Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Debbie Millman

Human Factors in Design

The term Design is all the rage.

Any professional in any field feels it imperative to add Design in the title.

Engineers, graphic professionals, photographers, dancers, environmentalists, climatologists, scientists… they all claim to be designers first.

And this is very refreshing.

Have you heard of this new field of Design Anthropology?

Dori Tunstall said in an interview with  Debbie Millman:

Design translate values into tangible experiences…Design can help make values such as equality, democracy, fairness, integration, connection…(values that we have lost to some extent), more tangible and express how we can use them to make the world a better place…”

Looks like Tunstall expanded the term design to overlap with the political realm of Congress jobs, law makers, political parties, election laws…

It is about time that everyone “think design” when undertaking any project or program

Anything we do is basically designed, explicitly or implicitly: Either we are generating products and programs for mankind, or it is mankind who is in charge of executing, controlling and managing what has been conceived.

So long as human are directly involved in using a product or a program, any design must explicitly study and research the safety, health, and mistakes that the operators and users will encounter.

Must as well that the design be as explicit in the attributes of health, safe usage, errors that might generate serious consequences, materially, mentally or physically.

Four decade ago, there was a field of study called Human Factors.

The term Human Factors was considered too general to be taken seriously in Engineering.

The implicit understanding was that “Of course, when an engineer designs anything, it is the human who is targeted….”

However, besides applying standards and mathematical formulas, engineers are the least concerned directly with the safety, health of users: The standards are supposed to take care of these superfluous attributes…

And who are the people concerned in setting standards?

Standards are arrived at in a consensus process between the politicians and the business people, and rarely the concerned users and consumers are invited to participate in the debate, except in later sessions when standards are already drafted…

And how explicitly experiments were designed to allow users to test, and give feedback to any kinds of standards, handed down from successive standard sets…?

Countless engineers and scientists are directly engaged in putting rovers on Mars and launching shuttles and… and the human in the project is taken for granted…

If you ask them whether they have human factors engineers in their teams, they don’t understand what you mean.

The project is supposed to be an engineering project, and “where the hell did you bring this human thing in the picture?”

Anything that is designed must consider the health, safety, and how a person from various ages, genders, and ethnic idiosyncracies might use the product or the program

Take all the time in design process. People are not supposed to be used as ginea pigs for any redesigned process… after countless lawsuits, pains, suffering…

This is a preliminary draft. Any input and replies?


How many of the over one billion well-connected internet users Branded their “I”?

Peter Diamandis forecasts 3 billion will be well-connected on the Net by 2020, and wondered on the power of that huge interconnection of intelligence pieces, information, knowledge, solutions, perspectives to resolving untenable global problems…And I wonder: “How many will care to brand their “I” in order to be better recognized and reap profits…”

Not only international corporations design their brands, but also any small company, and many individuals who believe in setting themselves apart in their domain…I decided to re-edit a previous post that was missed by readers.

When I hear the term “branding”, the first image comes to mind is in movies where slaves and cows are branded with hot iron with a symbol, logo, or initials to be visually recognized as belonging to a particular proprietor.

If a corporation imposes on its employees to exclusively patronize and purchase its “brand” products or services, wouldn’t that constitute a form of “branding slaves”?  For example, when Microsoft implicitly discourage its employees to search Google as its preferred engine, do you think the company is exercising “slave branding” until the salaried person is fired or going to retirement?

I figured that a good method to defining an explaining “brand” is by developing on a few categories of “brands”, which are not necessarily exclusive.

Categories of brands:

1. “Belonging brand”: We do belong to a tribe, a religious sect, a restricted community, a gang group…We want the members of our group and those outside the community to discriminate us with our slang, language, customs, dances, ceremonies…through symbols, which are the tribal markings, visual and verbal signs of differentiation. The more global the “economy”, the more pronounced the local markings… This idea is put forth by Wally Olins.

2. “Professional brand”: You wear the white coat and the stethoscope and you are readily accepted to be a physician, regardless of youth, genders, or race…All professional syndicates and professional disciplines tend to “brand their members”.  Have you ever asked a physician or a judge, or an engineer to fetch his diploma, certificate, or university grades…in order to prove his professionalism?

The Red Cross logo project a symbol of vulnerability and thus, it is safe to approaching the vehicle and let it move freely in battle fields…

3. “Addiction brands”: You are in Africa or any remote area and you don’t find a bottle of water or sugar in shops, but invariably, you can buy a soda can or bottle.  The soda liquids are heavily sugary and loaded with addictive additives. You find Coca Cola, Pepsi, orange flavored soda bottles, locally made soda loaded with sugar. The gas in the soda gets you the feeling of emerging from a heavy meal and the sugar is needed for the brain…, but it is not the same as drinking water or eating sugar.  The same goes to all the other addictive products.

The story goes that Pepsi discovered that a person is ready to drink unlimited quantity of soda if available, and Pepsi offered the 2 liters bottles in order to compete with Coca Cola…

4. “Fear and peer-pressure brands”: If you don’t buy this product people will make fun of you, and you will not be considered a normal person. Cosmetics ads use this sense of being an “outlier” in a community to encourage the usage of particular products. For example, fear is associated with workaholic individuals because they feel disconnected with the safety of the community outside the corporation.  Workaholic people are defensively constantly checking the “pleasant mood level” of the boss.

5. “Herd brands”:  “Are you an American? You must own your own home as every successful family…”  All research studies are demonstrated that renting is much cheaper than purchasing a property, but the citizens were pressured to buy homes, even though they knew they could not afford it.  As long as easy credits were extended, people were willing to go with the flow of normalcy…

6. “Story brands”:  Tom Peters said: “A brand is a good story. Period. People are suckers for stories. Dump the word “brand” and use “story” instead.  When I become a story, I am viewed as more human, more real…” For example, oats was grown as cattle and sheep feed, and then Quaker Oats box package made a sensation. Why? If Quakers are offering oats as food for mankind, it means oats is good for you: Quakers are not in the culture of lying to you…  Best if the story project a mythic archetypical story like Adam and Eve, with the Apple nibbled at…

7. “Cultural brands”: The differences in wine quality, price, and varieties are shrinking. The wine brand is: “From which country or region is the source of the wine products?” The future brands will be cultural because the western civilization failed to take seriously the cultures of the emerging cultures in China, India, Brazil, Latin America…As Grant McGraken stated: “The first condition to crafting a “provocation” in design is to have a thorough knowledge of the culture and the social world in which you mean for your design to effect any structural change…”

The identification phase in any design is fundamentally to respond to this simple question: “What are specifically the cultural meanings you intend to design?”  For example, the word “Africa” is used as a brand name to mean an intricately complex area made up of people, countries, cultures that have no more in common than we do with Uzbekistan…” (Malcolm Gladwell)

8. “Daring You brand”: This is my own definition for successful brands.  My position is that a success brand is wittily sending a daring message: “I challenge you to try this product…” People respond to daring challenges like the bitten Apple, the archetype mythical story of Adam accepting Eve challenge to try a state of consciousness…of the invitation of Nike to try sport… The story is the witty means to conveying the daring proposition.  After the first experience with the product, it is no longer the brand responsibility, but the company sustainable promise to deliver good on the experience…

9. “Seductive brands”:  Be as beautiful, as healthy, as seductive as “I am brand”.  Corporations want to attrct customers, “to be loved” as individuals behave to attract others.

Dimensions of brands:

1. Stable reputation like college or hospital ranking, done by peer evaluation and having nothing to do with objective measure of performance.  What’s left, after reputation is taken out, is a small residual…

2. Reliability for using a product or a service:  You have definit expectation when you patronize a brand name and you want this expectation fulfilled.

