About Me

My Photo
Currently the Associate Director for Design for America (DFA) and a lecturer at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University, I am a San Francisco native and passionate about the intersection of design education and local/social impact. My studio, students' projects, and DFA have been discussed in publications and blogs such as Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Core77 and more. I have been fortunate enough to have spoken and given workshops at TEDx, the NE IDSA Conference, Better Word by Design Conferences, Fulbright Seminar, and given workshops at college campuses across the country. I earned my BFA in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design where I received RISD’s Community Service Award and the Rachel Carson Award upon graduation. I am currently working on a masters in learning and organizational change at Northwestern University. At the start, I founded and taught the advanced studio, Design for Social Entrepreneurship at RISD, Design Futures at Pratt and worked with nonprofits such as Design that Matters and GreenBlue.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Creating a World Without Poverty"

I'm at my sister's apartment right now waiting for her to return home so we can eat dinner together, an activity I frequently participate in with her and her husband. I see an intriguing book and recall her telling me about it. It's "Creating a World Without Poverty," by Muhammad Yunus, who started the Grameen Bank. For those who don't know, the Grameen Bank is one of the original microfinancing organizations, lending small amounts of money to the poor to help stimulate their growth out of poverty. This loan, which is always repaid, enables a family to say, start a small enterprise of trading hand made goods, or starting a farm with additional crop yields to sell on the market.

In his new book, he discusses , "the emergence of social business as the vanguard of a worldwide effort to eliminate poverty, unleash the creative energies of all people, and make true abundance possible for every human being" and focuses on 3 factors: Poverty, the role of Women, and Technology.

Stay tuned for more updates on the book as I read on...

ID vs. Metropolis Magazine: Flatland and New Dimensions

After perusing my latest edition of ID magazine, I've come to realize how two-dimensional it is.

To convey my point, I will paint an analogy to Edward Abbott's "Flatland." For those of you that are not familiar with this book, it is a clever story of a 2-dimensional world, with a visitor from the 3rd dimension. The sphere, the 3D being, aims to explain to the circle, the 2D being, what the 3rd dimension is. As you can imagine, this is quite impossible without simply pulling the circle out of the 2D world and into the 3rd dimension. The circle is amazed at the incomprehensible sight beheld in front of him, below him, and above.

Similarly, in the design world, typical product design is 2-dimensional. These two dimensions being: "form" and "function." We’ve been living in this world for the past century with the Industrial Revolution and longer, but we are approaching a time where we must enter into new dimensions.

Metropolis Magazine reveals the "3rd" dimension, and often times a fourth with "systems" and "culture." The magazine and a big credit is due to the editor in chief, Susan Szenasy, links design to the causes and effects design has on society, and responds to the needs of our time.

Case in point can be made by looking at the competitions each magazine hosts.

ID magazine’s categories include:

Consumer Products, Graphics, Packaging, Environments, Furniture, Concepts, Interactive.

Metropolis Magazine “category” includes:

“The 2008 Next Generation® Design Competition focuses on WATER. In a world of killer floods and rising tides, potable water is a finite resource. We call on your innovative design solutions at all scales and sizes—products, interiors, buildings, landscapes, communication systems, or anything else you’ve dreamed up—for handling this most precious and most threatened natural resource. The time for new thinking on water is now.

WHAT’S YOUR SOLUTION?”

ID magazine continues to view design in its old paradigm, as individual entities to be consumed, but yet, does not discuss or evoke curiosity concerning the impact of design. And what are the results? By looking at the magazine cover one would conclude: a pile of stuff. Metropolis Magazine however encourages its viewers and competitors to take today’s most pressing issues and use design as a tool to make positive impact in the world around us; connecting and designing in four dimensions.

A product is flat until combined with a system, and a system becomes alive when integrated with culture. ID magazine seems stuck in Flatland, while Metropolis Magazine is extruding us into new dimensions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World"

I just started reading, "In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World" by John Thackara. So far it greatly resonates with me and all my thoughts, and actually inspired me to start blogging so I could keep track of my thoughts on all these subjects. The two concepts that stick out the most thus far are:

everything is design
+
design must be done so systemically

These are two concepts that took me four years at design school to discover, and to see them expanded upon so eloquently is inspiring.

