Your hands in the field

Your hands in the field

One week before heading to the field is a good time for a few warm up activities to become field-ready. My routine includes subscribing to RSS feeds for local news, learning to count to ten and speak a few common phrases, learning about local sports teams and other conversation starters, and of course getting excited about new cuisine.

In addition to these cerebral preparations I like to remind myself of the correct body language and habits. Naturally in most rural settings our interactions with the community are through translators and the first impressions are much less about what we say and more about what we do.

A basic yet very important tip to remember is to use right and left hands correctly. The rules are simple. Use your right hand for anything that’s considered clean, and your left for anything that’s dirty. Beyond the symbolic meaning of each hand, this simple code of conduct serves as an effective health practice in places where clean running water is scarce. This also means you should not give or receive anything with your left hand.

Try going through your day without washing your hands.

Try going through your day without washing your hands.

To get into the habit of using your right and left hands distinctly, try going through your day as long as possible without washing your hands. You will soon treat your right hand with much respect and attention. You can also put an X on everyone’s left hand in the team and get into the habit together.

Once you get the hang of it, remember to support your right hand with the left when giving and receiving items, or shaking hands. Of course the gestures and practices vary considerably between regions and cultures, so make sure to look around and learn the right moves. You will be one step closer to becoming best buddies with the village elders!


Amasaganalo Ethiopia!

Amasaganalo Ethiopia!

The crew who spent a long day plowing and preparing the land at Debre Zeit research center. South of Addis Ababa.

The crew who spent a long day plowing and preparing the land at Debre Zeit research center. South of Addis Ababa.

This is to mark the end of a two week trip to Ethiopia working with Agricultural Transformation Agency. It has been quiet a trip with visits to different spots to check out soil conditions and talk to farmers. 

Highlights of the trip include learning how to Mogolgol (flatten and prepare the land for planting), operating an ox driven plow, being generously fed by farmers including injera bread, beats stew, lentil stew, fresh yogurt with spices, and local - and totally opaque - beer!

So glad that holidays are coming up and there will be ample time for sorting the photos and sharing some of the happiest portraits ever. 

I have been blogging more regularly (here and here) on IDEO.org. Check out our project blog for regular updates. The making part has just begun!

Teff fields as far as the eye can see.

Teff fields as far as the eye can see.

In Good Company

This month has been a truly extraordinary one.  I moved to San Francisco to join IDEO.org as a Systems Designer. I will be working with some of the most gifted designers who have inspired my career. And I have just arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo to start work on my first IDEO.org project. 

Let me recount how I got here, what I have been up to recently, and what I will be doing in the year ahead. 

This is where the spark for a career change happened. My good friend Chris can be held responsible for giving me 344 Questions to take to vacation. Asking myself "Why?" 344 times eventually snowballed into my transition into non-profit world and moving across the continent!

This is where the spark for a career change happened. My good friend Chris can be held responsible for giving me 344 Questions to take to vacation. Asking myself "Why?" 344 times eventually snowballed into my transition into non-profit world and moving across the continent!

Iterating on a career, 2 years at a time

A little over two years ago I decided to take a break from my own design practice and join Jet Cooper (now Shopify Toronto). At that time I was stationed at the Center for Social Innovation and worked with a selection of activists, and social innovators. I had two goals in mind for joining a larger team; to work in collaboration, and to work more closely with web technology and on complex projects. I certainly achieved those and much more thanks to the amazing co-workers who quickly became family. 

Getting closer to the 2 year mark it was time to look at my toolbox of skills and the trajectory of my career and re-focus my energy. Looking at my favorite projects always serves me well as a compass for the years ahead. So with that in mind I reviewed my past work and picked what I was most proud of. Four themes emerged:

  1. Strategy and Visioning
  2. Mentorship (social incubators and tech startups)
  3. Community driven initiatives (CreativeMornings Toronto, HCD Connect meetups)
  4. Citizen engagement  

See something missing in the list? Yep, there is nothing in this list specifically about visual communication and interaction design, my bread and butter respectively. I am a visual communicator no matter what, but I am most interested in my work when I'm using my design skills to address one of these areas (or hopefully all four).

It was clearly time to act. 

