With the advent of womxn building their own in society, how might we create enabling environments for them to thrive?
I had a chat with the Head of Innovation and Transformation with our engineering partner about introducing externalities into a traditional work environment, in this instance, it was exploring the benefits of bringing a child into corporate. This got me thinking about a more heated topic.
This scribbling of thougths aims to explore how to release talent and creativity of women in workspaces through gender-neutral environments.
Decoding: language as a device to create a new identity
“Women” and “woman” originate from Old English, where “man” was used as a gender fluid pronoun much like “one” and “they” have turned into today. However the feature of “man” or “men” still creates a notion of being a subset in society. A growing trend of of women-oriented organisations around the world are taking on a new way of using words to give womxn ownership of their role in society and fast closing the gender gap.
As of late, many woman-oriented organizations are taking on alternate spellings of the words “woman” and “women” in efforts to be more inclusive. “Womyn” and “womxn” are two of the most commonly used substitutes to avoid using the suffix “-men” at the end of the term, but others like “wimmin,” “wimyn,” and “womin” are also sometimes used.
This presents an increasing insight into the power of independence and being recognised as an autonomous presence in society, creating, making that which was not there and with it the independence and strength to define.
Trying to thrive in circumstances that were not designed for womxn
I have chats with womxn daily and learn of the frustration resulting from womxn trying to assimilate;
Through language — pronunciation and the ability to articulate without features of sexism or patriarchy in the workplace,
Through recreational outfits — the notion of womxn needing to attend every social occasion to get ahead,
Through ‘social order’ — the nuance that a womxn’s head will not be higher than that of the man,
Through vulnerability — in many cases showing signs of weakness to advance in situations where this is not the case
A push for a more effective model
The biggest suggestion coming from these chats was the need for ‘a safe space’ that does not conform to social nuances, a defined space that weather any discriminations and ineptitudes, a place where womxn can be; as competitive, as liberal, as expressive,
Let’s expand on this idea of ‘a safe space’.
We are seeing a democratising of opportunities and work through independent labour and employment. Couple this with the advent of smart-startups, freelancers, the gig economy and a rising mass of independents, the above scenario is suggestive that co-working spaces are safe havens for the upstarts.
Co-working is a model empowering to the upstarts mentioned above, by affording them depth and latitude to establish as businesses that can compete openly with rationed resource. Perhaps more casual and fluid, these spaces still exhibit the same prejudice as formal, corporate environments.
How might we re-imagine a co-working space tailored for womxn?
Some science behind a womxn-only co-working space
The rationale for this may ultimately come down to hormones — stress hormones such as cortisol, that is.
A recent study by Indiana University researchers found that “token” womxn in male-dominated offices exhibited chronically unhealthy levels of cortisol. Previous studies have also shown that male-dominated workplaces can trigger social isolation, not to mention the potential for sexual harassment or stressful interpersonal interactions that can lead self-doubt.
It wouldn’t be a big stretch to imagine that some co-working spaces out there may have this kind of atmosphere.
Imagining a womxn-owned and led co-working space
An empathetic work environment with aesthetics to complement the subtleties of womxn,
Organic ways of focused networking and seeking mentorship from womxn without bias and the male banter often found in work environments,
Inspire and rejuvenate womxn via a sense of ownership and independence from another being,
This was a glimpse of a small thought on inclusive & enabling spaces and am hoping to explore this topic a bit more through more facts- and evidence-based learning by using human-centred principles to push the needle for healthier work spaces.
Original source: https://kwesefied.kwese.com/article/open-africa-initiative-championing-borderless-africa
If you’re a regular around here you know we talk often about these African borders that were decided for us.
Quick history lesson. In 1884/84 at the Berlin Conference, the world’s super powers decided to slice Africa up like a pie leaving us almost irreconcileably disconnected. The map of Africa as we know it was decided there – without our input.
Fast forward to 2017, in an attempt to undo the result of that conference in an inventive way a group of young African Global Shapers from the city of Durban (South Africa) are taking on the mammoth task of trying to “Open Africa”. This agreement was reached at the #ShapingAfrica conversations at the 2017 World Economic Forum on Africa.
