Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘social designer

“Did I choose to be a social designer?” And “Did the will and opportunity collide?”
My niece Joanna Choukeir Hojeily posted on FB:
“Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?
I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn’t exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
Did I choose to be a social designer, did it just happen, or did the will and opportunity collide?  I will be reflecting on how I got to doing what I do now; a practice and industry that didn't exist 10 years ago when I first started out as a designer. Creating Futures Symposium this coming Tuesday at the ICA in London.
I replied:
“Your field existed since 1942 when designers tried to minimize the frequent pilot accidents in the air war with Germany. It was called industrial psychology, then industrial engineering, ergonomics, Human Factors in Engineering
The advent of fast computing, personal computing and fast graphics facilities shifted the trend to social graphic engineering or design…
It is the varied opportunities in developed countries that upgraded your passion for “social graphic design” projects: Giving priority to the health, safety and ease of use of products and services…”
I have posted about 50 articles on that topic in the category “Human Factors in Engineering”
I have in a previous article, in a short sentence that may have gone unnoticed, mentioned that the main objective of Human Factors in Engineering is designing interfaces between complex systems and targeted end users.
Modern days are an accumulation of very complex systems that societies can no longer live without and have to suffer their consequences in health, safety, comfort, risks or fatal accidents. 
Modern days rely on communications systems, on health care, on educational, on information, on transportation, on energy, on financial, on tourism, on diplomatic, and even on political systems.
Usually, there are purposes for establishing any system and the money generated could only be the consequences of satisfying human specific demands that a developed standard of living requires, or are encouraged through advertisements, or are initiated by new laws to regulating a society.
This modern world, more than in any previous centuries, is plagued with complex systems that are automated in many portions with no human understanding of how a system functions or can be repaired or be redesigned except a few rare professional experts.
These vast and very costly systems are created, assembled, maintained and run by different specialized personnel who have no serious interconnections among one another.
Every section of any system requires an interface with another section so that the end user can communicate with another section without any obligation to know or understand the details of the other section.
These interfaces have to be designed to be used with minimal skills, knowledge or special training.
Consumers require easy to use objects, safe objects, error free and accident free objects.
Consumers need to access these complex systems quickly, cheaply, without the requirement for extensive training or intermediate personnel to doing business or making the objects function according to their idiosyncrasies.
The Human Factors engineering discipline should be the application of the body of knowledge, information and facts about human abilities, limitations, (physical, mental and psychological) and characteristics to the design of tools, machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for safe, comfortable and effective human use.
The Human Factors engineering discipline is expected to direct its research toward practical design purposes and offer data that can be readily applied by engineers from different discipline”.
Here is a brief story of how I went about finishing my PhD dissertation.
My adviser had a business in forensic of accidents in workplace, safety consultancy and was focused on the lack of safety signs and pictorials since it was the rage of suing in consumer liability cases.
He proposed that I work on safety signs for my proposal and I didn’t feel hot about it: I sensed this topic was at best good enough for a Master’s thesis. The effects of safety signs were very short term, unless the system includes safety behaviors as an important part in the proper functioning of the corporation.
I recall that I worked for a year on a PhD proposal related to graphics of safety signs and pictorials. There were no personal computers and no graphic facilities. I toiled by hand.
My idea was to gather the used and adopted safety pictorials in many fields and try a taxonomy of elemental parts that designers could assemble in their jobs.  This proposal was killed by the team of advisers within half an hour of the session.
I tried another proposal related to cognitive engineering and it was not accepted. I was hooked to the cognitive field but my adviser would have none to do with cognition for my dissertation: he was not interested in such a field and it was not in his line of business.
To be fair, Dr. Purswell was more than patient with me and let me write two proposals related to cognition that both were turned down within a year.
I spent two years on idiosyncratic topics that my main advisor was not comfortable with, and I had no support system to guide me.
Two years earlier, my advisor told me: “Get on with my idea of a proposal. Get you degree and move on. At your age I had already three children...”
Two years earlier, one of my classmate obeyed the same advisor to the word and finished his dissertation (no experiment was conducted) and was accepted at a university as assistant professor, while I was toiling uselessly.
Finally, Dr. Purswell had to deliver an ultimatum or he would have no choice but to suspend my scholarships.
I was ordered to stop all part-time jobs. I obeyed and within a semester I wrote the proposal, designed the experiment, finished setting up the fictitious chemical lab and carried out several intelligence testing protocols just to divert the true objective from the over 120 “subjects”.
The subjects were mostly first year Psychology students because they are required to submit to experiments for credit-hours. That semester was hectic but a lot of fun.
The next semester was the worst of all semesters because I had to input thousands of data and read hundreds of pages of computer statistical results and the gruesome task of writing up my dissertation.
I had Dr. Schlegel in my advisory team and he forced me to use a specialized word processing program, simply because the print was professional and versatile. The problem was that no one could interpret the error in the program and fix it when I got stuck except him. I occasionally had to wait a couple of weeks to meet with him in order to untangle stupid word processing glitches.
By the time I submitted the final written copy I was totally depressed and I had erased from my mind any academic prospect.
To make matters worse, the US was experiencing a depressed market and universities had put a moratorium on hiring professors.
What a foreign PhD graduate with the wrong nationality and in a bad job market is to do to survive?
I asked for what I deserve. My temperament predicted this outcome.
I don’t complain in real life, but the blog is supposed to write about the oddities in life.

