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. 

Participatory Design Discussion Guide

This week in studio a classmate and I led a discussion on Participatory Design. Thought I would share the list of readings and our discussion guides!


  1. Design Things and Design Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges by Erling Bjögvinsson, Pelle Ehn, Per-Anders Hillgren
  2. Designing Conditions for the Social - Anders Emilson
  3. Dick and Rick: A Visual Primer for Social Impact Design
  4. Alejandro Aravena's TED Talk on Participatory Design
  5. The Ethics of Measurement by Lauren Weinstein
  6. The Case Against Democracy by Caleb Crain
  7. Why Democratic Design is Important by Martin Brown
  8. Opening Up the Museum by Nina Simon (just watch the first 8 minutes!)

Crowdsourcing: Dos and Don'ts

Crowdsourcing is trendy. As with all trendy concepts, there is pressure to buy into the idea, to indicate you're "in", without fully understanding the origins behind the ideas or recognizing the potential value it can bring to your organization or personal practice. 

The critical mass of people participating in social media and other online forums has facilitated deeper participation in shared interests and more dynamic relationships between the digital and physical worlds.  

What is crowdsourcing?:

For something to truly qualify as crowdsourced it needs to have people removed from the project (visitors, potential users/buyers/viewers) who meaningfully participate in the co-creation of deliverables and share a stake in the final creation. 

so "outsider" involvement + co-creation + shared results = crowdsourcing

If your idea is missing one of these elements, there is a chance that your initiative is slightly missing the mark. Consequences for this can range from signaling that your institution does not understand new technology to alienating visitors who feel their potential contribution is not valued. 

What isn't crowdsourcing?:

Online polls: Simple online polls are great way to quickly gauge opinions. And if you're using your tech tools appropriately, they can be a useful way to get a snapshot of users' reactions to straightforward ideas and topics. Polls however, can only gauge opinions on pre-defined things, limiting participants role. 

Prompting a Closer Look at Pomposity

It is a pivotal moment in classical music culture. Audiences are dwindling and classical music institutions struggle to stay afloat. Many fear a future in which classical music only exists in a rarified state or not at all. 

Among contemporary fans, there is a growing rift between two audiences in classical music: traditionalists and modern fans. Traditionalists uphold strict concert etiquette, such not clapping between movements, dressing formally, and omitting any visual or lighting aids that would distract from listening and focus on the stage. Modern fans and most performers see the art form they love rejecting opportunities for reach and relevance by making new audiences feel embarrassed about not knowing concert conventions or uncomfortable behaving naturally. The staunch commitment to outdated conventions is keeping the classical music world from evolving with the times and exploring ways of becoming more inclusive of visitors from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, disabilities, and experiences with the arts. 

A tool is needed to help the classical music community have a conversation about the value of policing concert etiquette. So I created a speculative design project called “Etiquette Enforcer.” This project exists in a fictional scenario where wealthy patrons, fed up with the constant dumbing down of performances, demanded a way to experience performances unencumbered by concert etiquette faux pas. 

Fictional Scenario

They dreamt of a perfectly silent hall, where every once in attendance was there to serve the same gods of gentility and refinement. A beautiful reprieve from the world of Cheetos and American Idol.

Many voices in symphony management were horrified with the idea, but donors kept raising their annual gifts and used their sway to push the idea into reality. They insisted, “All we want is the right to enjoy the performance is the best way possible; And that means making sure people in the audience are behaving appropriately.” They posted excessive signage around the concert halls, included warnings along with ticket sales, but believed the clappers to be willfully ignorant of their requests. So they hired a tech consultancy to help identify then penalize or remove the guilty parties.

The product they created, a set of gloves, triggers an alert when someone behaves claps at an inappropriate moment. When the alert is triggered, backstage security can view the offending party’s seat assignment along with a profile with his or her class index and choose their appropriate response. Possible responses could include sending a mild shock to the patron or keep them from returning at a future performance by raising ticket prices based on individual concert etiquette performance or asking them to leave mid-performance. ”Donors see this as an extreme, but temporary measure. They believe “Etiquette Enforcer” will distill their audience down to only the purest fans in short time. ‘If you kick someone out once, they are not returning. And they will tell their friends.’

How it works

The Etiquette Enforcer system was created to give you more control over the quality of your audience. Creating an environment with everyone attuned to the same rules of decorum and refinement takes considerable effort in the post-Kardashian universe. Finally there is a way for you make sure denim-clad, Twinkie-eating, DaVinci Code readers know they don’t belong in your world of tailored evening wear, polite conversation, and strict adherence to concert hall conventions.   

1. Distribute Gloves

Each guest will be assigned a pair of gloves. The gloves will be linked to their ticket and seat assignment upon entry. 

A variety of styles for men and women will be offered, but all will add sophistication to the attendees outfit, or make their poor clothing choices more observable by contrast.

2. Track Audience Performance

When the performance begins, connection will be activated between the gloves and a seating chart of the auditorium. An LED in their corresponding seat assignment will light up when they applaud.

If a patron claps between movements, or at another inappropriate moment, their LED will light up. Inappropriate behavior can be tracked manually by security staff, but their performance will also be added to a database. Their audience performance will be recorded alongside socioeconomic status. 

3. Enforce Desire Outcomes

Once you know who isn't behaving, you can choose how you want to move forward. Here are some options:

  1. Quietly ask them to leave
  2. Send a small electric shock 
  3. Raise ticket prices on patrons with past performance issues

Initially it will require considerable effort to monitor the offending parties, but in short time, the audience will be reduced to the purest fans. 

It's time for a critical conversation

While I created a working prototype, I strongly hope no system like this will never be used. 

Classical music is being held back, not by the art form, the musicians, or the symphonies and opera houses eager to embrace change, but by the patrons who feel there is only one way to enjoy live performances. The community at large needs to have a critical conversation about who feels excluded or rejected before it’s too late to build a future for classical music.  

Reflection on Aging Simulation Excercises

The strongest realization that came to me was how aging does not change desires or a sense of self, but that physical limitations limit the ways we can act on those desires and interests; aging constrains choice.

While coming up with ideas for our age simulations, we had jokingly suggested putting our hair into hot rollers while using saran wrap to restrict our movement. It seemed like a trivial suggestion because neither I, nor my partner, are really “get your hair done” kind of ladies, but this ended up being the most emotional part of our aging simulations for me. It made me realize just how physically strenuous it could be to stick to a beauty routine. Holding my arms above the head, carefully wrapping hair around a roller, and securing the roller with a pin required intense muscle strength and precision of movement. With all of the motion restricting measures we had taken, it was quite painful and the end of it all, my hair still looked truly terrible.

It made me realize how much I associated a “kept” appearance with my own grandmother. Maintaining a coiffed hairdo and styled was really important to her sense of self. I never realized how much effort it would take for her to maintain her appearance while she was dealing with aging and her worsening arthritis.   

It made me realize how easily we can assume that things like appearance are the product of choice, when really, choice is constrained by so much of the aging process.