The dimension of durability is no longer a serious factor since everyone knows that corporations are explicitly engineering products to fail after a certain periods:  Corporations wants heavy turnover of products to encourage “consumerism”…

Our personality is a function of the collection of objects, ideas…we surround ourself with. For example, psychologist Samuel Goslig rates a person from how the room looks like:  You are judged according to what you display. Another example is (Svpply site, v and not u) that is another facebook-type, where you associate with people who like and purchase particular objects, whic are common to your perception of a life-style…

Note 1:  This post was inspired by Debbie Millman ”Brand thinking and other Noble Pursuits”. This book is a collection of 22 interviews with known brand designers and entrepreneurs such as: Wally Olins, Grant McCraken, Phil Duncan, Dori Tunstall, Brian Collins, Virginia Postrel, Bruce Duckworth, David Butler, Stanley Hainsworth, Cheryl Swanson, Joe Duggy, Margaret Youngblood, Seth Godin, Dan Formosa, Bill Moggridge, Sean Adams, Daniel Pink, DeeDee Gordon, Karim Rashid, Alex Bogusky, Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: Debbie is president of design division at Sterling Brands and president of the AIGA design association

Designing IBM PC: “We want it for entertainment. We want it in the living room. Now, how should we design this damned keyboard to fit in the decor…?”

Dan Formosa of Smart Design recalls in an interview with Debbie Millman: “Eliot Noyes at IBM hired me to design their first IBM PC since I was one of the rare people in the 70’s who was familiar with computer.  I recall the design brief that said: “We want this PC for entertainment. We want it in the living room. Now, how should we design this damned keyboard to fit in the decor…?”

The IBM design team knew that other teenagers were building personal computers in garages (Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs…), and they wanted to be first in the PC market.  IBM had about 100,000 employees and they decided to contract out a team of three in the West Coast (Gates was one of them) to write the operating system.  If I had my wherewithal, I would have been the fourth member in the operating system team…

The person running the IBM PC design program made a comparison between Betamax (exclusivity of Sony invention) and VHS.  He wanted the operating system to work with all computer companies, and that was Windows.  Apple went Betamax route.

In the 70’s, people viewed computer and marketing companies as “evil”, and they were dumped in the same basket as Big Brothers.  If a product looked “designed” it was considered suspicious.  I recall presenting a computer generated design of a wireframe to my art class and I was made fun of and taunted as rallying the evil bandwagon.  I refrained to show any other computer designed works to my classmate.

“Everyone should have access to whatever product and technology your brand offers…Left handed, right-handed, tall, short, expert or first-time novices should feel they have access to a brand product or service…Usability tests were rare in the 70’s and 80’s…

To whom corporations designed before 1980? Marketing and engineers had idealized images of the perfect consumers who didn’t exist…Whatever was designed was for the median population

When I asked the marketing divisions to talk to consumers for input to my design they freaked out. They said that customers are their exclusive rights and responsibility: It was unheard of to consult with customers on what they liked…Usability was not considered a designer responsibility: Design connoted simply “esthetics”.

Marketing divisions looked at designers with antipathy: marketers were considered the power players when it came to deciding what consumers wanted.

The Design phase was attached at the very end of the project when engineering job was completed.  When Dan worked on OXO kitchen products for Sam Farber he conducted usability studies to ensure that people could use the product. “I never asked permission for conducting usability studies and I designed for the edge (tails) of the population and not for the mainstream…”

Designers tend to be a conservative group. It should be a good strategy to “manage change” as we introduce an innovation..

Introducing a new technology should be a step-by-step process:

First, you should take the trouble and time to educate the consumers to digest and integrate the product in their lives, be able to respond with positive feedback…That is why most new innovations are not success stories, until 20 years later as someone else revisit the product attributes for ready consumers.

Looks like voice recognition is one of these innovations ready to fly big time.

Note: Dan Formosa designed one of the first laptop computers and participated in the design of OXO kitchen products for Sam Farber. Dan launched Smart Design in 1981.  Dan recently received a National Design Award for “Product Design” and was recognized for “Corporate Institutional Achievement“. Formosa went ahead and earned two other degrees: a master’s in biomechanics and ergonomics in the mid 80’s, and then in psychology.

Coca-Cola: “Well, what do you mean by Design…”?

