Design

Dunne + Raby

  Photo from  Dunne & Raby's   Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

Photo from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is why I love the HCD world.

Another reason why I love the HCD world is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in a HCD-like manner. 

One of the places that I found Human Centered Design is in the conceptual design world. Take for instance the subject of 'Critical Design'.

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Many design professors teach this way of thinking with their design students who are producing highly conceptual artwork within the design realm. Are you still interested? I'll keep going.

I'd like to introduce you to a duo who teach as design professors in London and Vienna and make projects stemmed from Critical Design. Their names are Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.

  Another photo from the same series.

Another photo from the same series.

'Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, NYC, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Design Museum in London, and is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Frac Ile-de-France, Fnac and the MAK as well as several private collections. [...] In 2015, Dunne & Raby received the first MIT Media Lab Award.' I don't think that I have to justify their impact within the design world - they are well respected and consistently referred to when new work is presented to the world.

Techies - listen up.

Although the list of work they have produced is quite long, I'd like to bring attention to one of their projects called, "Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots," created in 2007, which is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

I am a firm believer that it is though works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today's design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for. This theory supports HCD through this confrontation and many designers have, since then, turned to HCD for guidance.

How wonderful, right? And very appropriate for our HCD/UX/Service Design field.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today's world while keeping the future in mind. If we don't start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

The Notion of Home

  Night scene at Malibu Beach.

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

I moved to Chicago 5 years ago to attend graduate school and I haven’t moved back to the place where I was born and raised just yet. Perhaps I never will. Part of me feels that if I move back, my adventure book is over and real life will have to settle in – as if real life hasn’t settled in yet. Ha. I don’t know why I feel this way but I do. In the meantime, I've filled my adventure book with many new experiences, people, discoveries, and memories - all of which I would never take back for anything in this world because it has made me who I am today, but I do ponder its value from time to time.

Needless to say, this word, "Home", has been on my mind.

For the first time in 5 years, I went back to California to just hang out. No graduations to attend, no Christmases to construct, no New Years Eve and Day to coordinate. I just went there to hang out – so I hung out.

  Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

I drove around my neighborhood, my high school, junior high school, elementary school, my play areas during my teens and early twenties, the very first apartment that housed me when I was birthed at Cedar Sinai, the place where I worked as a barista when the economy crashed, and all around Los Angeles. I still can’t grasp all of the emotions that flooded my time there but I will say this – I was comfortable but so out of place, all at the same time. I sometimes wonder if I will always feel this way about Los Angeles.

I was also able to catch up with friends – all of whom I have kept in touch with over the years but life trajectories have taken us in many different directions. Some expressed their feelings of being left behind and some even shared their feelings of wondering whether our relationship fit within the definition of ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance'. I had encouragement from some, hurt feelings from others, but most of all, I was able to realize and see the evolvement of relationships which is at the core of what we as humans thrive on. Where I am right now with my relationships is different than what it was before – that means life has happened and there is joy in that fact. Where the relationship will go in the future is undetermined – and I must be ok with that as well. Maybe even excited with that fact.

  My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

  I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

  My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

Even as a nomad, your relationship with how you travel and experience the world evolves. This is a relationship with nature and environments. Even if you are someone who has never left their environment, your relationship with others as you age and encounter different life stages changes and grows you as a person. This is a relationship with your body and immediate surroundings. At the end of the day, it is always about relationships and how you interact and respond to happenings. We grow as humans as we interact with each other and things, recording new memories and recognizing our own patterns of similarities to draw us closer to others who share the same outlook on life.

This sabbatical has taught me to rediscover my roots and to really consider how I have evolved as a person – what my beliefs have been and are now, who I consider "close" in my life, and how much of my past will affect my future if I allow it to.

  Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

  Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

  Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

It’s hard to really understand where you come from, why you are the way you are, and to be self-aware if you don’t want to be – maybe even if you do – but I think it is important, as a human of this world, to know who you are so that you can contribute to the world and interact with others in a manner that is true and sincere.

If you look at the trajectory of people who are pursuing passion projects, quitting their day jobs, and taking that bold step into the abyss of the unknown, the count is high and will only get higher. Why is this? I wondered the same thing myself and after some thought, my conclusion is this. We are sick of it and want more for our lives. It is true that our generation is demanding, pretty egotistical, and generally big headed, but it is also true that our generation is more thoughtful, conscious of our environment, and willing to try because we want purpose and intention with what we do.