The Global Shapers Community is made up of city-based Hubs led by young leaders between 20 and 30 years old who want to develop their leadership potential towards serving society. To that end, Hubs undertake local projects to improve their communities. When you consider that 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 27, you realise how crucial it is that the youth have a voice and presence in the world’s decision-making.
The Global Shapers Durban hub realised that intra-Africa trade (trade between Africans) accounts for only 14% of Africa’s total trade and are aiming to fix that by paving the way for more Intra-Africa collaboration on trade, governance and sharing of talent. The Open Africa initiative will therefore challenge policy makers on the following issues:
Infrastructure projects that prioritise collaboration between governments on road transport networks
Reduction of red tape that results in border delays and hinders movement across borders,
Championing African competitive advantages across different African markets for goods and services
These young leaders have several end-goals in bringing out the spirit of “Ubuntu” shared by Africans and help make practical the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). They hope to create a platform for sharing values and understanding of the different African socio-economic, cultural values and aspirations among the youth. As well as gain a better understanding of the challenges toward free trade-related movement in Africa to enable evidence-based advocacy. Lastly, to create an ecosystem for African youth to work collectively in identifying solutions to intra-Africa trade issues while recognising the challenges that face us all.
To learn exactly HOW this group aims to achieve all this and stay informed of their comings and goings, visit their website or alternatively follow the initative on Facebook and Twitter on
@OpenAfricaGS and @GlobalShapers respectively. #Kwesefied
Original article: https://design.google/library/building-better-design-culture/
Designers are special creatures. Mike Buzzard understands this, and for the last four years he’s been working to make sure Google develops a strong appreciation for design and designers. His mission at Google is ambitious: to foster a world-class UX culture through cross-functional product development, internal operations, programs, education, talent recruitment, and perhaps most impactfully, by improving how Google defines roles and performance expectations for designers. This is an endless exercise in refinement, revision, and keen observation. So how does one become an unapologetic design evangelist in a world where engineering reigns supreme? It helps when you yourself are an edge case: a high-school dropout, an entrepreneur, and a self-taught developer who loves design. Buzzard has learned a number of lessons on his unconventional path to becoming a design lead—ideas helpful not only to understanding the rising stature of design at Google, but also for fostering excellent design vibes on any team.
Amber Bravo: Tell us a bit about how you came to work at Google?
Mike Buzzard: I started out in the ’90s as a self-taught developer with a strong interest in design. I worked for an architecture firm and built a bunch of internal, internet-based tools. Then I moved to San Francisco in 2000, and worked at a startup while also building a freelance practice. I ended up co-founding a design and development studio called Cuban Council. We ran the company for about 10 years out of San Francisco, New York, and Portland. We did a lot of identity, branding—logos for Facebook and Quora at one point—and content management tools for startups and more established entities like NASA, Francis Ford Coppola, BBC, Evernote, et cetera. Google was a client for about seven years, which is how we eventually got acquired to work on Google Plus.
AB: What inspired you to get involved in fostering the UX community at Google?
MB: Well, I had immediate design needs for Google Plus, so I had that motivation. But I also joined the hiring committee and gained a top-down view on how we source, qualify, and assess design talent, which put me in unique position to start bolstering the design disciplines. I also had an existing network of UX leads across Google that I’d meet with to understand their needs and perspective. I realized that by changing the documentation you can actually reframe the way the whole company views a discipline. In 2012, there were a lot of design generalists at Google, and we were trying to diversify and enhance our design capabilities by hiring a lot of specialists. It’s one thing to source specialists, but it’s completely another to build confidence that they’ll be successful. That requires making sure the company understands who they are and what they do, and how to sequence the various disciplines successfully in the product design process.
AB: How has this work evolved over the years?
MB: Google is an engineering-driven company, and I think it’s important that those roots remain. However, I do think Google can become more design oriented. Signals of that would be in the vocabulary engineers use when talking to designers about their work, or even just a top-down, bottom-up sort of comfort in understanding how design influences the company’s products and culture. To me that influence should be visible from the outside. Things like the Google rebrand or Material Design, for example. It’s a slow transition, but it’s clear that the company is definitely moving in this direction. The number of people working in UX at Google has multiplied over the last 5 years—that magnitude of growth is partly why we created a team dedicated to UX community and culture, to ensure the health and success of UX across all of Google.
