IN THIS ISSUE

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The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once

X.J Kennedy

Suppose your life a folded telescope
Duration less, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage — toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs — all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What
   happened?

We know your secret.
It’s over.

It’s happened now,
2020 is over.

We know that you wanted it, DON’T LIE TO US.
Yeah okay, we wanted it too. 2021 IS HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay now what.

The Kind Man in the Mountains

Manasvini SN

Questioning Universalist Claims of
(Visual) Design

Naveen Bagalkot

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

A column that we knew was waiting to be written after we saw Naveen’s tweet from a few weeks ago. 

I am not a Visual Designer. I do my posters in Microsoft PowerPoint. Yet I squirm whenever I come across statements proclaiming some fundamental idea of visual design as a universal requirement for being a good designer. Mostly a design-thought-leader-influencer-speak on social media along the lines of, “if you do not know color theory or Gestalt’s principles or type and layout, then you are not a designer”, which must be ignored, but yet influences so much of student and professional existential angst. This posturing reveals nothing but an unreflective colonizing gaze that is often taken for granted in design education and practice.
Dr. Lakshmi Murthy (2003) argues that at the heart of good communication design is understanding and working with the world-views of the intended audiences rather than imposing a colonizing, universal visual language and principle. My position is influenced by closely working with Lakshmi. Since 2016, Lakshmi and I have been co-facilitating an annual two-week workshop in the rural parts of Udaipur district. We focus on bringing the rural and tribal adolescents, and (mostly urban) postgraduate design students together in a five-day residential workshop to collectively explore bodies, gender norms, sexual and reproductive rights, design and technologies and futures. In 2017, we set the brief for the participants to envision systems that enable menstrual health and nightfall education that takes learning among peers beyond the ‘safe spaces of a school or an activity centre, and into everyday spaces where they hang out. Mixed teams came up with ideas of board games with subversive cards about reproductive organs that can be flipped to show ‘safe’ images if adults walk in, as well as self-produced video songs that can be shared over WhatsApp. When asked to think of a system that will sustain the usage of these ideas, the postgraduate design students imagined systems and represented them through drawing maps that followed “established visualisation techniques”, aka, mapping the various stakeholders, parts of the system, and their connections all coming together in a neat geometric circle (see figure 1).

Figure 1: System map by design students. 
Neat, geometric, abstract.

Figure 2: A system map by rural adolescents. 
Rich, Layered, More-than-Human.

But their teammates from the villages revealed their own form of visual communication and thinking. As the figure 2 shows, it was not merely a different form of representation that somehow seems more direct, but revealed a radically different form of thinking that was in fact deeper than any system designer with an M.Des degree could ever imagine. For the adolescents from the villages, the grazing lands at the edge of the forest were a key-stakeholder as grazing gave them privacy to engage with the self-produced media or card games, without any interference from adults. The map they drew shows a world-view that highlights the key role that the grazing lands play in the system they envisioned. And I wonder what aspects of color theory, gestalt’s principles, layout grids, and type kerning did they learn to not only represent so richly but also to imagine in complex more-than-human ways? And who taught them these? The universal claims of design thought leaders about the primacy of Euro-centric visual design principles and theories fall apart at such moments, which designers keep encountering if rightly oriented, given the rich, heterogeneous country we are.

I believe it is time we question the origins of what we assume as ‘good design’ skills and abilities, particularly as we go digital and explore if and how we can align with the multiple, and often conflicting worldviews of the audiences we are designing for. A way towards such an exploration is to shift from designing for to designing with. It is a challenge that DesignBeku, a collective that I am a part of, has been engaged with. Our work in response to Covid-19 has reinforced my position about how good visual communication is much beyond what is generally taught at design schools.

When faced with a design-thought-leader proclaiming some universal importance about an aspect of design, the question I ask is: What structures of global design education and practice make the aspect—whether it is Color Theory, Gestalt’s principles, Flat / Material Design, or devices having no headphone jacks—fundamental and universal?

References:

  1. Lakshmi Murthy, The Art of Communicating for Health: Experiences from Rural Southern Rajasthan, India., A paper presented at the conference “Arts, Design and Health: World Symposium” Sydney, February 2003 https://drive.google.com/file/d/15twXuA6buUtYnNmqlRT9h3KF3XEs51M9/view?usp=sharing
  2. Covid-19 Response by DesignBeku 2020. https://designbeku.in/covid-19-response/
Naveen Bagalkot a design researcher, educator, and facilitator broadly working at the intersections of Human-Computer Interaction design (HCI), participatory design and community-based care. As an educator at Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design & Technology, he works towards creating an environment of learning that expands the horizon of emerging design practice through a critical and situated engagement with technological ideas and real-world complexities. As a part of the Design Beku collective, he works with grass-roots community organizations to collaborative explore alternative possibilities for localized and participatory design of digital-physical-social infrastructures for care and wellbeing.
Pick of the Web

1. Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s advice to “anyone trying to discern what to do with their life”. Its a great opener to Hank Green’s insightful ramble which we feel is worthy of your attention right now.

2. If you made any resolutions this year, you definitely want to read about these five perspectives on Procrastination (maybe later, eh?). Edgar Allan Poe was a proud procrastinator, or as he says, “I am excessively slothful, and wonderfully industrious—by fits.”

3. As long as we’re on the topic of points of view, check out this piece on Windows as an existential tool; because what’s January without a little existentialism?

Newsletters: An Essay

We came across this beautiful graphic online essay on newsletters, forgotten RSS feeds, content monetization and making the web easy and accessible again. This might also encourage you to subscribe to some fantastic people on Substack, like Letters of NoteCulture Study by Anne Helen Petersen and an interview on keeping up with newsletters.

