September 2005

Architecture and Development

Via the National Design Awards I discovered the work of Sergio A. Palleroni:

“Sergio A. Palleroni, research fellow at the Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Texas, Austin, runs 10-week-long design/build studios around the world in marginalized communities. Participants learn to use hands-on construction and design skills, maximize locally available, recycled, and inexpensive materials, and implement lighting and energy systems that help to reduce energy costs and promote conservation. In turn, communities mobilize indigenous resources and develop long-term practices that sustain cultural identity, dignity, and stability.”

How rare to find a development program that actually seems to engage with the local community and context. Not just ‘humanitarian’ aid, but actual education and collaboration.

Add this to my growing list of architecture and development programs:

I’m sure there are others I’m leaving out. It’d be instructive to do a closer comparison of the methodologies, politics, and assumptions of various architecture-based anti-poverty programs.

Quite apart from Planner’s Network who work for more fundamental change.

>  26 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , ,


Danish anti-war posters hit Iraq:

“On Friday, Iraqis started hanging over 1000 posters created by the artists in the most populous and important quarters of the capital, including the diplomatic Green Zone in the very heart of the city. Artist Claus Rohland, 50, explained to why he and fellow artist Jan Egesborg, 40, had got involved and what message they hoped to send to ordinary Iraqis.... ‘We as Danes are part of this so-called coalition and are taking part in this war. But Denmark is a very small country that has not been at war for many years. We need to question what we are doing and what is happening,’ Rohland said. ‘None of the warring parties — neither US-led forces nor Iraqi rebels — present a solution to this war. The ultimate solution needs to come from ordinary people. It may sound naive, but we would encourage people to keep faith in themselves that a final solution rests with them.’”


North Dakota has no plans to alter Sioux logo:

“The NCAA considers the logo and nickname ‘hostile and abusive,’ and has ordered the school to cover up all Fighting Sioux references for the NCAA playoffs. The arena, which operates separately from the school, is holding the West Regional hockey tournament in March. [Jody Hodgson, arena manager,] said there are no plans to alter any logos, which can be found on floors, walls, seats and railings. Eliminating them would be too expensive, he said.”


Electronics industry urges federal e-waste action:

“A nine-member panel appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on environment and hazardous materials expressed concern that the current trend of varied state and local laws targeting e-waste management would breed inefficiency, confusion and higher prices for consumers.... The best approach, [Renee St. Denis of Hewlett-Packard] said, is for federal lawmakers to create a system in which the manufacturers themselves set up recycling programs and bear the necessary costs.”


Deal for Public Toilets in New York City. Only 20 toilets, but it’s a start. The winning company will rebuild all city newsstands and bus shelters, too — and sell the ad space. Not sure how I feel about a private corporation owning all that public space — but then the NYC gov pays nothing. More on the the long history of trying to build public toilets in NYC here and here.


Alcaldía favorece proyecto de biogas. Nicaragua’s biggest garbage dump in the Barrio La Chureca in Managua could be used to create enough electricity to illuminate the nearby municipality of Ciudad Sandino. The joint U.S.-Nicaraguan company Conjuris says they can create four megawatts of electrical energy from the gases emitted by burning the garbage. The company is willing to invest US$5.25 million in the project in return for a twenty year contract.


It’s great to see graphic designers come together at, the AIGA, and Design Observer to help other graphic designers affected by Hurricane Katrina. I’m all for community and solidarity. But then it’s really not the professional designers that are hurting the most, no?


Only one more month until the October 31 deadline to submit your radical graphics to Reproduce & Revolt. And it looks like Favianna has joined the project!

>  23 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , , , , ,

Papers in the Dark is a grassroots campaign to alter the design of U.S. currency to make denominations recognizable without purely visual cues:

“Can you tell the difference between a one dollar and a twenty dollar bill in the dark?

Dim BillsBlind people use money just like everyone else, but since American paper currency is all the same size and texture, blind people can’t tell the bills apart independently. We all deserve the personal security of knowing what’s in our wallets.

Even those with sight would benefit from making paper money accessible by feel

  • It would simplify paying the bill and counting change in a dark restaurant
  • It would make it safer to get out money for an upcoming toll while driving
  • It would allow everyone to count money more discreetly in public

Please write or call your Congresspeople now! Our Contact Congress Tool makes this fast and easy.

... is an independent volunteer organization committed to the dream of having currency that all Americans can use safely and independently. Our first job is to educate the public about the positive effects of being able to differentiate between bills without having to look at them. We hope that one day we all will be able to count the money in our wallets more discreetly, no matter who we are or where we are, without the fear of being cheated or robbed.

The U.S. Treasury Department doesn’t have to invent any special technology to make our currency more accessible. In fact, they’ve already done it in roughly 100 countries around the world, including Canada, Great Britain, and the countries of the European Union (see The American dollar is one of the most powerful currencies in the world. We are committed to making it safer and easier for everyone to use.

We are not affiliated with any other organization. We do not actively solicit donations.


In 2002, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department demanding that U.S. paper money contain features that will enable blind people to independently distinguish between denominations. The government is continuing to fight the suit, claiming that such modifications would be too expensive.

The Treasury protested that this would cost too much because it would require redesigning the currency — but in the meantime, they have spent millions of dollars to redesign nearly all of the denominations in circulation! As the Treasury continues to develop new bill designs with new anti-counterfeiting features, they should include accessibility features useful to blind people, people with dyslexia, and people who work with cash in low light.”

Making design usable by a differently-abled minority (old, young, tall, short, sighted, not, or otherwise physically different) often makes it more usable by all.

>  18 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Business Casual

Textiles in GhanaGlobalization has devastated your local industries. You can’t raise tariffs or subsidies for fear of international sanctions, but you can try to create a local demand for your local products.

From the Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2004:

In Ghana, a different kind of ‘Casual Friday’

“Duck into any government ministry or executive boardroom here on Fridays these days and you'll notice a little extra splash of color. Loose shirts with geometrical patterns in red and maroon have replaced stiff pin-striped suits. Bright flowing wax-print dresses have nudged out conservative skirts and blouses.

The Ghanaian government is urging civil servants and office workers to abandon their Westernized business attire in favor of local fabrics. But unlike in the US and elsewhere, where khakis and an open collar is the boss's way of bringing a little ease to the end of the week, Ghana’s ‘National Friday Wear,’ launched last month, has bigger things on its mind. Its goal is two-fold: to celebrate African culture, and, more important, to create jobs by reviving a textile industry that has all but collapsed. Ghana imports some $43 million worth of used clothes annually, more than any other African nation, says the International Trade Center, based in Geneva. By contrast, its clothing exports — mostly socks — totaled just $4 million last year. The country that once employed some 25,000 textile workers now has just 3,000.”

The article strikes me as a little condescending, but the strategy described is interesting nonetheless. It seems a quite similar to various “Buy American” campaigns against Japanese automobiles. These also invoked a kind of “national style.” What could be more American than owning and driving an American built car of your own?

Both invoke a national style to create local demand, both reinforcing and manufacturing a style and a narrative of what it means to be a citizen and how one can participate.

Promoting “traditional” wear as appropriate for business positions the citizens as a community in opposition to the international style of capitalism — at the same time embracing international business as woven into the fabric of local tradition.

Launched with the program is a Venture Capital Fund to restructure the garment sector by granting small businesses access to credit.

While one goal of the National Friday Wear campaign is to create so much demand that “the cost of the fabrics so low that it could be afforded by all... given the low purchasing power of Ghanaians,” ultimately, the goal is “to help the country position itself to launch into both the American and the European markets.”

That is, national style as a springboard for international export.

>  14 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in

Collectives for Designers

My third piece for Communication Arts. I guess that makes me a contributer. This one ran in the September/October 2005 issue, the “Interactive Annual.”

I started taking notes for this a year and a half ago at Designs on Democracy. There’s plenty of advice around for designers starting corporations and for freelancers protecting themselves, but I couldn’t find anything on design collectives. So I wrote it myself.

Consider the Collective

More than business as usual

Some of our most venerable institutions started out as collectives. Before they were Push Pin Studios, they were a network of freelancers in a shared studio space. Before they were Pentagram, they were a partnership of three. In its twenty years, the French studio Grapus grew to encompass three collectives under the same roof.

Collectives, also known as “co-operatives,” “cooperatives” or “co-ops” are groups of individuals who join together to undertake an activity for their mutual benefit. Co-ops may be for-profit or not-for-profit, unionized or not, and legally incorporated or not — what’s different about a co-op is that it’s owned and operated by its members.

You may be familiar with a neighborhood food co-op or credit union. These are consumer co-ops which pool resources to offer discounted services to their members.

Graphic design collectives are “producer co-ops,” owned and operated by their employees. This is quite different from a firm with an employee stock ownership program. Co-op workers share in decision making and responsibility, as well as profits and losses.

Why form a cooperative? One argument is that organizations owned by the communities they serve are more accountable, and can emphasize service over profit. When employees govern their own workplace, they can design a happier, stable and more equitable work environment.

But there’s also the value of organizing according to one’s ideals. Though we are supposedly living in a democracy, most of us spend our days working for private tyrannies. Living and participating in a democracy should consist of more than just voting once a year. We should be able to participate in the decisions that affect our lives.

One member of a cooking collective sums it up: “We’ve tried not only to feed people well, but also to treat people well. Over the last 30 years our company has come to represent something bigger than we ever anticipated, and something better than the usual business.”

Continue reading "Collectives for Designers" »

>  8 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , ,

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