Sunday, January 30, 2011

The City as a Teaching Tool

Make the World Better: Tools for Designing Bright Green Cities

View more presentations from Xanthe.

The Student Environmental Action League (SEAL) at RIT is hosting a summit on environment this Friday and I've been asked to speak. I've been struggling a bit in deciding which topic to speak about. In a macro sense my research is about using sustainability lenses to guide the creative process. I often use "new product development" to exemplify this thesis because products are an easy thing for people to understand. And when I'm introducing so many new ideas in a half hour talk, I try to ground my theory in an example that is within the audience's understanding.

The conflict here for me is that product design has very little to do with the sustainability movement. Even when you can get an audience to understand the life cycle of a product, at the end of the day, it's still a consumer product. The sustainability movement focuses a little too much on consumer choices, which products to buy, rather than systemic change because products are easy to understand. Systems, not so much.

But this time I'm saying to myself, "What the heck, let's talk about systems." And what better system to talk about than the city. People understand cities, don't they?

There's a lot of great work being done in the area of sustainable cities and new urbanism. I am hardly an expert. But I am working with an impressively transformative organization this quarter, Foodlink. They "disguise" themselves as a food-bank that provides emergency food to eleven counties in the region. And they do that very well. But their long term goal is to transform the region. They act on this goal through R&D initiatives that explore sustainable farming, job training for low income or developmentally disabled people, and turning food-waste into fuel for food distribution trucks. So I'm going to use their work to exemplify how to reinvent cities using tools from the sustainability and creativity literature.

How are these tools different from other tools used by urban decision makers? Well, they give people permission to linger a little longer in the imagining phase of a re-design, the lovely pre-hypothesis phase. They provide practical (and fun) methods for working with stakeholders from an array of backgrounds. And they encourage folks to think big and be in it for the long haul.

At first it's not easy to work this way. Like anything else, it takes practice and persistence. But once we get these tools under our belts, o the places we will go!

If you are in the Rochester area, then come on out to the RIT Innovation Center on Friday for SEAL's Summit on Environment.  And if you want to get your hands dirty with a city project, then sign up for my spring section of Design-thinking. Cheers!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Does poetry matter?

Poet Nikki Giovanni was interviewed on the local radio station earlier this afternoon. She is in town for a Martin Luther King celebration. It was a fantastic interview. In it she said something about art, and poetry in particular, that I want to capture here. 

The host of the radio show asked her something like, 'Does poetry matter to the average person? Is poetry important?' 

Now, before I taught in a, I didn't ever have to think about questions like these. When you are in art school as a professor or a student you just assume that what you are doing matters. 

But now that I travel in business and tech arenas, I'm constantly finding myself explaining the value of creativity to skeptics. Which is challenging, but ultimately good for me and, I hope, good for the skeptics.

But back to the interview. When asked if poetry mattered, Giovanni responded with this convincing anecdotal evidence, 'We have words poured over us when we are born. We have words poured on us when we marry. We have words poured on to us when we die. Surely, poetry must be important to us.'

I love this answer. It's straightforward and clear. It's the kind of answer that I can picture one of my colleagues in business or technology responding to. But I can also imagine these colleagues pushing back with something like, "Well, of course art matters to us during those milestones, but those moments are few and far between. I still don't understand how art, or creativity, is meaningful in our everyday lives."

‪Poems are important to us at births and weddings and funerals because we want them to shape those important moments of our lives. But we should be seeking to shape our lives every day. ‬Business and technology are every day ventures. Every day these forces shape us whether we want them to or not. So as long as they are shaping our lives, I'll make mine, and take mine, with poetry. 

bonus: Here's a much longer post on design & poetry that I wrote a few years back. Enjoy. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sign up for Design-thinking at RIT

Hey RIT folks. It's registration time once again. If you're looking for a great gen. ed. course for the spring, then check out  "Design-thinking and Concept Development," a general education course hosted by the Saunders College of Business at RIT. course #0102.421.01

This spring we'll be creating a 3D map of Rochester's future. Throughout the process of making the map, we will learn about and practice problem-solving strategies commonly held by designers: 
               Generating & visualizing ideas
               Engaging in creative exercises
               Designing for sustainability & society
               Observing & understanding human-behavior
               Discussing readings & videos about design
               Exploring new business models
               Researching emerging technologies
               Building & testing prototypes

Join us. The project is going to be fantastic. The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 11.50am in the Center for Student Innovation at RIT. 

