February 21, 2017

Foresight Design Initiative’s Lyndon Valicenti on the Inspired Practice of Design Methods, Systems Thinking and Inclusion


Lyndon Valicenti is Principal of Foresight Design Initiative, a multidisciplinary non-profit studio that collaborates to make sense and tackle tough challenges, such as “building climate change resilience and realizing Illinois’ smart grid-enabled energy future.” Here, she shares her perspective on intellectual rigor and mindfulness in designing, through design methods, systems thinking and giving a damn.

I’ve been curious about the term “design methods.” I was struck by your use of it in your Twitter profile. Though practiced a lot, it’s not popular to say, even claim, such as “innovation.” What do you mean by stating design methods?
The studio I am apart of, Foresight Design Initiative, conceptually defines its work as “bringing systems thinking and design methods to complex sustainability challenges.” What we mean by that is that we are leveraging the problem-solving principles, perspectives, approaches and tools of two disciplines—systems thinking and human-centered design—to think anew about how we tackle complex sustainability challenges, from climate change to natural resource depletion.

Sustainability issues have attracted many disciplines over the last few decades, each bringing their respective skills and perspectives. Lawyers at the Natural Resource Defense Council, for example, who have dedicated their talents and careers to environmental issues, bring legal and policy levers to the cause. Engineers bring infrastructural solutions. Ecologists and natural resource managers bring conservation land use strategies. Government officials bring regulations and enforcement. You get the picture, but silos are often to blame for our collective inability to respond at the scale of the challenges we face.



Foresight believes that, in order to drive bigger, better and faster impact on these intractable challenges, we need to redesign the processes, systems, interactions, conversations and collaborations that shape and govern the status quo. More specifically, we need an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to understanding root causes, aligning diverse perspectives and intervening in strategic ways.

Systems thinking and human-centered design offer fresh strategies, iterative practices and insightful research methods that can be leveraged to tackle the messy social and environmental issues of our time. Tim Brown, in his pitch book for design thinking, “Change by Design,” introduces its potential by saying:
“It is hard to imagine a time when the challenges faced so vastly exceeded the creative resources we have brought to bear on them…What we need is an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and therefore have an impact. Design thinking offers just such an approach.”
How did you discover “design methods”?
A handful of years ago, I had the honor of working as the first Environmental Strategist in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s global urban design practice under the visionary, Phil Enquist. It was there that I realized designers, in the broadest sense of the word, are the great inventors of our time. Those, like Phil, are not burdened by what is possible today, but focus their sights 100 years out and work backwards. I realized that it will not be the fields tinkering at the edges of our status quo for incremental change that are going to imagine, let alone drive, the transformative changes needed today. It is the long-viewed, big-idea designers that are going to lead us to a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable future.

Since that revelation, I have sought to better understand the emerging fields of design thinking, systemic design and transition design.

Your company works on “wicked problems,” for example, from your website, “climate change and natural resource depletion.” How do you cope with the constant of complexity? What’s your mindset in facing complexity? And how does design methods play a role in dealing with complexity?
I have a background in ecology and spent a few years studying the biogeochemical processes induced by earlier and earlier spring ice melts each year in the vulnerable ecosystems of the Arctic and Antarctic. Understanding and intervening in complex adaptive systems, be it an Arctic lake or city, has been a common thread throughout my career.

Dealing with complexity requires, first and foremost, eliminating the idea of "finding a/the solution.” The concept is too definitive, too stayed. It is hard to solve for something that is constantly evolving. We must instead adopt an adaptive approach and consider our work as interventions that should be tested, evaluated and revised as conditions change over time.

Design promotes rapid prototyping and iteration as a way to anticipate the risk and reduce the impact of failing, as products or services are introduced in context. This practice, done at scale and over longer time horizons, is the type of adaptive change management approach needed in dealing with wicked problems.