I commend people who have discovered and resolved to move forward with certain decisions from an early age. Sometimes you meet people in their twenties and they just have it figured out – or at least they seem like they do. I'm actually quite proud to be born in a generation who is unwilling to take no for an answer and to mine a path for themselves. Passion must prevail. Life must have intention and joy.

There's only one problem - that is of loneliness.

When you're that busy and passionate, you walk a line of hurting others in the process - and when you hurt enough people, you will be left alone - or worse, you run the risk of losing yourself. Consistency is a key ingredient in the formula for a healthy relationship and that can come in any shape or form. It just has to be consistent. Is it the happy face upon meeting every few months? Is it a weekly call just to check-in on how each person is doing? Or is it a daily text, 'Goodnight'? Everybody is busy and it requires discipline to keep relationships just like it requires discipline in mastering a medium. It can't be fun all the time but acknowledging that it's part of the formula is an understanding that I feel has finally made its way into my heart.

What I have discovered is that no matter how much the world can satiate your desire to experience new things and enjoy momentary bliss in a new setting, it is always another human who can actually absorb your energy as another human and connect with you in the context of vulnerability. This is no easy task, especially if you are a creative person who is consistently morphing as the creative spirits beckon you - and you, of course, must answer. Must.

  Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

So, the moral of the story is this: It really doesn't matter where you are (location wise). Treasure those who ground you (sounds so cliche but it is, nonetheless, true) and be consistent. Allow yourself to feel the heights of joy when new experiences and new people fall into your path. Select wisely. Change with the people you love and be willing to listen and understand. Discipline yourself to master your craft because it is a precious relationship to nurture, but know that the craft itself is not human.

This entry may seem really sappy and you may be wondering, "How does this relate to HCD?"

Well, I'm here to write that this, all of it - however way you want to see it, is how I am designing my life. For the years to follow, until I am able to take another sabbatical, the things I am learning right now will determine the decisions and behaviors of which I will be responsible for in the years to come. I'm creating rules and restrictions for myself to live within and finding intentional areas in which I can allow excessive freedom and creativity. I am researching my past and current experiences to find those insights I can base my future actions upon. I am writing down design opportunities for my life so that I can experience new things that are connected to everything I have experienced thus far. I am leaving room for the beautiful moments of life to occur because committing to restrictions brings a depth of knowing the mystery cloud that intrigues but is never understood by the ever wanderer.

How this will unfold is undetermined and only time will tell.

How will you design your life?

 

And Then A Hero Comes Along

Amos Kennedy in his studio reviewing a test print.

I haven't written very much about my letterpress practice but it is a medium that found me a few years ago and I have committed to master everything that it has to offer. It is a very ambitious endeavor but I'm determined to do so. During my graduate studies, I ended my masters with a thesis about Human Centered Design but at the same time, I also produced some prints that have slowly gained some attention. 

The birth of these prints were grounded through research and were also directed by the political climate at the time - I graduated with Occupy Wall Street happening on Michigan Avenue right outside of my school. I'm writing about these prints though because during my research, there was a lot of work within the letterpress world that I came in contact with. One artist who inspired me in terms of the context of what my work would harvest from was work from a man named Amos Kennedy. Needless to say, he is a hero of mine.

You're not going to believe this, but I promise it happened. I have photos to prove it.

During my design residency in Detroit, I also served a letterpress studio by the name of Signal Return. They needed an extra hand for a fundraiser that was coming up, and I had one. On the Thursday before the party, I was in the studio printing - you know, just minding my own business - and then he walked in. 

Now, I'm from Los Angeles and I've grown up seeing celebrities. I don't really get starstruck very often, and I don't mean that statement to be pretentious in any way. I've just learned to understand that even the very famous are very human and would very much like to be treated just like another human. But when I saw Amos, I freaked. The rest of the studio went up to him to talk to him and introduce themselves but I couldn't even leave the Vandercook I was printing on. I just shut down and stared at what I was printing. I'm going to expose myself even more right now and say that there was some hyperventilating involved. OMG. 

After he left, the rest of my new studio mates made so much fun of me. I just couldn't keep my cool! Ugh. The regret I felt over what I had done was over the moon and my heart sank. Why couldn't I just take a breath and muster up the courage to introduce myself? WHY?! Luckily, he was going to be at the fundraiser so I made a promise to myself that I was going to introduce myself and say hello. 

