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DESIGN AGENCY Jane Androski & Emily Sara Wilson

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To all of our teachers ...Thank you.


To all of our teachers ...Thank you.


I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write your thesis book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. — john thackara in an interview with the authors


A thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, in the Department of Graphic Design, of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island.

Jane Androski &

Emily Sara Wilson Š may 2011

Approved by Master’s Examination Committee

matt monk, Professor, Department of Graphic Design dawn barrett, Dean, Division of Architecture + Design peter hocking, Faculty, Goddard College julia clinker-gross, Critic, Department of Photography ian russell, Fellow in Public Art and Cultural Heritage John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University

janet abrams, External Thesis Critic dmitry siegel, External Thesis Critic rob giampietro, Critic bethany johns, Graduate Program Director, Department of Graphic Design


A thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, in the Department of Graphic Design, of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island.

Jane Androski &

Emily Sara Wilson Š may 2011

Approved by Master’s Examination Committee

matt monk, Professor, Department of Graphic Design dawn barrett, Dean, Division of Architecture + Design peter hocking, Faculty, Goddard College julia clinker-gross, Critic, Department of Photography ian russell, Fellow in Public Art and Cultural Heritage John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University

janet abrams, External Thesis Critic dmitry siegel, External Thesis Critic rob giampietro, Critic bethany johns, Graduate Program Director, Department of Graphic Design


Our mentors, friends, and supporters without whom this thesis investigation would not have been possible. A profound thanks to each one of you.

Approved by MENTORS AND FRIENDS

sarah buie, Director, Difficult Dialogues Initiative, Clark University franc nunoo-quarcoo, Professor, School of Art & Design, University of Michigan

patti phillips, Dean, Graduate Studies, Rhode Island School of Design anne west, Senior Critic, Division of Graduate Studies, Rhode Island School of Design sara raffo, Poetry douglass scott, Inspiration dr. david stern, Support dr. mary claire dilks, Maintenance


Our mentors, friends, and supporters without whom this thesis investigation would not have been possible. A profound thanks to each one of you.

Approved by MENTORS AND FRIENDS

sarah buie, Director, Difficult Dialogues Initiative, Clark University franc nunoo-quarcoo, Professor, School of Art & Design, University of Michigan

patti phillips, Dean, Graduate Studies, Rhode Island School of Design anne west, Senior Critic, Division of Graduate Studies, Rhode Island School of Design sara raffo, Poetry douglass scott, Inspiration dr. david stern, Support dr. mary claire dilks, Maintenance


I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write your thesis book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. — john thackara in an interview with the authors


I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write your thesis book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. — john thackara in an interview with the authors


abstract

The complexity of the social and environmental challenges we face today calls for a new sense of agency in our practice—agency that is more than simply a conviction to intervene. For designers interested in effecting social change, it’s about cultivating an honest perspective about our role, about bringing a measure of intentionality and reflexivity to our practice, and about allowing collaboration and facilitation to replace the top-down, designer-centric models of the past. How do we align our skills and values to make meaningful contributions to our world? What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues? Are we willing to make the long-term commitments required to develop enduring solutions? And what additional skills do we need to make this all happen? Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as we do to our aesthetic one; to bring our skills as designers, in line with our values as people and to do so through praxis—a willingness, as Paulo Freire describes, to “reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it.”1 We developed the graduate course Design Agency in this spirit, and in doing so, transformed our ideas about agency, into agency. The collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the class was our action—a small attempt to transform the way we approach sociallyengaged practice within our institution and within the individual practices of eleven other graduate students, in addition to ourselves. Design Agency is a path towards social change—a way for us to define our individual values and to bring our collective skills to bear in meeting the challenges of the moment. It’s about cultivating a series of ongoing questions—ones that allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we practice, and to do so in service to our community.

1 Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.


I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write your thesis book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. — john thackara in an interview with the authors


Design Agency is a

RESPONSE TO THE MOMENT ...


A ‘compostable’ cup thirteen months after entering a home composter.

the DECOMPOSING CARCASS OF A SEABIRD reveals the diet that killed it.

http://rivermud.blogspot.com

Chris Jordan


A ‘compostable’ cup thirteen months after entering a home composter.

the DECOMPOSING CARCASS OF A SEABIRD reveals the diet that killed it.

http://rivermud.blogspot.com

Chris Jordan


130 million migrant workers RETURN home every lunar new year. it is the only chance families have to reunite. Guangzhou, china. Last Train Home, Zeitgeist Films, 2011

Mountaintop Removal Mine Site above Route 23. Pike County, Ky. Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices, Spring, 2010


130 million migrant workers RETURN home every lunar new year. it is the only chance families have to reunite. Guangzhou, china. Last Train Home, Zeitgeist Films, 2011

Mountaintop Removal Mine Site above Route 23. Pike County, Ky. Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices, Spring, 2010


stickers on campus after 80% of risd’s faculty vote no confidence in the president and provost.

divisive discourse. a sign displayed after september 11, 2001. milford, NH.

Jane Androski, March 2011

Jane Androski


stickers on campus after 80% of risd’s faculty vote no confidence in the president and provost.

divisive discourse. a sign displayed after september 11, 2001. milford, NH.

Jane Androski, March 2011

Jane Androski


got milk? industrial farming in america’s heartland. Parr, IN.

on the road towards peak oil. May 13, 2011. providence, ri.

Michael Kappel, 2010

Emily Sara Wilson


got milk? industrial farming in america’s heartland. Parr, IN.

on the road towards peak oil. May 13, 2011. providence, ri.

Michael Kappel, 2010

Emily Sara Wilson


‘progress.’ in just two decades the amazonian rainforest has lost TENS of thousands of acres to development. Santa Cruz, Bolivia. nasa’s Earth Observatory 1987, 2006

awaiting customers at the KHALIGHT RED LIGHT DISTRICT. Kolkata, india. Emily Sara Wilson, February 2010


‘progress.’ in just two decades the amazonian rainforest has lost TENS of thousands of acres to development. Santa Cruz, Bolivia. nasa’s Earth Observatory 1987, 2006

awaiting customers at the KHALIGHT RED LIGHT DISTRICT. Kolkata, india. Emily Sara Wilson, February 2010


FLAMMABLE WATER. the result from natural gas extraction, or fracking. bradford County, PA. gaslandthemovie.com

the status quo. classroom chairs literally bolted to the floor. providence, ri. Jane Androski, May 2011


FLAMMABLE WATER. the result from natural gas extraction, or fracking. bradford County, PA. gaslandthemovie.com

the status quo. classroom chairs literally bolted to the floor. providence, ri. Jane Androski, May 2011


disengaged. the closing of the office of public engagement at risd. Jane Androski, May 2010

displacement + division. major interstates running through providence, ri. bostonroads.com/roads/I-95_RI/


disengaged. the closing of the office of public engagement at risd. Jane Androski, May 2010

displacement + division. major interstates running through providence, ri. bostonroads.com/roads/I-95_RI/


The mall of dubai also acts as the entrance to the BURJ Khalifa, the worlds tallest building. dubai, uae.

DAILY WORSHIP AT THE ganges river, ONE OF THE MOST POLLUTED IN THE WORLD. Kolkata, india.

Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010

Emily Sara Wilson, February 2010


The mall of dubai also acts as the entrance to the BURJ Khalifa, the worlds tallest building. dubai, uae.

DAILY WORSHIP AT THE ganges river, ONE OF THE MOST POLLUTED IN THE WORLD. Kolkata, india.

Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010

Emily Sara Wilson, February 2010


1960

1975

1997

“man is proceeding to envelop himself in a luminous fog.� The First World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness, 2001

2025

Beautiful but ominous. tokyo as seen from the space station. Astronaut Don Petit, 2008


1960

1975

1997

“man is proceeding to envelop himself in a luminous fog.� The First World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness, 2001

2025

Beautiful but ominous. tokyo as seen from the space station. Astronaut Don Petit, 2008


an oasis. centuries old gravitypowered irrigation channels carry fresh water from over 30 km away. AL AIN, UAE. Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010

a desert. Modern irrigation brings water almost anywhere. AL AIN, UAE. Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010


an oasis. centuries old gravitypowered irrigation channels carry fresh water from over 30 km away. AL AIN, UAE. Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010

a desert. Modern irrigation brings water almost anywhere. AL AIN, UAE. Emily Sara Wilson, January 2010


The system you have in place is PERFECTLY DESIGNED

for the results you are getting.

the JOURNEY BEGINS for many of the worlds products. HONG KONG. Emily Sara Wilson, July 2010


The system you have in place is PERFECTLY DESIGNED

for the results you are getting.

the JOURNEY BEGINS for many of the worlds products. HONG KONG. Emily Sara Wilson, July 2010


CONTENTS

agency

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Designing Spaces for Exchange. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

Designing Opportunity for Change

Displaying Our Agency at risd

57

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69

Bringing Agency into the Classroom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77

concept

The Principles of Design Agency. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

What is Our Role in Creating Change?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .100

Precedent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .103

The Tools of Design Agency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113 Discourse Continuum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114

Peeling Back the Layers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116

Design Perspective. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

To Hell with Good Intentions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130

practice

Design Agency 101. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

Student Voices. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147

Visual Prompts. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

Reflection, On the Importance of Puddles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183

why agency, why now?

in Design Pedagogy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189

in Design Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

Looking Ahead. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

appendix

Interviews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 Biographies

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240

Epilogue, Questioning the System in Place . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243


CONTENTS

agency

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Designing Spaces for Exchange. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

Designing Opportunity for Change

Displaying Our Agency at risd

57

...............................................................................

......................................................................................

69

Bringing Agency into the Classroom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77

concept

The Principles of Design Agency. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

What is Our Role in Creating Change?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .100

Precedent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .103

The Tools of Design Agency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113 Discourse Continuum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114

Peeling Back the Layers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116

Design Perspective. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

To Hell with Good Intentions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130

practice

Design Agency 101. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

Student Voices. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147

Visual Prompts. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

Reflection, On the Importance of Puddles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183

why agency, why now?

in Design Pedagogy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189

in Design Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

Looking Ahead. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

appendix

Interviews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 Biographies

......................................................................................................................

240

Epilogue, Questioning the System in Place . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243


Agency Design Agency starts with a simple premise—that for designers interested in effecting social change, doing good isn’t always as simple as it seems.


introduction

Whether in our own backyard or across the globe, the complexity of the social and environmental challenges we face calls for a new sense of agency in our practice—agency that is more than simply a conviction to intervene. It is about cultivating an honest perspective about our role, about bringing a measure of intentionality and reflexivity to our practice, and about allowing collaboration and facilitation to replace the topdown, designer-centric models of the past. How as designers do we align our skills and values in order to make meaningful contributions to the world? What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues? Are we willing to make the commitments required to develop enduring solutions? And what skills do we need to make this all happen? Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as to our aesthetic one. Our collaborative thesis investigation brings together individual backgrounds in design, teaching, entrepreneurship, engagement with local and global communities, and with issues ranging from community-based education to global health. It is an approach that is deeply rooted in the belief that agency is more than an individual pursuit—that there may be something to the old adage, 1+1=3. In designing and teaching the course, Design Agency, we’ve expanded our collaboration to include eleven other graduate

43


introduction

Whether in our own backyard or across the globe, the complexity of the social and environmental challenges we face calls for a new sense of agency in our practice—agency that is more than simply a conviction to intervene. It is about cultivating an honest perspective about our role, about bringing a measure of intentionality and reflexivity to our practice, and about allowing collaboration and facilitation to replace the topdown, designer-centric models of the past. How as designers do we align our skills and values in order to make meaningful contributions to the world? What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues? Are we willing to make the commitments required to develop enduring solutions? And what skills do we need to make this all happen? Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as to our aesthetic one. Our collaborative thesis investigation brings together individual backgrounds in design, teaching, entrepreneurship, engagement with local and global communities, and with issues ranging from community-based education to global health. It is an approach that is deeply rooted in the belief that agency is more than an individual pursuit—that there may be something to the old adage, 1+1=3. In designing and teaching the course, Design Agency, we’ve expanded our collaboration to include eleven other graduate

43


44

Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as we do to our aesthetic one.

students from Architecture, Industrial Design and Teaching + Learning. Collapsing the teaching and learning space in this way has been our attempt, in the words of educator Myles Horton, “to make the road by walking,”1 a way to develop critical discourse around social practice with a group made entirely of our peers. We knew from early on, that if we weren’t willing to engage with these questions seriously, within the walls of risd, we would not be able to do so elsewhere. The theory and principles of Design Agency are built through praxis—a willingness, as Paulo Freire describes, “to reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it.”2 They are a response to the moment, to the pedagogy of our institution and to the practice of our discipline. They have unfolded in conversation with each other, with the students of Design Agency and in interviews with designers like Emily Pilloton, educators like Steve Seidel and progressive thinkers like John Thackara. Each has offered new perspectives and new insight into what it means to engage honestly and responsibly with the world around us. This thesis has truly been our work before the work—a way to cultivate a series of ongoing questions that will allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we communicate, and to do so in service to our immediate community, well into our future practice.

Design Agency does not provide easy answers or a step-bystep methodology; instead it acknowledges that each of us, in our own way, must make the road by walking. Its principles are ones that designers may consider, not just when they are learning to design, but every time they begin a project. In relation to your own practice in community, they can become affirmations. Design Agency offers a parallel support structure for designers, from any discipline, to bring a greater degree of accountability to their social practice. It challenges us to look beyond simply making a living and towards establishing a livelihood. Working within established structures as well as the cracks between, this thesis has been our way of carving out a path towards social change—a way to align our skills with our values;to empower others in the process and to catalyze change in our community. It is a big idea with humble roots and, in many ways, we’ve just begun our journey. So while we can’t tell you exactly where we’ll wind up, we can tell you where we’ve been and where we are right now, as well as provide some hints for where the road will take us next.

1 Horton, Myles, Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and Jaohn Marshall Peters. 1990. We make the road by walking: conversations on

education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

2 Freire, Paulo. 1968. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

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Design Agency challenges us to bring the same level of accountability to our social practice as we do to our aesthetic one.

students from Architecture, Industrial Design and Teaching + Learning. Collapsing the teaching and learning space in this way has been our attempt, in the words of educator Myles Horton, “to make the road by walking,”1 a way to develop critical discourse around social practice with a group made entirely of our peers. We knew from early on, that if we weren’t willing to engage with these questions seriously, within the walls of risd, we would not be able to do so elsewhere. The theory and principles of Design Agency are built through praxis—a willingness, as Paulo Freire describes, “to reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it.”2 They are a response to the moment, to the pedagogy of our institution and to the practice of our discipline. They have unfolded in conversation with each other, with the students of Design Agency and in interviews with designers like Emily Pilloton, educators like Steve Seidel and progressive thinkers like John Thackara. Each has offered new perspectives and new insight into what it means to engage honestly and responsibly with the world around us. This thesis has truly been our work before the work—a way to cultivate a series of ongoing questions that will allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we communicate, and to do so in service to our immediate community, well into our future practice.

Design Agency does not provide easy answers or a step-bystep methodology; instead it acknowledges that each of us, in our own way, must make the road by walking. Its principles are ones that designers may consider, not just when they are learning to design, but every time they begin a project. In relation to your own practice in community, they can become affirmations. Design Agency offers a parallel support structure for designers, from any discipline, to bring a greater degree of accountability to their social practice. It challenges us to look beyond simply making a living and towards establishing a livelihood. Working within established structures as well as the cracks between, this thesis has been our way of carving out a path towards social change—a way to align our skills with our values;to empower others in the process and to catalyze change in our community. It is a big idea with humble roots and, in many ways, we’ve just begun our journey. So while we can’t tell you exactly where we’ll wind up, we can tell you where we’ve been and where we are right now, as well as provide some hints for where the road will take us next.

1 Horton, Myles, Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and Jaohn Marshall Peters. 1990. We make the road by walking: conversations on

education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

2 Freire, Paulo. 1968. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

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individual agency / jane androski Designing Spaces for Exchange

A writer once told me that on an overseas trip, she decided to record her experience entirely in haiku—an ancient Japanese form in which the poet is limited to just three lines and seventeen syllables. Though she had an abundance of words at her disposal, she knew they would only serve to distract. She simply needed to quiet the buzzing and to listen, to be present to the rhythms emanating from within that place. In this way, she would find the words she needed to capture her experience; in this way, there was a chance she might be surprised by what she found. The poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, talks about a process of listening in her own writing. “Poems hide”, she says, “In the bottom of our shoes they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do, is to live in a way that lets us find them.” There is a poetry to listening, when it unfolds in relation to something outside ourselves; when the possibility exists in the very act of listening, for something new to emerge. Listening is not the province of writers alone. It is, in fact, central to my practice as a designer—a way to be present to the questions and conditions that surround me. I listen through my ears, my eyes and through my hands. I listen for what is present and to the silences that exist between. It is a process of witnessing and storytelling, of facilitation and of dialogue. As a designer, I create spaces for exchange—for storytelling and for creative action that are rooted in my immediate community. It is a conscious effort to dismantle my authoritative voice as a designer; to move away from pronouncement and towards design that is relational, recombinant and participatory.

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individual agency / jane androski Designing Spaces for Exchange

A writer once told me that on an overseas trip, she decided to record her experience entirely in haiku—an ancient Japanese form in which the poet is limited to just three lines and seventeen syllables. Though she had an abundance of words at her disposal, she knew they would only serve to distract. She simply needed to quiet the buzzing and to listen, to be present to the rhythms emanating from within that place. In this way, she would find the words she needed to capture her experience; in this way, there was a chance she might be surprised by what she found. The poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, talks about a process of listening in her own writing. “Poems hide”, she says, “In the bottom of our shoes they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do, is to live in a way that lets us find them.” There is a poetry to listening, when it unfolds in relation to something outside ourselves; when the possibility exists in the very act of listening, for something new to emerge. Listening is not the province of writers alone. It is, in fact, central to my practice as a designer—a way to be present to the questions and conditions that surround me. I listen through my ears, my eyes and through my hands. I listen for what is present and to the silences that exist between. It is a process of witnessing and storytelling, of facilitation and of dialogue. As a designer, I create spaces for exchange—for storytelling and for creative action that are rooted in my immediate community. It is a conscious effort to dismantle my authoritative voice as a designer; to move away from pronouncement and towards design that is relational, recombinant and participatory.

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designer as storyteller / New Urban Arts Design, at its best, allows us to notice things we might not otherwise. By reframing what’s familiar in our lives—and often invisible— design can catch us off-guard. It allows us to discover something new about each other, and even sometimes, about ourselves. When I designed this magnetic poetry set for New Urban Arts—an after school arts mentoring program for high school students in Providence, I was looking to facilitate storytelling in the studio. I hoped the set could function like a dialogue—one that I set the stage for, but was not in direct control of; that would be open to multiple voices and multiple interpretations. I was looking for a way that we, as a community, could create meaning together. The project developed as part of a year-long storytelling initiative at New Urban Arts, where I was one of two Community Storytellers, along with friend and colleague Peter Hocking. Within the studio, we were exploring ways to tell stories to each other and about each other, in ways we’d never told them before. The words were generated by the students themselves, in response to a prompt that As a designer, I create asked them to describe their studio and their own creative spaces for exchange, for practice. Over the course of two weeks, we gathered roughly storytelling and for creative 300 words in four categories— action that are rooted in adjectives, nouns, verbs and other. Some of the words were my immediate community. familiar ones around the studio (creative, magical, experiment, It is a conscious effort to belong), some were unexpected (flirt, godzilla), and some were dismantle my authoritative simply made up (striffling?). voice as a designer; to move We included them all, adding only what was necessary to away from pronouncement make complete sentences. The set was installed one and towards design that is afternoon when no one was relational, recombinant and paying particular attention—six tins, each housing a different participatory. part of speech, were placed on


48

designer as storyteller / New Urban Arts Design, at its best, allows us to notice things we might not otherwise. By reframing what’s familiar in our lives—and often invisible— design can catch us off-guard. It allows us to discover something new about each other, and even sometimes, about ourselves. When I designed this magnetic poetry set for New Urban Arts—an after school arts mentoring program for high school students in Providence, I was looking to facilitate storytelling in the studio. I hoped the set could function like a dialogue—one that I set the stage for, but was not in direct control of; that would be open to multiple voices and multiple interpretations. I was looking for a way that we, as a community, could create meaning together. The project developed as part of a year-long storytelling initiative at New Urban Arts, where I was one of two Community Storytellers, along with friend and colleague Peter Hocking. Within the studio, we were exploring ways to tell stories to each other and about each other, in ways we’d never told them before. The words were generated by the students themselves, in response to a prompt that As a designer, I create asked them to describe their studio and their own creative spaces for exchange, for practice. Over the course of two weeks, we gathered roughly storytelling and for creative 300 words in four categories— action that are rooted in adjectives, nouns, verbs and other. Some of the words were my immediate community. familiar ones around the studio (creative, magical, experiment, It is a conscious effort to belong), some were unexpected (flirt, godzilla), and some were dismantle my authoritative simply made up (striffling?). voice as a designer; to move We included them all, adding only what was necessary to away from pronouncement make complete sentences. The set was installed one and towards design that is afternoon when no one was relational, recombinant and paying particular attention—six tins, each housing a different participatory. part of speech, were placed on


the door of a bulky, donated refrigerator. Slowly, the magnets began working their way out of their containers. Slowly, stories began to unfold. After that, I simply listened—listened for what would emerge; listened for something that we hadn’t noticed about ourselves before. The first word taken out of the set? Collaborative. 50

left: These

soapboxes were conceived by my fellow Community Storyteller, Peter Hocking, as ministages. Like the poetry set, they’ve become a fixture in the studio at New Urban Arts—sparking stories, poetry, and performance among students and mentors alike.

Designer as Facilitator Designer as Facilitator is just one in a long line of “as” statements that serve to frame a designer’s practice with a more familiar profession. John Thackara uses it in his book In the Bubble to describe what he sees as a necessary shift “from designing on the world to designing in the world,”1 setting the facilitator model in direct opposition to other, more familiar constructs such as designer as author. Yet for artists and designers engaged in community-based practice, dropping the role of singular author is a natural outgrowth of their approach. Emmy Bright, a Fellow at New Urban Arts describes the collaborative nature of her work with mentors and students this way: “I can start something myself but I can’t make it meaningful myself.”2 Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses—a neighborhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization in Houston’s Northern Third Ward—describes his role as such: “I often find my work migrates towards the ‘we’…as an artist in these projects, it is my job to disappear.”3 Though practitioners like these are more likely to attach the label, facilitator, to their practice than others, Thackara also points out that being a true facilitator requires a particular set of skills. It is after all, a profession unto itself with its own areas of expertise, strategies and applications. For the three years immediately before coming to graduate school, I served as Assistant Director to the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at Clark University. My experience there was an education in facilitation, in the power of dialogue and the difficulties inherent in creating true spaces for exchange. As a facilitator, I learned when to step forward and when to step back in conversation; how to allow for and include multiple voices in collaborative processes and most importantly, I learned how to listen. As a facilitator, developing an open and reflexive practice was imperative. Every conversation was different, each group of people unique. Facilitation requires a willingness to be nimble—to reject

51


the door of a bulky, donated refrigerator. Slowly, the magnets began working their way out of their containers. Slowly, stories began to unfold. After that, I simply listened—listened for what would emerge; listened for something that we hadn’t noticed about ourselves before. The first word taken out of the set? Collaborative. 50

left: These

soapboxes were conceived by my fellow Community Storyteller, Peter Hocking, as ministages. Like the poetry set, they’ve become a fixture in the studio at New Urban Arts—sparking stories, poetry, and performance among students and mentors alike.

Designer as Facilitator Designer as Facilitator is just one in a long line of “as” statements that serve to frame a designer’s practice with a more familiar profession. John Thackara uses it in his book In the Bubble to describe what he sees as a necessary shift “from designing on the world to designing in the world,”1 setting the facilitator model in direct opposition to other, more familiar constructs such as designer as author. Yet for artists and designers engaged in community-based practice, dropping the role of singular author is a natural outgrowth of their approach. Emmy Bright, a Fellow at New Urban Arts describes the collaborative nature of her work with mentors and students this way: “I can start something myself but I can’t make it meaningful myself.”2 Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses—a neighborhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization in Houston’s Northern Third Ward—describes his role as such: “I often find my work migrates towards the ‘we’…as an artist in these projects, it is my job to disappear.”3 Though practitioners like these are more likely to attach the label, facilitator, to their practice than others, Thackara also points out that being a true facilitator requires a particular set of skills. It is after all, a profession unto itself with its own areas of expertise, strategies and applications. For the three years immediately before coming to graduate school, I served as Assistant Director to the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at Clark University. My experience there was an education in facilitation, in the power of dialogue and the difficulties inherent in creating true spaces for exchange. As a facilitator, I learned when to step forward and when to step back in conversation; how to allow for and include multiple voices in collaborative processes and most importantly, I learned how to listen. As a facilitator, developing an open and reflexive practice was imperative. Every conversation was different, each group of people unique. Facilitation requires a willingness to be nimble—to reject

51


a strategy that might have worked last time and to listen for what is needed in the present moment. Most of all, it requires humility. The facilitator is a guiding voice, not an authoritative one. Inviting Dialogue Conference / Difficult Dialogues For the Inviting Dialogue conference, Clark University and The Public Conversations Project brought together participants from a dozen institutions of higher education for a unique conference on renewing the deep purposes of their work. Creating conscious space is a central attribute of dialogue and one that the conference organizers were committed to from the early stages of the planning process. We used several visual devices to both create and reinforce this space—to capture the thoughts, energy and ideas of the participants. Typically, a structured dialogue begins with the forming of agreements—guidelines that make the dynamics of exchange clear and transparent. Given the short duration of the sessions at the conference, we generated a series of agreements in advance. Before beginning each dialogue session, participants were asked to review the agreements, spinning them through their fingers and sharing them aloud among the group. It was important that each person be able to ground their understanding in an embodied experience. The strips remained in bowls at the center of each subsequent conversation, serving as a visual reminder of those agreements. The walls of the main conference room held the space for conversation in another way—becoming a participatory canvas for generating ideas and asking questions related to conference themes. Participants were encouraged to add their voices between and during sessions, prompting new dialogues during the conference as well as afterwards. The questions remained for several weeks, serving as a backdrop to the public events the Difficult Dialogues program held there during the semester.

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a strategy that might have worked last time and to listen for what is needed in the present moment. Most of all, it requires humility. The facilitator is a guiding voice, not an authoritative one. Inviting Dialogue Conference / Difficult Dialogues For the Inviting Dialogue conference, Clark University and The Public Conversations Project brought together participants from a dozen institutions of higher education for a unique conference on renewing the deep purposes of their work. Creating conscious space is a central attribute of dialogue and one that the conference organizers were committed to from the early stages of the planning process. We used several visual devices to both create and reinforce this space—to capture the thoughts, energy and ideas of the participants. Typically, a structured dialogue begins with the forming of agreements—guidelines that make the dynamics of exchange clear and transparent. Given the short duration of the sessions at the conference, we generated a series of agreements in advance. Before beginning each dialogue session, participants were asked to review the agreements, spinning them through their fingers and sharing them aloud among the group. It was important that each person be able to ground their understanding in an embodied experience. The strips remained in bowls at the center of each subsequent conversation, serving as a visual reminder of those agreements. The walls of the main conference room held the space for conversation in another way—becoming a participatory canvas for generating ideas and asking questions related to conference themes. Participants were encouraged to add their voices between and during sessions, prompting new dialogues during the conference as well as afterwards. The questions remained for several weeks, serving as a backdrop to the public events the Difficult Dialogues program held there during the semester.

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facilitating a conversation on race In a Fall 2009 studio project, I attempted to bring a visual facilitator’s approach to the topic of race. I created a swatch deck of skin color by sampling pixels from photographs taken of my studiomates’ forearms. Each deck was housed in a sleeve designed to mimic the US Census form and distributed to the group during a year-end studio critique. It was an intentionally reductive strategy—much like the official form that inspired it—meant to get at the simplistic way we categorize ourselves and to spark conversation around the more complex issues that lie underneath. Based on these photos, I could tell a great story about how I involved my classmates in a genuine conversation around race that day, about how visual form can spark dialogue, or how effective I’d been in activating the space of the classroom. In truth, the project was something of a false gesture, based more on the expectations of a studio-based critique, than on a serious engagement with the topic at hand. I could see that visual form, in this instance, would likely prevent participants from engaging deeply with the topic. The cards were a gimmick, just distracting enough to keep the conversation entirely on the surface. A true conversation about race requires us to drop deeply into our questions, assumptions and prejudices. A good facilitator can do this with lightness and skill. In the end, this wasn’t much more than a clever gesture—one that belied the serious nature of the conversation. While I still believe there is value in making ideas (and conversation) visible, I walked away from this project questioning my own intentions to bring design and facilitation together. I recognized the careful balancing act it would require and knew if I wanted to develop this idea, I would have to be honest with myself about the usefulness of design in prompting and deepening dialogue.

1 Thackara, John. 2005. In the bubble: Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press.

2 Bright, Emmy. In conversation with the author. Summer, 2010.

3 Lowe, Rick. Convocation address, risd. Fall 2010.

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facilitating a conversation on race In a Fall 2009 studio project, I attempted to bring a visual facilitator’s approach to the topic of race. I created a swatch deck of skin color by sampling pixels from photographs taken of my studiomates’ forearms. Each deck was housed in a sleeve designed to mimic the US Census form and distributed to the group during a year-end studio critique. It was an intentionally reductive strategy—much like the official form that inspired it—meant to get at the simplistic way we categorize ourselves and to spark conversation around the more complex issues that lie underneath. Based on these photos, I could tell a great story about how I involved my classmates in a genuine conversation around race that day, about how visual form can spark dialogue, or how effective I’d been in activating the space of the classroom. In truth, the project was something of a false gesture, based more on the expectations of a studio-based critique, than on a serious engagement with the topic at hand. I could see that visual form, in this instance, would likely prevent participants from engaging deeply with the topic. The cards were a gimmick, just distracting enough to keep the conversation entirely on the surface. A true conversation about race requires us to drop deeply into our questions, assumptions and prejudices. A good facilitator can do this with lightness and skill. In the end, this wasn’t much more than a clever gesture—one that belied the serious nature of the conversation. While I still believe there is value in making ideas (and conversation) visible, I walked away from this project questioning my own intentions to bring design and facilitation together. I recognized the careful balancing act it would require and knew if I wanted to develop this idea, I would have to be honest with myself about the usefulness of design in prompting and deepening dialogue.

1 Thackara, John. 2005. In the bubble: Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press.

2 Bright, Emmy. In conversation with the author. Summer, 2010.

3 Lowe, Rick. Convocation address, risd. Fall 2010.

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individual agency / emily sara wilson Designing Opportunity for Change

What I see in design today is a state of transition and redefinition—a growing awareness for the impact our creations have on the world around us.

Low-literacy HIV education materials, distributed to communities in eight African countries and Haiti.

Similarly, my relationship with design has been in a state of redefinition, or has just completed one. As a young designer, I was inspired by Tibor Kalman and Keith Haring, whose work showed me how to disseminate a message and deepen perspective. I also was inspired by my experiences traveling around the world, observing and learning alongside the people I met. Like others, I hoped to leave the world better than I found it. While I initially envisioned myself as a change agent, someone who uses design to fix problems, I had a difficult time transforming those initial inspirations into practice. For years, graphic designers have expressed their frustration with the field and demanded more—both First Things First Manifestos stated as much but gave little guidance. Convinced that I could do more than choose recycled papers and brand well-meaning non-profits, I set out to explore how I could use my skills to help others communicate. I am not alone. There is a lot energy in the design community centered around issues of social change. Go to any design conference or scroll through any blog and you’ll encounter stories about designers eager to contribute their skills and talents to a cause. There are websites (changeobserver, design-altruism-project), initiatives (Project M), competitions (Sappi’s Ideas that Matter), and organizations (aiga) inspiring designers with how-to’s and ideas about sustainability. Often missing from these conversations, however, is an honest perspective about the designer’s responsibilities. Many projects with the intention to do good often end without a full appreciation of how the work effects the people and circumstances within the community. Designers often enter a community they don’t know, attempt to “fix” a problem and then implement a “solution.” These

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individual agency / emily sara wilson Designing Opportunity for Change

What I see in design today is a state of transition and redefinition—a growing awareness for the impact our creations have on the world around us.

Low-literacy HIV education materials, distributed to communities in eight African countries and Haiti.

Similarly, my relationship with design has been in a state of redefinition, or has just completed one. As a young designer, I was inspired by Tibor Kalman and Keith Haring, whose work showed me how to disseminate a message and deepen perspective. I also was inspired by my experiences traveling around the world, observing and learning alongside the people I met. Like others, I hoped to leave the world better than I found it. While I initially envisioned myself as a change agent, someone who uses design to fix problems, I had a difficult time transforming those initial inspirations into practice. For years, graphic designers have expressed their frustration with the field and demanded more—both First Things First Manifestos stated as much but gave little guidance. Convinced that I could do more than choose recycled papers and brand well-meaning non-profits, I set out to explore how I could use my skills to help others communicate. I am not alone. There is a lot energy in the design community centered around issues of social change. Go to any design conference or scroll through any blog and you’ll encounter stories about designers eager to contribute their skills and talents to a cause. There are websites (changeobserver, design-altruism-project), initiatives (Project M), competitions (Sappi’s Ideas that Matter), and organizations (aiga) inspiring designers with how-to’s and ideas about sustainability. Often missing from these conversations, however, is an honest perspective about the designer’s responsibilities. Many projects with the intention to do good often end without a full appreciation of how the work effects the people and circumstances within the community. Designers often enter a community they don’t know, attempt to “fix” a problem and then implement a “solution.” These

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exchanges are most often one-sided, serving a designer’s portfolio instead of those who are on the receiving end of the work. If a designer is a conduit—someone who translates ideas and services to a client and their audience—a designed response must serve both. If it is done well, this response will also express the designer’s particular style, without one stakeholder taking priority over the other. These ideas left me wondering, what is the active role of a designer as a change agent? The tuning Struggling with this question, I have reflected on projects that set me on a new trajectory—a direction that would look beyond the rhetoric in those blogs, websites and initiatives to a different way of working. Before coming to risd I ran my own graphic design studio for several years, Palolodeep Design, and one project in particular showed me the possibilities for design. The brief came from a friend who works in public health for the Institute of Human Virology. She was interested in establishing a connection with high risk, minimally literate subsistence farmers—the communities her clinicians were serving. Her work was spread throughout eight African countries and Haiti with a primary focus on educating rural populations about anti-retroviral medications for the treatment of hiv. These were complex ideas to communicate—ideas like immunity; the chronic reality of hiv; what it means to be resistant to medication; and the concept that even when you are feeling healthy, you can still transmit the virus. Working with an illustrator and an adherence specialist, I developed a pictorial language (right) that served as both an entry point into the conversation, and, when the patient returned home, a reminder of the complexities in treating hiv. I was able to use my skills as a graphic designer in a completely new way—branding, typography, color, composition— all in service to education and public health. This was the kind of work I wanted to do. There was equity through education and a mutual benefit for both the clinicians and patients. Our design has endured—the most recent print run (200,000 copies) included versions in three African dialects and Haitian Creole. This experience inspired me to apply to graduate school; to take time to think about how graphic designers can use their skills in a new way—to benefit society instead of someone else’s bottom line.

Interior spreads from brochures designed for the Institute of Human Virology.

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exchanges are most often one-sided, serving a designer’s portfolio instead of those who are on the receiving end of the work. If a designer is a conduit—someone who translates ideas and services to a client and their audience—a designed response must serve both. If it is done well, this response will also express the designer’s particular style, without one stakeholder taking priority over the other. These ideas left me wondering, what is the active role of a designer as a change agent? The tuning Struggling with this question, I have reflected on projects that set me on a new trajectory—a direction that would look beyond the rhetoric in those blogs, websites and initiatives to a different way of working. Before coming to risd I ran my own graphic design studio for several years, Palolodeep Design, and one project in particular showed me the possibilities for design. The brief came from a friend who works in public health for the Institute of Human Virology. She was interested in establishing a connection with high risk, minimally literate subsistence farmers—the communities her clinicians were serving. Her work was spread throughout eight African countries and Haiti with a primary focus on educating rural populations about anti-retroviral medications for the treatment of hiv. These were complex ideas to communicate—ideas like immunity; the chronic reality of hiv; what it means to be resistant to medication; and the concept that even when you are feeling healthy, you can still transmit the virus. Working with an illustrator and an adherence specialist, I developed a pictorial language (right) that served as both an entry point into the conversation, and, when the patient returned home, a reminder of the complexities in treating hiv. I was able to use my skills as a graphic designer in a completely new way—branding, typography, color, composition— all in service to education and public health. This was the kind of work I wanted to do. There was equity through education and a mutual benefit for both the clinicians and patients. Our design has endured—the most recent print run (200,000 copies) included versions in three African dialects and Haitian Creole. This experience inspired me to apply to graduate school; to take time to think about how graphic designers can use their skills in a new way—to benefit society instead of someone else’s bottom line.

Interior spreads from brochures designed for the Institute of Human Virology.

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point to as a document of this experience. We all knew we would have little, if any, impact on the people we met. How could we possibly make an impact in such a short time? Who were we to pretend we could help? Who were we to think that four weeks in the most opposite environment from our own could lead to any kind of real solution? To do this work well, requires trust, it requires commitment. It requires a long-standing relationship between the designer(s) and the community. We came and then we left. I felt like just one in a revolving door of altruistic tourists. What was in it for the people we met, the people who live there? As the trip wore on, it became obvious to me that this was not the way that I wanted to participate in the design process.

the shift In my first semester at risd, I immediately inquired about courses abroad. My years of travel, coupled with my experiences as a designer, convinced me that upon graduation I would somehow be working in the developing world. This changed after a winter session course in Kolkata, India. I wasn’t shaken by the poverty, the pollution, or the realities of a struggling city. I had been to countries like this before and knew what to expect. What shook me was the stench of arrogance I felt while I was there and after I left. On this month-long course were fifteen bright and ambitious graduate students—architects, interior architects, graphic, and industrial designers—who were ready to tackle issues stemming from the sex trade. We were working with an established ngo thinking of how to reintegrate retiring prostitutes.We conducted interviews, had meetings, took tours, brainstormed, formed teams, proposed ideas—all of the things that designers do. Then we left. We left the foul conditions, the dirt, the despair. We left the people we were thinking we could help. We left. In our pockets we had a proposal, something we could all

Kolkata, India. February 2010.

