Two years ago I spent my birthday in Nicaragua. I was traveling with a delegation organized by Peaceworks, meeting with local groups and learning about the country and its struggles. As the eight of us bounded along the dusty roads in the back of a white pickup truck, one could periodically spot these odd abstract murals along walls and fences. They were vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes in pastel colors. It turns out the stripes had been painted over Sandinista slogans and murals under orders from right-wing President Arnoldo Aléman. See Nicaraguan Murals 1930-2000 on the Stanford site for a hint of what was lost.
The painted stripes reminded me of Sol LeWitt and Sean Scully. A fizzy gallery world rhetoric of geometry instead of engagement with the world at large. And that’s just the way the CIA likes it. From the Monthly Review:
“[The] CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist painting and painters... What the CIA saw in Abstract Expressionism was an ‘anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise. Non-figurative and politically silent it was the very antithesis of socialist realism’. They viewed Abstract Expressionism as the true expression of the national will. To bypass right-wing criticism, the CIA turned to the private sector (namely MOMA and its co-founder, Nelson Rockefeller, who referred to Abstract Expressionism as ‘free enterprise painting.’)”
Needless to say, the CIA also poured of money, weapons, and comics into toppling the Sandinistas.
We rode through the streets paved with hexagonal ‘Somoza bricks’ crumbling from the wear and tear. The Somoza government had laid the bricks, having purchased them from factories he also owned.
These stark blue billboards were everywhere. “Obras No Palabras” painted in the same yellow italic sans serif and listing some local government financed project. “Works not Words,” a kind of anti-propaganda propaganda promoting the good will of the State and attempting to short-circuit debate.
And indeed, Aléman’s works have spoken loudly. This past September, Nicaragua’s Attorney General charged Aléman and 13 members of his family and former administration “with money laundering, fraud and other crimes.”
I bet he never saw that coming from his own former vice-president.
Design for Democracy is an non-profit organization in Illinois . It’s mission is to:
“Improve the informational and physical systems involved in the American voting experience through education and user-centered research, evaluation, strategic design, and implementation, in order to support an environment in which every voter counts.”
From the about page:
“The team is national. Our focus is local. We approach election issues with a unique perspective: as designers. To do that we have specialists in graphic design, industrial design, interface design, Web site development, anthropology, and usability, all of whom understand the human factors in the voting.
We are objective and independent, and we are valued for our ability to consider all possible solutions without preference to a particular technology, ideology or organization. Our commitment is to the public good and we adhere to standards and practices that preserve our client-focused point of view. Our recommendations and the materials we create will be based on meeting election code requirements and understanding what will be easily implementable by those who operate elections.
Design for Democracy... is not aligned or associated with any corporations, organizations or entities that advocate a specific voting product or service.
Design for Democracy works directly with election officials in both large and small jurisdictions to maximize their resources and achieve specific goals.
For large jurisdictions, we can comprehensively study singular issues and determine areas for improvement in processes, procedures and materials. Then we can apply our knowledge and experience to recommend and implement those improvements.
With smaller jurisdictions, we can apply proven strategies and solutions, including templates that can be easily adapted to a particular need. These templates have already been used successfully in two Cook County, Illinois elections.”
Affiliated organizations include the Industrial Designers Society of America, the American Institute of Graphic Artists, the Usability Professionals Association, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Thus far they’re primarily active in Chicago, with a project in Oregon. After a proposed redesign of Chicago’s butterfly ballot, the group then worked to change the Illinois Election Code to implement the redesign and legally allow the use of lowercase letters in candidate names. Student projects include the design of a more universally accessible voting booth and a more efficient document handling system.
Also, the nod to “user-centered research” in the mission statement refers mainly to field research and documentation rather than actual participation by voters and poll workers in the design process. At minimum, the usability professionals should be able to incorporate user feedback and testing into the process rather than just at the initial data gathering phase.
Once the voting process is redesigned, a hard look at how design can facilitate public participation in other processes (such as candidate making, ballot initiatives, campaign financing, city planning, etc.) would be much welcome.
Otherwise, this seems like a good first step towards engaging designers in civic affairs.
A follow up to this brief blog item on ballot design from May 2002.
“Some of the statutes and regulations enforced by agencies within the [U.S.] Department of Labor require that notices be posted in the workplace. The Department provides electronic copies of the required posters. Some of the Department of Labor’s posters are available in languages other than English. They are also available in electronic form.”
More are not very beautiful and seem designed by bureaucrats, but they must be posted in a conspicuous place as a notice to employees and a warning to employers. The posters implicitly call on employees to monitor the complience of their employers, and some even provide phone numbers and contact info. They are designed in a no-nonsense institutional non-style, that speaks of authority and bureaucratic indifference.
