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Looking at trends because we are trendy and its important!

I was at work yesterday having a conversation with a coworker about the seemingly diminishing number of vegans. We were talking about how most counter-culture music nowadays isn't politically driven, but is more about an expression of the individual rather than a cry for societal progress. It might seem unfair to compare 80's political punk to the 21st century scenester, but the wave of politically driven bands are certainly not as prevelant as they once were. Now all thats left is the fashion inspiration, but none of the beliefs it once stood for. Maybe it is because its already been done, maybe because we are burnt out, maybe we want to spend our lives feeling happy rather than focusing on all the problems. Or maybe Brokencyde really is in the battle for societal progress. Either way, I was interested about the vegan thing. It used to be much more popular to be vegan, at least in her perspective, than now. BACON. There is so much hooplah about bacon now. If it were veal bacon, it would be the polar opposite of veganism. There's free bacon at the Triple Rock and many other bars, there's 'Ba-K 47's' and bacon bikinis and I can't even type all the baconness. Why bacon? Well, its good. I had some this morning. But bacon just might be the most indulgent most naturally enjoyable most salty most fatty most warm and crispy most delicious food ever. Most importantly, it's indulgent.

Most of the parents and older folk I talk to about social movements and whatnot seem to have the same 'well finally' attitude. Every generation wants to feel special for something, (which is a good thing, yay progress!) but I feel like we kind of forget about the whole 60's free-speech, environmental, civil rights, women's liberation, anti-war movement thing. Go green and all but just because we learned the marketability of alliteration doesn't mean our generation is pioneering the movement.

I seem a little hostile? Why am I so angry? Because people are angry and thats why theres free bacon.

But, but, people shouldn't get irritated with vegans and vegetarians because they care about the environment. Just think of all those factory farms and high methane gas levels and runoff and the amount of corn, the energy pyramid that can't be any other way, and the amount of subsidies going to the corn farmers so there's all this nutritionally low corn syrup in all our foods and we are only harvesting one crop so all the nutrients that one crop needs is getting sucked out of the soil and its not sustainable and all the water needed to grow the crops to feed the animals and how all the low quality of water and food is in the animals so in us and it's just a cycle and the unnatural hormones that are affecting our bodies and the antibiotics that are inevitably culturing one big mega virus that will wipe us off the planet, and I didn't even get started on the ethics of all this.

But, we know these things, why does bacon taste so good? Apart from the taste, its what it represents. Just like veganism was associated with punk culture in the 80's, bacon (at least how it is celebrated in society lately) is now a notion of counter-culture. Admittedly this counter-culture is definitely further up the self-actualization pyramid, and you probably have to understand our post-modern generation based on irony, but I think this is fair to say. But now it is becoming hip to eat bacon, so we are in a dilemma as to what is cool and what is right, and what feels so right (just like the Eagle Eye Cherry song), and it feels so right to eat bacon.

Being vegan is extreme, eating bacon is extreme, neither is helping our environmental issues with the industrialization of meat. It is the industry, after all, that causes most of these problems. We can't get around the energy pyramid, but in small localized animal farms is it easier and more economically beneficial not to waste.

Extremism can be good sometimes. Earth First members can chain themselves to trees to make a statement about sustainability, but their action is directly related to their message. In the matter of either not eating meat or eating large quantities of environmentally detrimental meat either way we are missing the point. We need to somehow fight or communicate for quality meat. What we need is a shift in the market from industry to local. Which is never pretty, and might not be as efficient in quantity, but it is quality that we want anyways.

Well, either way, we are trendy right? Well at least we enjoy learning about them as it ties into the psychology involved in design. So lets be meat trend setters, and have a party with a modest quantity of quality local bacon. mmm.

Let's talk social media: How empowering? How interconnected? How insane?

In a crazy cool book by Dave Evans founder of Digital Voodoo, an expert in social marketing, he states, "Building on the personal empowerment and liberation that the internet offers, consumers are actively connecting with each other and sharing information about everything from cars and health to scrapbooking techniques and pool chemicals. In the process, they are either reinforcing marketing efforts or beating marketers at their own game by directly sharing their own experiences and thoughts with each other." (Social Media Marketing). The idea that social media site like Facebook and Twitter and Myspace are all offering marketing without companies even tapping into it is crazy.