In the interview with Debbie Millman, David Butler, Vice President of Design at Coca-Cola said:

“In 2004, Coca-Cola decided to open a position of Vice President of Design and hired me.  My first task was to getting familiar with the archieves and the story of Coca-Cola.  I asked achevist Phil Mooney: “If I were to learn about design, where would I start?” Phil replied: “Well, what do you mean by Design…”?

So I asked Phil about packaging, the role of bottle contour, the point-of-sale materials, the posters, the clothing lines that Coca-Cola designed in the 80’s…

It turned out that in 1916, Coca-Cola was the first franchise to design its chain stores.  In the same year, the design brief for the bottle stated two requirements:

First, the bottle should be unique and be found in the dark among all other bottles, and

Second, when broken, the shattered Cola glasses should be recognized as part of Coca-Cola


The first redesign job of Butler was the vending machines, most preponderant in the US and Japan (70% of sales in Japan are done through vending machines).  A redesigned door of the machine and a 44 inches screen monitor were added to display all the digital content, thus providing an extra connection platform with teenagers…

Butler hired Bruce Duckworth to redesign Coca logo: Who needs to show bubbles? Isn’t Coca-Cola drink bubbly enough

The two themes recurring are: Connectedness and optimism. 

The 3 main features are: Red, the Spencerian script, and the shape of the bottle...

Do you know that 25% of world population consume Coca-Cola, in 206 countries

In Mexico, every individual drinks Coca-Cola three times a day...Butler was thus transferred to Mexico for six months, and he is learning Spanish

Wherever there is a disaster (hurrican, earthquakes…) Coca-Cola produces only water and distribute free bottles.

Coca-Cola has the largest distribution network and has far more trucks on the road than FedEx, DHL, and UPS combined

Coca-Cola is ideal for emergency situations because of its wide transport networks around the world to almost every village in remote regions…

Pepsi designed a 2l bottles as it discovered that people are inclined to drink unlimited of soda when readily available and managed to compete with Coca-Cola. 

Why people behave as cultist by exclusively selecting one of the brown sugar-water soda brands?

Note: David Butler joined Studio Archetype for building digital brands with Clement Mok before being hired by Coca Cola.  Debbie Millman published “Brand thinking…” and interviewed 22 brand designers

Millennial, Boomer, and Gen X generations: What’s the differences?

I assume that what is meant by “Millennia generation” are those born about 2000, or most probably, the kids born about 1995 and experienced the turmoil of hearing of the drastic changes occurring to the world as we cross the second millennial  or possibly the parents who gave birth to kids at the crossing of the second millennial…

When I hear about research studies done on the Millennia generation I need to know whom the research is targeting exactly. Cheryl Swanson said in an interview with Debbie Millman that described the characteristics of Millennial generation:

First, this generation (parents) will not be caught without car seat or safety belt in the back of the car:  The parents are safety conscious…Why? Parents are giving birth later in life and have made several trips to fertility clinics:  They want their kids and are the product of cultural expectation...

Second, this generation wants pure sugar in their soda cans and not concentrate fructose corn syrup…For example, Pepsi has switched to brown sugar-water soda, and Coca-Cola has followed suit…

Third, Smoking and drinking behaviors have decreased with this “cohort” group

Fourth, their SAT scores have increased (this time Cheryl might be talking of the kids?)

Fifth, They are achievement-oriented

Sixth, They don’t want to let their parents down,

Seventh, they feel very powerful with a sense of “entitlement” confronting authority figures

Eight, they are institutionally driven and trust in authority

Ninth, they love heritage brands that has stood the test of time, such as Levi jeans, Gillette, Coke…

Millennial generation is now getting all the media attention, as the boomer and the Gen X (aged 35 to 50 by now) before them.

The Boomer generation feel that they have exclusive rights to brands, they had adopted and nurtured brands as a cult: There are no differences among the brown sugar-water soda, and yet consumers behave as a cult toward a particular brand.  Do you know that in Mexico, every person consumes Coca-Cola three times a day?