Are you a confused employer? The Department of Labor even has an online an electronic walkthrough of the poster requirements and laws.
Many states have their own posters and requirements, too. The posters generally fall into the following areas: minimum wage and age, job safety and health, information about emergency family medical leave, worker’s compensation, and polygraph and equal opportunity protection.
None of the posters I found address your federally protected right to organize and form a union in your workplace — though South Carolina, a “right-to-work” state, describes this right in their big labor law poster.
Below are a sampling of posters produced by the states.
In addition to their statutory language version, Oklahoma provides a plain language version (shown), complete with color photos and clear subject headings.
Because the information on this South Carolina poster is so organized, I don’t think the poster was consciously designed to be obscure. But what employee would read such a dense poster in the kitchen?
Like the international solidarity work of Cuba, the government of East Germany
“strongly advocated for anti-imperialism and declared general freedom and solidarity with numerous countries including Chile, Uruguay, Vietnam, Laos, Angola and Palestine among others up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”
Transnational Poster Art: International Solidarity and East German Poster Art is an online exibit of over 30 posters
“all of which were designed in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), and whose production was funded and encouraged by the East German government. The viewer will also encounter some posters produced in Nicaragua and Chile which compliment the East German ones in terms of content, and other types of artwork created by Germans as well as Latin American citizens. Our purpose is to show the GDR’s foreign policy towards developing countries during the 1970’s and 80’s, a foreign policy which the East German government strove to reinforce and legitimize through this popular art form.”
The introductory essay proposes that in addition to this legitimation, the posters fostered an awareness of international political situations, reminded the East German population of communist movements around the world, reinforced the idea of the U.S. as a common enemy to those movements, and that the foreign policy (and its promotion) were also an effort to “one up” West Germany and to gain approval and clout from the Soviet government.
The posters are organized as follows:
The poster up top is by Alexander Schiel, titled “‘In our hands, God has put the destiny of a troubled humanity.’ — US President Reagan,” 1983. The poster on the right is “Untitled (Literacy),” 1984, by Barbara Henninger. The American troops are saying “Drop your weapons and put your hands up high!” to the Nicaraguan boy, learning to write, spells out “Nicaragua my mother country.”
Other East German poster art and propaganda can be found at the German Propaganda Archive, see
Since the collapse of the bubble economy, the number of homeless in Japan has risen from 1,000 in 1992 to over 30,000 in 2002. The long recession means a severe shortage of unskilled day labor in construction and manufacturing. The average age of the homeless here is 55 and they are almost entirely men. What little day labor there is usually goes to younger men. With no work, no money, and no where to go, the men buid their own shelter on public land along the boardwalk by the river and along the edges of the few public parks near the employment brokers (both legal and illegal). The houses are neat and trim, built to fight the weather and cold and to provide some basic comfort. They are also collapsible. Once a month the government comes and sweeps the houses off the boardwalk. It’s usually the same day every month, so the guys dismantle their houses and haul the materials over the wall... to rebuild them later that afternoon.
The houses are tucked away behind fences and under bridges to be less visible, and are kept neat in a conscious effort not to disturb passersby. Unlike in the States, I’ve not encountered any panhandling. They may be hungry, they may be desperate, but some things are just not done.
Almost all the structures use the same blue vinyl tarp. The tents in the parks are looser and less constructed than along the river, presumably because the sweeps in the parks take place weekly.
The situation is utterly absurd... but not unlike that of my own neighborhood. There’s no place to go, says the City, you just can’t stay here.
After a mass eviction in 1993, the “Coalition of the Homeless in Shinjuku” was formed to provide mutual support, to seek livelihood and employment guarantees, and to stop the evictions, referred to by the government as “environmental cleaning.” After years of denying the problem, the national government passed a controversial law in August 2002 to provide some relief. Still, the evictions continue and the additional shelter has not yet been built. It remains to be seen how the new measures will proceed. The guys don’t want handouts, they just want work, affordable housing, and to be treated with respect.
The FBI’s “counter intelliegence” program COINTELPRO was created in 1956 to neutralize political dissidents in the United States. Although the FBI’s COINTELPRO’s officially ended in 1971, there have been many examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since. The 1976 investigation led by Senator Frank Church officially brought COINTELPRO’s mission to light:
“‘to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ such groups and their ‘leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters.’ The larger objectives were to ‘counter’ their ‘propensity for violence’ and to ‘frustrate’ their efforts to ‘consolidate their forces’ or to ‘recruit new or youthful adherents.’ Field offices were instructed to exploit conflicts within and between groups; to use news media contacts ridicule and otherwise discredit groups; to prevent ‘rabble rousers’ from spreading their ‘philosophy’ publicly; and to gather information on the ‘unsavory backgrounds’ of group leaders.
