January 1st, 2014

David Stairs An admission of personal weakness is not always a bad way to start a new year. I’m willing to stick my neck out and tell you a secret: I’m an inveterate maker of lists. I can’t shop for food without using a list. At night I lie in bed evaluating the past with a list of events. In the morning I often compose an informal list of the days’ forthcoming activities. So, at a time of year when many people are generating lists of resolutions, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that the idea for this post presented itself in list form. Read the rest of this entry »

December 8th, 2013

Victor Margolin

In recent weeks, I have been involved in three chaotic attempts to introduce changes in services that I have come to rely on. These include banking, public transit, and healthcare. The website of Obamacare is not the only evidence of innovative change that is malfunctioning. I would venture to say that a good many if not most of the new services that are being rolled out at a dizzying pace have glitches that range from minor to catastrophic.

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November 15th, 2013

David Stairs

Ask my Indian friend: Americans are in a coma. What would evoke such an evaluation? Last year, while I was living in Bangalore, an American friend visited and my son and I met her for lunch. While crossing a busy boulevard she grabbed my arm and said, “I’ll trust you to get me across safely. Yesterday I spent 30 minutes trying to cross MG Road.” At that point I almost became a hazard myself, I was laughing so hard.

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October 1st, 2013

Cansu Akarsu

During my short career as a designer I have been a true nerd, spending all my free time participating in every workshop and design competition I found from all fields. Life is easy when you are learning, especially when one recognition follows the other, and motivates you to work on anything you love to work on. Still, I realize now that all the competitions, exhibitions, and networking events are far from the real recognition that comes with a village mother sparing the few dollars she earns to buy the product you have designed – this is how one falls in love with social design. Designing in real life and carrying out the process in the field is, on one hand, more frustrating and challenging, and on the other hand it is more meaningful, fun, and provides a unique learning experience.

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September 1st, 2013

David Stairs “Tool hedonism is in ascendance.” —J. Robert Oppenheimer Imagine a world where waste is more significant than thrift, where advertising viagra for sale cheap< trumps taste, and where novelty is the be-all end-all of existence. Not hard, is it? You're living the dream everyday. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman’s 1985 look at the effects of television on society, entertainment came under scrutiny as a real but questionable substitute for public discourse. Had Postman lived long enough, he might have entitled the sequel Designing Ourselves to Death. Read the rest of this entry »

August 10th, 2013

David Stairs View from atop the Middle Sister in the west central Oregon Cascades reaches 100 miles north to Mt. Hood. On a recent drive across country I was thinking about what the land must have looked like two hundred years ago. Lewis and Clark described an “Eden” of endless vistas and limitless game, a land practically untouched by human hand since time immemorial. It must have been an amazing sight. Read the rest of this entry »

July 13th, 2013

David Stairs Luco at music camp. I kept the

phone. The campaign began about nine months ago. From the beginning I was the primary target. I never had a chance. It wasn’t even a subtle assault. Mentioned with increasing frequency, insinuated into nearly every conversation, my thirteen year-old son managed to make his desire to have an iPhone known in no uncertain terms. Read the rest of this entry »

June 14th, 2013

David Stairs What can be considered radical anymore? In their day, Vikings were pretty radical Used to be this was easy to answer. Back in the ’60s we had Abbie Hoffman and Students for a Democratic Society, and Angela Davis and the Black Panthers. In the ’70’s there was Russel Means and AIM under siege at Wounded Knee. In Germany from the ’70’s to the ’90’s there was the Baader-Meinhof Group. Alas, as much as I admire Glenn Greenwald’s efforts to correctly define the meaning of terrorism, they feel more like Bob Woodward than Patty Hearst. Yet, without waxing nostalgic about countercultural revolution, I can think of one amazingly apposite and lasting example. Read the rest of this entry »

May 21st, 2013

David Stairs

I recently came to the end of a three-year creativity cycle. This usually means it’s time to relax, reflect, and reconsider my options. For me, a great way to do a little lateral thinking is my annual painting chore.

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May 1st, 2013

David Stairs

Ask a group of student designers, any group, to develop a campaign while working in a large cohort, and they’re likely to react the way my Central Michigan University students did when I first made an unconventional proposal to them back in November 2012. I asked them to consider developing an online fundraiser for a rural African community-based organization. “This is our degree exhibition,” they replied. “How will we get any portfolio work out of this?” they asked in all seriousness. It was a predictable if callow reaction, one young designers are almost programmed to make by years of priming for local competitions through portfolio development courses.

