Vote for the USNPI's question for the President

Wow, someone tried to sabotage our question by having it removed as inappropriate. I have posted a new question. Search under "economic competitiveness"
The White House is offering the opportunity for The People's questions to be answered two days after the State of the Union address based on popular vote.

I have submitted the following question for Obama:

Given your focus on economic competitiveness, many European and Asian nations have established national design policies for this exact purpose. How could the US design community work with the Government to establish a National Design Policy as well?

Help make this the most popular question (the leader is at 561 votes).


01   Go to
02   Search for "economic competitiveness" to find our question.
03  "Like" the question by clicking the thumb up symbol.
04   Send this message to friends to do the same.

We have about 48 hours to make this happen. I trust we can do it.

NOTE: We are prepping for Summit 2011 from Sept. 23-24.

Danish Design Education: Part One SPIRE

As many of you know, I traveled quite extensively in 2009 (US, China, Denmark, Australia). I did about four continents in three months, which did give me Premier Executive status on United Airlines. :) One of the great pleasures of travel (on University business) is that I get to find out what other design schools are doing exciting things. In Denmark, I got to visit SPIRE at the Mads Clausen Institute at the University of Southern Denmark and the Architecture and Design department at Aalborg University. First, I must say that Jacob Buur and Nicola Morelli were perfect hosts in Denmark. When you are extremely tired from travel (this was the last trip of my global tour) and in new two a town where you don't speak the language, having a perfect host makes all of the difference. So thank you Jacob and Nicola, I promise to extend the same welcome when you visit in Melbourne.

First, I will say that I was truly impressed by the work at SPIRE and Aalborg, where there is a lot of cross-pollination. I hope to be able to structure the curriculum at Swinburne so that we have the opportunity to conduct more exchanges between students and faculty at both institutions. One of the things that I realized is that the scale of Swinburne is off the charts compared to any Danish design education institution, so any exchanges would require that we scatter our students among many institutions.


Jacob Buur is the quietly dynamic leader who came from Danfoss to run  SPIRE . I first encountered SPIRE at the 2008 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference in Copenhagen. At first blush then, I thought that their work felt very ID@IIT or D-Schoolish. But now having had the opportunity to have a closer look, there are some significant differences, which makes their work more exciting. SPIRE is a "participatory innovation research centre" that brings together the Danish tradition of participatory design, with design anthropology, user interaction studies, and user innovation studies. Three things makes SPIRE unique and very appealing to me.

The first is their emphasis on the importance of the tangibility of knowledge. They have this wonderful project on the tangible business model, where students create these games/models that outline the possibilities of business. I assume this comes from the Danish craft/engineering culture where the knowledge gained through the hands is still valued.


I always make the statement that "Design translates values into tangible experiences." The fact is that business models are value statements and the ability to translate them into tangible forms serves two purposes. First, as Jacob describes, the tangible model allows for iterative discussions on the "prototype" of the business itself. Second, and most importantly to me, the making of the business model into a tangible game allows more people to participate in its formation. Business models are always approached in the distancing language of economics. By giving the key aspects of the business an interactive form, you could engage people who are economically illiterate into the process of defining the values of a business.

The second thing is their advancement of the use of video in the design process. Having come to user-centered design through E-lab/Sapient, which had at the time, in my opinion, one of the most sophisticated use of video in the ethnographic research/design process, I have generally been unimpressed with how design institutions have used video. As side note, Jacob and I had this wonderful conversation about how both coming from leading UX/PD companies like Danfoss and E-lab/Sapient, the work that we are doing in the education sector seems so far behind what we did in industry, yet at the same time, industry (mainstream) is not ready for the types of students that we are producing, whose thinking and practice is far beyond what company managers are wanting. But I digress, I was impressed by their Video Design Specs project, which seeks to develop video as "design material" for action, not just for user observational insight or design inspiration. I recommend getting Salu Ylirisku and Jacob Burr's Designing with Video (2007, Springer Press) to read more on the topic. 