After many conversations with Verne and Satish, my good friends and co-founders of Jet Cooper, we slowly came to the realizations that perhaps what's best for the company in the next couple of years is not aligned with my goals and vice versa. Those conversations, our comfort in being open and honest, and our genuine interest in each other as people first and co-workers second, are the things I cherish the most. It's sometimes ok to leave a job that gives you everything you thought would make you fully satisfied and look around. 

I joined Jet Cooper as employee number 7 and had a blast collaborating with a tight knit team on building, breaking, and re-imagining our process. In two short years our team and clients grew in size, and our projects in complexity. In March of this year when I decided to move on we had moved offices twice with a talented team of 20 designers, developers and strategists.

Serendipitously the IDEO.org fellowship deadline was around the corner when all this was happening. Everything about the fellowship was such a perfect match for what I was looking for that I decided to use the application process to update my profile and portfolio and if I didn't get accepted just look for similar opportunities. I submitted my application, transitioned out of my full-time commitments with Jet Cooper, and started taking on independent projects to allow myself more time to explore.

The transition

If you call yourself an instrumentalist people will hand you a score sheet. If you call yourself a composer, you will get commissioned for original creations, and no one would mind if the mastero himself can play the solo parts too. (You have to be good at both, of course!) This was the clear analogy in my mind throughout my self-evaluation process. I wanted my profile to reflect my actual role in the projects of the past 4 years.

With that realization I made a personal commitment to only take on projects where I am fully responsible for strategy from the ground up and define the deliverables only as strategy documentation. Of course I am still the guy that drafts the documents in InDesign, obsesses over typography, and uses visuals and infographics to illustrate a point, but I made sure I am not getting paid for design deliverables alone.

One week's worth of visioning and future casting with Eventmobi team at Costa Rica retreat

One week's worth of visioning and future casting with Eventmobi team at Costa Rica retreat

I took on a 3 month project with Eventmobi, and a strategy and visioning project for a brand new startup. The Eventmobi project took me to Costa Rica with a super-fun and rapidly expanding team for a visioning retreat. I conducted a number of workshops for the whole team to converse and collaborate around the shared vision for the future of the company and products. Once back in Toronto I created series of strategy documents based these sessions and my research. I then created a recommended path of action and took select parts further by creating wireframes and product guidelines. You will see lots of great things coming from Eventmobi this year and I'm proud to have contributed to the work of this fantastic team. 

My other project had an interesting twist. It started with me discouraging my client from pursuing the idea because it was entering a saturated product space and lacked enough unique qualities. But he persisted and through many conversation and workshops we morphed the original idea into something rather unique. It was client co-creation at its best. I created the full product strategy, a brand, and a high fidelity interactive mock up to equip my client for his first round of fund raising.

In the midst of this all this I heard from IDEO.org. I was in and it was time to move to the west coast! 

Enter the System Designer, in a brand new sector

My exploration came to a fitting conclusion when I got my first project brief from IDEO.org with my title as System Designer. That was it! I couldn't feel more at home with my role.

This year I will be working on poverty related projects with a fantastic team. The non-profit and International Development worlds are brand new to me and I'm learning a ton everyday. You can count on me dropping three letter acronyms and speaking NGO lingo in no time. 

In addition to working with Patrice Martin and Jocelyn Wyatt, our fierce leaders, our fellowship with have the opportunity to work directly with Tim Brown and Fred Dust. I will be listening intently at all times. 

The cast of colorful characters I'll be collaborating with this year

The cast of colorful characters I'll be collaborating with this year

My first project is quiet an adventure. We are woking with the American Refugee Committee and a number of expert partners in health care, clean water, agriculture, and community building. Our objective is to understand how we might offer a combination of these services in Bukavu, Eastern DRC. The resulting business platform should be owned by the local community and designed to scale. It is a monumental challenge but we have some of the brightest minds around the table with unrivaled optimism. More importantly we are blessed to work with the people of DRC and learn from their gracious ways and hopeful spirit.

My friends had warned me about losing my heart to Africa in my first visit. Well, two days in and it has already happened. Everything is strangely familiar and the people I have met are absolutely generous. I can't wait for all the conversations we are about to have. At the same time I keep asking myself the obvious question: how is this not the richest place on earth? There are many answers to that of course. Trying to understand all the different answers is my job this year.