The need for a different model I was poised for this realization—that good intentions don’t equal good design. Throughout my travels, I often think about the lives of those I visit, wondering what it is really like to live in these places and not just visit them. I think about communities and wonder what they think of us. All of my experiences led to this moment—struggling with ideas about design for social change, what it means to be working in places that are unfamiliar, and how to use my skills to make a sincere contribution. I didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds for Design Agency had been planted. As I thought about this trip to India, I came to understand why designers are unable to truly contribute to these communities— because they have absolutely no connection to them. Their intentions are pure but there is no relationship and no responsibility. It is easy to be a visitor, to tell others how they should be doing things based on what we see, but there is so much more that must be considered in understanding the full context of why problems exist in the first place—an incredibly difficult thing for any outsider to fully appreciate. The problem with design for social change is that there is no system in place for designers to make meaningful contributions. We might volunteer and give our time, but how often do we check back after a project has finished to see how well our design endures? At first, I thought a program with established relationships and structures to guide designers willing to make a significant commitment was the answer—something like a design initiative as a part of the Peace Corps. The further I contemplated

61


point to as a document of this experience. We all knew we would have little, if any, impact on the people we met. How could we possibly make an impact in such a short time? Who were we to pretend we could help? Who were we to think that four weeks in the most opposite environment from our own could lead to any kind of real solution? To do this work well, requires trust, it requires commitment. It requires a long-standing relationship between the designer(s) and the community. We came and then we left. I felt like just one in a revolving door of altruistic tourists. What was in it for the people we met, the people who live there? As the trip wore on, it became obvious to me that this was not the way that I wanted to participate in the design process.

the shift In my first semester at risd, I immediately inquired about courses abroad. My years of travel, coupled with my experiences as a designer, convinced me that upon graduation I would somehow be working in the developing world. This changed after a winter session course in Kolkata, India. I wasn’t shaken by the poverty, the pollution, or the realities of a struggling city. I had been to countries like this before and knew what to expect. What shook me was the stench of arrogance I felt while I was there and after I left. On this month-long course were fifteen bright and ambitious graduate students—architects, interior architects, graphic, and industrial designers—who were ready to tackle issues stemming from the sex trade. We were working with an established ngo thinking of how to reintegrate retiring prostitutes.We conducted interviews, had meetings, took tours, brainstormed, formed teams, proposed ideas—all of the things that designers do. Then we left. We left the foul conditions, the dirt, the despair. We left the people we were thinking we could help. We left. In our pockets we had a proposal, something we could all

Kolkata, India. February 2010.

The need for a different model I was poised for this realization—that good intentions don’t equal good design. Throughout my travels, I often think about the lives of those I visit, wondering what it is really like to live in these places and not just visit them. I think about communities and wonder what they think of us. All of my experiences led to this moment—struggling with ideas about design for social change, what it means to be working in places that are unfamiliar, and how to use my skills to make a sincere contribution. I didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds for Design Agency had been planted. As I thought about this trip to India, I came to understand why designers are unable to truly contribute to these communities— because they have absolutely no connection to them. Their intentions are pure but there is no relationship and no responsibility. It is easy to be a visitor, to tell others how they should be doing things based on what we see, but there is so much more that must be considered in understanding the full context of why problems exist in the first place—an incredibly difficult thing for any outsider to fully appreciate. The problem with design for social change is that there is no system in place for designers to make meaningful contributions. We might volunteer and give our time, but how often do we check back after a project has finished to see how well our design endures? At first, I thought a program with established relationships and structures to guide designers willing to make a significant commitment was the answer—something like a design initiative as a part of the Peace Corps. The further I contemplated

61


this idea, the more I realized that the roots of the problem are in design education.

62

Agency in education Grappling with this idea, I tried to find ways to express these concerns in the academic setting. I was frustrated by the limitations of my studio projects and found an outlet as coordinator of Respond Design, the student-led sustainability forum, for the duration of my graduate career. An initiative of the Office of Public Engagement (ope), the group was established in 2006 as an entity dedicated to issues of sustainability on campus, and it had the full energy of a dedicated class. Unfortunately, most of that energy dissipated when those students graduated. As my own graduation neared, I knew that Respond Design would cease to exist unless I figured out a way to make the transitions easier. I created tools to make this group a truly sustainable organization by implementing systems that would ease the changes from semester to semester and year to year. I redesigned the website to act as both a functional tool to advertise our programming, and as a single entry point for sustainability issues on campus and in the community. Using the last of our annual budget, I negotiated with a colleague to manage the programming, and together we designed a protocol that allows the coordinator(s) to have maximum impact with minimal effort. We used existing platforms like Wordpress, Twitter, Google calendar and Delicious bookmarks to manage the content on the site. All of the information for our events, links, and communications is entered through these external portals and programmed to be automatically displayed on our homepage. It looks dynamic and fresh even though it is simply pulling the information from other sources on the internet. For the administrative transition, I created an online dossier containing all of the fiscal, planning, and reference details for the group, freeing any one person from holding the only copies of this vital information. These innovative solutions are so successful because they adapt existing platforms—the look and feel is entirely custom but the engine behind it all is free technology. Event programming is the primary function of Respond Design. To make this time-consuming process easier, I cultivated partnerships within risd and the community. Working with the owner of the Cable Car Cinema and with an educator at the risd

The Respond Design website, reimagined.


this idea, the more I realized that the roots of the problem are in design education.

62

Agency in education Grappling with this idea, I tried to find ways to express these concerns in the academic setting. I was frustrated by the limitations of my studio projects and found an outlet as coordinator of Respond Design, the student-led sustainability forum, for the duration of my graduate career. An initiative of the Office of Public Engagement (ope), the group was established in 2006 as an entity dedicated to issues of sustainability on campus, and it had the full energy of a dedicated class. Unfortunately, most of that energy dissipated when those students graduated. As my own graduation neared, I knew that Respond Design would cease to exist unless I figured out a way to make the transitions easier. I created tools to make this group a truly sustainable organization by implementing systems that would ease the changes from semester to semester and year to year. I redesigned the website to act as both a functional tool to advertise our programming, and as a single entry point for sustainability issues on campus and in the community. Using the last of our annual budget, I negotiated with a colleague to manage the programming, and together we designed a protocol that allows the coordinator(s) to have maximum impact with minimal effort. We used existing platforms like Wordpress, Twitter, Google calendar and Delicious bookmarks to manage the content on the site. All of the information for our events, links, and communications is entered through these external portals and programmed to be automatically displayed on our homepage. It looks dynamic and fresh even though it is simply pulling the information from other sources on the internet. For the administrative transition, I created an online dossier containing all of the fiscal, planning, and reference details for the group, freeing any one person from holding the only copies of this vital information. These innovative solutions are so successful because they adapt existing platforms—the look and feel is entirely custom but the engine behind it all is free technology. Event programming is the primary function of Respond Design. To make this time-consuming process easier, I cultivated partnerships within risd and the community. Working with the owner of the Cable Car Cinema and with an educator at the risd

The Respond Design website, reimagined.


64

Making things happen requires that you are able to inspire, convince, and engage other people, in moving forward in a particular direction; design provides the tools to bring people together.

Museum, we chose four current films that address challenging issues related to environmental and social causes (Wasteland, Last Train Home, Carbon Nation, and Ghost Bird). Launched this year, the Sustainability Film Series showcased these full-length feature films and made them free and open to the public. Never in my time at risd have I seen so many people from the Providence community in the same room with students. For this new movie series, along with 1 our other events, I wanted big, —Dori Tunstall beautiful posters. But I knew I would be unable to find the time for the design and printing during my thesis year. To create a unique poster for each event I needed a system that would 1) select a designer; and not only pay that designer but give them the Sustainability Film opportunity to try something new 2) establish a visual language Series posters. for the group; and 3) be completely sustainable—continuing after clockwise: I graduated. Jessica Greenfield After securing additional funds at the beginning of the year, Marc Choi Olivia Verdugo I had all I needed to implement this new system. I commissioned Sara Raffo my fellow grad students, whose work I could connect to the content of the event, to design each poster. They were limited only by a standard size (24 x 36 inches) and the poster had to be black and white. The designer was then given free reign. The standards allowed for consistency and a recognizable visual language, even though the design was dramatically different for each event. Most of the designers either tried a new technique or were able to incorporate an aspect of their thesis investigation into the design of their poster. A win-win situation for us all—beautiful, custom posters for Respond Design’s events and a way for my colleagues to explore their ideas in a context that had life outside of the studio.

65


64

Making things happen requires that you are able to inspire, convince, and engage other people, in moving forward in a particular direction; design provides the tools to bring people together.

Museum, we chose four current films that address challenging issues related to environmental and social causes (Wasteland, Last Train Home, Carbon Nation, and Ghost Bird). Launched this year, the Sustainability Film Series showcased these full-length feature films and made them free and open to the public. Never in my time at risd have I seen so many people from the Providence community in the same room with students. For this new movie series, along with 1 our other events, I wanted big, —Dori Tunstall beautiful posters. But I knew I would be unable to find the time for the design and printing during my thesis year. To create a unique poster for each event I needed a system that would 1) select a designer; and not only pay that designer but give them the Sustainability Film opportunity to try something new 2) establish a visual language Series posters. for the group; and 3) be completely sustainable—continuing after clockwise: I graduated. Jessica Greenfield After securing additional funds at the beginning of the year, Marc Choi Olivia Verdugo I had all I needed to implement this new system. I commissioned Sara Raffo my fellow grad students, whose work I could connect to the content of the event, to design each poster. They were limited only by a standard size (24 x 36 inches) and the poster had to be black and white. The designer was then given free reign. The standards allowed for consistency and a recognizable visual language, even though the design was dramatically different for each event. Most of the designers either tried a new technique or were able to incorporate an aspect of their thesis investigation into the design of their poster. A win-win situation for us all—beautiful, custom posters for Respond Design’s events and a way for my colleagues to explore their ideas in a context that had life outside of the studio.

65


66

The poster system was used for all of Respond Design’s events throughout the year.

Enduring solutions My work with Respond Design confirmed that designing systems for others to engage responsibly with their community, is where my true ambition rests. When designing for social change, it is less about being an agent, a single person trying to effect change, and more about a sense of agency—someone who understands the context of the collective. What is missing from the conversation about design and social change is this sense of agency. In coming to this realization I have drifted away from the tangible towards the intangible. In much the same way that other designers think about materials, fabrication, and installation, I think about systems, collaboration, and evaluation. I still design things, but they are in service to something larger—helping others to develop their own sense of agency—an approach that aligns with my values and is the most honest expression of my skills. I prefer to design opportunities instead of things; to design structures that support the critical inquiry I believe is missing from the design community today. Design Agency is one of these structures, a pilot for ideas about designing for social change, a space for questions, a curriculum for considering context.

clockwise:

Ben Shaykin Salem Al-Qassimi Erika Tarte Hope Chu

1 Tunstall, Dori. Interview with the author. Spring 2011.

67


66

The poster system was used for all of Respond Design’s events throughout the year.

Enduring solutions My work with Respond Design confirmed that designing systems for others to engage responsibly with their community, is where my true ambition rests. When designing for social change, it is less about being an agent, a single person trying to effect change, and more about a sense of agency—someone who understands the context of the collective. What is missing from the conversation about design and social change is this sense of agency. In coming to this realization I have drifted away from the tangible towards the intangible. In much the same way that other designers think about materials, fabrication, and installation, I think about systems, collaboration, and evaluation. I still design things, but they are in service to something larger—helping others to develop their own sense of agency—an approach that aligns with my values and is the most honest expression of my skills. I prefer to design opportunities instead of things; to design structures that support the critical inquiry I believe is missing from the design community today. Design Agency is one of these structures, a pilot for ideas about designing for social change, a space for questions, a curriculum for considering context.

clockwise:

Ben Shaykin Salem Al-Qassimi Erika Tarte Hope Chu

1 Tunstall, Dori. Interview with the author. Spring 2011.

67


displaying our agency at risd

We believed our skills as communicators and as visual thinkers would allow us to address issues in a serious way, though we knew it would also require a serious commitment to engage. A sticker created in response to the closing of The Office of Public Engagement.

Individually, we saw The Office of Public Engagement (ope) as a way to align our skills with our values and to ground our thesis work in response to the world around us. Jane’s work with New Urban Arts and Emily’s with Respond Design were both supported through assistantships with ope. The projects that resulted were developed in conversation with community, alongside our classes and studios, and in addition to the teaching assistantships required by our department. It was work that lives in the world—the work we’d come to graduate school to do. But it was also mediated by an institution, which in the Spring of 2010 announced its intention to close Office of Public Engagement—the only formally-recognized space within risd to support graduate students’ work in community-based practice. This unilateral decision was made despite the fact that ope was written into the majority of committees formed around risd’s strategic plan. “Many professors now point to that scenario as the administration’s pattern—make a quick decision, appear to listen to objections, then plow ahead anyway.” — The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2011.1 We responded by staging a series of actions that made visible the dissenting voices of students, staff, and faculty. The Keep it Open campaign included three protests—the first for a meeting called by the President. We arrived early to ensure the space would allow others to enact their agency. Meetings with the President, to that point, had been notoriously one-sided. Billed as a way for the president to hear from us—he had once spoken for the first 53 minutes of an hour-long meeting, before taking a question.

69


displaying our agency at risd

We believed our skills as communicators and as visual thinkers would allow us to address issues in a serious way, though we knew it would also require a serious commitment to engage. A sticker created in response to the closing of The Office of Public Engagement.

Individually, we saw The Office of Public Engagement (ope) as a way to align our skills with our values and to ground our thesis work in response to the world around us. Jane’s work with New Urban Arts and Emily’s with Respond Design were both supported through assistantships with ope. The projects that resulted were developed in conversation with community, alongside our classes and studios, and in addition to the teaching assistantships required by our department. It was work that lives in the world—the work we’d come to graduate school to do. But it was also mediated by an institution, which in the Spring of 2010 announced its intention to close Office of Public Engagement—the only formally-recognized space within risd to support graduate students’ work in community-based practice. This unilateral decision was made despite the fact that ope was written into the majority of committees formed around risd’s strategic plan. “Many professors now point to that scenario as the administration’s pattern—make a quick decision, appear to listen to objections, then plow ahead anyway.” — The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2011.1 We responded by staging a series of actions that made visible the dissenting voices of students, staff, and faculty. The Keep it Open campaign included three protests—the first for a meeting called by the President. We arrived early to ensure the space would allow others to enact their agency. Meetings with the President, to that point, had been notoriously one-sided. Billed as a way for the president to hear from us—he had once spoken for the first 53 minutes of an hour-long meeting, before taking a question.

69


70

71

left: President Maeda

and Dean of Students, Raj Belani listen to a statement from Duhirwe Rushemeza at a meeting with RISD students about the closing of OPE. right: Flyers distributed at meeting.

We knew that on this day, we’d need more than seven minutes. So we broke down the tables of the conference room and arranged the chairs in concentric circles—a way to diffuse the concentration of power and help to ensure that everyone would have an equal place in the conversation. The President entered the room looking for a stage, where there was none. This small move had a significant effect on the conversation that day. Hours later, students were still speaking and the administration appeared to be listening. We also staged protests outside two meetings with the Board of Trustees—participatory signs, stickers and flyers helped to reinforce the statements expressed at the previous meeting and project them to a more public audience.


70

71

left: President Maeda

and Dean of Students, Raj Belani listen to a statement from Duhirwe Rushemeza at a meeting with RISD students about the closing of OPE. right: Flyers distributed at meeting.

We knew that on this day, we’d need more than seven minutes. So we broke down the tables of the conference room and arranged the chairs in concentric circles—a way to diffuse the concentration of power and help to ensure that everyone would have an equal place in the conversation. The President entered the room looking for a stage, where there was none. This small move had a significant effect on the conversation that day. Hours later, students were still speaking and the administration appeared to be listening. We also staged protests outside two meetings with the Board of Trustees—participatory signs, stickers and flyers helped to reinforce the statements expressed at the previous meeting and project them to a more public audience.


72

73

Students participate in staged protests outside meetings with the Board of Trustees.

Though our actions helped to delay the closing of the office, ultimately, the campaign did not succeed. Eight months later, at a time when so many other design schools were opening centers for public engagement—encouraging students to ground their academic work in relationship with community—ours was being shut down. The closing of ope would become a spark for a series of actions over the next few months, including a faculty-wide no confidence vote. We continued to stay involved in the conversation, speaking out through news agencies about our experience with the Office of Public Engagement; about the broken state of discourse on our campus; and about the need for our institution to build connections within the Providence community.

1 Young, Jeff. "A college unfriends its social networking president." The Chronical of Higher Education, May 1, 2011


72

73

Students participate in staged protests outside meetings with the Board of Trustees.

Though our actions helped to delay the closing of the office, ultimately, the campaign did not succeed. Eight months later, at a time when so many other design schools were opening centers for public engagement—encouraging students to ground their academic work in relationship with community—ours was being shut down. The closing of ope would become a spark for a series of actions over the next few months, including a faculty-wide no confidence vote. We continued to stay involved in the conversation, speaking out through news agencies about our experience with the Office of Public Engagement; about the broken state of discourse on our campus; and about the need for our institution to build connections within the Providence community.

1 Young, Jeff. "A college unfriends its social networking president." The Chronical of Higher Education, May 1, 2011


74

75


74

75


Bringing Agency to the Classroom

We walked away from the Keep it Open campaign

76

recognizing a sense of agency—in ourselves and in each other. We knew that if we wanted our work as designers to remain engaged without the support of ope, we would have to enact our own sense of agency in creating opportunity for ourselves. Much of our work during the past year has existed outside of the studio. So we found 'office' space where we could, mainly in cafés and libraries across Providence. This way of working would become the day-to-day reality of our collaborative process.

In the Fall of 2010, with notions of collaboration already brewing, Dawn Barrett—Dean of Architecture + Design—directed our attention to a grant opportunity that had just landed on her desk. The Partnership for Sustainable Development was sponsored by The Small Business Administration, risd and the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Brown University. In it, we saw parallels with our then nascent ideas around agency, so while the grant was not expressly advertised to students, we decided to apply. In preparation for writing the grant, we began to take stock of our individual skills and aspirations to see how they might come together in collaboration. We even looked back to our graduate school application essays, which offered a glimpse of where we might be headed. Even then, we shared a vision for the kind of impact we wanted to make through design­—from Jane and Emily respectively: “Living in a world with the potential for increased interconnectedness and the simultaneous threat of isolation, I am drawn to the unique opportunities open to designers, as mediators of communication and collaboration. No longer am I simply interested in what design is, but rather, in what it is design can do.”

77


Bringing Agency to the Classroom

We walked away from the Keep it Open campaign

76

recognizing a sense of agency—in ourselves and in each other. We knew that if we wanted our work as designers to remain engaged without the support of ope, we would have to enact our own sense of agency in creating opportunity for ourselves. Much of our work during the past year has existed outside of the studio. So we found 'office' space where we could, mainly in cafés and libraries across Providence. This way of working would become the day-to-day reality of our collaborative process.

In the Fall of 2010, with notions of collaboration already brewing, Dawn Barrett—Dean of Architecture + Design—directed our attention to a grant opportunity that had just landed on her desk. The Partnership for Sustainable Development was sponsored by The Small Business Administration, risd and the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Brown University. In it, we saw parallels with our then nascent ideas around agency, so while the grant was not expressly advertised to students, we decided to apply. In preparation for writing the grant, we began to take stock of our individual skills and aspirations to see how they might come together in collaboration. We even looked back to our graduate school application essays, which offered a glimpse of where we might be headed. Even then, we shared a vision for the kind of impact we wanted to make through design­—from Jane and Emily respectively: “Living in a world with the potential for increased interconnectedness and the simultaneous threat of isolation, I am drawn to the unique opportunities open to designers, as mediators of communication and collaboration. No longer am I simply interested in what design is, but rather, in what it is design can do.”

77


78

“The field of design is in a state of transition and redefinition— to be aware of the consequences our creations have on the world around us is ever more important. Guidance towards a holistic, flexible, and empathetic design practice will serve our discipline well as we move forward in these unprecedented times.”

Experience

jane

emily

Difficult Dialogues

Respond Design

Local perspective

Global perspective

Education

Inquiry

Discourse

Policy

Visible listening

Sustainable relationships

Reflection

Community practice Creating space Skills

Systems

Accountability Green=green

Writing

Persistence

Note-taking

Managing expectations

Teaching

Concerns

Entrepreneurship

Social

Environmental

Designing opportunity

Environmental Social

79


78

“The field of design is in a state of transition and redefinition— to be aware of the consequences our creations have on the world around us is ever more important. Guidance towards a holistic, flexible, and empathetic design practice will serve our discipline well as we move forward in these unprecedented times.”

Experience

jane

emily

Difficult Dialogues

Respond Design

Local perspective

Global perspective

Education

Inquiry

Discourse

Policy

Visible listening

Sustainable relationships

Reflection

Community practice Creating space Skills

Systems

Accountability Green=green

Writing

Persistence

Note-taking

Managing expectations

Teaching

Concerns

Entrepreneurship

Social

Environmental

Designing opportunity

Environmental Social

79


80

Writing the grant certainly didn't feel like studio work, so we found ‘office’ space where we could, (left) and put together an initial proposal for Design Agency. What we didn’t know at the time, was that this way of working would become the day-to-day reality of our collaborative thesis. The grant was our first chance to think about what an entity like ope would look like outside the walls of our institution. Our proposal contained a business plan for that venture—one that would focus on building a community-based practice and offer fellowships to designers from risd and other institutions of higher ed. It also contained a proposal for a graduate-level course. Ultimately, we received one of three honorable mentions—the only students chosen from roughly 70 national submissions. While there was no precedent for graduate students to design and teach courses at risd outside the truncated winter semester, Patti Phillips, Dean of Graduate Studies, recognized the distinction of the award and helped us to secure the course for spring 2011.

81


80

Writing the grant certainly didn't feel like studio work, so we found ‘office’ space where we could, (left) and put together an initial proposal for Design Agency. What we didn’t know at the time, was that this way of working would become the day-to-day reality of our collaborative thesis. The grant was our first chance to think about what an entity like ope would look like outside the walls of our institution. Our proposal contained a business plan for that venture—one that would focus on building a community-based practice and offer fellowships to designers from risd and other institutions of higher ed. It also contained a proposal for a graduate-level course. Ultimately, we received one of three honorable mentions—the only students chosen from roughly 70 national submissions. While there was no precedent for graduate students to design and teach courses at risd outside the truncated winter semester, Patti Phillips, Dean of Graduate Studies, recognized the distinction of the award and helped us to secure the course for spring 2011.

81


83

So on February 23—our first day of class—we were in yet another café, preparing materials for eleven graduate students from Architecture, Industrial Design, and Teaching + Learning.


Concept Design mindfulness is about being aware of the limits not just of what design can do, but what design should do. All design actions have consequences. Mindfulness is being aware of that bigger picture. The things we do are not value neutral. — John Thackara in an interview with the authors, Spring 2011


principles

RESPOND to the moment

The core principles of Design CREATE enduring solutions

ENGAGE community

Agency are intertwined—they relate directly to this thesis investigation, to Design Agency the course and to our vision for the future. They have implications for our individual practices as well as our collaborative endeavors and represent critical, but missing, components of design education and practice. Exemplified

BUILD a livelihood DESIGN through facilitation

in projects throughout this book, they have been developed through theory and practice. Collectively, they provide a path towards agency

ALIGN skills with values

in our work as designers.

87


principles

RESPOND to the moment

The core principles of Design CREATE enduring solutions

ENGAGE community

Agency are intertwined—they relate directly to this thesis investigation, to Design Agency the course and to our vision for the future. They have implications for our individual practices as well as our collaborative endeavors and represent critical, but missing, components of design education and practice. Exemplified

BUILD a livelihood DESIGN through facilitation

in projects throughout this book, they have been developed through theory and practice. Collectively, they provide a path towards agency

ALIGN skills with values

in our work as designers.

87


88

RESPOND to the moment Design Agency is a response to the world we live in right now, to our shared experiences and common understandings— a response to decisions that have brought us here. The

desperate state of our environment, human rights abuses,

crises in our schools, global inequities, the terrifying issue of energy demand, all threaten our way of living. We can

address these issues only if we understand them wholly and approach them honestly.


88

RESPOND to the moment Design Agency is a response to the world we live in right now, to our shared experiences and common understandings— a response to decisions that have brought us here. The

desperate state of our environment, human rights abuses,

crises in our schools, global inequities, the terrifying issue of energy demand, all threaten our way of living. We can

address these issues only if we understand them wholly and approach them honestly.


ALIGN skills with values 90

When designers talk about having a meaningful practice, what

they’re really saying, is that they want to be useful—to use their skills in ways that contribute to society at large and that reflect

their values as individuals. This requires intentionality, reflexivity, and accountability on the part of the designer.

Intentionality—the degree of forethought designers bring to their work. Design Agency thinks of this as consciously creating open space for exchange, ideation and collaboration, through trial and error, theory and practice. Reflexivity—a process of reflection and deliberation. Like looking in a mirror, it’s a way to see practice from a new perspective; to understand how methods live in relation to the world; and how positionality effects outcomes. Reflexivity is a way of maintaining values while allowing for the flexibility to reshape them when necessary. Accountability—how success is measured. Managing expectations, allowing for transparency in our process, evaluating our efficacy, and taking responsibility for our actions is how designers maintain an honest perspective. It acknowledges that ultimately, designers are accountable to those with whom they are designing.


ALIGN skills with values 90

When designers talk about having a meaningful practice, what

they’re really saying, is that they want to be useful—to use their skills in ways that contribute to society at large and that reflect

their values as individuals. This requires intentionality, reflexivity, and accountability on the part of the designer.

Intentionality—the degree of forethought designers bring to their work. Design Agency thinks of this as consciously creating open space for exchange, ideation and collaboration, through trial and error, theory and practice. Reflexivity—a process of reflection and deliberation. Like looking in a mirror, it’s a way to see practice from a new perspective; to understand how methods live in relation to the world; and how positionality effects outcomes. Reflexivity is a way of maintaining values while allowing for the flexibility to reshape them when necessary. Accountability—how success is measured. Managing expectations, allowing for transparency in our process, evaluating our efficacy, and taking responsibility for our actions is how designers maintain an honest perspective. It acknowledges that ultimately, designers are accountable to those with whom they are designing.


92

DESIGN through facilitation Facilitation means designing with, not for. It is an awareness of, and a facility with, discourse. It is a willingness to be nimble; to listen for what is needed in the present; to

recognize that each community and each design challenge

is different. It is learning when to step forward and when to step back; cultivating approaches that allow for and include multiple voices. A facilitator is a guiding voice, not an authoritative one.


92

DESIGN through facilitation Facilitation means designing with, not for. It is an awareness of, and a facility with, discourse. It is a willingness to be nimble; to listen for what is needed in the present; to

recognize that each community and each design challenge

is different. It is learning when to step forward and when to step back; cultivating approaches that allow for and include multiple voices. A facilitator is a guiding voice, not an authoritative one.


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ENGAGE community Engaging community requires a commitment to building sustainable relationships and developing trust. Trust can be fostered by listening through complex issues and

honoring the expression of a community’s actual needs. It is a willingness to go slow. Engaging community in a design processes can empower others with a sense of agency. It’s about solutions that catalyze change,

and continue to thrive and grow in the communities where they are implemented.


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ENGAGE community Engaging community requires a commitment to building sustainable relationships and developing trust. Trust can be fostered by listening through complex issues and

honoring the expression of a community’s actual needs. It is a willingness to go slow. Engaging community in a design processes can empower others with a sense of agency. It’s about solutions that catalyze change,

and continue to thrive and grow in the communities where they are implemented.


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CREATE enduring solutions Enduring solutions are inherently sustainable. They require designers to bring the same level of accountability to their social practice as they do to their aesthetic one. To create enduring solutions is to understand and improve upon

what came before; to design solutions that innovate through adaptation—modifying previous ideas to create something new.


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CREATE enduring solutions Enduring solutions are inherently sustainable. They require designers to bring the same level of accountability to their social practice as they do to their aesthetic one. To create enduring solutions is to understand and improve upon

what came before; to design solutions that innovate through adaptation—modifying previous ideas to create something new.


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BUILD a livelihood Building a livelihood is not simply about making a living,

but about cultivating a meaningful practice. Working within established structures, as well as the cracks in between, it is a conscious attempt to redefine value in our lives.


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BUILD a livelihood Building a livelihood is not simply about making a living,

but about cultivating a meaningful practice. Working within established structures, as well as the cracks in between, it is a conscious attempt to redefine value in our lives.


WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN CREATING CHANGE? Margaret Wheatley

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If we worry that there’s a shortage of leaders, we’re just looking in the wrong place, usually at the top of some hierarchy. Instead, we need to look around us, to look locally. And we need to look at ourselves. When have we moved into action for an issue or concern that we cared about? The process that creates change in the world is quite straightforward. We notice something that needs to be changed. We keep noticing it. The problem keeps getting our attention, even though most people don’t notice that there’s even a problem. We start to act, we try something. If that doesn’t work, we try a different approach. We learn as we go. We become very engaged with the issue, spending more and more time on it. We become exhausted by our efforts, but still we keep going. The issue keeps calling to us. Any time we succeed, no matter how small the success, we gain new energy and resolve. We become smarter as we learn more about the issue and understand it better. We become more skillful at tactics and strategies. As we persevere, and if we are successful, more people join us. Sometimes we remain as just a small group, sometimes we give birth to a movement that involves tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. This is how the world always changes.

Instead of being overwhelmed and withdrawing, we can act. We don’t need to spend much time planning or getting senior leaders involved; we don’t have to wait for official support. We just need to get started. When we fail, which of course we will, we don’t become discouraged. Instead, we learn from our mistakes. We look for openings and opportunities that present themselves, even if they’re different than what we thought we needed. We follow the energy of our ideas rather than accepting defeat or getting stuck in a plan. And we never know at the beginning where we’ll end up.

Wheatley, Margaret. 2009. ‘What is our Role in Creating Change?’

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore the Future.

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WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN CREATING CHANGE? Margaret Wheatley

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If we worry that there’s a shortage of leaders, we’re just looking in the wrong place, usually at the top of some hierarchy. Instead, we need to look around us, to look locally. And we need to look at ourselves. When have we moved into action for an issue or concern that we cared about? The process that creates change in the world is quite straightforward. We notice something that needs to be changed. We keep noticing it. The problem keeps getting our attention, even though most people don’t notice that there’s even a problem. We start to act, we try something. If that doesn’t work, we try a different approach. We learn as we go. We become very engaged with the issue, spending more and more time on it. We become exhausted by our efforts, but still we keep going. The issue keeps calling to us. Any time we succeed, no matter how small the success, we gain new energy and resolve. We become smarter as we learn more about the issue and understand it better. We become more skillful at tactics and strategies. As we persevere, and if we are successful, more people join us. Sometimes we remain as just a small group, sometimes we give birth to a movement that involves tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. This is how the world always changes.

Instead of being overwhelmed and withdrawing, we can act. We don’t need to spend much time planning or getting senior leaders involved; we don’t have to wait for official support. We just need to get started. When we fail, which of course we will, we don’t become discouraged. Instead, we learn from our mistakes. We look for openings and opportunities that present themselves, even if they’re different than what we thought we needed. We follow the energy of our ideas rather than accepting defeat or getting stuck in a plan. And we never know at the beginning where we’ll end up.

Wheatley, Margaret. 2009. ‘What is our Role in Creating Change?’

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore the Future.

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precedent / Emily sara wilson

In the last two centuries a division has emerged between the natural world and the manufactured one. Design Agency looks at the ongoing effects of this division, examines the condition of our modern life, and encourages us to challenge the status quo. As an inspiration to our own practice we looked to thinkers of the past who addressed this divide. A handful of innovators have understood how design could be used to engage service to society. While there are certainly more than those that follow, we were particularly inspired by the work of Walter Paekcke, Victor Papanek, Sister Corita Kent, Tibor Kalman, Damon Rich, Thomas Starr, and Dori Tunstall.

left: Ben Shahn John Stuart Mill on the training of men, 1954. From ‘Great Ideas of Western Man.’

Walter Paepcke The relationship between design and business is inextricable. Walter Paepcke, the visionary chairman of the Chicago based Container Corporation of America, understood how design could inspire people to engage, not only in their work but in their lives. His long working relationship with Herbert Bayer produced the “Great Ideas of Western Man” series, an ad campaign that brought together philosophers of the past and promising designers of the future, and he helped to finance Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the re-creation of the Bauhaus in America. In the early 1950’s Paepcke created the Aspen Institute, primarily for businessmen, in which

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precedent / Emily sara wilson

In the last two centuries a division has emerged between the natural world and the manufactured one. Design Agency looks at the ongoing effects of this division, examines the condition of our modern life, and encourages us to challenge the status quo. As an inspiration to our own practice we looked to thinkers of the past who addressed this divide. A handful of innovators have understood how design could be used to engage service to society. While there are certainly more than those that follow, we were particularly inspired by the work of Walter Paekcke, Victor Papanek, Sister Corita Kent, Tibor Kalman, Damon Rich, Thomas Starr, and Dori Tunstall.

left: Ben Shahn John Stuart Mill on the training of men, 1954. From ‘Great Ideas of Western Man.’

Walter Paepcke The relationship between design and business is inextricable. Walter Paepcke, the visionary chairman of the Chicago based Container Corporation of America, understood how design could inspire people to engage, not only in their work but in their lives. His long working relationship with Herbert Bayer produced the “Great Ideas of Western Man” series, an ad campaign that brought together philosophers of the past and promising designers of the future, and he helped to finance Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the re-creation of the Bauhaus in America. In the early 1950’s Paepcke created the Aspen Institute, primarily for businessmen, in which

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left: Paul Rand's poster for the 1966 International Design Conference at Aspen.

he sought a place “where the human spirit can flourish.” He introduced programming that, “was not intended to make a corporate treasurer a more skilled corporate treasurer, but to help a leader gain access to his or her own humanity by becoming more selfaware, more self-correcting, and more self-fulfilling.”1 Soon after the Aspen Institute’s initial success, Paepcke founded the International Design Conference at Aspen, a forum for designers to discuss the impact of design on society. Designers continue to gather at this conference each year to discuss the role of design in socially engaged projects. Paepcke was one of the first business leaders to clearly demonstrate that design could do more than simply sell products—it could motivate contributions to the greater good. Victor Papanek Dramatic global inequities influenced Victor Papanek, the Austrian industrial designer, to model the contributions design could make for social change. Design for the Real World, (above) his seminal book published in 1971, not only exemplifies what designers can contribute to their practice but why they must rethink their


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left: Paul Rand's poster for the 1966 International Design Conference at Aspen.

he sought a place “where the human spirit can flourish.” He introduced programming that, “was not intended to make a corporate treasurer a more skilled corporate treasurer, but to help a leader gain access to his or her own humanity by becoming more selfaware, more self-correcting, and more self-fulfilling.”1 Soon after the Aspen Institute’s initial success, Paepcke founded the International Design Conference at Aspen, a forum for designers to discuss the impact of design on society. Designers continue to gather at this conference each year to discuss the role of design in socially engaged projects. Paepcke was one of the first business leaders to clearly demonstrate that design could do more than simply sell products—it could motivate contributions to the greater good. Victor Papanek Dramatic global inequities influenced Victor Papanek, the Austrian industrial designer, to model the contributions design could make for social change. Design for the Real World, (above) his seminal book published in 1971, not only exemplifies what designers can contribute to their practice but why they must rethink their


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relationship to design. He warned of the dangers inherent in the design process in no uncertain terms, “. . . by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed.”2 He was passionate about using design to help people both in impoverished nations as well as developed ones, emphasizing, “the only important thing about design is how it relates to people.”2 Papanek layed out chapter after chapter of examples and ideas for the designer of the ‘70s to feel empowered by their skills. His was real, concrete guidance in a world increasingly saturated by advertising and with few options for designers to do anything else. Sister Corita Kent Sister Corita Kent was an educator, activist, and graphic artist whose vibrant serigraphs communicated themes of political and social justice, peace and human rights during the tumultuous period of the 1960s and 70s. A true advocate for her community, Kent’s prints were a response to the world around her—her work a meditation on the here and now. She produced work for socially-conscious organizations like Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Development and raised the ire of the Catholic Church by applying advertising slogans to theology. Her 1964 print, The Juiciest Tomato of All—a reference to the Virgin Mary taken from a Del Monte tomato ad—was banned from public display by the Cardinal. In 1968 she left The Order of The Immaculate Heart of Mary but continued to speak out against injustice through her art until her death in 1986. “Corita’s work, fusing text and image, provided a visual narrative for this re-energized spirituality, particularly as it strove to engage people in their everyday lives. It also embraced social activism, independent of the strictures of the institutionalized (and, of course, male-dominated) Church.” 3 Tibor Kalman Graphic design found a champion for social change in Tibor Kalman, the untrained, Hungarian transplant who was known for his confrontational and forthright approach. Kalman preferred the vernacular style which stood in stark contrast to the high gloss trends of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He often convinced clients to take on social causes that he would reflect in their collateral and

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right: Silkscreen

prints by Sister Corita Kent.

advertising. According to Steven Heller, “Tibor saw himself as a social activist for whom graphic design was a means of achieving two ends: good design and social responsibility.”4 As co-creater and editor of the first thirteen issues of Colors magazine, his unvarnished style directly addressed issues of race, inequality, perception, class. He was also one of the first designers to shed light on the aids epidemic. Kalman was the rare designer of his time who used his medium in new and challenging ways, forcing his audiences to confront their assumptions about the world.


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relationship to design. He warned of the dangers inherent in the design process in no uncertain terms, “. . . by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed.”2 He was passionate about using design to help people both in impoverished nations as well as developed ones, emphasizing, “the only important thing about design is how it relates to people.”2 Papanek layed out chapter after chapter of examples and ideas for the designer of the ‘70s to feel empowered by their skills. His was real, concrete guidance in a world increasingly saturated by advertising and with few options for designers to do anything else. Sister Corita Kent Sister Corita Kent was an educator, activist, and graphic artist whose vibrant serigraphs communicated themes of political and social justice, peace and human rights during the tumultuous period of the 1960s and 70s. A true advocate for her community, Kent’s prints were a response to the world around her—her work a meditation on the here and now. She produced work for socially-conscious organizations like Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Development and raised the ire of the Catholic Church by applying advertising slogans to theology. Her 1964 print, The Juiciest Tomato of All—a reference to the Virgin Mary taken from a Del Monte tomato ad—was banned from public display by the Cardinal. In 1968 she left The Order of The Immaculate Heart of Mary but continued to speak out against injustice through her art until her death in 1986. “Corita’s work, fusing text and image, provided a visual narrative for this re-energized spirituality, particularly as it strove to engage people in their everyday lives. It also embraced social activism, independent of the strictures of the institutionalized (and, of course, male-dominated) Church.” 3 Tibor Kalman Graphic design found a champion for social change in Tibor Kalman, the untrained, Hungarian transplant who was known for his confrontational and forthright approach. Kalman preferred the vernacular style which stood in stark contrast to the high gloss trends of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He often convinced clients to take on social causes that he would reflect in their collateral and

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right: Silkscreen

prints by Sister Corita Kent.

advertising. According to Steven Heller, “Tibor saw himself as a social activist for whom graphic design was a means of achieving two ends: good design and social responsibility.”4 As co-creater and editor of the first thirteen issues of Colors magazine, his unvarnished style directly addressed issues of race, inequality, perception, class. He was also one of the first designers to shed light on the aids epidemic. Kalman was the rare designer of his time who used his medium in new and challenging ways, forcing his audiences to confront their assumptions about the world.


left: Tibor Kalman,

Colors #7, 1994. below: Damon Rich, Cities Destroyed for Cash, 2010.

Damon Rich Today, graphic designers are using their skills to make meaningful contributions to their local communities. In founding the Center for Urban Pedagogy in New York City, designer Damon Rich brought together his skills as a graphic designer with a strong commitment to education and community organizing. cup brings together designers, architects, urban planners, community advocates and policy makers to help make the systems that shape city life transparent and understandable to a wider audience. “The design is important’ he says, ‘but maybe not as important as the context into which you put it.”5 Thomas Starr In Remembering Boston’s Children, Thomas Starr—a professor of Graphic Design at Northeastern University whose practice focuses on the civic and social function of design—created a memorial to the childhood victims of urban gun violence in his city. At that time in Boston, urban gun violence was on the rise, but its victims were largely invisible. Starr gathered stories for the memorial through conversations with peer survivors, in collaboration with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. He secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to display those stories on an mbta bus—recognizing that the public transportation system was one of the only ways to communicate across all classes and all neighborhoods in the city.