AB: What types of designers thrive at Google?
MB: I think designers who are interested in creating products from top-to-bottom, who understand the importance of how something functions as well as how it looks and feels. Designers working in brand marketing are often responsible for making sure that brand, content, and functionality goals are met, but often don’t receive the same level of rigor and testing that Google requires. At Google, it’s not uncommon to be working on something that will affect hundreds of millions of people, so there’s an inherent responsibility that you need to get the design as close to “right” as possible before you push it out the door. A lot of people who come in actually appreciate that rigor, that level of ownership and accountability. People with an agency background tend to be great listeners with a strong sense of self-awareness because they have to be—every client is different and their needs are different. That’s a really translatable characteristic that can serve the designer well at Google.
AB: At Google, all designers are hired and evaluated based on the same universal criteria: impact. How does that fit into fostering the company’s design culture?
MB: The idea is that as we hire into roles and grow both the diversity of disciplines as well as the diversity of experience, it will feed back into improving the broad culture of design at Google. We started with scaffolding, or a framework—first aiming to simplify by focusing on the essentials, and then we focused on refining and evolving rubrics. This helps designers better understand and communicate: What is hard about the work I do? What did I do to make a difference or what would have happened if I wasn’t there, and what impact has my work had? When you have peers from different job functions evaluating each other, they’re absorbing this information, and it influences how they think about design roles within the company.
AB: Having a strong criteria is great, but is there a level where feedback and self-assessment has to be tailored to each team?
MB: Really good managers will provide tools and education for their team, they’ll create clear language which people can evaluate themselves and their peers against. It’s important to have a framework for people to tell their story, to help others understand and appreciate the work that they do, especially with the broad range of team compositions. We aren’t doing this work in a vacuum. We observe design promotion committees, we help compose them, we also collect heaps of feedback from pools of reviewers ranging from specialists to leadership. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people understand their job profiles and criteria for advancement, by routinely providing resources and training. It’s an end-to-end, ongoing process.
AB: Measuring your personal success or job impact doesn’t necessarily require that the project or product you worked on was successful, right?
MB: It can be an impact on a project. It can be an impact on a product. It can be an impact on a team or on Google at large. A good example of impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, or measurable, or launch-related could be something like building tools for automation, or identifying common problems that designers have and creating programs to address them. It might be very project specific, and if it is, and everybody adopts that program or process, then it just made the whole team more efficient in their work.
AB: What’s the key to attracting talent at different levels and from different backgrounds?
MB: When we look at the slotting of a discipline at a particular level, we are careful to consider all of the data we have available to us. We look at a person’s former or current role and assess his or her level of influence, leadership, and impact. It’s very important that they will be able to meet or exceed the expectations of the teams when they join. At the more junior levels, we’re looking for opportunities for designers to feel their individual contribution helps them develop a strong sense of purpose and self-awareness. It’s up to them to deliver the value, not just the assets, but younger designers aren’t often wired that way. You’ve got to put yourself in meetings where there’s something to be gained or learned—you can’t always wait for invitations, especially when you have a curiosity or an idea or a concern about the larger product work that you’re contributing to. We look for the hint of an entrepreneurial spirit.
AB: What do you think is uniquely challenging about evaluating design success at Google?
MB: Google is big and has so many different teams. Part of developing criteria for measuring success is to not overly prescribe based on the norm. I’m a great example—I’m a one-off at Google. The ladder has to be general enough to allow me to show how I have impact and demonstrate leadership, yet at the same time it can’t be too vague. We have to be considerate of all the different use cases, and it’s not something we finish and then just walk away from. As Google’s understanding and appreciation of design matures, we need to make sure that the documentation that sets those expectations is representative of the culture that we want. We’re constantly collecting feedback. Some of it’s very small and detailed, and some of it is very philosophical. We’ve come up with different models and frameworks for testing the concepts, profiles, and criteria that we produce. And we regularly observe committees to see how these materials are considered and applied in practice.
AB: In the UX ladder you talk about many qualities of leadership—driving an idea to fruition, building consensus, being a thought leader—can you be a strong leader and be deficient in one of those things?
