News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Reframing”Luddite”&”elitist”charges against foodies

Just a couple links to think about in relation to our current food systems and the foodies out there, and I would argue you could probably replace the word “food” with “technology” and other things as well. I fall into these traps of thinking or labeling or prejudging sometimes, and often it’s helpful to check myself and my thinking.

illustration by Victo Ngai

Elitists

It’s pretty easy to consider those who have the means to shell out money for good organic food a foodie, and worse a foodie elitist. Let’s reframe that. These foodies are leading the way, showing how things can be if we stop buying processed food, start eating real food again. I don’t agree with the author’s point about CSA subscribers also chipping in to pay for extra subscriptions for low-income families as a solution to getting organic food into our communities. But I do agree that we shouldn’t make people feel guilty for paying “more” for better food if they can afford it.

To suggest that advocating for such a change makes me an elitist is to disparage positive decision making and behavior…The victim mentality our culture encourages actually induces guilt among people making progress. That’s crazy. We should applaud positive behavior and encourage others to follow suit, not demonize and discourage it. Would it be better to applaud people who buy amalgamated, reconstituted, fumigated, irradiated, genetically modified industrial garbage?

Luddites

At the same time, some people (including myself) are guilty of romanticizing the past “when we all had time to cook” or “when we didn’t have all these internet distractions.” It’s good to get a reality check sometimes and realize that in many ways, we are much better off now with our industrialized food than we were “back then.” It’s just an evolution of the processes in our lives, and while the core messages of the Slow Food movement may be applauded, it’s actually counterproductive to automatically malign certain technological advances that have given us fast food and mass production and whatever else. Let’s look forward instead of looking backward, says Rachel Laudan for Utne Reader.

Culinary Luddites are right, though, about two important things: We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos. As far as good food goes, they’ve done us all a service by teaching us how to use the bounty delivered to us by (ironically) the global economy. Their ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving.

Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized food, not one that dismisses it; an ethos that opens choices for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few may enjoy their labor; and an ethos that does not prejudge, but decides case by case when natural is preferable to processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines appropriate to our time.

Chew on that bit of nuance for awhile.

Posted in Theory | 1 Comment

Unplugging to Combat Information Overload

We discussed information overload in Kolko’s theory class on Monday. I heard and read a lot of stuff on the same topic this summer. It felt like a lot of people felt the need to “unplug” as a means of 1) coping with digital overload, 2) as an experiment to see what they and their lives were like in the absence of digital connection, or 3) to learn how they could find balance between online-self and offline-self.

Here are some unplugging options, complete with people who have been there, done that:

TAKING A BREAK, COLD TURKEY

Gwen Bell helps clients figure out their online messages and also helps technologists figure out how to unplug. She has a vast online presence, and this past July felt the need to take a month off…and found that the pace of life and her depth of observation changed.

I remembered what it’s like to listen with intention. I practiced first with myself and then by turning my attention wholly onto the other…

The more I reflect on it, I’m not sure that’s scalable. I know for sure that trying to listen to four thousand folks (on Twitter, for instance) all at once isn’t just impossible. It’s unsustainable and makes my heart race.

James Sturm is the director for the Center for Cartoon Studies. He wrote of his decision to give up the internet for 8 weeks:

“Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER.”

Sturm blogged about his offline experiences (and the ironies of blogging about his offline experiences) for Slate.com, replied to postal mail from readers instead of online comments, and shifted some of his internet burdens (ex. looking up map directions) onto his wife.

SETTING LIMITS

David Wyatt co-owns and serves as Business Director of Wyatt Brand in Austin. He handles PR and online messaging for many of his clients, so it was natural for him to be online all of the time. He decided at the end of summer to turn on “The Off Switch.” He got rid of his iPhone and set ground rules to limit his internet usage.

I hadn’t realized how much the constant, intermittent use of technology throughout my day was complicit in me becoming increasingly more anxious, less patient, distracted, less creative, irritable, aggressive, selfish, less courteous, etc. Conversely, by corralling technology into planned times and places, I will go a few hours without checking in and it is like a breath of fresh air. I feel more content and aware.

