Redesigning the Police

My own few and mostly benign encounters with police have left me fearful. By and large, they do not appear to be for me. To the extent that this is an issue of poor training, bad policy and/or the violence endemic to men’s hearts, I am a very poor source of advice. But, to the extent that this is a design problem—I have a few thoughts.

The End of White

I ignorantly assumed that white has its origins in preserving and advancing the interests of light-skinned people. Perhaps the entrenched networks established by and for the Anglo-Saxon colonists sent over from England. But this origin story is not a full accounting. It would be bad enough if white were rooted in a racial purity or a supremacist movement, but the truth is even more repulsive.

Feeling Blue

It was Austin in mid-March. That can only mean one thing: South by Southwest.

After an unusually rainy week, the clouds finally parted. John and I put the developers to bed and slipped out into the balmy Texas night to track down some music. Hours later, we found ourselves perched in the smoky wings of one of the countless blues bars that dot Sixth Street. The sort of place with one bathroom, folding chairs and a drain in the center of the floor. After every song, we’d fist bump and remark at the unbelievable talent in our midst. Suddenly, a man appeared at my side.

Severe in a Miles Davis kind of way, he sat much too close and stared directly at us with huge, unblinking black eyes. Not sure about John, but I assumed this man was a musician and perhaps we’d been made a part of the act. As quickly as he had materialized, the stranger produced a pad of cheap paper and a ballpoint pen. He began scrawling furiously, pausing from time to time to do cartoonishly artistic things like holding up one thumb, closing an eye, and sticking out his tongue. We were being drawn by the Pablo Picasso of the honky-tonks. He finished, and gazed approvingly at his accomplishment. Only then did his intention become clear. With dramatic flourish, he spun around the spiral-bound canvas and offered to sell me this fresh masterwork. I’m sure John and I gave him a few seconds of our tough guy routine, but I caved quickly and went along with the sales pitch. Needless to say, I’d sampled a few of Austin’s buttery bourbons and gleefully handed him a wad of bills from my pocket. I’m a patron of the arts, after all. We ordered our enterprising friend a drink and had a few laughs and he was off to find his next target as the eastern sky grew red.

Now—not even nine months later—John’s body is in the ground, stolen away by cancer. He was my friend and colleague, and in many ways, my mentor. He was, without a doubt, one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known. It’s only been a couple of weeks and I’m still adjusting to a world without him. It’s a little colder and lonelier than I’m used to. Cleaning out a drawer earlier tonight, I discovered a rolled up sketch and fresh tears sprang to my eyes. I have no idea what I paid that bar-hopping bon vivant for this portrait, but it’s suddenly worth much more.

Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012

“I never thought about dying…

The day you were born, it was already written down the day you’re gonna check out. Now, I’m not gonna throw myself under a truck, but I’m not gonna worry about when I die. I’m ready to move on when that day comes.” 

 

Long before the prefix ‘i’ on a computer or digital gadget had come to conote a certain prestige — a whole different plane of excellence — having the word ‘Shelby’ before the name of an automobile meant you were dealing with the absolute best. The Texan tinkerer is a striking figure in industrial design and automotive engineering.

Carroll Shelby was born with a bum ticker. A leaky valve in his heart kept him in bed through the age of fourteen. He was determined to catch up — and then some. He joined the Army Air Corps in World War II and developed a lifelong love of going fast. He drove Formula One cars throughout the fifties, competing in eight World Championship races. Driving in his trademark bib overalls, he set multiple land speed records and was named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year in both ’56 and ’57. When his heart condition forced him to give up driving, he began constructing his own supercars to compete with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. In a sport dominated by Italian cars, Shelby gave American steel the pole position. Beginning with a British classic — the AC Cobra — the eponymous builder produced a string of hits including Ford Daytonas and GTs. His rendition of the GT40 won the grueling 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans. Later in his career, he found mass-appeal when he helped create the Dodge Viper.

A cowboy-hat-wearing, no-nonsense visionary, Carroll Shelby is an American legend whose legacy speaks for itself. In a deep, throaty, flame-spewing snarl. RIP.

Dear Designers

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
MARK TWAIN


This year marks a decade that I’ve been learning from you. Finding my heroes among you. Aspiring to impress you. Ten years ago, I decided I’d try to make a living solving problems using design methodology and I’ve never regretted it.