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left: Tibor Kalman,

Colors #7, 1994. below: Damon Rich, Cities Destroyed for Cash, 2010.

Damon Rich Today, graphic designers are using their skills to make meaningful contributions to their local communities. In founding the Center for Urban Pedagogy in New York City, designer Damon Rich brought together his skills as a graphic designer with a strong commitment to education and community organizing. cup brings together designers, architects, urban planners, community advocates and policy makers to help make the systems that shape city life transparent and understandable to a wider audience. “The design is important’ he says, ‘but maybe not as important as the context into which you put it.”5 Thomas Starr In Remembering Boston’s Children, Thomas Starr—a professor of Graphic Design at Northeastern University whose practice focuses on the civic and social function of design—created a memorial to the childhood victims of urban gun violence in his city. At that time in Boston, urban gun violence was on the rise, but its victims were largely invisible. Starr gathered stories for the memorial through conversations with peer survivors, in collaboration with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. He secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to display those stories on an mbta bus—recognizing that the public transportation system was one of the only ways to communicate across all classes and all neighborhoods in the city.

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Dori Tunstall While designed objects are often evaluated through hindsight, Design Anthropology offers a way to examine these solutions through a different lens. As a burgeoning field, it investigates how the designed object is an embodied expression of what it means to be human. The first academic program for Design Anthropology has recently been established at the University of Swinbourne, by Dori Tunstall, an American anthropologist with a long career in research and teaching. “By taking into account how others see and experience the world differently, products and services can be designed that work with people and nature rather than disrupt them.”6 Similar to biomimicry, but applicable to other design disciplines, this angle of inquiry highlights how human values are embodied through the designed object or experience. With this understanding we can work, “to shift our understanding of being so there is no longer a gap between the natural world and the human world.”6

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These thinkers stand as reference points as we move forward with our own practice. They show us that even though design for social change has been around for a long time, much more work is needed. As design continues to define its parameters and determine its objectives, the world moves on. The pace continues to quicken, the trash continues to build, the energy continues to flow—all seemingly without limit. The design disciplines are well poised to facilitate a response, if its practitioners are aware—aware of the context in which they are living, of the consequences of their actions, and about what the real needs are for this moment, our moment.

Thomas Starr, Remembering Boston's Children, 2005.

1 http://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/history 2 Victor J Papanek. 1971. Design for the real world; human ecology and social change. New York, Pantheon Books.

3 Wild, Lorraine. 2007. The Juciest Tomato. http:// observatory.designobserver.com/entry. html?entry=5097 4 http://www.aiga. org/content.cfm/ medalist-tiborkalman

5 Rich, Damon. Lecture at A Better World by Design conference, risd. Fall 2010. 6 Tunstall, Dori. Interview with the authors, Spring 2011.

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Dori Tunstall While designed objects are often evaluated through hindsight, Design Anthropology offers a way to examine these solutions through a different lens. As a burgeoning field, it investigates how the designed object is an embodied expression of what it means to be human. The first academic program for Design Anthropology has recently been established at the University of Swinbourne, by Dori Tunstall, an American anthropologist with a long career in research and teaching. “By taking into account how others see and experience the world differently, products and services can be designed that work with people and nature rather than disrupt them.”6 Similar to biomimicry, but applicable to other design disciplines, this angle of inquiry highlights how human values are embodied through the designed object or experience. With this understanding we can work, “to shift our understanding of being so there is no longer a gap between the natural world and the human world.”6

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These thinkers stand as reference points as we move forward with our own practice. They show us that even though design for social change has been around for a long time, much more work is needed. As design continues to define its parameters and determine its objectives, the world moves on. The pace continues to quicken, the trash continues to build, the energy continues to flow—all seemingly without limit. The design disciplines are well poised to facilitate a response, if its practitioners are aware—aware of the context in which they are living, of the consequences of their actions, and about what the real needs are for this moment, our moment.

Thomas Starr, Remembering Boston's Children, 2005.

1 http://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/history 2 Victor J Papanek. 1971. Design for the real world; human ecology and social change. New York, Pantheon Books.

3 Wild, Lorraine. 2007. The Juciest Tomato. http:// observatory.designobserver.com/entry. html?entry=5097 4 http://www.aiga. org/content.cfm/ medalist-tiborkalman

5 Rich, Damon. Lecture at A Better World by Design conference, risd. Fall 2010. 6 Tunstall, Dori. Interview with the authors, Spring 2011.

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Tools

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The tools of Design Agency are the rubrics, activities, and readings that have informed both its principles and its practice; they are essential to the development of our theory and our curriculum. Though the full set is constantly evolving, we consider these four to be among the primary building blocks.

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Tools

112

The tools of Design Agency are the rubrics, activities, and readings that have informed both its principles and its practice; they are essential to the development of our theory and our curriculum. Though the full set is constantly evolving, we consider these four to be among the primary building blocks.

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discourse continuum



The Discourse Continuum was developed by Sarah Buie as part of the Difficult Dialogues initiative at Clark University. It is a tool we’ve returned to repeatedly in our research for Design Agency. We’ve experimented with its form, as well as the way it can support class activities and discussion around discourse (see pg. 169).

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 Orwellian language lying or reframing so as to deceive or manipulate in order to gain one’s own ends

 ▼ ▼ pronouncement pronouncement Orwellian language polemic authoritarian lying or reframing one-way so asmessage to deceive or inequality of power manipulate in order no intention exchange to gain of one’s own ends “I know what is best”

authoritarian “argument is war” (Lakoff) one-way message i.e. Crossfire lack inequality of listeningof power no intention of exchange aggression “I know what is best” sparring use of intimidation efforts to discredit ‘opponent’, sometimes by any means, whether true or false one version of the truth

silence

silence

avoidance paralysis, numbness distraction denial, secrecy confusion, stress arising from fear

avoidance paralysis, numbness distraction denial, secrecy confusion, stress arising from fear

   polemic debate

     discussion debate

dialogue discussion

“argument implies fixed is war” positions (Lakoff) civilimplies discourse fixed positions requirescivil conditions discourseof trust i.e. making Crossfire arguments, givemaking and take arguments, based on givelistening and take lack pointofbylistening point negotiation point by point respectnegotiation self-reflection aggression winners and losers problem-solving winners and losers problem-solving efforts questioning effortsassumptions at persuasion sparring right or wrong rightatorpersuasion wrong conciliation equalityconciliation use reasoned, of intimidation logical reasoned, logical efforts to at discredit “winning” efforts at “winning” exploring consensus the unknown efforts ‘opponent’, consensus withoutexamination judgment and sometimes one is chosen by any means, examination one is chosen and “breaking apart” “breaking “positions” apart” whether legalistictrue (courtrooms, or false legalistic (courtrooms, beyond judgments, of issue judgments, punishments)erotic, like of issue a dance one version punishments) of the truth lack of ambiguity seeing lackits ofelements ambiguity potential seeing for discovery its elements expanded understanding insight creativity innovation action appreciation of common ground

dialogue

requires conditions of trust based on listening respect self-reflection questioning assumptions equality exploring the unknown without judgment beyond “positions” erotic, like a dance potential for discovery expanded understanding insight creativity innovation action appreciation of common ground

silence

silence

open to the unknown collective wisdom

open to the unknown collective wisdom

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discourse continuum



The Discourse Continuum was developed by Sarah Buie as part of the Difficult Dialogues initiative at Clark University. It is a tool we’ve returned to repeatedly in our research for Design Agency. We’ve experimented with its form, as well as the way it can support class activities and discussion around discourse (see pg. 169).

114

 Orwellian language lying or reframing so as to deceive or manipulate in order to gain one’s own ends

 ▼ ▼ pronouncement pronouncement Orwellian language polemic authoritarian lying or reframing one-way so asmessage to deceive or inequality of power manipulate in order no intention exchange to gain of one’s own ends “I know what is best”

authoritarian “argument is war” (Lakoff) one-way message i.e. Crossfire lack inequality of listeningof power no intention of exchange aggression “I know what is best” sparring use of intimidation efforts to discredit ‘opponent’, sometimes by any means, whether true or false one version of the truth

silence

silence

avoidance paralysis, numbness distraction denial, secrecy confusion, stress arising from fear

avoidance paralysis, numbness distraction denial, secrecy confusion, stress arising from fear

   polemic debate

     discussion debate

dialogue discussion

“argument implies fixed is war” positions (Lakoff) civilimplies discourse fixed positions requirescivil conditions discourseof trust i.e. making Crossfire arguments, givemaking and take arguments, based on givelistening and take lack pointofbylistening point negotiation point by point respectnegotiation self-reflection aggression winners and losers problem-solving winners and losers problem-solving efforts questioning effortsassumptions at persuasion sparring right or wrong rightatorpersuasion wrong conciliation equalityconciliation use reasoned, of intimidation logical reasoned, logical efforts to at discredit “winning” efforts at “winning” exploring consensus the unknown efforts ‘opponent’, consensus withoutexamination judgment and sometimes one is chosen by any means, examination one is chosen and “breaking apart” “breaking “positions” apart” whether legalistictrue (courtrooms, or false legalistic (courtrooms, beyond judgments, of issue judgments, punishments)erotic, like of issue a dance one version punishments) of the truth lack of ambiguity seeing lackits ofelements ambiguity potential seeing for discovery its elements expanded understanding insight creativity innovation action appreciation of common ground

dialogue

requires conditions of trust based on listening respect self-reflection questioning assumptions equality exploring the unknown without judgment beyond “positions” erotic, like a dance potential for discovery expanded understanding insight creativity innovation action appreciation of common ground

silence

silence

open to the unknown collective wisdom

open to the unknown collective wisdom

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Peeling back the layers

Jane Androski

Eating a tangerine very slowly is a prompt that I've developed and used in a range of classrooms over the past two years—one that allows us to examine our patterns of interacting with, listening to, and directing the world around us. It is inspired by a writing by the Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh: “I remember a number of years ago, when Jim and I were first traveling together in the United States, we sat under a tree and shared a tangerine. He began to talk about what we would be doing in the future. Whenever we thought about a project that seemed attractive or inspiring, Jim became so immersed in it that he literally forgot about what he was doing in the present. He popped a section of tangerine into his mouth and, before he had begun chewing it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth again. He was hardly aware he was eating a tangerine. All I had to say was, ‘You ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken.’ Jim was startled into realizing what he was doing. It was as if he hadn't been eating the tangerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he was ‘eating’

his future plans. A tangerine has sections. If you can eat just one section, you can probably eat the entire tangerine. But if you can't eat a single section, you cannot eat the tangerine. Jim understood. He slowly put his hand down and focused on the presence of the slice already in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully before reaching down and taking another section.” 1 What Thich Naht Hanh is trying to tell us is that unless we can be more present to the simple things, like eating a tangerine, we can not be present to the more persistent conditions in our lives—or I would add, to our practice as designers. If we aren’t willing to look closely at each section, or to the particulars of our practice, we will inevitably miss the whole. Eating a tangerine very slowly turns out to be a revelatory activity—one that grounds people in questions of discourse, power, listening and mindfulness. After fifteen minutes of quiet meditation, and two simple questions—What did you notice about a tangerine that you've never noticed before? What was it like to eat a tangerine very slowly in this collective space?—we’re deep into conversation. Documenting the remnants of these sessions is like reading tea leaves. Each leaves a trace—a reflection of, or prediction on, our practice as designers. Sit. Pick up a tangerine. Hold it in your hands. See what there is to see—to hear, to taste, to feel. Take your time. Notice something you’ve never noticed before. Listen—to your own thoughts and wanderings and to the other people in the room who are doing the same as you. Describe this space you’ve created together. 1 Nhãt Hanh, Thích. 1987. The miracle of mindfullness: A manual on meditation. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.

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116

Peeling back the layers

Jane Androski

Eating a tangerine very slowly is a prompt that I've developed and used in a range of classrooms over the past two years—one that allows us to examine our patterns of interacting with, listening to, and directing the world around us. It is inspired by a writing by the Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh: “I remember a number of years ago, when Jim and I were first traveling together in the United States, we sat under a tree and shared a tangerine. He began to talk about what we would be doing in the future. Whenever we thought about a project that seemed attractive or inspiring, Jim became so immersed in it that he literally forgot about what he was doing in the present. He popped a section of tangerine into his mouth and, before he had begun chewing it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth again. He was hardly aware he was eating a tangerine. All I had to say was, ‘You ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken.’ Jim was startled into realizing what he was doing. It was as if he hadn't been eating the tangerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he was ‘eating’

his future plans. A tangerine has sections. If you can eat just one section, you can probably eat the entire tangerine. But if you can't eat a single section, you cannot eat the tangerine. Jim understood. He slowly put his hand down and focused on the presence of the slice already in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully before reaching down and taking another section.” 1 What Thich Naht Hanh is trying to tell us is that unless we can be more present to the simple things, like eating a tangerine, we can not be present to the more persistent conditions in our lives—or I would add, to our practice as designers. If we aren’t willing to look closely at each section, or to the particulars of our practice, we will inevitably miss the whole. Eating a tangerine very slowly turns out to be a revelatory activity—one that grounds people in questions of discourse, power, listening and mindfulness. After fifteen minutes of quiet meditation, and two simple questions—What did you notice about a tangerine that you've never noticed before? What was it like to eat a tangerine very slowly in this collective space?—we’re deep into conversation. Documenting the remnants of these sessions is like reading tea leaves. Each leaves a trace—a reflection of, or prediction on, our practice as designers. Sit. Pick up a tangerine. Hold it in your hands. See what there is to see—to hear, to taste, to feel. Take your time. Notice something you’ve never noticed before. Listen—to your own thoughts and wanderings and to the other people in the room who are doing the same as you. Describe this space you’ve created together. 1 Nhãt Hanh, Thích. 1987. The miracle of mindfullness: A manual on meditation. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.

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design / perspective

This anthology was developed in the fall of 2009 by Emily Sara Wilson as part of an independent study with Industrial Design professor Charlie Cannon. An exploration of natural systems and their potential to influence visual communication, it provided foundational readings that were instructive in planning Design Agency. Dan Barber, A Perfect Expression of Nature Wendell Berry, Solving for Pattern David Bohm, Thought as a System & On Dialogue Hilary Cottam, red Paper 02, Transformation Design Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education Nathan Shedroff, Design is The Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable

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design / perspective

This anthology was developed in the fall of 2009 by Emily Sara Wilson as part of an independent study with Industrial Design professor Charlie Cannon. An exploration of natural systems and their potential to influence visual communication, it provided foundational readings that were instructive in planning Design Agency. Dan Barber, A Perfect Expression of Nature Wendell Berry, Solving for Pattern David Bohm, Thought as a System & On Dialogue Hilary Cottam, red Paper 02, Transformation Design Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education Nathan Shedroff, Design is The Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable

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TO HELL WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

Ivan Illich To Hell with Good Intentions was, perhaps, the most influential text in developing our ideas about Design Agency. It was the first reading we introduced in our course and one around which we’ve had amazing conversations.

An address by Monsignor Ivan Illich to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (ciasp) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 20, 1968. In his usual biting and sometimes sarcastic style, Illich goes to the heart of the deep dangers of paternalism inherent in any voluntary service activity, but especially in any international service “mission.” Parts of the speech are outdated and must be viewed in the historical context of 1968 when it was delivered, but the entire speech is retained for the full impact of his point and at Ivan Illich's request. In the conversations which I have had today, I was impressed by two things, and I want to state them before I launch into my prepared talk. I was impressed by your insight that the motivation of u.s. volunteers overseas springs mostly from very alienated feelings and concepts. I was equally impressed, by what I interpret as a step forward among would-be volunteers like you: openness to the idea that the only thing you can legitimately volunteer for in Latin America might be voluntary powerlessness, voluntary presence as receivers, as such, as hopefully beloved or adopted ones without any way of returning the gift. I was equally impressed by the hypocrisy of most of you: by the hypocrisy of the atmosphere prevailing here. I say this as a brother speaking to brothers and sisters. I say it against many resistances within me; but it must be said. Your very insight, your very openness to evaluations of past programs make you hypocrites because you—or at least most of you—have decided to spend this next summer in Mexico, and therefore, you are unwilling to go far enough in your reappraisal of your program. You close your eyes because you want to go ahead and

could not do so if you looked at some facts. It is quite possible that this hypocrisy is unconscious in most of you. Intellectually, you are ready to see that the motivations which could legitimate volunteer action overseas in 1963 cannot be invoked for the same action in 1968. “Mission-vacations” among poor Mexicans were “the thing” to do for well-off u.s. students earlier in this decade: sentimental concern for newlydiscovered poverty south of the border combined with total blindness to much worse poverty at home justified such benevolent excursions. Intellectual insight into the difficulties of fruitful volunteer action had not sobered the spirit of Peace Corps Papaland-Self-Styled Volunteers. Today, the existence of organizations like yours is offensive to Mexico. I wanted to make this statement in order to explain why I feel sick about it all and in order to make you aware that good intentions have not much to do with what we are discussing here. To hell with good intentions. This is a theological statement. You will not help anybody by your good intentions. There is an Irish saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; this sums up the same theological insight. The very frustration which participation in ciasp programs might mean for you, could lead you to new awareness: the awareness that even North Americans can receive the gift of hospitality without the slightest ability to pay for it; the awareness that for some gifts one cannot even say “thank you.” Now to my prepared statement.

Ladies and Gentlemen: For the past six years I have become known for my increasing opposition to the presence of any and all North American “dogooders” in Latin America. I am sure you know of my present efforts to obtain the voluntary withdrawal of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America—missionaries, Peace Corps members and groups like yours, a “division” organized for the benevolent invasion of Mexico. You were aware of these things when you invited me—of all people—to be the main speaker at your annual convention. This is amazing! I can only conclude that your invitation means one of at least three things: Some among you might have reached the conclusion that ciasp should either dissolve altogether, or take the promotion of voluntary aid to the Mexican poor out of its institutional purpose. Therefore you might have invited me here to help others reach this same decision. You might also have invited me because you want to learn how to deal with people who think the way I do—how to dispute them successfully. It has now become quite common to invite Black Power spokesmen to address Lions Clubs. A “dove” must always be included in a public dispute organized to increase u.s. belligerence. And finally, you might have invited me here hoping that you would be able to agree with most of what I say, and then go ahead in good faith and work this summer in Mexican villages. This last possibility is only open to those who do not listen, or who cannot understand me. I did not come here to argue. I am here to tell you, if possible to convince you, and hopefully, to stop you, from pretentiously imposing yourselves on Mexicans.

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130

TO HELL WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

Ivan Illich To Hell with Good Intentions was, perhaps, the most influential text in developing our ideas about Design Agency. It was the first reading we introduced in our course and one around which we’ve had amazing conversations.

An address by Monsignor Ivan Illich to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (ciasp) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 20, 1968. In his usual biting and sometimes sarcastic style, Illich goes to the heart of the deep dangers of paternalism inherent in any voluntary service activity, but especially in any international service “mission.” Parts of the speech are outdated and must be viewed in the historical context of 1968 when it was delivered, but the entire speech is retained for the full impact of his point and at Ivan Illich's request. In the conversations which I have had today, I was impressed by two things, and I want to state them before I launch into my prepared talk. I was impressed by your insight that the motivation of u.s. volunteers overseas springs mostly from very alienated feelings and concepts. I was equally impressed, by what I interpret as a step forward among would-be volunteers like you: openness to the idea that the only thing you can legitimately volunteer for in Latin America might be voluntary powerlessness, voluntary presence as receivers, as such, as hopefully beloved or adopted ones without any way of returning the gift. I was equally impressed by the hypocrisy of most of you: by the hypocrisy of the atmosphere prevailing here. I say this as a brother speaking to brothers and sisters. I say it against many resistances within me; but it must be said. Your very insight, your very openness to evaluations of past programs make you hypocrites because you—or at least most of you—have decided to spend this next summer in Mexico, and therefore, you are unwilling to go far enough in your reappraisal of your program. You close your eyes because you want to go ahead and

could not do so if you looked at some facts. It is quite possible that this hypocrisy is unconscious in most of you. Intellectually, you are ready to see that the motivations which could legitimate volunteer action overseas in 1963 cannot be invoked for the same action in 1968. “Mission-vacations” among poor Mexicans were “the thing” to do for well-off u.s. students earlier in this decade: sentimental concern for newlydiscovered poverty south of the border combined with total blindness to much worse poverty at home justified such benevolent excursions. Intellectual insight into the difficulties of fruitful volunteer action had not sobered the spirit of Peace Corps Papaland-Self-Styled Volunteers. Today, the existence of organizations like yours is offensive to Mexico. I wanted to make this statement in order to explain why I feel sick about it all and in order to make you aware that good intentions have not much to do with what we are discussing here. To hell with good intentions. This is a theological statement. You will not help anybody by your good intentions. There is an Irish saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; this sums up the same theological insight. The very frustration which participation in ciasp programs might mean for you, could lead you to new awareness: the awareness that even North Americans can receive the gift of hospitality without the slightest ability to pay for it; the awareness that for some gifts one cannot even say “thank you.” Now to my prepared statement.

Ladies and Gentlemen: For the past six years I have become known for my increasing opposition to the presence of any and all North American “dogooders” in Latin America. I am sure you know of my present efforts to obtain the voluntary withdrawal of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America—missionaries, Peace Corps members and groups like yours, a “division” organized for the benevolent invasion of Mexico. You were aware of these things when you invited me—of all people—to be the main speaker at your annual convention. This is amazing! I can only conclude that your invitation means one of at least three things: Some among you might have reached the conclusion that ciasp should either dissolve altogether, or take the promotion of voluntary aid to the Mexican poor out of its institutional purpose. Therefore you might have invited me here to help others reach this same decision. You might also have invited me because you want to learn how to deal with people who think the way I do—how to dispute them successfully. It has now become quite common to invite Black Power spokesmen to address Lions Clubs. A “dove” must always be included in a public dispute organized to increase u.s. belligerence. And finally, you might have invited me here hoping that you would be able to agree with most of what I say, and then go ahead in good faith and work this summer in Mexican villages. This last possibility is only open to those who do not listen, or who cannot understand me. I did not come here to argue. I am here to tell you, if possible to convince you, and hopefully, to stop you, from pretentiously imposing yourselves on Mexicans.

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I do have deep faith in the enormous good will of the u.s. volunteer. However, his good faith can usually be explained only by an abysmal lack of intuitive delicacy. By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class “American Way of Life,” since that is really the only life you know. A group like this could not have developed unless a mood in the United States had supported it—the belief that any true American must share God's blessings with his poorer fellow men. The idea that every American has something to give, and at all times may, can and should give it, explains why it occurred to students that they could help Mexican peasants “develop” by spending a few months in their villages. Of course, this surprising conviction was supported by members of a missionary order, who would have no reason to exist unless they had the same conviction—except a much stronger one. It is now high time to cure yourselves of this. You, like the values you carry, are the products of an American society of achievers and consumers, with its two-party system, its universal schooling, and its family-car affluence. You are ultimately-consciously or unconsciously— “salesmen” for a delusive ballet in the ideas of democracy, equal opportunity and free enterprise among people who haven't the possibility of profiting from these. Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the u.s. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or “seducing” the “underdeveloped” to the benefits of the

world of affluence and achievement. Perhaps this is the moment to instead bring home to the people of the u.s. the knowledge that the way of life they have chosen simply is not alive enough to be shared. By now it should be evident to all America that the u.s. is engaged in a tremendous struggle to survive. The u.s. cannot survive if the rest of the world is not convinced that here we have Heaven-onEarth. The survival of the u.s. depends on the acceptance by all so-called “free” men that the u.s. middle class has “made it.” The u.s. way of life has become a religion which must be accepted by all those who do not want to die by the sword—or napalm. All over the globe the u.s. is fighting to protect and develop at least a minority who consume what the u.s. majority can afford. Such is the purpose of the Alliance for Progress of the middle-classes which the u.s. signed with Latin America some years ago. But increasingly this commercial alliance must be protected by weapons which allow the minority who can “make it” to protect their acquisitions and achievements. But weapons are not enough to permit minority rule. The marginal masses become rambunctious unless they are given a “Creed,” or belief which explains the status quo. This task is given to the u.s. volunteer—whether he be a member of ciasp or a worker in the so-called “Pacification Programs” in Viet Nam. The United States is currently engaged in a three-front struggle to affirm its ideals of acquisitive and achievement-oriented “Democracy.” I say “three” fronts, because three great areas of the world are challenging the validity of a political and social system which makes the rich ever richer, and the poor increasingly marginal to that system. In Asia, the u.s. is threatened by an established power—China. The u.s. opposes

Illich is a voice from the present. One of those people who’s a true visionary, who was just saying things thirty, forty years ahead of his time. I mean everywhere you go now, people are talking about Illich, because he speaks to the present moment. But he spoke to the moment then. History is filled with people who were just a bit early by a few decades. —John Thackara

China with three weapons: the tiny Asian elites who could not have it any better than in an alliance with the United States; a huge war machine to stop the Chinese from “taking over” as it is usually put in this country, and; forcible re-education of the so-called “Pacified” peoples. All three of these efforts seem to be failing. In Chicago, poverty funds, the police force and preachers seem to be no more successful in their efforts to check the unwillingness of the black community to wait for graceful integration into the system. And finally, in Latin America the Alliance for Progress has been quite successful in increasing the number of people who could not be better off—meaning the tiny, middle-class elites—and has created ideal conditions for military dictatorships. The dictators were formerly at the service of the plantation owners, but now they protect

the new industrial complexes. And finally, you come to help the underdog accept his destiny within this process! All you will do in a Mexican village is create disorder. At best, you can try to convince Mexican girls that they should marry a young man who is self-made, rich, a consumer, and as disrespectful of tradition as one of you. At worst, in your “community development” spirit you might create just enough problems to get someone shot after your vacation ends and you rush back to your middleclass neighborhoods where your friends make jokes about “spits” and “wetbacks." You start on your task without any training. Even the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you? In fact, you cannot even meet the majority which you pretend to serve in Latin America—even if you could speak their language, which most of you cannot. You can only dialogue with those like you— Latin American imitations of the North American middle class. There is no way for you to really meet with the underprivileged, since there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on. Let me explain this statement, and also let me explain why most Latin Americans with whom you might be able to communicate would disagree with me. Suppose you went to a u.s. ghetto this summer and tried to help the poor there “help themselves.” Very soon you would be either spit upon or laughed at. People offended by your pretentiousness would hit or spit. People who understand that your own bad consciences push you to this

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132

I do have deep faith in the enormous good will of the u.s. volunteer. However, his good faith can usually be explained only by an abysmal lack of intuitive delicacy. By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class “American Way of Life,” since that is really the only life you know. A group like this could not have developed unless a mood in the United States had supported it—the belief that any true American must share God's blessings with his poorer fellow men. The idea that every American has something to give, and at all times may, can and should give it, explains why it occurred to students that they could help Mexican peasants “develop” by spending a few months in their villages. Of course, this surprising conviction was supported by members of a missionary order, who would have no reason to exist unless they had the same conviction—except a much stronger one. It is now high time to cure yourselves of this. You, like the values you carry, are the products of an American society of achievers and consumers, with its two-party system, its universal schooling, and its family-car affluence. You are ultimately-consciously or unconsciously— “salesmen” for a delusive ballet in the ideas of democracy, equal opportunity and free enterprise among people who haven't the possibility of profiting from these. Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the u.s. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or “seducing” the “underdeveloped” to the benefits of the

world of affluence and achievement. Perhaps this is the moment to instead bring home to the people of the u.s. the knowledge that the way of life they have chosen simply is not alive enough to be shared. By now it should be evident to all America that the u.s. is engaged in a tremendous struggle to survive. The u.s. cannot survive if the rest of the world is not convinced that here we have Heaven-onEarth. The survival of the u.s. depends on the acceptance by all so-called “free” men that the u.s. middle class has “made it.” The u.s. way of life has become a religion which must be accepted by all those who do not want to die by the sword—or napalm. All over the globe the u.s. is fighting to protect and develop at least a minority who consume what the u.s. majority can afford. Such is the purpose of the Alliance for Progress of the middle-classes which the u.s. signed with Latin America some years ago. But increasingly this commercial alliance must be protected by weapons which allow the minority who can “make it” to protect their acquisitions and achievements. But weapons are not enough to permit minority rule. The marginal masses become rambunctious unless they are given a “Creed,” or belief which explains the status quo. This task is given to the u.s. volunteer—whether he be a member of ciasp or a worker in the so-called “Pacification Programs” in Viet Nam. The United States is currently engaged in a three-front struggle to affirm its ideals of acquisitive and achievement-oriented “Democracy.” I say “three” fronts, because three great areas of the world are challenging the validity of a political and social system which makes the rich ever richer, and the poor increasingly marginal to that system. In Asia, the u.s. is threatened by an established power—China. The u.s. opposes

Illich is a voice from the present. One of those people who’s a true visionary, who was just saying things thirty, forty years ahead of his time. I mean everywhere you go now, people are talking about Illich, because he speaks to the present moment. But he spoke to the moment then. History is filled with people who were just a bit early by a few decades. —John Thackara

China with three weapons: the tiny Asian elites who could not have it any better than in an alliance with the United States; a huge war machine to stop the Chinese from “taking over” as it is usually put in this country, and; forcible re-education of the so-called “Pacified” peoples. All three of these efforts seem to be failing. In Chicago, poverty funds, the police force and preachers seem to be no more successful in their efforts to check the unwillingness of the black community to wait for graceful integration into the system. And finally, in Latin America the Alliance for Progress has been quite successful in increasing the number of people who could not be better off—meaning the tiny, middle-class elites—and has created ideal conditions for military dictatorships. The dictators were formerly at the service of the plantation owners, but now they protect

the new industrial complexes. And finally, you come to help the underdog accept his destiny within this process! All you will do in a Mexican village is create disorder. At best, you can try to convince Mexican girls that they should marry a young man who is self-made, rich, a consumer, and as disrespectful of tradition as one of you. At worst, in your “community development” spirit you might create just enough problems to get someone shot after your vacation ends and you rush back to your middleclass neighborhoods where your friends make jokes about “spits” and “wetbacks." You start on your task without any training. Even the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you? In fact, you cannot even meet the majority which you pretend to serve in Latin America—even if you could speak their language, which most of you cannot. You can only dialogue with those like you— Latin American imitations of the North American middle class. There is no way for you to really meet with the underprivileged, since there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on. Let me explain this statement, and also let me explain why most Latin Americans with whom you might be able to communicate would disagree with me. Suppose you went to a u.s. ghetto this summer and tried to help the poor there “help themselves.” Very soon you would be either spit upon or laughed at. People offended by your pretentiousness would hit or spit. People who understand that your own bad consciences push you to this

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134

gesture would laugh condescendingly. Soon you would be made aware of your irrelevance among the poor, of your status as middle-class college students on a summer assignment. You would be roundly rejected, no matter if your skin is white—as most of your faces here are—or brown or black, as a few exceptions who got in here somehow. Your reports about your work in Mexico, which you so kindly sent me, exude self-complacency. Your reports on past summers prove that you are not even capable of understanding that your dogooding in a Mexican village is even less relevant than it would be in a u.s. ghetto. Not only is there a gulf between what you have and what others have which is much greater than the one existing between you and the poor in your own country, but there is also a gulf between what you feel and what the Mexican people feel that is incomparably greater. This gulf is so great that in a Mexican village you, as White Americans (or cultural white Americans) can imagine yourselves exactly the way a white preacher saw himself when he offered his life preaching to the black slaves on a plantation in Alabama. The fact that you live in huts and eat tortillas for a few weeks renders your well-intentioned group only a bit more picturesque. The only people with whom you can hope to communicate with are some members of the middle class. And here please remember that I said “some”—by which I mean a tiny elite in Latin America. You come from a country which industrialized early and which succeeded in incorporating the great majority of its citizens into the middle classes. It is no social distinction in the u.s. to have graduated from the second year of college. Indeed, most Americans now do. Anybody in this country who did not finish high school is considered underprivileged.

In Latin America the situation is quite different: 75% of all people drop out of school before they reach the sixth grade. Thus, people who have finished high school are members of a tiny minority. Then, a minority of that minority goes on for university training. It is only among these people that you will find your educational equals. At the same time, a middle class in the United States is the majority. In Mexico, it is a tiny elite. Seven years ago your country began and financed a so-called “Alliance for Progress.” This was an “Alliance” for the “Progress” of the middle class elites. Now. it is among the members of this middle class that you will find a few people who are willing to send their time with you. And they are overwhelmingly those “nice kids” who would also like to soothe their troubled consciences by “doing something nice for the promotion of the poor Indians.” Of course, when you and your middleclass Mexican counterparts meet, you will be told that you are doing something valuable, that you are “sacrificing” to help others. And it will be the foreign priest who will especially confirm your self-image for you. After all, his livelihood and sense of purpose depends on his firm belief in a yearround mission which is of the same type as your summer vacation-mission. There exists the argument that some returned volunteers have gained insight into the damage they have done to others—and thus become more mature people. Yet it is less frequently stated that most of them are ridiculously proud of their “summer sacrifices.” Perhaps there is also something to the argument that young men should be promiscuous for awhile in order to find out that sexual love is most beautiful in a monogamous relationship. Or that the best way to leave lsd alone is to try it for awhile—or even that the best way of understanding that

your help in the ghetto is neither needed nor wanted is to try, and fail. I do not agree with this argument. The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn't have been volunteers in the first place. If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.” I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the “good” which you intended to do. I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.

135

Illich, Ivan. 1968. To hell with good intentions. http://www.swaraj.org/ illich-hell.htm


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gesture would laugh condescendingly. Soon you would be made aware of your irrelevance among the poor, of your status as middle-class college students on a summer assignment. You would be roundly rejected, no matter if your skin is white—as most of your faces here are—or brown or black, as a few exceptions who got in here somehow. Your reports about your work in Mexico, which you so kindly sent me, exude self-complacency. Your reports on past summers prove that you are not even capable of understanding that your dogooding in a Mexican village is even less relevant than it would be in a u.s. ghetto. Not only is there a gulf between what you have and what others have which is much greater than the one existing between you and the poor in your own country, but there is also a gulf between what you feel and what the Mexican people feel that is incomparably greater. This gulf is so great that in a Mexican village you, as White Americans (or cultural white Americans) can imagine yourselves exactly the way a white preacher saw himself when he offered his life preaching to the black slaves on a plantation in Alabama. The fact that you live in huts and eat tortillas for a few weeks renders your well-intentioned group only a bit more picturesque. The only people with whom you can hope to communicate with are some members of the middle class. And here please remember that I said “some”—by which I mean a tiny elite in Latin America. You come from a country which industrialized early and which succeeded in incorporating the great majority of its citizens into the middle classes. It is no social distinction in the u.s. to have graduated from the second year of college. Indeed, most Americans now do. Anybody in this country who did not finish high school is considered underprivileged.

In Latin America the situation is quite different: 75% of all people drop out of school before they reach the sixth grade. Thus, people who have finished high school are members of a tiny minority. Then, a minority of that minority goes on for university training. It is only among these people that you will find your educational equals. At the same time, a middle class in the United States is the majority. In Mexico, it is a tiny elite. Seven years ago your country began and financed a so-called “Alliance for Progress.” This was an “Alliance” for the “Progress” of the middle class elites. Now. it is among the members of this middle class that you will find a few people who are willing to send their time with you. And they are overwhelmingly those “nice kids” who would also like to soothe their troubled consciences by “doing something nice for the promotion of the poor Indians.” Of course, when you and your middleclass Mexican counterparts meet, you will be told that you are doing something valuable, that you are “sacrificing” to help others. And it will be the foreign priest who will especially confirm your self-image for you. After all, his livelihood and sense of purpose depends on his firm belief in a yearround mission which is of the same type as your summer vacation-mission. There exists the argument that some returned volunteers have gained insight into the damage they have done to others—and thus become more mature people. Yet it is less frequently stated that most of them are ridiculously proud of their “summer sacrifices.” Perhaps there is also something to the argument that young men should be promiscuous for awhile in order to find out that sexual love is most beautiful in a monogamous relationship. Or that the best way to leave lsd alone is to try it for awhile—or even that the best way of understanding that

your help in the ghetto is neither needed nor wanted is to try, and fail. I do not agree with this argument. The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn't have been volunteers in the first place. If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.” I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the “good” which you intended to do. I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.

135

Illich, Ivan. 1968. To hell with good intentions. http://www.swaraj.org/ illich-hell.htm


Design Agency, the class, working through a guided activity on discourse.


Practice You need to have the tools of design to make your values clear and concrete for other people to respond to—shaping theoretical perspective along with technical skills. To do that effectively is a recipe for how you actually make things happen. — Dori Tunstall in an interview with the authors, Winter 2011


design agency 101

138

On our first day of class, we began with two simple questions, When have you moved into action for an issue or concern you cared about and what does the word agency mean to you?

The questions were meant to serve as entry points to the themes of the semester and also as a way to get people talking. They drew out stories from childhood, stories about influential people in our lives and initial understandings of the term agency, as both a noun and a verb. We were looking to establish from early on, that Design Agency is just as much about who you are, and what you value, as it is about what you do. Asking questions would become our primary way of drawing out conversation for the rest of the semester. Questions were derived from readings, class discussions, individual projects and from each other. We’d often begin a class session by writing down our questions on notecards, putting them in the center of the table and letting them percolate for an hour, or two hours, before picking them up again. Once we did, we often chose one that we hadn’t written ourselves. Questions were posed by those who visited the class, as well as generated by forays outside the classroom (we learned that fresh air and a change in scenery were often an excellent way to find new threads of conversation). We weren’t looking for easy answers, but rather, for these questions to help build a scaffolding for the unique space we were creating together—a peer-led, multi-disciplinary space focused on the dialectic between our social and aesthetic practice.

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design agency 101

138

On our first day of class, we began with two simple questions, When have you moved into action for an issue or concern you cared about and what does the word agency mean to you?

The questions were meant to serve as entry points to the themes of the semester and also as a way to get people talking. They drew out stories from childhood, stories about influential people in our lives and initial understandings of the term agency, as both a noun and a verb. We were looking to establish from early on, that Design Agency is just as much about who you are, and what you value, as it is about what you do. Asking questions would become our primary way of drawing out conversation for the rest of the semester. Questions were derived from readings, class discussions, individual projects and from each other. We’d often begin a class session by writing down our questions on notecards, putting them in the center of the table and letting them percolate for an hour, or two hours, before picking them up again. Once we did, we often chose one that we hadn’t written ourselves. Questions were posed by those who visited the class, as well as generated by forays outside the classroom (we learned that fresh air and a change in scenery were often an excellent way to find new threads of conversation). We weren’t looking for easy answers, but rather, for these questions to help build a scaffolding for the unique space we were creating together—a peer-led, multi-disciplinary space focused on the dialectic between our social and aesthetic practice.

139


140

The five themes layed out here helped us tease out those questions from week-toweek. They also became a framework for developing the six principles of Design Agency, which were informed as much by our thesis research as they were from the class itself— Respond to the Moment

Align Skills with Values

Create Enduring Solutions

Design Through Facilitation

Engage Community

Build a Livelihood

How does a sense of agency allow designers to respond to the current moment?

Perspective

Readings by John Thackara, Ivan Illich and EF Schumacher helped to give context to a conversation about designers today, who are engaged in socially-oriented practice— both globally and locally. Emily Pilloton, Bobby Martin, The Hester Street Collaborative, Thomas Starr, The Center for Urban Pedagogy, One Laptop Per Child. We asked questions about their successes, their failures and what their examples might mean for our own practices.

141


140

The five themes layed out here helped us tease out those questions from week-toweek. They also became a framework for developing the six principles of Design Agency, which were informed as much by our thesis research as they were from the class itself— Respond to the Moment

Align Skills with Values

Create Enduring Solutions

Design Through Facilitation

Engage Community

Build a Livelihood

How does a sense of agency allow designers to respond to the current moment?

