Thursday, 13 August 2009


leaving houston with a heavy heart.

ready to come home; not ready to say goodbye.

Monday, 20 July 2009

destination: ?

i am not satisfied with making things.

Friday, 28 November 2008


"What is jazz?" my professor asks my Jazz in America class. We respond with blank stares. In my mind, I'm only imagining swing dancers, saxophones and Louis Armstrong.

But throughout this semester, he has revealed to us how broad and far reaching jazz really is. Originating as syncretism between African and European musical traditions by African slaves during colonial times in America, jazz emerged in the form of work songs and blues. This "musicking" eventually developed into the different subgenres of jazz as we know it. Ragtime, at the turn of the century, gave way to big band music and then swing. After swing came bebop, cool jazz, hard bop. Free jazz, fusion, new age and post modern followed suit, overlapping one another as they developed. As I listen to examples of pieces from all these different periods of jazz, I can't help but notice that the toe-tapping rhythm of Ellington can differ so greatly from the frenzied virtuosity of Coltrane, which in itself seems totally unrelated to the electric pastiche of John Zorn! And yet they are all collectively still considered jazz?

It is important to not just consider the music itself, but the circumstances from which jazz arose. Colonialism, wars, economic booms and busts, urbanization, the civil rights movement, black power, developing technology, newly emerging modes of entertainment, etc. all contributed to the development of jazz. One cannot simply say that jazz is a style of music that has a certain "sound" because history has told us otherwise. But rather, jazz is a form of musical behavior that arose and continues to develop as a response to circumstances, whether it be because of political, economic or social situations or as a reponse to another form of jazz itself.

Why is all of this even relevant to the history of industrial design? I think the history of jazz gives us a clear picture of history itself: actions and reactions to former reactions (think Hegel's thesis, antithesis and synthesis dialectic). Like jazz and its many subsets, industrial design history can be compartmentalized into individual movements through time with significant designers at the helm of each period. But to look solely through such a narrow lense calls for rote memorization and useless regurgiation. I think there is greater significance in seeing the larger picture and understanding the ways in which the events of the past are intertwined in a complex fabric called history.

Even though this semester's history of ID course has not been approached in a traditional, analytical and chronological sort of way, I feel that I have a greater understanding of industrial design as a whole. I've learned that just because something has passed, it is not relegated to death. History can still be very alive: it inspires us, it teaches us, it informs us. And it is constantly being made. It is also a balancing act of things in tension that indiviudals seek to mitigate. We look to history to better the present and to prepare for the future.

I'm also beginning to understand myself better as an industrial designer and the role that my classmates, the future designers of the world, and I will play in a place that is ever evolving and in need of solutions and change. Through these essays over the past semester, I've learned about the importance of the cross-disciplinary approach, design for social and environmental impact, meaning in design and the balance of art and design. But even more so, I've learned how all these things relate to me personally. To spare myself from sounding like a self help book, I will refrain from describing this as "The Beginning of the Road to Self Discovery." But given that I decided to say it anyway, you get my drift.

in conclusion,
this is not the end.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

art + design

Ask me who my favorite designer is, and you might be met with a hesitant pause.

But ask me which artists I admire, and I will gladly describe to you Tiepolo’s inspiring ink drawings or my favorite John Singer Sargent charcoal drawing that was once on display in the RISD museum. Or I could prattle on and on about the magnificent rawness of Rodin’s figures, the graceful balance of a Degas, or the lanky sculptures of Giacometti.

Somehow, the beautiful forms of Marianne Brandt or the imaginative architecture of Frank Gehry do not invoke an impassionate response the way a van Gogh painting can. And as pleasing to the eye as Apple or Starck products are, none have the breathtaking vibrancy of Turner’s landscapes. There’s something about the texture of paint, the potency of color, the illusion of light and form that is so engaging.

This is not to say I do not value prominent designers and their contributions to the world. Rather, I am simply admitting that, even though I call myself an industrial designer, I possess a greater appreciation for the “fine arts.” It’s not that one is superior. My interests are just piqued more by one than the other.