One of my favorite quotes is by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” What are key things that you and your team do to maintain the relationship with clients after findings are shared?
What a truthful quote! At the end of the day, my colleagues and I are capacity builders. We help our partners from civic, philanthropic, governmental, private, academic and non-profit institutions better innovate to address complex sustainability challenges; helping leaders lead, as we often say. The end goal in building the capacity of others is to, one day, no longer be needed (think Mr. Miyagi); so there is an inherent exit strategy in all of our projects.

However, capacity building work is very personal and requires immense trust. In most cases, we become great friends along the way. Being a small shop, these close and positive partner relationships are essential to our own sustainability (using it in a different context here); where reputation and trust are our greatest assets. To stay connected, we host a monthly morning networking event for our partners and friends. Catching up over muffins and coffee is the best way to start the day.



What is design?
I am most certainly not the best person to answer the question of “what is design?” But, I did recently have the pleasure of hearing Paul Pangaro give a keynote address on the subject. In which, he posited: “design = conversations for action,” going on to say that “designing conversations is the heart of (the) 21st Century design practice.” With that concept of design in mind, the importance of language becomes paramount, and the co-evolution of language to be inclusive and expansive is essential in revealing new frames and possibilities.

Given our current national (and international, for that matter) political climate, as well as the intractable issues humanity faces, I need to believe in the power of design to facilitate inclusive conversations for action.

How would you describe “good design?”
This question has been on my mind since reading the “New York Times Magazine” article (November 2016), “Look Again: Six Designers Take on Some of the World’s Toughest Challenges.” The title waaayyyyyyy overpromised. The featured designs explored topics like bicycle lock technology, airport baggage claim systems and smart toilets to analyze excrement. The world’s toughest challenges!?!?!

I think good design, in the context of our toughest challenges, must take on a systems perspective and seek interventions on root causes, not symptoms. Good design solves for the 5th or 6th answer to the question: Why?



At Foresight, when analyzing a system to identify impactful intervention points, we ask the question “Why?” over and over again to unpack root causes of the existing conditions. For instance, on the issue of widespread basement sewer backups in Chicago, you can ask a number of whys to get to a range of viable intervention points. Basements back up largely because the 100-year old combined sewer system in Chicago is overwhelmed during heavy and fast rain events. The sewer system is more insufficient now than it was when first built because of urban development, specifically the buildup of large swaths of impervious pavement (green spaces getting paved over). It is also increasingly insufficient because climate change is bringing more intense and frequent storm events to the city. Certainly, in this example, there is a need for interventions that reduce the immediate discomfort of having your basement flood. But, taking a systems view opens up a wider range of possibilities, like ensuring our existing green space is designed to take on more stormwater, building green roofs and replacing impervious pavement with that that is permeable. Not to mention strategies to directly mitigate climate change.

Designing with a holistic systems view of the problem you are trying to address is good design.

In doing the deliberative, research-intensive, collaborative and expansive work you do, how do you maintain your creativity, critical thinking, heck, your sanity too?
My team and I at Foresight are very emotionally invested in our work. As much as it is exhilarating, it can be utterly exhausting. And, honestly, I crash hard and often. Personal resilience is a big focus of mine in 2017 and (unplugging and) spending time in nature has always been an important respite for me.

What’s your media diet like? Who and what do you recommend to help be aware of current affairs/culture/your neighborhood and the world?
I really appreciate this prompt for framing media in the context of food, or any other consumable. Moderation is key, eh? To that end, I have recently cut way back on my Facebook usage to just occasionally on weekends. That has felt great! Another recent shift has been towards podcasts. The podcast conversation feels so much more rich, honest and unfiltered than other media outlets. Lately, I have been consuming those related to issues of racial justice, “About Race” and “Code Switch,” being two I would highly recommend. In terms of brain food: “Stanford Social Innovation Review,” Curtis Ogden on the Interaction Institute for Social Change’s blog, and Alex Ryan on Medium. And on the salty craving side of things: Samantha Bee.



How did you arrive at doing the kind 
of multidisciplinary work you do?
I spent nearly 4 years working for the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment. Nothing like working in the context of a highly siloed government to make you appreciate the need for more coordination and collaboration across disciplines.

