October 2009


In my consulting, it’s often useful to reframe questions about design or technology as political matters. A given feature set is rarely limited by technology — just about anything can be built — it’s more a matter of institutional priorities. Outside of this, I’m also finding many apparently technical issues can be better understood when reframed politically. Two via Mike:

The Decline of the Landline: “In many ways the landline network is still an essential utility. Maintaining landline networks provides thousands of jobs (the landline operators support more pensioners than even the car industry does). Landlines are the platform for many public services, such as emergency response. And taxes on landlines are the basis of the complex system of subsidies to ensure universal service, meaning an affordable phone line for all. The phone network is thus not just a technical infrastructure, but a socioeconomic one.”

On Reinventing the Firm “As I argue, drawing on Ronald Coase, a firm is a political response to an economic problem: managerial power and hierarchy is one efficient way of dealing with the uncertainties attached to the employment relationship. But this doesn’t prevent us from considering alternative political settlements, that are potentially more democratic and more productive.”

Hunger is not a lack of food:

Ending Africa’s Hunger: “Conventional wisdom suggests that if people are hungry, there must be a shortage of food, and all we need do is figure out how to grow more. This logic turns hunger into a symptom of a technological deficit, telling a story in which a little agricultural know-how can feed the world.... But there's a problem: the conventional wisdom is wrong. Food output per person is as high as it has ever been, suggesting that hunger isn’t a problem of production so much as one of distribution.“

Interview with Devinder Sharma: “Hunger in India is at a level today that it very shameful. We have this hunger existing at a time when we have a mounting food surplus. We have an unmanageable food surplus, which is a record in history, and we also have a record number of hungry with us today. This paradox forced me to get into this issue of hunger. There are two ways of looking at it. One, of course, is the grassroots effort that one can do to bring people out of hunger. The other, to my understanding, is that hunger is the result of policies, national and international. The basic idea, or the basic focus, today, is to keep one half of the world hungry, because you can only exploit the hungry stomach. You cannot exploit a full stomach, somebody who is very happy and fed.”

Maternal mortality is not just a medical issue:

A Tipping Point on Maternal Mortality?: “During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war. Then, after women’s suffrage became a reality, maternal mortality fell sharply. It seems that when women were accepted fully into the political system, then resources were also made available in the health system and they, less marginalized, were able to take advantage of them.”

>  27 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in

Type and Nation, 4

lushootseed.jpgAfter 50 years of the US Government’s forced assimilation policy, the native Lushootseed language was near extinction. Without a written tradition, by the 1960’s the history of the culture had all but vanished. Only five tribal elders were known to be fluent in the language. A preservation effort was mounted to record stories and create a phonetic alphabet. In December 2008, the Tulalip Tribes Lushootseed Department commissioned Juliet Shen to design a complete font solely for Lushootseed. Their mission is to restore Lushootseed to everyday use. Read more.
>  24 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in ,
50 Serious Games for Social Change. lu.pngComputer games designed to teach about social issues like public health, the environment, human rights and poverty. A very mixed bag here, but an interesting, emerging space to watch. (via)
>  23 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in , , ,
Going Rouge. On November 17, Sarah Palin’s memoir Going Rogue: An American Life will be released. That same day, two senior editors at The Nation will publish Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare, a book of critical essays on her background, policies, and relationship to the Republican Party. In addition to the title play, the book uses its cover type and photo treatment to good effect. (via)
>  22 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in ,
Graphic Symbols for Disaster Response. A standard set of symbols for mapping and other graphic coordination between Federal, State, and local agencies in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise. A work in progress by the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s Homeland Security Working Group. Download for free as TrueType fonts.
Homeland Security Symbols
>  21 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Semper Fi

I thought this anti-recruiting action at Georgia College and State University was to the point. Thanks to graphic artist Bill Fisher for the documentation.

Semper Fi

Semper Fi

>  21 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in
Publishers with a Purpose. “A group of online publishers who have pledged 5% of their total ad inventory to selected nonprofits and social causes, with the shared goal of making a difference in our neighborhoods and around the world by grouping together.” Some big, independent blog networks are doing this.
>  16 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in , ,
Peace, Love, and Geert Wilders. Two young Dutch designers, Pinar&Viola, sent this clean video re-edit of far-right MP Geert Wilders preaching peace and universal human rights. It's a stark contrast to his usual rhetoric, but also a compelling visualization of some parallel world where politicians stood up for things that matter.
>  16 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in ,
Palestine, graffiti as peaceful act of resistance. A few pics from the Palestinian side of the West Bank barrier. More here from Banksy, circa 2007.
>  12 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in ,
re-nourish. Are you a graphic designer confused by all this sustainability hoohah? Re-nourish is a gentle introduction and lucid primer on greening your business and its product. It’s also up for a Cooper Hewitt People’s Choice Design Award (and is currently in second place.) A win would send a clear signal to the design community. Vote today!

Update 11/1/09: The voting is over and re-nourish has placed in the top three in the People’s Design Awards! They’ve released a statement about the awards and the implications for sustainable graphic design.
>  8 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in ,
Melting Men. To highlight global warming, artist Nele Azevedo installed 1,000 ice sculptures of sitting men on the steps of Berlin’s concert hall. Since 2005, she has assembled the work in six cities around the world. Though each installation lives for only 30 minutes, images on the internet have circulated widely. The Berlin installation was sponsored by the WWF and coincided with the release of their report on Arctic warming.
>  2 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in
Shop. “Banksy doe not endorse or profit from the sale of greeting cards, mugs, photo canvasses or Tshirts. Images on this site are provided at high resolution so you can make your own, but only for non-commercial purposes, thanks.”
>  2 October 2009 | LINK | Filed in

On to November.
Back to September.