Rules for Revolutionaries

Bernie Sanders’ fight to be elected in the USA was remarkable as no one had seen him as a potential candidate. Becky and Zack describe the revolution they tried to start together with Bernie. This politician understood that politics was not enough, he wanted a movement. Just like Obama did in 2008, Bernie worked hard on community organizing as a tool to raise voters, awareness, dedication and power. It was not enough in the end. But the two campaigners, Becky and Zack, share the rules they discovered in their journey in this book. 22 rules that I will not all describe.

I will share one: Rule 11. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the big. In other words, if it is not shiny and designed but does fulfill its purpose, work it! In some occasions not having the end design is fine and unnecessary. This rule is a bit scary to me, as a designer, but also challenges me to give it a try. There is a big pro to this rule which is that if it looks unfinished you will get more input from its users to make it work better. In my previous job as spatial designer a finished render could sometimes feel too finished for a client, they saw no room for changes they wanted to make. The question is: what does the thing you present has to represent? Is it the finished design or an idea? Is it about how it works or the looks? Do the looks care in a social revolution?

The social revolution worked, thousands and thousands of people connected with Bernie Sanders’ team of staff and amazing volunteers. Community organizing on a big scale, I am impressed. The book describes internal and external struggles, management decisions and volunteer request, a must read if you want to work on big change!

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Bond, Becky and Exley, Zack, Rules for revolutionaries – how big organizing can change everything, 2016.

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John Thackara – In the bubble, design in a complex world

Thackara is a design teacher, director of Doors of perception in Amsterdam and Bangalore and he writes about what a sustainable future could look like. 

The book in the Bubble describes how our life has evaluated from relaxed and reflection into more and more speed and stuff. He pleats for thinking before making, rephrasing before taking things as they are and human centered before maker centered.

He illustrates his ideas with very simple examples that actually stand for a very complex man made system. I’d like to name one or two. The book begins and half way again he comes back at the place where he is sitting in his car in an endless line of trucks. He starts wondering, and explaining, that this is one row of trucks, imagine all the trucks that are send all over the world. This amazement builds up to the quest to produce and source lighter. The second example is questioning smart objects, the internet and digitizing our world. The simple example is a house thermometer that is keeping a house at a perfect temperature all day long. But because the skins of the houses are not well made we need to keep adding heat to have a warm home rather than improving the house’s skin we have chosen to give more force, and energy, to the heating system. Is that really smart? Or are penguins, that heat and cool when needed by using their feathers, smarter?

Not just digital areas are touched. Thackara has a holistic view on all sides of designs such as buildings, communication, health systems, sourcing materials, school and speed. The missing links are the exchange of knowledge and tools from one industry to another. Not just that, the way we demand things has often to do with how we’re missing the actual point. For example: do we demand to be quicker to one another? Or should we say: we want to bring people closer? In essence he keeps wondering how we ended up in a system where such a small amount of people are represented and is exhausting our world and our brains.

Mister Thackara, I would love to meet you, just to start drawing with a big group of designers how our world is at the moment. To understand our systems and to see where we can break in and make an alteration.

Service design, design management and product design are some of the fields I will walk around in. While I am here I hope to be able to make sure I am not exhausting our planet. In the bubble, burst the bubble, next to the bubble, however I am able to put it I wish to reorganize to find smarter options to innovate.

Mapping simplicity

‘Most of the times you need the book next to the book you came for’ – a teacher

When going to the library to search for books on mapping strategies. It dawned to me that it might be good to look into infographics. And yes, next to the handbook on infographics were highly interesting books on making diagrams. Which looks a lot like the maps we create as service designers. The purposes are different and we can learn from the graphic designers. I’ll write in depth about that aspect in my essay. One of the books that sparked my attention is from Jozua Zaagman: ‘Comfort zone and disillusion #4 from here to there – reality mapping’ who made maps out of real time situations using a strict grid and mapping language. A small book explains his method and way of going about it. His way of mapping is precise and rigid. I would like to connect this with the work of Jan Rothuizen, a Dutch illustrator, who draws the stories of places and the people in it. The two have a completely different style but are both on spot when it comes to registering happenings. It also links back to a class we had from Tine Bech who uses her own ‘language’ while observing people in the playgrounds she creates. I think we could use these methods during research in a more rapid way than what we do at the moment. Now we’ve conducted research, came back and made the maps. The two mentioned people make the maps at the spots and these become like recording machines. A tool I hope to use with my next research interview or observation.

Who owns the future – Jaron Lanier

A book about silent services. Our details that are being sold to third parties without our agreement, let alone benefits for us. How else can a company that is only giving us information making money out of us? This books gives a genius insight into the world of ownership. Is my Facebook profile picture mine? Or is it just my head and can Facebook do with it whatever it wants? We don’t know these things as all that is written about this issue is far too complicated for anyone who isn’t a lawyer. Lanier is able to pose questions, go for the extreme and then get back to reality where he shows strikingly how our world is shapable. 

While reading the book I had the feeling that Lanier was urging us, readers, to rethink value and ownership. He never said that any situation was good or bad, but he did explain how all these elements are a part of what we know as our reality. In any given situation we would ask someone: why do you need to know this. But when it comes to our behaviour online we don’t seem to care. As a designer with a possible future in chair positions I will at least review how we deal with these elements of our world. If possible I’d like to show what is happening with data we take or use. 