That is not to say that the City of Chicago was more siloed than any other local government. I recently learned that every U.S. city has a charter which serves as the blueprint for its bureaucratic structure. Most were written over a hundred years ago and most were based on the same 2–3 early examples. This is to say (IMHO) the outdated way in which our local governments are structured is antithetical to our ability to holistically address interrelated urban challenges. Now more than ever, we must bring multidisciplinary teams, collaboratives and task forces together to address issues that are beyond any one sector or discipline’s ability to do so on their own.

I am fortunate today because many of Foresight’s projects involve cross-sector coalition building. So, to bring it full circle, we are essentially in the business of designing conversations for action.

How does Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
Chicago’s tight-knit design and sustainability communities are unmatched elsewhere. The shared hard work ethic, sense of community and love for the city contributes to feeling apart of something bigger than yourself or your studio. There is, on the whole, more camaraderie than competition across these communities in Chicago, which makes it a great place to build a practice and pursue your mission.

• • •

All images courtesy of Lyndon Valicenti.

• • •

With Valicenti’s championing of design methods in mind, designer John Christopher Jones wrote “Design Methods,” published by John Wiley & Sons in 1970. It’s deemed a major work on the topic, in addition to supporting ergonomics and multidisciplinary collaboration. View my video-short about this seminal publication—part of my ongoing series Rare Book Feast.

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with people who love making things.


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February 14, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Product Designer Elayna Spratley’s Balance in Mind, Body, Style and Spirit



What are you working on—on the side?

“Balance: Mind, Body, Style, Spirit” (#BalanceMBSS) is a lifestyle project that focuses on promoting higher mental, physical, fashion and spiritual well-being. After years of going in and out of depression, anxiety, worry and self-hate, I found a book that helped me learn how to tune in and train my emotions to a place of peace. In February 2016, my best friend Missy Yarbrough introduced me to the book “The Inner Matrix: A Guide to Transforming Your Life and Awakening Your Spirit” by Joey Klein. I had the pleasure of reading this book with a meditation group at my IBM job. After several weeks in the group, I started noticing things in my life I never noticed before. I could feel when I was going into a lower emotion (like fear) and I began to recognize my actions, words and thoughts when I was in this state. I soon learned that my fear-based states were not serving me well. With the assistance of guided meditations provided for free from Joey Klein through the Inner Matrix Groups, I was able to train myself to shift my emotions at any time. THIS CHANGED MY LIFE! I discovered that I can choose the emotional state that I want to be in! So I chose joy!

As I began practicing joy and Klein’s teachings in my life, I decided to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat: askmisse, Instagram and YouTube) to start documenting the progress I am making in my life. Joy motivated me to make positive habit changes and stick to them. The core changes I made in my life are the following:
Mind: I meditate daily, tell myself stories that are grounded in love and check in with my state every hour. 
Body: I stretch daily and eat a plant-based diet. 
Style: I focus on wearing the clothes that bring me the most joy and confidence. 
Spirit: I pray, read the Bible daily, contribute to my journal and do activities that give my spirit life!
How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I try to integrate my core content around my lifestyle. One of my biggest pillars is my plant-based diet. I do a 3-hour meal prep every Sunday, and I use Snapchat and Instagram while I’m cooking. These platforms have been the easiest for in-the-moment documentation. By linking accounts, I have been able to push the content onto more channels. So my Instagram is connected to my Twitter and personal Facebook. I just wish there was a way to connect Instagram to my AskMissE Facebook page. Currently, that process is quite manual. (Dear Reader, if you have any suggestions, please let me know. 😄) The platform that is most behind chronologically is my YouTube channel. Recording, editing and uploading video is a long task compared to Snapchat. So now that YouTube has live broadcasting, I may start going live there, so that the content builds up more on that platform (Reader, if you like live video, please tell me on which platform you like them).