One of their techniques was the use of “black propaganda,” bogus information that conceals or fakes its source. This included faked letters, poems, and satirical comic books to pit activists against one another.
Stay Free Magazine’s article “Fake Letters and Bad Poetry: Highlights from the FBI’s Secret War on Dissent” lists several examples:
Previously mentioned here, the Black Panther Coloring Book was designed by the FBI to appear as if created by the Panthers. The books contained inflamatory pictures, some of which featured young black kids shooting pigs dressed as policemen. From the Church report:
“One of the Bureau’s prime targets was the BPP’s free ”Breakfast for Children” program, which FBI headquarters feared might be a potentially successful effort by the BPP to teach children to hate police and to spread ‘anti-white propaganda.’ In an admitted attempt ‘to impede their contributions to the BPP Breakfast Program,’ the FBI sent anonymous letters and copies of an inflammatory Black Panther Coloring Book for children to contributors, including Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Corporation.
On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony a former member of the BPP Central Steering Committee stated that when the coloring book came to the attention of the Panther’s national leadership, Bobby Seale ordered it destroyed because the book ‘did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party.’”
Posters and Flyers
Paul Krassner writes in “The FBI and Me — An American Story”:
“In 1969, the FBI attempt to assassinate my character escalated to a more literal approach. I discovered this, not in the file kept by Cointelpro, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, but as part of a separate project calculated to cause rifts between the Jewish and black communities.
The FBI produced a ‘WANTED’ poster featuring a large swastika. In the four square spaces of the swastika were photos of Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, SDS leader Mark Rudd, and myself. Under the headline ‘Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades!’ the copy referred to ‘the only solution to Negro problems in America’ as being ‘the elimination of the Jews,’ listed in the following order: ‘All Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with those immediately above. All Jews except those in the Movement. All Jews in the Movement except those who dye their skins black. All Jews. (Look out, Abbie, Jerry, Mark and Paul!)’
The flyer was approved, once again, by [Kartha] DeLoach and [William] Sullivan [J. Edgar Hoover’s top two assistants]: ‘Authority is granted to prepare and distribute on an anonymous basis to selected individuals and organizations in the New Left the leaflet submitted..,. Assure that all necessary precautions are taken to protect the Bureau as the source of these leaflets [which] suggest facetiously the elimination of these leaders [to] create further ill feeling between the New Left and the black nationalist movement....’
And if some overly militant African American had obtained that flyer and ‘eliminated’ one of those ‘New Left leaders who are Jewish,’ the FBI’s bureaucratic behind would be covered: ‘We said it was a facetious suggestion, didn’t we?’”
In their chapter on COINTELPRO and the New Left in The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall reproduce an FBI memo [pages 1, 2] which lays out the Bureau’s plan to disrupt the New Left:
“Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.”
The cartoon displayed here was produced and distributed by the Philadelphia FBI office as part its plan to subvert SDS at Temple University. The caption, in a parody of the rhetoric of Sen. Joseph McCarthy reads, “I have in my hand a list of 200 names of people who don’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government.”
From Stay Free:
“The FBI believed that many New Left leaders had a weakness for spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, so a 1968 memo suggested mailing them anonymous cartoons such as the one pictured here. Subsequent mailings (from increasingly closer locations) could say ‘The Siberian Beetle is Black’ or ‘The Siberian Beetle Can Talk.’ Other proposed characters included ‘The Chinese Scorpion’ and ‘The Egyptian Cobra’ — anything with a sinister meaning open to mystical interpretation. According to FBI documents, the messages were intended to cause concern, mental anguish, suspicion, and distrust among their recipients.”
From Stay Free:
“Socialist Workers Party leader George Weissman became the first subject of an FBI poem in 1964, shortly after being framed for stealing from a civil rights leader. According to an internal memo dated 4/10/64, the FBI mailed out an anonymous letter, along with this verse, to radical publications. The purpose was ‘to discredit the Party in the Negroe civil rights field.’”
From Stay Free:
“In a 1963 internal memo, counterintelligence specialist Charles D. Brennan stated that civil rights agitation represented a clear threat to ‘the established order’ of the U.S. and that ‘King is growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the Negro movement.’ COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan responded in a letter: ‘We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.’
