Concluding thoughts on thesis

My thesis on documenting Indian American history reflects almost two years of work. I have always been a lover of history and the institutions and media that exist to preserve it. Being Indian American, the people and their culture have intrigued me for personal reasons, as well as academic motives. The rapid growth of this population and its assimilation into American society are topics worth exploring. Indian Americans have come a long way since they started arriving to America in the 19th century. They are now a sizable and successful community in this country and it is time they start honoring the journey that has gotten them this far.

Working with the Smithsonian Institution’s Indian American Heritage Project brought on its share of challenges and opportunities. At times, it was difficult to reconcile the design vision I had with the realities of working with a client who came with a set of requirements and limitations. However, these challenges were more than offset by knowledge that I was partnering with such a reputable institution on an effort that will live well beyond the pages of a paper.

I am now done with thesis (and my degree at Pratt!), but I have plans to continue working with the IAHP over the next year, and perhaps even longer, as they plan the opening of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition, raise awareness among Indian Americans and develop new initiatives.

Final thesis exhibition at Pratt

Final thesis exhibition at Pratt

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Cut the Cord

My Concepts of Design class asked us to pair up with another student to write a manifesto that is related to design. My friend Ashley and I decided to address the increasing use of technology in our personal and working lives. Here’s our manifesto:

We, as designers, are spending an ever-increasing amount of our waking hours on digital devices. From keeping current with the latest design software programs to following the rapidly updating social media landscape, much of the mental bandwidth we once used to think, imagine and reflect is now being used to interact with technology. This makes it harder for us to embrace and explore our physical surroundings using our five senses, which is undoubtedly limiting our sources of creative inspiration and our minds’ capacity for creative thinking. Perhaps the time has now come for us to decrease the amount of time we are spending with technology.

After taking the class through our presentation, we handed out our visual solution, a manifesto card for everyone to hold on to and hopefully, use as a reminder to be less reliant on technology. Here’s the card I designed:

 

Talk to Me at the MoMA

The latest assignment for my Concepts of Design class was to write a response paper for the Talk to Me exhibition at the MoMA. Let me just say that I feel incredibly lucky to live in New York City – home to some of the world’s finest museums. Sometimes I take it for granted that so much greatness is only a Metrocard swipe away, but I realize how fortunate I am when I’m walking around an exhibit and it is packed with people from all corners of the world, who are no doubt using precious time of their trip here to see a particular museum.

So what did I think about the exhibition?

Talk to Me features a wide range of objects from all over the world, including products, infographics, video installations and other pieces that all focus on communication between people and objects. The objects are organized by six categories: Objects, Life, I’m Talking to You, City, Worlds and Double Entendre. The room is densely packed with modular walls, objects and screens in a relatively small space. This makes for a slightly confusing and overwhelming experience. But perhaps this is intended, as it draws a parallel with the crushing amount of visual information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Overall, I enjoyed the exhibit. I most appreciated objects that combined utility, practicality and good design, such as the El Sajjadah (Somer Ozerc, Turkey, 2005), which is a prayer rug for Muslims that lights up when pointed toward Mecca. I also liked anything that raised important questions about the increasing role of technology in our lives, such as Hierarchy of Digital Interactions (David McCandless, U.K., 2009), a play on the USDA food pyramid which ranked digital interactions by distractibility in the designer’s life, with “wife closing laptop on my fingers” at the very top. Haha.

What I was less impressed with were meaningless pieces of information packaged into neat visual designs that just add to visual clutter, especially on the internet. For example, Feltron Annual Reports (Nicholas Felton, U.S.A, 2006-11), which are the designer’s visual reports of his life in a given year. The point of his project is to transform his life’s inconsequential details – clothes he wore, food he ate, music he listen – into a meaningful narrative. While beautifully designed (Felton is talented, no doubt), I just couldn’t see the point.  Do we really need this level of self-observation? What is it accomplishing?

Should Felton use his abilities for a better cause? How about organizing complicated financial or scientific information in a way that people can better understand the subject matter?

I believe that people are so busy documenting their interactions (on Facebook, Foursquare, etc.) that they are not fully experiencing them. At this exhibit, I saw a lot of people moving from one installation to other just snapping pictures with their smartphones and not really looking at what was in front of them. Other visitors were actually following MoMA’s advice to interact with the exhibit using their smartphones to tweet and scan QR codes. Hardly anyone was reading the physical information labels on the actual displays.

