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People: Nancy Novogrod — 3/22/14

Posted by Wolfsonian Staff, filed under People


 
Nancy Novogrod, a panelist on Saturday’s Air Travel Experience session, has spent decades traveling the world and writing about it as editor-in-chief of Travel & Leisure magazine. As someone who has become accustomed to instances of good and bad design on a global scale, she developed opionions of what should be mimicked and, more often than not, what must be improved. Nancy sat down for a chat on travel, airports, and, of course, her complaints travel-related design complaints. 

Mariam Aldhahi: You’ve been with Travel & Leisure for more than twenty years. How have you seen the influence of design and design understanding evolve in that time?

Nancy Novogrod: There is much greater consciousness of the role of design and much more sophistication in the role of design. Unfortunately, there are a lot of copycat efforts that mimic very well-thought-out environments and do a very poor job of it. You’ll see that with some hotels that are pretty cliché even when the model they’re copying was original when it began. It’s been watered down and repeated so many times that it loses its impact and its reason for being. I do think in general that people are much more aware of design in their environment. The level of connoisseurship in design has increased dramatically.  I also think architecture has a lot to with it and this emphasis on the “starchitect” has impacted travel and certainly people’s awareness of museums, hotels, and public spaces created by major architects. 

Aldhahi: Speaking of architecture, Miami is the Art Deco hub, there is no other place quite like this. What can Miami offer to the design conversations that other cities can’t?

Novogrod: Miami has the Art Deco heritage but it also has a spirit of innovation. It’s also the site of one of the most impressive renovation efforts anywhere when you think what the Deco district was like years ago. I remember coming here in 1990 when the reinvention of the older hotels was just beginning. Things were crumbling and what has been done since then is quite extraordinary. From South Beach to Wynwood, it’s fantastic. I also think Art Basel and major architecture coming into Miami has done a lot for this movement. It’s a very exciting place to be in terms of design and architecture. 

Aldhahi: You’re part of Power of Design’s panel on The Air Travel Experience. What do you hope this discussion will achieve? 

Novogrod: I hope to underscore the importance of design in airports. We’re at a crucial turning point in America where our airports are very old and they have been far outstripped by international airports, even in some places that are not quite as highly developed. India, for instance, has extraordinary airports. And certainly throughout Asia and throughout the U.A.E. We have these ageing facilities and there has been no effort that has been efficient in really reinventing the transit experience that is a crucial part of travel. 

Aldhahi: What do you think are the repercussions of allowing our airports to fall behind as you’ve described?

Novogrod: It’s the face we present to the world. America also lags behind in having a government tourism campaign that really focuses on attracting international travelers. It’s also very difficult to come to America because of many visa restrictions. If someone has a bad airport experience, their idea of America is impacted. If the welcome isn’t sufficient, if we are crumbling, if the bathrooms in our airports are worse than restrooms than far less industrialized countries, we have a problem. 

Aldhahi: When we look at cities like Dubai and Singapore, places that were seemingly developed overnight and now offer top-notch amenities that we’ve been pushed to compare ourselves to, where do you think the disconnect is between us and them?

Novogrod: There is a disadvantage to having gotten there first. Especially when the tools for innovation and for creating something new change so fast, it’s a little bit like what we experience in the publishing world with our websites. We all complain if our company was slow on the uptake with creating a digital presence. It turns out now that the more recent, the better. The opportunities have grown and the tools have grown. You could say that right after World War II there was an opportunity to explore and create very exciting, seemingly modern, interpretations of cities and airports. So we created this infrastructure and it’s not so old that you could tear it down. The advantage of a place like Dubai is the tabula rasa, because it grows out of the desert. We have to work with an aging infrastructure and we have to figure out what we can really do. 

One of the problems at airports is that the passenger load is greater than what was expected. For instance, at JFK they don’t have sufficient facilities for landing opportunities. LaGuardia doesn’t have enough open space to expand. We have to work within our limitations. 

Aldhahi: So, what’s your biggest design complaint?

Novogrod:I hate bad design that masquerades as good design. I hate hotels that were designed with no sense of the needs of the occupant. When the bedside reading light is insufficient or there are no outlets near the bed so you can recharge the iPhone you also use as an alarm clock. Or when you have to hunt around on your hands and knees for outlets. I was in Marrakech and millions of dollars had been invested in a redesign by Jacque Garcia. They gave me a beautiful suite and yet I was spending time crawling around under desks to look for an outlet. Or the worst, when you can’t figure out how to turn on a light. Everything has become so technologically advanced that you almost need to be an engineer or programmer to make things work. 

