“Passengers in all their commuting glory.”

While the quiet tedium of a daily commute and a massive travel-disrupting volcano may not seem to have much in common, it turns out they can both be catalysts for the creation of beautiful publications.

The Atlantic recently reported on the sketching project of British illustrator Steve Wilkin, which was really just a personal creative exercise until Wilkin decided to turn his work into a free limited-edition newspaper.


Image by Steve Wilkin

As Eric Jaffe of the Atlantic writes:

“For the past decade or so, Wilkin has used his hour-long commute on the 7:38 a.m. train from the town of Hebden Bridge toward the city of Preston to sketch his fellow passengers in all their commuting glory.

“Last month, with the help of a service called the Newspaper Club, Wilkin published some of the drawings in a free newspaper called, of course, “738.” (He also started a blog about the project.) He distributed the publication at the Hebden Bridge station; exhibited the drawings at the University of Central Lancashire, where he lectures in illustration; and even threw a modest ‘opening’ on the train.”

April 15’s daily design idea is inspiration is everywhere.

April 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm Leave a comment

SFI12: Design is relational.

Part 5 of 5

The day’s self-described “analyst and scribe” Steven Moore was last to speak to the Structures audience on Saturday. Throughout the day, Moore tracked the topics covered using a spreadsheet, and then ranked the topics by frequency. The ones covered most were: relationships, participation, spatial justice, & organizational structure. Public interest designers are clearly a participatory, activist, and practical bunch!


Moore tracked the topics covered by panelists (and audience members) for his closing remarks

One of Moore’s major takeaways from the day’s presentations was that “outsiders, or ‘valuable strangers,’ can broker knowledge but also adapt [outside] relevant knowledge to local context.” It’s a great framework for thinking about collaboration between all the team members and beneficiaries on a project. Moore also affirmed the opportunity for the SEED Network to be an industry forum “for the accumulation of accessible knowledge,” and to become a truly disruptive platform for the industry.

On the topic of organizational structure, Moore wisely noted that “there has not yet been enough focus on new, sustainable economic models for public interest design.” I couldn’t agree more. The biggest reason I keep going to Structures is to be a part of the community that will eventually build those models.

April 8’s daily design idea is Moore noted that “opportunity” was an important but underrepresented topic at this year’s Structures. What opportunities for social change design do you see?

April 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

SFI12: Quantifiable impact.

Part 4 of 5

The third panel was full of projects with clearly recognizable social, environmental, and economical impact. BNIM Architecture’s SEED award winning Bancroft School Revitalization was the first project presented, including heartfelt anecdotes by the neighborhood association’s president, Sandra Hayes. One of her biggest takeaways from this project is that “to be a change agent, you have to build relationships.” Tim Duggan, the landscape architect on the project and a long-term collaborator with BNIM, described another challenge for the team: creating a design language for Manheim that is distinct but still local. Duggan admitted that it’s a tricky but very important line to navigate.

rendering of Bancroft School Revitalization by BNIM and Make It Right

The next speaker was Green Guide for Health Care co-founder Gail Vittori, who realized 12 years ago that “no one was really connecting human health & the built environment.” The work that she has done and encouraged others to do (including some great progress by my employer, Perkins+Will!) has moved healthcare facilities forward by leaps and bounds. Now, the standard for hospital design is finally shifting toward healthy food, water and energy savings, and carcinogen free building materials. When asked about mobilizing this type of change, specifically though the effect of a “multiplier,” Vittori shared that employee retention in a powerful motivator in healthcare; statistics show that nurses stay in their jobs longer when there’s a green commitment from their employer, and hospitals clearly understand the value of lower turnover.

The always entertaining Pliny Fisk, co-founder of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, also shared some pieces of his portfolio. His project goals are strongly rooted in social impact and understanding, making him and Vittori (his wife) quite the power couple of public interest design. With his projects, Fisk said that his aim is for clients to think “that crazy American, he actually understands who we are as a culture.” In my opinion, it’s a goal that’s far from crazy.

MASS Design Group aims for triple bottom line impact with all their projects, including construction of housing for Butaro Hospital’s doctors

Michael Murphy and Tanya Paz were up next, presenting MASS Design Group’s SEED award winning Nyanza hospital. Murphy shared that designing “healthier environments” was the primary goal in founding the non-profit firm, a goal that has definitely been achieved with their celebrated Butaro hospital. The Nyanza project has many of the same goals as Butaro, but is located on a much tighter site, making it both a challenging and very rewarding project to work on.

When the audience asked this panel how we can improve legislation to make healthier cities, several great answers were offered. BNIM’s Sam De Jong reaffirmed the power of seeing the local community as a partner. Duggan reminded the audience to vote! And moderator Michael Gatto added by saying that we all need to be “solutionary” in our approaches.

April 7’s daily design idea is a quote by Make It Right’s Tim Duggan: “the moment you quantify the benefits, the bean counter will understand the value of tree hugging.”

April 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

SFI12: Beneficiaries as participants.