QUESTIONS? contact Prof. Xanthe Matychak at xanthe [dot] matychak [at] rit [dot] edu or shoot me a DM on twitter @xanthm

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kimchi and Soft Hearts

I've been making some fun things at home these days. For one, I'm trying to find a nice little something to give for Valentines Day which is one of my favorite holidays. I enjoy sending out valentines to my friends to remind them that I love them. I'm not crazy about these hearts yet, but new designs tend to get better after I make about a dozen or so. I'll get there.

I've been making kimchi too though I don't think I can put it in the mail. This is unfortunate because, I mean, what says "I love you" more than a stinky jar of fermenting cabbage?

This batch here is made of nappa cabbage, daikon, carrot, bonito, a splash of rice vinegar, pressed garlic, grated ginger (I love my ginger grater, btw. I think it needs its own post soon), and a heaping tablespoon of that Korean red pepper sauce they make dukboki with.

Let's just say that I'm having fun.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Facebook Funeral and Other Techno Observations

The beginning of 2011 brings in a few technological changes for me: I’ve sold the iPad that I bought in summer 2010; I’ve deleted my facebook account; and I’ve increased my twitter usage. Some of my friends have been asking me “why?” - especially about deleting my facebook account. So here’s a little piece about my “whys” and my “what nows.” Not life-changing stuff, really, but kind of fun to track if you follow tech trends.

Sold the iPad. At the beginning of summer 2010 I bought a netbook because laptops are heavy. Even though just about every man I talk to tells me that a laptop isn’t that heavy, I can’t agree. They are heavy for me and they are a pain to carry, so I was looking for a lighter device to throw in my bag for teaching and traveling. I tested the netbook for a full two weeks but returned it, in the end, because browsers don’t work on a screen that small. They don’t. I couldn’t get used to looking at that garbage. The graphic designer in me said “No way!” So I returned it. Then I waited and at the end of the summer I got an iPad. And I really liked the software. For a device that size, apps are a much better fit than internet browsers. No question. But I couldn’t get comfortable with the hardware. The iPad wasn’t comfortable to hold in bed, to read or watch movies on. And it was too delicate to toss in my bag to take to school. And then when I discovered that I couldn’t plug it into a projector and mirror my screen, for the classroom, well, that was the last straw. Would I pay $100 for a tablet some day? Sure. But not $500. No thanks. It’s just not for me now. 

Deleted FB Account. This I did for a few reasons. Like many other critics of facebook, I don’t like that all friends are created equal. I don’t want my work friends to see my family stuff or my high school friends to see my work stuff. And even though you can go into your settings and make groups to filter who sees what, the default is that everyone sees everything and that got tedious for me. More importantly, facebook made me a lazy bookmarker and photo-sharer.  I’d use it to bookmark articles several times a day with no intention to share them really. It was just easy to use from any device. “Oh, I’ll just post this article to facebook,” I thought, “and read it later.” And that worked well to some extent. I’d read the articles that I posted just about every night. But then when I wanted to retrieve something I posted a few weeks ago or months ago, that was difficult because my posts weren’t searchable. I had a RSS feed of my fb posts going to my google reader account, and that helped some, but, eh, just didn’t work. I needed something new.

I’m trying tumblr now. I don’t really understand it - like how to search stuff I’ve posted or how to use it from my phone, but we’ll see. And then the final reason that I deleted my facebook account is that I just don’t feel good about facebook as a company. I borrow this notion from Ze Frank who posted it on his facebook wall about a year ago. It stuck with me. This feeling is further enhanced by Douglas Rushkoff who is constantly using facebook as an example of the manipulative web, in his book Program or Be Programmed. So bye bye facebook. I miss it a little, especially seeing pictures from my family and close friends. But I’ll figure something out.

Increased Twitter Usage. There are a lot of things that I like about twitter, but can I just say, I follow WAY too many social media strategists on there. I have to fix that. But I do love that if you follow someone, they don’t have to follow you, and that if someone follows you you don’t have to follow them. It’s a subtle difference from facebook but a very meaningful one for me. In addition, twitter is a great place to share news and to set up news filters. I also love it for real time events. Hashtags are brilliant for that, if, say, you’re at a conference and you want to communicate with other conference goers in real time. But I’m missing a place to share pictures of food or good recipes. Still looking for that--twitter doesn’t feel right for that. And I miss my artist and musician friends who are on facebook. Twitter doesn’t really fit that bill either. Not great for sharing images of new paintings or short videos of musical performances. So I’m looking to fill those holes but I’m sure I’ll either find something or build something that fills them.

The internet continues to amaze me. And I hope that we end up doing something very meaningful with it. And by we, I don’t just mean the top 10% of the economic pyramid. Time will tell.