Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thesis Narrowing

I have Narrowed down my potential thesis topics to three areas of interest:

Integrating sustainable practices in traditional preparation of southern barbecue and the effect this has on the transmission of culture. 

Sounds convoluted, huh? One thing that I learned this semester is that I have acquired a lot of knowledge about pit cooked barbecue over the years. It isn't just the quality of the food that interests me, but mostly what comes with the traditional cooking methods. Pit cooking a 100 lb. hog over hard wood coals takes a lot of work and a lot of time. These are qualities of process that are more and more frequently being lost to technological innovation, but they are practices that teach us things, specifically they teach young people that working hard with their family and community has far reaching rewards that can be drawn upon for the rest of their lives.

This method of cooking also has bears qualities that detract from the overall health of our society as a whole as well.  Green, slow growing deciduous trees are not the most environmentally friendly fuel source. Is it possible to find a more renewable wood to use to make coals? I also have serious reservations about the commercial pork industry (yes, me, Jason "Spam and Honey Bun sandwiches" Richburg). There is enough suffering in this world without lowering an animal's quality of life to make my food cheaper and faster to attain, and I don't even want to think about what sort of genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals are necessary to grow a full sized pig in half the time it takes nature. Surely someone can make organic, grain fed hogs more readily available to people in the rural south for a reasonable price.

How could I use design thinking to effect change in this small segment of society that is so important to my culture?

How people over the age of 50 learn new technology.

The personal computer (what an outdated term) is something that has risen from nothing within my own lifetime. I remember distinctly when my dad bought his first DOS machine when I was seven or eight years old and I remember how easily I learned to use the small handful of games we had on floppy disk (If you're too young to know what those are don't bother looking it up, it doesnt matter), it probably weighed 30 pounds. Of course there was also that old Atari with the feux wood grain panel on the front. If I only had a dollar for all the frogs I allowed to be flattened by cars.

A couple of months ago I got my first iPhone and it changed my life far more significantly that those old 8bit machines ever could. I can navigate my college campus or a major city without ever looking where I am walking. I can have a real-time video conversation with someone on the other side of the planet. I can take surprisingly high quality images, play video games, browse the real web, read a book, listen to a song, watch a full length movie in HD, and, oh yeah, call and text message people. I no longer carry my $2,500 laptop around with me everywhere I go, my phone is a sophisticated computer.

In just thirty years look how far we have come. Think that's a long time? To put it in perspective it took us 427 years to get from the first printing press to the first type writer.

So, what's the point? well, there is a huge and ever growing sector of the developed world that learned most of their professional and marketable skills before 1980. This new digital life form that is omnipresent in the world of a 10 year old is a invasive and often frightening (if not threatening) species in the world of a 50 year old.

Some older people take to computers quite easily, some just can't get it no matter how hard they try, some are just not interested in trying. I would propose that it is the interface that makes the difference. In a single generation we went from every physical world action having physical world results that were apparent and easy to teach through repetition to every physical world action having numerous, minute, and ever changing virtual world results that may or may not be apparent and require a certain degree of technological sophistication to understand.

How can we better transmit this valuable knowledge? Could augmented reality effectively bridge this gap between what we do with our hands and what we see with our eyes? How could what is second nature to a ten year old become second nature to a 50 year old?

The 529

Before I left Columbia I had the honor of working with some very talented folks in The 529 Collective. In a nutshell we worked to bring high quality, professional design oriented solutions to nonprofits and community driven individuals. We worked for the community, not for the client and not for profit. This idea suits me really well. I hate charging for my work. I wish I could just make the most awesome branding in the world for everyone and never have to deal with putting a monetary value on what I love to do.

As most of you are aware, the world of the graphic designer is unrecognizable nearly from one year to the next. What we actually do on a daily basis and how we do it is up in the air at the moment. Outsourcing to other countries, virtual information, and the accessibility of creative software have almost made the t-square and exacto knife antiquated. This makes the value of a traditional design education somewhat ambiguous if not altogether empty.

This has brought about a call to arms from professionals and educators. We have had to take a serious look at ourselves and determine where our value really lies: with our "problem solving" abilities. When Paul Rand said that design is a way of life he meant that it is more like a neurological disorder than a skill set. Designers are people who can't leave things alone when they are out of order. Whether this phenomenon is the result of genetic disposition or training is difficult to determine.

There is more out of order in the world around us than typographic treatments and spacial relationships. It has been a trend for some time now to direct our efforts toward helping the little guy. Riggs just finished their thirteenth Createathon, a 24 hour anual event to barrage the nonprofit world of Columbia, S.C. with free work. So it's no break through to say that this sort of work is becoming more and more important or to ask, " How can we make money from it?"

What I want to know is how can design philanthropy become it's own industry? How could I partner my small, local design boutique with a shop in India to deliver a high value product to an entity that serves my small town directly with it's own work? How could I harness the power of the global community to serve the betterment of the local community?


  1. wowzers...they're all such great topics. The BBQ issue seems very interesting and fun, and relevant to your tastes-so I'm sure you'd get a lot out of it. The Geezer Technology Crisis is very understandable to so many people (I mean, my MOM still types with her index finger) and would benefit not only this generation of seniors, but also those to come, so we'll know how to handle it when our kids can fly better than we can. And the 529 sounds really great because it's about our future (and present!) as designers. You're getting somewhere here.

  2. Kevin, you are a good friend. I would never expect anyone except my professor and the occasional stalker to read that entire thing. Thanks for providing that insite.