DIVIDING TIME

This is not directly related to the internets, but Judith Shulevitz wrote a book called The Sabbath World wherein she explores her relationship to the routines and meanings behind the rituals and laws of the Jewish Sabbath—a time specifically set aside to rest and to spend with loved ones. She speaks about segregating her time and creating spaces in her life for spirituality in this John Templeton Foundation video series as well as on NPR’s Fresh Air. Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article Shulevitz wrote:

This, by the way, is not because we’re workaholics or Internet addicts or because religion is on the wane. It is objectively harder to stop working now than in Frankfurter’s day. The pace and rhythms of work have quickened, and each pause costs more than it used to. Globalization, just-in-time manufacturing and electronic networks, among other things, have made it possible to synchronize production and communication around the globe, but they have also made it necessary to operate on a 24/7 schedule. This creates, in effect, something that Josef Stalin once admiringly called the continuous workweek. Meanwhile, mobile devices have annulled the rules that used to prompt us to stop working at regular times (5 p.m., say) and pushed us into a zone of frictionless activity without temporal boundaries.

…But the Sabbath is not just a day off. It is also an idea. Actually, it’s three ideas, embedded in the Fourth Commandment, the one that talks of keeping the Sabbath.

The first is the idea that everyone, not just the idle rich, has a right to rest regularly. The second is the idea that the good society makes life better for its members by protecting that rest.

The third idea, which is perhaps the most powerful of all, is simply to “remember the Sabbath.” That is something we all can do, whether or not we choose to honor it. We can simply think hard about it, trying to puzzle out all that this very old and once-venerable human institution has to teach us about work, rest, time, sanity and the good life. What we might come up with if we figured that out remains a tantalizing mystery.

FOR ME

I’m really drawn to the idea of carving out spaces to have analog experiences in my weekly schedule. It seems doable: create relatively-short regularly-scheduled times when I’m completely unplugged. Something to try, to try and combat the feeling of drowning I sometimes get amidst the churning feeds and informational abyss of the interwebs.

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Agree or Disagree: The Poor are more Skillful than the Rich

I ran across this graphic today.  In many ways, I think it’s valid.  Agree or disagree?

Posted in Social Innovation | 1 Comment

chart resources

Here are a few links that might be helpful as we all work on our models and charts.

Communicating Designwireframes, flowcharts and personas and other UX deliverables

Concept Models—A Tool for planning Websitessome great tips at the end of the post

MindMap Inspirationgreat examples of mindmaps + info.

Cool Infographicscool infographics samples

Small Labscollection of NY TImes infographics

FlowingDataanother collection of data visualizations

Strange Mapscollection unique maps

visual complexitycollection data visualizations

infostheticscollection data visualizations

many eyescollection, tools and info. about data visualization

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Great data vizualization links:

@ahmedriaz sent out a tweet last night with a link to this data visualization documentary:  Journalism in the age of Data .  It’s fantastic and interviews some of the people who are really pushing data visualization techniques to the next level.

There are a lot of references throughout the doc to interesting visualization sites and projects, but there were two I found particularly interesting: The IBM project Many Eyes, which provides free tools for visualization, and the site Data.gov which provides a massive amount of accessible data.

Data party.  woooo wooo.

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The Bod Squad

A friend of mine is working on a project to fight childhood obesity by starting a kids fitness TV program called The Bod Squad. They’re looking for funding through kickstarter and have some hilarious incentives to donate.  I think this is a great example that shows the level you can take an idea with little or no funding… and then put it out there to see if you can raise the money to make it happen.  What’s great about Kickstarter is that you can make small donations, so give ‘em $2 and let’s see if we can make the show happen!  A quick description from my friend Nick Gage below:

As you may or may not know, one of the many projects keeping me busy over the past few months has been the development of a children’s fitness show with my good friend Kira Elliot.   Kira is that rare blend of tireless TV producer (having worked at Nickelodean for years) and physical trainer (having run her own gym for the past three years).

The show is called “The Bod Squad.”  It is an interactive show that requires non-stop movement from the viewers (the kids) as they aid our protagonists (Abby and Maximus) on their journey throughout the body.  Its aim is to promote healthy habits and lifestyles while doing its part to stem the tide of the childhood obesity epidemic.  I co-wrote the pilot episode and am writing the music for the webisodes and the TV pilot.  We’re up and running online at thebodsquad.tv

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Month #1 recap; blog posts roundup

We are officially half way through our first quarter. It’s been a busy month. Here’s a recap:

In our Interaction Design, Society and the Public Sector class, we talked about “the consumptive culture that has caused our self-identities to retreat to a disposable nature that is easily bought and sold.” But in the end, “will consumption make us happy“? If we were to rethink design and design education in the context of society, can it be classified by intent? Moreover, should design be universalWhat about moody? For all the paper that we read, each of these prominent design figures has a personal style of conveying their ideas. So is it actually possible for designers to lead a life in which they can truly alter their their own perspectives, in a world for which we design, and with which we should design?