MB: Leadership manifests itself in many ways. I wouldn’t say that you have to check all the boxes to be a good leader. You could go very deep in one area that has significant impact. As many people progress in their career, they move into the management realm, often times circumstantially. If you have more than eight people reporting to you and you’re not spending more time managing the careers and efficacy of those individuals, you’re doing a disservice to the team and probably the product. In the agency world, this is similar to transitioning from a designer to a creative director, where the challenge is to detach yourself from the details of the design execution and essentially learn to design through others. A “lead” is a person who’s designing through others as they scale themselves. And a lot of the great managers will build a team that’s so high-functioning that they can then focus their time more strategically. When this happens, the manager typically begins to think more logistically about how the team is operating and functioning, focusing on things such as resource allocation, product strategy, and cross-functional partnerships. For example, I know one director who thinks very carefully about personality pairing in trying to identify who’s going to be the UX lead that partners with such and such product manager. What keeps that person up at night is not the pixel accuracy or the simplification of a flow, as much as it is the level of healthy collaboration of the team with its partners. People have to be acutely aware of these organizational traits if they’re going to successfully grow as a managing leader.
AB: What advice would you give to a young designer interested in working at Google?
MB: Excellent design skills are table stakes, communication and presentation skills are also extremely important. If a designer comes into a role and they’re the only designer on the team, they need to be able to confidently express their ideas, rationalize and justify their design decisions, and understand how to align both user and business goals while being mindful of engineering constraints and opportunities. If they’re not comfortable with that level of engagement, then they might consider working on a larger team where they’ll get more mentoring and structure to grow.
AB: How does pedagogy play into this?
MB: Investing in education is about helping people find their passion. In 2013, I started visiting design schools just to see what kind of events we were running and the message Google was sending. Immediately I recognized that there was room for improvement. We were sending mixed messages, and students were leaving school not knowing how they wanted to apply and expand their training or what type of organization would be the best first step down their career path. So a lot of my involvement with Google’s university recruiting programs has been spent trying to help on both sides—to help students develop a better understanding of what type of company, role, and work would provide them with the best opportunity to thrive—and to help Google set clear expectations that help students self-qualify more confidently.
AB: How much of your work is about ensuring general happiness?
MB: We want to make sure that Google is a great place for design and designers, whether you’re a 15-year veteran designer coming from a small brand studio or an entrepreneurial junior designer. We want people to be comfortable on a product team. That’s a big ask. There’s often a sort of a reboot with somebody’s personal identity when they come to Google. They need to try to figure out how to apply their skills within a massive product organization.
To me, this work is most important because it helps designers understand where they exist in the world of Google. They have specific criteria to measure themselves against and can align their day-to-day work with those expectations. Equally important is the definition of what is expected of designers within Google to people in functions other than design. I want it to be a healthy place for designers to grow and evolve. Not everybody is going to climb all the way up the ladder, nor do they all want to, but everyone should have the opportunity to grow, whether it be intentionally developing specific skills, assuming more ownership over a product, or leading a team. I just want to see happy, successful, healthy designers and design culture. I can’t think of another way for me to have a more widespread effect than in doing this kind of work.
Original article: https://medium.com/design-x-data/how-we-use-data-to-inspire-design-ccc51327e904
When most people imagine good design, numbers probably don’t come to mind. In fact, anything quantitative might feel completely at odds with the concept of beautiful design. But at IDEO, in addition to connecting with people and learning their stories, designers use quantitative data as a tool to gain empathy and inspiration. We learn from numbers the same way we learn from people, because we see numbers as a representation of people.
In our traditional human-centered design process, we empathize by going where people live and work. Wetalk with extreme users. We immerse ourselves in their lives. We explore the tension between what people say versus what they do. We prototype. As the world becomes increasingly digital, data becomes a natural byproduct of people’s lives. We’ve learned that the qualitative process we traditionally use cannot only be strengthened by this quantitative data, but can also uncover insights that qualitative data alone cannot. Quantitative data is a rich, ripe source for design research that IDEO is using (and you should too!) to get inspired by users.
How might we use quantitative data to inspire design?