Student Artist Spotlight

Divya Kalburgi

Hi! I’m Divya. 

Art for me as a kid was going to various summer camps, trying to make things with weird materials. It was around then that my parents put me into an art class where I started playing around with watercolours and later oil paints. Even though there was a point where I didn’t make any art for a couple of years, the grueling year of 10th grade made me reach out to my brushes and paints, and they’ve kept me company ever since. I’ve always been more inclined towards traditional mediums of art like painting and I’m also absorbed by forms like tie & dye, paper making, bookbinding, and most recently, printmaking. I’ve questioned myself quite a lot of times about why my major is DMA, but what I’ve come to realise (after countless ted talks with my closest friends) is that it’s okay to have different interests and that you can enjoy working digitally just as much as you enjoy work with materials and getting your hands messy. I’ve only recently ventured into digital art, and like anything else, it takes time and practice to get used to. Though it is a whole lot of fun with all the experimentation you can do. 

When I continued painting in 10th, my first instinct was to paint skies and florals. I find that these things somehow find a way in most of what I make, especially the latter. For the longest time, this bothered me and still does sometimes, since you know, context and all that. But I’m slowly starting to see what it adds to my work. Sometimes I feel like it brings about a sense of calmness or reassurance? And we could all do with a bit of that now and then 🙂

You're a Wizard, Harry

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

TL;DR: I’ve broken the hearts of hundreds of kids around the world by making them think I would send them to Hogwarts, and I’m going to share what they ha to say with you.

I’d like to begin this year by looking back at something that has remained a constant source of entertainment for me over the last 3-4 years, and because I think this isn’t an experience a whole lot of people must have had, it might be of some interest. Some of these are things I have not been comfortable sharing because I used to be embarrassed by how stupid they were, but I’m a little older and (slightly) wiser now to see it for what they were: just a bit of fun. I’ve always liked making websites for things that I like, and I’ve been fiddling around with making things for the web for the last 6-7 years. The obsession started in 7th grade when I ran my own version of the newspaper, Daily Prophet, from Harry Potter. It wasn’t a lot, I downloaded a badly formatted Word template and filled it in with random pieces of information, some of which were lifted from the Harry Potter Wikia and some which were thought up. The website itself was made on Weebly.com, which isn’t exactly the standard for web design, but it gave me the sandbox I needed. I kept adding to this universe of Harry Potter websites and soon, I had my own Ministry of Magic and a Hogwarts website too. They were everything you’d expect from websites designed by a 13-year-old; god-awful fonts, badly written copy, size 20 text, loud Weebly branding and no sense of design. 

My attention span, however, was poor. Life went on and I quite forgot about all of these. When I say I forgot, I mean I even forgot the URLs of the blessed things. So they lay on Weebly’s servers, forgotten and abandoned. But something peculiar happened. Starting in 2016, my form on my Hogwarts website started receiving submissions.

Starting in 2016, my form on my Hogwarts website started receiving submissions. First, it was two a month, then 10 and sometimes even 50. In 2017, I started reaching my monthly limit of 100 submissions every month. The website didn’t have much, other than the Wufoo form I had set up. Once you entered your email, you’d be sent ‘your acceptance letter’ like so: 

For some reason, people were finding a website I had myself forgotten about. I don’t know why, maybe there is a backlink to it from a popular blog, maybe it was showing up on Google for some keyword search, maybe it was just by chance. Whatever it was, it was getting me traffic and submissions from kids who believed that this was the real Hogwarts website (despite the .weebly.com subdomain and Wufoo branding). I started getting emails asking me how would they come if they were in Sri Lanka, how they could purchase their books, what the price of admission was, or they described the problems of them not having an owl or that their parents hadn’t permitted them to attend a school that taught witchcraft. These weren’t spoof emails either, as I found out after I started replying to them. These were kids, all between the ages of 10-14 (and some outliers), who were convinced that they had finally got their tickets. 

I’ve gotten used to reading these emails now. Sometimes I write back to them personally, sometimes it’s a standard response (This is a fansite blah blah, continue your Muggle education), sometimes I mess around with them if I feel like they’re up to it. Some email threads have gotten as long as 12 emails long. I used to share random screenshots of them with my friends because some of them are genuinely funny, but a few days ago, my brother told me I should compile them into a proper place, once and for all.

For this issue, I made another website to celebrate that website:

Here, you can browse through a small selection of the hundreds of emails I’ve received. Some of my favourites have been added in the ‘Top Picks’ page, but I’ll add them here as well: 

        1. Biyon, who was in ‘plus one’ and wondered what he could do.
        2. Zoha, who wanted to bring her smartphones. This is obviously against the rules.
        3. The time someone emailed me 12 times and I got annoyed and went on about cows.
        4. Bridda, who had it all planned out. 

And lastly, Neeharika, who asked me if magic was real. I liked writing that email, give it a read.

I would love it if you went through the website for yourself. Till date, I’ve had 2032 entries and counting, and I get an average of 20 signups a day. I haven’t been able to replicate this kind of engagement since then, no matter how much SEO work or marketing strategies I apply. 

I wish I had an epiphany or a takeaway from this entire project to share with you, but I don’t (other than the fact that these silly websites paved way for the one you are on right now). 

The Internet, and life, works in weird ways and that’s all there is.

 

Aman Bhargava

Eating with Your hands

Tales From the road begrudgingly traveled :
a comic in ten parts.

Anvay Sudame

  • The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once
  • The Kind Man in the Mountains
  • Questioning Universalist Claims of (Visual) Design
  • Pick of the Web
  • Student Artist Spotlight
  • You're a Wizard, Harry
  • Eating with Your hands