The third thing is their truly transdisciplinary focus. When you meet the "employees" at SPIRE, they are truly a mix of designers, engineers, linguists, anthropologists, and business managers. The projects at SPIRE reflect in the conceptualization and their final output the hybridization of perspectives and attempts to find a common language beyond those of the "home" disciplines. It helps that many of the senior leadership are really quire transdisciplinary figures themselves (official shout out to Jacob, of course, Christian Claus, Wendy Gunn, and Ben Matthews). Any design institution that collaborates with a theater group, Dacapo, understands transdisciplinarity

Again, I am deeply impressed with the work at SPIRE and intend to establish forms of collaboration with them in the near future. Next is part two: Aalborg University and Service Design

Design Policy as Mission Impossible

Note: These views present my personal thoughts and in no way represent the views of the National Design Policy Initiative or any of its participants.

Change Observer's Brad McKee has written an article about the "impossibility" of a U.S. National Design Policy. This is following Allison Arieff's article in the NYTimes about design policy and its "ambitious" goals. From the vantage point of the organizer of the Initiative, I fail to see the impossibility or ambitiousness of the efforts. People said getting the participants in the Summit together would be impossible. It wasn't and they continue to work together and independently for the Initiative. People said getting a conversation with the Dept. of Commerce would be impossible. We continue to have conversations with them. There are three major fallacies in people's understanding of the Initiative that makes it seem impossible.

The first is focus on me as the organizer of the Initiative. I have worked really hard to get the media to focus on the multiple participants in the Initiative. There are over 20 who have a much more interesting view of what the Initiative means and what is possible. Yet, each article focuses on me. If I had to imagine myself as an individual trying to make this all happen, perhaps I would see it as impossible. But there are professional organizations, design education bodies, government designers involved. There are businesses, students, even government officials that want to help. It is the collective energy of all the participants that make this possible. It is up to all to make this happen. I am just the switchboard operator who connects the right actors for the right purposes.

The second is the conceptualization of design policy as the document of regulations that will be "forced upon" designers. The reason why I set up the Summit as I did (i.e. as a workshop not talking head session) was so that we can get the policy proposal document out of the way. The document only serves as the blueprint for the participating design organizations to coordinate, channel, and prioritize their activities as we more deeply engage with government partners. It's the activities that are important. If the government never signs a "US Design Policy" bill, it is fine as long as the proposals are written into other legislation. The proposals would not be forced upon designers but would come out of the partnership with the design community representatives across professional, education, and government design and government policy makers. The problem with regulations that effect designers today is that designers are not at the table. When you are at the table, your role in shaping the regulations means that you can buy-in to the plan and guide its implementation. This is the reason for the formalization of an American Design Council as a partner to government with a seat at the table.

The third has to do with not understanding the history of possibility. Perhaps as an African American, I am particularly sensitive to the notion of something being impossible. Because if it had not been possible for slavery to be abolished, I would still be a slave. If  the marches and the protests of the Civil Rights Movement had been impossible, then Civil Righs Act of 1964 would not have been passed and I might not have gotten the education and opportunities that I have today. At the back of my mind, there is always the knowledge that the quality of my human existence is directly related to many of my ancestors ignoring the claim that something is impossible. The Initiative has yet to have a journalist of color write about it. I wonder if their perspective would be different.

The extent to which the Initiative is about me; it is how I believe that nothing is impossible and have used that to convince the design organizations that this is possible for them as well. To say something is impossible is to cut off the possibility of being able to determine one's own future and share that future with others. To say something is impossible is to demonstrate on one hand a lack of imagination or on the other hand a desire to see something fail, like the way we like to watch car crashes or celebrity meltdowns. 

One of my favorite lines in the movie Mission Impossible was given by Anthony Hopkin's character, "This is mission impossible. Should be a walk in the park for you." It is about the dedication and tenacity of those involved who will make a U.S. National Design Policy seem like a walk in the park, but it starts with the recognition of its possibilities.

Design thinking and rule making: Response to Tim Brown's blog

In the latest posting on his blog, Design Thinking, Tim Brown poses the question of whether there is a more active role for design thinking in the flurry of rule making at the G20 Summit, the Copenhagen summit on carbon emissions, and with the U.S. policy reforms. In particular, he asks:

What if design was used to test some of the rules our government leaders are proposing? Could we go through some experimental cycles using design and prototyping as a tool before final decisions are made about what rules to adopt? Might this help us avoid our tendency to create new rules and then walk away, under the assumption that our finance, health and global energy systems will now behave in the way we want them to?