We are now in the age where marketers are tapping into this source of free advertising and marketing. I think that it is really cool that companies are starting to take a look at different blogs and twitter accounts, and they are actually following up via social media with clients in order to provide a better user experience. This, as a lot of things in advertising and marketing, comes with an interesting fine line between useful and overkill. In class we had a great debate over the boom in twitter and facebook use. We talked about many different facets of each of them and the overall consensus seemed to be that one would use the service if they wanted to, and if it wasn't relevant to their lives they wouldn't. Isn't that in-and-of-itself this ting we call target marketing? It is so perfect in my eyes for certain marketers to use these types of outlets such as facebook, twitter, myspace, as jumping off points for marketing campaigns, but there are niche markets which need to be found in order for this to be effective.

A very up-and-coming topic that should be really interesting in the next couple of years.

After writing all my other blogs, I actually found an article that I find really interesting and cool. Although I feel pretty nerdy to be this excited, but the article offered an entirely different way of thinking about waste that I hadn't thought about with my topic.

Check it out for yourself:

However I'm going to continue talking about my feelings on it. What first really got my attention in the article is this idea about waster our personal energy and time.

"The main problem right now in all of the world, including within each of our own lives, is waste. We waste our time, we waste our resources. Our social, economic, and political systems waste money, people, natural capital, time, and energy. We have all been taught to waste, because we have been taught--and we allow ourselves--to be blind, heedless, "good consumers".

Honestly I feel silly for not having looked at it that way, but it really addresses all kinds of waste and not just the physical earth harming waste. Although the article does continue to talk about physical waste, it does address our time, energy, and resources from a personal stand point that really do encourage people to stop wasting on various levels, including physical waste and theoretical waste. At the end of the article he lists ways of reducing and many of his ways are feasible, and he presents those thoughts in a manner that doesn't guilt the reader into reducing waste. He simply puts it in a new light, but suggesting other ways of looking at it. For example, "Make exercise a part of your daily existence, such as in biking or walking to work, or biking or walking to a bar or bookstore or cafe. Try to eliminate the perception of exercise as an accessory chore or activity to become more desirable." It's simple enough and a great way of reducing the waste of your body, your youth, your abilities, as well as reducing the physical waste that harms the earth.

I just thought the article was great. It was short and succinct but it drove the point home. I'm definitely looking into other blogs he has posted and following them. I encourage others to do so as well.

Designers initially thought hard to make products that worked, that accomplished certain tasks. After that was possible, designers made the products more visually appealing. Your choice of colors, textures, sizes and shapes for whatever product one was seeking. Today, all of that is possible, and people are looking to take the development of new products to the next level. New technology today is being designed not only to work, and not only to look cool...but to be fun and pleasurable to use.

Obviously, computers come to mind first. In the beginning, the fact that they even existed at all was practically a miracle, then we started getting fancy looking computers (candy colored iMacs, or your sleek-silver MacBook Pro). Now there is the iPad, with the biggest draw is the ergonomically satisfying touch screen. Dozens of every day products we use have become more pleasing to hold, turn on, put together, carry around etc. because of more sophisticated design. I really don't look forward to sweeping my kitchen floor, but the wonderful Michael Graves broom and dustpan set in my hands with the soft rubber handles make it a wee bit more enjoyable.

A place where the joy of simply using technology is best put to use is in schools. Remember going to the computer lab in elementary school? We had to play the most basic math-learning games that could have easily be done without a computer, but since we got to answer our questions using a mouse and keyboard instead of pen and was more tolerable. Today, schools are allowing kids to work on regulated class assignments with their iPod touch. We used to do multiplication equations on small personal whiteboards in 5th grade, now it is only a matter of time before whiteboards will be replaced with iPads.

What happens when the novelty of touch screens, soft hairbrush handles and gratifying signal sounds wears off? How will we get our next sensory fix?

McCrea, Bridget. "Measuring the IPad's Potential for Education." T.H.E. Journal (2010). Web. .

Winston, Eliza. "Technology Makes Lessons Fun, Engaging for F-C Students." Martinsville Bullitin (2010). Web. .

Before this semester, I had absolutely NO idea about how beneficial Twitter could be. The only think I really knew about it was that it was like Facebook, but only status updates. I was at the point where I REFUSED to use Twitter because I didn't need anything else, like Facebook, sucking up my time. I didn't want to spend hours, like I did freshmen year when I first got Facebook, reading other peoples' statuses. All I knew about Twitter was that Aston Kutcher and John Mayer were on it and their updates, tweets - whatever, were absolutely hilarious. And also that Tila Tequila got engaged on it? I don't know. Either way, I thought it was just some publicity stunt that celebrities used to get themselves out in the public more and get attention.