The Gen X, sandwiched between the Boomers and the millennial, exhibited skeptical tendencies toward brands.  The irony is that marketers are boomers, the advertising agencies are Gen X, and they are all trying to talk to millennial...Consequently, everything that Millennial use is branded.

Brand help focus the direction to go for millennials, to figure out their “identity“…

Cheryl said:

“There are three pillars to a brand: the functional, the sensorial experience, and mostly the emotional compelling story.  Stories about a place in culture that say: “Where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going.  Stories that have transcended their transactional economic functions…(as long as corporation sticks to its core product and message…)

The artwork, the visual language communicates what is important to a particular consumer group.  A success brand becomes a cult, a totem, until it is accepted internationally and reverts to a sort of substitute religion…

It is very probable that with so many choices in brands, brands would devolve to wallpaper background status, instead of retaining and sustaining the brand story.

The research on Millennia generation was conducted before 2008.  It has to be reconducted and revised. Why?

First: The US millenials are Occupying Wall Street and other institutions.  The State police forces are dispersing the protesters in every major cities, using tactics learned in Israel.

Second, Obama adopted the “unlimited detention” doctrine on the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay without trials…

Third, the US has withdrawn from Iraq and is getting ready to “throw the sponge” in Afghanistan…

Fourth, the administration has a list of 2,000 “terrorists” to drone out with utmost prejudice, without any recourse to validating these targeted individuals…

Maybe the millennial were  institutionally driven and trusted in authority, but is that impression still valid? Time to creating a label for the newer “resisting” generation.

“Resisting is creating” and there is no optimism in a better future unless the spirit of resisting the conventional structure is alive and kicking…

We all want that the new generation retains its very powerful sense of “entitlement” confronting authority figures.  I suggest the term: “entitlement generation

Note 1:  Cheryl Swanson was involved in designing the Method brand, a household cleaning launched in 2001.  The Venus brand of female shaving cream positioning is revealing the “inner goddess beauty”…

Note 2: Debbie Millman published “Brand thinking and other Noble Pursuits” where she interviewed 22 famous brand designers

“Never let a piece of work go out that you’re Not proud of”

Bruce Duckworth, who was asked to redesign Coca-Cola logo, said in the interview with Debbie Millman: “Mary Lewis of Lewis Mobely, an art director, taught me to Never let a piece of work go out that you’re Not proud of. The motto is “Let no bad work goes to market. And I am proud of every single piece of work in the drawers of my study…”

“I wanted to do advertising, and I am a real sucker: If a brand tells me this spread lower the cholesterol level, I believe it… I couldn’t see how I could run my own advertising agency.  I could envision how to run a design company.  Package design at the time left a lot of room for improvement…”

Branding is an experience: It leads to an ownership, one that has a touchy-feely aspect to it.  Advertising is mainly a temptation and is more distant in nature: It offers a promise, but it doesn’t give you the product.

“When Coca-Cola gave me that Spencerian script logo, I couldn’t stop smiling: Coca-Cola is the most famous logo in the world, and Coca-Cola wanted to simplify the logo.  The logo was to eliminate all generic elements that other brands could use in their designs.  Why the bubbles? Who in the world doesn’t know that Coca-Cola is a bubbly drink?”

It is the influence of the client (who knows the product better than anyone) that makes the brand design more believable, better, and more real.  Afterall, we are in the business of selling more, and not getting award-winning honors.

Wit is absolutely the key in designing a brand: It provides depth and soul. Wit is halfway between “serious” and “funny”: It includes a little touch of warmth and emotion. First we want the message out, after that we want people to go through the process of discovering the logo, one step at a time…

In this age of mass production, brand design is the closest you’re going to get to meeting the people who made the product…

Note:  Bruce Duckworth is partner with his brother Turner Duckworth. Bruce designed the CD “Death Magnetic” for the band Metallica at the instigation of drummer Lars Ulrich, and packaging for Motorola, and the redesign of the Amazon logo

What options of changing signals clothes send? What it indicates in social-divide?

Clothes have always sent signals, especially headwear, headgear.

