Reframe: Design thinking for Africa

Image source: Cyrus Kabiru, C-Stunners 2012. Caribbean Sun. © Cyrus Kabiru. Foto: Miguel Luciano.
What is the reframing? Cultural intelligence

What is the idea of cultural intelligence?

We start by defining what cultural intelligence is not. It is not: something derived from clever marketing tools; an myriad of digital insights that inform marketing practices; a device that is on standby and called on when needed.

We begin by understanding cultural intelligence as the air that brings life to humans, the core of what informs daily human decisions, an underlying sense of connectedness and belonging innately placed before the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creeps into an adolescent youth on their path to existential inquiry.

Cultural intelligence is the idea that culture inherently is and of itself a sentient being, a living, breathing thing, in other words human; one with thoughts, ideas and basic survival instincts. To push the envelope, the idea of its own existence in the broader category of other social nuances.

Cultural insights is a more passive and evasive stance in understanding the makeup of a tribe.

Consider this, Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO advocates for a new model of living, the circular economy – the need to move away from linear movement of raw materials along an assembly line to a more distributed and democratic model of bending the assembly line into a circular flow where the output of the system now informs how the system is built. The notion that people comes before process.

Image source: http://report.akzonobel.com/2015/ar/case-studies/the-circular-economy.html

 

This is not a new idea when one traces the harmony of man and nature, something very characteristic of indigenous tribes in Afrika. Intelligence speaks to the holistic need for change and balancing, insights is represented in the change process.

To expand on the idea of cultural intelligence, let’s take a closer look at indigenous knowledge systems, a more digestible and pragmatic way to understand it.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. Indigenous knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education: natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.

Flavier. De Jesus and Navarro (1995:10) state that:

Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society. which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic. and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

To propose a new idea of design thinking re-framed for Afrika appeals to the former stance of internal creativity and experimentation. By design, design thinking prompts the ‘innateness’ to surface. Afrikan design thinking means reverting back to dynamic communal structures and nuances and interrogate those means to which we can interpret the world and its problems.

With design firms such as IDEO and Frog Design, they have had the mileage in producing methodologies that systematically find themselves adopted into similar societies and externalities, offering a plug-and-play approach to design thinking.

Reframing for Afrika means beginning with the end in mind, starting with the understanding that systems change in Afrika rests with the information base from indigenous rural areas like Sauri, Kenya; Adet, Ethiopia; Chibuto, Mozambique and how these knowledge reserves play themselves out and inform the rural, peri-urban and urban migrant as they carry them into urban spaces.

Reframing urban dilemmas emphatically using peri-rural intelligence over insight.

Cultural preservation

There is keen debate amongst indigenous communities, government officials, public negotiators and academic commentators alike over whether intellectual property rights are appropriate for the preservation and legal protection of traditional cultural expressions. These debates need to be understood in relation to the intrinsic nature of traditional cultural expressions, and how they carry with them ‘shared, symbolic meanings, which may represent for a community a link with the sacred…its history, or an attribute of its identity’

In reframing design thinking for Afrika we begin with the idea that cultures, inherently carry with them a sense of expressions and being. To this end, we employ devices as empathy and resign preconceived notions of systems challenges in communal structures.

How might we preserve Afrikan traditional systems? How might we use cultural systems thinking to inform design thinking?

Image source: https://www.tripsavvy.com/games-played-in-africa-1454491

Mancala is one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. Pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes.

How might we build a culture for Afrikan design thinking?

  1. Isintu (empathy)Design and innovation are geared to solving problems, problems experienced by humans.

    Derived from Ubuntu, isintu suggests consistent and genuine human values being a part of everyday life gathered from “umthombo”, the essence of being human.

  2. Context driven learningMany tools are used by design thinking practitioners locally. While functional, how many of those tools have been informed by indigenous knowledge systems?

    The idea of a deep, native narrative creeps up in the learning. Learning from folklore practice and oral storytelling and charging this into the facilitation.

  3. Content driven ideationAs suggested by the context driven learning point above, practitioners ought to move into a space of iterative content ideation, the aim of creating unique design tools and innovation methodologies.
  4. “Cultural misappropriation”Although counterintuitive to the main idea carried by this piece, cultural appropriation suggest being unapologetic and disruptive jeering of cultural intelligence in design practice. Instead of using insights and layering them onto an appropriate medium that advertising and marketing types place on campaigns (ready-placed frameworks), a deliberate celebration and highlighting of innate cultural qualities needs to surface.

    The idea of Afrika with a “K” and not a “C”

  5. Deep dives and immersionDriving a culture that all are ethnographers, that every team member once given enough latitude can relate to a situation and personalities and not treating the challenge from a passive stance.

    Mindfulness, that every moment presents an opportunity for observation and learning.

  6. GamificationUsing Afrikan games as a point of assimilating and expounding on new approaches to design and innovation.

What are the impacts of reframing for Afrika?

Seeking first to be understood and then to understand

For the better part of this thought piece, reference to the marketing and advertising arena is made, not to take away from its impact however to highlight approaches to problem-solving where corporate Afrika relies heavily to solve problems of understanding people to gain market traction.

Design thinking over-emphasizes the human.

Reframing design thinking places a deeper need to understand the human, wholly, from a point of their decision-making.