I used to manage social media platforms for hair-care companies, so I give a lot of thought to this. I have got to set aside enough time to formalize this plan of pushing content. More than anything, I try to focus my day on pushing as much positive content (if not more) than what I actually consume. This is balance for me.

Why have a side project?

Documenting this journey has assisted me in being consistently being consistent. 😄 The side project has become a practice that holds me accountable for the actions I take in my life. For me, living this transparently is freeing. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone, they already get me.

In addition to my own personal benefits, my practice has been a positive influence on my family and friends. My Dad now eats vegetables in every meal! My friends are eating smoothies regularly now and actually care if certain foods are organic! This is big deal! Everyone in my circle, myself included, were living an unconscious life before I began my journey. Now we are all making better, informed and conscious choices about what we do in life. This level of awareness has helped in how I relate to others. I do not feel “out of the norm” or “strange.” Daily, I feel understood, loved and accepted.

I truly hope that my personal outlet helps others realize that the joy they are searching for in life already lives inside of themselves. To the reader of this interview, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences and I love to hear about the transformation of others. Feel free to drop me a line on any of my socials. Become my friend, join @AskMissE. I look forward to connecting with you.

Peace. Love. Balance.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Elayna Spratley.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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February 13, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Indie rock band Sunjacket’s Garret Bodette



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is a band called Sunjacket. I play drums and electronic percussion in the band, and our music is a blend of dark, synth-driven pop and layered, experimental indie rock. The elevator pitch usually boils down to “dark, synthy indie rock.”

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Since I’m a full-time graphic designer, a fair amount of evening and weekend time is reserved for my side project, as I’m sure many other folks in the creative industry have experience with. Whether we’re writing music, rehearsing for shows, or conceptualizing and designing album artwork, we all spend a fair amount of our free time working on band-related projects. We’re not on a label, so we have to be quite self-motivated in order to make things like releasing records happen. It’s challenging, but also really rewarding when we’re able to reach those goals on our own terms.



Why have a side project?

For me, having a side project is necessary to feeling creatively balanced. There’s certainly some crossover in terms of the headspace that design and music occupy, but they’re also very different, so I think I would feel a bit lopsided if I didn’t do both. Graphic design tends to scratch a more analytical itch for me, while music is a visceral outlet. Somewhere in the middle of that range is where I’m happiest.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Garret Bodette: portrait—Charlie Simokaitis, performance—Carl Hauck. Video by Ben Derico.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

February 10, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Esther Fan & Olivia Park—Sad Asian Girls



What are you working on—on the side?

Esther & Olivia: Our side project is Sad Asian Girls, where we make activism-based projects about our experiences as East Asian femmes living in Western spaces.

Olivia: I am also working on a photo series in which I’m documenting Asian art school students who clearly use clothes and styling as an integral tool to express themselves and how that could relate to their artistic practice and upbringing.

Esther: I haven’t been working on any personal projects aside from SAG for a couple months now. I had an ongoing photography project in which I featured artists and musicians from the local Providence creative community which was neat, and allowed me to grow familiar with the creatives outside of our college campus. I turned some of the photos into photo books that I would give back to the artist shown in the books.

If it counts, at this moment, I occasionally do some freelance work for the collective Get Artists Paid, who aim to do exactly what their name suggests, and I am also a social media contributor for Philadelphia Printworks, a print shop/blog that is also activism-based.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Olivia: I associate side projects with socializing. The chance that my collaborator is someone I want to hang out with is ~99%. I definitely see work as mostly play. If it’s too stressful, I’d rather just not do it. Collaborators who work well with me on something, we care deeply about, and also get tacos afterwards, make my time worth it.

Esther: For some time, we were able to use assignments given to us in class as opportunities to work on SAG; we’d bend the objective so that it stayed relevant to both SAG and whatever it was the professor required. I think one also has to be deeply invested in a project to keep it ongoing; it started off as something that was important for us as an outlet for our frustrations, and later on, our increasing number of followers and supporters also helped motivate us to keep working on SAG.

Why have a side project?