Perspective

Readings by John Thackara, Ivan Illich and EF Schumacher helped to give context to a conversation about designers today, who are engaged in socially-oriented practice— both globally and locally. Emily Pilloton, Bobby Martin, The Hester Street Collaborative, Thomas Starr, The Center for Urban Pedagogy, One Laptop Per Child. We asked questions about their successes, their failures and what their examples might mean for our own practices.

141


142

What modes of discourse show up in our work as designers?

Discourse

“In dialogue, we begin to reflect on what we’ve been doing but not noticing; dialogue requires us to be in a more conscious state, to take responsibility for our thinking.” — William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. Readings by William Isaacs and Margaret Wheatley provided the backdrop to a meditation on discourse (pg. 116) and the chat book activity (pg. 160).

How can we design for the whole system, not just the most obvious symptoms?

Systems

Readings by Donella Meadows, Wendell Berry, Paul Hawken and a profile on inventor Saul Griffith set the stage for the film Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh —about what the rapid sweep of development in a small Himalayan village can tell us about our own industrial system. An in-class activity on systems helped us take a macroscopic view of our projects outside the seminar space (pg. 177); and another allowed us to examine design methodologies (pg. 173) against the themes we’d already covered during the semester.

143


142

What modes of discourse show up in our work as designers?

Discourse

“In dialogue, we begin to reflect on what we’ve been doing but not noticing; dialogue requires us to be in a more conscious state, to take responsibility for our thinking.” — William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. Readings by William Isaacs and Margaret Wheatley provided the backdrop to a meditation on discourse (pg. 116) and the chat book activity (pg. 160).

How can we design for the whole system, not just the most obvious symptoms?

Systems

Readings by Donella Meadows, Wendell Berry, Paul Hawken and a profile on inventor Saul Griffith set the stage for the film Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh —about what the rapid sweep of development in a small Himalayan village can tell us about our own industrial system. An in-class activity on systems helped us take a macroscopic view of our projects outside the seminar space (pg. 177); and another allowed us to examine design methodologies (pg. 173) against the themes we’d already covered during the semester.

143


How can we be a guiding voice in a design process, not an authoritative one?

Facilitation

Readings by John Thackara and various approaches to facilitation from Inviting Dialogue: Renewing the Deep Purposes of Higher Education, made good bar conversation. For a class on facilitation, the bar turned out to be the perfect venue—providing an embodied experience of how a comfortable atmosphere can help encourage collective conversation.

What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues?

Community

Readings on Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row House, and an overview of dialogic practice in public art by Grant Kester gave context to a visit by Peter Hocking, former Director of the Office of Public Engagement, who joined us to talk about community-based practice and how he's making a conscious attempt to make his community 10 blocks again. We ended class on the Providence River.


How can we be a guiding voice in a design process, not an authoritative one?

Facilitation

Readings by John Thackara and various approaches to facilitation from Inviting Dialogue: Renewing the Deep Purposes of Higher Education, made good bar conversation. For a class on facilitation, the bar turned out to be the perfect venue—providing an embodied experience of how a comfortable atmosphere can help encourage collective conversation.

What gives us agency to work within particular communities or around particular issues?

Community

Readings on Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row House, and an overview of dialogic practice in public art by Grant Kester gave context to a visit by Peter Hocking, former Director of the Office of Public Engagement, who joined us to talk about community-based practice and how he's making a conscious attempt to make his community 10 blocks again. We ended class on the Providence River.


REED duecy–Gibbs

146

147

Architecture

Reed Duecy-Gibbs, an architecture student, developed this game as a facilitation tool for site planning. In a real world context, the game would be introduced as one piece of a larger design process—in this case to farm owners, farm workers and tourists trying to transform a vacant lot into a working farm. Through tools like this, he’s As an architect, once you start looking not only for ways to engage the other while he is designing, but recognizing ‘the other’ you for ways that key stakeholders can have to recognize the terms develop their vision in conversation that it operates on. The only with each other.

guaranteed way to know that

you’re engaging with something outside yourself, or outside your preconceptions, is when you encounter something you didn’t Homestead: Recreating the Farm. Reed tests out a siteplanning game with the class.

expect and have to change your opinion. To do good design, you need to recognize those terms.

In a class session towards the end of the semester, Reed tested a prototype for his game. Not only was the class able to provide a fresh perspective on the project from their own individual and disciplinary perspectives, the game itself became a reference point for the major themes of the semester— facilitation, modes of discourse, systems thinking. An hour and a


REED duecy–Gibbs

146

147

Architecture

Reed Duecy-Gibbs, an architecture student, developed this game as a facilitation tool for site planning. In a real world context, the game would be introduced as one piece of a larger design process—in this case to farm owners, farm workers and tourists trying to transform a vacant lot into a working farm. Through tools like this, he’s As an architect, once you start looking not only for ways to engage the other while he is designing, but recognizing ‘the other’ you for ways that key stakeholders can have to recognize the terms develop their vision in conversation that it operates on. The only with each other.

guaranteed way to know that

you’re engaging with something outside yourself, or outside your preconceptions, is when you encounter something you didn’t Homestead: Recreating the Farm. Reed tests out a siteplanning game with the class.

expect and have to change your opinion. To do good design, you need to recognize those terms.

In a class session towards the end of the semester, Reed tested a prototype for his game. Not only was the class able to provide a fresh perspective on the project from their own individual and disciplinary perspectives, the game itself became a reference point for the major themes of the semester— facilitation, modes of discourse, systems thinking. An hour and a


Towards the end of the semester we met with students to talk about their evolving ideas of agency. We were curious to know how the work in the class was effecting their ongoing studio work. The quotes throughout this book come from these interviews—to follow is a full transcript of Reed's interview where he talks about the origins of his project.

148

JA: So what have you been exploring in your thesis? RDG: I’ve pursued my thesis as a series of small projects, related to the idea of recognizing ‘the other’; that is, recognizing the context outside of your project, the user outside of yourself, or of your design outside your drawings or models. I think that’s what you should do in a thesis—explore things you don’t know about, reflect on them and come to a conclusion. This kind of reflective post-rationalization has some negative connotations within my department, but I think it’s what a thesis should be. JA: So you mean, setting off on a path, finding what there is to find and then reflecting on that? Assuming in that process you’ll wind up somewhere different than where you started?

half after it began, we were still deep in conversation about the game’s intentions, its structure, its intended outcomes, and whether or not it would help Reed (as an architect) to engage honestly with community. It was exactly the kind of exchange we knew would be possible when we designed the course—a moment where studio practice crossed back into the seminar space, reflecting the readings, ideas and discussion we’d been having throughout the semester.

Dawn Barrett, Dean of Architecture + Design sits in on the class session and offers her advice.

RDG: Exactly. My initial topic was trying to look at the connection between large-scale systems that occupy vast geographies and things that I can make with my hands—trying to connect those in some way. JA: You were trying to reveal large geographic systems through the making of finite objects? RDG: Yeah, I gave myself systemic topics to look at—transportation, immigration and food. Looking at the situation of migrant farm workers was a confluence of those. So I began mapping the modes of production and flows of materials and labor throughout the u.s. At

the same time, I was making things like furniture that tangentially discussed that. In one project, I made a table out of shipping boxes—food shipping boxes. A group of friends and I had a meal on it and we used the imprints of everything we ate as a record of the meal. I had no idea what that would lead to—it was one of the first things I made. Reflecting on the making of that has led me to think about the ways that architecture can be a collective process and the ways that individual architects can facilitate that. So I’m making a game. Basically, it’s for site planning—in this case, re-inhabiting a vacant lot and turning it into a productive farm with housing. I made up stamps and created a set of rules. There are cards that give you basic guidelines about what needs to be on this farm. People go around—you can put stuff wherever you want—but at the end of each turn you have to explain to the other players why you did what you did. It’s a way to generate conversation. Right now, I’m working on fine tuning it because the way you structure the rules really effects the outcome. Like if each person takes their turn and focuses on something completely different each time, the conversation can be really random. So I’m finding ways to give each ‘player’ a task, like ‘you’re responsible for half the housing,’ etc. JA: Right. You give them roles and then, for instance, the two people working on housing need to have a conversation. RDG: Right. I don’t want to say I’m playing ‘puppet master’, but it’s like I’m setting up a structure to have a constructive conversation. JA: That’s facilitation! It’s about so much more than what’s happening in the moment. It’s about setting the stage for the conversation that needs to happen. At times, that can feel like you’re manipulating the system, or predetermining outcomes, but really what you’re doing is putting a few specific parameters in place so things can unfold in their own way.

149


Towards the end of the semester we met with students to talk about their evolving ideas of agency. We were curious to know how the work in the class was effecting their ongoing studio work. The quotes throughout this book come from these interviews—to follow is a full transcript of Reed's interview where he talks about the origins of his project.

148

JA: So what have you been exploring in your thesis? RDG: I’ve pursued my thesis as a series of small projects, related to the idea of recognizing ‘the other’; that is, recognizing the context outside of your project, the user outside of yourself, or of your design outside your drawings or models. I think that’s what you should do in a thesis—explore things you don’t know about, reflect on them and come to a conclusion. This kind of reflective post-rationalization has some negative connotations within my department, but I think it’s what a thesis should be. JA: So you mean, setting off on a path, finding what there is to find and then reflecting on that? Assuming in that process you’ll wind up somewhere different than where you started?

half after it began, we were still deep in conversation about the game’s intentions, its structure, its intended outcomes, and whether or not it would help Reed (as an architect) to engage honestly with community. It was exactly the kind of exchange we knew would be possible when we designed the course—a moment where studio practice crossed back into the seminar space, reflecting the readings, ideas and discussion we’d been having throughout the semester.

Dawn Barrett, Dean of Architecture + Design sits in on the class session and offers her advice.

RDG: Exactly. My initial topic was trying to look at the connection between large-scale systems that occupy vast geographies and things that I can make with my hands—trying to connect those in some way. JA: You were trying to reveal large geographic systems through the making of finite objects? RDG: Yeah, I gave myself systemic topics to look at—transportation, immigration and food. Looking at the situation of migrant farm workers was a confluence of those. So I began mapping the modes of production and flows of materials and labor throughout the u.s. At

the same time, I was making things like furniture that tangentially discussed that. In one project, I made a table out of shipping boxes—food shipping boxes. A group of friends and I had a meal on it and we used the imprints of everything we ate as a record of the meal. I had no idea what that would lead to—it was one of the first things I made. Reflecting on the making of that has led me to think about the ways that architecture can be a collective process and the ways that individual architects can facilitate that. So I’m making a game. Basically, it’s for site planning—in this case, re-inhabiting a vacant lot and turning it into a productive farm with housing. I made up stamps and created a set of rules. There are cards that give you basic guidelines about what needs to be on this farm. People go around—you can put stuff wherever you want—but at the end of each turn you have to explain to the other players why you did what you did. It’s a way to generate conversation. Right now, I’m working on fine tuning it because the way you structure the rules really effects the outcome. Like if each person takes their turn and focuses on something completely different each time, the conversation can be really random. So I’m finding ways to give each ‘player’ a task, like ‘you’re responsible for half the housing,’ etc. JA: Right. You give them roles and then, for instance, the two people working on housing need to have a conversation. RDG: Right. I don’t want to say I’m playing ‘puppet master’, but it’s like I’m setting up a structure to have a constructive conversation. JA: That’s facilitation! It’s about so much more than what’s happening in the moment. It’s about setting the stage for the conversation that needs to happen. At times, that can feel like you’re manipulating the system, or predetermining outcomes, but really what you’re doing is putting a few specific parameters in place so things can unfold in their own way.

149


I was raised to be socially-progressive and politically aware. 150

I don’t think I’d really thought about architecture as a collective process— or maybe I just hadn’t internalized it yet.

Because that structure is there, and someone is guiding it, it almost always becomes a more open space. RDG: I agree, creativity works best when it has some limits. JA: Is this a process you imagine using in a real-world site planning process? So the design process becomes more participatory, more relational? RDG: Yes. That was floating around in my mind when developing this game. JA: Did you come into school thinking this way—that you’d be bringing the mentality of a facilitator into architecture? RDG: I was raised to be socially-progressive and politically aware. I don’t think I’d really

thought about architecture as a collective process—or maybe I just hadn’t internalized it yet. Being in school and reflecting on that has made it more clear. I’d say that Sylvia Acosta’s course played a roll in that realization. She’s a big advocate for architecture as a collective endeavor. In our second semester studio you’re working with 70 other students on one project. You realize the time and energy and thought that’s needed in architecture. When you’re sitting in studio staring at your computer, you don’t realize how the decisions you’re making will play out—with other people, with the context that you’re working in. You can say you’ve thought about the context, but you have no idea.

JA: The fact that you’re asking these questions about ‘the other’ is huge...

JA: Right—unless you’ve actually engaged with the context. It’s all just speculative. Though lots of people work from that place.

RDG: . . . you have to recognize the terms that it operates on and those terms may or may not be the same as your own.

RDG: Lots of architecture gets built from that place. Some of it is successful and some isn’t. If you work in that way it’s like you’re rolling the dice every time. So working on my degree project has been about defining a tool kit that I can use once I leave here.

JA: Exactly.

JA: We’re thinking about our thesis in a similar way—thinking about the importance of doing the ‘work before the work’. This is an idea that really resonates with us as designers—a way to set the stage for future practice, or as you said, for finding the tools we’ll need for that practice. So in your thesis, you’re highlighting a collective design process as well as an individual one. You see a place for both? RDG: Yes and having the two to contrast with each other, creates a tangible comparison. It’s really about me trying to understand ‘the other’ in relation to my work and seeing how that plays out on different scales or in different contexts—wondering how you engage the other while you are designing. These two projects help me do that.

RDG: It’s daunting though. It’s so hard to understand what exists outside yourself or outside your work. JA: Well yes, because it means letting go of control—designers and architects have the privilege, if they choose to take it, of being in complete control of a process. That’s a comforting place. But when you start considering the other, when you even open up that question in your mind, that notion of control is over. You can’t live in that place anymore. Once you start recognizing the other...

RDG: To do good design, you need to recognize those terms. Otherwise you’re just making things to make them. JA: The thing about considering the other, is that there are all sorts of ways we trick ourselves into believing we’re doing it, even when we’re not. I’m curious, in your own practice, how do you know when you’re engaging honestly with the other? RDG: One sure way, is when you encounter something you didn’t expect and have to change your opinion. That’s a guaranteed way to know that you’re engaging something outside yourself, or outside your preconceptions. For me, that’s the only way I know. Though it’s really difficult. JA: Right, it’s a willingness to recognize those moments and to change your assumptions about a situation—that’s so important.

RDG: I know I have a ‘type A’, ego-centric personality, which is really in opposition to the values I hold. I find I have to moderate that sometimes. It’s a process of constant reflection. JA: Definitely. Especially if you are thinking of yourself as a facilitator—it’s all about how you listen really well in those moments, how you listen to the other. RDG: It’s about active listening. JA: Right and listening is difficult—you’re so often hearing what you want to hear, or have all sorts of assumptions about the other, or you’re thinking ahead to what you want to say next. But to really have that relational experience with listening; it’s about listening to understand. So. . . I’m just curious about what’s next for you. How do you see the kind of work you’re doing now informing your future work. RDG: I do really want to get my license, so I need to work within a licensed office. That does present some limitations. I’d like to be able to devote time to organizations or projects that have a progressive social agenda. Something like Bryan Bell’s Design Core or Project H. These projects are trying to move design into a realm that engages people and looks for projects from there, rather than working in more speculative ways. Finding ways to subvert and embrace the system is important, as is making it economically sustainable. I don’t know how that will play out for me yet. We’ll see.

151


I was raised to be socially-progressive and politically aware. 150

I don’t think I’d really thought about architecture as a collective process— or maybe I just hadn’t internalized it yet.

Because that structure is there, and someone is guiding it, it almost always becomes a more open space. RDG: I agree, creativity works best when it has some limits. JA: Is this a process you imagine using in a real-world site planning process? So the design process becomes more participatory, more relational? RDG: Yes. That was floating around in my mind when developing this game. JA: Did you come into school thinking this way—that you’d be bringing the mentality of a facilitator into architecture? RDG: I was raised to be socially-progressive and politically aware. I don’t think I’d really

thought about architecture as a collective process—or maybe I just hadn’t internalized it yet. Being in school and reflecting on that has made it more clear. I’d say that Sylvia Acosta’s course played a roll in that realization. She’s a big advocate for architecture as a collective endeavor. In our second semester studio you’re working with 70 other students on one project. You realize the time and energy and thought that’s needed in architecture. When you’re sitting in studio staring at your computer, you don’t realize how the decisions you’re making will play out—with other people, with the context that you’re working in. You can say you’ve thought about the context, but you have no idea.

JA: The fact that you’re asking these questions about ‘the other’ is huge...

JA: Right—unless you’ve actually engaged with the context. It’s all just speculative. Though lots of people work from that place.

RDG: . . . you have to recognize the terms that it operates on and those terms may or may not be the same as your own.

RDG: Lots of architecture gets built from that place. Some of it is successful and some isn’t. If you work in that way it’s like you’re rolling the dice every time. So working on my degree project has been about defining a tool kit that I can use once I leave here.

JA: Exactly.

JA: We’re thinking about our thesis in a similar way—thinking about the importance of doing the ‘work before the work’. This is an idea that really resonates with us as designers—a way to set the stage for future practice, or as you said, for finding the tools we’ll need for that practice. So in your thesis, you’re highlighting a collective design process as well as an individual one. You see a place for both? RDG: Yes and having the two to contrast with each other, creates a tangible comparison. It’s really about me trying to understand ‘the other’ in relation to my work and seeing how that plays out on different scales or in different contexts—wondering how you engage the other while you are designing. These two projects help me do that.

RDG: It’s daunting though. It’s so hard to understand what exists outside yourself or outside your work. JA: Well yes, because it means letting go of control—designers and architects have the privilege, if they choose to take it, of being in complete control of a process. That’s a comforting place. But when you start considering the other, when you even open up that question in your mind, that notion of control is over. You can’t live in that place anymore. Once you start recognizing the other...

RDG: To do good design, you need to recognize those terms. Otherwise you’re just making things to make them. JA: The thing about considering the other, is that there are all sorts of ways we trick ourselves into believing we’re doing it, even when we’re not. I’m curious, in your own practice, how do you know when you’re engaging honestly with the other? RDG: One sure way, is when you encounter something you didn’t expect and have to change your opinion. That’s a guaranteed way to know that you’re engaging something outside yourself, or outside your preconceptions. For me, that’s the only way I know. Though it’s really difficult. JA: Right, it’s a willingness to recognize those moments and to change your assumptions about a situation—that’s so important.

RDG: I know I have a ‘type A’, ego-centric personality, which is really in opposition to the values I hold. I find I have to moderate that sometimes. It’s a process of constant reflection. JA: Definitely. Especially if you are thinking of yourself as a facilitator—it’s all about how you listen really well in those moments, how you listen to the other. RDG: It’s about active listening. JA: Right and listening is difficult—you’re so often hearing what you want to hear, or have all sorts of assumptions about the other, or you’re thinking ahead to what you want to say next. But to really have that relational experience with listening; it’s about listening to understand. So. . . I’m just curious about what’s next for you. How do you see the kind of work you’re doing now informing your future work. RDG: I do really want to get my license, so I need to work within a licensed office. That does present some limitations. I’d like to be able to devote time to organizations or projects that have a progressive social agenda. Something like Bryan Bell’s Design Core or Project H. These projects are trying to move design into a realm that engages people and looks for projects from there, rather than working in more speculative ways. Finding ways to subvert and embrace the system is important, as is making it economically sustainable. I don’t know how that will play out for me yet. We’ll see.

151


Carol ann livingstone

152

Architecture

Former commercial fishery site. Eastport, ME.

Carol Ann Livingstone is an architecture student who describes her role as The crux of agency is that it someone who meaningfully serves her sits at the heart of community. community: “not by pushing design aside for the sake of social development, We, as designers, might find our but by uplifting human experience best work as the catalyst for through it.” She’s aligning her skills and values by siting her degree project in her the agency of others. home community of Eastport, Maine— the site of a once thriving commercial fishery industry—asking how it can be revitalized. Eastport at one time had the largest sardine factory in the world. As the proposals for new commercial fisheries roll in, plans to demolish the remaining structures are in full swing. She’s asking, what could these new forms be? While economic and ecological viability are important considerations in her design process, her primary concern is in fostering dialogue between the community of Eastport and The Passamaquoddy Tribe on a nearby reservation—proposing that an “embassy” be built on the site to encourage a sense of cultural agency between the two groups. In developing her personal theory of agency, Carol Ann describes it as this: ability + vision + action = agency

153


Carol ann livingstone

152

Architecture

Former commercial fishery site. Eastport, ME.

Carol Ann Livingstone is an architecture student who describes her role as The crux of agency is that it someone who meaningfully serves her sits at the heart of community. community: “not by pushing design aside for the sake of social development, We, as designers, might find our but by uplifting human experience best work as the catalyst for through it.” She’s aligning her skills and values by siting her degree project in her the agency of others. home community of Eastport, Maine— the site of a once thriving commercial fishery industry—asking how it can be revitalized. Eastport at one time had the largest sardine factory in the world. As the proposals for new commercial fisheries roll in, plans to demolish the remaining structures are in full swing. She’s asking, what could these new forms be? While economic and ecological viability are important considerations in her design process, her primary concern is in fostering dialogue between the community of Eastport and The Passamaquoddy Tribe on a nearby reservation—proposing that an “embassy” be built on the site to encourage a sense of cultural agency between the two groups. In developing her personal theory of agency, Carol Ann describes it as this: ability + vision + action = agency

153


154

155

Carol gathered feedback from the class about how spaces in Providence encourage positive connections between disconnected communities.


154

155

Carol gathered feedback from the class about how spaces in Providence encourage positive connections between disconnected communities.


156

bridget skenadore

Teaching + Learning in Art and Design

I know that it’s going to take a lot more than one

Bridget Skenadore, a student from the Teaching + Learning program at risd, grew up on the Navaho reservation in southern Utah relationship, but I’m hoping and spoke frequently about the importance of to start something that that community during our class discussions. When she came to risd, she found it difficult will help native students to connect with the native community here— coming to Providence given the small population of native students at connect with their commuthe college and the lack of centralized resources in the community beyond. nity in the future. For our class, she enacted her agency and engaged community by making contact with the Rhode Island Indian Council in Providence. She’s been volunteering with them throughout this semester— helping to organize a pow-wow on Brown University’s campus that brought together native communities from across the region. You could hear the excitement in her voice, talking about the event afterward. She spoke of how comforting it was to be among a more familiar community, but also about all the differences she noticed between her own tribe (one of the largest in the country) and the many smaller ones that make up the native community in New England. Since then, she’s been working to strengthen the connection between the Indian Council, risd and nab (the Native American student group at Brown).

semester to build a big

157


156

bridget skenadore

Teaching + Learning in Art and Design

I know that it’s going to take a lot more than one

Bridget Skenadore, a student from the Teaching + Learning program at risd, grew up on the Navaho reservation in southern Utah relationship, but I’m hoping and spoke frequently about the importance of to start something that that community during our class discussions. When she came to risd, she found it difficult will help native students to connect with the native community here— coming to Providence given the small population of native students at connect with their commuthe college and the lack of centralized resources in the community beyond. nity in the future. For our class, she enacted her agency and engaged community by making contact with the Rhode Island Indian Council in Providence. She’s been volunteering with them throughout this semester— helping to organize a pow-wow on Brown University’s campus that brought together native communities from across the region. You could hear the excitement in her voice, talking about the event afterward. She spoke of how comforting it was to be among a more familiar community, but also about all the differences she noticed between her own tribe (one of the largest in the country) and the many smaller ones that make up the native community in New England. Since then, she’s been working to strengthen the connection between the Indian Council, risd and nab (the Native American student group at Brown).

semester to build a big

157


visual prompts

158

Where there is dynamic participation, forms are not just visual—they lead to a relational experience with listening. – Suzi Gablik, The Re-enchantment of Art

In Design Agency, the course, we explored ways that visual facilitation could help reinforce learning within the classroom space. Our version of design through facilitation came directly from our sensibilities as graphic designers, though we took cues from educators in other fields. The Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy create entire environs of visible learning—which they see as helping to form the basis for relationships, the foundation for knowledge and as a way to spark questions, rather than to produce answers.1 In introducing visual learning into a classroom space of our peers, we knew our prompts would need to be generative but light—a way to spark reflection and conversation, to serve as a jumping off point for deeper discussion—without being heavy-handed.

1 Giudici, Claudia, Carla Rinaldi, Mara Krechevsky, Paola Barchi, Howard Gardner, Tiziana

Filippini, Paola Strozzi, et al. 2001. Making learning visible: children as individual and group learners. Cambridge, MA.

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visual prompts

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Where there is dynamic participation, forms are not just visual—they lead to a relational experience with listening. – Suzi Gablik, The Re-enchantment of Art

In Design Agency, the course, we explored ways that visual facilitation could help reinforce learning within the classroom space. Our version of design through facilitation came directly from our sensibilities as graphic designers, though we took cues from educators in other fields. The Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy create entire environs of visible learning—which they see as helping to form the basis for relationships, the foundation for knowledge and as a way to spark questions, rather than to produce answers.1 In introducing visual learning into a classroom space of our peers, we knew our prompts would need to be generative but light—a way to spark reflection and conversation, to serve as a jumping off point for deeper discussion—without being heavy-handed.

1 Giudici, Claudia, Carla Rinaldi, Mara Krechevsky, Paola Barchi, Howard Gardner, Tiziana

Filippini, Paola Strozzi, et al. 2001. Making learning visible: children as individual and group learners. Cambridge, MA.

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chat books

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Recognizing the modes of discourse in our daily interactions is a first-step to understanding which we employ in our design process and to how we can more effectively, and consciously, facilitate exchange as a result. We developed these Chat Books to allow students to reflect on six distinct modes of communication, ranging from polemic to pronouncement, debate to discussion and dialogue. Based on a reading by dialogue practitioner William Isaacs, as well as their own experiences, students identified where areas of listening (yellow), silence (blue) and power (pink) occur in each. The drawings were expressive and varied according to each student, but they provided a groundwork for comparison and discussion— a way to draw out stories and questions.

Students compare their understanding of dialogue.

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chat books

160

Recognizing the modes of discourse in our daily interactions is a first-step to understanding which we employ in our design process and to how we can more effectively, and consciously, facilitate exchange as a result. We developed these Chat Books to allow students to reflect on six distinct modes of communication, ranging from polemic to pronouncement, debate to discussion and dialogue. Based on a reading by dialogue practitioner William Isaacs, as well as their own experiences, students identified where areas of listening (yellow), silence (blue) and power (pink) occur in each. The drawings were expressive and varied according to each student, but they provided a groundwork for comparison and discussion— a way to draw out stories and questions.

Students compare their understanding of dialogue.

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Pronouncement


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163

Pronouncement


164

165

Debate


164

165

Debate


166

167

Dialogue


166

167

Dialogue


reimagining the discourse continuum

When Anne West asked us to facilitate an exercise on discourse with her class, Betwixt and Between, took the opportunity to reimagine the discourse continuum (see pg. 115). We designed a small accordion book that offered definitions of discourse on one side and visual representations of each mode on the other. Students again were asked to identify listening, silence and power—but this time, to do so with a consistent visual language as a base.

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DIALOGUE

DISCUSSION

DEBATE

POLEMIC

PRONOUNCEMENT

ORWELLIAN

a flow of meaning

give and take

reasoned, logical

sparring

authoritarian

to lie or reframe

one-way message

manipulates to gain one’s own end

beyond positions

a way to generate new insight and understanding questions assumptions

potential for discovery

to break apart an issue consensus building problem-solving negotiation

lack of ambiguity winners or losers

making arguments from fixed positions, point by point

aggression, intimidation

polar viewpoints

discredits opponent by any means

I know what’s best no intention of exchange

deceives

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reimagining the discourse continuum

When Anne West asked us to facilitate an exercise on discourse with her class, Betwixt and Between, took the opportunity to reimagine the discourse continuum (see pg. 115). We designed a small accordion book that offered definitions of discourse on one side and visual representations of each mode on the other. Students again were asked to identify listening, silence and power—but this time, to do so with a consistent visual language as a base.

168

DIALOGUE

DISCUSSION

DEBATE

POLEMIC

PRONOUNCEMENT

ORWELLIAN

a flow of meaning

give and take

reasoned, logical

sparring

authoritarian

to lie or reframe

one-way message

manipulates to gain one’s own end

beyond positions

a way to generate new insight and understanding questions assumptions

potential for discovery

to break apart an issue consensus building problem-solving negotiation

lack of ambiguity winners or losers

making arguments from fixed positions, point by point

aggression, intimidation

polar viewpoints

discredits opponent by any means

I know what’s best no intention of exchange

deceives

169


A comparative understanding of discourse: listening in yellow; silence in blue; power in pink.


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x/y axis

In a section on systems thinking, we asked students to research a selection of current design methodologies—human-centered design, participatory design, co-design, transformation design, service design, slow design and design-mindfullness—asking, among other things, how each approached the design process and what modes of discourse they employed. To get the conversation started, students plotted each of their methodologies on an x/y axis—in one direction, indicating how their particular methodology used discourse on a range from pronouncement to dialogue; in the other, whether their methodology approached the design process in a symptomatic or systematic way. Seeing them laid out visually, in relation to one another, allowed for comparison and discussion that would not have been possible otherwise. We found most of the methodologies clustered in the top right-hand quadrant—approaching design through dialogic processes and addressing systemic challenges. One of the important insights of this activity came when a student remarked, that while these approaches do well to convince you that involving people in the design process is a good thing— none of them tell you much about how to do that. So, over the next two class periods, we engaged in readings and conversation around facilitation strategies and community building—as a way to ground these methodologies in a more specific set of skills.

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x/y axis

In a section on systems thinking, we asked students to research a selection of current design methodologies—human-centered design, participatory design, co-design, transformation design, service design, slow design and design-mindfullness—asking, among other things, how each approached the design process and what modes of discourse they employed. To get the conversation started, students plotted each of their methodologies on an x/y axis—in one direction, indicating how their particular methodology used discourse on a range from pronouncement to dialogue; in the other, whether their methodology approached the design process in a symptomatic or systematic way. Seeing them laid out visually, in relation to one another, allowed for comparison and discussion that would not have been possible otherwise. We found most of the methodologies clustered in the top right-hand quadrant—approaching design through dialogic processes and addressing systemic challenges. One of the important insights of this activity came when a student remarked, that while these approaches do well to convince you that involving people in the design process is a good thing— none of them tell you much about how to do that. So, over the next two class periods, we engaged in readings and conversation around facilitation strategies and community building—as a way to ground these methodologies in a more specific set of skills.

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Power Grid

Understanding who holds the power in design process, or in a community, is a central part of a reflexive practice. The power grid is a mapping activity that prompts designers to visualize relationships between stakeholders, to try and recognize the power held by each, and to map out their proximity to each other, as well as the quality of exchange between them. It’s a way to spatialize relationships, to help a designer think through the connections (and disconnections) that underpin a design project.

SBA RI-CIE DAVID BOGEN

PATTI PHILLIPS

DESIGN AGENCY JANE ANDROSKI

DAWN BARRETT

EMILY SARA WILSON

As an exercise for ourselves, we plotted the set of relationships that made Design Agency, the course, possible.

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174

Power Grid

Understanding who holds the power in design process, or in a community, is a central part of a reflexive practice. The power grid is a mapping activity that prompts designers to visualize relationships between stakeholders, to try and recognize the power held by each, and to map out their proximity to each other, as well as the quality of exchange between them. It’s a way to spatialize relationships, to help a designer think through the connections (and disconnections) that underpin a design project.

SBA RI-CIE DAVID BOGEN

PATTI PHILLIPS

DESIGN AGENCY JANE ANDROSKI

DAWN BARRETT

EMILY SARA WILSON

As an exercise for ourselves, we plotted the set of relationships that made Design Agency, the course, possible.

175


visualizing systems

The six circle mark used throughout this book, affectionately referred to as ‘Bert,’ is directly influenced by the same structure in the 1953 World Geographic Atlas Herbert Bayer designed for the Container Corporation of America. It has become a perfect tool for Design Agency in thinking about systems and structures, influence and interconnectivity. On the following pages are a series of visual exercises that use Bert as a starting point in understanding the larger systems at play in design processes. “In representing our theories, we ‘re-know’ or ‘re-cognize’ them, making it possible for our images and intuitions to take shape and evolve through action, emotion, expressiveness, and iconic and symbolic representations.” — Making Learning Visible, Project Zero, Reggio Children

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visualizing systems

The six circle mark used throughout this book, affectionately referred to as ‘Bert,’ is directly influenced by the same structure in the 1953 World Geographic Atlas Herbert Bayer designed for the Container Corporation of America. It has become a perfect tool for Design Agency in thinking about systems and structures, influence and interconnectivity. On the following pages are a series of visual exercises that use Bert as a starting point in understanding the larger systems at play in design processes. “In representing our theories, we ‘re-know’ or ‘re-cognize’ them, making it possible for our images and intuitions to take shape and evolve through action, emotion, expressiveness, and iconic and symbolic representations.” — Making Learning Visible, Project Zero, Reggio Children

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178

In a guided exercise, we asked students to identify the systems at work in their projects. Below, Carol Ann’s identifies the systems effecting her project and her community in Eastport, ME, asking how she can facilitate dialogue and grow cultural agency through design. At left, Levi Jette is envisioning a partnership with People’s Power and Light, a non-profit organization in Providence that promotes energy efficiency.

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178

In a guided exercise, we asked students to identify the systems at work in their projects. Below, Carol Ann’s identifies the systems effecting her project and her community in Eastport, ME, asking how she can facilitate dialogue and grow cultural agency through design. At left, Levi Jette is envisioning a partnership with People’s Power and Light, a non-profit organization in Providence that promotes energy efficiency.

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Here, an iteration of the same visualization project that Brittney Koon, another architecture student, created the following week. “I abandoned Bert,” she told us. “The larger stars are the things that were previously in the outside ring—the things I feel are more central or important. When we asked her if this was a way she normally worked to visualize processes, she said no. “I do try to include lists of some sort, although I don’t usually link all the concepts together in a visual way. I was curious to see how this would help me think differently about my project.”

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reflection / jane androski On the Importance of Puddles

On a gray, rain-soaked day about half-way through the semester, everything changed. By all accounts, the class had been going well. As facilitators, we felt good about the material we were offering each week—the syllabus, readings, and activities, were all generating insightful class discussions. Students almost never missed class and would even stay late, to finish a thread of conversation or to gather some advice about a project. There were signs that our conversations were different, and perhaps more honest, than those in our respective departments. Gears were turning. We brought food from local bakeries. People seemed relaxed in the classroom space. Looking from the outside, one could have easily made the assumption that we’d opened a unique space for exchange. It certainly looked different than many of the classroom spaces at risd. But something was missing. The students had, to this point, spent weeks talking through ways they could bring agency to their individual practices as designers and teachers. But what we weren’t seeing them do, was take agency within the classroom space itself. The power dynamics should have been different—after all, there were no clear ‘experts’, no authoritarian (or as one student described her professors, Orwellian) voices in the room. But I could still sense them holding back. They seemed, more often than I wanted to admit, to be looking to us for answers, and we felt a growing sense of pressure to provide them. This was not the dynamic I was hoping for, or expecting, when we started the semester. I had made the assumption that the dynamics of a peer-led space would move differently from others—that students would feel a more natural, and even instinctual level responsibility for the classroom. But even with the small

183


reflection / jane androski On the Importance of Puddles

On a gray, rain-soaked day about half-way through the semester, everything changed. By all accounts, the class had been going well. As facilitators, we felt good about the material we were offering each week—the syllabus, readings, and activities, were all generating insightful class discussions. Students almost never missed class and would even stay late, to finish a thread of conversation or to gather some advice about a project. There were signs that our conversations were different, and perhaps more honest, than those in our respective departments. Gears were turning. We brought food from local bakeries. People seemed relaxed in the classroom space. Looking from the outside, one could have easily made the assumption that we’d opened a unique space for exchange. It certainly looked different than many of the classroom spaces at risd. But something was missing. The students had, to this point, spent weeks talking through ways they could bring agency to their individual practices as designers and teachers. But what we weren’t seeing them do, was take agency within the classroom space itself. The power dynamics should have been different—after all, there were no clear ‘experts’, no authoritarian (or as one student described her professors, Orwellian) voices in the room. But I could still sense them holding back. They seemed, more often than I wanted to admit, to be looking to us for answers, and we felt a growing sense of pressure to provide them. This was not the dynamic I was hoping for, or expecting, when we started the semester. I had made the assumption that the dynamics of a peer-led space would move differently from others—that students would feel a more natural, and even instinctual level responsibility for the classroom. But even with the small

183


184

gestures we’d made to help shift this, I found we were all acting in perfect accordance to the dynamics of a more typical (and passive) learning/teaching space. Half-way through the semester, with a clearly defined teaching objective to ‘create community within the classroom’ (an experiment in the kind of design processes we hoped to facilitate out in the world), I realized we didn’t really know each other. In our effort to prove ourselves worth the students’ time, credits and money (especially given our questionable status as peers) and our own pressures for the course to ‘produce’ for our thesis, I’d forgotten the importance of idleness—of letting the class wander where it needed to go. It took a rainstorm to dislodge us from this pattern. On that particular day, Emily and I pulled back. Rather than overplanning, we under-planned. And we skipped the snacks. What we did do was rearrange the tables in the room, ever so slightly, so that our circle was drawn just a little closer. And we started with a simple question: what was on your mind when you walked through the door today? Students seemed unsure at first, about how to ‘answer’. C’mon, throw something on the table, anything! Slowly with small, questioning smiles they began. One student was preoccupied with her husband’s job prospects, knowing he would be a determining factor in where they’d move once the year was out; another talked about a pow-wow she’d helped organize over the weekend—about one man who danced all the dances and was still dancing, with gusto, at day’s end. They talked about degree project presentations to come—those who had been through their own presentations shared advice. I could sense them loosening up. It was an architecture student who finally shared that on her way to class, all she’d really wanted to do was to splash in the puddles that had been deepening in the driving rain all morning. She’d just gotten through a major critique and was feeling that strange blend of exhaustion and relief. We could all empathize. I wondered aloud—what if this was our code word? Puddles. If someone dropped it into the room later, would we actually get up, go outside and do it? The thought sat in the space for a few seconds. We moved on. A student presented a slideshow about

their work and another began to set up theirs—but when their computer froze and we’d been watching that rainbow disk spin for what seemed like hours, I let it drop. Puddles. We looked at each other. Another voice, puddles? And another, puddles. Slowly we stood, put on our coats, and walked towards the door in disbelief, but with a certain momentum. In a minute, we were down the stairs and out onto the brick-paved promenade by the Providence River. In-between cracks, in the places where the bricks had settled, there were puddles—everywhere. A running jump, with two feet squarely planted, sent up the first splash. After that, it was easy. We roamed the yard, stomped, tested out the depth and breadth of each puddle (and the watertightness of our boots). With our pant legs still dripping, we trailed water into the store below our classroom and bought snacks. For the remainder of our class, we passed around gummy bears, chips and m+m’s, and lingered together well into dinner time, talking about the film we'd watched after our excursion. There’s something reassuring about thirteen graduate students impulsively stopping through puddles—letting all their pent up energy out, in a way that is as familiar as childhood but so easily forgotten. After that day, the class felt different. A student later said that it wasn’t until that moment that we started to feel like a community; that the conversations between us changed. Another admitted how hard it had been to think of Emily and I as peers, that she had in fact, been looking to us for answers—holding back her own contributions as a result. Contrary to what one might think, being knocked down from that particular pedestal felt good. The next week a student brought an enormous batch of home made cookies. The shift was weeks in coming. In retrospect, maybe it couldn’t have happened before that point. It wasn’t until that day that I remembered that letting go, is an essential ingredient of teaching; that listening for what’s needed on a particular day, even if it’s something as innocuous as this, is what it’s all about.