You can follow our team and this project here. We will be posting updates every few weeks.

Bukavu, by lake Kivu in Eastern DRC

Bukavu, by lake Kivu in Eastern DRC

In mood for a career change?

If this blogpost inspired you to look around for your next adventure all the companies mentioned in this blogpost are hiring! Check them out and join the party. IDEO.org // Eventmobi // Shopify Toronto

Discovery as service

Beside’s Eames’ famous quote above, my favourite takeaway from the brilliant documentary Eames: The Architect and The Painter comes from Richard Saul Wurman. 

This is the context of Eames’ large communicationprojects for IBM and other corporations. These projects would start based on a gentleman’s handshake, without contracts. There was enough trust in his vision to allow him discover the unknown on someone else’s budget, and occasionally chip in when the final costs where well above the original estimate. 

“You sell your expertise, you have a limited repertoire. You sell your ignorance it’s an unlimited repertoire! He [Charles Eames] was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject, and the journey of him going from not knowing to knowing was his work.”

 

Mapping Toronto, Mapping Ourselves

Since January of 2013 we have started a meetup for HCD CONNECT members in Toronto. In our first workshop session we joined forces with fellow practitioners in the city to better understand our own community and kickstart a group learning series of events.

Read more about the activities and conversations from this 2 hour session on HCD CONNECT.

An Interview on CreativeMornings Toronto

Yours truly, hosting CreativeMornings at Gladstone Hotel. Photo by Tylor Roades.

Yours truly, hosting CreativeMornings at Gladstone Hotel. Photo by Tylor Roades.

Redefining TO is a series highlighting people and projects making a difference in Toronto. It was a pleasure speaking with Shauna Trainor about the ambitions and thoughts behind CreativeMornings Toronto. 

For Behrouz, “the void for a down to earth, cross-disciplined series of events was visible. After all, real inspiration often comes from people and ideas outside of our own bubbles of expertise and we are all eager to share and connect.” The vision for the Toronto Chapter is to establish Creative Mornings as “the defining community that enables Toronto to discover and share its endless creative resources. We sometimes lose sight of how much Toronto has to offer Canada and the world. Bringing this amazing potential to light is a big driving force for us,” explains Behrouz.

Read the full article here.

Teach me, and make me work for it.

Remember the rush of excitement when looking at the new course catalogue back in university? I’ve got that. There are a few things as energizing as browsing established domains of knowledge that I didn’t even know existed. Even better is assembling them in unlikely course combinations to make a one-of-a-kind curriculum. 

For the past few years since graduating school I have constantly tried to get my hands on course catalogues and audit classes. It was easier when my younger siblings were still in school, helping me keep my internal calendar in sync with school year. But even then I didn’t manage to audit more than a handful of lectures. It was harder than I had imagined to internalize new knowledge. Contrary to what I thought, not having homework made it more challenging to stay engaged. I needed something tangible to confirm I am understanding and mastering new knowledge.

Enter Coursera: free, interactive, peer reviewed, university level learning. It sounds too good to be true, but it is really here. Coursera is filling the “mastery of knowledge” gap that iTunes University was not. By leveraging other student in the same course as your T.A., Coursera is able to test your knowledge and even give you a signed certificate from the instructor. And we are talking Berklee, Princeton, John Hopkins, Duke, Columbia, UBC, and UofT, just to name a few.

Now to celebrate this amazing resource I present you with a list of courses I find interesting. I’ll be taking at least one course in March of this year. You might want to sign up too. Who knows, you might end up grading my tests.

Model Thinking, University of Michigan

Introduction to Systematic Program Design, UBC, **The textbook for this course has been highly recommended to me before by the superhuman Zack Aysan, http://htdp.org/

A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behaviour, Duke University, Check out the colourful instructor Dan Ariely

The Camera Never Lies, University of London International Program

The Fiction of Relationship, Brown University

Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, University of Pennsylvania

Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information, U of North Carolina

Design Thinking for Business Innovation, University of Virginia, From author of Designing for Growth

A Brief History of Humankind, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Community Change in Public Health, John Hopkins University

Introduction to Improvisation, Berklee College

TEDxToronto iPhone App

Very excited to have TEDxToronto app out there. It was a very rewarding design project for a big TEDx fan like myself. The app will be in the hands of 1200 attendees this Friday and thousands more in live viewing parties. Kudos to both teams at Jet Cooper and The Working Group who brought the design to life.