Well, so much for my not getting a Twitter account plan. When I finally opened my mind to listen to what other DESIGNER, not celebrities, were saying I realized that it might actually be a good thing. Maybe I could get my name out there and be known-not exactly like a celebrity, but as a designer, yes. So I got an account, and I've tweeted (I feel weird saying that by the way) maybe 8 times. I don't feel like I have anything important to say, I don't have very strong opinions, I don't read many important blogs, etc.

When Gwyneth Dwyer came and spoke to our class on Tuesday, I really got interested in posting more. When she spoke about how a social network could actually help me get a job, I was astonished. I never thought that something like that could help. Which got me thinking, maybe it's not a BAD thing that I haven't posted more on Twitter. I would rather be the person that doesn't say much, than has no idea what they are talking about-right? It wouldn't make me look so good if I had a bunch of random "location" posts, and mindless thoughts on there if employers were interested in me, would it?

I think a personal goal for this summer will be to educate myself more about what is actually going on in the world, rather than focusing on my life so much. And to share or 'tweet' my findings. I know this blog post is supposed to be about competitiveness, and I have sort of gone off topic- but I already know I have plenty of competition out there in the design world. This is more about my personal-inner competition, and how I can push myself to be better and think more abstractly to form my own opinions about what is going on and what will be in the future.

Oh yes, and I tried to link as much as I could in this post, thanks Gwyneth.

Design Thinking and the River of Problems

Lets face it. This last year has been a difficult one to endure for those of us that consider ourselves idealists. Hope and change have been bogged down by the political process, and crass, bigoted individuals can now campaign on platforms that amount to thinly veiled justifications of white supremacy and religious intolerance. It's hard for some of us to listen to the rationale behind why its not okay to limit the salaries of failing bank executives to a million dollars a year. It's painful to hear intelligent people justify their reasons for not believing in the "climate change hoax". It's difficult not to froth at the mouth and blather on about how the land of the free can restrict people's ability to marry as they please. However, the most painful thing to endure is that all of this yelling and positioning and supposed righteousness has yet to yield a solution to any of these issues. Our collective approach towards problem solving has been influenced by a century of reliance on the scientific method -- as if reductive, analytical thinking is the only useful instrument in our rational toolbox - and perhaps it is this approach that has us so deeply mired in ineffective solutions. "Design thinking" is a generative, ideating approach that has effectively been used by marketing think-tanks for many years to solve some seemingly insurmountable quandaries, and it can be argued that we as a nation have something to learn from this type of approach.

Timothy Brown, the CEO of the consulting firm IDEO, has a long history of using Design Thinking to solve problems. His company has been responsible for the ideas that have culminated in the advent of things like the computer mouse and the concept of PDA's and "pocket-computers". In this video, Timothy Brown explains the process of Design Thinking during a lecture presented at MIT. The key factor in this approach to problem solving is that the process should be generative, rather than reductive. His firm employs roughly 550 people who excel in a wide variety of disciplines and they all contribute collectively to problem solving. The onset of the process that they use assumes nothing about a problem other than that it exists. Through a combination of research, brainstorming, ideation, and collaboration, the company generates a multitude of definitions of the problem, and then it begins to narrow its focus based off an assessment of what all of their brilliant thinkers have put on the table. The process encourages a cross-disciplinary approach and tends to leave political ambitions and presuppositions at the wayside.

In politics here in the United States, we have almost exclusively used a reductive approach to problem solving, the opposite of what is used by IDEO. We have a set of solutions, mores, and principles that long ago dictated a small range of acceptable solutions to our existing problems. What is left is simply a choice about which of these solutions fits best into a preferred political ideology. The result of this approach can be observed as the ideological rift in the nation today. Democrats prefer populists solutions, and Republicans prefer free-market solutions. These approaches are nearly completely exclusive of one another and the debate fostered by the two sides can be likened to shouting at a concrete slab. An analytical, reductive mentality has narrowed the range of solutions used by either party to a small set of mitigated ideas that have effectively tied politicians hands. The only changes that they can effect within the constraints of their ideology amount to what we know as government "programs".