There’s timelessness to art that I sometimes find difficult to identify in design. Walk into any art museum and you’ll see art in various forms: paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, video media, and various other objects. And more often than not, those objects are artifacts: pieces of antiquated materials that give testament to the achievements and musings of man throughout history. But how many of these pieces do we actually remember? Are they as instantly identifiable as a Picasso or a Calder? Do they speak about oppression the way Goya does, or can they express the anguish of a crucified Christ the way many depictions do? Even though some of these paintings were created centuries ago, the themes and emotions they express are still applicable today. When I see a work of art, I do not immediately note its place in history. I’m looking for meaning, for expression. But when I see objects of design, all I can see is its age and function. Newer technology has made it obsolete. What can the object say for itself beyond its once useful purpose?

Beyond the objects that have been deemed museum worthy, there are the everyday objects that surround us. Beautifully designed razors, mp3 players, shoes, and things don’t inspire me quite the way a painting or drawing does. And through writing this essay, I think I’ve discovered why. It is because they don’t possess any meaning for me, anything lasting that I can take away long after I can no longer see it.

But does that mean that everything we design must have some kind of thought provoking meaning behind it? If that were to be the circumstance, we might experience a dearth of objects! But I do believe it is something we, as designers, should keep in mind. Besides, with meaningful objects, people might actually be more inclined to keep them than to so quickly and carelessly dispose of them. As a young designer, I have not developed a solution for myself in combining art and design in a way that exudes a sense of meaning, timelessness and permanence. But it’s only the beginning of the journey.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

objects and empathy

"Ask a developed world human to stop consuming and you might as well ask a vampire not to suck blood."

I've begun reading this book, Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences & Empathy by Jonathan Chapman, from which the above quote was taken. Chapman approaches sustainable design in a manner that we're not so accustomed to hearing. Though it does contain a good number of astonishing facts and statistics, it doesn't focus solely on the materials we should use, the methods we shouldn't employ or the ways in which we can attempt to reverse the damage already wrecked on our planet in order to have "green design." Rather, Chapman likens it to the difference between Western and Eastern medicine. The former is often concerned with alleviating symptoms; The latter holistically seeks to identify the root of the problem and attempts to eradicate the cause of discomfort. And according to Chapman, a root cause of the rampant, and wasteful consumerism that has developed in this past century is the lack of emotional connection between user and product. Chapman summarizes his own book:

"This book proposes a radical design about-face in order to reduce the impact of modern consumption without compromising commercial or creative edge...This book does not propose sweeping overhaul of the entire designed world. Instead, it espouses the emergence of a specialist design genre that caters for deeper, more profound and poetic human needs, taking users beyond the ephemeral world of technocentric design and toward a rich, interactive domain of emotionally durable objects and experiences. 'It is time for a new generation of products that can age slowly and in a dignified way...[to] become our partners in life and support our memories.'" (24)

At the Better World by Design conference last weekend, I attended a panel titled Appropriate Technology for the Developing World. One of the speakers present was a representative from KickStart, a company that develops products to help the poor out of poverty. This discussion of a more intimate relationship between user and object in Chapman's book reminds me of the way in which KickStart approaches its business. KickStart states: "Our mission is to get millions of people out of poverty quickly, cost-effectively and sustainably. And, in doing so, change the way the world fights poverty."

a local with a MoneyMaker water pump

Founders Nick Moon and Martin Fisher found that free aid and giveaways are essentially ineffective in the long term because it creates dependency on an organization that can only provide temporary alleviation. Instead, KickStart has developed irrigation pumps to sell to locals in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali to stimulate a sustainable local economy that eventually provides income to the poor. And by pulling the impoverished out of poverty, a better quality of life can be attained. By selling the pumps, instead of giving them, there is a stronger relationship between the user and the object. KickStart emphasizes, "Those who buy the tools are more likely to use them than those who are given them. This is true regardless of where you live or how wealthy you are." I remember the KickStart representative expressing that KickStart doesn't really make a profit selling these pumps to poor farmers. In fact, they might even be losing money. But the point is that those individuals who have worked hard to invest in their equipment will take care of it, make it last longer and in turn improve their lives with the income they generate. The increasing success stories inspire others in the community to do the same, and slowly, but steadily, this marks one company's approach to the beginning of the end of poverty.