Is it Hate or Contempt that kill? How can you reverse crimes of hate? What practical solutions can salvage acquired hate feelings?

Different hate tendencies are predominant in communities around the world. We are the inheritor of hate, bred through bloody scenes, erased from land, brute force subjugation…

The feeling of hate against particular persons, community at large, ideologies, religious clerics, and institutions should be considered a positive feeling compared to the nastiest of all human tendencies of “Contempt“.

Contempt, this feeling of over-lording it on other people, hovering in an upper sphere of superiority and condescending our opinions and orders on the inferior species of mankind…

All these mass killing of people we have never met, from Norway to France to the USA and all those “terrorist” acts that harvest thousands of civilians…

Why the white European mass killers are labelled “crazies”, while the Moslem killers are called terrorists? Is there any fundamental difference in crimes of contempt?

The worst part in contempt is its trade-mark among the most ignorant who have no patience to acquiring knowledge and tending a listening ears to other people opinions…

I can vouch that most kids exhibit behavior of contempt regarding one of their parents, although they are far less educated and far less experienced in almost everything…

Is their any cure against contempt if the concerned person is not willing to make the effort of becoming a knowledgeable individual and refuse to do his due diligence on improving his behavior?

At least, the various feeling of hate can be overcome, simply because we can modify the environment of communities, and we can control the first instant impressions acquired from the constant flow and flood of discriminating impressed upon us by the extended family and peer pressures within our culture…

The Lebanese inherited a wide spectrum of hate-kind emotions from personal experiences (17 years of civil war) and the archaic pseudo-State system running Lebanon since 1943, and Rima Rantisi  explains.

Rima Rantisi posted on July 22 an interesting article on her blog crosseyedrevolutions under “Imagining New Sectual Relations“:

“You have heard the words “Muslim,” “Christian,” and “Druze” refer to people your entire life. And when you lived through the July 2006 War (preemptive war of Israel against Lebanon that lasted 33 days), you might have been partying in resort Fraya or outside the country or only just heard a whisper of the sound of the bombs and only tasted the hate that your parents ate and breathed for 15 years.

So how do you hate? And how can you unlearn it?

Joanna Choukeir Hojeily wants to help you find out. She will not tell you, nor force you to tell her. But she will design a way for you to interact with the “other” – because you have inherited hate, not created it.

As a “social designer”, Joanna uses innovative and creative projects to tackle social issues. Her latest pilot project, which was co-created with volunteers made up of students, activists, professionals, and creative people, lasted for 48 hours, in the form of an “Imagination Market”.

In two locations (towns of Byblos and B3akleen), 5 pop-up tents addressed the identified five key social barriers that contribute to a sectarian-divided Lebanon.

Why Joanna “as an 18-year-old hadn’t met any Muslims?”

I joined Joanna’s team of “Imaginers” in Baakline and witnessed the optimism of a group so ready to show others the vibrancy of the new path they had found.

The moment I walked up to the “Market,” which comprised 5 booths – Gharam (Love), Moushwar (Trip), Khabriyeh (Story), Dardasheh (Chat), and Souhba (Friendship), I was met with red excitement of volunteers and team leaders. They each wanted to explain “Imagination Studio” to me – the incubator that yielded “Imagination Market” (created by Joanna Choukeir) and their investment in it.

Aisha Habli put it simply: “We want to fix the social situation in Lebanon.” She fizzed as she spoke about the project and its audience of the youth and for the youth.  This project echoes Choukeir’s commitment that it is not “experts” who come up with solutions for youth, but rather youth coming up with solutions “for themselves with one another.”

Yussef Chaker, her fellow “Imaginer volunteers”,  says: “What the studio promotes is what I’ve lived.” His mother is a religious Muslim and his father is a religious Christian. As a result of this mixed upbringing, Yussof says he’s “lived the good experience in Lebanon.”

Yussof and Aisha were introduced to Imagination Studio at Tedx Beirut where Choukeir’s presentation inspired them to volunteer their time towards bringing youth of all sects closer together. This does not seem elusive to them, as they proudly claim the proof in the bond that has grown between them as team members who have come from all corners of Lebanon.

At the age of 18, Joanna Choukeir realized that “there is an issue of social segregation” in Lebanon led her to a PhD program, where she could have the structure to “make something happen.” Her research question was:

“How can we use communication design methods for social integration with youth in Lebanon?”

Joanna’s first step toward the answer was an intervention called “Expressions Corner” – a pop-up tent in which she conducted blind interviews with people of different religions and regions over Skype.

Participants, whom she was linked to as “influential youth” in their town, had a deck of cards that each had a religion or region on it.

Their task was to simply respond in any way they wanted, and thus they spoke about experiences, ideologies, or prejudices; while others had “nothing to say.”