I am, of course, very interested in the role of design thinking and making  in policy formation, communication, and implementation. Drs. Ann Schneider and Helen Ingram in Policy Design for Democracy (U of Kansas Press 1997) outline the role the design makes the identification of goals and problems, the definition of targets, rules, and tools; the forces of agents and implementation structures, and the framing of rationales and assumptions. Yet as in my response below, Tim Brown ignores the fact that rule making is itself an iterative process built on refinements based on "user" feedback.

* * * * *


I think that one neglects the fact that rule making is in itself an iterative process constantly being updated by “citizenry” feedback. Laws, rules, and regulations are constantly being rewritten and reinterpreted to make them more adaptable to contemporary contexts and future practices. Rules are often changing as conflicting value systems seek to maximize their integration into society and power systems wax and wane in influence.

As for testing the rules before full implementation, others have argued above that this happens through piloting processes already in place. For example, the large government reconstruction bailout was first “piloted” in Louisiana through the post-Katrina reconstruction money.

Often good rules are those which are broad yet clear in their intentions, so that other parts of the legal systems (such as the courts) can refine the rule interpretations through suit and appeals.

If the idea is to use design thinking to generate rapid innovation, the contexts of rule making as regulations for society require a different time frame because the full effect (positive or negative) of a rule change may not be felt for decades. In a crisis situation like this, innovation is necessary because the status quo had such broad negative effects. But in many ways the value shifts being proposed are not innovative, what we have are different tools we can use to make manifest those values and their intentions more clearly.

So this is to say that what you consider to be “design thinking” in terms of flexible, iterative, empathic approaches problem framing and solution making is already part and parcel of rule-making culture. Where one finds bad policies has to do with a power fraction choosing to benefit a small set of members with whom they have share empathy over everyone else to whom they are apathetic. If design thinking can remedy this challenge, then it can design world peace.

* * * * *

The failures of rule makings have to do with what Schneider and Ingram describe as "degenerative policy designs" in which:

Policy makers, poetntial target populations, media, scientists and professions, and others seek to define the issue in terms that will enble them to rationalize policy designs that will serve their own narrow interests." (p. 103 Figure 5.1).

It is the changes in value systems that boister changes in power systems that allow for generative policy designs to flourish. Design thinking plays a role in helping to make clear the value systems, the shift to new possibilities, but so does the thinking of anthropologists, doctors, artists, bakers, and every strata of society. Can design thinking play a more active role? Definitely as long as it does not become another set of technical experts who get in the way of the real voices, those of the People affected by policy designs and decisions.

Obama as non-partisan issue

Today, I was criticized for making my presentation too partisan by tying its possibility of success to President Obama's election. From my work with Design for Democracy, I understand the importance of any political movement being non-partisan. Yet, President Obama is not a partisan figure, at least I do not view him as such. Meaning, Obama's election victory for me had less to do with the fact that he is a Democrat and more with the fact that he is a figure for a new openness in the government. According to an a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Obama has 66% approval ratings. Jon Stewart on the Daily Show yesterday said it, "People really like Obama." They don't respect Congress or the political parties, but they respect Obama.

This is the way I feel about Obama. The Democrats were not the reason for me to initiative the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative. Neither were the Republicans. I had not really decided to pursue it until I felt confident Obama was going to win. It probably is not Obama per se, but rather the feeling of possibilities that his election victory engendered. Everyhing I have been doing is about exploring possibilities.

At every step in this process, people with "experience and perspective" have told me that this was going to fail. And it hasn't. That is why Obama is important to the Initiative, not as a partisan issue, but about an individual representing the end of the status quo. Design policy is only possible when the status quo is disrupted. Sigh.

Bucky Fuller and Me: Value systems and life as iterative design

In May, I am to give a gallery lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on Bucky Fuller: Success and Failure. Actually, I am co-piloting the lecture with artist Michael Rakowitz. Over the weekend, I have immersed myself in his 80-minute documentary, which was a long long series of lectures on his ideas. I heard his daughter talk about him on Saturday. I got an informed tour through the exhibit yesterday. I am reading his books and outlining his quotes all to gain a better understanding of this iconic figure.

I think my aspect of the talk will focus on his avowal of failure by approaching life as in iterative process for the next evolution. The irony is that we live life iteratively, but we plan life and convince others with more structure. What can be seen as his failures or what I'd call his "incomplete life prototypes" is the gap between his value systems and those of general society.

Elizabeth Pasztory's Thinking with Things (U. of Texas-Austin Press 2005) is helpful here. In her chapter on (non-evolutionary) levels of social integration, she discusses the existense of bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. (pp. 32-33). She then decodes the aesthetic value systems for each level. 

  • Band aesthetic values are represented in things that are small and portable, marked perishable objects, two-dimensional, superimposed images, both naturalistic and abstract by choice, and multivalent. Things serve as maps of cosmological thought for storytelling. (pp. 44-51)
  • Tribal aesthetic values are represented in things that are often semi-permanent (like wood) three-dimensional, masking images that mediate between people and spirits, balance the abstract and realism, and embody visual symbols of group identity. Things serve as technologies for controlling human and natural forces.(pp. 52-59)
  • Chiefdom aesthetic values are represented in things that are often make status visible. They can be variable in size and shape, but consists of the nonperishale and elaborate environments, precious "glittery" materals, complex and intricate forms (virtuosity), and portraiture. (pp. 60-65)
  • State aesthetic values are represented in things that are gigantic and monumental (requiring the management of large resources and labor), made of non-perishable materials (stone, broze, glass, ceramics), documentaries, anthropomorphism is variable, and materiality is centered "things rule." Things are mimetic as they serve to create a new and artificial nature. (pp. 66-73)

General society in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s has always been a mixture of tribal, chiefdom, and state aesthetic values. Things were important visual symbols of group identities, but the group was that of the nation. Commercialism made economic chiefdoms important and possible, with each company seeking to out "glitter" one another in status and power. But the main aesthetic value system was that of the state where particularly modernist ideas sought to create a new and artificial nature with momumental pubic works of glass, concrete, and steel.

Now, Bucky rejected the values of tribalism and chiefdom in favor of a global perspective on the universal connection among all things (nature and humankind). This is found in his earliest thinking and takes best form in the Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map (1943) and World Games.

800px-Fuller_projection copy

He did not consider one human being to be better than other, which is the basis of his concepts of failure and success. In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, he states, "Take the initiative. Go to work, and above all co-operate and don't hold back on one another or try to gain at the expense of another. Any success in such lopsidedness will be increasingly short-lived. These are the synergetic rules that evolution is employing and trying to make clear to us." His ambitions for omni-success clashed against the prevailing tribal and chiefdom values in society.

The tangible designs that could not address the tribal and chiefdom values were never widely accepted by society. His housing proposals-- the Dymaxion 4-D housing (1929), Dymaxion Deployment Units (1945), and Dymaxion Dwelling Machine or Wichita House (1945) never left the ground because his emphasis on lightness and efficiency ignored tribal aesthetic values related to comfort through control of the environment (including privacy) and to group identification with its impersonal metalic moderist ethos. The Dymaxion Car (1933) was a victim of systems of Chiefdom, when an accident caused by a high ranking politician killed the driver of the car during a demo. This resulted in a media turn against the car and the reluctance of car companies to manufacture it.

When Bucky Fuller's tangible designs align with State "momumental" aesthetic values, they are widely accepted by society. The Geodesic Dome (1953) is probably one of Bucky's most "successful" designs. The U.S. Government used it for emergency and equipment shelters, at least two World Expo Pavillions-- in Afghanistan in 1956 and his most famous in Montreal in 1967, and it is a feature of most municipal departments of parks and recreation. Because the State itself was the client, the State's aesthetic values were not mixed with that of Tribal and Chiefdom ones, thus the alignment with Bucky's own state-tist and post-state-ist values were perfect.

So what does this mean for iteration? It has been well established that Bucky saw life as an experiment: Experiment B. The incompletion of his iterative life prototypes (made tangible through his designs) and their lack of wide disemmination and adoption by wider society is tied to the fact that people are less willing to invest confidence in someone who is likely to change his or her mind. It places one in the context of the tribal fear of lack of control over human and natural forces, for which we use things.  While Bucky may have been the master of himself, his housing experiements did not always allow for the same mastery by others. You cannot iterate with other people's lives. Again, it is interesting that Bucky finds wide acceptance as non-habital structures (i.e. Exposition domes, equipment silos, and jungle jims) by the State, which can directly enforce its will and mitigate the necessity for iterative processes by eliminating Tribal and Chiefdom value systems' dissention.