Part 3 of 5

The second panel focused on Participation. Architecture for Humanity‘s program coordinator, T. Luke Young, kicked off by introducing AFH and the approach they take: “We don’t call ourselves designers; we like to be thought of as catalysts… in a global village.” AFH design fellow Diego Collazos continued by discussing the SEED award winning work he is doing at the Maria Auxiliadora School in Peru. A personal highlight of the project was how Collazos and his team asked students to stick green notes on the parts of the building that are good, and red notes on the parts of the building that are bad. This struck me as such a simple but effective technique for getting feedback, especially from children.

photo of the Maria Auxiliadora School

Tulane City Center‘s SEED award winning project, Grow Dat youth farm, was presented next by Emilie Taylor and Scott Bernhard. Their team empowered the youth to study “the logic of the site,” which informed many design choices, such as situating the building in the worst spot for growing vegetables. Separately, Bernhard also shared that Tulane’s admission rates increased 400% after integrating service-oriented curricula after Hurricane Katrina, such as the projects of City Center. There was a shared feeling of hope between the panelists and audience that other institutions would notice, and follow in Tulane’s footsteps.

photo via Nola.com of planting at Grow Dat youth farm

The panel wrapped up with Anne Frederick, the founding director of New York’s Hester Street Collaborative. In addition to introducing the audience to HSC’s advocacy work for the Lower East Side’s waterfront (which included a mobile scale model that residents can interact with!), Frederick also shared questions that she’s developed with the Center for Urban Pedagogy to help social change designers frame their projects. Their number one question is a critical but too often overlooked one: Is there a need for the project? (In the case of the SEED award winning projects, I’d guess that the answer is a resounding “yes!”).

Hester Street Collaborative’s “Waterfront on Wheels

April 6’s daily design idea is that “instructive failure” is pervasive in design for social good, particularly when the participant pool is large; an observation articulated by the Tulane City Center team but shared by everyone at Structures.

April 6, 2012 at 9:13 pm Leave a comment

Augmented Tweeting: Structures for Inclusion 12

I live tweeted the main day of this year’s Structures for Inclusion 12 (SFI12), hosted by UT Austin, but I also thought it would be fun to share a fuller version of those tweets here (particularly with all the vowels and grammar added back in). Hope you enjoy!


the range of social issues that could (and should) be addressed by designers

Part 1 of 5

Bryan Bell kicked off the Saturday session of Structures by talking about this year’s theme, “Design is Relational.” This theme was inspired by Sergio Palleroni’s presentation at last year’s Structures, regarding the fact that it’s often the non-physical effects of the design process that have the most lasting impact. Bell specifically noted that strengthening relationships within the industry and advancing our processes for collaboration are both essential going forward. “Creativity makes a bigger & healthier pie out of limited resources.” We can do more with less by working together better.

From there, Barbara Brown Wilson took the stage and reflected on past links between social change and physical space. Wilson highlighted the Disabilities Movement as a highly successful effort to transform standards for the built environment, and pointed out that we are currently in a relatively undefined proto-movement (which has yet to create that same level of disruptive impact). The SEED Network, which Wilson helped found, is certainly a step in the right direction. While the network has evolved into a platform for “knowledge brokering,” it was originally conceived as a “bat signal” for communities to reach out to when they needed design services. Providing services to these communities is obviously still the ultimate goal.

This year’s featured speaker, the amazing Coleman Coker, followed. He primarily focused on designing ethically, in response to the earth (something he’s been doing for over 30 years), in contrast to designing based on aesthetic judgment or taste. I found it incredibly inspiring to hear Coker speak about the social and environmental elements of his work, especially as the two are so integrated for him.

April 4’s daily design idea is Coleman Coker’s concluding thought: “if architecture is done well, it brings us closer to the world.”

April 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm 3 comments

Goals and reflection.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, then you already know that I’m a major supporter of documentation. It’s good for your portfolio, it’s good for predicting or explaining value, and it’s also good for yourself. Just ask Nicholas Felton, the whose been creating annual reports (famously) since 2005.

photo via

Last month Mashable reported on the growing trend of people tracking their individual data, for example Dan Meyer, who says: “It just speaks to the natural tendency to introspect, look inward… I do it for the same reason people journal or blog about their lives.”

While by no means a full-fledged graphical report, here are a few interesting stats about the past two years on Daily Design Idea (all gathered through WordPress’ own “My Stats” tool):

51,824 All Time Views
50 All Time Average (Mean) Views Per Day
160 2012 Average (Mean) Views Per Day
916 Views on the Busiest Day (thanks in great part to a retweet by Design Milk about this post)

Top 3 Search Terms leading searchers to the blog:
architect (6,904 times)
street art (3,617 times)
Paula Scher (500 times)

Beyond the home page, Top 3 Pages visited:
the post What does an architect look like? (9,163 times)
the post Fantastic photographic reenactments (2 of 2). (1,341 times)
the post A challenge from Paula Scher. (1,275 times)

So what does this mean going forward? I definitely plan to use Twitter more consistently and finally do a long-awaited update to the Paula Scher-inspired tshirt designs. I’m also hoping to publish more interviews (get ready for some great insight from Nate Poel), bring in more guest writers, and live Tweet more events.

March 28’s daily design idea is document your progress (and plan for more of it in the future!) and you’ll be that much more likely to make – and achieve – great goals.

March 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm 2 comments

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