Talk to extreme users
If we wanted to learn how to improve a product, would it be better to talk to someone who feels indifferent towards the product or someone who hates it? At IDEO, we prefer to talk to the extreme users, the “haters” and “super users.” Why? We’ve learned that the needs of extreme users are amplified. They really need something to be one way or another. There’s no in-between. They can clearly articulate what is amazing or awful about the product and show us the workarounds they use to make up for the product’s weaknesses. This helps us pull out meaningful needs that may not emerge when engaging with the average user who represents the mean.
Quantitative data is perfect for helping designers determine who the extreme users are to better understand what makes them stand out. We can analyze the behaviors of people in the bottom or top quartile of the dataset. We can also use the data to guide our qualitative research. For example, one startup we were working with was questioning whether or not to incorporate a feature into their product. The data showed that most people used the feature only ~1.5 times, so their first thought was to get rid of it. Rather than focusing on the “average” user, we looked at the whole distribution. We spoke to the two or three people at the extreme who maxed out the use of the feature to learn what value the feature was providing and how to tweak the feature (and the messaging) to make it more helpful to others.
Immerse yourself in people’s lives
There’s no better way to understand the people we’re designing for than by immersing ourselves in their lives. Why? Because observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives us clues about what they think, feel, and need. This helps us uncover insights and inspire new design solutions.
Digital products enable designers to collect an endless stream of quantitative data to immerse themselves in the lives of users. With permission, users can take us along with them wherever they go — even when we’re not physically present — and share their needs and desires in real time with us. For example, IDEO worked with an automobile company to understand how people move through cities. To immerse ourselves in users’ lives, we asked them to download the Moves app which tracked how they moved through their city. We also asked users to take photos and videos of moments when their trips went wrong, and moments when their trips made them smile. For every major travel incident, we were able to connect the quantitative data with the photos taken in the field and the human stories. This way, we understood the insight wasn’t just the numbers: it was grounded in human experience and connected to a larger system.
Explore the tension between what people say versus what they do
Good design is often built on a solid understanding of both people’s explicit and latent needs. One way we uncover the needs and values that may not be obvious to the people who hold them is by listening to the stories people tell and comparing them to observations of what they actually do. The differences often indicate a latent need that might not otherwise be expressed.
In addition to traditional ethnographic observation, designers can capture the tension between what people say and do from both survey data and behavioral data. Survey data lets us understand people’s thoughts and attitudes about a subject. Live data (i.e., from a website or app) helps us observe actual behavior in a real-world context. For example, an IDEO team was developing an app to identify levers of behavior change to coach safe driving. In surveys and interviews, the team heard people claim they were good drivers. However, the team observed through tracking behavioral data that those drivers were actually riskier. If the team designed opportunities based on what they heard, they’d design products to reward good drivers. If they designed based on what they observed, they’d design products to help people improve bad driving. However, the people who needed their driving improved wouldn’t have used the product because they believed they were good drivers. This insight helped us design for that tension.
Create a prototype and see how it resonates
Prototyping gets ideas out of designers’ heads and into the world. By building rough prototypes that participants can see, touch, feel, and react to, we can rapidly elicit feedback and test the functionality of early design ideas. This is done overtly, through tactics like questioning and role playing; and tacitly, through observation. After asking for feedback from a number of people who represent different types of users, we synthesize it to find strategic and directional themes to guide our teams in further development.
Traditionally when we built prototypes (anything from paper wireframes to physical retail spaces), we relied on our own observations and conversations with users to understand how the concept resonated. Now, digital tools enable us to collect and leverage quantitative data in our prototype as well. We use live data and integrate it with tools like Slack to prototype digital experiences that feel real for users, but are actually very rough and rapid to create on the backend. These “Wizard of Oz” prototypes enable us to learn quickly and investigate a lot of different possibilities.
For example, an IDEO team was working on a behavior change project and wanted to design a messaging system. Rather than spending time coding a system that would automate responses, we created a ‘magic’ automated experience to quickly prototype effective messaging statements. First, we hooked up the Slack interface to import user data so designers could quickly understand it. Then, we used that data to create, send, and receive personalized text messages to help improve users’ behavior. Based on the the user’s qualitative responses via text messages and behaviors captured via quantitative data, we were able to figure out messaging statements that resonated with users. By creating prototypes that collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback, designers are able to get a better, more holistic understanding of how a concept resonates with users.