Olivia: For me, side projects are an outlet to transform my greatest concerns or interests into form in a productive way.

Esther: If anything, I consider my side project to be my main work, and everything else that I need to do to live or to survive I consider to be “on the side.” I will always fully invest myself in any work that liberates me.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Sad Asian Girls.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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February 6, 2017

Keep it Weird: Creative Director Michael Freimuth at the 59th monthly CreativeMornings gathering in Chicago


During Michael Freimuth’s talk at the 59th gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, the Eagles 1975 hit song “Take It to the Limit” looped in my head:
“…Take it to the limit, take it to the limit
Take it to the limit one more time…”
The refrain of Freimuth’s presentation was “balancing convention and fantasy.” He described the former as “good solid design.” The latter, “interesting and weird.” Together, they make “pure imagination”—compelling me to recall the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder, who crooned:
“Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination 
We’ll begin with a spin
Traveling in the world of my creation
What we’ll see will defy
Explanation…”
I pictured Freimuth with a mad hat, as Willy Wonka, giving a tour of his version of the Chocolate Factory—the Brooklyn-based design studio Franklyn he co-founded with collaborator and life partner Patrick Richardson. This is his lab, where he and his colleagues, “take it the limit” with client projects. Design is a process of iteration and the creative folks at Franklyn iterate a lot. Asking themselves: How can the work be more interesting, a la more weird, while still maintaining a solid design grounding, a la convention?

Freimuth shared the story behind his team’s identity design work for the Nike Tennis brand. A refreshing demonstration of stirring the graphic design brew and playing with visual matter: colors and shapes, lines and letterforms. Gauging the threshold of designerly exploration and client reception. Though this project transpired without realization, no reason given by Freimuth except that they had “gone too far” with their iterating, I appreciated Franklyn’s daring work in this case, albeit having the appearance of vector-graphic sludge.

Striking harmony between the conventional and the fantastical is, of course, highly subjective. When Freimuth displayed his slide, showing a montage composed of sample art and collectibles portraying his client Sotheby’s, he described the world’s largest broker of culture as “a little bit stodgy.” The montage was visibly eclectic, from Cubist art by Picasso to dazzling labrador-retriever-inspired jewelry. Bowie was also a part of this Sotheby’s-centric montage. “A little bit stodgy”? WTF?

There was an undercurrent of making weird design for weird’s sake throughout Freimuth’s talk. A precedence-is-automatically-judged-as-dull vibe. What’s conventional and what’s not is open to interpretation. But it can lead to a dismissive attitude. When it comes to creativity and design, work from the past shouldn’t be passed as passé.

In keeping to strike that balance where conventions and weirdness are married blissfully, Freimuth provided a combined best practice: Keep being mindful of the tried and true ← Keep it weird.

• • •


Portland, Oregon—“PDX”—proudly shares the “Keep It Weird” decree. View my travel photos.

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (who also hosted), Savage SmythGreen SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #59; to new organizer Jen Marquez who took over the chapter’s management from Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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January 18, 2017

Believe in Magic: User Experience Designer Rebecca Ussai at 57th CreativeMornings gathering in Chicago


One of the few times the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter had an interface/interaction designer as a speaker was Jason Fried in 2011, who co-founded Basecamp, which is both the company and popular Web-based project management app. At the chapter’s second gathering (see my write-up), Fried offered his version of design principles, primarily dealing with clarity.

Fast forward to September, 2016, Rebecca Ussai, a user-experience design director in ad agency R/GA at the time, shared her angle on design principles at the 57th CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter meetup. Whereas Fried aligns himself to software that is useful throughout its design and build, Ussai finds insight and inspiration in Disney, whose storytelling and world-building in their animated films have become a source of reference in her work on digital projects. The long captivating appeal of Disney’s animated films is due to their execution. Their narrative substance (emotions, ideals) and style (simple focus of plot) influence Ussai’s sensibilities. She’s allowed the magic of Disney’s filmmaking to infuse her designing. To her, user-experience design and Disney are strongly connected.(1)