Actually being there might help develop empathy, but is the data from ethnographic techniques pure? Maybe the data needs not to be “pure”, because value from synthesis and interpretation is inherently biased. At the same time though, would we risk running into the danger of creating a false sense of “now we know more about this [group of people]“? Leveraging co-designing techniques such as participatory interviews will certainly allow us to explore “designing opportunities for individuals and based on that they have an individual experience“. In our Interaction Design Research & Synthesis class, we learned by doing and certainly came out with our own conclusion on what data means. Not everything went perfectly, but our lessons learned were captured carefully.

Meanwhile, we are practicing how to tell stories. Stick figures were created in our Interaction Design Prototyping class to tell stories of how our classmate proposed, burritos in a series a tubes, or the pixar story. Then we got more sophisticated to tell stories that solve problems, like NetLib, voice of a restaurant, and the ideal thrift store experience. We pool together resources and continue to learn how to engage our audience. Each of us essentially is a story too. With an attitude of think/make, social media makes a good platform to have a living portfolio to tell that story. When we’ve figured out where our info should live, good practices to formulate blog posts, and how to engage on twitter, we will start developing them into process manifestos.

Life at AC4D is challenging yet rewarding. We share dreams, and in the process, will be creating our own definition of success.

Sometime this week, we are going to start discussing design for the “developing world”. Stay tuned for next month’s blog posts roundup – which will include the final verdict of which client we will be working with for the next 28 weeks.

Posted in Social Innovation | 3 Comments

Living outside of deisign. Bukowski speaks, and I paint some more furniture.

I dove back into the analog world yesterday, trying to stay way from a computer for most of the day, working on my motorbike, painting some furniture…. and yes, reading an actual book!  I’m a big fan of Bukowski, and I’d recently picked up two new books edited and put together by a friend of mine David Calonne.  They’re both phostumously published collections of short stories and essays by Bukowski. In one story, ‘Upon the mathematics of the breath and the way’ Bukowski talks about the the importance of living in order to become a writer.

You can’t write without living and writing all the time is not living. Nor does drinking create a writer or brawling create a writer, and although I’ve done plenty of both, it’s merely a fallacy and a sick romanticism to assume that these actions will make better of one.  Of course there are times when you have to fight and times when you have to drink, but these times are really anti-creative and there’s nothing you can do about them.

-Bukowski, exerpt from ‘Upon the mathematics of the breath and the way’ in the book ‘Portions from a wine-stained notebook

I saw this passage and immediately replaced the word writer with designer.  I think this ties into two things we’ve been talking about in class.  First, the notion of actually being there in terms of ethnographic research.  And second, something we touched on briefly in Jon’s class last week, which was the designers ability – or inability- to actually and effectively lead a life in which they can truly alter their their own perspective.

A writer reflecting on a world which they do not know is like a designer who designs for a world in which they do not live.  We must be careful not to live entirely inside the world of design, but also to live in the world for which we design, and with which we should design.

I’m going to go paint some more furniture in ‘designer’ black.

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The Pixar Story

I got inspired by the book I’m reading, The Pixar Touch, and used it for my sketch story in IDSE103.

1974 Ed Catmull graduates from Salt Lake City University where he developed many of the fundamentals of computer graphics and imaging.

1975 John Lassiter enrolls at California Institute of the Arts to study animation.

1979 Lucasfilm starts a research lab to explore digital film and sound editing and accounting. eventually attracting Catumull and eventually Lassiter.

1986 Lucasfilm’s computer division releases the Pixar Image Computer. It flops.

1986 Steve Jobs purchases the computer division at Lucasfilm, which is renamed to Pixar, Inc.

1990 Pixar animates television commercials for Listorine, Life Savers, Pillsbury, and other household brands.

1995 Pixar releases the first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, directed by Lassiter.

1998-2006 Pixar releases Monsters, Inc and 5 other feature films which are all commercial successes.

2006 Disney purchases Pixar for $7.4 billion, where Catmull and Lassiter now lead the animation and creative departments.

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Visual Thinking Resource 01

This post is a re-cap, to date, of the Visual Thinking resources that we’ve all gathered and sharred on the blog so far.  Each week Scott, Kat, and I will provide an update with links to resources from that week.  Please post or fwd on any links or posts you think would be relevant and we’ll add in!

Drawing and sketching resources:

Learning to draw lesson 1.0

Learning to draw, a students perspective

Drawing on the right side of the brain part 2

Stick Figures 2.0

Process graphics

My favorite design process visualization

Visual Notes

Visual Problem Solving

Online resources:

Vizthink

Books:

The Universal Traveler

Technology:

Livescribe

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