At the moment we, 6 service designers and myself, are building a service where the data of people is used. We made very clear that the benefits would not just be for the seller and buyer but also for the person who undoubtedly shares his information. Perhaps that is a step into the right direction.

Nassim Taleb – The black swan

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable  – Nassim Taleb

A book, confusion explained and lessons learned. This book explains why it is so hard to predict the future. The unimaginable is sometimes pushed away by our biased minds, sometimes it does not appear in previous statistics and many statistics do not embrace the exemptions of society.

Why are we programmed to believe futures with the knowledge we have? Why do we not believe a story when the details are not usual enough? Why do we want to catch happenings in curves so badly? The book does not offer an answer but does show how true these assumptions are. Taleb gives examples and insight into theories and questions he has about our lives.

Black Swan is the exception on the rules that we have created based on our previous experiences. I used too feel comfortable knowing that people knew and understood these rules and based decisions on them. After and while reading this book I started to open my eyes for the unknown, unpredicted moments. In the mean time Trump has become elected president in the United States. Many talkshows in the Netherlands discussed the question: Why did this happen and Why did we not see this coming? Trumps’ success showed how we cannot base our assumptions on previous counts and outcomes. We have to revise how we get our information and listen for the words unspoken everyone agrees with. I hope that Trump will show how he as an unusual figure for politics can be create a swan of the USA. In the mean time, as Taleb has shown as well, people will search for the gaps in their statistics and predictions to find what they have missed. I will keep my ears and eyes open, wondering what the future will bring, and not predict too much, rather find out along the way.

Heineken in Africa – Olivier van Beemen

A book, a review or a management toolbox for operating in the African Continent. Heineken is a big brewery, operates world wide and understands how to get people with a Heineken beer in their hands. Africa is a rapidly growing economy where many companies want to be nowadays. Heineken has been there since the sixties. Business in Africa is different than business in the Netherlands. The scope of Heineken in Africa however goes beyond revelations and scandals. Van Beemen gives new insights and analyses about conducting business in Africa and the role of multinational companies in developing countries. 

Next to reading the book I attended a panel discussion. No one of Heineken showed up as speakers, only as public. It made me wonder how much responsibility a company should take when their goal is to brew beer, do they really have to answer the question why in Nigeria grown yeast is sold to Heineken because they fund the farmers and they want to close their cycle? Or should we look at the smaller size companies that make management decisions in social change where cycles remain open? In the class from Matt Marsch we were told that we the designers have this responsibility at some point which reminded me of this Heineken book. The way we motivate our decisions has become more important. This masters will be my soil where I can let all the plants grow that hold information about decision making.

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The World Café: shaping our futures through conversations that matter – Juanita Brown (2005)

A great way of sharing thoughts and ideas. Let a big group of people talk in much smaller groups. To make sure there will be relevant and interesting outcome there are some things to keep in mind: create the right setting that feels like a cafe, provide doodling materials, asking open and stimulating questions and be a welcoming and thoughtful host.

What I will take from the book is that sometimes you don’t need to provide anything other than a setting where people feel free to talk. I especially liked the Saudi Aramco Oil example where an enormous amount of people from all layers of the company got together and opened up to each other. Leaders who had never spoken with workers got new insights that they might have missed otherwise. It shows what you can trigger when the right setting is offered.

The best summary was given by the book itself in the picture above. Also the book has questions to take into consideration at the end of each chapter, helpful for the moment I’ll host my own world cafe.

Brown, J and Isaacs, D (2005) The World Cafe Book: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter, Goodreads

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries

A book, a movement, an explanation of effective business strategies. Ries describes the methods one can use to understand your consumers and also the importance of speaking with them. He explains how to read the harvested data and why certain numbers don’t mean a thing. Like: 100 new subscribers, nice but if they never return you still have nothing. Sounds harsh but it is the truth. To get back to the consumer conversations. Ries is very clear that if you put your head in the sand and wish for things to happen, you don’t learn. As nice as your work may be, if the end user doesn’t get it or wants more/less you end up empty handed. Useful insight for the future maybe although I had the feeling this is definitely not just for startups but very much for any project that one undertakes. 

A part of the book that got me thinking is when Ries explains the methods of investment and research. Asking 5 why questions to get to the bottom of a problem, invest and measure with a smaller target group before moving on and don’t wait until it is finished but test all phases. All I thought was: I wished I had tried that with two or three projects in the past! 

Ries, Eric (2011) The Lean Startup, Crown Business

Convivial Design Toolbox

A tough book to get through, mainly because the beginning reminds me of my Bachelors degree. But thankfully it was a built up towards a much more interesting end. Where explanations are written about what toolbox to use in what situation. We are not talking about building a house, but about gaining live information when starting a project. Valuable information for all groups that are in the project. 

I was reading this book and the Lean Startup by Eric Ries at the same time. [Ries’ book is about how a lean start-up works and where his startup had difficulties] In my head I started applying the different toolboxes to the described situations in the Lean Startup. Most important lessons I took from ‘the convivial design toolbox’. When running a research project think about your audience, client, scale and wishes in all states of the research. And do not forget to reflect back with the participants throughout the process. 

The information is applicable in our group project where we are asked to come up with a group session for a bar camp event about The internet of things. While it sounds like all the high tech stuff would be necessary to amuse the audience, I now learned that it can kill the imagination of your participants. The less finished the prototypes are, the better, but of course, one has to think about what he brings to make sure it suits the purpose. 

Sanders E & Stappers PJ (2013) Convivial Toolbox, BIS Publishers, Amsterdam