Virginia Postrel, author, cultural critic, and columnist in the Wall Street Journal said in an interview with Debbie Millman:

“During the Great Depression, an average person’s wardrobe contained fewer than 15 items. Following the economic crash of 2009, the average wardrobe was 88 items.  There is the two questions: How is this possible and why is it possible?…”

Postrel wrote in her book “The substance of style“: “The visual appearance of a person or a logo sends two signals:

First signal says: “I’m like this an individual. This is my group that I share qualities with the members. And I like that…”

Second signal says: “This is what gives me pleasure as an individual...”

When selecting an outfit from the huge wardrobe, you are essentially trying a tradeoff of which of the two signals should be predominant…

“I’m feeling this way today, so I can wear this outfit…” is more at hand today than when China and the Far East were not in the marketplace for manufacturing very affordable and good quality fabrics and exporting garments to the world.

In the old days, how people should select and wear clothes were dictated by strict explicit social laws to discriminate among classes.  The explicit laws were replaced by tacit informal laws that would handicap lower classes to emulate the higher classes, such as changing outfits several times a day and elevating the wardrobe to very complex, complicated, and highly expensive etiquette pieces…

Classes and “races” waged villain wars in wardrobe styles in order to maintain discrimination very concrete and visible. Within a class, dresses are dictated by a personal sense of identity, an own sense of style, pleasure, and comfort…For example, high couture companies don’t make their new styles available for the common public before a lapse of time, the necessary period for the rich, glamorous, and famous get tired of their expensive acquisition, and won’t mind more copies displayed in the market.

Mankind has both highly developed visual information and social cues, and make good usage for navigating social relations.  If teenagers could afford a huge wardrobe, they would be changing outfits several times a day, even by reorganizing the pieces to making look as a new outfit, every time…

“A lot of subgroup communities are created based on creating clever plays on clothes assorted with individual distinction.  There is always the actor within us and we like to change characters by simply selecting the proper combination of garments.  We want to project an image that suit our mood of the moment.  We wear a musical band merchandize when we attend a concert…” It is how bands make most of their profits: marketing their merchandize.

The commodity most scarce is becoming “how to get attention, and what is our attention span…

Economics is driven by capturing whatever attention can be spared for an item.  Capturing attention is the first phase in brand design of “what is the direct message”, but the harder step is “how can I discipline this attention to recur again at my brand, my product, my service...”

A brand is a promise of consistency and continuity over time: Nowadays, the politician is the brand instead of his party affiliation; the journalist is the brand instead of the daily or the particular media.

The irony is that counterfeit brands still conjure the same associations with the real original product…

Success brand names tell mythic archetypical stories?

Brian Collins, chief creative officer at Collins, said in an interview with Debbie Millman: “A great brand name must embody mythic archetype stories, stories that remind us of eternal truths to navigate through our lives, archetypes like “KING”, “MAGICIAN”, WARRIOR”…that need not that much explanation to project the picture and the message.

For example, the Apple with a bite taken out symbolizes the seductive-rebel Eve who tempted Adam to cross over to conscious thinking, like Apple ad of a woman throwing a sledgehammer at the screen showing Big Brother…

For example, yesterday I watched a bunch of kids playing a game of pick-up basketball, and the next day you have Nikes displaying its orange banner with the “swoosh symbol” spanning around the court.  Nike is the goddess of victory, and there is no doubt in my mind that the kids felt the meaning of that symbol and the participants are playing with more vigor, as if they are called upon to unfold their power for winning and achieving…”

We don’t experience the world through information, but through stories.  That’s why brands are meant to create belief systems.  Brand designers construct frameworks so we may better understand the world…

Designers should be “problem makers” because they are great with pattern-recognition skills and should seek companies with problems not explicitly known to them.  Designers are not necessarily brought in as “problem solvers”, but to observe the various latent problems within the community of the corporation…

Great brands continue to emotionally resonate from the grand parents to the children to the grand children, like with Disney. 