185


184

gestures we’d made to help shift this, I found we were all acting in perfect accordance to the dynamics of a more typical (and passive) learning/teaching space. Half-way through the semester, with a clearly defined teaching objective to ‘create community within the classroom’ (an experiment in the kind of design processes we hoped to facilitate out in the world), I realized we didn’t really know each other. In our effort to prove ourselves worth the students’ time, credits and money (especially given our questionable status as peers) and our own pressures for the course to ‘produce’ for our thesis, I’d forgotten the importance of idleness—of letting the class wander where it needed to go. It took a rainstorm to dislodge us from this pattern. On that particular day, Emily and I pulled back. Rather than overplanning, we under-planned. And we skipped the snacks. What we did do was rearrange the tables in the room, ever so slightly, so that our circle was drawn just a little closer. And we started with a simple question: what was on your mind when you walked through the door today? Students seemed unsure at first, about how to ‘answer’. C’mon, throw something on the table, anything! Slowly with small, questioning smiles they began. One student was preoccupied with her husband’s job prospects, knowing he would be a determining factor in where they’d move once the year was out; another talked about a pow-wow she’d helped organize over the weekend—about one man who danced all the dances and was still dancing, with gusto, at day’s end. They talked about degree project presentations to come—those who had been through their own presentations shared advice. I could sense them loosening up. It was an architecture student who finally shared that on her way to class, all she’d really wanted to do was to splash in the puddles that had been deepening in the driving rain all morning. She’d just gotten through a major critique and was feeling that strange blend of exhaustion and relief. We could all empathize. I wondered aloud—what if this was our code word? Puddles. If someone dropped it into the room later, would we actually get up, go outside and do it? The thought sat in the space for a few seconds. We moved on. A student presented a slideshow about

their work and another began to set up theirs—but when their computer froze and we’d been watching that rainbow disk spin for what seemed like hours, I let it drop. Puddles. We looked at each other. Another voice, puddles? And another, puddles. Slowly we stood, put on our coats, and walked towards the door in disbelief, but with a certain momentum. In a minute, we were down the stairs and out onto the brick-paved promenade by the Providence River. In-between cracks, in the places where the bricks had settled, there were puddles—everywhere. A running jump, with two feet squarely planted, sent up the first splash. After that, it was easy. We roamed the yard, stomped, tested out the depth and breadth of each puddle (and the watertightness of our boots). With our pant legs still dripping, we trailed water into the store below our classroom and bought snacks. For the remainder of our class, we passed around gummy bears, chips and m+m’s, and lingered together well into dinner time, talking about the film we'd watched after our excursion. There’s something reassuring about thirteen graduate students impulsively stopping through puddles—letting all their pent up energy out, in a way that is as familiar as childhood but so easily forgotten. After that day, the class felt different. A student later said that it wasn’t until that moment that we started to feel like a community; that the conversations between us changed. Another admitted how hard it had been to think of Emily and I as peers, that she had in fact, been looking to us for answers—holding back her own contributions as a result. Contrary to what one might think, being knocked down from that particular pedestal felt good. The next week a student brought an enormous batch of home made cookies. The shift was weeks in coming. In retrospect, maybe it couldn’t have happened before that point. It wasn’t until that day that I remembered that letting go, is an essential ingredient of teaching; that listening for what’s needed on a particular day, even if it’s something as innocuous as this, is what it’s all about.

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A community designbuild studio in Pawtucket, RI.


Why agency Why now?

From early on, I saw the activity of design as shaping culture, of having critical impacts on states of mind, on states of community, on what people thought of themselves and what could be possible in their lives. —Sarah Buie in an interview with the authors, Spring 2011


Why agency, why now?...IN design PEDAGOGY

When 70+ architecture site their design-build studio in the community each semester, what measures are put in place to ensure the needs of the community are met? How does their work become more than simply a relocation of the classroom, but a true conversation with community stakeholders? Can enduring solutions realistically be implemented within a semester? And who's responsible for following up on the work once the semester ends? It is imperative that projects like these ask questions of their own intentions, both before and during their implementation. In research with community groups who’ve been the beneficiaries of such projects, they have been frank in their criticism. In more than one instance, they’ve characterized them as “Drive-by-design”—full of promises, short on results. In their wake, is left a sense of distrust, a real reluctance for our community to engage with risd students. There’s a lesson to be learned in all of this—that it’s the responsibility of the faculty and the institution to put systems in place that allow for long-term and responsible relationships with community.

A community designbuild studio in Pawtucket, RI.

We believe the questions and concepts of Design Agency help fill that gap. When the course was posted last fall—after the official start of course registration—the dean’s assistant told us that she’d never seen a course fill up so quickly. We recognized the potential for a peer-led, interdisciplinary space to offer new perspectives and new insight into what it means to engage honestly and responsibly in our community and in the world around us. Clearly others saw it too. Here are a few reflections from the students of Design Agency.

189


Why agency, why now?...IN design PEDAGOGY

When 70+ architecture site their design-build studio in the community each semester, what measures are put in place to ensure the needs of the community are met? How does their work become more than simply a relocation of the classroom, but a true conversation with community stakeholders? Can enduring solutions realistically be implemented within a semester? And who's responsible for following up on the work once the semester ends? It is imperative that projects like these ask questions of their own intentions, both before and during their implementation. In research with community groups who’ve been the beneficiaries of such projects, they have been frank in their criticism. In more than one instance, they’ve characterized them as “Drive-by-design”—full of promises, short on results. In their wake, is left a sense of distrust, a real reluctance for our community to engage with risd students. There’s a lesson to be learned in all of this—that it’s the responsibility of the faculty and the institution to put systems in place that allow for long-term and responsible relationships with community.

A community designbuild studio in Pawtucket, RI.

We believe the questions and concepts of Design Agency help fill that gap. When the course was posted last fall—after the official start of course registration—the dean’s assistant told us that she’d never seen a course fill up so quickly. We recognized the potential for a peer-led, interdisciplinary space to offer new perspectives and new insight into what it means to engage honestly and responsibly in our community and in the world around us. Clearly others saw it too. Here are a few reflections from the students of Design Agency.

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190

Stephen Goetschius

Jeana Antle

Industrial Design

Architecture

Agency, for me, comes back to I'm naturally inclined to be a reflective person. Last year I kept asking and asking for white space, and there wasn’t any. It’s not planned into the curriculum at all. There was no reflection going on in our department. I see myself as a co-teacher and co-student in Design Agency. We talked about that when the class was introduced, and it felt that way. It was a chance It just resonates with me to say out loud a lot of the things the whole idea of constantly that I’ve been reading from other influences and share them and then questioning who you are, who get that from other people, whatyour audience is, and how ever their influences were. So that are you measuring whether was unique so far, in my experience here. It happens a lot outside of you're being effective or not, class but it doesn't happen as part and so I saw this class as an of the structure of classes themselves. Design Agency is a time when opportunity to keep doing that. we do that, which I think is great.

skills and values, bringing those

When I registered for the course, I was thinking about the other two things together. kinds of people that might sign up for a course like this. I hadn’t really found those people here at risd yet. I love coming to class. It’s a completely different conversation than the ones I have in my studio. We talk about things in a larger context. I was looking to talk with people who were doing things differently, who wanted to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. I feel like I have talent and opportunities that other people don’t. I feel like I have an obligation to use that to help other people out.

191


190

Stephen Goetschius

Jeana Antle

Industrial Design

Architecture

Agency, for me, comes back to I'm naturally inclined to be a reflective person. Last year I kept asking and asking for white space, and there wasn’t any. It’s not planned into the curriculum at all. There was no reflection going on in our department. I see myself as a co-teacher and co-student in Design Agency. We talked about that when the class was introduced, and it felt that way. It was a chance It just resonates with me to say out loud a lot of the things the whole idea of constantly that I’ve been reading from other influences and share them and then questioning who you are, who get that from other people, whatyour audience is, and how ever their influences were. So that are you measuring whether was unique so far, in my experience here. It happens a lot outside of you're being effective or not, class but it doesn't happen as part and so I saw this class as an of the structure of classes themselves. Design Agency is a time when opportunity to keep doing that. we do that, which I think is great.

skills and values, bringing those

When I registered for the course, I was thinking about the other two things together. kinds of people that might sign up for a course like this. I hadn’t really found those people here at risd yet. I love coming to class. It’s a completely different conversation than the ones I have in my studio. We talk about things in a larger context. I was looking to talk with people who were doing things differently, who wanted to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. I feel like I have talent and opportunities that other people don’t. I feel like I have an obligation to use that to help other people out.

191


192

EMILY QUINN

LEVI JETTE

Teaching + Learning in Art and Design

Architecture

If you think about the goals I really appreciate the conversations we have in class. They are the kind of conversations that don’t happen in our department — where it’s more like pronouncement. There’s really not a lot of room for questioning. Or anyway, we’re not pushed to ask questions. In Design Agency, everyone seems to be bringing a mutual level of intelligence to the conversation. It’s gotten me thinking about ideas outside education and tying those into what I do. I think risd should offer several What is agency? To me, it’s staying of these each semester—an true to my interests and beliefs and interdisciplinary discussion about issues that everyone is how I want to distinguish myself as thinking about.

an educator. I’m not really interested in teaching, I’m interested in facilitating shared knowledge.

for the class, they’re lofty—

I didn’t think when coming to risd that I’d want to be working on architecture for social justice asking people to prioritize in a or environmental justice. It wasn’t way that you don’t see in school my initial intention and really, here. Even a nudge in that it still isn’t, but Design Agency is nice because it works on the direction is really good. periphery. You can look at a structure or a project and ask—is there an element of social justice that I can bring into this? So if we’re designing a kindergarden for a class, we can ask, is there a way that our design could encourage economic integration, or racial, or cultural integration? If you’re thinking about those questions at the same time, you can bring them in—but the professor is not necessarily going to challenge you to do that. So Design Agency works well as a support network to the studio work.

enormous! But ultimately, you’re

To gear your ability to design with agency is incredibly powerful. If it’s truly successful, it might even force you out of your profession and into something you feel strongly about—so that your priority might be more about agency and less about architecture. It’s about your priorities—whatever form of justice you choose.

193


192

EMILY QUINN

LEVI JETTE

Teaching + Learning in Art and Design

Architecture

If you think about the goals I really appreciate the conversations we have in class. They are the kind of conversations that don’t happen in our department — where it’s more like pronouncement. There’s really not a lot of room for questioning. Or anyway, we’re not pushed to ask questions. In Design Agency, everyone seems to be bringing a mutual level of intelligence to the conversation. It’s gotten me thinking about ideas outside education and tying those into what I do. I think risd should offer several What is agency? To me, it’s staying of these each semester—an true to my interests and beliefs and interdisciplinary discussion about issues that everyone is how I want to distinguish myself as thinking about.

an educator. I’m not really interested in teaching, I’m interested in facilitating shared knowledge.

for the class, they’re lofty—

I didn’t think when coming to risd that I’d want to be working on architecture for social justice asking people to prioritize in a or environmental justice. It wasn’t way that you don’t see in school my initial intention and really, here. Even a nudge in that it still isn’t, but Design Agency is nice because it works on the direction is really good. periphery. You can look at a structure or a project and ask—is there an element of social justice that I can bring into this? So if we’re designing a kindergarden for a class, we can ask, is there a way that our design could encourage economic integration, or racial, or cultural integration? If you’re thinking about those questions at the same time, you can bring them in—but the professor is not necessarily going to challenge you to do that. So Design Agency works well as a support network to the studio work.

enormous! But ultimately, you’re

To gear your ability to design with agency is incredibly powerful. If it’s truly successful, it might even force you out of your profession and into something you feel strongly about—so that your priority might be more about agency and less about architecture. It’s about your priorities—whatever form of justice you choose.

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Why agency, why now?...IN design PRACTICE

Designers, like those mentioned earlier in this volume, have been imploring design to be more socially–engaged for decades. So why is agency more important than ever? Because the increasing pressure on our social and environmental systems makes doing good more difficult than ever. The following three projects represent some of the pitfalls, challenges and successes of such work.

A mapping prompt we designed for an EPSCoR strategic planning meeting.

195


Why agency, why now?...IN design PRACTICE

Designers, like those mentioned earlier in this volume, have been imploring design to be more socially–engaged for decades. So why is agency more important than ever? Because the increasing pressure on our social and environmental systems makes doing good more difficult than ever. The following three projects represent some of the pitfalls, challenges and successes of such work.

A mapping prompt we designed for an EPSCoR strategic planning meeting.

195


196

197

in the developing world

Touted as a way to bring education to the developing world, One Laptop Per Child is a project that is full of good intentions. It is also a case study in reductive thinking—built from the assumption that technology, and westernized approaches to education, will lift children into a “brighter future.” It is a designed solution that attempts to address systems, by looking only at a symptoms. Any good design process begins with a series of questions. In a project like One Laptop, the stakes are clearly high but it's still, in essence, about asking good questions and learning to listen—about engaging honestly with the other, in the same way that Reed was describing earlier. Fundamental questions, like how a $200 piece of equipment—given to the youngest member of a family that makes less than $500 a year—would be received, were not fully considered; neither were questions about infrastructure, maintenance or accessibility. Prototypes for the device were tested late in development and few, if any, of the intended recipients were asked about how they might use them. And there were infrastructure problems as well. The mesh network the developers had conceived, to allow the computers to “talk” to one another and thus stay connected, was unreliable in regions with geographical impediments such as mountains.

Promotional photos from One Laptop Per Child.

The real irony of this program is that it was a solution, perhaps better suited for under-educated, and under-served, children in the United States—not those in the developing world which the program continues to target. Engaging as facilitators and ethnographers, designers should have the capacity to understand the unique regional idiosyncrasies of a particular population. As it is, the initial plan for foreign governments to purchase these laptops in the millions has yet to materialize and the project, on many fronts, is considered a failure. One Laptop is celebrated though, largely because of these compelling images. They tell a good story.


196

197

in the developing world

Touted as a way to bring education to the developing world, One Laptop Per Child is a project that is full of good intentions. It is also a case study in reductive thinking—built from the assumption that technology, and westernized approaches to education, will lift children into a “brighter future.” It is a designed solution that attempts to address systems, by looking only at a symptoms. Any good design process begins with a series of questions. In a project like One Laptop, the stakes are clearly high but it's still, in essence, about asking good questions and learning to listen—about engaging honestly with the other, in the same way that Reed was describing earlier. Fundamental questions, like how a $200 piece of equipment—given to the youngest member of a family that makes less than $500 a year—would be received, were not fully considered; neither were questions about infrastructure, maintenance or accessibility. Prototypes for the device were tested late in development and few, if any, of the intended recipients were asked about how they might use them. And there were infrastructure problems as well. The mesh network the developers had conceived, to allow the computers to “talk” to one another and thus stay connected, was unreliable in regions with geographical impediments such as mountains.

Promotional photos from One Laptop Per Child.

The real irony of this program is that it was a solution, perhaps better suited for under-educated, and under-served, children in the United States—not those in the developing world which the program continues to target. Engaging as facilitators and ethnographers, designers should have the capacity to understand the unique regional idiosyncrasies of a particular population. As it is, the initial plan for foreign governments to purchase these laptops in the millions has yet to materialize and the project, on many fronts, is considered a failure. One Laptop is celebrated though, largely because of these compelling images. They tell a good story.


199

in facilitating conversation in community building

There’s also the matter of priorities. Designers have an opportunity to make a lot of money, and they also have an opportunity to improve communities—as these two do not always align, designers must make choices about how they work and who they work for. Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller of Studio H know better than most about what it takes to build a livelihood—to do meaningful work. Studio H is a design/build curriculum partly funded by the regional community college and housed in the Bertie County High School. Now in their second year, they teach their students about design thinking, 2/3d design, production and fabrication, communication and documentation, all in an effort to, in their words, “develop creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and capital to give students the skills they need to succeed, while building the assets the community needs to survive. Given the opportunity to engage within a public education system, we believe the next generation will be the greatest asset and untapped resource in rural communities’ futures.”1

Chicktopia, designed and built by students from Studio H.

We witnessed first hand how a designer as facilitator approach could make a big difference, when invited by the Associate Provost of Academic Affairs to help facilitate a meeting, above, of the National Science Foundation’s epscor initiative (Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Each of the ten epscor partners in Rhode Island has research equipment that can be shared by the entire network, but this was not a network that they could see. We provided a way to visualize this network through a collaborative mapping activity. Participants worked together to find the connections, overlap, and opportunities that existed between their institutions. The map became a centerpiece of the meeting, capturing the energy of their potential collaborations as well as a vision for their future. Bringing in visual prompts early on in their process represents tremendous opportunity for designers—to help others see that which cannot be seen.

1 http://www.studio-h.org/ about


199

in facilitating conversation in community building

There’s also the matter of priorities. Designers have an opportunity to make a lot of money, and they also have an opportunity to improve communities—as these two do not always align, designers must make choices about how they work and who they work for. Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller of Studio H know better than most about what it takes to build a livelihood—to do meaningful work. Studio H is a design/build curriculum partly funded by the regional community college and housed in the Bertie County High School. Now in their second year, they teach their students about design thinking, 2/3d design, production and fabrication, communication and documentation, all in an effort to, in their words, “develop creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and capital to give students the skills they need to succeed, while building the assets the community needs to survive. Given the opportunity to engage within a public education system, we believe the next generation will be the greatest asset and untapped resource in rural communities’ futures.”1

Chicktopia, designed and built by students from Studio H.

We witnessed first hand how a designer as facilitator approach could make a big difference, when invited by the Associate Provost of Academic Affairs to help facilitate a meeting, above, of the National Science Foundation’s epscor initiative (Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Each of the ten epscor partners in Rhode Island has research equipment that can be shared by the entire network, but this was not a network that they could see. We provided a way to visualize this network through a collaborative mapping activity. Participants worked together to find the connections, overlap, and opportunities that existed between their institutions. The map became a centerpiece of the meeting, capturing the energy of their potential collaborations as well as a vision for their future. Bringing in visual prompts early on in their process represents tremendous opportunity for designers—to help others see that which cannot be seen.

1 http://www.studio-h.org/ about


Looking ahead

200

We began our thesis investigation with a simple premise—doing good isn’t always as easy as it seems. Even now, we aren’t looking for easy answers. In fact, we’re not convinced that it’s answers we’re after. Through Design Agency we’ll continue to cultivate a series of ongoing questions—ones that allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we communicate, and to do so in service to our community. The vision of Design Agency is a path towards social change—a way for us to define our individual values and to bring our collective skills to bear in meeting the challenges of the moment. In the coming months, we’ll be building on this momentum—on the energy generated through our collaboration, our thesis process, our conversations with students, and though the relationships we’ve built throughout this inquiry. We plan to turn our ideas about agency into an Agency and to do so in partnership with community-based organizations, non-profits, and educational institutions in Providence. Working within established structures as well as the cracks in-between, we’re hoping to build something more than just a living. We intend to create a livelihood—one that allows us to continue asking questions of each other and our profession. Our collaboration has made it clear that our strengths are in challenging the status quo, in engaging our agency, and helping others to do the same.

201


Looking ahead

200

We began our thesis investigation with a simple premise—doing good isn’t always as easy as it seems. Even now, we aren’t looking for easy answers. In fact, we’re not convinced that it’s answers we’re after. Through Design Agency we’ll continue to cultivate a series of ongoing questions—ones that allow us to examine the systems within which we work, to develop a consciousness about the way we communicate, and to do so in service to our community. The vision of Design Agency is a path towards social change—a way for us to define our individual values and to bring our collective skills to bear in meeting the challenges of the moment. In the coming months, we’ll be building on this momentum—on the energy generated through our collaboration, our thesis process, our conversations with students, and though the relationships we’ve built throughout this inquiry. We plan to turn our ideas about agency into an Agency and to do so in partnership with community-based organizations, non-profits, and educational institutions in Providence. Working within established structures as well as the cracks in-between, we’re hoping to build something more than just a living. We intend to create a livelihood—one that allows us to continue asking questions of each other and our profession. Our collaboration has made it clear that our strengths are in challenging the status quo, in engaging our agency, and helping others to do the same.

201


Appendix

so many questions? so many questions? so many questions? so many questions? so many questions? so many questions? so many questions? so many questions?

Collaborators aren’t born, they’re made. Or to be more precise, built, a day at a time, through practice, through attention, through discipline, through passion and commitment— and most of all, through habit. — Twyla Tharp The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together.


john thackara

204

John Thackara is a former journalist and the first Director of the Netherlands Design Institute. He is also the founder of Doors of Perception—founded as a conference in 1993, it connects a worldwide network of visionary designers, thinkers, citizens and grassroots innovators to work towards transformational change in their communities. His book, In the Bubble, was a primary text for our course. In it, he envisions a world that is less about stuff and more about people—about design that is focused on services, not things. We talked with him via Skype from his home in France about the role of the designer in the world today—both their skills and their limitations. We also really like his accent, which unfortunately, cannot be reproduced in print.

JT: When you say you’re teaching a course, is this a kind of one-off exercise, or are you going to stay there and teach it again, or you don’t know? ja: We will if they let us! JT: And what is the general reaction? Are you kind of pushing on an open door or are people in risd perplexed about this whole subject? JA: Well yes, that is a large part of what we’d love to talk with you about. I think the reason we wanted to do the course is that we felt a lot of the questions that we’re asking—which are a lot of the questions you bring up in your book—aren’t being asked here. We’ve found a very willing group of students, who feel like they really need to be asking these questions as well. But when we try to explain the importance of that in our own department, it’s often not a great fit. We’re sort of given the impression that it doesn’t belong in a graphic design thesis—to have built a course and be teaching a course—because they keep saying things to us like, “But what are you making?” And we’re like, “We’re making this!” ESW: They ask: “What’s the visual trail?” JT: The visual trail. I haven’t heard of that, but they’re important, are they? [laughs] ESW & JA: Apparently!

ESW: I guess this could be considered design research of a sort and there’s not much precedent here for that. So while we’ve found some people who have supported the course and have given us this opportunity, they’re largely not within our department—they’re administrators who have a background in the world of public engagement and public art and understand that this is an important thing to be talking about in design. I think that’s an interesting thing to bat about here with you. JT: Well, I’m moderately surprised by your responses because my experience is that the whole subject is expanding. Because so many people think, “Oh social, that’s a good thing to do.” You know, I collect examples of people and projects and locations where people are studying this sort of thing. There’s a lot of stuff ! So to me it’s almost the opposite. It sounds like you have a particular culture there, but in many other schools, everybody wants to do social thing. JA: I think that’s what’s interesting about risd, because we also have the sense that it’s just about everywhere. As we like to say, it’s on the breeze—every time we open up a publication or look at a website, people are talking about these things. And at other schools we see programs asking these questions in really deep and interesting ways. My own hunch about risd is that because it’s such a big old venerable institution, it’s a little slower to come around on some of this stuff. A student in Landscape Architecture was telling us recently that she was trying to do a degree project about building playgrounds which would double as learning environments. She was talking to people in the community to see what their needs were and how her designs could meet them. Her professor finally looked at her after weeks of

frustrated communication and said, “Well what do you think, you’re some sort of facilitator? Designers aren’t facilitators. You’re an author.” We just looked at her like, “What?!” There’s a real bent in the other direction here—you mention this in your book, about how designers are unnecessarily hung up on the idea that they need to be making unique creative contributions all the time. But that’s sort of the culture here. JT: I guess the first thing to say is that, in general, it’s probably not the most fruitful place to start—trying to organize institutions. I used to do that, one or two lives ago and so I totally understand it and can recognize what you’re describing. On the other hand, there’s just a gigantic amount happening outside traditional institutional frameworks, which is very interesting. What’s also interesting to me are the specific capabilities and sensibilities that designers bring to the thousand and one social projects and activities that’re out there. I think the requirement is to be a bit more precise about the difference between everything and determining what designers can bring—because otherwise you get designers saying, “Oh well we’re now going to do social stuff !” and then they kind of arrive and say, “Hi, we’re here, we’re going to do your project for you!” and people get pissed off. I have this notion that there are things that designers can do, like finding what’s valuable to a community as a starting point. It’s not that they alone can do that, but for example, communications designers can bring things to life in a visual form, which makes them accessible as information or stories that wouldn’t be otherwise. Designers can always design bits of equipment, you know traditional thing making; it always needs to be there at some point as a subset of the bigger picture.

205


john thackara

204

John Thackara is a former journalist and the first Director of the Netherlands Design Institute. He is also the founder of Doors of Perception—founded as a conference in 1993, it connects a worldwide network of visionary designers, thinkers, citizens and grassroots innovators to work towards transformational change in their communities. His book, In the Bubble, was a primary text for our course. In it, he envisions a world that is less about stuff and more about people—about design that is focused on services, not things. We talked with him via Skype from his home in France about the role of the designer in the world today—both their skills and their limitations. We also really like his accent, which unfortunately, cannot be reproduced in print.

JT: When you say you’re teaching a course, is this a kind of one-off exercise, or are you going to stay there and teach it again, or you don’t know? ja: We will if they let us! JT: And what is the general reaction? Are you kind of pushing on an open door or are people in risd perplexed about this whole subject? JA: Well yes, that is a large part of what we’d love to talk with you about. I think the reason we wanted to do the course is that we felt a lot of the questions that we’re asking—which are a lot of the questions you bring up in your book—aren’t being asked here. We’ve found a very willing group of students, who feel like they really need to be asking these questions as well. But when we try to explain the importance of that in our own department, it’s often not a great fit. We’re sort of given the impression that it doesn’t belong in a graphic design thesis—to have built a course and be teaching a course—because they keep saying things to us like, “But what are you making?” And we’re like, “We’re making this!” ESW: They ask: “What’s the visual trail?” JT: The visual trail. I haven’t heard of that, but they’re important, are they? [laughs] ESW & JA: Apparently!

ESW: I guess this could be considered design research of a sort and there’s not much precedent here for that. So while we’ve found some people who have supported the course and have given us this opportunity, they’re largely not within our department—they’re administrators who have a background in the world of public engagement and public art and understand that this is an important thing to be talking about in design. I think that’s an interesting thing to bat about here with you. JT: Well, I’m moderately surprised by your responses because my experience is that the whole subject is expanding. Because so many people think, “Oh social, that’s a good thing to do.” You know, I collect examples of people and projects and locations where people are studying this sort of thing. There’s a lot of stuff ! So to me it’s almost the opposite. It sounds like you have a particular culture there, but in many other schools, everybody wants to do social thing. JA: I think that’s what’s interesting about risd, because we also have the sense that it’s just about everywhere. As we like to say, it’s on the breeze—every time we open up a publication or look at a website, people are talking about these things. And at other schools we see programs asking these questions in really deep and interesting ways. My own hunch about risd is that because it’s such a big old venerable institution, it’s a little slower to come around on some of this stuff. A student in Landscape Architecture was telling us recently that she was trying to do a degree project about building playgrounds which would double as learning environments. She was talking to people in the community to see what their needs were and how her designs could meet them. Her professor finally looked at her after weeks of

frustrated communication and said, “Well what do you think, you’re some sort of facilitator? Designers aren’t facilitators. You’re an author.” We just looked at her like, “What?!” There’s a real bent in the other direction here—you mention this in your book, about how designers are unnecessarily hung up on the idea that they need to be making unique creative contributions all the time. But that’s sort of the culture here. JT: I guess the first thing to say is that, in general, it’s probably not the most fruitful place to start—trying to organize institutions. I used to do that, one or two lives ago and so I totally understand it and can recognize what you’re describing. On the other hand, there’s just a gigantic amount happening outside traditional institutional frameworks, which is very interesting. What’s also interesting to me are the specific capabilities and sensibilities that designers bring to the thousand and one social projects and activities that’re out there. I think the requirement is to be a bit more precise about the difference between everything and determining what designers can bring—because otherwise you get designers saying, “Oh well we’re now going to do social stuff !” and then they kind of arrive and say, “Hi, we’re here, we’re going to do your project for you!” and people get pissed off. I have this notion that there are things that designers can do, like finding what’s valuable to a community as a starting point. It’s not that they alone can do that, but for example, communications designers can bring things to life in a visual form, which makes them accessible as information or stories that wouldn’t be otherwise. Designers can always design bits of equipment, you know traditional thing making; it always needs to be there at some point as a subset of the bigger picture.

205


206

You mentioned facilitation and coordinating of groups…it’s true that it’s something which designers can maybe bring to the table, but it’s also true that there are people out there who are very deeply expert in that who are making that their special subject. They understand that it’s not enough just to have a multidisciplinary or mixed group of people in a community setting that are going to do something together. There are certain skills and techniques that you can learn, ranging from empathy to what sort of coffee to serve, which makes groups go better. It may be one of the things that I think designers with others, can bring, but they don’t have any historical expertise on that. Which is me saying I think there’s a lot out there, but you need to be precise about what are the skills that designers have to contribute. Then it begins to narrow it down from this otherwise very huge cloud of possibilities. The other thing that designers are always saying is, “Well we’re really good at kind of connecting and being multidisciplinary,” which is kind of partly true. But then so is everybody else. Many of the projects that inspire me in my life are projects which have developed and grown very lively without any participation of designers or experts—generally they just have a group of people who are responding to a need or opportunity and they say, “Yeah, lets do something about it.” Then they do it! JA: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about facilitation. I worked on a program for several years, before I came back to school, about dialogue. And I hear so much, in the way that you’re talking about an approach to design that feels, from my understanding, like a dialogic approach. I was curious, there’s several people you mention in your book who we’re just are big fans of, like Ivan Illich. I was curious if you’ve read any David Bohm?

JT: I have not, because I saw his name in your email, and I’ve heard his name before. Is that what he does? Is he a dialogic person?

I don’t think you find communities

JA: Bohm was a physicist, a very well respected physicist. In the latter part of his career he started thinking about how the only way new ideas could emerge is if you could bring people together in conversation. So then he wound up doing all this writing on that. I love it because it has that sort of science link in it, as well. His seminal book is called “On Dialogue.” He’s just excellent. It’s really where I started thinking about this idea of designer as facilitator, because again, a lot of the ways you talk about it sound like the way he talks about—you know, why get people in a room and get them talking in the first place, and when you do, what can you do that will allow for new insights to emerge from that collective?

having deep thoughts in the bath.

JT: Right. I mean you’re describing it very well. I just would observe that there are other people who—it’s not like—you know it goes back thousands of years. Buber for instance is a great theologian who has a whole kind of history of writing about the nature of encounter and nature of conversation, which is important. And there’s a man called Theodore Zeldin, who’s still alive. Have you come across him? There’s also a project called “The Muse,” which is all about the designing and the shaping of conversations and encounters. He’s one of those people—I haven’t actually met him, but he’s very celebrated as somebody who thinks and practices very deeply about this exact subject, how you actually enable people to have conversations that are valuable for all parties. I think that those sorts of things very much, to me, shine up the limitations of what designers do. You must’ve encountered

by looking up yellow pages or You need to say, “What’s happening in my environment?” In particular, to look for people who have positive energy around a subject, and say go to the place where there’s activity on the ground.

207


206

You mentioned facilitation and coordinating of groups…it’s true that it’s something which designers can maybe bring to the table, but it’s also true that there are people out there who are very deeply expert in that who are making that their special subject. They understand that it’s not enough just to have a multidisciplinary or mixed group of people in a community setting that are going to do something together. There are certain skills and techniques that you can learn, ranging from empathy to what sort of coffee to serve, which makes groups go better. It may be one of the things that I think designers with others, can bring, but they don’t have any historical expertise on that. Which is me saying I think there’s a lot out there, but you need to be precise about what are the skills that designers have to contribute. Then it begins to narrow it down from this otherwise very huge cloud of possibilities. The other thing that designers are always saying is, “Well we’re really good at kind of connecting and being multidisciplinary,” which is kind of partly true. But then so is everybody else. Many of the projects that inspire me in my life are projects which have developed and grown very lively without any participation of designers or experts—generally they just have a group of people who are responding to a need or opportunity and they say, “Yeah, lets do something about it.” Then they do it! JA: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about facilitation. I worked on a program for several years, before I came back to school, about dialogue. And I hear so much, in the way that you’re talking about an approach to design that feels, from my understanding, like a dialogic approach. I was curious, there’s several people you mention in your book who we’re just are big fans of, like Ivan Illich. I was curious if you’ve read any David Bohm?

JT: I have not, because I saw his name in your email, and I’ve heard his name before. Is that what he does? Is he a dialogic person?

I don’t think you find communities

JA: Bohm was a physicist, a very well respected physicist. In the latter part of his career he started thinking about how the only way new ideas could emerge is if you could bring people together in conversation. So then he wound up doing all this writing on that. I love it because it has that sort of science link in it, as well. His seminal book is called “On Dialogue.” He’s just excellent. It’s really where I started thinking about this idea of designer as facilitator, because again, a lot of the ways you talk about it sound like the way he talks about—you know, why get people in a room and get them talking in the first place, and when you do, what can you do that will allow for new insights to emerge from that collective?

having deep thoughts in the bath.

JT: Right. I mean you’re describing it very well. I just would observe that there are other people who—it’s not like—you know it goes back thousands of years. Buber for instance is a great theologian who has a whole kind of history of writing about the nature of encounter and nature of conversation, which is important. And there’s a man called Theodore Zeldin, who’s still alive. Have you come across him? There’s also a project called “The Muse,” which is all about the designing and the shaping of conversations and encounters. He’s one of those people—I haven’t actually met him, but he’s very celebrated as somebody who thinks and practices very deeply about this exact subject, how you actually enable people to have conversations that are valuable for all parties. I think that those sorts of things very much, to me, shine up the limitations of what designers do. You must’ve encountered

by looking up yellow pages or You need to say, “What’s happening in my environment?” In particular, to look for people who have positive energy around a subject, and say go to the place where there’s activity on the ground.

