My class was featured on RISD.edu!

Check out this lovely write up about the IBM sponsored course I designed and co-taught with my fellow MID student, Erica Efstratatoudakis! 

Teaching was an incredible experience that I hope to repeat in the future. Student work was exceptionally thoughtful. Still can't believe the quality of work produced!

Feels weird to quote yourself, but my new life philosophy is at the end of the article: "There are no problems that are too small. It’s just that people don’t find opportunities to solve them creatively and make life a little more thoughtful and human.”

 

 

The Public Bench: an Adversarial Design Archetype

 
bench_smaller.jpg
 

The purpose of a public bench should be to provide convenient, comfortable seating for everyone. However, they can support an additional agenda: to define how long and in what position they can be used, and therefore, by whom they can used. Benches strive to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that people stay there for long periods of time. Design elements such as a narrow seating or midpoint arm rests prevent behaviors such as lounging and sleeping. 

The message to homeless people is simple and clear: this space is not for you. 

For this reason, benches are the most frequently cited example of adversarial design (also known as defensive, exclusionary, hostile, negative design, etc.). These are design tactics used to discourage unwanted behaviors. In public spaces this typically means sleeping and loitering, particularly by the homeless or groups perceived to be threatening. 

I am far from the first person to point out that a park bench is a problematic object. But it is a logical place to begin a conversation on exclusion in public space because it straightforwardly shows how an extra piece of metal can function as an means of social control. There are a lot of interesting design projects that have explored inclusive bench design for the homeless, ranging from messaging on the bench, to objects inserted between armrests, to fully convertible shelters. This is where the public bench takes on a new meaning to me: we have a range of solutions from just “not putting in armrests” to those more speculative designs, but these alternatives do not result in more inclusive benches.

Developers and city officials can easily justify measures to exclude the homeless from visible public spaces for public safety. If people don’t feel safe, they are unlikely to spend time there, supporting business development and real estate value. Aside from the inequity of a public good that is not truly for the public, the obvious flaw with design for homeless exclusion is that shifting where they sleep, does not end homelessness. Making homeless people less visible makes it harder to connect them to shelters and service providers, forces them to seek out more vulnerable dwellings, and also creates a false impression that rates of homelessness are going down.1 Design for social control may solve for some people’s perception of safety, but fails to actually make us safer.

A Feast of Ice and Fire

This will not be surprising to anyone who has spent more than a few hours with me, but 3 of my favorite things are: theme parties, ambitious baking endeavors, and Game of Thrones. I got to combine all three of these loves for a special dinner party before the finale of GOT's penultimate season. In addition to the themed food I decorated the table with three dragon fruits and some candlelight (because, Team Dany!) We feasted on the heavy food, enjoyed some 'Dornish' Reds, then played DROGO during the epic episode. The menu was:

my 10 most influential books

1-3. Infinite JestA Supposedly Fun thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster (David Foster Wallace) DFW is a big part of my literary life. He has profoundly changed how I see complexity fitting into everyday life, how I relate to people struggling with addition, how media influences our creative imagination, the danger of emotional complacency, and so much more. I quote his essay in Consider the Lobster, On Authority and American Usage about the politics of language at least once a week.  

4. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (Chuck Klosterman) While I grew up loving to read, this book was the first time I read contemporary non-fiction that felt like a cooler version of the way I talk and see the world. It really inspired me to write and choose books that hit closer to home, emotionally. 

5-6. Harry Potters (JK Rowling) and A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) These ones I love because of childhood attachment. Their crumbling binding reminds me of my mom and all the times I read them growing up.

7. White Trash  (Nancy Isenberg) My current book. It's pretty mind blowing. 

8. Mountains beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder) The life of Dr. Paul Farmer has defined the kind of activism I want to pursue in my career. His subsequent writings have really solidified my approaches to participatory community design and health activism. 

9-10. Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri) and On Beauty (Zadie Smith) These are very different books, but I read them close together and they were both key to a broadening of my personal cultural perspective. I grew up in homogeneously white rural Ohio, and these books really changed how I began to relate to the experiences of people different than myself. They set me down a path to study Anthropology in undergrad.