Given Chapman's design approach and KickStart's innovative business model, it gives me hope that there is the possibility for change. And even though this change will encompass the complicated realms of economics, business, technology, anthropology, and many other discplines that I don't fully understand, I know that at the bottom of it all, it still links to the thing we all share and comprehend: the human heart and its compassion.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Think they'll start this in the U.S.?

European Bicyling Sharing Programs

It'd be neat if a program like this could be implemented in Providence. It's like Zipcar, only greener ahd healthier. Tackling that hill might be an issue though...

Saturday, 8 November 2008

a better world by design

design for social impact
Freshman year at RISD: I was considering Industrial Design as my major, and in order to verify my inclination, I opted to take "Product Design 101" over our wintersession semester. One of our assignments prompted us to visit a store and purchase a product to dissect. As I scanned aisle after aisle and noticed shelf upon shelf lined with stuff, I thought to myself, "Gee, I may potentially be responsible for creating the junk that litters this world." But with the hectic nature of school and the incessant deadlines looming and occupying my brain's limited capacity, I pushed my concern to a corner and filed it away as inconsequential.

Now, as a junior with only about a year and a half of college left and the job search faint on the horizon, I can no longer ignore what I once believed was simply a niggling thought. Who am I as a designer, and how will I utilize my skills outside the shelter of school?

How fitting it was then, that our most recent lecture in History of ID should coincide with this past weekend's "A Better World by Design" conference held on Brown and RISD's campuses. During last week's class, Professor Bruce Becker delivered an engaging presentation about disaster medicine, humanitarian relief, and how they interact with industrial design. It jumpstarted a thought of excitement within me: we can create design that matters. We can make the world better, as Professor Becker put it, "one soul at a time."

Today, at the conference, a number of speakers shared their thoughts about "Tech to Kickstart Economies." Erik Hersman, Founder of Afrigadget, struck me with a brief statement: "Ingenuity is born of necessity." He proceeded to show us several photographs and prompted us to play a sort of "I Spy" game with him. What do you see, he asked, as we observed what appeared to be a keyboard devoid of keys, lying haphazardly on a pile of useless scraps. It no longer functioned as a keyboard; it had become a shoe shiner's no-slip shoe shining platform. Other photographs of handmade welders, grinding wheels attached to bike chains and gears, tools made from machine parts meant for another purpose, gave testament to the ingenuity of creative Africans looking to solve their everyday problems with the resources at hand.

What we regard as trash, he emphasized, is actually opportunity. I think that this kind of problem solving should be considered in our design process. In an age where it is becoming alarmingly apparent that our resources are limited and that our planet cannot sustain this level of consumption much longer, it is important to be able to use the things we have already created. We've learned since elementary school the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle." But now, it is more evident that this should extend beyond paper, cans and bottles. We have to ask ourselves, how can we use post industrial waste, outdated products, or seemingly useless scrap in innovative ways that can meet humanity's needs? Does it really need to be a complicated gadget with an amalgam of functions? Or can we learn from these inventive Africans who have taken what they already have to creatively and effectively accomplish the tasks they set out to do?

Although there is some cynicism that green design is just a fad or that some individuals are only economically motivated, this conference has given me a different perspective on my design practice. I am inspired by the enthusiasm of others in the design world who are also passionate about design that matters. I am encouraged by their hope for change. And to borrow from our new president elect, I am confident that "Yes, we can" create a better world by design.

In addendum: other interesting things mentioned during the conference:
KickStart and micro-irrigation: "Poor people are not victims awaiting rescue"

FrontlineSMS: communication for non-governmental organizations working in developing countries

Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit

Better Place: freedom from oil with an electric car network

Biomimicry: learning from nature's problem solving

Living Homes: sustainable housing

Architecture for Humanity: bringing design, construction and development to communities in need