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources including observations, conversations, and quantitative data. Quantitative data can be used for direction and inspiration throughout the design process, as it helps us understand where to focus and how and why people behave the way they do. It also serves as an input for prototyping. And together, with qualitative data, it provides us with a complete, meaningful story. The combination of both heightens insights to ensure that the weakness of one is balanced by the other. So the next time you turn to data, consider how you can merge both the people and the numbers to get to the heart of your design challenge.
Original article: https://www.dezeen.com/2011/12/08/ice-cube-celebrates-the-eames/
The musician, who previously studied as an architectural draftsman, compares the combination of prefabricated elements in the Los Angeles Eames House to a sampled hiphop track.
“Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames” is the latest installment in a series that explores unexpected artistic connections between culturally influential Angelenos of different generations
In “Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames,” O’Shea Jackson, the rapper and actor also known as Ice Cube, talks about his love for architecture and how the work of legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames continues to inspire him.
Touring the home of Charles and Ray Eames, known as Case Study No. 8, Ice Cube explains how hip-hop mirrors the couple’s beautifully designed home as both make use of prefabricated pieces that fit together to form a whole.
“What I love about the Eames is how resourceful they are,” explains Ice Cube. “[The idea for the Eames House is] taking something that already exists and making it something special, kind of like sampling.”
The extended version of the video features Ice Cube driving around Los Angeles and talking about the city’s vast architectural landscape, from strip malls to famous landmarks like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Watts Towers. Ice Cube has long been passionate about architecture and studied architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology in 1987, right around the time when he recorded the first demos with the legendary South Los Angeles rap group N.W.A.
“When N.W.A. was first about to pop off I wasn’t sure if I was gonna make a living [from music],” says Ice Cube. “Cussin’ on the radio? I didn’t know if that was gonna bring me any money, so I ended up going to school in Phoenix and spending a year out there.”
Produced by video director Dave Meyers, “Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames” is the third video in a series that features authentic and unexpected connections between today’s cultural influencers and Pacific Standard Time-era (postwar) artists to show how Los Angeles art continues to inspire the world.
The Eames House Foundation is a Pacific Standard Time exhibition partner, presenting “Indoor Ecologies: The Evolution of the Eames House Living Room”.
Preceded by the videos “Kiedis Celebrates Ruscha” and “Schwartzman Celebrates Baldessari,” the Ice Cube/Eames video is the latest installment in the creative campaign by TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles to promote Pacific Standard Time: Art inL.A.1945-1980, the unprecedented six-month celebration of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene.
From its early roots in the Bronx to its current status as a worldwide cultural movement, hip-hop has never lost its street-level sensibility. When writing songs, rappers and lyricists trade in the currency of credibility, constantly dropping the names of street corners, city neighborhoods, even specific buildings and housing projects to connect listeners with the urban environment.
Hip-hop is often about place. And, according to architect Michael Ford, it is place—often poorly designed, underfunded, and cut off from the rest of the city through bad urban planning and structural racism—that birthed the genre. Ford, who has been tapped to design the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, has helped coin the term “hip-hop architecture,” popularizing the concept as a lens for looking at the intersections of culture and the built environment.
But it’s not just about looking back at the ways urban planning and housing policy created the environment for new forms of music; it’s how the ethics and ethos of hip-hop can help inspire new solutions for designing our cities.
“I’m looking at the intersection of architecture and hip-hop,” Ford says. “I use hip-hop to look at the impact architecture has had on the community, and the impact my profession has made. Architecture has shaped communities, but we can go back and reclaim them, and reconnect those that have been lost to things such as freeways.”
Ford, who wrote a thesis about the subject, Cultural Innovation, Hip-Hop Inspired Architecture and Design, while studying at the University of Detroit Mercy in 2005, believes this is a perfect example of the power of narrative. Historical discourse often pushes the idea that the “black ghetto” exists because of the cultural behaviors of its occupants. Exploring and exposing the conscious and subconscious efforts of past members of his profession to shape these spaces, and the effects those decisions have, can inform and inspire more community-oriented design in the future.