Instead of sticking to the law, then, the FBI aimed to discredit King by any means necessary. Agents tapped his phone, bugged his rooms, trumpeted his supposed commie connections, and his sexual proclivities, and sicced the Internal Revenue Service on him. When it was announced in 1964 that King would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI grew desperate. Hoping to prevent King from accepting the award, the Bureau mailed him a package containing a tape of phone calls documenting King’s extramarital affairs and an anonymous, threatening letter (shown here in censored form). In barely concealed language, King was told to commit suicide before the award ceremony or risk seeing his ‘filthy, abnormal fraudulent self’ exposed to the nation. Fortunately, King ignored the FBI’s advice. He accepted the award and lived four more years until his assassination.”
Read more in Ward Churchill’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States.
“New York City has a long history of protecting the rights and enhancing the opportunities of the disabled. In fact, our Human Rights Law contains provisions for the disabled that go above and beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am proud that our City is continuing its leadership role by becoming the first in the Nation to release a book to help architects, designers, urban planners, and developers make their structures equally accessible to all.
Universal Design New York was created by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction, in cooperation with the New York City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It describes the concept of universal design and illustrates many useful examples of this innovative design philosophy. This guide also addresses myths associated with the cost of this approach and provides a model for other municipalities to follow.
From a letter by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the introduction to Universal Design New York. Kind words of support from the Mayor, unless of course you need a public toilet or are disabled and poor, in which case Mr. Giuliani would deny you social security, housing or shelter.
In the preface to the book, Catherine Paradiso, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Kenneth R. Holden, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction, write:
This book was developed to help the community of people who develop the City’s real estate and infrastructure learn about universal design. When implemented properly it removes many of the problems associated with trying to meet requirements of both the NYC building code and the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, when designing from this paradigm, some regulations are met with ease. For example, a pedestrian pathway that is gradually sloped from the curb to the entrance eliminates the need for a ramp. Another example would be installing automatic doors instead of manual doors. Distributing and integrating accessible seats throughout a theater is yet another. These examples demonstrate how access and regulations come together to create a better environment for everyone when using universal design criteria.
This book contains many examples that make accessibility easier for the general population. When all aspects of designing in a space are universal, everything becomes easier for everyone. Children, people who have learning/cognitive, vision or hearing impairments, people who use wheeled mobility devices, senior citizens, people of short stature, parents carrying children or packages - we all benefit from universal design.
Universal Design New York is intended for two audiences. Public agencies and environmental design and construction professionals hired by the City make up the first group. They can use it to design sidewalks and street crossings, parks, community centers, shelters, museums, and any of the many other types of buildings and facilities that the City builds. The second audience consists of developers and designers of privately constructed facilities in the City. These include hotels, office buildings, restaurants and theaters, to name just a few. Any designer can apply the principles of universal design to any project....
Information in this book demonstrates how demographic trends will increase demand for universal design. Looking to get ahead of that trend, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction believe that now is the time to implement universal design practices. Many of the products the City buys and virtually all of the buildings the City builds today are going to be here for a long time. We should be planning today for the time when the need for universal design will be obvious to all.
Check out the table of contents. As stated above, the site is chock full of examples with photos.
This guidebook purposely avoids recommending prescriptive design standards for the universal design of buildings. Instead, it provides general guidelines designed to broaden and enhance the usability of buildings for everyone.
This guidebook’s visual illustrations of successful applications of certain universal design guidelines are not meant to be copied or imitated. Rather, they are provided to promote a general understanding of the concept - i.e., to stimulate extension of the principles to other building applications.
Many thanks to the Inclusive Design and Environmental Access School of Architecture and Planning at University at Buffalo for posting the book online.
“Choosing an environmentally responsible roofing material can be one of the greatest challenges of green building. Roofing materials tend to be expensive, damage- and failure-prone, and often contribute to demolition waste. An option which has long been popular in Europe, and is gaining increasing favor in the United States, is the vegetative-cover, or green, roof. Designing a roof with plant cover has several environmental benefits. It can reduce rooftop temperature, in turn reducing building cooling costs and even preventing urban heat islands. Additionally, green roofs are an important tool in stormwater management, because they prevent runoff. Finally, plant-covered roofs can play a role in providing urban habitat for songbirds and butterflies, and in improving air quality.”
From the U.S. Department of Energy.
So what exactly is a green roof?
Linda Velazquez writes by email that “a traditional roof garden is a roof deck (concrete, wood, etc.) with potted plants in various types of free standing containers,” while green roof is an extension of the existing roof which involves a special root repelling membrane, a drainage system, a lightweight growing medium, and plants.
“All the green roof component layers cover the entire roof deck surface. Specifically, the roof deck, insulation, waterproofing membrane(s), root resistant layer, drainage, non-woven filter fabric, engineered soil mix, plants (and sometimes a biodegradable erosion control blanket). So, the entire deck has unimpeded drainage over the entire roof, and the weight of soil and plants is more evenly distributed over the entire roof. And the plants are planted directly into the soil, which in effect, looks like the roof deck.