Connections
“Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects…the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”
—Charles Eames, Pioneering Designer, 1907–1978)
Ussai reinforced design as a discipline characterized by making connections between entities, however disparate. She connected the practice of user-experience design with the discipline of animated storytelling, exclusively the Disney model. Dubbed “UX Choreography,” she gave a tour of her five principles motivating and guiding her work. Most of which are relatively intuitive:
  1. Feedback
  2. Feedforward
  3. Spatial awareness
  4. User focus
  5. Brand voice
All of these, curated as a set of affirmations—is nothing new. Though “UX Choreography” is a regurgitation, it’s a recurring reminder of factors that people, not just those in the design world, should be mindful of in solving and making things.

With the connecting reflex in mind, I was making connections per principle that Ussai was elaborating. It was also an exercise in traceability.

With Ussai’s principle of “Feedback”—when a system communicates running results of an interaction in a manner that promotes understanding, I recalled web usability specialist Jakob Nielsen’s “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design” from 1995. The top rule of thumb is “Visibility of system status”:
“The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.”
Matching Nielsen’s principle, Ussai’s take on “Feedback” centers on mobile computing. Beyond the screen, feedback applies to workflow, indicated by this recent article “Running productive design critiques” where feedback is a refrain.

The second principle of “Feedforward” speaks to interaction designer Dan Saffer’s advocacy of what he coined “microinteractions.” To Saffer, these “are contained product moments that revolve around a single use case—they have one main task. Every time you change a setting, sync your data or devices, set an alarm, pick a password, log in, set a status message, or favorite or ‘like’ something, you are engaging in a microinteraction. They are everywhere: in the devices we carry, the appliances in our homes, the apps on our phones and desktops, even embedded in the environments we live and work in.”

Ussai’s principle of “Spatial awareness” has roots in architecture. The architect Eero Saarinen expressed it perfectly: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

The fourth principle of “User focus” recalls Allen Hurlburt’s classic book “Layout: the design of the printed page” (1977). In it, there’s a section called “Grids and systems.” These are tools for achieving a hierarchy of information. From Hurlburt, “A designer’s grid organizes specific content in relation to the precise space it will occupy.” At the time, the “precise space” was the printed page. But this concept easily connects with today’s digital display, especially the handheld mobile phone that dominated Ussai’s presentation.

Ussai’s last “UX Choreography” principle of “Brand voice” connects with the performance toolkit of “method acting,” whose goal is performing an honest portrayal—demonstrating an ease and economy of sincerity, or to use the overly propagandized synonym: “authenticity.”

What Ussai recommended can be connected or traced to something else. Our remix culture affords this kind of tethering.

When it came to the optimal time to utilize her toolkit of principles, Ussai emphasized the beginning of a project. Makes sense. But as the author Kurt Vonnegut keenly pointed out in his 1990 novel “Hocus Pocus”: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” “Maintenance” is the operative step here. “UX Choreography” can and should be engaged throughout a project’s duration, before, during and after—not only at the height of a project’s start. Because principles are pliable. They can bend over time.

And in time, it would be great to see Ussai diversify her presentation beyond the bubble of the mobile interface to other spaces. “User experience” is a multiverse. The principles identified in “UX Choreography” connect with other disciplines, such as product design and service design, even health care, and other events, such as enrolling for job benefits, buying an insurance policy, completing and delivering taxes, voting, including writing this 57th CreativeMornings/Chicago-related write-up of mine. The blinking cursor is an awesome “Feedforward” detail. At the same time, it gives consistent “Feedback.” A visual pulse in decision-making: To write on or not to write on.

Magic
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it."
—Roald Dahl, Pioneering Author, 1916–1990
Seven years ago, Apple Co-Founder and then CEO Steve Jobs said, “We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary new product.” The first-generation iPad was launched. At the time, journalists and tech reporters poked fun at Jobs’ use of the word “magical.” They missed the essential qualities of delight, satisfaction, or to use another word that also happens to be overly advertised in designer circles and therefore not surprisingly used by Ussai in her talk: “empathy.” Jobs recognized the empowering convergence of engineering, design and marketing. He believed in, as his biographer Walter Isaacson put it, “the magic of technology.”