As an anthropologist, even a design anthropologist, I struggle with the idea of designer's iterating with people's lives as some kind of hubris, but at the same time, one wonders how much data one needs before one has to act. In this sense, I am pragmatic, but Bucky's life and works provides an interesting study.

One week to USNDP Initiative viral video campaign

 As you all know, I am the organizer of the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative and have been very busy pushing forward the efforts of the group. The challenge of this Initiative is ensuring popular participation and excitement, while we work on the design organizational and governmental efforts. We had the endorsement campaign in January with the release of Redesigning America's Future. Our latest venture is a viral video campaign. (Note: We are looking for an exceptional video editor willing to offer his or her skills pro-bono for this engagement.)

The U.S. National Design Policy Initiative wants you to share a short video (less than 2 minutes) of your thoughts about the role design plays in US economic competitiveness and democratic governance, how a national design policy would help, and your personal pledge to support the efforts.

Between March 15, 2009 and April 15, 2009, the Initiative will collect videos via our YouTube group page and FaceBook Event page. Select videos will be included in our Design CEO's videos communicating the same message and to be presented at national design conferences, to government officials, and other promotional venues.


1. Art Direction
Film yourself on a plain white background (with semi-decent lighting). I've found that setting up a white board or wall behind me as I face the window during early sunrise or sunset creates beautiful light.

See Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s I Pledge Video for inspiration.

2. Script
Provide your name and identifier. Your answers to the four following questions:

  1. What role does design play in US economic competitiveness?
  2. What role does design play in the US democratic governance?
  3. In what specific ways, would a national design policy further enable design to play those roles?
  4. What would you pledge to do to help design play that role?

Example script from Dori’s soon to be video
(I'll be the first to post next Sunday).

NAME: I’m Dori Tunstall
IDENTIFIER: Organizer of the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative, design anthropologist, design educator, and optimistic American citizen

COMPETIVENESS:  Economic competitiveness is about providing products and services that have greater “human” value than that of your competitors for less cost to yourself.  Design is what transforms human values such as sustainability, delight, innovation, efficiency, ease of use, even sublime beauty into things and experiences that people can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. With approximately 70–80% of the cost of a product determined in the design phase, “design twice and build once” should be the mantra for U.S. economic competitiveness.

DEMOCRACY: Through my former work with the organization Design for Democracy, I’ve seen first hand how everyday people experience democracy not as abstract laws but through designed things. A poorly designed ballot can disenfranchise citizens. Yet, the redesign of election ballots can lead to higher rates of completion. It is through designed things, communications, environments, and experiences that we in the words of former President Jimmy Carter, “Reaffirm our concern for the human side of government.” This is the heart of American democracy.

DESIGN POLICY: There are already many grassroots and design associations’ initiatives that have used design promotion, innovation policy, design standards, and the policy as designed to improve the economic competitiveness and democratic governance of towns, cities, counties, states, and regions. The challenge is to scale those efforts in a country that has 50 States, covers an area of 3.79 million square miles, and is home to 305 million people. It is through the support of a U.S. National Design Policy that the benefits of these efforts can be experienced everywhere nationally.

PLEDGE: I, Dori Tunstall, pledge to help organize and structure an American Design Council to act as a forum that brings together the heads of design organizations, design education bodies, and Federal design studios with high ranking U.S. Government officials to partner in solving the U.S.’s economic and democratic challenges of today and tomorrow. 

3. Upload
Upload your video to the U.S. National Design Policy YouTube Group Page AND to you viral video Star Search Event Facebook page.

4. Share
Share your favorite videos with your friends, family, colleagues, and politicians.

Questions: Feel free to contact me at

Disclaimer: By participating in the event -- through uploading videos and leaving comments, you hereby grant the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative and its affiliated organizations the free use of your edited and unedited image, sounds, and words for non-commercial promotional purposes.