Mariam Aldhahi is a graduate student in the MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts. This coming summer, she will be working at The Wolfsonian as part of her thesis research.

People: Ashlea Powell — 3/21/14

Posted by Shawn Clybor, filed under People



Ashlea Power is one of the speakers for Saturday’s Air Travel Experience session. She works as a location director in the New York branch of IDEO, a design firm with a human-centered approach to helping organizations innovate. She has worked on large-scale projects in a range of fields, air travel included. She had a lead role on work for the TSA to set a new tone for security in airports and has worked with airlines, including JetBlue, to rethink air travel.

Shawn Clybor: Tell me a little bit about your job at IDEO, and how it relates to complaints.

Ashlea Powell: I am a writer and a storyteller. Over its thirty-year history, IDEO has built on our legacy of designing tangible things to apply its methodology of human-centered design to intangible things. We help organizations imagine possible futures, and storytelling is a tool that helps them to imagine it. 

During our research, we like to spend time with extreme users and understand their opinions. Not all of these opinions are positive. We are using their thinking as inspiration for design. We do not use the word complaining, instead we like to say “user needs,” but in some cases, when we are making something better, we have to listen to some real emotional lows and then respond to them.

Clybor: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the projects you have worked on at IDEO? 

Powell: I’ve helped a system of hospitals improve their patient experience; a retail bank in Peru create a more accessible banking experience; a mid-tier hotel chain introduce a new service model we call Collaborative Service. Across all of these projects, we spend time understanding both the customer and the people delivering the service. It’s surprising to some people, but think about a compelling, authentic experience you’ve had. It probably didn’t feel robotic, or like the person was reading a script – he or she was engaging with you as a person, using intuition and critical thinking to solve your problem, or whatever the case may be.

Clybor: That is antithetical in so many ways to bureaucratic thinking, especially in big companies with thousands of front-line employees. I have heard so many times that something cannot be done because that’s the way it is, the rules say so…

Powell: That is a situation that leads to complaints. People want to understand why things are as they are, and to feel like a situation is unfolding in response to their needs. Service employees need to have the flexibility to do that. 

Clybor: How do you approach an “intangible” design project that is based on customer experiences?

Powell: Our approach is much the same as a tangible project. The design challenges we tackle today are complex systems. We set out to understand the system – the needs of people who engage with the experience, the business model, the organization’s culture and capabilities. It all has to work together. We’re looking for levers we can pull to affect change.

Clybor: You also conduct “ethnographic research” to facilitate your projects. What does that entail, and how does it contribute to your understanding of “complex systems?”

Powell: I’ll give you a specific example. When we worked with JetBlue, we spent time with a wide range of travellers – from a road warrior who travels every Monday to Thursday to a family of six. These extreme users of the air travel experience help us uncover needs and behaviors we might not see with someone who travels alone every six months. We also try to build empathy for our clients and ourselves by doing things like working as a flight attendant on a long haul flight. This allows us to not only hear what people are struggling with but to observe it and experience it for ourselves.  

Clybor: And what did the extreme users complain about most? 

Powell: The things you would expect: an unexpected long line at security, difficulty getting their luggage on the plane, small seats and not great food.

Clybor: How did you respond to these complaints?

Powell: When we do initial research, we don’t respond, we just listen. We look for patterns. We share them with our client and talk about the opportunities they present. We then start to design solutions. We also create prototypes that we put in front of people to see if their experience changes.

Clybor: It strikes me that complaints are such a valuable source of information. Would you say that all of our complaining is a good thing? I mean, even if it’s mindless griping, or if we’re griping about something that’s supposed to be good for us…

Powell: The idea that complaints should be seen in a positive light, as having a purpose, that is something designers will agree with. Even if a complaint is not phrased in a constructive way, we look at it as a gift. Complaining is fundamental to design, and organizations should see complaints as an opportunity. For example, do you remember when Netflix changed its user experience, tried to separate its streaming service from DVD rentals, and all of their members revolted? 