207


208

designers who have all of these method-cards and systems of organizing meetings and out comes ten thousand Post-It notes. That is a good example of designers thinking that they have discovered something, which they haven’t discovered, but they’re kind of reinventing it, reinterpreting, which is fine. But where there’s a missing bit in the collective development is that they don’t go back to the other traditions, which have been doing this for a long time. JA: Right. I mean I’m sort of curious about that. I tend to get a little sarcastic about designers taking up these new techniques like they’re brand new ideas. Designers really love to be clever. Is that a particular thing with designers? I mean I know it is in America—I don’t know if this is different where you are. Our culture is so much about expertise and about defining a very narrow field of study. It seems almost necessary to take that stuff up and project it as if it were your own, because it feels like in some ways, you have to do that in order to market yourself. JT: Yeah, but you’re describing the whole of the so-called post-enlightenment civilization, in which the entire career structure of the academy, science, the economy, and everything else is about specialization. So you can either go totally mad by raving about how terrible it all is, or turn away from that and say, “That is something which by itself is too difficult to fix.” Look to the examples where expertise is being used in a more nuanced way, in a kind of context where the question is very meaningful. So what Buber will talk about, for example, is that the task of the teacher or the creator of the conversation is to figure out what the issue is that’s going to connect people (even if they’re otherwise very heterogeneous). Another very good book and bunch of

thought that is, I think, very pertinent here, is by a man called Adam Kahane, who’s associated with something called Reos Partners. They’re one of these obscure, not obscure, but somewhat hard to understand groups that basically brings together people who’ve done everything from conflict resolution to food systems. Their basic story is—and he’s written a book called “Power and Love” on this very subject—is that if you take the most tricky and urgent challenges that we have to deal with, by definition, it will require people from very mixed backgrounds and interests and cultures and everything else to somehow collaborate, if you’re going to make any progress. If you just get a whole lot of like-minded people together, like for example, designers, you will have a very creative and thrilling experience, but at the end of the day, only those people would’ve bought into whatever comes out of it. And you have to have the stakeholders and the actors that are important in a particular place. They have to work things through together. That is a large and very difficult subject, but that’s the kernel of it all, really, I think. JA: I’m really happy to hear you mention that, because we had come across Reos, really by accident. They sort of peeked our curiosity, because we saw some of what you’re saying in it. It had gotten a little swept aside, so I thank you for bringing it back up. Now, I’m sort of reinterested in looking at that. That’s great. JT: So you asked, “How do we choose the communities in which we work?” And so I think the first thing that I would say is that, look within one mile of where you are. That’s a good starting point. Well, I think you already know this, there’s a slight tendency of the last period for designers to say, “I’ll go and find a poor person in Mozambique and do something for them.” Whereas, actually,

there’s a large number of things that need to be done literally around the corner. And also, the whole question of time and trust that is necessary for collaboration to be successful through time, more or less defines being there for the long-term and not just jumping in and out. I don’t think you find communities by looking up yellow pages or having deep thoughts in the bath. You need to say, “What’s happening in my environment?” In particular, what I think is to look for people who have positive energy around a subject, and it could be anything—dementia to food to whatever—and say go to the place where there’s activity on the ground. A humble way is to say, “Could you do with some help from me with my design skill?” That way, you’re not inventing needs or questions out of thin air, you’re going somewhere the activity has already started and they can for sure always use design input. That is my answer to, “How do we choose the communities in which we work?” [laughs] JA: Thank you, that was great! JT: Yeah, we exist to serve, here in France. For the next question: “Are we willing to make the long-term commitments?” Well, I slightly just touched on that now. So yes, absolutely. If you read “Power and Love” and Buber and those sorts of people, they will all, in different ways, say that you cannot expect people to trust you just because of your title or your intentions or your words, it just requires the passage of time and conversation and encounter for people to figure out whether they can work with you. So that by itself determines some sort of time frame. The second thing is that all the important questions are by their nature complex and very frequently, if not always, different once you get into things than when you first look

them. So you need time, yes, for sure, to understand what you’re doing and where you are and who you’re with. In design schools, people have this—a term project or thesis project, or whatever— which don’t lend themselves to be good quality projects, because people are kind of dipping in and out too much. On the other hand, you can be a flying doctor or a visiting person, as long as you very explicitly say, “Look, I’m just here for a week or a month. It’s very artificial, but maybe I can cast fresh eyes onto the situation. Would that be helpful?” But I think as a starting point, and yes, the answer is yes, we have to be willing to make long-term commitments. This doesn’t at all answer the question of how you’re going to be paid or survive in the world. But frankly, that’s a different question. JA: Well I think that’s definitely one of the questions that we find that we’re struggling with, as are the students in the class with us. We’re all trying to find a way, like you say, to bring our skills to some of these problems in a way that is a bit humble, that does require this sort of commitment, and is maybe more in line with our values. We’re trying to bring those two things together: skills and values. Then there’s that perplexing question of, “I see no models of how to make a living doing that.” That’s usually the follow up question when we have this sort of conversation. To varying degrees, I think some people are really worried about that and other people just go “Oh well, we’ll see what happens.” I don’t know if it’s especially true here in America, or if that’s true everywhere, but it’s definitely in there, unfortunately. JT: Well I just observed that there is two ways. There’s making a living—having a job is one thing, making a living is kind of a subset of that, which implies that someone is

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208

designers who have all of these method-cards and systems of organizing meetings and out comes ten thousand Post-It notes. That is a good example of designers thinking that they have discovered something, which they haven’t discovered, but they’re kind of reinventing it, reinterpreting, which is fine. But where there’s a missing bit in the collective development is that they don’t go back to the other traditions, which have been doing this for a long time. JA: Right. I mean I’m sort of curious about that. I tend to get a little sarcastic about designers taking up these new techniques like they’re brand new ideas. Designers really love to be clever. Is that a particular thing with designers? I mean I know it is in America—I don’t know if this is different where you are. Our culture is so much about expertise and about defining a very narrow field of study. It seems almost necessary to take that stuff up and project it as if it were your own, because it feels like in some ways, you have to do that in order to market yourself. JT: Yeah, but you’re describing the whole of the so-called post-enlightenment civilization, in which the entire career structure of the academy, science, the economy, and everything else is about specialization. So you can either go totally mad by raving about how terrible it all is, or turn away from that and say, “That is something which by itself is too difficult to fix.” Look to the examples where expertise is being used in a more nuanced way, in a kind of context where the question is very meaningful. So what Buber will talk about, for example, is that the task of the teacher or the creator of the conversation is to figure out what the issue is that’s going to connect people (even if they’re otherwise very heterogeneous). Another very good book and bunch of

thought that is, I think, very pertinent here, is by a man called Adam Kahane, who’s associated with something called Reos Partners. They’re one of these obscure, not obscure, but somewhat hard to understand groups that basically brings together people who’ve done everything from conflict resolution to food systems. Their basic story is—and he’s written a book called “Power and Love” on this very subject—is that if you take the most tricky and urgent challenges that we have to deal with, by definition, it will require people from very mixed backgrounds and interests and cultures and everything else to somehow collaborate, if you’re going to make any progress. If you just get a whole lot of like-minded people together, like for example, designers, you will have a very creative and thrilling experience, but at the end of the day, only those people would’ve bought into whatever comes out of it. And you have to have the stakeholders and the actors that are important in a particular place. They have to work things through together. That is a large and very difficult subject, but that’s the kernel of it all, really, I think. JA: I’m really happy to hear you mention that, because we had come across Reos, really by accident. They sort of peeked our curiosity, because we saw some of what you’re saying in it. It had gotten a little swept aside, so I thank you for bringing it back up. Now, I’m sort of reinterested in looking at that. That’s great. JT: So you asked, “How do we choose the communities in which we work?” And so I think the first thing that I would say is that, look within one mile of where you are. That’s a good starting point. Well, I think you already know this, there’s a slight tendency of the last period for designers to say, “I’ll go and find a poor person in Mozambique and do something for them.” Whereas, actually,

there’s a large number of things that need to be done literally around the corner. And also, the whole question of time and trust that is necessary for collaboration to be successful through time, more or less defines being there for the long-term and not just jumping in and out. I don’t think you find communities by looking up yellow pages or having deep thoughts in the bath. You need to say, “What’s happening in my environment?” In particular, what I think is to look for people who have positive energy around a subject, and it could be anything—dementia to food to whatever—and say go to the place where there’s activity on the ground. A humble way is to say, “Could you do with some help from me with my design skill?” That way, you’re not inventing needs or questions out of thin air, you’re going somewhere the activity has already started and they can for sure always use design input. That is my answer to, “How do we choose the communities in which we work?” [laughs] JA: Thank you, that was great! JT: Yeah, we exist to serve, here in France. For the next question: “Are we willing to make the long-term commitments?” Well, I slightly just touched on that now. So yes, absolutely. If you read “Power and Love” and Buber and those sorts of people, they will all, in different ways, say that you cannot expect people to trust you just because of your title or your intentions or your words, it just requires the passage of time and conversation and encounter for people to figure out whether they can work with you. So that by itself determines some sort of time frame. The second thing is that all the important questions are by their nature complex and very frequently, if not always, different once you get into things than when you first look

them. So you need time, yes, for sure, to understand what you’re doing and where you are and who you’re with. In design schools, people have this—a term project or thesis project, or whatever— which don’t lend themselves to be good quality projects, because people are kind of dipping in and out too much. On the other hand, you can be a flying doctor or a visiting person, as long as you very explicitly say, “Look, I’m just here for a week or a month. It’s very artificial, but maybe I can cast fresh eyes onto the situation. Would that be helpful?” But I think as a starting point, and yes, the answer is yes, we have to be willing to make long-term commitments. This doesn’t at all answer the question of how you’re going to be paid or survive in the world. But frankly, that’s a different question. JA: Well I think that’s definitely one of the questions that we find that we’re struggling with, as are the students in the class with us. We’re all trying to find a way, like you say, to bring our skills to some of these problems in a way that is a bit humble, that does require this sort of commitment, and is maybe more in line with our values. We’re trying to bring those two things together: skills and values. Then there’s that perplexing question of, “I see no models of how to make a living doing that.” That’s usually the follow up question when we have this sort of conversation. To varying degrees, I think some people are really worried about that and other people just go “Oh well, we’ll see what happens.” I don’t know if it’s especially true here in America, or if that’s true everywhere, but it’s definitely in there, unfortunately. JT: Well I just observed that there is two ways. There’s making a living—having a job is one thing, making a living is kind of a subset of that, which implies that someone is

209


“Be where you are”, is what people tell you. Be in your place, 210

be in your time, all of that. All these old wisdoms, they’re nothing new.

paying you money to do what you do. But the third thing is the subject or concept of livelihood, which is to say you’re doing meaningful work. I just personally have no illusions that the world is going to be filled with highly paid jobs in the future, and therefore, the sooner that one can accept that that is not a very high priority, in terms of the first things that one could do, then the next thing is to say, “Okay, well lets go and do meaningful work,” and then figure out as we go along how to eat, how to have somewhere to live, and then what the longer term consequences of that would be. Really the larger question has to be, “How do designers bring value to the table?” Then the question of livelihoods and jobs and everything, I think, comes later. JA: I have a different kind of question for you, before we go. We asked this of our students and we’re asking it of ourselves—thinking about the communities in which we work and how we make commitments to those communities. I’d be curious to hear you talk about what you think are the communities that you’ve dedicated yourself to over the course of your career. Whether they be geographical or… JT: I’m very touched that you think I’ve dedicated myself to any. Well, I’m one of those kind of slightly ruthless individuals who travels around, looking for interesting groups of people, but that’s not the same thing as if I had dedicated myself to—On the contrary, I think there’s a big question mark that people have raised about that—in so far as I’m kind of one of these connector type people, who connect one person to another in what I hope is a helpful way. That’s pretty much the opposite of what I’ve been saying about staying in one place. Where I live here in France—here I am after 30 years travelling the world—being

curious and meeting lots of interesting people. I actually asked a friend of ours here in France, “Well how does one become—at what point are we going to be really accepted as members of the Gauge community?” She said, “When a member of your family is buried in a little church yard. That’s the point at which people will embrace you as members of the community.” I said, Mmm, I’m the oldest person in our family, so I basically have to die and be buried, and things will move along? And she said, “Yes.” And she was completely serious, she wasn’t joking at all. So I, yeah, I don’t think I could dedicate myself to any community if the truth be told. I’ve worked with all sorts of interesting groups. What I try always to do is to identify those people who are doing interesting things and have a great deal of positive energy that has nothing to do with me, and then figure out if I can find out ways to add to what they’re doing. That’s what, in the last decade or so, is the way I figure out where to prioritize. But I do think that we all collectively have a problem of concentration and focus and staying in one place. In the design world, and the world generally, we are heavily addicted to novelty and change and the next thing and starting something new and all that kind of stuff. So it’s very hard to get away from that. It’s an addictive thing of what the next, the next, the next! Whereas, actually what the world needs is for people to do one thing at a time. And I’m not at all a good example of that. JA: Well the question we’ve been struggling with is—Is the idea of community necessarily geographic? Or can community be thought of more abstractly? I mean certainly there’s a community of people, even in the very loose way that you describe it, of the energetic people who are positive and doing

good work. Could you say that you’ve dedicated yourself to that community? JT: I could say it, but whether you would take me seriously is another matter. I’m really not that obsessed by this whole subject of online communities and virtual and remote. I think that there’s enough people out there talking about it, I don’t need to add anything. I don’t have anything to add to that, except that I very, very, very passionately believe in the notion of embodiment, in that human beings have bodies that our bodies are part of the earth and that disembodied communication is a lower bandwidth, in all respects than anything else. So yes, of course you can have, I don’t know, all sorts of ways of sharing interests with people over a wide area, but at the end of the day, I think that embodiment and the communication and the relationships we have by way of being in bodies in a place is the first starting point, for me anyway. And that’s not just a theoretical, intellectual thing. The place that I’m in is what really counts. I think that’s, in terms of the environmental movement, generally, that is the one thing that everyone is sort of becoming rather clear about, is that unless you’re aware of your place or of the social systems where you are as a person, then everything else is to some extent a secondary distraction. Which isn’t to say that I don’t move around too much, still, but I’m trying to live a bit of that, in terms of not constantly moving around. I know people remotely and all over the world, of course I do. It’s just that I think people get mesmerized by that as part of the—one of the problems we have is the notion that everything that is virtual has some kind of purse valuable content, and I don’t think that’s true. “Be where you are”, is what people tell you. Be in your place, be in your time, all of that. All these old wisdoms, they’re nothing new.

211


“Be where you are”, is what people tell you. Be in your place, 210

be in your time, all of that. All these old wisdoms, they’re nothing new.

paying you money to do what you do. But the third thing is the subject or concept of livelihood, which is to say you’re doing meaningful work. I just personally have no illusions that the world is going to be filled with highly paid jobs in the future, and therefore, the sooner that one can accept that that is not a very high priority, in terms of the first things that one could do, then the next thing is to say, “Okay, well lets go and do meaningful work,” and then figure out as we go along how to eat, how to have somewhere to live, and then what the longer term consequences of that would be. Really the larger question has to be, “How do designers bring value to the table?” Then the question of livelihoods and jobs and everything, I think, comes later. JA: I have a different kind of question for you, before we go. We asked this of our students and we’re asking it of ourselves—thinking about the communities in which we work and how we make commitments to those communities. I’d be curious to hear you talk about what you think are the communities that you’ve dedicated yourself to over the course of your career. Whether they be geographical or… JT: I’m very touched that you think I’ve dedicated myself to any. Well, I’m one of those kind of slightly ruthless individuals who travels around, looking for interesting groups of people, but that’s not the same thing as if I had dedicated myself to—On the contrary, I think there’s a big question mark that people have raised about that—in so far as I’m kind of one of these connector type people, who connect one person to another in what I hope is a helpful way. That’s pretty much the opposite of what I’ve been saying about staying in one place. Where I live here in France—here I am after 30 years travelling the world—being

curious and meeting lots of interesting people. I actually asked a friend of ours here in France, “Well how does one become—at what point are we going to be really accepted as members of the Gauge community?” She said, “When a member of your family is buried in a little church yard. That’s the point at which people will embrace you as members of the community.” I said, Mmm, I’m the oldest person in our family, so I basically have to die and be buried, and things will move along? And she said, “Yes.” And she was completely serious, she wasn’t joking at all. So I, yeah, I don’t think I could dedicate myself to any community if the truth be told. I’ve worked with all sorts of interesting groups. What I try always to do is to identify those people who are doing interesting things and have a great deal of positive energy that has nothing to do with me, and then figure out if I can find out ways to add to what they’re doing. That’s what, in the last decade or so, is the way I figure out where to prioritize. But I do think that we all collectively have a problem of concentration and focus and staying in one place. In the design world, and the world generally, we are heavily addicted to novelty and change and the next thing and starting something new and all that kind of stuff. So it’s very hard to get away from that. It’s an addictive thing of what the next, the next, the next! Whereas, actually what the world needs is for people to do one thing at a time. And I’m not at all a good example of that. JA: Well the question we’ve been struggling with is—Is the idea of community necessarily geographic? Or can community be thought of more abstractly? I mean certainly there’s a community of people, even in the very loose way that you describe it, of the energetic people who are positive and doing

good work. Could you say that you’ve dedicated yourself to that community? JT: I could say it, but whether you would take me seriously is another matter. I’m really not that obsessed by this whole subject of online communities and virtual and remote. I think that there’s enough people out there talking about it, I don’t need to add anything. I don’t have anything to add to that, except that I very, very, very passionately believe in the notion of embodiment, in that human beings have bodies that our bodies are part of the earth and that disembodied communication is a lower bandwidth, in all respects than anything else. So yes, of course you can have, I don’t know, all sorts of ways of sharing interests with people over a wide area, but at the end of the day, I think that embodiment and the communication and the relationships we have by way of being in bodies in a place is the first starting point, for me anyway. And that’s not just a theoretical, intellectual thing. The place that I’m in is what really counts. I think that’s, in terms of the environmental movement, generally, that is the one thing that everyone is sort of becoming rather clear about, is that unless you’re aware of your place or of the social systems where you are as a person, then everything else is to some extent a secondary distraction. Which isn’t to say that I don’t move around too much, still, but I’m trying to live a bit of that, in terms of not constantly moving around. I know people remotely and all over the world, of course I do. It’s just that I think people get mesmerized by that as part of the—one of the problems we have is the notion that everything that is virtual has some kind of purse valuable content, and I don’t think that’s true. “Be where you are”, is what people tell you. Be in your place, be in your time, all of that. All these old wisdoms, they’re nothing new.

211


JA: You used the term “design mindfulness.” I admit, it’s a term that we saw and were like, Yes! It really resonated with us. I don’t know if you feel it’s related to what you just said or…

212

JT: Well I think what it means is being aware of the limits, not just of what design can do, but what design should do—that all design actions have consequences and that we live in a world in which many of them have very bad results. Mindfulness to me is just that—is being aware of the bigger picture, in terms of the things that we do aren’t necessarily value neutral. We need to think about them much more. Not just think about them in a kind of darkened room, but go and talk to people who are not in our world. You’re in a design school, where everybody’s kind of energetically developing their identities as designers. But that is a very tiny part of the bigger story. I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write the book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. JA: Excellent advice! [laughs] JA: Maybe just one more question before we go. I was curious to hear about what role teaching has in your practice. JT: It’s part of my makeup not to accept at face value the questions that people think that they’re there to talk about or act upon. So if that’s teaching, then everything I do is teaching (or learning is a better word). I get very antsy about deep and serious discussions about the meaning of learning and teaching,

because I don’t really know, but I’m pretty certain that in my own mind that the institutions of learning and teaching are a big part of the problem that you have to deal with. Basically, I have spent the last fifteen years more or less full time—everything that I do involves in one way or another some kind of institutional partnership, either with me and it or me outside of it. And if I go to a place to do a project, I say, “What are the institutions around here? Lets get them to take part.” And if I’m running an institution, which I’ve done from time to time, more or less everything I do is to go outside the doors of the institution to look what’s happening in our place. So that’s the starting point. What I have discovered, and I probably should’ve discovered it years ago, is that institutions change pretty damn slowly. I retired from trying to change institutions. About ten years ago, now, that was the last time I ran one. Now I think that what one can more usefully do is to do projects on the edges of the big machine and hope that they will then influence the bigger picture, in affable ways that one cannot anticipate. I mean you can learn about the kind of interventions that will have a better chance. After ten years of having resigned and stopped trying to change institutions, I know a lot of people who are stuck inside institutions or design companies, who are very frustrated by the fact that they can’t really get traction in their situation. But in general, I am very happy to do small interventions, the—what’s it called when you stick needles into people?

we go and tell somebody else that if you stick a needle in your knee, here is what the consequence is going to be?” I guess if that’s teaching, that’s what I’m doing.

ESW: Acupuncture?

JT: Pleasure to meet you and maybe our paths will cross. Good luck with everything! Bye bye!

JT: That! Thank you. So you do acupuncturetype actions in the world. Then my job, is to say, “Okay, did that work when I stuck that needle into that little bit, and if it worked, what can we learn about that? And should

JA: I mentioned Ivan Illich before because he’s certainly someone who we just started to look into. A sort of voice from the past. JT: A voice from the present, he’s just one of those people who’s a true visionary, who was just saying things thirty, forty years ahead of his time. I mean everywhere you go now, people are talking about Illich, because he speaks to the present moment. But he spoke to the moment then. History is filled with people who were just a bit early by a few decades. JA: Well thank you so much for talking with us. We feel like it’s something of a gift, so… JT: It’s fun, I’m delighted to meet you! I wish you every luck with your book. You have to send me a copy when it comes out. ESW: We would love to be able to include some of your book in there, if that would be alright. JT: Take every single word I’ve ever written is in the public vein! I was told by this rather sadomasochistic ex-journalist to stop being precious about my words. From that day on, I don’t care, take whatever you want. There’s a lot of stuff on the website, yeah please, you don’t have to ask, just do it.

ESW & JA: Good evening, bye!

213


JA: You used the term “design mindfulness.” I admit, it’s a term that we saw and were like, Yes! It really resonated with us. I don’t know if you feel it’s related to what you just said or…

212

JT: Well I think what it means is being aware of the limits, not just of what design can do, but what design should do—that all design actions have consequences and that we live in a world in which many of them have very bad results. Mindfulness to me is just that—is being aware of the bigger picture, in terms of the things that we do aren’t necessarily value neutral. We need to think about them much more. Not just think about them in a kind of darkened room, but go and talk to people who are not in our world. You’re in a design school, where everybody’s kind of energetically developing their identities as designers. But that is a very tiny part of the bigger story. I know what helps people, always, is to get out of the design tents and go and meet some other people. Which it sounds like you’ve been doing, right? So that’s a good start. So write the book and then get the hell out of risd, and then go out into the world and go talk to some normal people for a bit and it will all become much more clear. JA: Excellent advice! [laughs] JA: Maybe just one more question before we go. I was curious to hear about what role teaching has in your practice. JT: It’s part of my makeup not to accept at face value the questions that people think that they’re there to talk about or act upon. So if that’s teaching, then everything I do is teaching (or learning is a better word). I get very antsy about deep and serious discussions about the meaning of learning and teaching,

because I don’t really know, but I’m pretty certain that in my own mind that the institutions of learning and teaching are a big part of the problem that you have to deal with. Basically, I have spent the last fifteen years more or less full time—everything that I do involves in one way or another some kind of institutional partnership, either with me and it or me outside of it. And if I go to a place to do a project, I say, “What are the institutions around here? Lets get them to take part.” And if I’m running an institution, which I’ve done from time to time, more or less everything I do is to go outside the doors of the institution to look what’s happening in our place. So that’s the starting point. What I have discovered, and I probably should’ve discovered it years ago, is that institutions change pretty damn slowly. I retired from trying to change institutions. About ten years ago, now, that was the last time I ran one. Now I think that what one can more usefully do is to do projects on the edges of the big machine and hope that they will then influence the bigger picture, in affable ways that one cannot anticipate. I mean you can learn about the kind of interventions that will have a better chance. After ten years of having resigned and stopped trying to change institutions, I know a lot of people who are stuck inside institutions or design companies, who are very frustrated by the fact that they can’t really get traction in their situation. But in general, I am very happy to do small interventions, the—what’s it called when you stick needles into people?

we go and tell somebody else that if you stick a needle in your knee, here is what the consequence is going to be?” I guess if that’s teaching, that’s what I’m doing.

ESW: Acupuncture?

JT: Pleasure to meet you and maybe our paths will cross. Good luck with everything! Bye bye!

JT: That! Thank you. So you do acupuncturetype actions in the world. Then my job, is to say, “Okay, did that work when I stuck that needle into that little bit, and if it worked, what can we learn about that? And should

JA: I mentioned Ivan Illich before because he’s certainly someone who we just started to look into. A sort of voice from the past. JT: A voice from the present, he’s just one of those people who’s a true visionary, who was just saying things thirty, forty years ahead of his time. I mean everywhere you go now, people are talking about Illich, because he speaks to the present moment. But he spoke to the moment then. History is filled with people who were just a bit early by a few decades. JA: Well thank you so much for talking with us. We feel like it’s something of a gift, so… JT: It’s fun, I’m delighted to meet you! I wish you every luck with your book. You have to send me a copy when it comes out. ESW: We would love to be able to include some of your book in there, if that would be alright. JT: Take every single word I’ve ever written is in the public vein! I was told by this rather sadomasochistic ex-journalist to stop being precious about my words. From that day on, I don’t care, take whatever you want. There’s a lot of stuff on the website, yeah please, you don’t have to ask, just do it.

ESW & JA: Good evening, bye!

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EMILY PILLOTON

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Emily Pilloton is an architect by training—most known for her redesign of the Hippo Roller, a 22-gallon water collection device for communities in sub-saharan Africa. Two years ago, she radically shifted her focus from global to local, moving her studio to rural Bertie Country, North Carolina, where she runs a design/build curriculum through the local high school called, Studio H. There’s a lot of press out there about Emily’s work, but we thought it would be more fun to talk in person. We also wanted to be sure she was the real deal (confirmed!). Studio H doesn’t disappoint. We spoke with Emily about her commitment to community-based practice and just what it means to create a livelihood working for social change.

ESW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We’re in the last throes of our thesis investigation. We’ve done a lot of work here at risd that’s really unconventional and we’ve been bringing some of your work into that. We’re really excited to talk with you about what it means to be a designer today. Just to give you a little background. We started this investigation individually, but through conversation, we realized we could really create something new in relation to design for social change. There was a shortage of opportunity here at risd, especially in a thesis investigation, so we advocated to teach our own course. We call it Design Agency—we’re using that term, agency, as both a verb and a noun. We’re talking about what it means to be a designer at this moment and what it means to practice in a facilitation capacity, rather than an authoritative one. So just to get the ball rolling, we’re curious about how you define community? EP: Wow. That’s one of those terms that I love and hate. I have such a specific definition of it but I know it’s like the word sustainability, it’s so loaded at this point. But yeah, I think it’s whatever it means to you; how you approach it and how that interpretation defines your work. For us—I’m quoting Thoreau here, it’s “where we live and what we live for.” It’s the place we call home and the things within that place that motivate us to work really hard. I think it’s really easy to hear the word community and immediately think, oh well, it’s all about collective values and working selflessly for the benefit of the greater community. But there

definitely is a selfish component. I think that’s OK. It’s healthy. We should define ourselves as part of our community. For example, with our Studio H kids, we’re designing and building a farmer’s market, and yeah, that’s for the community but it’s for me too because I want fresh tomatoes! I think that’s an easy thing to gloss over because it’s sexier to talk about humanitarian design in selfless terms, but there has to be that personal drive. That’s what produces really great design. So community is definitely an outward thing for me but it’s also very inward. I identify myself as being connected and motivated to do the work that I think I’m good at and that I enjoy. ESW: How would you characterize the work you’re doing in Bertie? EP: It’s complex. You know it’s funny, I don’t really define myself as a designer anymore— obviously, I am trained as a designer and more specifically, an architect—but on a daily basis I’m rambling teenagers to sit in their desks or to put away the table saw blade. I guess at this point, I would define myself maybe even more as an educator than a designer. And also right up there as a builder. I come home covered in all sorts of crap everyday because that’s what I do with my students. The design is almost on the back burner—it’s all the stuff that’s been driven into my brain over the course of six years of my education and a couple years of working. It’s almost second nature now. I’m not working in a design capacity but I’m absolutely a designer. But the nature of the work itself is really hard. It’s a tough place and the kids are incredibly difficult and wonderful at the same time. They are the victims of so many different systemic problems in this place. Racism is alive and well, generational poverty, two of our students have kids—they’re 17 years old and they’re teen parents. Two of them have

been in the juvenile system. It’s just the worst of the worst, but also the biggest chance for opportunity. So what we’re trying to do— well we don’t even call it design really—is a different kind of pedagogy, teaching high school kids to be aware and to be citizens and to actually contribute to their hometown. That makes our role very, very complex. I mean, what do I know about how to advise a teen mom trying to balance taking care of a two-year old and doing her math homework? I think, whoa, I’m way in over my head, but that’s the nature of the work. I think anytime you find a creative professional trying to do socially-relevant work, you run into that kind of messiness, but that’s what makes it really valuable in my mind. It’s what makes it really hard, but also fun, and worth doing at the same time. ESW: We’re told so often here at risd that designers aren’t facilitators, that we’re a singular voice —an author—but we’re starting to think about ourselves more like you describe, more like community organizers. EP: I like to think of us as general-purpose rabble-rousers. At first we were sort of like, well we need to blend-in or befriend the mayor—which we have, the mayor is fantastic. This was two years ago now. We were thinking, let’s keep it low-profile, make sure we don’t piss anyone off. But we realized the minute we said, oh we’re a design group, that was enough crazy right there for people to think of us as ‘these crazy design people from California’. At a certain point we just sort of embraced it and said, fine!, let’s be those crazy design people from California and use that to stir up a different kind of energy. It took us a long time for us to realize that it was actually an asset. It’s funny, the communities that we as designers want to

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EMILY PILLOTON

214

Emily Pilloton is an architect by training—most known for her redesign of the Hippo Roller, a 22-gallon water collection device for communities in sub-saharan Africa. Two years ago, she radically shifted her focus from global to local, moving her studio to rural Bertie Country, North Carolina, where she runs a design/build curriculum through the local high school called, Studio H. There’s a lot of press out there about Emily’s work, but we thought it would be more fun to talk in person. We also wanted to be sure she was the real deal (confirmed!). Studio H doesn’t disappoint. We spoke with Emily about her commitment to community-based practice and just what it means to create a livelihood working for social change.

ESW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We’re in the last throes of our thesis investigation. We’ve done a lot of work here at risd that’s really unconventional and we’ve been bringing some of your work into that. We’re really excited to talk with you about what it means to be a designer today. Just to give you a little background. We started this investigation individually, but through conversation, we realized we could really create something new in relation to design for social change. There was a shortage of opportunity here at risd, especially in a thesis investigation, so we advocated to teach our own course. We call it Design Agency—we’re using that term, agency, as both a verb and a noun. We’re talking about what it means to be a designer at this moment and what it means to practice in a facilitation capacity, rather than an authoritative one. So just to get the ball rolling, we’re curious about how you define community? EP: Wow. That’s one of those terms that I love and hate. I have such a specific definition of it but I know it’s like the word sustainability, it’s so loaded at this point. But yeah, I think it’s whatever it means to you; how you approach it and how that interpretation defines your work. For us—I’m quoting Thoreau here, it’s “where we live and what we live for.” It’s the place we call home and the things within that place that motivate us to work really hard. I think it’s really easy to hear the word community and immediately think, oh well, it’s all about collective values and working selflessly for the benefit of the greater community. But there

definitely is a selfish component. I think that’s OK. It’s healthy. We should define ourselves as part of our community. For example, with our Studio H kids, we’re designing and building a farmer’s market, and yeah, that’s for the community but it’s for me too because I want fresh tomatoes! I think that’s an easy thing to gloss over because it’s sexier to talk about humanitarian design in selfless terms, but there has to be that personal drive. That’s what produces really great design. So community is definitely an outward thing for me but it’s also very inward. I identify myself as being connected and motivated to do the work that I think I’m good at and that I enjoy. ESW: How would you characterize the work you’re doing in Bertie? EP: It’s complex. You know it’s funny, I don’t really define myself as a designer anymore— obviously, I am trained as a designer and more specifically, an architect—but on a daily basis I’m rambling teenagers to sit in their desks or to put away the table saw blade. I guess at this point, I would define myself maybe even more as an educator than a designer. And also right up there as a builder. I come home covered in all sorts of crap everyday because that’s what I do with my students. The design is almost on the back burner—it’s all the stuff that’s been driven into my brain over the course of six years of my education and a couple years of working. It’s almost second nature now. I’m not working in a design capacity but I’m absolutely a designer. But the nature of the work itself is really hard. It’s a tough place and the kids are incredibly difficult and wonderful at the same time. They are the victims of so many different systemic problems in this place. Racism is alive and well, generational poverty, two of our students have kids—they’re 17 years old and they’re teen parents. Two of them have

been in the juvenile system. It’s just the worst of the worst, but also the biggest chance for opportunity. So what we’re trying to do— well we don’t even call it design really—is a different kind of pedagogy, teaching high school kids to be aware and to be citizens and to actually contribute to their hometown. That makes our role very, very complex. I mean, what do I know about how to advise a teen mom trying to balance taking care of a two-year old and doing her math homework? I think, whoa, I’m way in over my head, but that’s the nature of the work. I think anytime you find a creative professional trying to do socially-relevant work, you run into that kind of messiness, but that’s what makes it really valuable in my mind. It’s what makes it really hard, but also fun, and worth doing at the same time. ESW: We’re told so often here at risd that designers aren’t facilitators, that we’re a singular voice —an author—but we’re starting to think about ourselves more like you describe, more like community organizers. EP: I like to think of us as general-purpose rabble-rousers. At first we were sort of like, well we need to blend-in or befriend the mayor—which we have, the mayor is fantastic. This was two years ago now. We were thinking, let’s keep it low-profile, make sure we don’t piss anyone off. But we realized the minute we said, oh we’re a design group, that was enough crazy right there for people to think of us as ‘these crazy design people from California’. At a certain point we just sort of embraced it and said, fine!, let’s be those crazy design people from California and use that to stir up a different kind of energy. It took us a long time for us to realize that it was actually an asset. It’s funny, the communities that we as designers want to

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be working in right now have an aversion to design, so you can either try to overcome that or you can just embrace it and use it to say—yeah, we’re really crazy but we do really cool stuff so maybe we could try it with you! I think defining that difference opens up more avenues than trying to pretend that design is something that it’s not.

three weeks and then come back with a slideshow of pictures.

JA: The first reading that we did in our class is this well-known speech that Ivan Illich gave in the late 1960’s [To Hell with Good Intentions]…

EP: You know, I don’t really know. Mostly because I’m so immersed in it. It’s really difficult for me these days. The other funny thing about Bertie County is that it’s this weird, black hole where time and space stand still. You loose all connection to anything going on outside of Bertie—which explains why our students didn’t know about the BP oil spill until six months after it happened. It’s just a very insular place. So it’s kind of difficult to know what: a) is going on in the design world in the first place; and b) what our role is in that conversation. We still try and go to conferences and attend conversations where it is relevant to keep engaged with that conversation but I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think that we’re proving a point in a way. I hate to say this but a lot of the decisions I have made in my life personally, and also within Project H, were well intentioned but were also very much about proving someone wrong—someone who had told us that you’re doing something the wrong way, or you suck, or this is never going to go anywhere. So in some ways, I want to prove that we can live in a place and be really rooted here and call it home and make incredible changes. So there’s a lot of that. I’d like to think that we are proving that point and proving people like Bruce Nussbaum wrong that were not imperialists. I define myself as a Bertie County resident and I am building this farmer’s market as much for the community as for

EP: Oh, one of my favorites! JA: That line, To Hell with Good Intentions, really resonated with us but there’s this other line—about why we should make a commitment to communities that are our own, that you live in and that you’re a part of. He says, because there at least, someone can tell you to go to hell! EP: That’s one of my favorite lines. It’s true though. Eighteen months ago, when we’d been in Bertie Country for only six months, someone could have easily made the same argument. I’m from California and my partner is from West Virginia—what the hell were we doing working in this place we know nothing about? You can kind of make the same argument there, but now two years into it, we have a house here and we live next door to the mayor and I call it home—even more so than California at this point. I have no intention of leaving, unless of course we’re run out of town, which could always happen. But yeah, what he was getting at and what I totally agree with is that it’s a matter of commitment. I have no problem with people wanting to work in Uganda or wherever but go and live there for ten years, don’t go for

ESW: So I’m curious, we’re so bombarded with all this designer do-gooder-ism. How do you think the work you’re doing is changing the conversation around design and social change?

It’s never been about money for me, to a fault. I’ve just sort of accepted that. I trade in a different currency. That’s the best way I can explain it. myself. So there’s a point to be made there, but it’s obviously a point that will be better made in a year or two or three years from now. We’ve been here for two years, which is a long time but I don’t think long enough. But I also think that the point I hope we’re making, that people can identify and resonate with, is just that you have to shut up and go and do the work. There’s all this idle chatter and I think the best rebuttal sometimes, is just to be doing the work. Like, we can talk about it later. We can talk about it a year from now once we have a lot to talk about, but let’s not sit around and criticize designers for wanting to do good before they’ve even had a chance to go out and figure out how to do it. That’s my biggest frustration and one that I hope we can bring to the greater conversation. I’m more than willing to talk about it but I also have a lot of work to do, so let me go and do that and then we can talk about it.

JA: We’re sitting here sort of chuckling to ourselves, because of course, we totally get that. This really resonates with us in terms of the thesis process we have undertaken. It’s been incredibly difficult for us to be doing that work and then reflecting and reporting on it, all at the same time, and under the pressure of thesis advisors and department requirements, while trying to really push the edges of what’s expected. That’s been hard. We’ve wanted to say, just let us do the work and we’ll talk to you a year from now when we’ve had time to reflect, but we’re having to do it all at once and that’s tricky. EP: You know, I talk to students a lot who tell me how hard it is to do this work on a semester schedule—how do they expect me to get anything done? And then you have to move on to another class and you’re like, wait, I don’t want to leave that project behind. I feel for you. A lot of the work we’re doing now is very much a rebuttal to my own education because I didn’t get to do any of this work. On one hand, that’s terrible but on the other hand maybe it’s OK because I would have had to do it within that structure, and I don’t do so well with structure. So I totally understand the academic constructs that you have to try and fit this into. Maybe it’s beneficial from a research perspective, but I’m sure you find it a little rigid at times. JA: Yeah, we definitely see both. I do think it’s beneficial to really confront it, I think we’re learning a lot. But you know, you described yourself as a rabble-rouser, I don’t think we could do this any other way either. So we take the good with the bad. We see you as someone who is exhibiting a lot of agency in your practice and in defining the kind of work you want to do. One of the questions we’ve really been looking at

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be working in right now have an aversion to design, so you can either try to overcome that or you can just embrace it and use it to say—yeah, we’re really crazy but we do really cool stuff so maybe we could try it with you! I think defining that difference opens up more avenues than trying to pretend that design is something that it’s not.

three weeks and then come back with a slideshow of pictures.

JA: The first reading that we did in our class is this well-known speech that Ivan Illich gave in the late 1960’s [To Hell with Good Intentions]…

EP: You know, I don’t really know. Mostly because I’m so immersed in it. It’s really difficult for me these days. The other funny thing about Bertie County is that it’s this weird, black hole where time and space stand still. You loose all connection to anything going on outside of Bertie—which explains why our students didn’t know about the BP oil spill until six months after it happened. It’s just a very insular place. So it’s kind of difficult to know what: a) is going on in the design world in the first place; and b) what our role is in that conversation. We still try and go to conferences and attend conversations where it is relevant to keep engaged with that conversation but I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think that we’re proving a point in a way. I hate to say this but a lot of the decisions I have made in my life personally, and also within Project H, were well intentioned but were also very much about proving someone wrong—someone who had told us that you’re doing something the wrong way, or you suck, or this is never going to go anywhere. So in some ways, I want to prove that we can live in a place and be really rooted here and call it home and make incredible changes. So there’s a lot of that. I’d like to think that we are proving that point and proving people like Bruce Nussbaum wrong that were not imperialists. I define myself as a Bertie County resident and I am building this farmer’s market as much for the community as for

EP: Oh, one of my favorites! JA: That line, To Hell with Good Intentions, really resonated with us but there’s this other line—about why we should make a commitment to communities that are our own, that you live in and that you’re a part of. He says, because there at least, someone can tell you to go to hell! EP: That’s one of my favorite lines. It’s true though. Eighteen months ago, when we’d been in Bertie Country for only six months, someone could have easily made the same argument. I’m from California and my partner is from West Virginia—what the hell were we doing working in this place we know nothing about? You can kind of make the same argument there, but now two years into it, we have a house here and we live next door to the mayor and I call it home—even more so than California at this point. I have no intention of leaving, unless of course we’re run out of town, which could always happen. But yeah, what he was getting at and what I totally agree with is that it’s a matter of commitment. I have no problem with people wanting to work in Uganda or wherever but go and live there for ten years, don’t go for

ESW: So I’m curious, we’re so bombarded with all this designer do-gooder-ism. How do you think the work you’re doing is changing the conversation around design and social change?

It’s never been about money for me, to a fault. I’ve just sort of accepted that. I trade in a different currency. That’s the best way I can explain it. myself. So there’s a point to be made there, but it’s obviously a point that will be better made in a year or two or three years from now. We’ve been here for two years, which is a long time but I don’t think long enough. But I also think that the point I hope we’re making, that people can identify and resonate with, is just that you have to shut up and go and do the work. There’s all this idle chatter and I think the best rebuttal sometimes, is just to be doing the work. Like, we can talk about it later. We can talk about it a year from now once we have a lot to talk about, but let’s not sit around and criticize designers for wanting to do good before they’ve even had a chance to go out and figure out how to do it. That’s my biggest frustration and one that I hope we can bring to the greater conversation. I’m more than willing to talk about it but I also have a lot of work to do, so let me go and do that and then we can talk about it.

JA: We’re sitting here sort of chuckling to ourselves, because of course, we totally get that. This really resonates with us in terms of the thesis process we have undertaken. It’s been incredibly difficult for us to be doing that work and then reflecting and reporting on it, all at the same time, and under the pressure of thesis advisors and department requirements, while trying to really push the edges of what’s expected. That’s been hard. We’ve wanted to say, just let us do the work and we’ll talk to you a year from now when we’ve had time to reflect, but we’re having to do it all at once and that’s tricky. EP: You know, I talk to students a lot who tell me how hard it is to do this work on a semester schedule—how do they expect me to get anything done? And then you have to move on to another class and you’re like, wait, I don’t want to leave that project behind. I feel for you. A lot of the work we’re doing now is very much a rebuttal to my own education because I didn’t get to do any of this work. On one hand, that’s terrible but on the other hand maybe it’s OK because I would have had to do it within that structure, and I don’t do so well with structure. So I totally understand the academic constructs that you have to try and fit this into. Maybe it’s beneficial from a research perspective, but I’m sure you find it a little rigid at times. JA: Yeah, we definitely see both. I do think it’s beneficial to really confront it, I think we’re learning a lot. But you know, you described yourself as a rabble-rouser, I don’t think we could do this any other way either. So we take the good with the bad. We see you as someone who is exhibiting a lot of agency in your practice and in defining the kind of work you want to do. One of the questions we’ve really been looking at

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in our class is—I’m wondering about this in relation to your own students—is whether or not you believe it’s possible to instill a sense of agency in others through this work? Do you see that rabble-rousing spirit being taken up by your students? 218

EP: That’s a really tough question. The short answer is yes, I think you can, but it doesn’t happen often. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, I think that’s just the reality of it. Especially because of the nature of the way designers work—even if you’re the most democratic of all designers, you’re still gonna be viewed as a designer. There will always be a little bit of resistance to the way designers work. With our students, it’s very hard to judge because this is happening within their school day and they just all hate school. I know there are a couple of them who really enjoy the design process and will take away something very tangible from this both in attitude and in skill sets. But I think one of our flaws at Studio H is that we wanted to do this in this public high school, which is powerful because it is part of their school day, but at the same time, it means that the students are attending our class with the same sort of gloss that they attend their other classes. That’s a tough thing to overcome. So yeah, I think it’s possible but I think it’s very individually specific and very environmentally specific. You probably have more luck with less, what’s called, I wouldn’t say ‘high risk’ youth…but I definitely consider Bertie Country to be on the extreme side of the social scale. Whereas, we did a workshop with a charter school in the Bay are and the students got it within 15 minutes and they were so excited and they were ready to go, and I was like, why aren’t our kids like this?