Self-interest, democracy, justice, and injustice

As I monitor the US National Design Policy Initiative reactions and the ongoing wrangling in Congress, I have been thinking a lot about self-interest. While not quite an Ayn Rand Objectivist, I believe that self-interest is actually a healthy thing. You should know what it is that you want and why, what are the things that would further enhance your life, your ambitions, your survival. Self-interest can provide the boundaries of self-love that keep you from being exploited or abused by other people. It is a guard against totalitarianism.

People ask me how I deal with the self-interest of the groups involved in the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative and I respond that my job is not to dissuade them from their self-interests, but to guide them into seeing how their self-interests are met within this wider community and framework. Self-interest is healthy as long as you allow the self-interests of others to flourish as well. War, fundamentalism, genocide are all the result of a clash of self-interests where one group says, "I will annihilate your self-interests to protect my own." This is where self-interest leads to injustice.

This is why I am so disappointed in people who say, "I cannot support the initiative because there's this thing about patents and intellectual property and I don't do that as a graphic designer, although the others are really relevant to me."

Or those who say, "This thing is not valuable because it doesn't 100% reflect my interests, but only 65%."

Now if the 35% percent actually harmed that person I would say okay. But in most cases, the 35% has no direct effect on them and may benefit some other group. Injustice happens when a person refuses to tolerate the interests of others. The great American clash of values was that one group of people disrespected the right to life and liberty to Native Americans and blacks, because they wanted  land to raise tobacco and cotton.

A just society is one in which self-interests can exist harmoniously because one group recognizes that by allowing the self-interest of others to flourish, then theirs has an opportunity to flourish as well. This is not naivete or romanticism, but the cold reality of global interdependency on the same planet.

Canadian politician, Lester Peterson writes, "We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest."

American democratic public policy, because of its scale of impact, has to operate on the basis of mutual toleration and self-interest. This has made me better appreciate the wranglings of Congress over the appropriations bill, now that the Republicans are actually collaborating.

Yet, it saddens me that people do not seem to understand the importance of mutual toleration and self-interest or live by it.

Is AIGA a labor union?

A colleague of mine, Ksenija Berk, has posed to me a question about the necessity of  design labor unions based  on a listserv discussion among she, Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven, and myself. The discussion was generated from an article she is writing based on her completed PhD dissertation. I spent a good portion of the morning crafting the response, which I thought I would post it here.

On 7/28/08 12:01 PM, "Ksenija Berk" <> wrote:

The question I'd like to elaborate further with you and where I see a possibility for a design policy is my paraphrase of the Daniel van der Velden's question: Is now a time for a design labour union?

I will answer that questions in two ways. One anecdotally and one based on my knowledge of the US-based AIGA, the professional organization for design.

In early 2000, at the height of the US dotcom boom, I told my colleagues at Sapient that we should start a knowledge workers labor union to ensure that when things went sour, which they always do, that we could keep our M&Ms, free food and drinks, Aeron chairs, bonus compensation, message therapists, lock into high worth stock options, good medical coverage, nap rooms, flexible schedules, etc. They laughed at me saying the equivalent of, “Dude, we got it so good. What do we need a labor union for?” This is because they imagined themselves as knowledge workers, where the brand of their high paid skills would guarantee that they could always negotiate for better salary and perks. When the dot com boom crashed in about 2001 and all those perks went away as well as any semblance of job security, they came back to me and said the equivalent of, “Dude, you were right.”

The challenge is that the model of the labor union is tied to ideas of fixed and standardized labor in the Fordist mode as per Daniel’s statement. Meaning, labor unions from the industrial mode argue for fixed and incrementally increasing wages based on standardized labor descriptions and standardized hours, the safety and protection of workers, protection of pensions, and guarding against unfair firing of workers. The underlying assumptions of this system are that (1) worker’s labor can be standardized (which requires deskilling through Taylorism) and (2) that worker’s stay in one place for a significant period of time (in order to accrue things like wage increases and pensions). Your thesis is dead on that contemporary designers do not work under those conditions, as do very few people anymore.

