India, I feel you.

The TED India conference was a great jumping off point to begin my need finding research in India. I continued traveling around the country for the month researching opportunities after the conference meeting people and organizations in Bangalore, Mysore, Ahmedebad, Udaipur and Rajasthani villages, Delhi, Bombay and Ludhiana. I came only with the intention to find something I could contribute to,  holistically of course – through both my agency and its offerings as well as on a personal level. During all my time on trains, planes, cars and autorickshaws here are the main themes and realizations culled from my travel:

Design Poverty: Indian light switches, the irregular height of stairs and floors, the chaos in visual communications,  the accepting of shoddy industrial design as the norm, the total lack of accessible design,  the general cacophony of any public or private space and in 80% of instances user experience so bad it will give you a headache. Not to mention the encouragment of noise pollution in every corner of India. I know no outsider, or insider can really change India – in fact Indian culture will never change -  and I hope it doesn’t.  However small changes that heighten the quality and experience of life,  with the right education of India’s designers and the right demand from its increasingly educated consumers could make a massive difference to India overall. Methods for ending poverty could be designed into this education as well.

Reverse Diaspora: Many Indians like myself, that are brought up abroad are returning to India to join the “wild, wild east”. At TED it felt as though 1/3 of the people were from Silicon Valley- and though the convection between India and Silicon Valley is well established for technology talent, I am excited to see how my generation uses it for the social good and designing a better world.

Contradictory Space: India is a giant contradiction, and Indians work and live in this contradictory space daily, and are comfortable and balanced within this space. This would help explain a bit about the clash that sometimes occurs when foreign companies come to India expecting a smooth transition. Devdutt Pattanaik outlined  this in his talk explaining the fundamental cultural differences between the East and the West and how they play out in business and why.

Jugaad: finding a workaround. Jugaad literally means an arrangement or a work around, which have to be used because of lack of resources. Indians have always employed Jugaad, which is in essence not doing things the formal way, but rather maneuvering one’s way and finding loopholes around the answer ‘no’. Indians do not like to hear or say no. There’s almost always a way, which is a great mentality to live in.

Indigenous Inventions: financial and physical products that are invented by the end users are more valuable to them than the one’s we design down to them. The Honeybee Network and their inventions and the Chit Fund are great examples of this.

Disruptive Everything: disruptive business models, disruptive design, thinking, talking – all of it -is being embraced more and more in India and the world as a more attractive option than the tried and tested. Disruption not only stems from innovation, but more importantly serves to keep the playing field democratic. I absolutely subscribe to this theme.

Philanthrocapitalism: Or, compassion based business as I like to call it, is often baked into many Indian companies. Culturally, social responsibility is part of daily life, so its much less of an afterthought in India than elsewhere.

Corruption: No one thing has halted India’s progress more than this. Until things are done in a more transparent way, and the bribes vanish, its going to be very difficult for India to become the world leader it ought to be. I wish Shaffi Mather lots of luck with his anti-corruption campaign.

The Kids: It is known that the true change in India and the world will be with the next generation, and education in India needs a revolution, now. Many people are doing that including Kiran Sethi of the Riverside School and Deepti Doshi who is bringing La Escuela Nueva to India. With the right type of responsibility baked into their education, be it for sustainability or social change or design thinking, the next generation is where change lives. That said, having the largest, youngest economy in the world, might turn one of India’s greatest criticisms into its greatest boon.

Mobile Truths: Everyone knows its vital to banking the unbanked and setting up payment systems. I see lots of places where it hasn’t been used yet to its full potential, like in the education sector, in food, in advertising and public service – which could really prove to be the best tool to solve mass scale problems in India.

More to come as I process and digest this incredible month of research.

Graffiti Research in Action

Update: These guys are taking home awards left and right and finally got a website together too:
Here’s the situation: Tempt One, the legendary writer has been hospitalized for the past two years with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). The muscular atrophy has taken away his ability to write graffiti. Enter the Graffiti Research Lab (and good friends) James Powderly, Evan Roth and Theo Watson and Zachary Lieberman. They were asked to come to Venice, California and find a way to use eye-tracking software (something I remember from James’ thesis project back at ITP) and their L.A.S.E.R tag tools to make the impossible possible again. When they decided to join this project they had little idea if it would actually work, but they worked hard and fast. Theo recently did a guest lecture in my class at the HvA in Amsterdam and shared a bit about the project and the creative technology behind it: openFrameworks. Day #8: Introductions from Evan Roth on Vimeo. More Documentation Here: Project was facilitated by The Ebeling Group.

The future of publishing has been sorted.

A few weeks ago, I was very excited to download the NPR app on my iphone. Finally on demand radio and information on my phone – giving me perspective and news when and where I wanted it. Plus, I have always had a better time absorbing information when it came through sound. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, but my recall is much better if I’ve heard something. Although I missed his talk at Pecha Kucha NY, I am so glad I stumbled upon this post by Michael Surtees from his Design Notes blog. He speaks about testing out the new Economist audio version and canceling his subscription to the New York Times print version. So if radio is the new newspaper and the phone is the new radio and the internet is the new television – what is the new internet?

When Sound Inspires Design: Nokia

I had the pleasure of working with the team at Wieden + Kennedy London as they were beginning to launch the Almighty Music campaign and it was great to watch Ida Gronblom and Fabian Berglund come up with the first designs of fantasy headsets to kick off the campaign. Just checked David Lee’s blog and got the news that the headphone design competition is officially over and winners have been announced. Contestants were asked to submit a design for headphones inspired by their favorite song – which is always a nice design exercise. The winning results are pretty great – the one featured here is inspired by R.Kelly’s “I believe I can fly”. But even better is to check all the entries that were submitted through the create-your-own website that WK and Nokia put together (taking a page out of the Nike ID book):

Nokia Headset Gallery

UCLA Lecture @ Dept. Of Information Studies

I was asked by UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan to come share my thoughts on public space, public data and public content creation. I gave a talk starting with public space, and expanded the definition to eventually include public data and an analysis of how these elements effect our creativity. A dialogue about how much time we spend in our screen environments and ‘actual’ public space soon ensued. I haven’t given too much thought lately about how much time I spend on the screen and facebook and my other screenbased activities – but I have noticed how its truly affecting my creativity. In fact, after a hike or a swim, I feel back at the level of creativity where I was when I was a kid – so I highly encourage you to get outside before you delve too deep into the public ‘web’ spaces. Its just not the same thought creation process you’d get from the organic world.

Here are some slides from the lecture: