January 2019: Collaborative at Instituto Superior de Diseño, Havana, Cuba

Ten design students and I began the new year with an exceptional experience collaborating with graphic and industrial design students and faculty at ISDi. The students’ team-based, self-generated projects reached prototype phase and we’re looking forward to developing them to completion. Images to come!

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Texworld 2018

Yesterday I made my way southward to the Javits Center in NYC to check out Texworld, a textile industry convention. Though the three-day event is mostly intended for large scale designers in the fashion industry, the handful of non-traditional and emergent industry initiatives are what attracted me to the event.

Highlights:

  • meeting Tara St. James and some of the staff of the Pratt Institute-afilliated project BD+FA (Brooklyn Design + Fashion Accelerator). The Accelerator is a locally-oriented incubator for mentoring, training, fellowships and small scale production in fashion and design
  • talking to the folks at the FAB SCRAP booth. FS is a Brooklyn-based organization that accepts donations of fabric scraps from the fashion, home decor and entertainments industry and makes is available for reuse. Textile waste is the second largest category in the waste stream where its dyes and fibers do a lot of damage of our personal and planetary health health (polyester/plastic particulate that ends up in our potable water stream, toxic dyes and fiber that don’t biodegrade). Local note: if you have scrap fabric 1-ft. square or larger the New Paltz Reuse Center http://www.newpaltzreuse.org/ is highly likely to accept your donation
  • meeting with more local vendors and makers who will make small run custom fabric and clothing to spec … so if you have a pattern or a fabric design, you can have a unique item!

Tara’s talk on sustainable supply chains, besides being richly informative, also helped solve one of my conundrums as a new maker of wearable tech: I want to make “clean,” in a sustainable and labor-supportive way. And that’s a huge task. Her advice: “You can’t be 100% sustainable. Choose the aspect you want to support and go deep.”

Food for thought …

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inadvertent hiatus

Returning to full-time teaching in our design program meant becoming acquainted in a big way with cloud computing.

I am not a fan.

(Although if this is the way it has to be, I am grateful that the College supports our access to software.)

As a designer coming up in the early 1990s owning my own tools (fabric swatches, PMS books, software, computers, external hard drives) was powerful. Before I owned a laser printer I would hotfoot it over to Kinko’s. I was the mistress of using public printers in a time-efficient and effective way (because: money / time) … not a single page of thousands needing to be reprinted.

Once I bought my first printer I had both labor and means of production in hand and I earned a healthy income. My hardware: my own. My software: my own. I kept up with successive versions because vendors offered deep discounts to early/student adopters like me. My files: saved locally (a couple of times for added security).

Today I have to fight to maintain local control of my files. Software defaults assume that I want could-based storage. All of the software we use in the labs is cloud-based and password protected. If designers want to function at all we are locked into paying for software licenses, forced to upgrade when new versions come out.

It is astonishing that companies like Microsoft and Adobe have evolved into monoliths that exert complete degree of control over how millions of us we carry out our professional activities. Can you imagine business email outside Office 365? Without the wholesale migration of computer-based software to cloud-based leased software? (I swear my desktop version of MSWord disabled itself after the first time I used the cloud-based version.)

There appears to be no middle ground. What happens when the cloud evaporates or is vaporized? I’ll head back to the work I saved to my desktop and open the files using … what? Who owns my labor? Microsoft?

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design incubation!

Yesterday SUNY New Paltz hosted Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0. Design faculty from schools in the Northeast gathered to share their latest insights in research, teaching and administration. It was terrific! Kudos to Professors Amy Papaelias and Dimitry Tetin, the local DI hosts. Prof. Joshua Korenblat and I were among the 18 faculty who presented pecha-kucha style. A little anxiety about the 6-minute format but it was fun being timed by our students.

My favorite presentations:

Renee Stevens, Syracuse University, presented the new iPhone app (OS11) she designed  layer text info over imagery. A terrific way to support different ways of taking in information.

Rebecca Mushtare, SUNY Oswego, presented techniques she uses in the classroom to engender empathy and reveal bias. The way she makes these ways of perceiving transparent can be really transformative in terms of practicing design in an open and user-supportive way.

I’d like the opportunity to see Alex Liebergesell‘s (Pratt Institute) presentation again … Designing for Autonomous Machines. I got distracted by Big Dog and lost the thread. The very gestures that make the robot seem sentient unsettle me. There’s also some footage, though probably not at the Boston Dynamics site, in which people kick the robot around. That’s very difficult to watch. A lot to think about with AI and robotics. (I speak nicely to our Alexa, always.)

Gokhan Ersan, SUNY Binghamton, presented exciting and beautiful ways of visualizing scientific information. He’s working with a collaborative team of biologists, physicists and chemists. I expect their work will find a large and enthusiastic audience and bring more people into the sciences.

Joshua Korenblat (our very own) presented on Visualizing Mental Models. Both Gokhan and Josh reminded us that early scientists and philosophers relied heavily on their own mark-making to document and, over time, understand observable phenomena. The very basis of research was visual. And these early attempts to capture the world are often very beautiful, as are Gokhan’s and Josh’s work.

I liked my presentation, on Fashion Tech, too 🙂 And it’s posted in the Presentations section for you to see. Thank you to Amy P. for asking me during the panel who I was collaborating with (no one, yet, just working in the bubble). That prompted several colleagues to come forward with connections and invitations. Very exciting.

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more new work

Back in July I attended Constructing Modern Knowledge, a fabulous four-day educators’ symposium in Manchester, NH. (Here’s a link to their website: http://constructingmodernknowledge.com/ )

Most of the symposium is dedicated to participants working on team-based projects in a deliberately constructivist learning environment, peppered with intellectually provocative speakers both on-site and at the MIT Media Lab.

On the very first morning a group of 120 mostly K-12 educators participated in a guided brainstorm of possible projects which culminated, within the hour, in the formation of somewhere around 15 teams.

My team set as its goal creating interactive experiences that would explain and make visible the phenomenon of wind, leveled from preschool through college. Within 72 hours our group of 11 educators created several artifacts.

Here’s a video of my project prototype, an interactive interface for teaching the names and locations of different kinds of wind: https://youtu.be/C9zBZ03s0Vo

With my design students I’d focus more on the programming and interface design of a project like this, and less on learning the wind terms themselves. What was most significant to me was having programed and built the interface with no prior experience with the Scratch programming language or the Makey-Makey (a kind of black box interface).

The range of technical expertise amongst participants varied wildly: some were expert high-end programmers and digital design fabricators. Others (like me) were relative novices. A half-dozen mentors roamed the room, ready to provide just the smallest sliver of guidance necessary.

During my first meeting with a mentor my description of what I hoped to make met with a matter of fact “That won’t work. That software and that programming language don’t talk to each other.” And then silence, while I mentally recomposed myself and offered a meek “Well, maybe I’ll just start with xyz?” “Yes, that’s a good place to start.” And away the mentor went.

We learned pretty quickly to try everything we could before asking for help. This isn’t a criticism. It was one of the best aspects of the symposium: the happy frustration of trying different methods until you succeeded. It helped that “success” was measured by function: either the thing lit up or it didn’t. I’m giving thought to how to apply this method to projects that have a less binary (works/doesn’t) outcome.

 

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new work

Hello there!

I wanted to share my recent project funded by a 2016-17 Research and Creative Projects award: the design and prototyping of a “functional wearable” integrating computer and electronic technologies into everyday apparel.

The garment I designed and am in the final stages of wiring and programming was inspired by this photo of a young woman in New Delhi, India, waiting for the January 2017 Women’s March to begin. (Clicking on the image will enlarge it.)

source: https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-01-21/photos-its-official-womens-march-has-swept-globe

Though I have not traveled to India, my mother was born and raised in Mumbai, and I’ve always gravitated toward the esthetic of the traditional textiles and clothing.

The garment is something of a mash-up of traditional and contemporary Indian apparel and combines a sheer kameez (long shirt) with a skirt. The skirt illuminates as
the wearer moves, affirming her physical agency. The kameez is not interactive. It slightly conceals the wiring on the skirt (and is meant to be worn over a camisole for modesty) but permits the lights to shine through, and is embellished with the hashtag on the young woman’s protest sign: “#IWillGoOut.”