We are in a Post-Fordist mode of capitalism defined by flexibility in the descriptions of the type of labor, the hours ascribed to it, the shift or extension of the location of work from factory/office to the “cottage/home” aided by the ubiquity of the ITC tools of production (i.e. Laptop computers and software). This reduces the need for the manager to focus on issues of safety and protection because they have no “control” over the worker’s domicile or Starbucks café and the worker would resist any control in their private domain. Workers no longer expect or intend to stay in jobs long enough to accrue wage increases and the concept of pensions is long gone. So your description is accurate of current conditions, I just think that the term immaterial worker (read in US context: knowledge worker) fails to address the role of the materiality of design’s labor which allows you to capture its value in standardized deliverables.

So what is the possibility of design labor union in the immaterial labor, post-Fordist mode?

This is where I find the activities of AIGA, which is selected because I am most intimate with it as a design organization, interesting because it seeks to provide many of the protections for design labor through the discourse of professionalism.

If the intentions of a union are to set fair prices for labor, ensure the safety and well being of its labor force, assist in the accumulation of wealth for retirement, and protect the legal rights of hiring and firing for its labor force; AIGA does most of that for its design membership.

Setting Fair Prices for Labor: AIGA just recently launched its website for the Center for Practice Management. On the site, they provide tips on how to calculate a freelance rate, set a rate for a firm, determining the various pricing models (it outlines 6), and address the challenges of low-ballers. It also conducts an annual salary survey to determine the market range for design labor geographically and by position.

Ensure the safety and well being of its labor force: There are two separate initiatives around this one. AIGA serves as a collective for reduced health insurance,  especially for its freelance designers. Its Sustainability initiatives  and section on other management issues seeks to address the toxicity and wastefulness of the design work tools (i.e. Printers, paper, ink, etc).

Wealth for retirement: There are no official initiatives around this area that I know of beyond the indirect practice management issues.

Protect the legal rights of hiring and firing: AIGA provides standard and flexible business agreement templates for designers as well as a list of standards of professional practice to inform and aid designers of their rights and responsibilities as professionals.

Other things that AIGA does is advocate for better descriptions of design practices with the US Dept of Labor so that it is more aligned with current practices, train designers on how to elevate their skills, provide discounts on designer tools like software from Adobe and fonts, etc.

So at least AIGA, and to some extent many of the American professional organizations, serves as a design labor union with over 20K members of various design levels and skills.

(Don’t let Ric know that I just wrote a long love letter to AIGA or that I called AIGA a labor union).


Design Policy and CCBHS final presentations

This week (Tuesday) I presented the final designs for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services project I’ve been working on for 2-years. I could not have scripted a better reaction, which highlights for me what design policy is about.

The Presentation

In attendance at the presentation were about 23 financial administrative staff across the entire Bureau. By their surprised and enthusiastic greetings, I knew that it was rare that these groups got together. I opened with a description of the mandate of the project: design an information system about billing and payment that communicates the values of the Bureau’s mission to provide health care regardless of one’s ability to pay, the patients’ own values of health and health service, while recognizing the need for a model of financial sustainability to support both.

I introduced/performed 6 personas of their different patient types. I walked them through the financial aspects of the registration and financial screening processes, and how each of the designs we created fit into the processes. I role played the way in which the designs mediated interactions between the patients and staff. Then, the team and I  passed out a set of the materials to each participant, who eagerly took them. We followed with a long Q&A in which the CFO basically used all of the arguments I presented to him, which were based on the testing I did with patients, about certain policy decisions to convince the other participants.

What made it successful is not just the beauty and clarity of the designs, our demonstration of a deep understanding their patients and processes, but how through designing we could affect positive changes in the entire Bureau. The CFO said that the project was one of the first steps towards working as an integrated Bureau with a patient-centered focus. CCBHS has never been integrated or patient-centered, so this is a major first step.

About Design Policy

This is what design policy is for me: changing governmental organizational cultures to make them more accountable in positive ways to the people they serve. This is distinct from design spectacles that can raise awareness about governmental dysfunctionality. It is distinct from design futuring, which perhaps is what Daniel’s Metahaven does, which provides alternative visions for the future. Design policy is the often mundane work of transforming that awareness of governmental dysfunctionality into tangible self-sustaining realities of alternative futures. Since policy is the tool of governmental change, design policy is the design of both the formation and implementation of that tool.