I go to concerts now and people are so busy taking pictures and videos that they are effectively watching the entire show on screen. At the Massimo Vignelli lecture I attended at Pratt last week, I saw someone in the audience take a picture of each of the 75+ slides of the lecture as they changed on screen, but then put her head down as soon she got the photo. What??

I’m not sure if the main intention of the Talk to Me Exhibition is to ask the viewer whether one form of interaction is better than another. But it raised that question for me and if it did for others, then I would say the exhibit was successful.

Hello again

The beginning of summer was quite hectic for me. The day after spring semester classes ended, my shoulder decided to wage war on me. A surgery, two summer classes, starting rehab and a much needed R&R vacation in Cabo, Mexico later, I’m back. Oh, and the fall semester is halfway done. My biggest projects this semester have been design a personal portfolio site and coming up with a toursim campaign for the country, Laos.

I am no where closer to figuring out what I want to do for my thesis, which officially starts with Thesis I class next semester. Here’s hoping winter break will spark inspiration.

Design Speak

Dilbert, as relevant today as in the 90s

Each industry overuses certain words and phrases. e.g., win-win, synergies, touching base, etc. Design has a large number of buzz words that I am getting really tired of. I inwardly cringe every time I hear or read words like:

Conversations
Authentic
Meaningful
Impactful
Inspired

…Enough already.

Just do an internet search with the following in the search box “design firm meaningful impactful” and you’ll see what I mean. Throw in “inspired” for even more fun.

To an outsider, it all sounds pretentious. To me, clichéd and boring. Sometimes, buzzwords are essential to getting your point across, but usually, plain English is the best. When communication is filled with buzzwords, it suggests an inability to think and communicate clearly…or conduct a meaningful conversation. Kidding.

Financial Literacy

Jeff Parker, Florida Today

I missed this New York Times article by Paul Sullivan on money camps for kids, but my classmate Kelly was thoughtful enough to share it with me in class today. Thanks Kelly! I’ve been toying with a few ideas for my thesis. At the moment, my most well-thought out topic is documenting the South Asian diaspora, but I’m not fully committed to it yet. I realize I have commitment issues (hah), but articles like this make my mind spin in a different direction…

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, most teachers do not feel equipped to teach students about personal finance, even when states require it. A study published in 2009 by two researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, called “Teachers’ Background and Capacity to Teach Personal Finance,” found that 80 percent of states had some sort of requirement for personal financial education, but that most teachers did not feel qualified to teach a financial literacy course. [Paul Sullivan, NYT)

The 2008 credit crisis occurred for many reasons. Many mistakes were made, ones that shouldn’t be repeated. Scarily enough, I’ve come across many people, who to this day, can’t articulate what went wrong, just that it ended badly.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Enough said.

You could argue that my background makes it easier for me to understand, but the concepts involved aren’t exactly rocket science. The problem lies in our schools and universities – they don’t offer any sort of financial education other than to those majoring in finance. And even then, it’s a lot of market theory, not practical, real-life sense.

I’ve seen college students bounce checks and rack up huge credit card bills. I’ve worked with people who contribute to their 401(k)s without any understanding of what a stock is. Subsequently, they were the ones hurt the most when credit card rates went through the roof and retirement portfolios took a nosedive.

I believe that learning about the ancient Romans, making sentence diagrams and understanding molecular biology are an important of education. But so is financial literacy. Yet, it isn’t being taught. Thousands of Americans were taken in by dishonest brokers and banks in the lead up to the crisis. I strongly believe that not as many would have taken on risky mortgages if they had basic financial knowledge.

I think design can play a role in teaching people of all ages basic financial concepts. It’s something I’m interested in exploring more, even if it’s not for my thesis…

Jaume Plensa: Echo

One of the most beautiful works of public art I have ever seen.

A 44ft tall of a girl’s face rises in the middle of Madison Park, which itself, is an anomaly within one of the busiest intersections in Manhattan. What do I love about Echo? Everything. The monumental scale, the stark white color, and its ability to push the rest of Manhattan into the background.

The ability to engage the viewer and create intrigue in the community are marks of successful public art. But for me, the most important, is the element of surprise. The people of New York City pay little attention to their surroundings, despite the fact that they are feats of architecture. But Echo is getting people (and this longtime city resident) to look up again in wonder.