The Beginning: Moses, Le Corbusier, and Structural Racism
Ford can talk all day about hip-hop, how it started in the Bronx and at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue. But ask him who the godfather of hip-hop is, and he won’t say Grandmaster Flash or Kool Herc. He says it’s Le Corbusier. Of course, he doesn’t mean that literally. But the famed French modernist did create the architectural blueprints for the buildings that would become the cradle of the art form.
“This is not a means of taking credit away from the brothers and sisters who actually created hip-hop, but a method to make a sustaining narrative which links the built environment and hip-hop culture based on historical facts,” he said during a presentation in Austin. “And, to be honest, it’s a subtle jab at modernism and those celebrated as the standard bearers of our profession.”
Corbusier’s famous towers-in-the-park concept—a series of soaring high-rises interspersed with parks—aimed to bring “democracy and equality through the built environment.” He thought “good” or “enlightened” buildings would create good and enlightened citizens. Officials in Paris “thought his idea were crazy,” and never implemented Corbusier’s plans.
New York, and its infamous master-builder Robert Moses, had no such reservations, replicating parts of Corbusier’s plan as part of the massive slum-clearance and housing project programs he oversaw in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, in what Ford calls “a terrible early example of sampling,” Moses borrowed part of Corbusier’s plan—the tall, narrow towers, and dense living conditions—but didn’t include all the amenities and park spaces Corbusier envisioned. The housing projects he created, an architectural sample, then became the standard for public housing across the country.
The construction of these dense towers, and the concurrent freeway construction that cut neighborhoods off from one another, created the spaces that birthed the different elements of hip-hop; DJing, MCing, B-boying, and graffiti. Areas choked of private spaces and arts funding, where creative youth congregated in public parks, towers and basketball courts, and created a cross-pollination of culture.
“People criticized Corbusier’s plans, saying they would ‘create a culture that begs for creativity,’” says Ford. “I call it a prediction of hip-hop culture, almost 50 years before it was born.
These towers had perverse impacts on their residents, says Ford. The physical environments had psychological effects. And it wasn’t just the landscape; social priorities and lack of funding for education or the arts also had a huge impact.
The Project: The Hip-Hop Museum
While Ford and others have published essays and research looking at the historical connections between hip-hop and architecture, he’s also trying to practice a new type of architecture influenced by the cultural movement.
The most high-profile example is his Universal Hip-Hop Museum, a forthcoming cultural institution in the Bronx that not only seeks to share the artform, be inspired by it as well. Instead of a traditional design brief and community feedback loop, the museum’s look was designed in part by a “cypher,” a term that references a freestyle rap battle, and has the support of rap legends such as Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang.
Set to open in 2019 or 2020, the museum will also embody hip-hop’s focus on community. Thanks to funding from Microsoft, the initiative will also build a portable museum that, starting later this year, will travel between major cities in the years leading up to the permanent museum’s opening. A truck-like portable space, which Ford has nicknamed “Optimus Prime,” will travel to Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, not only allowing fans to visit the museum in their hometown, but also to contribute. In a hip-hop spin on StoryCorps, visitors will be able to add their stories, including text and images, and tag them to a specific place, creating a map of hip-hop’s influence across different parts of the country.
“We wanted to figure out a way to make the museum accessible to people around the country,” says Ford. “It’s like mapping a phenomenon. It allows the pioneers of hip hop to tell their own story, it allows architects, designers and urban planners to fuse their culture with their practice and it allows the community to effectively engage in the design process of developments in their neighborhood. ”
The Vision: Architecture that reflects the community
Ford has described hip-hop as the “post-occupancy report of Modernism.” Referencing the term architects, designers and engineers typically use for their account of mistakes and success after a project is finished, Ford feels the lyrics and language of hip-hop, and the visceral descriptions of the urban environment, can teach his profession important lessons.
Creating spaces for and by the community matters. Using hip-hop as a connector, narrative, and frame of reference can get more people, especially people of color, engaged in shaping and designing their environments, a form of self-empowerment that seems perfectly aligned with the genre’s message. Only three percent of architects in the United States are African-American, says Ford. He wants to see more kids follow President Obama’s suggestion and become literal architects of change.