Brian Collins stretched the envelope a little too thin when he claimed that great brands, like Coca Cola help connect people around the world. How? A kid from Afghanistan drinking a Coca Cola can or bottle would connect with an US kid…I am wondering: How many kids in the US have the background knowledge that the successive US administrations landed over 100,000 Us troops to fight in Afghanistan, that the US drones are killing more civilians and kids than Taliban “fighters”?…Maybe it is the Afghani kid who is connecting and saying: “Are the kids in the US aware of what’s going on in Afghanistan…?”

Peter Drucker wrote: “Securities analysts believe that companies make money. Companies make shoes.” Does anyone believe that financial multinationals make shoes, or produce anything? All they are good at is shitting all over the place!

Collins says: “People are looking for more than the product: They want to know the company’s relationship to the local economy…” That would be fine for local companies, I think.  How many international corporations are laying a framework of letting local communities adhere to their message, if a plausible message is credible.

Note: Post inspired from a chapter in “Brand thinking and other noble pursuits” by Debbie Millman

Design anthropology? Why, are there designs not meant for human?

Apparently, the field of Design anthropology is about 20 years old and is an established concept in industry. The challenge is how to feed this field into academia.

Dori Tunstall said in an interview with  Debbie Millman:

“Design can help make values such as equality, democracy, fairness, integration, connection…(values that we have lost to some extent), more tangible and express how we can use them to make the world a better place…

Design translate values into tangible experiences…”

I though it was the job of laws (civil and religious) to transforming abstract values into tangible concepts and how to modify and change laws into far more explicit clauses to actually explain what we mean by equality, justice, democracy…

Design anthropology is meant to understand how the processes and artifacts define what it means to be human, to figure out how to comprehend people with designs that resonate with people’s experiences…

Practically, how can designs communicate these experiences and expectations?

Tunstall said: “I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but again I wouldn’t be a very good human being: The focus will be narrow and you deal with people in traumatic situations, a condition that pressures you to maintain a distance.

I wanted to understand people in a more intimate, playful way…”

The essential factors that makes us human keep changing.

In one stage, we were defined as tool-makers and we discovered that animals make tools;

We proposed language as the discriminating factor, and we found out that animals use languages too;

We proposed the ability for empathy (caring for others not from our own tribe members) and we realized that animals demonstrated empathy too (like this trained chimp who selected the green cup (two nuts) instead of the red cup so that the other chimp can obtain another nut), or that human are good with symbols and abstract notions…

As our social values change, we tend to see different social relationship in the animal kingdom:  From simple aggressive and hierarchical struggle, to the role of empathy, compassion, trading behaviors…

Mind you that many animals can recognize their individuality by getting exposed to mirrors…

Lately, anthropologists would like us to believe that what discriminate human from the animal kingdom is our flexible abilities to change drastically from hunting, to agriculture, to urban environment…

Or the capabilities to transform things from one energy state to another (rocks and sands to concrete mix, or transforming food ingredients and learning to cook various dishes…);

Or our need to trade specialized objects and services with other communities…

Obviously, mankind is not particular in social structure and division among specialized jobs.  For example, in order to survive the bees are divided into foraging, builders, nursing, undertakers groups and the Queen…

Mankind has yet to overcome the hierarchical structure that is not about to be displaced any time soon…

In a sense, the main discriminating factor is our sense of individuality, of making, designing, and acquiring things that represent our “implicit value system” and distinguish us from our neighbor…

We forget that our bodies are built and defined by the environment, that there is no separation between bodies and nature, or nature and nurture…

I think the “nurture” factor is most predominant in artistic fields: How could you ever become a singer, dancer, painter, musician…if one member of the family or the extended family was not an artist or failed to encourage you to perform artistically?

Worshipping is a process of connecting, a one-to-one chat of “what’s going on with me, what’s going on with you (God), what’s going on with the world”; it is a sense of no longer recognizing the difference between me and anything else, especially, authority figures…

Religion created mediating classes of clerics as it associated with State power, and the ways State structured society…

The levels of interactions in community scales (family, extended family, tribe, village…), and the corresponding social integration have different aesthetic values.

