Design Assembly held in 1974, the second day was about outlining the Design Reality in terms of the feasibility of any initiatives, programs, projects, and legislative rules that we proposed within a US national design policy. We approached this by giving a quick overview of the priorities for the incoming Obama administration. This was important because one of the conclusions for why the Federal Design Improvement Act disappeared in the 1980s was that it did not align with President Reagan's political priorities.  The criteria for prioritizing proposals was in terms of their value to the American people and the design industry and their operational and political feasibility within the priorities of the design institutions and the government.

Value to the American Criteria:

  • A 04 ranking is for proposals that contribute directly to both the economic competitiveness and democratic governance of the US
  • A 03 ranking is for proposals that contribute directly to either US economic competitiveness and democratic governance
  • A 02 ranking is for proposals that contribute indirectly to both the economic competitiveness and democratic governance of the US
  • A 01 ranking is for proposals that contribute indirectly to either US economic competitiveness and democratic governance

Value to the Design Community Criteria:

  • A 04 ranking is for proposals that provide direct value to three or more design fields, professions, or bodies (professional and educational). Direct value could be increasing leadership reach, increasing the number of members/employees/students, or providing additional funding for programs. 
  • A 03 ranking is for proposals that provide direct value to one or two design fields, professions, or bodies (professional and educational),
  • A 02 ranking is for proposals that provide indirect value to the design community as a whole. By indirect, we mean it basically provides good design PR for the design communities, increasing the perception of their value to government. 
  • A 01 ranking is for proposals that provide indirect value to only one or two design fields, organizations, or bodies. These provide mostly good PR for those fields.

Operational Feasibility Criteria:

  • A 04 ranking is for proposals that require both funding and staff resources from only one or two design organizations or bodies. So if a proposal required only IDSA and AIA to support it with staff and funding, it would be given a 04 ranking.
  • A 03 ranking is for proposals that require both funding and staff resources from more than three design organizations or bodies. For example, a proposal for the establishment of the American Design Council would require staff and funding from almost all the design organizations.
  •  A 02 ranking is for proposals that require only staff resources in partnership between government and multiple design organizations. For example, the introduction of a new government regulation might only necessity the labor and skills of staff members in design and government. 
  • A 01 ranking is for proposals that require both funding and staff resources from both government and multiple design organizations. For example, holding a Federal Design Assembly like those held in the 1970s would require significant funding and staff from government and design organizations.

Political Feasibility Criteria (Brad McConnell from Senator Durbin's Office helped with these. I had invited him to provide some insight into the political process, so that people had a realistic sense of how much effort it would take to get something on the political agenda):

  • A 04 ranking is for proposals that fit within existing and continuing political priorities already in motion. In other words, the proposal can tag along with existing regulations or policy.
  •  A 03 ranking is for proposals that align with the top priorities of the incoming Obama administration. They directly contribute to the implementation of policies regarding supporting state and local government, major infrastructure projects likes bridges, dams, roads, schools; helping unemployed workers and working families; enhancing education, especially early education; creating green jobs and alternative energy sources to reduce American dependency on foreign oil, expanding health care to the uninsured, and ending the war in Iraq
  •  A 02 ranking is for proposals that align with secondary priorities of the incoming Obama administration. It may not be the top ten priorities, but it contributes to others on the list. 
  •  A 01 ranking is for proposals that introduce new political priorities.  They may not be on the Obama radar, but we want to put them on there.

This gave us a sense of the level of impact and effort for each proposal, which is helpful to know when crafting a policy. The last missing pieces are which areas of government it would affect and how much would it cost versus return on investment, which we are working on now. We concluded with a clear articulation of next steps following the Summit, which was the first of many conversations that need to be held to develop an actionable US National Design Policy.

So this was not a conventional Summit as we might imaging one, but rather a designed two-day process to get all participants on the same page about what would a US National Design Policy might look like. The immediate next step is to finish the report from the Summit in preparation for Obama's Inauguration. Then there will be lots of activities after that to follow.