It’s just different ends of the spectrum and it becomes a sort of catch-22. You want to work with the extreme side of the spectrum, but I think your opportunity for agency and nurturing something that will exist even when you are gone, is probably more likely on the more moderate spectrum where there’s less convincing to be done and more—I want to lean the skills, teach me the skills and I’ll walk away with them. JA: That’s really interesting—the confines of working within a public school system and the way that students are so disempowered in that system. They really don’t engage, on so many levels. I work with a group of youth here in Providence in an amazing after school arts program [New Urban Arts] that’s all about instilling agency. You see the way the program revolutionizes their thinking about their own education. But it’s outside the school system, so I think there’s more freedom in that—to be a little more radical. EP: The real tragedy is that on a one-onone basis, our kids are just great. The minute they’re in a group though, that whole— school sucks, we’re all pissed off—thing takes over. So yeah, I think with an after school program we would probably get a lot more done but we would lose a lot of the potency that Studio H has now because it is part of their day. It’s a catch-22, I don’t know what the best answer is. JA: Emily, can we ask you one more question before you go? EP: Yes! Of course. JA: We had this great interview with John Thackara about a month ago. We’re using his

book, In the Bubble as one of the texts for our class. One of the questions that he brought up with us was the question of making a living versus creating a livelihood—and how we will reckon with that now, or in the future, as designers. So I’m curious to hear your response to that—what you think you’re doing in your professional career. Is it closer to making a living or would you consider it a livelihood, and if so, what does that mean for you? EP: Definitely not a living, and a livelihood on good days. Someone asked me if I would like to come speak at an event about social design as good business, and I was like, I’d like to but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want me there. My partner Matt and I, we’ve never taken a salary. We’re not even technically employees of our own organization. Our only source of income right now is the community college, where we are adjunct faculty, through which we offer classes for college credit to our students through the high school. It’s never been about money to me, to a fault. I’ve just sort of accepted that. I trade in a different currency. That’s the best way I can explain it. If someone could figure out how I could make a living, I would for sure, go that route. But I haven’t figured out a way to do the work that I want to do and make a living, without sacrificing the integrity of the work I want to do. There’s a lot of, hey, why don’t you come write for our blog and we’ll pay you $20 per post, and yeah, I could be doing that but I would rather be spending four hours on a weekend working in the wood shop with one of my students who wants to come in on a Saturday than writing blog posts, so it’s a big trade off for me. I’ve always chosen the route, that coincidentally, equates with zero money. I’m OK with that. For now, I just want to do

the work that I know to be important and fun and challenging. To me, that’s success in my own definition. ESW: This idea of trading in another currency, is absolutely it. John Thackara also said that he’s under no delusion that designers are going to be making the kinds of salaries that they’re making 10 years from now. I think we all have to get used to the fact that there are a lot of things out there that bring value to our lives. EP: Yeah, I was talking to this friend of mine who is Indian, and just a very spiritual man, just by nature. We were talking about the exact same thing, about trading in different currencies and finding things rewarding in other ways than in just a paycheck. He was like, well don’t you find it’s so interesting that it costs $10 to go to a movie but you can see a sunset for free? That was the perfect way to explain it, it’s just a different kind of—yeah, it doesn’t cost anything, but it doesn’t make it any less wonderful. That’s, I guess, the best way to plagiarize his words, but that’s what it means to me. It’s just a different kind of reward. JA: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you, it’s been great talking with you. EP: Oh, you’re welcome. Good luck in the last few days.

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in our class is—I’m wondering about this in relation to your own students—is whether or not you believe it’s possible to instill a sense of agency in others through this work? Do you see that rabble-rousing spirit being taken up by your students? 218

EP: That’s a really tough question. The short answer is yes, I think you can, but it doesn’t happen often. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, I think that’s just the reality of it. Especially because of the nature of the way designers work—even if you’re the most democratic of all designers, you’re still gonna be viewed as a designer. There will always be a little bit of resistance to the way designers work. With our students, it’s very hard to judge because this is happening within their school day and they just all hate school. I know there are a couple of them who really enjoy the design process and will take away something very tangible from this both in attitude and in skill sets. But I think one of our flaws at Studio H is that we wanted to do this in this public high school, which is powerful because it is part of their school day, but at the same time, it means that the students are attending our class with the same sort of gloss that they attend their other classes. That’s a tough thing to overcome. So yeah, I think it’s possible but I think it’s very individually specific and very environmentally specific. You probably have more luck with less, what’s called, I wouldn’t say ‘high risk’ youth…but I definitely consider Bertie Country to be on the extreme side of the social scale. Whereas, we did a workshop with a charter school in the Bay are and the students got it within 15 minutes and they were so excited and they were ready to go, and I was like, why aren’t our kids like this?

It’s just different ends of the spectrum and it becomes a sort of catch-22. You want to work with the extreme side of the spectrum, but I think your opportunity for agency and nurturing something that will exist even when you are gone, is probably more likely on the more moderate spectrum where there’s less convincing to be done and more—I want to lean the skills, teach me the skills and I’ll walk away with them. JA: That’s really interesting—the confines of working within a public school system and the way that students are so disempowered in that system. They really don’t engage, on so many levels. I work with a group of youth here in Providence in an amazing after school arts program [New Urban Arts] that’s all about instilling agency. You see the way the program revolutionizes their thinking about their own education. But it’s outside the school system, so I think there’s more freedom in that—to be a little more radical. EP: The real tragedy is that on a one-onone basis, our kids are just great. The minute they’re in a group though, that whole— school sucks, we’re all pissed off—thing takes over. So yeah, I think with an after school program we would probably get a lot more done but we would lose a lot of the potency that Studio H has now because it is part of their day. It’s a catch-22, I don’t know what the best answer is. JA: Emily, can we ask you one more question before you go? EP: Yes! Of course. JA: We had this great interview with John Thackara about a month ago. We’re using his

book, In the Bubble as one of the texts for our class. One of the questions that he brought up with us was the question of making a living versus creating a livelihood—and how we will reckon with that now, or in the future, as designers. So I’m curious to hear your response to that—what you think you’re doing in your professional career. Is it closer to making a living or would you consider it a livelihood, and if so, what does that mean for you? EP: Definitely not a living, and a livelihood on good days. Someone asked me if I would like to come speak at an event about social design as good business, and I was like, I’d like to but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want me there. My partner Matt and I, we’ve never taken a salary. We’re not even technically employees of our own organization. Our only source of income right now is the community college, where we are adjunct faculty, through which we offer classes for college credit to our students through the high school. It’s never been about money to me, to a fault. I’ve just sort of accepted that. I trade in a different currency. That’s the best way I can explain it. If someone could figure out how I could make a living, I would for sure, go that route. But I haven’t figured out a way to do the work that I want to do and make a living, without sacrificing the integrity of the work I want to do. There’s a lot of, hey, why don’t you come write for our blog and we’ll pay you $20 per post, and yeah, I could be doing that but I would rather be spending four hours on a weekend working in the wood shop with one of my students who wants to come in on a Saturday than writing blog posts, so it’s a big trade off for me. I’ve always chosen the route, that coincidentally, equates with zero money. I’m OK with that. For now, I just want to do

the work that I know to be important and fun and challenging. To me, that’s success in my own definition. ESW: This idea of trading in another currency, is absolutely it. John Thackara also said that he’s under no delusion that designers are going to be making the kinds of salaries that they’re making 10 years from now. I think we all have to get used to the fact that there are a lot of things out there that bring value to our lives. EP: Yeah, I was talking to this friend of mine who is Indian, and just a very spiritual man, just by nature. We were talking about the exact same thing, about trading in different currencies and finding things rewarding in other ways than in just a paycheck. He was like, well don’t you find it’s so interesting that it costs $10 to go to a movie but you can see a sunset for free? That was the perfect way to explain it, it’s just a different kind of—yeah, it doesn’t cost anything, but it doesn’t make it any less wonderful. That’s, I guess, the best way to plagiarize his words, but that’s what it means to me. It’s just a different kind of reward. JA: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you, it’s been great talking with you. EP: Oh, you’re welcome. Good luck in the last few days.

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SARAH BUIE

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For twenty-five years Sarah Buie was a museum exhibition designer for clients such as the Yale University Art Gallery and The risd Museum, among others. She’s been a professor of Graphic Design at Clark University since 1978 and is currently the Director of the Higgins School of Humanities there. Jane and Sarah go way back—10 years or so—to Jane’s undergraduate days at Clark. Since then they’ve worked together on a range of projects including, most recently, Difficult Dialogues—a major initiative of the Higgins School that works to encourage a culture of dialogue on campus at Clark, both inside and outside the classroom. Sara Raffo joined the two of us, for a conversation over Vietnamese food in Worcester, to talk with Sarah about her career as a designer and how it connects with her current practices in higher ed. JA: We’re interested in designers who have a different kind of practice from the norm. Because we think we’re trying to have a different kind of practice from the norm. So we have hours upon hours of things that we would love to talk with you about. But I think the simplest way to get started is to hear a little bit about how your practice as a designer has developed and how it relates to what you’re doing now. SB: I would say, in my own career, even calling myself a designer isn’t something I’ve thought about much in probably six years or so. Even though I think what I do now is a natural outgrowth of having a career as a designer. I think the interesting thing to explore together would be how what I’m doing now is the work of a designer. JA: I think there’s a great intersection between your passion as an exhibition designer and your practice now. When I’m talking about the Difficult Dialogues program, I often talk about how you and I were thinking through this program as designers and how that contributed to it being rather unique among the other Difficult Dialogue programs. We hadn’t figured out the dialogue thing yet, in the beginning, but it felt like a natural path to be on, in a way that it didn’t seem to be for people in other disciplines. I remember talking about that with you. SB: I think there may be some other things that are making it feel the natural path. I want to backtrack myself and think through that with you. This idea of “what is a designer”—I’m just wondering about

my own question about that from the beginning. I think I was really lucky to start out in design with Sheila De Bretteville as a model. She was a person who understood that design was a way of life and a way of asking questions and a way of supporting serious engagement and building community and revealing hidden histories. I think she has a very searching and rigorous mind, and she has really good values about what’s important to be doing with your work. So from early, I saw design as value laden. I mean I saw the activity of design as shaping of culture, of having critical impacts on states of mind, on states of community, on what people thought of themselves and what could be possible in their lives. I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t have figured out a lot of that on my own, but Sheila, by the time I met her, had lived that out in a variety of ways. I saw design from the beginning as more than fitting into the economy. I mean I certainly saw it as meeting real needs and producing real things and solving real problems and therefore probably making some money doing it! (laughs) Because those things needed to be made. And I saw very early the craft aspect. Being at Yale, we had letterpress setup; we had our own letterpress in our graduate building. So the making of real things and the beauty of that, as well as the pragmatic side—I mean I was always interested in the fact that I could help someone convey the material they wanted to convey in their book, or that I could help an event happen really well because of the things that I had designed for it. But I was never interested in, what I would call, valuefree design. I don’t know that I’ve ever done any design work that was for a business that I didn’t care about. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’ve been fortunate. So I saw myself really early on doing design work that would serve really

interesting projects. Back then, in design, exhibition design, I was interested in the notion that I could design spaces and exhibitions, rather than printed materials. That was kind of a natural growth out of being an educator in the Yale art gallery. I had curated and designed an exhibition of my own when I was on the staff there, so it was very natural for me to continue to make exhibition spaces. Actually, to give them credit, when I was in graduate school, Alvin Eisenman actually invited—oh, what was her name? She was the head of the Long Beach State program in exhibition design. They actually had one back in the day. She and her assistant came and did an exhibition design project with us, as graduate students. At Yale it was kind of understood that that was a tangential but possible aspect of graphic design. Unfortunately, most graphic designers really had a lot of trouble coming off the page, so a lot of them had a hard time going into 3d, and I think that still continues to be true for most people in graphic design. It’s not their métier, but for me it was very much my métier. In fact, for many years I wanted to be an architect, so it was the natural movement for me to be an exhibition designer. So that gave me wonderful years of practice for all kinds of museums. For me, it was a very complete form of design practice. I did a lot with typography and a lot with printed materials, but I was really conceiving spaces that read meaningfully. That—working on all those levels —for me it was the most satisfying kind of design practice. So where does that leave us? I think in working on design projects, I always saw them as collaborations and conversations. I was always listening for what the project wanted to be. I think there is a fundamental listening for how—you know, for an exhibition on the history of the Hopi—I could create a space which would tell a story of

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SARAH BUIE

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For twenty-five years Sarah Buie was a museum exhibition designer for clients such as the Yale University Art Gallery and The risd Museum, among others. She’s been a professor of Graphic Design at Clark University since 1978 and is currently the Director of the Higgins School of Humanities there. Jane and Sarah go way back—10 years or so—to Jane’s undergraduate days at Clark. Since then they’ve worked together on a range of projects including, most recently, Difficult Dialogues—a major initiative of the Higgins School that works to encourage a culture of dialogue on campus at Clark, both inside and outside the classroom. Sara Raffo joined the two of us, for a conversation over Vietnamese food in Worcester, to talk with Sarah about her career as a designer and how it connects with her current practices in higher ed. JA: We’re interested in designers who have a different kind of practice from the norm. Because we think we’re trying to have a different kind of practice from the norm. So we have hours upon hours of things that we would love to talk with you about. But I think the simplest way to get started is to hear a little bit about how your practice as a designer has developed and how it relates to what you’re doing now. SB: I would say, in my own career, even calling myself a designer isn’t something I’ve thought about much in probably six years or so. Even though I think what I do now is a natural outgrowth of having a career as a designer. I think the interesting thing to explore together would be how what I’m doing now is the work of a designer. JA: I think there’s a great intersection between your passion as an exhibition designer and your practice now. When I’m talking about the Difficult Dialogues program, I often talk about how you and I were thinking through this program as designers and how that contributed to it being rather unique among the other Difficult Dialogue programs. We hadn’t figured out the dialogue thing yet, in the beginning, but it felt like a natural path to be on, in a way that it didn’t seem to be for people in other disciplines. I remember talking about that with you. SB: I think there may be some other things that are making it feel the natural path. I want to backtrack myself and think through that with you. This idea of “what is a designer”—I’m just wondering about

my own question about that from the beginning. I think I was really lucky to start out in design with Sheila De Bretteville as a model. She was a person who understood that design was a way of life and a way of asking questions and a way of supporting serious engagement and building community and revealing hidden histories. I think she has a very searching and rigorous mind, and she has really good values about what’s important to be doing with your work. So from early, I saw design as value laden. I mean I saw the activity of design as shaping of culture, of having critical impacts on states of mind, on states of community, on what people thought of themselves and what could be possible in their lives. I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t have figured out a lot of that on my own, but Sheila, by the time I met her, had lived that out in a variety of ways. I saw design from the beginning as more than fitting into the economy. I mean I certainly saw it as meeting real needs and producing real things and solving real problems and therefore probably making some money doing it! (laughs) Because those things needed to be made. And I saw very early the craft aspect. Being at Yale, we had letterpress setup; we had our own letterpress in our graduate building. So the making of real things and the beauty of that, as well as the pragmatic side—I mean I was always interested in the fact that I could help someone convey the material they wanted to convey in their book, or that I could help an event happen really well because of the things that I had designed for it. But I was never interested in, what I would call, valuefree design. I don’t know that I’ve ever done any design work that was for a business that I didn’t care about. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’ve been fortunate. So I saw myself really early on doing design work that would serve really

interesting projects. Back then, in design, exhibition design, I was interested in the notion that I could design spaces and exhibitions, rather than printed materials. That was kind of a natural growth out of being an educator in the Yale art gallery. I had curated and designed an exhibition of my own when I was on the staff there, so it was very natural for me to continue to make exhibition spaces. Actually, to give them credit, when I was in graduate school, Alvin Eisenman actually invited—oh, what was her name? She was the head of the Long Beach State program in exhibition design. They actually had one back in the day. She and her assistant came and did an exhibition design project with us, as graduate students. At Yale it was kind of understood that that was a tangential but possible aspect of graphic design. Unfortunately, most graphic designers really had a lot of trouble coming off the page, so a lot of them had a hard time going into 3d, and I think that still continues to be true for most people in graphic design. It’s not their métier, but for me it was very much my métier. In fact, for many years I wanted to be an architect, so it was the natural movement for me to be an exhibition designer. So that gave me wonderful years of practice for all kinds of museums. For me, it was a very complete form of design practice. I did a lot with typography and a lot with printed materials, but I was really conceiving spaces that read meaningfully. That—working on all those levels —for me it was the most satisfying kind of design practice. So where does that leave us? I think in working on design projects, I always saw them as collaborations and conversations. I was always listening for what the project wanted to be. I think there is a fundamental listening for how—you know, for an exhibition on the history of the Hopi—I could create a space which would tell a story of

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difference and unity as expressed through form. I needed to listen to their story, to the objects, to the needs of the objects, before I could understand how to hold those in a way that would reach out and communicate to others so that they could then enter into a conversation. And I always saw the spaces as spaces of discovery. I’ve always said that about exhibitions—that they should be spaces of not knowing, of our coming in and exploring and finding our own exchanges with this material, these objects. In a way, I guess I’ve always seen exhibitions as dialogic spaces, but I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t have called them that then. I’ve always seen a good design process as a dialogic process, as a conversation with not only the objects and the history or the artist or whoever, but with those who are responsible for the objects within the institution— the curator, the needs of the institution, the space itself. It’s this wonderful brew, where all these parts come together and you’re in this evolving conversation with the other people that you’re working with. JA: I’m just curious about this notion of the designer as a facilitator—it’s come up in various places. It’s something that I’ve thought of a lot since going back to school. I feel like I’m less of an author and more of a facilitator. I wondered if, given the way you were just talking about the design process, if that is an idea that resonates with you? Or not? And knowing—especially what you know about dialogue facilitation, the role of a facilitator in a different context. Do those things feel like they overlap or not? SB: Yeah, I think they do. I think you create a space as a designer and as a facilitator, but I don’t think all designers do; I think that many don’t. They’re much more about

authoring, you know? And having a style, having some kind of a state of mind that they’re trying to pronounce, right? It’s more design as a statement, rather than design as a space, a receptive space, a space of complexity or collaboration or difference, even, or exploration. So as a facilitator of the space—you know, sometimes you’re bringing your own voice strongly in there, in ways that you may need to recognize. I think just being transparent about that—where is your voice and what does that consist of ? What does that do? What have you left out? What have you included? I mean you’re always doing that, right? So you can’t just be utterly transparent—you’re shaping something. We knew that all along with the dialogue work. JA: This idea of a neutral facilitator is somewhat of a false notion, right? You can play a neutral role, but you’re still bringing yourself to it. SB: Well I think there are situations where facilitators are more truly neutral, but I wouldn’t say that’s true in design. I can think of situations where people have really tried to be neutral and just gather voices, present them as neutrally as possible. So there are situations like that. I was never quite on that extreme. I think if you look at my design work, you can see that it’s all done relatively by a similar hand, so there’s somebody there shaping some of it. That’s what we have to acknowledge: there’s something stylistic or there’s something in our voice that’s present. JA: There’s a richness there, too, of being one of the voices among the many, right? I mean because you’re part of the process, too. SB: Right, yeah. I just, I love how when you start a really good design project—or you start a project and you don’t know. You find

your own voice, you find the voice of others, you find something that didn’t exist before. I love that. That was such a joy, and that is dialogue, that is the creative process. That’s what we’ve always said about dialogue, is that it’s a way of pointing to or calling out the creative flow. What is it like to create a space where creativity can actually show up? It’s like you create that ripe space where something can catch and flow through. So in that sense, I’m just going to try to switch to the question of: Where did I end up going and why is it being a designer, or is it being a designer? I think one of the things I would say that is most important to me, is that whatever we’re doing, we be doing it in the world that we’re actually living in that needs us, and that we need each other. I was lucky, in the 25 years that I was a practicing museum exhibition designer, the world seemed to be relatively stable. And I got to be, most of that time, just working in these very extraordinary cultural institutions, providing and enhancing meaningful explorations in relatively—what would you say?—I don’t want to say luxurious, but to make beautiful exhibitions in fine art museums and history museums and naturally history museums, cultural institutions. I mean these things are the fruits of civilization and it’s a great privilege to be able to work in that kind of context regularly and be fed by it all the time. And then sometimes in the world, somehow that doesn’t seem like enough, you know? I would say that, looking back, is that what happened to me in the early part of this decade, or the last decade. I would find it very hard to be doing the design work that I was doing during that period now, because I need to do something that feels very related to where the biggest needs are. Somebody else can be doing exhibition designs in a museum now, but I need to be working more on things that I feel are more important right now.

I’ve always seen a good design process as a dialogic process. So I feel that changed for me. My actual work situation changed in a way that allowed me to explore other kinds of things that I might want to do. The question of how, in higher ed and at Clark—how we as educators are addressing the real needs of the world— was really pressing on me when I took up the job of directing the Higgins School of Humanities. I felt as though we had this institutional frame that was very, in a way, free and allowed for a lot of things to happen within the institution. It could address a lot of questions, but it wasn’t happening yet, because we had old patterns of just having more esoteric, scholarly talks and our usual and very nice concerts. All of these things are important, but we had the Humanities Center sitting there, not addressing the questions of our time, at all. That was my first desire, to get involved in creating a space—again, here it is, another space—designing a space for listening and encountering the real questions of our time. Yes, from the point of view of some of the humanities and some of the arts, but also to create that for the university as a whole, so that whether or not it fit into your disciplinary area, you were wondering and asking about the state of our democracy, for example. And

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difference and unity as expressed through form. I needed to listen to their story, to the objects, to the needs of the objects, before I could understand how to hold those in a way that would reach out and communicate to others so that they could then enter into a conversation. And I always saw the spaces as spaces of discovery. I’ve always said that about exhibitions—that they should be spaces of not knowing, of our coming in and exploring and finding our own exchanges with this material, these objects. In a way, I guess I’ve always seen exhibitions as dialogic spaces, but I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t have called them that then. I’ve always seen a good design process as a dialogic process, as a conversation with not only the objects and the history or the artist or whoever, but with those who are responsible for the objects within the institution— the curator, the needs of the institution, the space itself. It’s this wonderful brew, where all these parts come together and you’re in this evolving conversation with the other people that you’re working with. JA: I’m just curious about this notion of the designer as a facilitator—it’s come up in various places. It’s something that I’ve thought of a lot since going back to school. I feel like I’m less of an author and more of a facilitator. I wondered if, given the way you were just talking about the design process, if that is an idea that resonates with you? Or not? And knowing—especially what you know about dialogue facilitation, the role of a facilitator in a different context. Do those things feel like they overlap or not? SB: Yeah, I think they do. I think you create a space as a designer and as a facilitator, but I don’t think all designers do; I think that many don’t. They’re much more about

authoring, you know? And having a style, having some kind of a state of mind that they’re trying to pronounce, right? It’s more design as a statement, rather than design as a space, a receptive space, a space of complexity or collaboration or difference, even, or exploration. So as a facilitator of the space—you know, sometimes you’re bringing your own voice strongly in there, in ways that you may need to recognize. I think just being transparent about that—where is your voice and what does that consist of ? What does that do? What have you left out? What have you included? I mean you’re always doing that, right? So you can’t just be utterly transparent—you’re shaping something. We knew that all along with the dialogue work. JA: This idea of a neutral facilitator is somewhat of a false notion, right? You can play a neutral role, but you’re still bringing yourself to it. SB: Well I think there are situations where facilitators are more truly neutral, but I wouldn’t say that’s true in design. I can think of situations where people have really tried to be neutral and just gather voices, present them as neutrally as possible. So there are situations like that. I was never quite on that extreme. I think if you look at my design work, you can see that it’s all done relatively by a similar hand, so there’s somebody there shaping some of it. That’s what we have to acknowledge: there’s something stylistic or there’s something in our voice that’s present. JA: There’s a richness there, too, of being one of the voices among the many, right? I mean because you’re part of the process, too. SB: Right, yeah. I just, I love how when you start a really good design project—or you start a project and you don’t know. You find

your own voice, you find the voice of others, you find something that didn’t exist before. I love that. That was such a joy, and that is dialogue, that is the creative process. That’s what we’ve always said about dialogue, is that it’s a way of pointing to or calling out the creative flow. What is it like to create a space where creativity can actually show up? It’s like you create that ripe space where something can catch and flow through. So in that sense, I’m just going to try to switch to the question of: Where did I end up going and why is it being a designer, or is it being a designer? I think one of the things I would say that is most important to me, is that whatever we’re doing, we be doing it in the world that we’re actually living in that needs us, and that we need each other. I was lucky, in the 25 years that I was a practicing museum exhibition designer, the world seemed to be relatively stable. And I got to be, most of that time, just working in these very extraordinary cultural institutions, providing and enhancing meaningful explorations in relatively—what would you say?—I don’t want to say luxurious, but to make beautiful exhibitions in fine art museums and history museums and naturally history museums, cultural institutions. I mean these things are the fruits of civilization and it’s a great privilege to be able to work in that kind of context regularly and be fed by it all the time. And then sometimes in the world, somehow that doesn’t seem like enough, you know? I would say that, looking back, is that what happened to me in the early part of this decade, or the last decade. I would find it very hard to be doing the design work that I was doing during that period now, because I need to do something that feels very related to where the biggest needs are. Somebody else can be doing exhibition designs in a museum now, but I need to be working more on things that I feel are more important right now.

I’ve always seen a good design process as a dialogic process. So I feel that changed for me. My actual work situation changed in a way that allowed me to explore other kinds of things that I might want to do. The question of how, in higher ed and at Clark—how we as educators are addressing the real needs of the world— was really pressing on me when I took up the job of directing the Higgins School of Humanities. I felt as though we had this institutional frame that was very, in a way, free and allowed for a lot of things to happen within the institution. It could address a lot of questions, but it wasn’t happening yet, because we had old patterns of just having more esoteric, scholarly talks and our usual and very nice concerts. All of these things are important, but we had the Humanities Center sitting there, not addressing the questions of our time, at all. That was my first desire, to get involved in creating a space—again, here it is, another space—designing a space for listening and encountering the real questions of our time. Yes, from the point of view of some of the humanities and some of the arts, but also to create that for the university as a whole, so that whether or not it fit into your disciplinary area, you were wondering and asking about the state of our democracy, for example. And

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If we just look at what it is that substantiates dialogue, it’s almost all of the same things that are needed for good design.

I was using design in our advertising, in our calendar. Right from the beginning, I saw how important some of the basic communication forms would be. Then when we got the chance to apply for the Ford Foundation grant and were funded so we got to think about, what a space of seriously engagement with each other across the difficult and complex issues of our time look like? Then I think I started bringing all of my organizational skills and all of my ability to think about how you create a project—which is what I had been doing for 25 years as a designer. What’s involved in creating a flowing, living process that allows for what we don’t know to arise? And those are the questions of dialogue, anyway. But the whole project itself was, I suppose (and this is great to discover, right now) it had a lot in common with creating any other really strong, more complex design project. I think my own design work has always had more in common with people who, I’m just going to say architects (it’s not really exactly what I mean, because it could be industrial designers or others). I think my own process was always this big project orientation, rather than, “Oh I’ve got to design a brochure, or even I’ve got to design an identity.” I think design has moved more in that direction for more people in the last twenty years, perhaps. Where maybe more people understand that every time that we undertake to solve design problems, we’re doing it systemically. JA: I mean that’s something that we’re talking about in the class specifically. We took a look at all of these design methodologies, contemporary ones, and put them on an x/y axis, just a way to start a conversation. Students plotted them on two lines between pronouncement and dialogue, and between symptomatic or systematic thinking.

SB: (laughing) All the words are right there. JA: One of the things that came out of that conversation in our class was, “Well that’s really nice that people want to be designing in more dialogic and systematic ways, but no one tells you how to do that. These methodologies just tell me I should be involving lots of people and I should talk to them, and I should therefore be able to meet their needs.” SB: When you say all that, I think about those people and how they got to be adults with that kind of “I don’t know how to do it, somebody has to tell me.” It makes me think (and I don’t want to be to pat about this), that we’ve grown up in a culture that is so— its structures are—(the words are alluding me because they’re not rich enough). What we’re talking about is habits of mind and heart. It’s ways of being receptive and listening and building together. Building from a less egotistical kind of a place or a less top-down sort of power relationship. And we’re not used to it. Apparently, from everything I hear sort of piecemeal from what our schools, our educational system, has been doing, they’ve been failing. We’ve not been building even the capacity for inner trust of one’s self, of one’s own decision-making among our students or a sense of their own capacities and their abilities to collaborate. We’ve been making them toe the line, in some ways, and produce to some externalized standard. That just leaves people depleted. JA: I think that’s really the whole question of our class is: How do you bring back a sense of agency in your practice? SB: Well, “Design Agency.” There’s some interesting kind of tensions in the language

here, because “agency” is—well it’s more about engagement. And taking agency is like taking responsibility, rather than taking authorship. Agency and authorship, yeah, they aren’t the same. JA: It’s been interesting, I’ve told stories of the Difficult Dialogues program in class, about how people would sit through the Dialogue Seminar and get a sense of how a classroom could look different or feel different or be different, and then go to their other classes and be bold enough to say to their professors, “How about we rearrange the furniture today?” And what a huge deal that is. SB: Yes. So, if we think about: what is a designer? It seems as though, if we can say that we create spaces and we facilitate and in some ways embody or create forms for creative process and problem solving— sometimes problem solving but sometimes asking questions. But we hold and bring forth form within the space. I don’t know. It would be great to try to write that. And to hold the space for the questions. That takes a lot of awareness of what’s needed. The act of listening seems really critical, for all designers. It’s hard to believe that you can be a good designer without listening well, in any kind of design. Right? JA: And we take that for granted. SB: And asking good questions. Questioning your assumptions. I mean it goes on and on. If we just look at what it is that substantiates dialogue, it’s almost all of the same things that are needed for good design.

225


224

If we just look at what it is that substantiates dialogue, it’s almost all of the same things that are needed for good design.

I was using design in our advertising, in our calendar. Right from the beginning, I saw how important some of the basic communication forms would be. Then when we got the chance to apply for the Ford Foundation grant and were funded so we got to think about, what a space of seriously engagement with each other across the difficult and complex issues of our time look like? Then I think I started bringing all of my organizational skills and all of my ability to think about how you create a project—which is what I had been doing for 25 years as a designer. What’s involved in creating a flowing, living process that allows for what we don’t know to arise? And those are the questions of dialogue, anyway. But the whole project itself was, I suppose (and this is great to discover, right now) it had a lot in common with creating any other really strong, more complex design project. I think my own design work has always had more in common with people who, I’m just going to say architects (it’s not really exactly what I mean, because it could be industrial designers or others). I think my own process was always this big project orientation, rather than, “Oh I’ve got to design a brochure, or even I’ve got to design an identity.” I think design has moved more in that direction for more people in the last twenty years, perhaps. Where maybe more people understand that every time that we undertake to solve design problems, we’re doing it systemically. JA: I mean that’s something that we’re talking about in the class specifically. We took a look at all of these design methodologies, contemporary ones, and put them on an x/y axis, just a way to start a conversation. Students plotted them on two lines between pronouncement and dialogue, and between symptomatic or systematic thinking.

SB: (laughing) All the words are right there. JA: One of the things that came out of that conversation in our class was, “Well that’s really nice that people want to be designing in more dialogic and systematic ways, but no one tells you how to do that. These methodologies just tell me I should be involving lots of people and I should talk to them, and I should therefore be able to meet their needs.” SB: When you say all that, I think about those people and how they got to be adults with that kind of “I don’t know how to do it, somebody has to tell me.” It makes me think (and I don’t want to be to pat about this), that we’ve grown up in a culture that is so— its structures are—(the words are alluding me because they’re not rich enough). What we’re talking about is habits of mind and heart. It’s ways of being receptive and listening and building together. Building from a less egotistical kind of a place or a less top-down sort of power relationship. And we’re not used to it. Apparently, from everything I hear sort of piecemeal from what our schools, our educational system, has been doing, they’ve been failing. We’ve not been building even the capacity for inner trust of one’s self, of one’s own decision-making among our students or a sense of their own capacities and their abilities to collaborate. We’ve been making them toe the line, in some ways, and produce to some externalized standard. That just leaves people depleted. JA: I think that’s really the whole question of our class is: How do you bring back a sense of agency in your practice? SB: Well, “Design Agency.” There’s some interesting kind of tensions in the language

here, because “agency” is—well it’s more about engagement. And taking agency is like taking responsibility, rather than taking authorship. Agency and authorship, yeah, they aren’t the same. JA: It’s been interesting, I’ve told stories of the Difficult Dialogues program in class, about how people would sit through the Dialogue Seminar and get a sense of how a classroom could look different or feel different or be different, and then go to their other classes and be bold enough to say to their professors, “How about we rearrange the furniture today?” And what a huge deal that is. SB: Yes. So, if we think about: what is a designer? It seems as though, if we can say that we create spaces and we facilitate and in some ways embody or create forms for creative process and problem solving— sometimes problem solving but sometimes asking questions. But we hold and bring forth form within the space. I don’t know. It would be great to try to write that. And to hold the space for the questions. That takes a lot of awareness of what’s needed. The act of listening seems really critical, for all designers. It’s hard to believe that you can be a good designer without listening well, in any kind of design. Right? JA: And we take that for granted. SB: And asking good questions. Questioning your assumptions. I mean it goes on and on. If we just look at what it is that substantiates dialogue, it’s almost all of the same things that are needed for good design.

225


STEVE SEIDEL

226

Steve Seidel is the Director of the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners— referenced in this interview. We met Steve through his son, Sam Seidel, a Community Fellow in the Office of Public Engagement at risd. They share a passion for education which has made every conversation we’ve had with them both engaging and inspiring. We drove up to Boston on a wet day early this spring to talk with Steve about the relationship between visual documentation and learning. As it happened, our conversation touched on many other areas including the role of agency in education, Steve’s recent trip to the Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy, and about what radical participation means within the space of a classroom. JA: Having heard a bit about your work up here, I’ve always been curious about Project Zero. I think I may have mentioned getting totally wrapped up in this amazing book [Making Learning Visible]. Particularly, I think I’ve read this chapter on documentation and visible learning about ten times, so far. SS: That’s all? JA: I know, it needs more! I think this is where I want to make the connection in our conversation—that this idea of visual documentation is a part of the learning process. I think it’s a place where we see our interest in education and graphic design overlapping. I see this kind of learning happening at New Urban Arts—it’s a dialogic learning space that is also a highly visual learning space. So here we are teaching a Grad Studies course at risd, Emily and I. We’re trying to bring that sensibility into our classroom. Which is why when I read about Reggio [Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy]—though it’s for a completely different age group—I find it makes a lot of sense in a graduate level classroom. I find myself wanting to really draw from that. When I was teaching at Clark University and mentoring at New Urban Arts, I almost always brought things from New Urban Arts into my classroom at Clark and almost never the other way. SS: When Sam (my son) was in first grade, he had an amazing teacher. I was teaching at South Boston high school, but on a slightly late schedule. So I would drop him at school and be able to stay for a few

minutes, and during that time I would try to soak up his teacher, to absorb this quality she had. Every time I could do that and drive fast to South Boston and teach, it was incredibly helpful. If I could just channel his first grade teacher through my body and voice, it was so right for my high school students. JA: What do you think those qualities were? If they’re namable. SS: Well, you know, I was always there in the first part of the morning. It was so welcoming. Part of her language was, you know, “Sam, I’ve been thinking about you since yesterday” or “since earlier this week, when you did this.” It’s very connected to this, bringing the student the that message that, “I’ve been thinking about you.” And it’s helpful in high school too. Teachers didn’t say that to students when they walked in the door, “I’ve been thinking about what you did yesterday in class, and what you said,” unless they were in trouble. But bringing for the learner, at whatever age, this verbal documentation—I’m going to remind you of this thing, “Remember when you said…I’ve been thinking about that, have you been thinking about that?” JA: You sort of bring it back into the space. SS: You know, whatever it was, it was a kind of drawing, so that the past doesn’t disappear Which in school, it does so much of the time.

anything. Frankly, we’re just trying to add onto that, to be present in the present. JA: So we’ve been thinking about how we put this all together in our course, Design Agency. The course is really asking designers who are interested in working for social change, what gives you agency to work around a particular issue or within a particular community? I guess that’s the very small version of it. SS: What does agency mean in that sense? JA: Well, we think it’s more the verb than the noun, in that sense. How do we as individual designers have a sense of agency in matching our skills with our values, and charting a professional path that’s going to address some of the issues that we feel are very important. But how do we do so in a way that’s cognizant of the fact that our level of agency within particular communities varies, depending on where we are. We’re asking, how do you work in community? What are the trajectory of projects you’re doing in community? How do you build relationships around those projects? JA: Really there’s not a great level of conversation in the design world right now, around this. Also, you know the other thing is that we’re creating very different kind of space at risd, in terms of teaching and learning. SS: Pedagogically or thematically or both?

ESW: Well, in life!

ESW & JA: Both.

JA: You’re always moving onto the next thing.

SS: So there aren’t a lot of places where people are talking about the intersection of their art form or the arts and social change?

SS: Life, yes. The seamless continuity of experiences makes it very hard for us to put boundaries on experiences and to remember

227


STEVE SEIDEL

226

Steve Seidel is the Director of the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners— referenced in this interview. We met Steve through his son, Sam Seidel, a Community Fellow in the Office of Public Engagement at risd. They share a passion for education which has made every conversation we’ve had with them both engaging and inspiring. We drove up to Boston on a wet day early this spring to talk with Steve about the relationship between visual documentation and learning. As it happened, our conversation touched on many other areas including the role of agency in education, Steve’s recent trip to the Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy, and about what radical participation means within the space of a classroom. JA: Having heard a bit about your work up here, I’ve always been curious about Project Zero. I think I may have mentioned getting totally wrapped up in this amazing book [Making Learning Visible]. Particularly, I think I’ve read this chapter on documentation and visible learning about ten times, so far. SS: That’s all? JA: I know, it needs more! I think this is where I want to make the connection in our conversation—that this idea of visual documentation is a part of the learning process. I think it’s a place where we see our interest in education and graphic design overlapping. I see this kind of learning happening at New Urban Arts—it’s a dialogic learning space that is also a highly visual learning space. So here we are teaching a Grad Studies course at risd, Emily and I. We’re trying to bring that sensibility into our classroom. Which is why when I read about Reggio [Reggio Emilia Schools in Italy]—though it’s for a completely different age group—I find it makes a lot of sense in a graduate level classroom. I find myself wanting to really draw from that. When I was teaching at Clark University and mentoring at New Urban Arts, I almost always brought things from New Urban Arts into my classroom at Clark and almost never the other way. SS: When Sam (my son) was in first grade, he had an amazing teacher. I was teaching at South Boston high school, but on a slightly late schedule. So I would drop him at school and be able to stay for a few

minutes, and during that time I would try to soak up his teacher, to absorb this quality she had. Every time I could do that and drive fast to South Boston and teach, it was incredibly helpful. If I could just channel his first grade teacher through my body and voice, it was so right for my high school students. JA: What do you think those qualities were? If they’re namable. SS: Well, you know, I was always there in the first part of the morning. It was so welcoming. Part of her language was, you know, “Sam, I’ve been thinking about you since yesterday” or “since earlier this week, when you did this.” It’s very connected to this, bringing the student the that message that, “I’ve been thinking about you.” And it’s helpful in high school too. Teachers didn’t say that to students when they walked in the door, “I’ve been thinking about what you did yesterday in class, and what you said,” unless they were in trouble. But bringing for the learner, at whatever age, this verbal documentation—I’m going to remind you of this thing, “Remember when you said…I’ve been thinking about that, have you been thinking about that?” JA: You sort of bring it back into the space. SS: You know, whatever it was, it was a kind of drawing, so that the past doesn’t disappear Which in school, it does so much of the time.

anything. Frankly, we’re just trying to add onto that, to be present in the present. JA: So we’ve been thinking about how we put this all together in our course, Design Agency. The course is really asking designers who are interested in working for social change, what gives you agency to work around a particular issue or within a particular community? I guess that’s the very small version of it. SS: What does agency mean in that sense? JA: Well, we think it’s more the verb than the noun, in that sense. How do we as individual designers have a sense of agency in matching our skills with our values, and charting a professional path that’s going to address some of the issues that we feel are very important. But how do we do so in a way that’s cognizant of the fact that our level of agency within particular communities varies, depending on where we are. We’re asking, how do you work in community? What are the trajectory of projects you’re doing in community? How do you build relationships around those projects? JA: Really there’s not a great level of conversation in the design world right now, around this. Also, you know the other thing is that we’re creating very different kind of space at risd, in terms of teaching and learning. SS: Pedagogically or thematically or both?