Author Daniel Quinn uses an interesting metaphor to explain the ideology behind government programs. To paraphrase, Quinn asks us to consider a river. Imagine a wide, rushing river moving thousands of gallons of water a second. Now imagine that the river is swelling and threatening to drown a town on its banks. That's a problem, and that problem needs a solution. The reductive approach that we currently use in government would consider the river as the source of the problem, and it would attempt to stop the water by plugging it off. Under this approach, the citizens would first try plugging the river by putting big rocks in it to slow the flow of water. These rocks can be likened to government programs. A few rocks do nothing -- the water just runs around them. So the villagers add more and more rocks until the water slows significantly and the water level threatening the town lowers. This works for a while, but the rushing water slowly eats away at the rocks and the water levels begin to rise again. So, the villagers attack the river more fervently and spend massive amounts of resources to divert the river away from their town all together (another "program" targeted at the water). This works great, until the villagers realize that their crops are drying up because they don't have enough water in the water-table to sustain their agriculture, and they are presented with another dire problem, born of their original solution of attacking the source of the problem directly. A "Design Thinking" approach to this problem would be different. Everything would be laid out on the table, and the thinkers would be free to conclude that perhaps the problem was not in the river, but in the location of the town. The design thinkers would suggest that perhaps the town be moved upriver, to higher ground, where the town could flourish anew, free of concern of the river and its overflowing banks. If the town did not want to move, perhaps it could convert its houses to a new type of dwelling that can rise and float when necessary, and the flooding season becomes a sort of town celebration, a transformative tradition that celebrates life and change. Or something. Quinn's books and essays iterate this metaphor much more completely and they can be found here.

Suffice it to say that "Design Thinking" allows us to approach problems from the outside, spin them around, and analyze them completely, while an analytical, reductive approach is resistant to completely new approaches and emphasizes tweaking methods that may be tired and outdated, or simply ineffective at their core.

Instead of shouting at ourselves across an ideological chasm about which of two solutions is the best way to solve our problems, we should be re-examining the very nature of our problems. We should hit the drawing board and sketch out some wild and ridiculous ideas, some boring ideas, some implausible ideas, and maybe some good ideas, and then we should start to pick from those ideas and develop a malleable approach to solving our nation's problems consistent with what we learned through the ideation process. IDEO has attempted this on a small scale in response to climate change. Their interesting and collaborative efforts can be seen here.

I ran across this entry on a tumblr blog I follow, that was talking about great web hosting deals.

Here's the body of the post copied-and-pasted here (but go check out the humanmachine blog):

special promotion for broke college students (and anybody, really): order a domain and get a year of web hosting for 8 bucks. the domain can be .com, .net or .org. (use coupon code: 10003BPM)

the free web hosting package offered won't power a huge site, but it's great to start playing around with minimal commitment. 100mb storage is plenty for static sites and small blogging adventures. the small storage size will also reinforce the importance of optimizing your media for the web. the rest of the hosting package is pretty standard: 1 gig transfer, 10 emails and supports multiple domain names. it also has cpanel, which is my favorite back-end interface for working with website settings.

so hey, eight bucks, and you'll have the full package. everything else you'll need to start learning web stuff is free. you can grab some excellent (open source/free) typefaces at the league of moveable type, install wordpress to try your hand at blogging, and hit up smashing magazine for ideas and tutorials.

go learn yourself somethin' new!

To sumerize: You register a domain-name with them, they give you a whole year's worth of free hosting. The domain registration looks like it only costs 8 bucks. Nice deal if you just want a little space on the web for yourself.

But go to that humanmachine blog post because she also links to some other great resources.

#WHOAREYOU - Tools to Build a Better Web Presence

You are invited to the next "So..." event, "#WHOAREYOU - Tools to Build a Better Web Presence" on Thursday, March 11 from 6-8:00 p.m. at mono. Join us and other local designers as we show you tools and services to easily create and improve your online presence.

In an increasingly digital world, it's important for designers to have an online presence. See how local designers Carl Schultze, Evan Stremke, and Aaron Shekey use tools such as Cargo Collective, Issuu, Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to easily update their online portfolios and strengthen their online brands. Discover how CMS (Content Management System) tools can help you reach a wider audience by increasing your online presence.

Join us for the next installment of the "So..." series for Emerging Designers. "So..." is the beginning of a question, an idea, a community, a statement. Emerging Designers (typically in their first 4 years out of school) are brought together through a quarterly series of lectures, discussions and social networking hours. This is place where we explore the essential topics that you were never taught in school, or have been dying to ask since you broke into design.

Space is limited, so register now. Registration deadline is March 8 at 5 p.m.

Cost: AIGA Members: $10, Non-members: $15
Please note: No refunds for cancellations.

Generously hosted by mono and sponsored by The Foundation.
Presented by AIGA Minnesota Emerging Designers Committee.

Getting there: mono is located in Uptown close to Calhoun Square on Hennepin Avenue between W Lake St. and 31st.

Parking: On-street meter parking near mono is available or in the Calhoun Square Parking Ramp.

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