Stay tuned for reviews and comments on the book...

5) How receptive are consumers to environment-friendly ideas?

How receptive are consumers to environment-friendly ideas? While ecological literacy is becoming part of design education, what is an effective way to raise awareness on the consumer end?


Consumers are becoming more and more receptive to “environmentally-friendly ideas.” As more and more media draws attention to the issues, the public is being receptive. One must proceed with caution however in deciphering between trend and real transition. One must also proceed with caution in deciphering if products, services, and companies are actually being environmentally friendly or if they simply want a market edge. Time will tell, but it is the role of designers to make this shift compelling, and tangible for the general market. There are many organizations and projects trying to bring this awareness to the masses. Real change will happen when the everyday person sees the effects their actions are having on their very own lives. Altruism can only take us so far, self-interest has to take us the rest of the way and with issues like Global Warming threatening everyone, people are now scampering for ways to save themselves, and subsequently the rest of the world. This will result in a vast increase in consumer awareness, thus creating more demand for environmentally healthy products. Environmentally sustainable products and education surrounding these products are key steps to achieving an environmentally sustainable society.

3) What are your thoughts on the concerns of costs of, say, organic materials?

This question harkens to the issue of the higher prices for more “eco-friendly” products in general. With consumer goods, our products’ prices are artificially low. A good question is posed in the video, “The Story of Stuff,” when the narrator asks, “what are we not paying for” when we buy these low-cost, low-quality products. We may not be paying for fare wages for store employees or factory workers, we may not be paying for workers’ healthcare, we may not be paying for quality materials, or a product that will last. What we might be paying for are carcinogens and lead in our toys, or under-aged workers making them, and an overall product that was made as quickly and as cheaply as possible without regard to anything else but the bottom line.

4) Conversely, what is to be done when the customer is more inclined to buy cheap junk than pricier environment-friendly alternatives? Or when the bulk of consumers prefers the popular and branded, despite lack of sustainable values?

If someone can afford it, they should definitely buy the more expensive, but well-made product, if it is something they in fact need. It gets complicated however when we look at communities and families that cannot afford this. How do we enable low-income communities to have good quality and safe products for their home? We as designers must take on the responsibility of infusing smart choices throughout a products’ lifecycle to ensure its environmental and human safety, for all products. With an increase in market competition, the prices will come down and become more affordable. Additionally, a part of sustainable design is to indeed address this gap between the rich and the poor. What type of community development can happen to help bridge this divide and make a more equitable society, and therefore more sustainable? It is these types of questions we must also for.

2) What are your thoughts on sustainable product design?

Often times the most sustainable product is the one that isn’t made. And just because a product is made “sustainably” does not make it a “sustainable product.” Meaning, that because a new product is say made out of recycled materials, does not mean that it is helping the world to become more sustainable, it is simply delaying the inevitable process of those materials ending up in the landfill. To be truly and globally sustainable, we must address a larger set of issues. These set of issues can be overwhelming, but again, each small step is an important part of the way. At this point in our society the only products that are worth designing are those that are addressing these larger issues, primarily in the fields of health, education, and renewable energy. Before we even begin designing a product, we must ask ourselves, “Will this product significantly contribute to the well being of humanity?” most often the answer ought to be “no.” Finding a balance between products for the sake of innovation and enjoyment, versus products for a real need is going to take some serious time.

1) In your opinion, what are the implications of sustainability and sustainable design? What are the guiding principles, methodologies and standards?

I was recently asked by a reporter in the Phillipines to respond to a series of question pertaining to "sustainable design" after seeing my work in RISD's Respond/Design's Hi Res exhibition and publication. I was quite blown away by the questions, as they were topics I often think about and discuss amongst myself and interested peers. So I figured I would take this opportunity to post some of my responses here.

1)

Sustainable design addresses issues of both the social and environmental, of which the two are integral. Society impacts the environment through our massive consumption and depletion of resources, and the environment reacts to this which creates numerous effects among society. Global warming is not the entirety of the issue. On a more day to day scale, the environmental burdens we as humans create are un-proportionally burdened onto the low-income minority communities, both within the US and abroad. Therefore those who are consuming the most, keep consuming because they are blind to the effects their actions cause.