I did it. 

Never have I ever felt jitters like that upon meeting someone who I looked up to so much. Who inspired me to make work that said something - who pushed me to consider the context of my work when it came to society and culture. Who had the same thoughts as I do about race and political structure. 

  Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

The introduction was a dream. He was kind. He spoke but wanted to listen. I told him about how he inspired me in many ways, that he was a hero of mine, and that I had prints to prove it. He was encouraging and thoughtful. I had to excuse myself early from the conversation (I know... tragic) because I had printing duties, but I told him that I would love a picture with him before he left. He agreed. I wondered if he would remember and hoped that he would - and he did! We took a picture! 

I must sound like a crazy person right now but bear with me - the story gets better. 

The next day, I emailed him just to say 'thank you' for the brief conversation we had and that it was nice to finally meet him. You know - standard jargon that you delete multiple exclamation points from before sending to not look like a wacko - but I snuck in a request to visit his studio if he had time. And he said yes! (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that it sounds like a proposal. Ha. I don't care. Carpe Diem!) 

My dream came true.

I spent the day in his studio and we talked about many things. Our pasts, views on politics, the condition of the city of Detroit, and so much more. I showed him my prints, read him the book I'm working on, and we talked about life as I tried to absorb all the wisdom he had to offer. He showed me his past prints as well as some that he was currently working on. He also showed me prints from other artists who inspired him.

When I referred to him as an artist, he said this:
 

"I don't like to be called an artist. It creates a barrier between me and other humans."
- Amos Kennedy


I understand the feeling. It took me quite a while to refer to myself as an artist and it is still something that I am uncomfortable with. What happens when you identity yourself as an artist to the outside world is that you absorb all of those definitions that human nature has created throughout history as well as the current landscape of what that word projects itself to be. There is wisdom in his statement - but there is also no denying that he is, in fact, in my opinion, an artist. 

I ended up printing in his studio because I was working on a print for the startup I was serving at the time. He guided the print and his style became very much part of what was produced. It's interesting how spending time with other makers exchanges energy and pivots production to encompass all parties involved. 

I'll stop gushing now and just tell you that Amos is now a dear friend of mine. He even drove me back to Chicago from Detroit and those hours of conversation are ones that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

But I will leave you with this. We stopped by a bakery and I bought some scones. When we got in the car, I asked him if he wanted one. You know what he said?
 

"No. A scone is a waste of a biscuit."


UX Notes: Amos Kennedy used to be a coder before he found letterpress printing. There are a lot of similarities between technology and letterpress printing and I would encourage any UXers to explore what it means to produce language in a tactile manner. You may find yourself discovering a more advanced method of visuals and interaction. Sometimes, simple is greater than complex.

*Extra points for those who know which song the title of this post is derived from.


More Visual TREATS:

Detroit: Land of Potential

I use the words 'magic' and 'magical' a lot. Ask anyone who knows me - they are both some of my favorite words. Ever.

I've been thinking about these words though and I had a thought. It seems a bit insincere to describe something as magical – almost like a cop out. At times it can be misconstrued as lazy and/or non-descriptive. Often, one who is speculative will ask, “Well, what does that mean? Magic, how?” But there are those times when the feels seem to be coming from a mystical space, or when there really is no explanation for certain happenings. This is when, I believe, the term ‘magical,’ is and can be used appropriately. Ladies and gentlemen, Detroit is a magical place – and I will tell you why.

When you think about the 60’s and what an important time that was for our nation in terms of politics, fashion, design, race, drugs, literature, etc., I always wonder if we, too, are living in a time where 50 years down the line, history books will reference material from our decade and use it as a beacon to measure the make of many things. I think that in some spaces/industries, like that of our tech world, this thought has already come to fruition, but to measure the sheer amount of things that happened within the decade of the 60s would be impossible to compare the activity of what is available in 2015. The availability, desire, and the make isn’t quite there. Internationally, it isn’t quite there either. We aren’t suffering from a global famine or depression that clouded the experiences of many generations. You can literally get anything delivered to you within 2 days - or rather, 2 hours.

The reason I bring this up is because there is a city that almost captures the entire measure of possibility poised in the 60s and that city is… you guessed it – Detroit.