Systems change

With an invigorated approach, this contextual with content backed by evidence and facts-based intelligence and the creative confidence to implement to problems, Afrikan design thinking is a host to new innovations.

References
1. http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/journal_archive/10113487/324.pdf
2. http://www.piipa.org/images/IP_Book/Chapter_5_-_IP_and_Human_Development.pdf

The Open Africa Initiative Is Championing a Borderless Africa

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:

  1. Infrastructure projects that prioritise collaboration between governments on road transport networks
  2. Reduction of red tape that results in border delays and hinders movement across borders,
  3. 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

Does technology impact culture?

Original article: https://mediaculturesociety.org/2013/01/29/does-technology-impact-culture/

In today’s technology driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. The ability to create relationships based solely on mutual understandings and shared common interests have fed the social media phenomena. In the past, people were able to get together physically and discuss concerns or share thoughts. However public spheres are changing from gathering in coffee shops to meeting online through forums and other social media platforms. As read in Mediated Society – a critical sociology of media, the prospective of critical sociology, the focus is on how media practices impact what we see as normal and affects society’s values. In today’s world, the easy access to technology creates the situation that, when you look around, people are often using smartphones or using their computers to check on what’s happening in the world around them, providing a feeling of connectedness. Does this ease of connection to the online world hold significant consequences on culture?

Let’s start by defining culture. According to Georg Simmel, “objective culture is seen as a ‘thing’ and subjective culture as its ‘unique experience’ (Jackson, J. D., Neilsen, G, and Hsu, Yon, 2011, p. 10)”. Culture is experienced, shared and adopted.

According to Digital Nation, a 90-minute PBS documentary which aired on Feb. 10, 2010, the purpose of the program was: “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. One of the many insights from this documentary is that in this wired world, people living in the same house or workplace can all be looking at different screens and communicating with different people. This changes how people interact with each other, as well as where our public spheres may be found (online instead of discussions at the dining room table or in meetings at work, perhaps?). Most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on cognitive abilities.

Sherry Turkle, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and is considered to be a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine.

As seen in TED talks, Turkle shares her thoughts on technology’s impact. She says, “As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other”. She suggests we often hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing difficult issues in person. This is because of the belief that online is less personal and the effort to connect on a human level and is reduced by sending messages online rather than in person. Why? If by talking about the issues or concerns in person, discussions are open up where feelings, thoughts, ideas are exposed to be shared and probed. Turkle suggests we can hide from each other even though we are more electronically connected. She points out we’re not building relationships with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it’s a real thing. Turkle explains that technology doesn’t empathize, and doesn’t experience death or disappointments. Instead we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

Turkle says, “We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Does this approach of using technology have an impact on relationships?

It’s important that we look at the reasons for the messages we send. Berger’s research looked at the thought processes people go through in order to produce the messages they speak. Berger concluded, “Most social interaction is a goal-driven; we have reasons for saying what we say” (Griffen, 2012. p. 130). With the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do they really consider and think through the potential consequences of what they are conveying?

As discussed during our class, Always Already New, the media history and the data of Culture (Gitelman, 2006, p. 59), “Publics are comprised as users, but not all users are entitled or constitutive members of the public sphere.” This can divide more than connect people based on their ability with technology, choice in being connected 24/7, skill in written communications and use of tone in writing.

Constant communication through use of technology is changing the way people think of themselves and how they communicate. They can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone. Connecting electronically can also lead to isolation. They often don’t allow the time to think or listen to each other with the constant sensory stimulus of texts, tweets, Facebook updates, emails and more. Understanding the prospective of critical sociology and how media practices impact what is seen as normal affects society’s values. The ease of connecting through technology and communicating online does have an impact on culture locally and globally as more and more people choose to communicate online instead of in person.

The hip-hop architect on how music and the environment can influence one another

Original article: http://brandnudesign.com/new-blog/?offset=1482008769401
Youths fly a kite in a street bordered with firegutted buildings in the South Bronx section of New York City in June, 1977. The Carter Administration has agreed to revive urban renewal projects in an effort to revive the neighborhood. 
AP Images

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.”

Michael Ford

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.

1520 Sedgewick Avenue
A Feb. 11, 2010 photo of the exterior of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx borough of New York.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

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.

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan
Built in 1942, Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, a Robert Moses project, was an early example of the tower blocks concept
Scott Davies: Flickr/Creative Commons

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.

Universal Hip-Hop Museum mobile museum
A rendering of the mobile version of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum

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.”

Be, B-Boys and girls, listen up

You can be anything in the world, in God we trust

An architect, doctor, maybe an actress

But nothing comes easy it takes much practice

Why Diversity in Architecture Matters for Communities and the Bottom Line

Original article: http://brandnudesign.com/new-blog/why-diversity-matters

I’m honored to join thought-leaders Gabrielle Bullock and Lilian Asperin in the latest publication by Redshift,  “Why Diversity in Architecture Matters for Communities and the Bottom Line”. This conversation is a continuation of How Music Can Help Solve Architecture’s Diversity Problem and is a short preview of the upcoming South By Southwest panel discussion, Remixing Architecture with Hip Hop Culture, which includes Tiffany Brown of The Urban Arts Collective, University of Michigan professor, Dr. Craig Wilkins and Daniel Guillory, The Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Autodesk.

Photo: RedshiftPhoto: Redshift