Student brainstorming session

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April 11th, 2013

David Stairs Young boys on the beach in Allepay, Kerala, India Designers are frequently talking about skills and aesthetics, practice and theory, and these are important topics. But when it comes to politics, man can they get it wrong! I suspect it has more to do with privilege and cultural blindness than purposeful discrimination. And yet… Read the rest of this entry »

March 22nd, 2013

David Stairs

Winter Park, FL. train station

I’m having this printed on a t-shirt in 100 pt. demi-bold letters:

I survived Universal Studios

Over the Christmas holidays I was invited to Florida by an old friend I hadn’t seen since 2005. Never mind that I have purposely avoided the “Sunshine State” my whole life. Each year my young son and I take a culture trip at holiday time. The last couple years have seen us visit first Chicago’s Field Museum and a Blue Man Group performance, then New York and the U.N., Hi-Line, Empire State, and a Broadway show. While staying with our friends in Winter Park we spent an afternoon visiting the Morse Museum’s fantastic L.C. Tiffany collection. When I walked into the chapel Tiffany designed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair I did a double take, having just seen Mark Wahlberg’s report on a recent Antiques Roadshow program. We also took in a performance by the Cirque du Soleil company resident at Downtown Disney. But one doesn’t travel to Orlando for high culture, as even the least experienced child knows. In a city based upon theme parks, they are a little hard to ignore.

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February 23rd, 2013

Editor’s note: To celebrate the first anniversary of the Indian Journal we’ve invited our friend Sumandro to share his thoughts on contemporary discussions of the Indian concept “jugaad.”


In a recent essay, Hamid Dabashi has spoken out against the continuation of the obnoxious (colonial) practice of identifying European socio-cultural artifacts as the universal form, while the non-European others get prefixed with ‘ethno’ — such as, referring to European music as ‘music’ and studying non-European music as ‘ethnomusicology.’ The same practice appears in action, and often enjoys uncritical celebration, in the domain of design. We are being told that the Indians have a magic word, jugaad, that means “startling ingenuity in the face of adversity.” The question, however, is why do the Indians need a special word for a phenomena that Europeans (not in the sense of the continent but in vague civilizational terms) simply call innovation? Or, can non-Europeans innovate?

Jua kali lunch box, Kenya

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February 2nd, 2013

Victor Margolin

Several months ago my wife and I had dinner in a restaurant with another couple. My wife is in her late 60s and I am in my early 70s. The other couple was about twenty years younger than us. In that twenty year difference, however, was a digital divide that defined each couple as living in social universes that were vastly different. The difference does not revolve around an attitude towards technology that is starkly pro or con. My wife and I are both active computer users, we share a cell phone and my wife downloads books onto her iPad. What characterizes the difference is the place that we accord technology in our lives and in our relations with others. Speaking now for myself, I grew up in an era before computers and cell phones when face-to-face contact without any supporting mobile devices was the principal means of contact. Whatever you brought to a conversation had to be part of your internal data bank as there were no supporting machines to provide anything additional. Its true that conversations were less precise than many are today but they had a flow that bound the conversing parties together unobstructed by any attention-diverting devices.

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January 20th, 2013

David Stairs

Amid the controversy over Guantanamo interrogation techniques resurrected by Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty I read Mark Owen’s No Easy Day, the ooh-rah first person Seal Team Six account of the assassination of Osama bin Laden on May 1st, 2011. Suddenly, the notion of watching Jessica Chastain burn up the screen with her focused intensity and sultry good looks somehow seemed to lose its attraction.

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January 4th, 2013

David Stairs

Cutting Corners

One of the most gratifying experiences is having one’s observations corroborated, especially when they are about another culture. Not one, but two Indian acquaintances responded to my last Indian post, Why India Does Not Need Me, with the same remark: it reminded them of a famous speech by Ivan Illich, “To Hell With Good Intentions.” Now I’ll admit, Illich is one of my heroes and, though I didn’t refer to him in this piece, I have in the past.

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December 1st, 2012

David Stairs

As I come to the end of ten months of articles about India, I am a little sad. It has taken an effort, at times, to stick to my original purpose, to observe everyday design in action on the subcontinent. There have been both discoveries and disappointments, but that seems normal— much like life, in fact.
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November 15th, 2012

David Stairs “It’s not a blue world anymore, Max.” —Chief Blue Meany speaking to his assistant at the end of Yellow Submarine The aftermath of the 2012 election got me thinking about color. The typical red/blue dichotomy that the media has devised to represent our apparent “bad blood” has been an all-too-familiar-display since Election Day, to the extent that it must appear to people from other parts of the world that Americans fall in to one of two primary-color

races: Blue Meanies or Red Ragers. image courtesy of POLITICO Read the rest of this entry »