For example, dancing and singing…are means to mapping the particular cosmology onto the landscape. Numbers of tattoos, and shapes of tattoos specify the social status, from single, to married, to married with kids, to killing a lion or any other big animal… Acquiring objects and properties is a “ritual” of distinctive social standing.

The experiment we conduct, what we are looking at, shapes the reality that we investigate.

Social platforms of instant connection and chatting can relieve us from the daily individual reports and thus, saving the valuable face-to-face conversation to deeper engagements…

Building momentum in connecting network with newer technologies extend a sense of optimism because we feel that we are no longer alone and we can establish coalitions and alliances

I can conceive the field of “Design anthropology” as a fundamental first year courses for all the fields meant to understanding mankind behavior such as psychology, sociology, engineering, designers, and particularly in law schools.  Why?

Making abstract value concepts concrete is political in nature: It is the job of the political branch of law givers, mostly elected lawyers.

How can we make democracy concrete without election laws that are fair to all citizens and representing all social classes?

How can we make the concept of equality without anti-discrimination laws with institutions funded to apply and execute these laws?

How can we translate human dignity without laws that demand health prevention system to all citizens, schools to all, prison systems for educating and training detainees, job opening system to providing jobs to every capable citizens…?

Note: Dori Tunstall is associate prof. of design anthropology at Swinburne Univ. of Technology (Australia)

History of Innovation: “Timing is everything”?

History research demonstrates that plenty of valid and sensible innovations never stuck or were adopted by societies. Why?

For example, the printing press could not make much sense in the 16th century Europe if industrial production of current papers were not made available. What was the use of using printing press on archaic parchments and papyrus…?

The influential book “In search of excellence” by Tom Peters was researched in the 70’s but published in 1982, in the right timing for its concepts to take off:  The US was facing around 20% interest rates, 15% inflation, and 11% unemployment (worse than today conditions) and then Donald Reagan was elected President after Jimmy Carter.

“In search of excellence” was mostly promoting the concept of “Brand Yourself”, or everyone must be a brand. The “faceless employee or Badge #129” was being outsourced either to lower cost locations such as China or India, or to software algorithms.

The quality logic is that you have to pay attention to your workforce, the culture for tending to details if you are serious about competing with Japanese quality products…

Currently, KIA cars or Subaru before it are very high in quality: They can run 30,000 miles without ever having to go into a shop.

Timing is everything“.

For example, the US billionaires in the 19th century were mostly born around 1835. They generated their wealth in the railroad, telegraph communication, postal facilities (containers, bill of lading…) oil production, refineries, distribution, media, publishing…Most of the current billionaires are inheritances of the wealth and constitute the “elite class” of 1% richest…

Another example is the top innovators in computer and internet business: They were born around 1955 and enjoyed the facilities of timely innovations and facilities to mark 10,000 hours of practice sessions.

More details

Malcolm Gladwell said in the interview: “When we drive a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt, we are sending this powerful message “These are my values. This is the kind of world I want.”

The declarative value of consumer choices, and the public statement made by consumers in their brand choices, is an enormously powerful tool that has consequences on the economy, the community we live in, the agricultural systems…”

If you think long and hard on a choice, it makes perfect sense of what message you are sending.

There is a paradox. You cannot just focus on “your own brand” to be successful: You badly need the horizontal network of peers and satisfied clients, the extended family of professionals as producers and consumers of quality services.

Note 1:  This post was inspired by Debbie Millman ”Brand thinking and other Noble Pursuits”. This book is a collection of 22 interviews with known brand designers and entrepreneurs such as: Wally Olins, Grant McCraken, Phil Duncan, Dori Tunstall, Brian Collins, Virginia Postrel, Bruce Duckworth, David Butler, Stanley Hainsworth, Cheryl Swanson, Joe Duggy, Margaret Youngblood, Seth Godin, Dan Formosa, Bill Moggridge, Sean Adams, Daniel Pink, DeeDee Gordon, Karim Rashid, Alex Bogusky, Tom Peters, Malcolm Gladwell

Note 2: Debbie is president of design division at Sterling Brands and president of the AIGA design association




June 2023

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