That’s a pretty bold thing to say, no? I agree. I wondered whether or not I should write such a thought that is gasp worthy. It’s like when my brother stated that the new Alabama Shakes soundtrack, 'Sound and Color,' was the best soundtrack of 2015. “Blasphemy.” I said, “You can’t just say stuff like that. Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, is damn good.” And then I heard it from beginning to end and decided that it really is pretty amazing. I hate it when I'm wrong. I'm such a sore loser.

Anyway, perhaps my experience in Detroit has skewed my vision of what I am about to say (and that is precisely why User Experience is so important), but I won’t make my UX notes until the very end of this post. I will say, however, that what I lived through in the two short weeks of my stay in Detroit was as blissful as fresh cotton candy.


There are 3 things: The physical city structure, the people, and the political climate.

  An image of Corktown on a Sunday afternoon.

An image of Corktown on a Sunday afternoon.

1. The Physical City Structure

Right now, a city that was built for 3 million people is currently inhabited by 750,000. An urban landscape like that already calls for curiosity. The feeling of physical emptiness is something that I believe everyone should experience and although I don't think you should just tour Detroit, I encourage you to go and just sit - preferably by yourself. Feel the emptiness of a city that has been abandoned and begin to imagine what it was like and what it could be like. 

For me, a whirlwind of things came to mind. In one of my imaginations, I placed the magic of Motown and saw the hustle and bustle of well dressed people enjoying the pleasures of life without a care in the world. In another, I saw the important business meetings that were occurring within the automotive industry which drove America's great invention to the spotlight of almost every country's news stand around the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. also came to mind as I was able to more accurately place where the 'Walk to Freedom' speech rang to and from the streets of Detroit. Rosa Parks was there too - badass interventions and all.

But now it's empty. Everyone left. This, to me, is worse than actually building a city. It's like throwing away food - the act should be painful. So, if we were to think of a city as food, Detroit is a garden full of ingredients that policy makers, industry leaders, artists, activists, and the list goes on, can begin to cook a feast with - with unbound creativity. And if it all goes right, Detroit could be a model city that other cities in the United States could look to for advice. The key will be to thoroughly study the successes and mistakes of other cities in history and to conduct small prototype-like experiments on what might actually make a city in America better. The risk is this: It can either go really well, or it can go very poorly. There is no middle ground. 

 

   Metropolis Bike Shop  in Corktown.

2. The People

Watching people is probably one of life's greatest gifts. No - not in the creepy way that some of you may have just interpreted it, but in the piecing together way of understanding a culture that can be then be described on paper from an anthropological perspective. Sheesh people. Come on. :) Side Note: I fundamentally believe this is why one must travel. It doesn't have to be to another country but even to neighboring towns - this not only brings self-awareness but also births inspiration.

During my experience in Detroit, I not only met a group of people who I can already call my extended family but from a community perspective, I experienced a lot of eye-contact and simple 'Hello's' from random strangers. I thought this was strange at first not only because of its sheer existence (I'm from Los Angeles where ignoring people is the norm) but these interactions had one thing in common compared to many other cities I have visited - and that is sincerity. What I noticed is that the scarcity of people in Detroit as well as the condition of the city of Detroit, has created a culture of human acknowledgement and small encounters that are just as connective as a 3 hour long chat with a friend with coffee in hand. What beauty, no?

I thought about why this behavior exists and what I have found is that the people of Detroit, those who have been born and raised there as well as those who have made it their home, are perhaps under a level of survival mode. I could hear silent voices whispering, "You must acknowledge one another. You must depend on each other. The others have left us and they aren't coming back. You are all we have." I could be totally wrong but I do believe that there is a level of truth to my analysis. When you're in survival mode you see extreme behavior which is something that Detroit is no stranger to. As much kindness I received from gentle strangers, there was just as must violence in the neighborhood next door. 

 

  This image is from some steps of a home at  The Heidelberg Project .

This image is from some steps of a home at The Heidelberg Project.