And there will be a few additional layers (protection, vapor barrier board, etc.) that are applied over an intensive green roof system, as the soil depths are deeper, weights are greater, etc. You can also add architectural accents, like paths, arbors, fountains, etc., but these are built onto the roof deck before the layers are put on the roof deck.”
In an article on green roofs, Katrin Scholz-Barth writes:
There are two distinctly different types of green roofs: intensive and extensive. Intensive green roofs require a minimum of one foot of soil depth to create a more traditional roof garden, with large trees, shrubs and other manicured landscapes. They are multi-layer constructions with elaborate irrigation and drainage systems. Intensive green roofs add considerable load (from 80 to 150 pounds per square foot) to a structure and require intensive maintenance. These roof gardens are, however, designed to be accessible and are used as parks or building amenities.
In contrast, extensive green roofs range from as little as 1 to 5 inches in soil depth. Depending on the soil depth and type of substrate, loads can vary from 15 lbs/sf to 50 lbs/sf. For instance, historic green roofs in Berlin, Germany, built around 1900, weigh about 42 lbs/sf. Extensive green roofs are not designed for public use but can be accessed for routine maintenance walks, generally performed once per year. Extensive green roofs are primarily built for their environmental benefits.
Although everything from earth-bermed [partially underground] houses to balconies with potted plants has conveniently been termed a ‘green roof’ at one point or another, this article strictly defines extensive green roofs as elevated roof surfaces that are entirely covered with a thin soil and vegetation layer. They are not necessarily sod or grass roofs... Additionally, the term eco-roofs is not used in this context because products such as wood shingles are also made of natural, renewable materials, and would thus qualify as an eco-roof.
Green roofs can create recreational space while simultaneously address urban environmental issues like smog, climate change, stormwater management, and energy conservation, though there is the additional upfront expense for builders. Europe is far ahead of the U.S. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities:
“In North America, the benefits of green roof technologies are poorly understood and the market remains immature, despite the efforts of several industry leaders. In Europe however, these technologies have become very well established. This has been the direct result of government legislative and financial support, at both the state and municipal level. Such support recognizes the many tangible and intangible public benefits of green roofs. This support has led to the creation of a vibrant, multi-million dollar market for green roof products and services in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland among others.”
From City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture:
“In some parts of Germany, new industrial buildings must have green roofs by law; in Swiss cities, regulations now require new construction to relocate the area of greenspace covered up by the building’s footprint to the rooftop - and even existing buildings, some hundreds of years old, must convert 20% of their roofspace to pasture.”
Green roofs also cool down urban areas in summer, saving energy. The combination of dark surfaces and less vegetation in cities creates what’s called the heat island effect:
“On warm summer days, the air in urban areas can be 6-8°F hotter than its surrounding areas. Scientists call these cities ‘urban heat islands.’ The higher temperatures in urban heat islands increases air conditioning and raises pollution levels.”
Military photos in the public domain. That’s right, copyright free high-rez images of Bush & chums, fearsome gear, and our boys in action, all courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Great for patriotism, procurement, or parody.
Found via Barnbrook Design.
From Common-Place Book:
“In a scheme so wacky, it could only be COINTELPRO, the FBI sent something called The Black Panther Coloring Book to families across the United States, in an effort to subvert white support for black civil rights. The drawings are fabulously blaxploitation-meets-the-revolution.
‘This coloring book, which was purported to be from the Black Panthers, had actually been rejected by them when it was brought to them by a man later revealed to have intelligence connections. Not to be troubled by the fact that the Panthers found the coloring book revolting, the FBI added even more offensive illustrations, and mass mailed it across America... [The truth was revealed] in the Congressional inquiry into COINTELPRO.’ [source]
The Cunt Coloring Book by Tee Corinne was first published in 1975. It was a Judy Chicago kind of feminist gesture, became a cult favorite in the lesbian community, and in still in print. It was controversial enough on first publication for Corinne to change the title to Labia Flowers. It continues to be controversial enough to send to US Senators.
‘Last September, one of her pioneer efforts, The Cunt Coloring Book (1975), was the subject of a right-wing political attack on James Hormell’s nomination as a U.S. Ambassador. The Traditional Values Coalition sent a packet of materials (including Corinne’s book) to all 100 U.S. Senators, noting that the materials were in the collection of the Hormell Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. Her photocopied book and a pack of crayons were sent in an attempt to discredit Hormell, an openly gay man, who had helped to fund the Center.’ [source]”
Reprinted with permission.