The highly scalable quality of “magic” to help people be happy and productive. Something wonderful to believe in.


(1) Not a surprise that Ussai highlighted Disney, a legendary studio that’s kicking ass in producing and marketing blockbuster movies—one tiny example, persisting the “Star Wars” mythology (whether we like it or not).

• • •

As Rebecca Ussai detailed her five working principles, inspired by Disney’s narrative substance and style of their animated films, I recalled other connections claimed and seized by designers. There are designers, particularly in the same field of Ussai’s user-experience design (UXD), who connect with the storytelling model of comics, notably the 1993 book “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud. There are designers who align their creative processes to the rhythms and movements of dance. Starting this write-up coincides with the birthday of local design legend Gerald Arpino who founded the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. There are designers who channel the lens of filmmaking, such as the book “The Film Sense” (1969) by director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein.

• • •

While Ussai enjoys Disney, illustrator and visual development artist Lissy Marlin adores the narrative flow and emotion in the animated films by Hayao Miyazaki, who co-founded Studio Ghibli, who make acclaimed anime feature films, like “Princess Mononoke” (1997), “Spirited Away” (2001), “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), among many more works. Read my interview with Marlin as part of my series celebrating Makers—83 interviews and growing!

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (who also hosted), Green Sheep, Lyft Chicago, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #57; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

January 16, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: May Shek & Her Collaborators Take A Stand



What are you working on—on the side?

Immediately after the election that surprised practically everybody, it became apparent to me that we had to take action of some sort, as quickly as possible. I asked myself what skills, and which people and resources, I could get together and mobilize.

The Take A Stand Project was born swiftly after a few emails, phone calls and brainstorming with some badass women over coffee. Working collectively, four designers each selected a cause that was likely to be under increasing pressure over the next four years and that we wanted to take a stand for, and designed a silk scarf bearing a supportive message; the profits from each sale would go to a non-profit organization working for that cause.

We launched the project exactly a month after the election. 100% of the profit from each sale will be donated to Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project, National Organization for Women and International Refugee Assistance Project. We want this initiative to continuously celebrate and promote diversity in the ways we create, connect and live.

As writer Rebecca Solnit reminds us, “The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” We are designers and we have stories to tell. Creating is our small way to contribute to a revolt.



How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I have to say, it has been an exhausting few months to pull together a project with a full-time job. I can only get it done because:

I didn’t do it alone
I couldn’t have done this in isolation. The moment I started putting the initial idea out there, I was greeted by enthusiasm and generous help from friends and members of the design community. Karla Mickens (bottom right), Raquel Martinez (bottom left), Jenny Christian (upper right) and I each designed a scarf; and while I was putting together the website and sending designs into production, Tara Gupta was helping us craft the right message to get the word out.

I let the side project have a life of its own

A project doesn’t have to be perfect from the start. After launch, it will evolve, and giving it room to surprise you allows it to gain its own momentum. (And it did! Design Feast was curious to feature and promote it!)

Remind myself that I’m never too busy 
for something I care deeply about

This is a motto that the chair of my graduate program, Debbie Millman, taught me. It helps me carve out time and brain space for The Take A Stand Project.

Why have a side project?

Side projects reveal who we are, what we stand for and who we care about. Because it is the thing that’s worth losing hours of sleep over, squeezing time between conference calls to ship products, and lugging boxes of packaging supplies across town. They are projects that wouldn’t have happened, if you didn’t really want them to—they always give you back more than you gave them.

At a time when marginalized communities and organizations who support them are threatened, side projects matter more than ever. We can’t even begin to fix everything with the scarves we design, but we can show up, lift each other up and give it a darn good fight.

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Diptych courtesy of May Shek and The Take A Stand Project team.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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