Clybor: Absolutely. I was one of those users

Powell: Netflix really listened, and responded to these complaints with sincerity. I think there’s such a beautiful story in that. People do that in any relationship. I think for the most part complaints are an opportunity for us to listen and respond thoughtfully.

Clybor: So do you consider yourself a complainer?

Powell: I would not describe myself as a complainer. At IDEO, one of our core ideas is to “talk less, do more”. I do complain, but I always ask myself: “What is my role in making this better?” One of my colleagues likes to say that every complaint is an unarticulated request. So I always think: “What is my request? What do I want?” If I cannot articulate this, then maybe my request is invalid.

Shawn Clybor is a cultural historian of East-Central Europe and a former Fulbright-Hays Scholar. He has published several articles on the relationship between art and politics in communist Czechoslovakia and post-communist Czech Republic. He is currently cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and teaching at the Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010.

People: Jaime Lerner — 3/21/14

Posted by Kevin Klinkenberg, filed under People



“What would Jaime Lerner think?”

It’s a question I find myself asking often. Fortunately for those around me, it usually happens in my own head.

In the course of our lives, we find just a handful of people that make a lasting impression. Whether we know them personally or not, something about them leaves a mark that is indelible. Perhaps they gave a speech or wrote an article that sticks with us. It might be a project or work that really stands out, or even a personality trait. In some cases, it’s a combination of all of the above.

For me, Jaime Lerner is one of those people.

I first learned of Mayor Lerner’s work in 1992–93 when I was finishing up my degree in architecture at the University of Kansas. Our fifth year studio was an urban design studio, and we completed extensive research on the relationship between transit and city living. It took me almost no time to discover Curitiba, Jaime Lerner, and his bus rapid transit system (BRT).

For me, it was a revelation. Here was an architect taking a leadership role, and implementing ideas that actually made people’s lives better. Lerner clearly has always had a gift for cutting through complicated issues and finding humane design solutions.  Even more, he is not shy about taking on difficult social issues such as the crushing poverty his city was experiencing. His efforts in Curitiba garnered him wide acclaim, all of it well-deserved.

I vowed to visit Curitiba many years ago, and still plan to make the trip one day. Unfortunately, I’ve only made it as far south as Colombia. Even then, the legacy of his ideas are apparent with the remarkable transformations in Bogota, Cali, Medellin, and the next-generation BRT those cities have employed.

These days, Lerner continues to spread the word about “urban acupuncture.” I’ve had occasion to see him speak, and recommend his TED talk to anyone. Perhaps it’s because we share some heritage from Poland that I’ve so identified with Lerner’s work over the years. Or perhaps it’s just because he’s a leader who has done real good for real people. While some designers choose to spend their time on fanciful, futuristic notions that are all about their own egos, people like Jaime Lerner strive to make the world a better place for all of the humans. And in the end, isn’t that what urban planning and design is supposed to be all about?

For me, each time I see another bold or brash proposal to solve a city’s big challenges, I can’t help but ask myself, “What would Jaime Lerner think?”

Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer in Savannah, Georgia. His book, Why I Walk, is forthcoming from New Society Publishers.

Meet Your Power of Design Bloggers — 3/21/14

Posted by Shawn Clybor and Mariam Aldhahi, filed under People

Our bloggers for Power of Design include Shawn Clybor, who has been blogging about the ideas festival on a regular basis as we’ve been leading up to the event, and Mariam Aldhahi, who joins us for the event itself, to help out with coverage. What better way to get to know them than to have them interview each other?

Where Do I Park Here? Shawn Clybor Interviews Mariam Aldhahi 

 
Shawn Clybor: Tell me a bit about your background.

Mariam Aldhahi: I was born and raised in South Florida. I majored in journalism as an undergraduate and now I’m living in New York and working on my MFA in design criticism at School of Visual Arts (SVA). I have also been doing freelance writing and graphic design. Over the last year I’ve gotten really interested in museum landscapes, and the changes taking place in museums thanks to the influence of technology. That led me here.

Clybor: How did you get involved in Power of Design? 

Aldhahi: I am working at The Wolfsonian this summer to conduct research for my master’s thesis.

Clybor: Are you excited to be working on the ideas festival?

Aldhahi: The Power of Design festival is great! One of the biggest obstacles that museums face is how to bring art and design into the public realm. The Wolfsonian is bringing it to the public by asking: “What is your complaint?” That is an extremely effective idea in the grand scheme of things, especially when we talk about design in the public realm.Clybor: What do you think of Steve Heller’s poster exhibition, Complaints! An Inalienable Right?