I’ll be adding the project to my portfolio soon but for now download the app and join the conversation!

Transient

Reconstructed Reality

Dideh Magazine (Dideh meaning “eye” or “seen” in Farsi) is an online publication featuring remarkable works by Iranian photographers. I highly recommend seeing the works of Zeinab Salarvand and Reza Aramesh for their fresh take on the subject matters and geographies that we assume we know.

Here is an excerpt from Fabio Severo’s accompanying text for Reza Aramesh’s work. 

Aramesh raise to a universal level images of conflicts we are used to ascribe only to certain areas of the world, and at the same time question those original photographs and our way of looking at them.
By restaging events from the world’s many conflicts, Aramesh brings those photographs back to the act of their creation: that moment, that angle, those people. Showing ‘the real world’ inside a museum is perhaps the best way to raise the issue of the language used to illustrate it; the paintings on the wall remind us of the weight of the picures we choose to describe reality.
Transient

The paradox of the setting with captions are my favorite moment. It creates a split second where I read the names Palestine, Gaza and Israel with no preconceived notion of war and conflict. 

Action 54. Israeli soldiers lead two blindfolded Palestinian prisoners as they walk from the Gaza Strip through the Karni Crossing at the end of a ground and air operation in Gaza, 15 January 2008. Source: Dideh Magazine

Not directly related, also check out works by my good friends Shahrzad Chamglavaee and Sanaz Mazinani.

ZOR, CHOMA and token multiculturalism in Toronto

Roz & Mocha poster with adjusted type to reflect the mistake in the poster.

Roz & Mocha poster with adjusted type to reflect the mistake in the poster.

Dear Roz and Mocha, you need to have a conversation with your graphic designers. Of course you are not the first public figures guilty of using letters from languages you can’t read to imply inclusiveness and multiculturalism. The same often appears on posters of local politicians running for office in Toronto and other cities with considerable multilingual populations. At one point the same happened on Live Green cards distributed in the city. But you are friendlier and more fun than politicians, aren’t you? You wear a loose tie and cool shades afterall.

The Farsi and Arabic letters on your poster in TTC are backwards and disjointed. For starters the letters should be written from right to left and be connected to one another. I haven’t had a chance to ask friends who speak Hindi, Korean and Hebrew to check the rest of the scripts but would be happy to send you a nice file with the word Listen in Farsi and Arabic to replace what currently reads “didn’t give shoog(?)”.

I’m sure this poster was designed with the best intentions, to tell all Torontonians and even those who are not yet proficient in English, that there is a fun friendly show that welcomes them. But it is backfiring big time. With every trip your posters on the TTC make across the city you are telling folks that you want to appear worldly to those who can only read English. Now that’s a really small population in Toronto!

Cloud Photos

I started 2012 by working on Cloud Photos iPhone app at Jet Cooper. The app is a creation of Syrp, a fresh Toronto-based company with more apps to hit the market soon. The project proved to be nice challenge and allowed me to flex my app design muscles that were in training for a while.

Since its release the app has been received very well. It got featured in Top Canadian Apps on iTunes and had a good run in Spain apparently! It has received positive reviews on Tech Crunch, Betakit and Appolicious to point out a few.

Designing the homepage was extra fun as it gave me more space to express the brand and let it take over more space than the limited iPhone screen.

If you are a Dropbox user and want to back up your photos with a handy solution, I suggest you give it a try.

Transient

Patio House

Patio House is the latest residential project by atelier rzlbd. Reza Aliabadi’s works have been well received by critics and media, with his minimal and human centered approach as the hallmark of comfortable, clutter-free and geometrically playful spaces he creates.

Poster: Your Veil is a Battleground

Kiana Hayeri is a young talented photographer who manages living and capturing the edges of our day to day experiences very well. I have known Kiana for 3 years now and I’m always impressed by how much she is willing to shift her life plans to pursue a project and sometimes make a project our of events that are out of her control.

Kiana’s lates show titles Your Veil is a Battleground, first exhibited in Toronto, received much attention including an exclusive interview and centerfold in Globe and Mail.