There are many guiding principles for sustainable design out there but I would say most importantly, one must address design holistically and systemically. Without strategic thinking, we are doomed to repeat ourselves and perpetuate the consequences of our design processes from the past century.


"Good to Great" Chapter 2: Level 5 Leadership:


"Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will." A level five leader is someone who looks out the "window" to credit those who made the company great, and looks in the "mirror" to determine when something went wrong. The converse is true of non-level five leaders. The tiers of leadership before this one are:
1. Highly Capable Individual
2. Contributing Team Member
3. Competent Manager
4. Effective Leader

"Good to Great" Chapter 3: First Who... Then What:

This is a great chapter that emphasizes the importance of who is on the team of your company. The idea is to get the wrong people off the bus, and the right ones on. It's key to have highly skilled and more importantly motivated people on the team that have the drive to see the vision of the company follow through. Instead of using programs to motivate your employees, hire those that are already motivated. This will greatly increase the productivity and success of a company, and perhaps life when you surround yourself with others who are motivated and push you in the right directions. With a team of motivated players with vision, they will be prepared to adapt as the company's needs grow and adjust, and they themselves can assimilate accordingly, and provide informative insight throughout the process.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Self-Branding: What is your Hedgehog Principle


As I am learning more and more about branding for a company, I am also realizing how much we brand ourselves to convey a particular image. This may be a bit obvious, but it is indeed interesting to acknowledge all the ways in which we brand and market ourselves. Especially with all the online social networks, this self-branding becomes even more important. On a daily basis, we are conveying to people who we are, what we believe in, and what we think of ourselves and the world around us. To list some of the ways in which we brand ourselves (again, obvious, but important to point out):

-What we wear
- What we say
- What school we go or went to
- Where we work
- What we watch
- What we listen to
- What pictures of ourselves we choose to post
- What religion we choose to follow
- How we sign our emails- do you say, "best" "sincerely" "yours truly" "hasta" "ciao" etc? 
- If we have a blog
- Having a website is clearly a more direct form of self-marketing

In looking at all of this, we can tie this in to Jim Collin's "Hedgehog Principle." If we look at ourselves as our own company, to transform ourselves from good to great, we must look at this principle which asks:

What are you deeply passionate about?
What can you be the best in the world at?
What drives your economic engine? (What is your support system?)

In order to go from good to great within our own lives, we must align our self-brand with our Hedgehog principle.

I'm not so sure the last one applies to individuals. There must be an equivalent in this context. Perhaps, What is your upbringing? What are your moral values? What is your support system? (i.e. friends, family, etc.) I think I would vote for this last one as it seems the most equivalent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Good to Great" Chapter 1: Good is the Enemy of Great:


After a road trip across the country, with the sound of Bill Bryer's voice reading a "Brief History of Almost Everything," I found my love of books on tape (or CD rather) My next venture into this form of learning through osmosis was Jim Collins' "Good to Great, Why some companies make the leap and others don't"

I listened to this book while on my commute to and from work and down to Providence on the weekend, and got through it all within a week, when it would have probably taken me half a year to actually read it.

I would like to share these gems of wisdom that apply not only to the business context, but also to one's life in general in aims of self-improvement. I'll briefly and loosely summarize the chapters as my memory serves me and some thoughts and questions they stimulated:

Chapter 1: Good is the Enemy of Great: There are few great companies because so many of us are content with just being "good, " and therefore stop striving for anything more.
- This is a difficult concept to accept, because often times, yes, I too am content in being good. Being "good" is a good thing, and I'm usually too lazy to do anything more. But I feel I should do more, so it puts the pressure on. I tell myself it's something to strive for, and doesn't happen overnight. So, I have just bought myself some more time. i.e. procrastinating on becoming great.

Imassami's First Blog Ever


This is my first blog ever. I'm not even a blogger, and now I have created my own blog. Why have I done this? Ideas spinning through my head, and a desire to connect, be heard, and reconnect again. List of things I'm generally interested in and think about, so if you are interested in these things too, then you may want to read my blog someday when there is something to read:

Design

Education

Sustainability

Racism

Environmental injustice

Everything is design

Everything is interconnected

Everything is yearning for connection

Online Social Communities, translating into the tangible

Technology

Mapping

Systems

Community

The Self

Overcoming the Self

Myself