5° And Getting Warmer
Tuesday, 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.

Repeal the Second Amendment
Tuesday, 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?

Racism as a Topic for Design Research
Wednesday, 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” […]

F*ck the Fortune 500
Saturday, 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 […]

On Being a Butthead
Saturday, September 14th, 2019

David Stairs Illustration by Chris Stairs, age 9 I often think about stubbornness. My son Chris is a Leo, and he can be one of the most stubborn people I know. This is not to criticize my son, or to implicate all Leos, but it is a character trait they are somewhat known for.

Covering the Cost
Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

David Stairs Affluence isn’t free. Giraffes at a gallop on the Serengeti, Tanzania In May 2019 the UN released a report about the state of the natural world. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reported that species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, and that the rate is accelerating.

Design Is Not Always Elitist (thank god)
Saturday, April 13th, 2019

David Stairs The editors of MIT Press and Design Observer have compiled a collection of essays to celebrate that weblog’s 15th anniversary. Culture Is Not Always Popular sports the same title as the presentation Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel made at the 2003 AIGA Power of Design conference in Vancouver B.C., which was delivered the […]

Documenting Social Design
Monday, March 11th, 2019

David Stairs In 2014 my program hosted a campus visit by the popular and likeable Stefan Sagmeister. Since I made the arrangements for his talk, and chauffered him from and back to the airport, we had plenty of time to visit. I told him his royalty for the visit was payback for the Sappi grant […]

Who Owns Social Design?
Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

David Stairs It’s seemingly on every designer’s mind these days. No, not sex (although that might be a close second) but social design. How did a matter of collective conscience come to rival primordial drives? Not long ago only cranks and fuzzy-headed idealists were talking about social design. To perform a service “pro bono” was […]

Social Entrepreneurism With a Swiss Army Knife
Thursday, January 1st, 2015

David Stairs Homo faber, humankind the maker, seems destined to design itself right out of a world. MacGyver packin’ Unlike pharmacology, or agriculture, technology has a weak review process for testing its effects on the natural environment. We have user testing, of course, the way we discover what will make a product or service dangerous […]

The Lives of the Saints
Friday, October 31st, 2014

David Stairs As a person who answers a lot of mail inquiring about socially responsible design internship options, a recent Skype conversation with some grad architecture students at Ball State University got me to dusting off some serious criticism of the “faux humanitarianism” of do-gooder design.

Wednesday, 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 […]

Insufficiently Radical
Friday, 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 […]

It’s the Language Dummy
Thursday, 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 […]

When Altruism Goes Wrong
Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

David Stairs “Indeed, staying silent on explicit religious topics while oozing a Jesus-y pheromone has allowed Invisible Children to tap an entire spectrum of Christian charities, philanthropists, and celebrities, from the most liberal to the most conservative.” —Josh Kron, “Mission From God: The Upstart Christian Sect Driving Invisible Children and Changing Africa,” The Atlantic, April […]

Mission Control, We Have Altruism Here
Sunday, January 8th, 2012

David Stairs I’ve been writing about altruism at this blog for so long it all begins to blend together. My inaugural essay spoke about the biological/memetic basis for altruism. The year before I had published an essay at Design Issues that was a prelude to D-A-P. Finally, along comes a book that corroborates some of […]

Chump Change
Saturday, June 25th, 2011

David Stairs When it comes to saving the world, I’m a reformed do-gooder. Yet, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of how many people are working mightily to save the world. First and foremost, there are the entrepreneurs, those who float websites and publish magazines and manage non-profits. These have been […]