The two pictures I selected for the poster to me are the perfect illustration of the public / provate space debate in Iran. While in your car you behave as you like you are exposed to the outside. Although you are likely to be ok for the most part there is always a slight chance for an “authority” to question your behaviour in your private space. It seems like the very act of questioning is all it takes to apply the rules of public space to a private space. The definition and borders of these two spaces are of course always in flux.

Some notes from Urbia lecture with Joe Pantalone at Pamenar Cafe.

Some notes from Urbia lecture with Joe Pantalone at Pamenar Cafe.

Elswhere: CMTO TWO

Just before the holidays we announced the second Creative Morning Toronto. Hope you can join us for this promising lecture.

The Lecture
The Designer as Social Entrepreneur; Resituating Contemporary Design Practise in the Global Marketplace.

The Speaker
Patty Johnson is a Canadian designer who is interested in the interchange between research and design, and, commerce and culture. 

Read more on Creative Mornings Toronto blog

NYE NYC Visit: Creative Mornings HQ, Studiomates and Tattly!

Over the holidays I spent a few days in NewYork and met with Tina (SwissMiss) at Studiomates which also serves as the Creative Mornings HQ and officially put the Toronto pin on Creative Mornings map! Very much looking looking forward to an amazing year of lectures with in Toronto.

The view from Studiomates’ windows are stunning, if I worked thereI I’d probably spend more time watching the bridges, the boats and people than work.  Dumbo area so took this chance to walk around and admire the unique spaces on the edge of Brooklyn.

Also scored some Tattly treats that shall be put to good use. ;)

Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern

From September 2011 to January 2012 I had the great fortune of having one of my posters exhibited alongside some of my personal idols as a part of Deep Surface at The Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh.

The exhibition is curated by Denise Gonzales and Susan Yelavich. The depth of their thoughts on and around ornament beautifully comes through in Ornament and Pattern, the essay accompanying the show.

Ornament and pattern are form-based languages — the visual articulation of ideas. When successful, it offers a good read. And when the stories it tells are compelling, ornament and pattern go further. They show us something new.

The essay neatly categorizes the selected works into six groups: Amplification, Everyday, Kit-of-Parts, Inheritances, Elaboration, and Fantasy. Works in each category include graphic design, industrial design, fashion, furnishings, architecture, and digital media.

Among the designers and artists exhibited at CAM are Marian Bantjes, Jeffery Keedy,Vik Muniz, Cuban Council, 2×4,Andrew Blauvelt, Marcel Wanders, Rudy VanderLans, Zuzana Licko, Ebon Heath, and my friend Homa Delvaray with het intricate and complex posters from Tehran.

My work in the exhibition was the experimental poster Tehran Techno Festival in which I played with the geometric qualities of Square Kufic, aslo known as Banaei, to create a pattern resembling digital pixelation. Square Kufic is a derivative of the kufic script used for inscribing on the facade of brick buildings. In this process the lettes are broken down to simpel geometric shapes. Therefore the smallest element of a letter is a brick, interestingly resembling the digital equivalent, a pixel. 

The long tail model and distributed art patrons

Today I read this fascinating interview with Francis Ford Cappola on Behance and specially liked Cappola’s thoughts on separating money from artistic practice.

It is mentioned in the article that Cappola’s artistic work is completely funded by his own successful winery, so rightfully he can say art and money should be separate. My first reaction was that this is impossible for every artist. Cappola brings up three models for interaction of money and artist in the same paragraph: the traditional model where art is always funded by a patron, the new model of distribution and publication leading to the rock star phenomenon, and the [possible] future model of free art! 

I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money? - Cappola

The intriguing idea for me is applying the long tail model to funding artistic practice. Of course this is already applied in a platform like KickStarter, but even there you are getting contributions towards a specific project. What Cappola has done is to completely disengage money and art, you can buy Cappola Wine – never tried it but I assume it’s done artistically as well – as a token of supporting his vision. I really like the dual identity of artist as someone who produces objects and products affordable to the general public as a means of funding purely personal experiments. Obviously If those experiments are commercially viable in the art market they can be sold as well, but unlike the current system where the arbitrary dollar amount associated with a piece is needed for validation, in this model the artists’ opinion is valid enough.

To be continued …