From these responses, Joanna found the 5 major barriers, upon which “Imagination Market” is based and which the Studio builds their designs around.

The divisive combination includes sect and marriage, region and mobility, politics and friendship, media and influence, and language and prejudice.

Souk ek Khayal! Souk el Khayal!” (Imagination market)

“Come closer so I can tell you a story; one from me, one from you!”

“Hizb (party of) el Sushi! Hizb el Hummus!”

Imaginers called out by the side of the main road in Baakline, a quiet town in the Chouf populated predominately by Druze, where young people started emerging after their Sunday lunches.

Two young men were coaxed out of their convertible over to the dardashe booth where they sang the Beatles “Imagine” in Arabic, English, and French with the help of flashcards.

One walked away and had to be pulled back, his cigarette intact between his fingers. The two men sang the song with Imaginers’ help and moved from booth to booth, laughing though reluctant.

The two young men resumed their tour of the booths and visited the moushwar booth: Imaginers proposed taking them on a trip to an old Maronite Church in the village that had been closed for years – and which by the end of the day only 2 of 50 participants knew existed!

The day before, the trip was from Jbail (Byblos) to a fish tavern owned by a woman named Maggie, who opened up shop just after her husband passed away. Visitors had wondered how they could find more of these authentic places in a country that had less and less of them.

The young men sat down for the short skit at the souhba booth, where two friends get in an argument over their political allegiances – Hizb Sushi and Hizb Hummus – the guys participated in the post-performance discussion which focused on conjuring up ways the conversation could have been civil. But ultimately they said, “We already know all of this.”

However, Choukeir does not feel pressure to change these people.

What seems to be most particular about the ideas behind this project is Choukeir’s hypothesis that of the five personalities she has divided people on the subject of sectarian divisions in Lebanon – open-minded, curious, stubborn, distant, and skeptic – she believes that Imagination Studio’s efforts will have the most impact on the “curious” and the “skeptic,” both of whom just need a little “nudge” to see a “new path.”

“We had some ‘distant’ and ‘stubborn’ people yesterday.

The distant people don’t even want to acknowledge that there’s a problem in Lebanon; they’re living in their closed social circles – they don’t think anything is wrong with that.

The stubborn people realize that there’s a whole other community in Lebanon that they don’t know, but they don’t even want to have anything to do with it. They are very politicized; they’ve made up their mind. At the market they said, ‘This activity isn’t going to change anything.’

And we know that with stubborn people, it’s not going to change anything. But with the curious and skeptics, there is potential. Sometimes they just haven’t had the exposure. Seeing something optimistic like this could trigger the change.”

Imagination Studio has been an ongoing project of workshops that led to the Imagination Market, which was a pilot to prove that some of the ideas have potential for nudging minds.

For example, the khabriyeh booth, a 48-hour user-generated blog, could be an ongoing project where people share their stories and experiences, and make connections.

All of the ideas are registered with Creative Commons, so anyone can use them, as “Change has to be something continuous. A one-off thing will only affect those who were there at the right time and the right place,” says Choukeir.

Attendance was low after a few hours (as opposed to the previous day in Jbail), when two girls, aged 18, walked up to the gharaam booth, where a volunteer acting as a fortune-teller (Ashley) awaited them in full glittery gear.

Ashley (younger sister of Joanna) fluttered her ringed fingers over the cards as they sat expectantly. She flipped over two cards, which revealed a Sunni man and a Druze woman.

Although the fortune-teller was to brief them on the rights of the individuals if they were to be married – conversion, kids, inheritance, custody, etc, she only gave them their options in terms of how two different sects could get married.

One of the young women asked if she could choose the combination, so she chose a Druze woman and a Druze man: “This is the best option,” she said.

Here, again, the fortune-teller told them “That’s easy. These two can get married, no problem.” I believe she missed an opportunity to be detailed about their rights.

The young women walked away and wrote their complaint on the chalkboard on their way out: “We wish there could have been more than just choices for marriage.” But they also wrote that “The idea is awesome.”

When I asked her what she expected, she said, “We already know the stuff the fortune-teller told us. I thought I would have my fortune read.” I really don’t know what to think about this response (except that it’s kinda funny – and made sense :).

Will any of these ideas have potential for “nudging” the minds of skeptic and curious youth who know they should think or feel something, but do not know why – or that there’s an alternative?

Could more and more people just like Joanna, who grew up in a small mountain village dominated by the same sect, went to religious schools and university, and met someone from another sect for the first time at 18 years old…And that an apt description of many Lebanese.

Could the Lebanese open their lives to accepting the others, past a simple tolerance, in a country that largely frowns upon the union of these sects?

Could this fascinating co-creative project evolve and tighten the execution of its ideas and actually make an impact on the youth and future social situation in Lebanon?

The Imagination Studio plans to take on the challenge. And use these learning opportunities, such as at the Imagination Market, to build on them, imagining and imagining, that a better country is possible”.

Note: inspired from Rima Rantisi




February 2023

Blog Stats

  • 1,516,363 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 822 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: