July 19th, 2022

David Stairs

Title wall of the exhibition 5°F

Gordon Lightfoot had a song on Summer Side of Life entitled “10 Degrees and Getting Colder.” That record is now over 50 years old, and things have changed dramatically since it was released. Primarily, everything on Earth is getting much warmer, even winter.

In April 2022 my students held an exhibition of work that reflected the current status of our climate. Entitled 5°F, it was meant to remind viewers of the potential worst-case scenario of our current climate trajectory. Bill McKibben founded 350.org in 2008 in hopes we might be able to arrest or return to a lower state of atmospheric CO2. We blew through 400ppm in 2013 and by 2020 were at 412ppm.

Our research project started with a visit to a site on the west edge of campus in September 2021. There is a sign there commemorating the planting of trees in honor of Earth Day 1990. Afterward I asked a biology colleague to speak to my students about pending environmental disaster, which was when they collectively first realized the extent of the threat. They’d heard about tropical storms and wildfires, but acidification of the oceans? Yikes! Loss of the planetary wheat and rice crops? Holy shit Batman! So they commenced a semester long research of everything they could find (there is a lot) and, in January started to design an exhibition.


A fisher, a weasel-like species now extinct in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula

Naming and branding is always a challenge when developing a complex project with a group of twenty students, and this year was no different than previous years. It took nearly three weeks to brainstorm a name but, once decided, smaller groups began to bang out visualizations. Taylor Diamond decided to make a “melting machine” to demonstrate how melting ice affects sea levels. A 4-gallon bucket of ice drained as it melted into a series of vertical tubes that cascaded into one another, metaphorically demonstrating oceanic rise based upon water changing phase.


A Melting machine demonstrated the cascading effect of global warming

An adjacent project, this one by by Talon McGraw, carried facts about wildfires burned into tree sections mounted on the wall, especially pertinent given what’s happening in the world, while a third installation by Bihui Nong was a demonstration of the adverse health effects of urban smog.


A reminder that temperature change effects forests

One group decided to focus on waste. Lindsey Steffey assembled a cow’s head from throw away fast food packaging. Another project took second hand Tees and published facts about the damaging effects of fast fashion on them.


Cow head made from fast food packaging

Rebecca Mueller and Lindsey Steffey captured visitor’s imaginations with an interactive wall of hinged panels representing 21 corporations. Viewers could flip the panels open to see whether the companies were green, or just “greenwashing.”


Corporate greenwashing needs to be called out

As viewers snaked through the maze-like exhibition, they passed taxidermied samples from the Central Michigan University Natural History Museum of extinct or endangered Michigan species, eventually arriving at a space called “No Place Like Home.” Here viewers could sit surrounded by small trees and a plant wall, hear bird sounds, and watch a soothing video mix of young children and outdoor scenes. This calming effect was appreciated by all, but did not prepare them for what was to come.


Abby Pappas and Anna Bredin created a plant wall in the calming No Place Like Home area of the show.

The exhibition’s culmination was a space called the Doom Room. This area was littered with trash, its walls covered with spray-painted pollution statistics. One side of the room carried a projection of a Doomsday Clock counting down on a 30-minute loop, while the opposite wall was a mirror-covered reflection of the viewer surrounded by the chaotic hell of a dystopic future. Some children visiting the show were heard to ask to return to No Place Like Home because the Doom Room was “too scary.”


Every 30 minutes the DoomsDay clock counted down to disaster

One of the things I tasked students with was to try and see if they could create a carbon offset for their activity, in other words, to promote planting. Rachael Goniea supplied viewers with a small cup, seeds, and potting soil.


Visitors were encouraged to take a small biodegradable cup with some seeds and soil to make their own start.

Symantha Taylor was working at Tractor Supply Co. and she first got a couple trees donated from each of the four TSC stores in a 50-mile radius. Then she tapped TSC corporate for a $500 grant. Finally, she purchased everything, over $900 of nursery stock in the form of 30 trees, with her employee discount. We had been working with University landscaping staff to accept a donation of these trees, all on their approved list of best acclimated species for our latitude.

On Earth Day, April 22, 2022, we gathered in a nursery field tilled by the university in preparation and planted our small “forest.” As the trees mature, they will be transplanted to various locations around campus.


Stephanie Chipman and Jeremy Steele in the Doom Room. 9&10 News’ Michigan This Morning crew interviewed eleven students throughout the morning of April 5th, 2022

As with previous research capstones, the main deliverable was the exhibition at the Central Michigan University Art Gallery, supplemented by live television broadcasts from the site of the show. But this year there is not only the annual Process Book documenting the project, but a field full of small trees serving as a living reminder that design can be so much more than mere images in an online portfolio.

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

June 21st, 2022

David Stairs


The only guns this cowboy ever owned

What could be more dimwitted, un-insightful, or self-serving than a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment?

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May 25th, 2022

David Stairs


Load your Potato Guns boys ’n girls!

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Back in the days when Trump was the undisputed Twitter Queen, I never thought we’d be free of his unhinged rantings. It was a surprising relief when he was finally dethroned. But, as in a beehive, when one queen dies another arises in her place, and it didn’t take long for a replacement to come along. Elon Musk was determined to out do Trump. He would not only take over as Queen of Tweets, he would also take financial control of the platform.

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April 20th, 2022

David Stairs


Courtesy of Lucien Stairs

You don’t have to look very far these days to see designers talking about the brave new world of Design AI. Helen Armstrong is out stumping her AI monograph, Big Data, Big Design. Mariana Amatullo is referencing it in the summer 2019 issue of Dialectic. And designers everywhere have become addicted to the Cloud, those banks of energy gulping servers housed in over-cooled desert complexes by Alphabet and Amazon. But what does AI really mean to the future of design?

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March 22nd, 2022

David Stairs

There are two treats I remember from childhood, and they were both manufactured by Sunshine Bakers: Cheez-Its, and Hydrox. Cheez-Its are still around in many updated variations, now a Kellogg’s brand. Hydrox dropped from sight for awhile, the result of several changes of ownership, only to reemerge in 2015.

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February 21st, 2022

David Stairs

Thomas Carlyle called economics the “dismal science” in response to Malthus’s writings about exponential population growth. Carlyle was a Victorian and did not live in an era dominated by design. It would’ve been interesting to see what he would have made of our times. Frantic? Overwrought? Or maybe just predictable?

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January 21st, 2022

David Stairs


Quannah Chasinghorse by Nathaniel Goldberg; Emily Ratajkowski from Instagram

A recent article in Elle Magazine online by Terese Marie Mailhot (Photographed by Nathaniel Goldberg and Styled By Alex White) introduces us to Quannah Chasinghorse, a nineteen-year-old native American runway model of Hän Gwich’in and Sicangu Oglala Lakota descent. (Corset, $1,295, pants, $2,295, Christopher John Rogers. Earrings, necklace, bracelets, 2021 Tiffany Blue Book Collection.)

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December 20th, 2021

David Stairs


The only good use I’ve ever found for disposable diapers, a 1976 poster. (Note the pins I added. Talk about double-entendre!)

I know I’m supposed to say that prize-winning financially successful ideas are examples of great design, and I wish it was always true but……. let’s get real. In the commercial world we’ve created, there are too many cases that contradict optimism. Take diapers, for instance.

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November 20th, 2021

David Stairs


Dick Clark at the Moulin Rouge by David Stairs

In a land governed by capital, it comes as no surprise that so much value is attached to celebrity. One of the first great modern personalities, Oscar Wilde, said, “Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.” Thus, it would seem the cult of celebrity sets us all up to fail, encouraging us to emulate the false god popularity.

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October 20th, 2021

David Stairs

Every three years I am tasked with guiding a group of senior design students through their capstone year. Once upon a time it was enough to mount a student’s portfolio for public exhibition, and this process can still be seen at end-of-year design exhibitions across the country. Design being a supposedly “problem solving” discipline, students are often coached to take on a design problem to research and develop or expand upon. Such projects address topics large and small, ranging from homeless shelters to user experience apps, and everything in between.

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September 18th, 2021

David Stairs

As the AIGA gears up for its annual conference, I find myself pondering. In a year of magical thinking, like everyone else the AIGA has reinvented its conference schedule for online delivery. If this is just a matter of the new normal, obviously this cannot be an issue. What, then, makes the organization so damned annoying? Actually, I’ve been struggling to figure this out for years.

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August 21st, 2021

David Stairs

There are a lot of people criticizing techno-capitalism these days, those so-called social pariahs demonstrating for economic “justice” and “equity.” But surely, these things are not givens in a free enterprise economy. They have generally needed the assistance of government regulation. In a system influenced by corporate lobbyists and deluded by the notion of limitless growth, even environmental degradation is not enough to staunch the lust for short-term gain. In fact, it may even accelerate it.

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July 25th, 2021

David Stairs

While China installs a nationwide video surveillance system, people in the West fret about the potential damage to their privacy by CTV cameras. But, apart from high profile failures, like Toronto’s “smart city” project, we’ve actually been normalizing surveillance for decades. Just consider reality television.

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June 25th, 2021

David Stairs

UPDATE:

As of July 23rd, 2021, following Anthony Fauci’s recent congressional testimony, this story is now being reported by the BBC.


A double arginine codon inserted at the S1/S2 furan cleavage site of the SARS CoV-2 virus’s genome

It was once the best of times……. except now we are coming to know the truth about how it became the worst of times……. and it begins with human folly compounded by deceit that results in a catastrophe.

Donald Trump was widely panned for claiming that Covid 19 was a Chinese invention, the “Kung Flu” as he often referred to it. The liberal press painted this as the worst sort of conspiracy theory, the China-bashing an embattled candidate for reelection might peddle to convince his base he was tough on foreign affairs. Only it turns out he was right, even if for the wrong reasons.

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May 26th, 2021

David Stairs

When Thomas McNeill was made pastor of St. Margaret’s parish in 1948, he inherited little more than a twenty-year-old mission church in a growing suburb north of Syracuse, New York. McNeill had been a Navy chaplain in the Pacific during the war, but his dream was to expand Catholic education, and he would devote the best years of his life to the work.

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April 24th, 2021

David Stairs

Another day, another mass shooting. We’re led to believe by television that Mayhem is a guy in a suit, played by actor Dean Winters, who causes mass upheaval wherever he goes. If only it were that simple.


Glock semi-automatic pistol designed by Gaston Glock

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March 15th, 2021

David Stairs


Tom Tierney’s Rita Hayworth paper doll published by Dover

As I sit by my Thermopane picture window reflecting on the wintry scene outdoors, I am distracted by the arrival of a mated pair of songbirds. A male cardinal hops onto my bird-feeder while his subtle mate shelters in a nearby bush.

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February 11th, 2021

David Stairs


Deep fake of the Queen’s Christmas address; courtesy Channel 4

A man walks into a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. armed with an automatic rifle determined to free children he believes are victims of a peadophilic sex trafficking “deep state.” People interviewed at a Stop the Steal rally in Atlanta tell interviewers a commission is needed to investigate the Democrat’s efforts to corrupt a widely certified election. A man in Nashville (not Robert Altman’s version) destroys a city block blowing himself up at the same time in protest of AT&T’s roll out of 5G wifi service. In another era one might be tempted to agree that “the time is out of joint,” except this bizarro world is our everyday reality.

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January 9th, 2021

David Stairs

Steve Zdep is dead, that much is certain. He passed away on November 6th, 2020 from causes not revealed in his obituary.


The author in more innocent times

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December 9th, 2020

David Stairs

With states reporting record numbers of infections, there is no doubt that this Christmas season will be one many will find hard to forget. The malls and retail centers we so precipitously abandoned way back in March do not have the same attraction of earlier years. Since Covid is THE story of 2020, even overshadowing the presidential election, we’ve scrounged up a few holiday suggestions for that extra special Christmas 2020 memento of the years’ most familiar meme.


A “Clovid” orange

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November 2nd, 2020

October 26th, 2020

David Stairs

Max is over, thank God.

And by Max I mean Adobe Max, that brightshiny overripe bells-and-whistles software tradeshow masquerading as an allconsuming excuse to be pretentiously jejeune.

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August 21st, 2020

David Stairs


A wild back yard

Except for a couple of thunderstorms, it hasn’t rained much in central Michigan this summer. It has been quite hot, and as usual, very humid. After aggressively mowing the grass in late May and June, it’s growth abates and it mostly browns off. The only way to keep grass green is by watering it, and in a world of diminishing clean fresh water, there has to be a better use for it than golf green lawn grass.

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July 3rd, 2020

David Stairs

America has finally caught mask fever, fifteen years later than Asian people. There are still many who refuse to “suit up” including Covid deniers, those suffering from claustrophobia, and some who claim medical excuses. But the possible reasons for not wearing a mask are narrowing, with major airlines rejecting travelers who renege.

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June 13th, 2020

David Stairs

I thought I was speaking truth, but now I’m not sure that it wasn’t simply “my truth” rather than something absolute. Maybe absolute truth doesn’t exist, no matter how much we’d like to believe in it. But, if this is the case, then we’re really doomed.

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