In the face of the multiple ways in which girls and women run into attitudes and policies that restrict free and safe physical movement this ensemble affirms our right to be out and about without threat.

Images of the garment in progress:
The skirt, alight, during a test of the strand of LED lights

A detail of the hardware sewed into the skirt: Flora board (the largest circle), the accelerometer (to the right of the Flora), and two of the LED lights

The overall garment, front and side views

A detail of the embellishment (“#IWillGoOut”) in progress

I’ll present the working prototype to design students and colleagues during Fall 2017. Stay tuned.

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making change

Some recent inspirations:

I am constantly in meetings, which is somewhat different than working on teams (but should it be? we could probably get a lot more done if our meetings were work time, rather than information-delivery time). Two salient findings about teams: in successful and productive teams members each end up with the same amount of air time. And there’s a great deal of interpersonal social sensitivity on display: no interrupting, genuine mutual interest, empathy. This seems to imply having fewer people in the room. And enough repeated contact that members can really get to know each other.

This makes me think about how I could be a better steward.

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“coddling” redux

Sometimes you strike pay dirt as a teacher and the students and you all learn together. That’s what happened last week as we deconstructed the Atlantic Monthly article (below) in an exercise on argumentation. Small groups of students selected a premise and proceeded to do the research to refute it. Thoughtful, thorough presentations followed, and we all got a lesson on the joys of deep reading and critical thinking. I don’t think any of us will ever read in exactly the same way again.

photoDeconstruction can be pretty if you use brightly colored post-its 🙂

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just thinking

Last week I had a conversation with a student about the mutual responsibilities of faculty and students in the classroom in terms of studio atmosphere and learning. The student expressed quite emphatically that he had no responsibilities at all and that faculty should carry the entire weight of the relationships and outcomes.

This has been preoccupying me for several days.

I wonder if some students expect us to take care of them and how this care is ideally envisioned. I wonder whether this explains the discomfort my students sometimes experience when expectations are open-ended (potential for risk, failure) and also when they’re highly detailed and articulated (curtailed opportunity). I see that young adults want to be free but don’t want to fail. A person needs to be resilient in order to deal with uncertainty and the unfamiliar.

So at the 11th hour maybe college is the place to foster self-awareness and the ability to back fill what you didn’t get for the first 18 years of your life. Isn’t that what we all do as adults? Work toward becoming whole?

Later today I picked up the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly and read “The Coddling of the American Mind” an article I’d assigned my Design Research class as part of our focus on argument construction. The topic of curtailed discourse on college campuses is certainly relevant and the students are sure to have an opinion about it. And it connects to my experience with some students who essentially want to be taken care of, by us, at the very moment they should be ready to take care of themselves. Is this a fear of growing up? A tacit acknowledgement that one’s life skills are lacking?

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thoughts on higher ed

An article and book read recently are coming together in ways that provocatively link to our administrative, faculty, staff, student work here at SUNY New Paltz.

Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s What is the Point of College? ran in the September 13, 2015 edition of the New York Times Magazine (the issue was dedicated to education). Playing to Win, by A.G. Laffley and Roger Martin–Laffley is the legend-in-his-own time CEO of corporate giant Proctor & Gamble–was published in early 2013 by the Harvard Business Review Press. I don’t know if they’ve ever been in a room together, but the three men have something in common: exploration of the relationship between two often mutually exclusive organizational drivers.

Appiah, writing about higher education, describes the tension between the two possibilities of providing value vs. providing values. Affordability and great ROI vs. a strong, self-reflexive liberal education, for example. Laffley and Martin, concerned with what makes businesses successful, give a lot of ink to competitive advantages based on cost-effectiveness vs. those based on differentiation in the marketplace. Affordability vs. distinctive features of the College, let’s say.

Along the same lines:

Renowned environmental scientist and systems thinker Donatella Meadows, in the posthumously published Thinking in Systems, draws a distinction between function and purpose.

Value / cost-effectiveness / function and values / differentiation / purpose are not necessarily mutually exclusive clusters, though it’s challenging to successfully activate both sets of goals at the same time.  I do think talking about what we do here within the framework of these constructs could be useful to us as students, staff, faculty and administrators as we continually create our College.

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