Sunday, February 24, 2008

It isn't easy being green


I have noticed an interesting trend, of late. Let me preface this by saying I am a huge proponent of living life so that we have the smallest impact on the planet. We should live as if the planet is our house, our home (novel, I know). Replace things that we use up, not leave our dirty footprints everywhere, and live quietly and respectfully as if we have neighbors next door. The green movement is helping, talking about a carbon footprint is helping. My concern is that industry is not. Some industries do share products that are genuinely trying to help. Phosphate free soaps, clothes made out of sustainable materials like hemp and bamboo, furniture out of bamboo and reused items.
My concern is this. It seems the advertising, and possibly the subsequent habits, actually encourage people to get rid of their perfectly good: furniture, applicances, cell phones, dishes in favor of the green dishes. Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but that doesn't help! Now, instead of a slightly less energy efficient fridge in your home, there is a large box of metal and chemicals lying in a landfill. Want to ditch your Corelle wear in favor of bamboo plates? Great, but what happens to the Corelle lying in a pile waiting for the next thousand years to breakdown to it's basic chemicals.
Many of the folks I know - esp. those greenies here in Portland, are great about sending items to Goodwill or putting them up on Freecycle or Craig's List. But I know so many people who also just dump them in a bin assuming they'll go to that great trash compactor in the sky. If you really do favor earth friendly items in your home, please try to get rid of the old ones responsibly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The flow of a new office

It is interesting to be anywhere new. You pay particular attention to things you won't notice 6 months down the road. It's particularly interesting to change offices and compare say a hi-tech firm to a design office.

What I've noticed in the first few weeks:
  • It's weird not to be in a cube. Wow. As a creative person, you would think I would abhor the cube. I got used to my own little space, a few walls, a mini cubby to call my own. Though, the grey walls got old (ok, the first day I bought a Kandinsky poster to add as much color as humanly possible to the dismal gray). It's actually quieter because people don't holler randomly over the walls, they can actually converse face to face.
  • People listen and support each others ideas! It's not a battle of wills, its a group working together for the right solution. What a novel concept.
  • When you see people working, you are actually more productive. I know there is a good bit of theory behind this including the Portholes project (Dourish and Bly 1992 http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jpd/publications/1992/chi92-portholes.pdf), but I'm here to tell you its true. It is motivating to see others working.
  • I have been around for a week and haven't been in one meeting where we all sat and stared at the output of a projector. How refreshing! We talked to each other in a well lit room and used a white board to generate interesting ideas and conversation.
  • You are never too old to feel like "the new kid". Wherever there are lunch tables, there will be a person who feels awkward sitting down for the first time. Remember that feeling from grade school? It never quite goes away...
  • There is nothing cooler than a whole set of bookshelves full of design magazines just waiting for you to browse them. At your leisure, refer to them in your work and just enjoy them for the inspiring content. (ok, maybe a few cooler things, but it's quite wonderful)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Design for Social Change

In the last week or so, I've been talking with potential employers. Learning about new companies, discussing ways we can work together. I've also been talking to colleagues and friends about my "dream job". I'm fascinated by the response. My dream job these days involves something similar to strategy, systems and user research combined. It would involve a project like getting health information to rural Appalachia or Africa. Reworking a broken or not yet evolved system to help people in all parts of the world have access to the information they need, be it healthcare, technology, growing crops, etc.
The words being used lately are "design for social change". When I mention this to some folks they say, "yeah, nice pipe dream, good luck." But many, many others, espescially those kindred spirits here in Portland say, "Yes! I want to do that too!" So, why can't we? Why aren't we doing this work? Many of us (present company included) point to the almighty dollar. I need to pay my mortgage. Fair enough. But why can't I make a living and do something good for the planet and/or the people on it? Why do these things become mutually exclusive? Must you pull vast amounts of oil from the earth to make a living? I realize there are many options in between minimum wage and oil baron, but when looking to do the work or make the change, the options feel limited.
And yet, I am heartened, elated, thrilled to find so many like minded people, designers and otherwise. Surely, if there are enough of us out there, it is bound to happen. Hopefully, soon.