Last week, I found myself sitting in an immaculate theater in Manhattan listening to a few of those heroes wax poetic about making ideas happen at the 99% Conference. I’ve come home conflicted. My head is full of professional tips and inspiring quotes, but I think we need to have a talk.

Fabulous is fun and all, but our reciprocal flattery is getting us nowhere.

We go on and on about the necessity of diversity, but I gotta tell you: we are not a very diverse bunch. We’ve diluted ourselves into believing that diversity actualizes as nothing more than neutral hiring practices related to things like gender, age, skin color and proclivities in the bedroom. Très shallow! We read the same things. We eat the same things. We buy the same things. We speak the same way. We dress the same way. We vote the same way. And I know all of this because we also talk about ourselves incessantly.

That’s the opposite of diversity.

The majority of designers I know live enviable lives. They’ve designed it that way. The only trouble is that many of them have done too good a job of surrounding themselves with nodding heads. Find a handful of people who hold convictions opposite yours, and instead of responding with mockery or disdain — or worse, apathy — try moving toward them. You may convert them. They may convert you. But either way, you’ll be a better designer.

Admittedly a challenge in her oversized Disney hoodie, but can you fall in love with Jennifer?

The average American is a 37 year-old white woman who lives in New Jersey. Her name is Jennifer. She’s married and has two kids. She works full time and makes about $25,000 a year. She’s a little chubby. She loves her dog and watches a lot of television. She considers herself religious and prays regularly. She does most of her shopping at Walmart and recently purchased the new Nickelback CD for her husband.

These are people you unfriend on Facebook, if you’re even on Facebook. And that’s just the start. Admit it: you sort of hate these people. I’ll need your help with this part, but I’d like us to hold each other accountable to truly understanding and empathizing with the people that we work for. That’s the client. It’s the end user. It’s the target market, and it thinks you’re judging it. And it’s right.

We love to celebrate the wrong things.

Design claims to be about lofty goals like openness, clarity and progress. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but lately we seem more interested in things like exclusivity, celebrity, excess and vulgarity. In our relentless drive to remain relevant, we’ve become very crass.

We’ve taken the charge to be critical as an excuse to be cynical. We eschew wisdom in favor of irony. And, perhaps most damning, we choose fashion over formation. That is to say, we want to take credit for building culture even as we (merrily) chip away at it’s very foundation.

We seem content to build beautiful cogs for hideous machines.

For a group that spends so much time thinking about ourselves, there are some glaring contradictions behind our chic exteriors. We spend our lives making things. Wonderful things. So they will be consumed. Most of us are in pretty deep denial about that last part. The stuff you’re making — whatever that stuff is — is for human consumption. And most of them won’t realize how well kerned the headline is. They’ll have no sense of your obscure cultural reference. Color palette lifted from a little-known Van Gogh? Haven’t the foggiest. But still, because you’re good at your job, they will consume. And while they consume what you’ve made it will shape them. They’ll spend their money and — more valuably — their time. They’ll spend their lives trying to become what you tell them they should be. That’s a pretty huge responsibility. Is what you’re making helping humans flourish?

Never before has there existed such a huge class of well-educated people with such endless resources and a persistent state of global connection. You have access, capital and vision. Just don’t let it go to your head.  It’s not about you.

The world is not yet finished and we have such tremendous opportunities. Opportunities to right wrongs and communicate things that are capital-T-True. Seems to me, this usually happens in ways that are not all that flashy. This kind of design doesn’t win a lot of awards. It is not self seeking. It looks like quiet disciplines and a deference to the people we serve. Seek correction through criticism. Find insight in input from people who are nothing like you. If you’re feeling depressed or cynical, humble yourself to the client. To the team. To the work.

If you’re not interested in doing that, I respectfully ask that you find a different profession and stop besmirching a title that I love: Designer.

Green Triangle

After a long winter of gazing wistfully at Cabin Porn and dreaming of the country life, the girls, pups and I have moved into a rustic A-Frame just in time for the first buds. Built in ’77 and nestled in a stand of cedars and shortleaf pine, we plan on spending as much time outdoors as in.

We’ve got the woodstove blazing so if you’re in the neighborhood, please come by and say hello.