3. The Political Climate

When I met a few of the people I was going to be working with for the first time, they educated me on several things that would prep me for my stay. One statement rang truer and stronger than others and it was this:

"If you're going to live in Detroit, you have to be willing to talk about Detroit. All the time." 
- Adam + Lena Selzer

I'd like to bring attention to this fact only because this is the kicker for how Detroit can and will change - and, quite frankly, the fact that everyone wants it to change. Politics as we know it is in shambles right now but when humans are presented with devastation, one of two things can happen. The ill-willed politicians can arrive and push an agenda that has a manipulative and underlying benefit for another population; or a community can rise up and write their own story if given the opportunity and the tools to do so. To the people, from the people. 

During my stay, Grace Lee Boggs passed away. I'm not quite sure how the community of Detroit felt about it only because I didn't hear a lot of people talk about it. I didn't have a TV so news reports weren't really spouting information to me about this either. I did have the internet though and there were several articles written about her physical and spiritual departure. What did this mean for Detroit? Something in the air was fishy and I feel as though her departure may have been a wake-up call for the city to use as inspiration for the future. Her writings on politics and new societies will be even more precious because of her death and perhaps the city will consider acting upon her wisdom and knowledge. Maybe Detroit needed her spirit to leave in order to become what she wanted it to be.

The fact that our U.S. government made an investment into the city of Detroit is reason enough to know that in the game of politics, all eyes are on Detroit. Who will make the first move? Who will be the leader of change? Who will be the villain in the story? Can Detroit actually become a great city again? I suppose time will tell.


Maybe this was a honeymoon stage of my relationship with Detroit. Perhaps there is so much more that I didn't see and this entry is absolutely invalid. What I do know, though, is that I am shaped by my experiences which are now shaping my thoughts and expectations about Detroit in a personal way. I cannot stress the fact that this is why UX is so critical to our lives. People make decisions based on what they know and have experienced in the past - as well as whether or not they feel safe enough to experience something new and different in the future. As a UX professional, what will you consider when you are designing your next experience? 

From what I have seen, there is so much potential for this city. The hardest part of something that has potential is that most of the time, the thing must meet its appropriate nurturers to correctly lead it up to where it can reach. On the flip side, the thing must recognize its nurturer and commit to struggle through the pain of growing into something it wants to be. It would be an atrocity to see Detroit go into shambles again especially when the potential is so high. America has never had a city that hasn't disappointed its citizens and the problem most likely exists within the larger government. The thing that I can't get out of my mind though is, "How has Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen achieved such greatness in their constructs of their environments? If they can do it, aren't there ways that we can? Why must we always be so reactive rather than proactive with our communities?"

Can HCD and its various forms help Detroit? If you'd ask me, I'd say, "Absolutely."


More visual TREATS:

Unexpected Kindness + Opportunities

Update: I have not yet gone back to a full-time job. I decided that 2 full months was not enough time for my mini-sabbatical and that I needed a bit more time. I have chosen to design my life in this way right now and we shall see what comes from it. I will write a full post when I take my next steps.

  Pictured here are Jen and Jo from  Starshaped Press . Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from Starshaped Press. Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

This decision, magically, has done wonders for me so far and I have met, been introduced to, and created many new personal and professional relationships that I probably would not have encountered had I taken on full-time work instead. 

What I have realized through the meeting of these new folks, especially those in my field, is that I am beginning to see glimmers of hope in the context of possibilities again. I have to confess that in the past few years, I was a bit nervous and unsure about where our industry was headed. My thoughts included:
 

"Where is this going? Is it working? How can we make this better? Will this even make a difference? Why do certain groups just not care? Do I still care?"  


What I failed to realize is that I didn't have a strong network of supporters/encouragers in my field, outside of first degree work connections, that I could lean on when times were tough. I can absolutely say that building this for myself right now is a lesson learned and what I hope is not regrettably too late. 

I have met a lot of people even in these past few weeks and something that I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing and deeply appreciate from the bottom of my heart is just genuine kindness and encouragement. I know that not all folks are like this but when you do get to encounter these moments, your faith in the world sort of restores itself bit by bit and it gives you enough oxygen to keep trying. I really do believe that the universe has its own way of supporting you when you least expect it and what I love about it is that you never know what shape or form it will arrive in.

This is all to say that these relationships have led me to an unexpected opportunity that is really exciting. I'm really hoping the stars align on this one. 

I have to write this: There is something about this opportunity that feels different. I can't quite put my finger on it but it feels sort of like real magic. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I am thankful for my community and it spurs me to offer encouragement towards others who may need it more than me. Feeling down on UX? Hang out with your UX community and I guarantee you will feel better.