“Will hip-hop architecture allow minority students and young practitioners to make immediate contributions to the field of architecture, instantly raising the visibility of minority practitioners as a whole? “ says Ford. “I hope that the hip-hop generation will champion this new vernacular, and rely on our love for hip-hop coupled with our architectural knowledge, to build our communities and increase the number of minority practitioners.”
The Music: A hip-hop playlist about the environment and architecture
Consider this the playlist to Ford’s work. Curbed asked the architect to name some of the songs he feels showcase the relationship between hip-hop and architecture; we included a few below, which he recently played during a lecture.
KRS One – R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – “Rhymes Equal Actual Life in The Youth”
“I used this song to describe hip-hop lyrics’ are reflections of real life in urban communities. If you want to hear a critique of the environment from which the music is made, listen to the music.”
Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, “The Message”
“This song describes the urban reality of urban renewal.”
Snoop Dog, “Life in The Projects”
“Describes the dismal environments resulting from the modernist vision, Towers in a Park. The monotonous superblocks failed to provide the lush green environments once envisioned by Le Corbusier.”
Ain’t no trees, the grass ain’t green, And when I say it’s all bad, you know what I mean
Wu-Tang Clan, “S.O.S.”
“Wu-Tang member Street Life’s contribution to ‘S.O.S” reveals a deep frustration and level of tension between public housing authorities, architects and the tenants about the cyclical fostering and implementation of injustices upon African-American communities.
Street chronicle, wise words by the abdominal
High honorable, rap quotable phenomenal
Seniority kid, I speak for the minority
Ghetto poverty f*** the housing authority
The West Coast All-Stars, “We’re All in the Same Gang”
“In the song “We’re All in The Same Gang”, produced by Dr. Dre in 1990, featuring the top hip hop artists and rappers from the West Coast. Shock G eludes to John B Calhoun’s research during his verse below. Sociologist John B. Calhoun studied the behavior of lab mice under conditions of overcrowding and controlled resources. People eventually made parallels between the activities of his study subjects to humans, some predicting that overcrowding was in the future for the human race, and based on his research, violence, amongst other things, was an inevitable part of that future if we don’t change the way we design our cities.
I’m in a rage. Oh Yea? Why is that G?
Because other races, they say we act like rats in a cage.
I tried to argue, but check it, every night in the news, We prove them suckers right and I got the blues
Nas, “I Can”
“Nas told your hip hoppers they can be whomever they want to be, including an architect.”
User experience provides a crucial competitive advantage for brands. Ocado, Uber and Airbnb – the biggest innovators of recent years became winners in their categories thanks to their user interface, and the experience these provide.
Even though UX design is often discussed in the context of digital services, it’s actually an umbrella term for human-centered disciplines like service design, information design and graphic design. Everyone can benefit from the principles of UX design that follow the classic ‘Double diamond’ process established by the Design Council.
The practice of UX is essentially about solving problems with design. Creating user flows, wireframing and usability testing are some of the main techniques to make sure the product is good and answers the needs of its users. UX is always subjective since there’s no universal taste, though creating personas can help take into account the needs of a range of people. UX design is rooted in psychology and its main areas of interests are understanding what users think, feel and how their instincts affect these. A well-known tool for marketers, Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of needs’ proves itself handy in the case of user experiences too.
Below are some top tips for designing better user experiences:
1. User research forms the basis to any design
2. Asking the right questions is key
3. Collaboration: incorporating all stakeholders in the design process brings in more ideas and insights
4. Affinity Mapping helps visualise and come up with themes when thinking of journeys and user insights
5. Personas help to empathise with different types of users
6. Prototyping helps thinking as ideas become tangible. All you needs is a pen and paper – if a picture is worth 1,000 words, a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings
7. Iterative process = design – test – learn: repeat
What differentiates Ocado, Uber and Airbnb from their predecessors – traditional supermarkets, taxi companies and hotels – is that they’re borne out of user needs (I need food, I need someone to drive me from place a to place b, I need a place to stay). Moreover, every little detail has been designed carefully to make the experience more satisfying and to involve the least possible effort for everyone using the service. Whether it’s a visual, audio or touch-based interface, UX should be at the heart of your decisions. They say that the best services are often the ones you don’t even notice.
Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…