Aldhahi: Steve did a great job gathering complaints that don’t seem like complaints on the surface. That’s the point of festival: to address a problem that is universal, and then whittle it down to something that is design related. He’s bringing in problems and showing you how design can affect or resolve these problems. I’m really happy The Wolfsonian has allowed him to do something that is so far outside the museum realm and also the design realm.

Clybor: Would you say that complaining is a good thing? 

Aldhahi: When it’s done with the intent of finding a solution, then it’s positive. When you ask someone something but they respond with something that has no solution, or they don’t know the solution, then it’s not. 

Clybor: But at the same time, isn’t it also up to us the listener, or the object of the complaint, to try and understand or interpret the complaint?

Aldhahi: I don’t think so. Ultimately it should be the responsibility of the civilian. They need to learn how to address and resolve their own complaints. 

Clybor: They should be empowered to do so.

Aldhahi: Yes.

Clybor: Are you a complainer? 

Aldhahi: Always. Always. That’s partly what got me into design, and especially what got me into design criticism. Design criticism is all about complaining, but it also tries to find solutions, even when we don’t realize what the problem is.

Clybor: Do you want to complain about anything now? 

Aldhahi: Yes. It took me 45 minutes to find parking this morning. I would love to complain about that. I’ve been complaining about that all day.

Complaints as System Stabilizers: Mariam Aldhahi Interviews Shawn Clybor

Mariam Aldhahi: Can you give an idea of the work you've done at The Wolfsonian?

Shawn Clybor: I first visited the Wolfsonian while on vacation in 2010 and I loved everything about it. Last year I was awarded a research fellowship by the museum to work on the Czech avant-garde materials. 

Aldhahi: How did you first get involved with the Power of Design conference?

Clybor: The museum received a grant from the Knight Foundation to organize an ideas festival. During my research fellowship, Cathy Leff [museum director] asked for suggestions, and I suggested complaints. The following week we spent the better part of a day brainstorming ideas, several of which ended up in the final festival. Beginning in January, I began publishing a series of blog posts through the Power of Design website. I've done serious pieces, humorous pieces, interviews, all sorts of stuff. It's been a blast.

Aldhahi: What is the importance of a complaint? How do you see complaints making a difference?

Clybor: My personal take on complaints is slightly different from what we are seeing at Power of Design. The festival emphasizes how complaints lead to action, innovations, and solutions. I view complaint more as a “system stabilizing” mechanism that reinforces systems of power (businesses, governments, etc). Ideas are shaped by these larger systems, and when we notice them failing to live up to their own promises and beliefs, we begin to articulate our disappointment. To me, that's the nature of a complaint. It all comes down to this: We tend to judge a system by its own standards. To do so constitutes a de facto legitimation of the system itself. We're saying: Your standards are right. The problem is that YOU aren't meeting them. 

Aldhahi: What do you think was the highlight of the Power of Design conference?

Clybor: Driving home from the Prophets of the Digital Age event on an FIU shuttle bus with Andy Borowitz, Kurt Andersen, Steve Heller, Clive Thompson, Michael Chabon, Hanna Kaye, and a half dozen other incredible humans. We were all goofing around and cracking wise. We pulled up to the hotel around midnight, and there were college kids and young adults everywhere partying like some MTV reality show or something. There we are, a bunch of scrawny nerds with glasses. So I boomed: "Ladies, the FIU shuttle bus has arrived." Everyone in the bus cracked up. I made Andy Borowitz laugh. Maybe I'm setting the bar low here, but to me that's an achievement.

On a more serious note, I got a lot, intellectually speaking, from the Cities and City Life panel. I will admit that I was least interested in that panel beforehand. But it was simply amazing. I found it thought provoking and really "on target" when it came to the larger ideas of the festival.

Aldhahi: What do you hope to see more of in future like-minded events?

Clybor: That's a good question. Honestly, I hope to see more of the little things going on around the festival. What made Power of Design unique were things like the complaints booth set up by WLRN, the Complaints Choir, the panel of aestheticians fielding our body issue complaints, the workshop for children organized by Todd Oldham, the film festival, and the urban charrette. The auxiliary events kept things from getting stale and academic. The word "festival" is derived from the Latin festivus or festus, which mean "happy." There is nothing happy about a room full of academics talking to five other academics at an event that costs hundreds of dollars to attend. I've been to "festivals" like these. They are dominated by alcohol and sadness.

