March 2007

Map Junk

On Vertederos Localizados Por Los Internautas, the Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia invites readers to send in photos and descriptions of illegal garbage dumps. Photos and descriptions are plotted on an interactive map of the country. The intent seems to be embarrassing officials into cleaning it up.

Built by coder Jim Nachlin and friends, the Garbage Scout plots some of the things New Yorkers are throwing out, so that others may claim them. (Many of the shelves in my apartment were inherited from the street.) Sadly, the experiment only lasted a year, though I hear the code may be GPL’d soon.

It’s interesting to me that two maps with the same interaction and functionality and with similar focus can have such different approaches — one top down, the other bottom up.

>  30 March 2007, 7:17 AM | LINK | Filed in ,

The Food Bill

From an interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“There’s no question that the way we eat is in large part determined by legislation, the Farm Bill in particular. There’s a set of rules for the food system, and those rules are written into the Farm Bill. Most of us are unaware of this bill and don’t understand how this whole system works. The reason that fast-food is so cheap is in large part because we subsidize the growing of corn and soybeans, which are turned into livestock feed very cheaply, and the former into a very cheap sweetener, in the case of high-fructose corn syrup. So we unwittingly made a set of choices, without any of us really being consulted about how we would eat. It’s no accident that this is a fast-food nation. Policy has a lot to do with it. So if you’re going to change the food system, there is a lot that you, the consumer, can do on your own; but in the end, it will be very important to make changes at the national level.

...I think the people involved don’t want anyone else getting involved. It works really well for them that it’s treated as a parochial piece of legislation only of interest to the senators from Iowa or Nebraska or Illinois. Part of it starts with calling it the “Farm Bill.” Nobody thinks that farming is their issue. They think it’s a piece of legislation of interest to farmers. It should be called the “Food Bill” because it really is about how we get our food. People aren’t aware of the impact of this piece of legislation. If they were, they would pay more attention, and there would be a larger political debate around it. I’m hoping this year there will be.”

It occurs to me that there’s a strong parallel between much action and writing about progressive food and sustainable design. Both seem to focus heavily on personal choices and per project consumption: consuming only vegetables, buying organic or local, vs. consuming only recycled paper, non-toxic printing, using sustainable materials or energy. Along the lines of this previous item, I think these gestures are fine and good, certainly we should become the change we want to see. But surprisingly few concerned eaters and designers turn their attention to policy or legislation.

>  27 March 2007, 6:18 AM | LINK | Filed in ,
Dott 07. “Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007) is a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England that explore what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design can help us get there.”

Community projects will focus on urban farming, making homes energy efficient, reproductive health, transportation systems , education, and design for people with dementia. This looks like a grand convergence of the last few years of work by the UK Design Council.  ¶
Towards a New Visualization of Secrecy?. “Representations of Secrecy within Contemporary Terrorism and Counterterrorism.” A conference today in Amsterdam.

“How are terror and counterterrorist networks visualized? How can we locate and visualize their clandestine operations and network structures, both on a real and virtual level? And how does the visualization of these networks correlate to an operational strategy of symbolic violence, coercive intimidation and political fear?”  ¶
¡Gigante: Despierta! / Giant: Awake!. A DVD compilation of short films chronicling the historic immigrant rights marches of 2006 and the events that led up to them. See selected clips online.  ¶
Universal Design in the Washington Post. A nice introduction. And nice to see some mainstream exposure.  ¶
Sappi: Ideas that Matter 2007. Annual grants for print design projects in the public interest. The 2007 deadline is May 31.  ¶
Baghdad: Mapping the Violence. A geographic interface to four years of BBC stories on violence in central Baghdad. A nice integration of time and place, though the hard boundaries of the “ethnic areas” seem a little misleading. On that see this. And note, each dot represents 10 or more people.  ¶

Other People

Where design meets activism, one often runs into questions of persuasion.

Via Mike’s snippets I found Following the Crowd to Save the Planet, an article on influence, persuasion, and the social psychology of environmental action. In a nutshell, though people rank “because neighbors are doing it” lowest on a scale of motivational reasons for household conservation, actual data indicates that this is in fact the highest.

“[Researchers] placed one of four cards in each guestroom:  

  • ‘Help Save The Environment,’ with information stressing respect for nature. 
  • ‘Help Save Resources For Future Generations,’ with information stressing the importance of energy-saving. 
  • ‘Partner With Us To Help Save The Environment,’ with information urging guests to help the hotel preserve the environment. 
  • ‘Join Your Fellow Citizens In Helping To Save The Environment,’ stating the majority of hotel guests reuse their towels.

Compared with the first three messages, the final one asking guests to join others increased towel reuse by about 28 percent.

...

But it’s not fool-proof. The scientists erected signs in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. One sign showed a scene of three wood-taking thieves, with text that urged visitors not to take any wood. After passing this sign, park-goers were three times more likely to steal than the average visitor.

‘The subtext message is that everybody is doing it, which legitimizes the behavior,’ [Robert] Cialdini said.

The second sign showed a lone thief with the same anti-thieving text. Passersby were half as likely to steal as those who didn’t read that sign. The secret to a successful deterrent is to avoid validating deviant actions of a small minority.”

(And note the visual overriding the written message!)

Continue reading "Other People" »

>  19 March 2007, 9:29 PM | LINK | Filed in
Collectives, Considered. Last month’s ID Magazine profiled 40 design collectives around the world. Nice to see. When researching my article on design collectives last year I had a very hard time finding anything in print.  ¶
Designing politics - The politics of design. The International Design Forum in Ulm, Germany is again sponsoring grants for political design projects. The deadline for proposals is March 31. See the requirements.  ¶
Zimbabwe: Graffiti Protests Multiply. Political graffiti surges in popularity because of the crackdown on nearly every other means of expression.

See also: “After graffiti calling for Mugabe to be ousted appeared in the bathrooms of an army barracks, the government announced a 300 percent pay increase for soldiers and teachers. ‘It is a way of buying off the soldiers,’ said [opposition activist] Moyo. ‘Mugabe is a terrified man.’”  ¶
Random Acts of Designess. Freelance designer Guy Paterson had an idea: pick a cause and do some unprompted design work.  ¶
Arab Governments and the Internet. An update to the 2004 survey of free expression and restriction of the Internet. Organized by country, along with a new section on Arabic blogs.  ¶
Health Care That Works. “A Google Map mash-up designed to visually illustrate the economic and racial disparities that exist in New York City's health care system. The website overlays data on NYC hospital closures between 1985 and 2007 onto an interactive city-wide map that can display either the racial or economic demographics of the Five Boroughs during three distinct time periods: 1985, 1995, and 2005. Using this tool, visitors can visually see how hospital closures disproportionately impact poor neighborhoods and communities of color (this is particularly vivid in Central Brooklyn). Text on the sidebars guides the user through each decade and demographic overlay, explaining the changing conditions of the city and the impact that closures have on underserved communities.”

Health Care That Works  ¶


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