ESW: Well, in life!

ESW & JA: Both.

JA: You’re always moving onto the next thing.

SS: So there aren’t a lot of places where people are talking about the intersection of their art form or the arts and social change?

SS: Life, yes. The seamless continuity of experiences makes it very hard for us to put boundaries on experiences and to remember

227


ESW: There’s a lot of people doing it, but there’s not a lot of people talking about how we’re doing it.

228

JA: I think it comes from the fact that designers are real practitioners. There’s not often a deeply reflective process related to that— one that might ask, why are we going to Alabama to do a project on childhood obesity, when there are issues to address here in Providence Rhode Island? So we go there once and meet three people and then design them some solutions from thousands of miles away. So many of the projects are geared towards the needs of the students at risd, and there’s sort of an imbalance there that we think is problematic. This is all sounding very familiar, I’m sure… SS: The arts are famous for this. But I don’t think the arts—I don’t know, I’ve never thought about whether the arts are particularly worse in this regard or not. Nonetheless. JA: First thing we had the students in the class read this semester was Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions.” That’s certainly not about art. Obviously, these questions have been asked in lots of places outside of art and design. I just don’t think, at least to keep it really local at risd, we’re not really asking those questions. And then to have a peer-led space that is interdisciplinary, that’s also not a thing that really happens there. I mean we are sort of— and I think this is again bringing it back to the work that I’m familiar with that you do here—trying to make our classroom a place where we’re really instilling agency in students, which is both easier and more difficult because they’re our peers. SS: Well when you figure that one out, let me know….(laughs)

JA: Well, it’s an ongoing question. SS: It’s an interesting language, too, that you just used. I’m not sure if it’s significant or not, but what does it mean to instill agency in someone else? And I only bring that up because you think about all that stuff and also because, first of all, I struggle with that stuff enormously. There’s very little that’s obvious to me about this, and most of the obvious stuff, I can’t actually do. But I feel like, sometimes, the close examination of our language, which you all are engaged in, helps us to kind of flip this. To flip it, and say, “what is the language that is used to describe the relationship between us, them, and their agency, ours etc.” This sounds like fantastic work that you’re doing. This is really great.

study group, which would be a good thing to do. So we can say more about that. But for me—have you read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie? ESW & JA: No. SS: Well, I think you should. It’s a young adult novel.

JA: We’re very excited about it.

SS: Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Indian, he made a movie called Smoke Signals. He’s also a novelist, a short story writer, and a poet. He’s just brilliant. And this is just an amazing piece of work. But he has, as a kind of epigraph, the quote that he attributes to Yeats—other people attribute it to someone else, but a lot of people attribute it to Yeats— which is “There is another world, and it is in this one.”

SS: That’s fantastic.

JA: That’s great.

JA: Quite honestly, too, if you’re wondering come up here and talk with you about it? I think one reason is that we don’t get a lot of support in our own department for it, for a whole host of reasons that we don’t really need to get into…

SS: When I was in Reggio, I thought, “This is it. I’m still on the planet, earth, but this is not like the world I live in. Italy is totally struggling up right now. Seriously messed up, and Reggio, as a town, is really struggling. So you can go and visit as a tourist and kind of have this really ideal time there—a sort of education tourist, because you go to these amazing schools and you see this whole sense of possibility. And Carlina [Rinaldi, of Reggio Emilia] in particular is very, very realistic about—I mean they’re all very realistic, but because I talk with her the most, she’s very realistic about the mess and the ways in which the work that they do is threatened. Her response, which is different from mine in these situations, is to get more ambitious.

SS: But no surprise. I mean, I don’t know risd particularly, so I’m not making that assumption. But it’s a school, right? Schools really suck. (laughs) ESW & JA: Right. JA: Yeah, I mean, yeah! SS: So I think this is fantastic and really important. You’re doing this totally great thing, which is making a connection to Reggio. I was just in Reggio. I encourage you to go, if you do, you’d probably have to do a

ESW: That’s interesting.

SS: She’ll just sort of layout or allude to some of the financial issues, because it’s public and private partnerships that support their work, and it goes on and on. I could walk you into the political, social, cultural muck, and I could do it in such a way that I would totally depress you. You would think they’re in trouble and they’ve got to figure out a way to hunker down and just kind of hold on. Because that’s the way that I think. That’s what I would communicate to you. But Carlina’s thinking, “We have to become more ambitious.” So this is another example of her thinking, but also why it feels like a different world. It’s a temporal issue. She invited me to speak with her in a session at the end of a study group on Teachers as Researchers. I tried to back out, or not back out—I tried to say, “Oh no, these are Americans mostly who are here. They didn’t come to Italy to hear me, they came to Italy to hear you.” She said, “No, no, no friend, you have to do this because it will be better for them…” I started you say, “I don’t really, I don’t think I have anything to say.” And then I remembered that I written a chapter in this book about teachers as researchers, so I couldn’t really make that argument. When we were preparing for it, I told originally that I’d talk for maybe ten minutes. Twenty minutes before the thing she says, “So I’ll talk for 20-25 minutes, and then you talk for a half an hour.” No, no, no, but that’s what it’s like working with them and her. I said I would talk about her idea of permanent research and being in a state of permanent research, as children are. I said, but as adults, we have to choose to be in that state, because we can also choose ignorance and we do. She had this really quizzical look, which you don’t

229


ESW: There’s a lot of people doing it, but there’s not a lot of people talking about how we’re doing it.

228

JA: I think it comes from the fact that designers are real practitioners. There’s not often a deeply reflective process related to that— one that might ask, why are we going to Alabama to do a project on childhood obesity, when there are issues to address here in Providence Rhode Island? So we go there once and meet three people and then design them some solutions from thousands of miles away. So many of the projects are geared towards the needs of the students at risd, and there’s sort of an imbalance there that we think is problematic. This is all sounding very familiar, I’m sure… SS: The arts are famous for this. But I don’t think the arts—I don’t know, I’ve never thought about whether the arts are particularly worse in this regard or not. Nonetheless. JA: First thing we had the students in the class read this semester was Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions.” That’s certainly not about art. Obviously, these questions have been asked in lots of places outside of art and design. I just don’t think, at least to keep it really local at risd, we’re not really asking those questions. And then to have a peer-led space that is interdisciplinary, that’s also not a thing that really happens there. I mean we are sort of— and I think this is again bringing it back to the work that I’m familiar with that you do here—trying to make our classroom a place where we’re really instilling agency in students, which is both easier and more difficult because they’re our peers. SS: Well when you figure that one out, let me know….(laughs)

JA: Well, it’s an ongoing question. SS: It’s an interesting language, too, that you just used. I’m not sure if it’s significant or not, but what does it mean to instill agency in someone else? And I only bring that up because you think about all that stuff and also because, first of all, I struggle with that stuff enormously. There’s very little that’s obvious to me about this, and most of the obvious stuff, I can’t actually do. But I feel like, sometimes, the close examination of our language, which you all are engaged in, helps us to kind of flip this. To flip it, and say, “what is the language that is used to describe the relationship between us, them, and their agency, ours etc.” This sounds like fantastic work that you’re doing. This is really great.

study group, which would be a good thing to do. So we can say more about that. But for me—have you read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie? ESW & JA: No. SS: Well, I think you should. It’s a young adult novel.

JA: We’re very excited about it.

SS: Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Indian, he made a movie called Smoke Signals. He’s also a novelist, a short story writer, and a poet. He’s just brilliant. And this is just an amazing piece of work. But he has, as a kind of epigraph, the quote that he attributes to Yeats—other people attribute it to someone else, but a lot of people attribute it to Yeats— which is “There is another world, and it is in this one.”

SS: That’s fantastic.

JA: That’s great.

JA: Quite honestly, too, if you’re wondering come up here and talk with you about it? I think one reason is that we don’t get a lot of support in our own department for it, for a whole host of reasons that we don’t really need to get into…

SS: When I was in Reggio, I thought, “This is it. I’m still on the planet, earth, but this is not like the world I live in. Italy is totally struggling up right now. Seriously messed up, and Reggio, as a town, is really struggling. So you can go and visit as a tourist and kind of have this really ideal time there—a sort of education tourist, because you go to these amazing schools and you see this whole sense of possibility. And Carlina [Rinaldi, of Reggio Emilia] in particular is very, very realistic about—I mean they’re all very realistic, but because I talk with her the most, she’s very realistic about the mess and the ways in which the work that they do is threatened. Her response, which is different from mine in these situations, is to get more ambitious.

SS: But no surprise. I mean, I don’t know risd particularly, so I’m not making that assumption. But it’s a school, right? Schools really suck. (laughs) ESW & JA: Right. JA: Yeah, I mean, yeah! SS: So I think this is fantastic and really important. You’re doing this totally great thing, which is making a connection to Reggio. I was just in Reggio. I encourage you to go, if you do, you’d probably have to do a

ESW: That’s interesting.

SS: She’ll just sort of layout or allude to some of the financial issues, because it’s public and private partnerships that support their work, and it goes on and on. I could walk you into the political, social, cultural muck, and I could do it in such a way that I would totally depress you. You would think they’re in trouble and they’ve got to figure out a way to hunker down and just kind of hold on. Because that’s the way that I think. That’s what I would communicate to you. But Carlina’s thinking, “We have to become more ambitious.” So this is another example of her thinking, but also why it feels like a different world. It’s a temporal issue. She invited me to speak with her in a session at the end of a study group on Teachers as Researchers. I tried to back out, or not back out—I tried to say, “Oh no, these are Americans mostly who are here. They didn’t come to Italy to hear me, they came to Italy to hear you.” She said, “No, no, no friend, you have to do this because it will be better for them…” I started you say, “I don’t really, I don’t think I have anything to say.” And then I remembered that I written a chapter in this book about teachers as researchers, so I couldn’t really make that argument. When we were preparing for it, I told originally that I’d talk for maybe ten minutes. Twenty minutes before the thing she says, “So I’ll talk for 20-25 minutes, and then you talk for a half an hour.” No, no, no, but that’s what it’s like working with them and her. I said I would talk about her idea of permanent research and being in a state of permanent research, as children are. I said, but as adults, we have to choose to be in that state, because we can also choose ignorance and we do. She had this really quizzical look, which you don’t

229


There is another world, and it is in this one, where you can feel 230

not so powerless, so fundamentally unhopeful that you don’t have a vision of the future that you feel you’re working for.

really want when you’re talking to her. She said, “What do you mean this choice?” I said, “Well, I think that as adults, we choose whether to ignore and remain ignorant, or not. Some of that’s frankly immoral, unethical, as a human being in the world, that kind of ignorance. Some of it is just—you know, I want to learn Spanish, but I’m probably not going to because it takes a lot of time and you really have to commit to it and I’m hard of hearing and I have poor recognition problems and it would be even more complex. I would love to do it, but I’m not going to do it. That’s a different kind of ignorance, it’s like cut your losses, etc. She said, “I don’t see this idea of choice.” I said, “Well, okay, why not?” She said, “Because how can you have a choice if you desire the future?” JA: Wow. SS: You’re much quicker than I am, because I thought, “What does that mean?!” (laughs) “Spoon feed me here. Come on, help me out!” And then about twenty minutes later, I thought, oh my god. I don’t want to recon with this because if I really recon with what she just said to me, if I acknowledge it, then that changes my life. That’s what I mean by temporal. There is another world, and it is in this one, where you can feel not so powerless, so fundamentally unhopeful that you don’t have a vision of the future that you feel you’re working for. And I’m as privileged as they come in this country—I’m not the ruling class, but I’ve had so many privileges and I feel powerless and unhopeful.

JA: That’s what I think is remarkable about the students at New Urban Arts. These young people are hopeful in the sense that they have a vision for their future. I mean they aren’t spewing sunshine. They’re saying, “This world is really messed up, but I bet I could do something about it.” SS: Do you know Vaclav Havel’s piece about hope and optimism? (mumbles, and referencing something physical that he took out) Handy, it’s not always on the table. (silence, looking at something). That’s what you’re describing about these young people, right? JA: Exactly, exactly. SS: They’re hopeful, but they’re not necessarily—they don’t think everything’s going to work out easily. JA: Right. It’s interesting to hear the students speaking that way, knowing that sense did not come from their public schools. People are like, “Well where does this come from?” and they point out all the ways that public school hasn’t given them that sense but New Urban Arts has. That is sort of the magic of what New Urban Arts does. But to watch them and their sense of agency—I mean this word is sort of fresh in our minds and we’re still trying to figure out what that really does mean—but to know that they have it, this agency, this sense of empowerment about their learning and their place in the world, even if they can’t really describe it yet. And then to look at our community at risd, who are—I mean it’s a generalization to say that they are privileged—but to feel such a lack of agency in the students in our own institution. We were just talking about this on the train coming up, wondering what that has to do with privilege, if anything? What is it

231


There is another world, and it is in this one, where you can feel 230

not so powerless, so fundamentally unhopeful that you don’t have a vision of the future that you feel you’re working for.

really want when you’re talking to her. She said, “What do you mean this choice?” I said, “Well, I think that as adults, we choose whether to ignore and remain ignorant, or not. Some of that’s frankly immoral, unethical, as a human being in the world, that kind of ignorance. Some of it is just—you know, I want to learn Spanish, but I’m probably not going to because it takes a lot of time and you really have to commit to it and I’m hard of hearing and I have poor recognition problems and it would be even more complex. I would love to do it, but I’m not going to do it. That’s a different kind of ignorance, it’s like cut your losses, etc. She said, “I don’t see this idea of choice.” I said, “Well, okay, why not?” She said, “Because how can you have a choice if you desire the future?” JA: Wow. SS: You’re much quicker than I am, because I thought, “What does that mean?!” (laughs) “Spoon feed me here. Come on, help me out!” And then about twenty minutes later, I thought, oh my god. I don’t want to recon with this because if I really recon with what she just said to me, if I acknowledge it, then that changes my life. That’s what I mean by temporal. There is another world, and it is in this one, where you can feel not so powerless, so fundamentally unhopeful that you don’t have a vision of the future that you feel you’re working for. And I’m as privileged as they come in this country—I’m not the ruling class, but I’ve had so many privileges and I feel powerless and unhopeful.

JA: That’s what I think is remarkable about the students at New Urban Arts. These young people are hopeful in the sense that they have a vision for their future. I mean they aren’t spewing sunshine. They’re saying, “This world is really messed up, but I bet I could do something about it.” SS: Do you know Vaclav Havel’s piece about hope and optimism? (mumbles, and referencing something physical that he took out) Handy, it’s not always on the table. (silence, looking at something). That’s what you’re describing about these young people, right? JA: Exactly, exactly. SS: They’re hopeful, but they’re not necessarily—they don’t think everything’s going to work out easily. JA: Right. It’s interesting to hear the students speaking that way, knowing that sense did not come from their public schools. People are like, “Well where does this come from?” and they point out all the ways that public school hasn’t given them that sense but New Urban Arts has. That is sort of the magic of what New Urban Arts does. But to watch them and their sense of agency—I mean this word is sort of fresh in our minds and we’re still trying to figure out what that really does mean—but to know that they have it, this agency, this sense of empowerment about their learning and their place in the world, even if they can’t really describe it yet. And then to look at our community at risd, who are—I mean it’s a generalization to say that they are privileged—but to feel such a lack of agency in the students in our own institution. We were just talking about this on the train coming up, wondering what that has to do with privilege, if anything? What is it

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about risd, as an educational institution, that limits that ability? I can point to very specific professors at risd, who I feel do instill a sense of agency in their students—whether instilling is the right word or not—encouraging agency, opening space for agency, I don’t know quite what the language is yet. But there are very few professors that can do that. We have this discourse continuum that we do at Clark that runs the gamut from what we call orwellian discourse through polemic, pronouncement, debate, discussion and dialogue. The architecture students in our class took one look at the continuum and they just went, “Oh yeah, our professors? Orwellian.” Emily and I were sort of like, “What? Wait a minute, take another look at that. Orwellian is really suggesting that someone is manipulating you or lying.” And they were like, “Yeah.” I was like, “You think your professors manipulate you?” And they were like, “Yeah, absolutely.” But knowing that, they seemed to have very little sense of agency in what they could do about it. So when three of the students (from our class) in the architecture department told us that they had proposed a collaborative, community-based thesis at the beginning of the year—and they’re very smart, so I have to believe that their proposal was probably a good one—they were rejected and simply moved on to something else. Emily and I just sort of looked at them and went, “So your professors said no, and what did you do?”

ESW: Did you do anything? Like, that was it? I think we may have been told “no,” but we just said, whatever! (laughs) JA: We just kept going! I mean what were they going to do? You know? SS: Well they’re alienated, among other things; they’re alienated from the institution. Because if they weren’t, they would say, “Why? Why can’t we do this?” They would feel, as you say, agency within the institution. But they’re alienated from it, and they’ve learned alienation—I mean privilege and alienation are old friends really, and I haven’t thought this completely through, but I think part of the mechanism is that you don’t want to let go of your privilege and you know that the system fundamentally serves you. JA: That’s very good. SS: So you accept alienation and you make judgments. That’s different from saying, “I’m as much a part of and in control of the future of this institution as you are, as you are, as the dean is… I was out at the Exploratorium at a conference there, and they talked—I think there’s a gap between their talk and their action, in a way—but they talked about the assumption of what they called “radical participation,” in people that come to the Exploratorium. I liked the term. JA: Yeah, what does that mean? SS: I’m not sure what it means in that context—there are questions about all that for me, but I like the term. And I struggle— I’m very interested in what you’re doing, because I struggle with this exact problem. How do you get a learner, a young person,

to see themselves as a learner and to take responsibility for learning. My feeling is that people—I think a lot in terms of high schools though it can be played out anywhere—if you come into the learning environment and you perhaps don’t feel you have the capacity, you’re cooked. And since most kids, from not supportive elementary schools are coming into high school thinking they don’t have the capacity, what are they doing with their time? The next piece is, do you feel that you have responsibility—that you have and take responsibility for your own learning. If you don’t, you can think, “Oh well I’m smart enough to do this, but it’s up to her to teach me this, or it’s up to…” So those are linked. And the third one, I can’t remember. Lets see if I can. (laughs) Oh! Whoa, I haven’t thought about this stuff for a long time. I was trying to get money to do a project about these questions, and I couldn’t get it, so I kinda had to let it go. It still remains important and it’s really really interesting the one I couldn’t remember… So capacity, responsibility, and a vision of your future. That you have a future. And I think that what your students are doing is saying, “I have a future, it’s part of what privilege gives me, but you’re a roadblock to me. You rejected our proposal, I’m going to make my future somewhere else.” It’s not that they don’t think they have a future. So back to radical participation. Like I have students in my class, who when something’s happening that’s not the conversation they wanted to have, they’ll just opt out. They’re sitting there, but they’ll zone. And I’m like, well, okay… So I was thinking the other day about what does radical participation mean in the context of my teaching? I never zone out for

one minute! I don’t think I’ve zoned out for more than seven seconds when I’m teaching. Why would they assume—and they assume it because they accept it—that they’re not taking responsibility. And they’re paying for this! Or they’re going to pay for it or somebody’s paying for it. So if somebody else is paying, that’s an interesting dynamic. But why would you waste your own time? SS: Okay we have to wrap up, but I’m totally interested in what you’re doing. It sounds to me like the stuff about the both the physical, visual space and the space for dialogue stuff that you’re doing—I’m really curious about what you’re finding. And the idea that two designers are thinking about education in this way. You know these guys at Reggio, they live and breathe for these physical spaces and what you see and how you—I mean their theory of mind is so connected to the senses, which from studying young children, of course, is all about how we take in knowledge through all of our senses. There’s so much to talk about. ESW: There is!

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about risd, as an educational institution, that limits that ability? I can point to very specific professors at risd, who I feel do instill a sense of agency in their students—whether instilling is the right word or not—encouraging agency, opening space for agency, I don’t know quite what the language is yet. But there are very few professors that can do that. We have this discourse continuum that we do at Clark that runs the gamut from what we call orwellian discourse through polemic, pronouncement, debate, discussion and dialogue. The architecture students in our class took one look at the continuum and they just went, “Oh yeah, our professors? Orwellian.” Emily and I were sort of like, “What? Wait a minute, take another look at that. Orwellian is really suggesting that someone is manipulating you or lying.” And they were like, “Yeah.” I was like, “You think your professors manipulate you?” And they were like, “Yeah, absolutely.” But knowing that, they seemed to have very little sense of agency in what they could do about it. So when three of the students (from our class) in the architecture department told us that they had proposed a collaborative, community-based thesis at the beginning of the year—and they’re very smart, so I have to believe that their proposal was probably a good one—they were rejected and simply moved on to something else. Emily and I just sort of looked at them and went, “So your professors said no, and what did you do?”

ESW: Did you do anything? Like, that was it? I think we may have been told “no,” but we just said, whatever! (laughs) JA: We just kept going! I mean what were they going to do? You know? SS: Well they’re alienated, among other things; they’re alienated from the institution. Because if they weren’t, they would say, “Why? Why can’t we do this?” They would feel, as you say, agency within the institution. But they’re alienated from it, and they’ve learned alienation—I mean privilege and alienation are old friends really, and I haven’t thought this completely through, but I think part of the mechanism is that you don’t want to let go of your privilege and you know that the system fundamentally serves you. JA: That’s very good. SS: So you accept alienation and you make judgments. That’s different from saying, “I’m as much a part of and in control of the future of this institution as you are, as you are, as the dean is… I was out at the Exploratorium at a conference there, and they talked—I think there’s a gap between their talk and their action, in a way—but they talked about the assumption of what they called “radical participation,” in people that come to the Exploratorium. I liked the term. JA: Yeah, what does that mean? SS: I’m not sure what it means in that context—there are questions about all that for me, but I like the term. And I struggle— I’m very interested in what you’re doing, because I struggle with this exact problem. How do you get a learner, a young person,

to see themselves as a learner and to take responsibility for learning. My feeling is that people—I think a lot in terms of high schools though it can be played out anywhere—if you come into the learning environment and you perhaps don’t feel you have the capacity, you’re cooked. And since most kids, from not supportive elementary schools are coming into high school thinking they don’t have the capacity, what are they doing with their time? The next piece is, do you feel that you have responsibility—that you have and take responsibility for your own learning. If you don’t, you can think, “Oh well I’m smart enough to do this, but it’s up to her to teach me this, or it’s up to…” So those are linked. And the third one, I can’t remember. Lets see if I can. (laughs) Oh! Whoa, I haven’t thought about this stuff for a long time. I was trying to get money to do a project about these questions, and I couldn’t get it, so I kinda had to let it go. It still remains important and it’s really really interesting the one I couldn’t remember… So capacity, responsibility, and a vision of your future. That you have a future. And I think that what your students are doing is saying, “I have a future, it’s part of what privilege gives me, but you’re a roadblock to me. You rejected our proposal, I’m going to make my future somewhere else.” It’s not that they don’t think they have a future. So back to radical participation. Like I have students in my class, who when something’s happening that’s not the conversation they wanted to have, they’ll just opt out. They’re sitting there, but they’ll zone. And I’m like, well, okay… So I was thinking the other day about what does radical participation mean in the context of my teaching? I never zone out for

one minute! I don’t think I’ve zoned out for more than seven seconds when I’m teaching. Why would they assume—and they assume it because they accept it—that they’re not taking responsibility. And they’re paying for this! Or they’re going to pay for it or somebody’s paying for it. So if somebody else is paying, that’s an interesting dynamic. But why would you waste your own time? SS: Okay we have to wrap up, but I’m totally interested in what you’re doing. It sounds to me like the stuff about the both the physical, visual space and the space for dialogue stuff that you’re doing—I’m really curious about what you’re finding. And the idea that two designers are thinking about education in this way. You know these guys at Reggio, they live and breathe for these physical spaces and what you see and how you—I mean their theory of mind is so connected to the senses, which from studying young children, of course, is all about how we take in knowledge through all of our senses. There’s so much to talk about. ESW: There is!

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Hope, by Vaclav Havel In our interview with Steve Seidel, he shared Vaclav Havel’s thoughts on Hope, seeing resonance with our own ideas about agency. We saw them too. The full text is included here. 234

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not prognostication—It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy when things are going well, or the willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for early, success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live, and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and finally, without hope.

235


Hope, by Vaclav Havel In our interview with Steve Seidel, he shared Vaclav Havel’s thoughts on Hope, seeing resonance with our own ideas about agency. We saw them too. The full text is included here. 234

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not prognostication—It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy when things are going well, or the willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for early, success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live, and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and finally, without hope.

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bibliography

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Bull, Malcolm, and Suzi Gablik. 1993. “Review of The Re-Enchantment of Art". The Burlington Magazine. 135 (1081): 286. Burns, Colin, Cottam, Hilary, Vanstone, Chris, Winhall, Jennie. 2006. RED paper 02, Transformation design. Clark University. 2010. Inviting Dialogue: Renewing the Deep Purposes of Higher Education, Difficult Dialogues initiative. Condorelli, Céline, Gavin Wade, and James Langdon. 2009. Support structures. Berlin: Sternberg Press. Finkelpearl, Tom, and Vito Acconci. 2000. Dialogues in public art: interviews with Vito Acconci, John Ahearn. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press. Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder . Fry, Tony. 2011. Design as politics. New York: Berg.

Giudici, Claudia, Carla Rinaldi, Mara Krechevsky, Paola Barchi, Howard Gardner, Tiziana Filippini, Paola Strozzi, et al. 2001. Making learning visible: children as individual and group learners. Cambridge, MA: Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Hawken, Paul, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999. Natural capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. Horton, Myles, Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and Jaohn Marshall Peters. 1990. We make the road by walking: conversations on education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Illich, Ivan. 1968. To hell with good intentions. Isaacs, William. 1999. Dialogue and the art of thinking together: a pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York: Currency. Jensen, Derrick. 2004. Walking on water: reading, writing, and revolution. White River Junction, Vt: C. Green. Kalman, Tibor, Peter Hall, and Michael Bierut. 1998. Tibor Kalman, perverse optimist. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. Kalman, Tibor, and Maira Kalman. 2000. (un)Fashion. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Kester, Grant H. 2004. Conversation pieces: community and communication in modern art. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lasky, Julie. 2009. The Kindness of Strangers. http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/ entry.html?entry=11177 Lionni, Leo. 1959. Little blue and little yellow: a story for Pippo and Ann and other children. New York: McDowell, Obolensky. Lionni, Leo, and Robert L. Egolf. 1967. Frederick. New York: Pantheon. Mau, Bruce, and Jennifer Leonard. 2004. Massive change. London: Phaidon. McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. 2002. Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press. McKnight, John. 1976. Professionalized service and disabling help. Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. 2008. Thinking in systems: a primer. White River Junction, Vt: Chelsea Green Pub. Meadows, Donella H. 1972. The Limits to growth; a report for the Club of Rome's project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe Books. Nhãt Hanh, Thích. 1987. The miracle of mindfullness: A manual on meditation. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.

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Bull, Malcolm, and Suzi Gablik. 1993. “Review of The Re-Enchantment of Art". The Burlington Magazine. 135 (1081): 286. Burns, Colin, Cottam, Hilary, Vanstone, Chris, Winhall, Jennie. 2006. RED paper 02, Transformation design. Clark University. 2010. Inviting Dialogue: Renewing the Deep Purposes of Higher Education, Difficult Dialogues initiative. Condorelli, Céline, Gavin Wade, and James Langdon. 2009. Support structures. Berlin: Sternberg Press. Finkelpearl, Tom, and Vito Acconci. 2000. Dialogues in public art: interviews with Vito Acconci, John Ahearn. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press. Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder . Fry, Tony. 2011. Design as politics. New York: Berg.

Giudici, Claudia, Carla Rinaldi, Mara Krechevsky, Paola Barchi, Howard Gardner, Tiziana Filippini, Paola Strozzi, et al. 2001. Making learning visible: children as individual and group learners. Cambridge, MA: Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Hawken, Paul, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999. Natural capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. Horton, Myles, Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and Jaohn Marshall Peters. 1990. We make the road by walking: conversations on education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Illich, Ivan. 1968. To hell with good intentions. Isaacs, William. 1999. Dialogue and the art of thinking together: a pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York: Currency. Jensen, Derrick. 2004. Walking on water: reading, writing, and revolution. White River Junction, Vt: C. Green. Kalman, Tibor, Peter Hall, and Michael Bierut. 1998. Tibor Kalman, perverse optimist. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. Kalman, Tibor, and Maira Kalman. 2000. (un)Fashion. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Kester, Grant H. 2004. Conversation pieces: community and communication in modern art. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lasky, Julie. 2009. The Kindness of Strangers. http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/ entry.html?entry=11177 Lionni, Leo. 1959. Little blue and little yellow: a story for Pippo and Ann and other children. New York: McDowell, Obolensky. Lionni, Leo, and Robert L. Egolf. 1967. Frederick. New York: Pantheon. Mau, Bruce, and Jennifer Leonard. 2004. Massive change. London: Phaidon. McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. 2002. Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press. McKnight, John. 1976. Professionalized service and disabling help. Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. 2008. Thinking in systems: a primer. White River Junction, Vt: Chelsea Green Pub. Meadows, Donella H. 1972. The Limits to growth; a report for the Club of Rome's project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe Books. Nhãt Hanh, Thích. 1987. The miracle of mindfullness: A manual on meditation. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.

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Svendsen, Jessica. 2009. “Good Design Is Feminist Design”: An Interview with Sheila de Bretteville. http://www.broadrecognition. com/arts/good-design-is-feminist-designan-interview-with-sheila-de-bretteville/ Thackara, John. 2008. We are all Emerging Economies Now. http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=6947 Thackara, John. 2005. In the bubble: Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press. Tharp, Twyla, and Jesse Kornbluth. 2009. The collaborative habit: life lessons for working together. New York: Simon & Schuster. Tunstall, Elizabeth. 2009. Report of the u.s. National Design Policy Summit: January 19, 2009. S.l: s.n. Wheatley, Margaret J. 2002. Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco, CA: BerrettKoehler Publishers.


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Owen, David. 2010. “annals of design - The Inventor's Dilemma - The limits of eco-technologies". The New Yorker. 42. Papanek, Victor J. 1972. Design for the real world; human ecology and social change. New York: Pantheon Books. Pollan, Michael. 1991. Second nature: a gardener's education. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. Schumacher, E. F. 1973. Small is beautiful; economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row. Senge, Peter M. 1994. The Fifth discipline fieldbook: strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday. Shedroff, Nathan, and L. Hunter Lovins. 2009. Design is the problem: the future of design must be sustainable. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Rosenfeld Media. Stairs, David. 2009. postprofessional. http:// design-altruism-project.org/?p=80 Stairs, David. 2007. Why design won't save the world. http://observatory.designobserver. com/entry.html?entry=5777 Steffen, Alex. 2006. Worldchanging: a user's guide for the 21st century. New York: Abrams.

Svendsen, Jessica. 2009. “Good Design Is Feminist Design”: An Interview with Sheila de Bretteville. http://www.broadrecognition. com/arts/good-design-is-feminist-designan-interview-with-sheila-de-bretteville/ Thackara, John. 2008. We are all Emerging Economies Now. http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=6947 Thackara, John. 2005. In the bubble: Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, Mass: mit Press. Tharp, Twyla, and Jesse Kornbluth. 2009. The collaborative habit: life lessons for working together. New York: Simon & Schuster. Tunstall, Elizabeth. 2009. Report of the u.s. National Design Policy Summit: January 19, 2009. S.l: s.n. Wheatley, Margaret J. 2002. Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco, CA: BerrettKoehler Publishers.


Jane androski

emily sara wilson

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As a designer, educator, and facilitator, I create spaces for exchange and storytelling that are rooted in my immediate community. My work is informed largely by my three years as Assistant Director to the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at Clark University, where I worked to build skills of dialogue among faculty, staff and students. Among the many initiatives of the program, it was the transformations I witnessed in classrooms that truly captured my attention. Faculty were radically rethinking their classroom space—making it more participatory and less hierarchical—and I saw students demanding the same of professors who weren't (talk about agency). I found my own sense of professional agency in the midst of this, teaching graphic design to undergrads—I had been an undergrad myself at Clark—and trying, in my own ways, to push the boundaries of what was possible. The classroom became the place where my practice as a designer, educator and facilitator came together. I returned to graduate school at risd to explore this relationship further, while continuing my involvement with another influential organization—New Urban Arts, a nationally-recognized arts mentoring program for high school students in Providence. A hub for innovative thinking around education, nua helps students and mentors alike to develop lifelong creative practice. I've been involved with the organization for three years, as a mentor, community storyteller, and a consultant for planning processes. It has been my hub in Providence—a way to collaborate with a community of creative and energetic educators. Graduate school at risd was simply put, a way for me to continue building relationships with the organizations and people that I'd already been working with, and to meet some new collaborators along the way (a'hem...Emily for instance). In the coming

I build things. As a kid I'd work late into the night in my father's workshop— taking things apart and putting them back together, seeing how they worked and how they might work better. That spirit of invention has stayed with me, onto construction sites, into kitchens, and certainly, in design. As a strategist, entreprenuer, and designer I find ways to repurpose materials and re-imagine structures, all the while maintaining a belief in simple mechanisms. An undergraduate degree in Graphic Design from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County set the groundwork for my design studio, Palolodeep Design. For seven years my clients ranged from local boutique businesses to multinational health organizations. All my work—branding and identity, book and publication design, event planning, curation, and project management—was about education and community building. Simple design mechanisms, serving big ideas. Returning to graduate school two years ago, I continued this exploration, looking at the relationship between design, public engagement, and sustainability. My time at risd was focused on agency and using my skills as a designer to create opportunities for change. Now I find myself building again, this time it’s a path towards social change. Design Agency, the agency, is part traditional design studio, part community-building task force. Working with organizations big and small we are helping to develop strategies that ask designers, and non-designers alike, to challenge their assumptions.


Jane androski

emily sara wilson

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As a designer, educator, and facilitator, I create spaces for exchange and storytelling that are rooted in my immediate community. My work is informed largely by my three years as Assistant Director to the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at Clark University, where I worked to build skills of dialogue among faculty, staff and students. Among the many initiatives of the program, it was the transformations I witnessed in classrooms that truly captured my attention. Faculty were radically rethinking their classroom space—making it more participatory and less hierarchical—and I saw students demanding the same of professors who weren't (talk about agency). I found my own sense of professional agency in the midst of this, teaching graphic design to undergrads—I had been an undergrad myself at Clark—and trying, in my own ways, to push the boundaries of what was possible. The classroom became the place where my practice as a designer, educator and facilitator came together. I returned to graduate school at risd to explore this relationship further, while continuing my involvement with another influential organization—New Urban Arts, a nationally-recognized arts mentoring program for high school students in Providence. A hub for innovative thinking around education, nua helps students and mentors alike to develop lifelong creative practice. I've been involved with the organization for three years, as a mentor, community storyteller, and a consultant for planning processes. It has been my hub in Providence—a way to collaborate with a community of creative and energetic educators. Graduate school at risd was simply put, a way for me to continue building relationships with the organizations and people that I'd already been working with, and to meet some new collaborators along the way (a'hem...Emily for instance). In the coming

I build things. As a kid I'd work late into the night in my father's workshop— taking things apart and putting them back together, seeing how they worked and how they might work better. That spirit of invention has stayed with me, onto construction sites, into kitchens, and certainly, in design. As a strategist, entreprenuer, and designer I find ways to repurpose materials and re-imagine structures, all the while maintaining a belief in simple mechanisms. An undergraduate degree in Graphic Design from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County set the groundwork for my design studio, Palolodeep Design. For seven years my clients ranged from local boutique businesses to multinational health organizations. All my work—branding and identity, book and publication design, event planning, curation, and project management—was about education and community building. Simple design mechanisms, serving big ideas. Returning to graduate school two years ago, I continued this exploration, looking at the relationship between design, public engagement, and sustainability. My time at risd was focused on agency and using my skills as a designer to create opportunities for change. Now I find myself building again, this time it’s a path towards social change. Design Agency, the agency, is part traditional design studio, part community-building task force. Working with organizations big and small we are helping to develop strategies that ask designers, and non-designers alike, to challenge their assumptions.


epilogue / EMILY SARA WILSON Questioning the System in Place

The phrase “the system you have in place is perfectly designed for the results you are getting,” stopped me in my tracks when I saw it. I knew from that first moment I would have to make something provocative in response. As a statement, it is both neutral and confrontational. It can be used to explain almost anything—grilling techniques, political situations, gas prices, relationships, suburbia. In the most succinct way possible, it explains that actions produce outcomes. I began to consider how this statement could be an organizing principle for my thesis. In the spring of 2010, I incorporated it into a studio assignment on linear narrative. I wanted to design something unexpected, something that showcased the brilliance of this statement. Unsure of what to make, I reduced the letterforms to a punched typographic score which then fed through a small music box that played a sweet and harmonious tune. The typographic system put into place was responsible for the music that you were hearing. Lovely. It was fun to work on and was a dutiful reflection of my instincts as a typographer and a maker. But while this satisfied the objectives of a form-based studio project, it hardly conveyed the full significance of the statement or its relative importance to my thinking at the time. I knew this phrase represented more but felt limited by the prompt, pressured to create some thing. This thesis is a response to that moment—a fully-considered expression of the statement I started with a year and a half ago. It is a reflection of the agency I took in my own educational path and the strength of the collaboration that made it possible.

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epilogue / EMILY SARA WILSON Questioning the System in Place

The phrase “the system you have in place is perfectly designed for the results you are getting,” stopped me in my tracks when I saw it. I knew from that first moment I would have to make something provocative in response. As a statement, it is both neutral and confrontational. It can be used to explain almost anything—grilling techniques, political situations, gas prices, relationships, suburbia. In the most succinct way possible, it explains that actions produce outcomes. I began to consider how this statement could be an organizing principle for my thesis. In the spring of 2010, I incorporated it into a studio assignment on linear narrative. I wanted to design something unexpected, something that showcased the brilliance of this statement. Unsure of what to make, I reduced the letterforms to a punched typographic score which then fed through a small music box that played a sweet and harmonious tune. The typographic system put into place was responsible for the music that you were hearing. Lovely. It was fun to work on and was a dutiful reflection of my instincts as a typographer and a maker. But while this satisfied the objectives of a form-based studio project, it hardly conveyed the full significance of the statement or its relative importance to my thinking at the time. I knew this phrase represented more but felt limited by the prompt, pressured to create some thing. This thesis is a response to that moment—a fully-considered expression of the statement I started with a year and a half ago. It is a reflection of the agency I took in my own educational path and the strength of the collaboration that made it possible.

243


And so it began 12 October, 2009

Graduate seminar facilitation of The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. Photo by Andrew Sloat

Design Agency, 2nd edition  
Design Agency, 2nd edition  
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