"I misinform people and they complain about me": An Interview with Andy Borowitz — 2/14/14

Posted by Shawn Clybor, filed under People


Andy Borowitz is a comedian and satirist best known for the popular fake news blog “The Borowitz Report”. He is the author of numerous books, such as Who Moved My Soap?—The CEO’s Guide to Surviving in Prison, and editor of the top-selling humor anthology The 50 Funniest American Writers. He also performs as a stand-up comedian. Andy will be at the Power of Design festival on March 22 to chat with Kurt Andersen about how humor can help get your complaints heard. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about satire, humor, and complaints.Shawn Clybor: Has your own writing always been satirical, or did that approach develop over time?

Andy Borowitz: I’ve never been good at writing serious things. If I could write like Alice Munro, I would.

Clybor: Do you consider yourself a “complainer”? 

Borowitz: I don’t complain. I misinform people, and then they complain about me.

Clybor: The satirist complains by pretending not to complain. Does this form of complaining have an impact on society?

Borowitz: I don’t have any practical impact on society that I know of. That’s a good thing, too—if I thought I had a productive role to play, that would be too much pressure for me.

Clybor: Why do we complain so much? And why do we keep doing it no matter how good (or bad) life is?

Borowitz: There is a very powerful syndrome human beings suffer from called “hedonic adaptation.” It means that no matter how good we have it, we want something better. Apple has based its entire business model on this.

Clybor: One popular view of complaining is that no one likes hearing it. Do you agree with this? And if no one likes a complainer, why do we love Seinfeld?

Borowitz: When people are preached to or complained to, they tend to tune out. Laughter is an involuntary response—it sneaks past our defenses.




Shawn Clybor: Has your own writing always been satirical, or did that approach develop over time?

Andy Borowitz: I’ve never been good at writing serious things. If I could write like Alice Munro, I would.

Clybor: Do you consider yourself a “complainer”? 

Borowitz: I don’t complain. I misinform people, and then they complain about me.

Clybor: The satirist complains by pretending not to complain. Does this form of complaining have an impact on society?

Borowitz: I don’t have any practical impact on society that I know of. That’s a good thing, too—if I thought I had a productive role to play, that would be too much pressure for me.

Clybor: Why do we complain so much? And why do we keep doing it no matter how good (or bad) life is?

Borowitz: There is a very powerful syndrome human beings suffer from called “hedonic adaptation.” It means that no matter how good we have it, we want something better. Apple has based its entire business model on this.

Clybor: One popular view of complaining is that no one likes hearing it. Do you agree with this? And if no one likes a complainer, why do we love Seinfeld?

Borowitz: When people are preached to or complained to, they tend to tune out. Laughter is an involuntary response—it sneaks past our defenses.

Clybor: “The Borowitz Report” emerged in 2001, around the same time as other popular “fake news” outlets (The Onion, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report). There are many historical precedents for satirical news, but do you think there is something particular about the past fifteen years that is making the genre so popular?

Borowitz: As you point out, fake news has been around for centuries—in fact, Mark Twain wrote fake headlines when he was working for a real newspaper. I think the one thing that’s a little different now is that the real news outlets—I’m thinking especially of cable news—are in such disrepute. There’s a sense among some news consumers that people like Jon Stewart do a better job than CNN. It’s a compelling argument.

Clybor: Do you know what you’re going to address in your talk at the Power of Design festival?

Borowitz: I never know what I’m going to say until I open my mouth.

Clybor: Is there anything else you’d like to say about complaints? Maybe there’s something you’d like to complain about?

Borowitz: Any New Yorker who is spending March in Miami has nothing to complain about.
 
Shawn Clybor is a cultural historian of East-Central Europe and a former Fulbright-Hays Scholar. He has published several articles on the relationship between art and politics in communist Czechoslovakia and post-communist Czech Republic. He is currently cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and teaching at the Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010.

Caption: Pamphlet cover, Shopping Your Way Through Southern Europe, c. 1965. Sally Ann Simpson (pseudonym), author. Scandinavian Airlines System Inc., Jamaica, New York, publisher. The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of the San Diego Historical Society.