Reading Response 06 / Jack Thrun

There was one statement in the middle of this chapter of Dunne and Raby’s “Speculative Everything” that related to something I’ve been trying to think about / wrap my head around for as long as I can remember. On page 168, it says “it feels today as if the era of big ideas and fantastic dreams has passed.” Space travel was revolutionary. The personal computer, the iPhone, the iPod. They were all revolutionary. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, on a smaller scale than space travel, all changed the world in some way. I think the thought of changing the world is in every designer/engineer’s mind but the toughest question to answer is “what is the next big thing?” All of these big ideas seem like common sense looking back at them because its easy to see after the fact how the creator simply “connected the dots” as Steve Jobs puts it.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”

To back track in the reading a bit, this idea loosely corresponds to the micro utopias that were mentioned on page 163. Although the example in the book is rather bizarre, it made me think of the idea that if one person likes an idea, there will be a group of similar thinking people who also like the idea. “The construction of one-off micro-utopias built around the desires of a single person or group” plays into the idea that as a designer, we need to trust out intuition. Yeah, it’s important to know how to design for other people but it’s interesting knowing the fact that if you design for yourself, it has the potential impact on larger groups of people.

I’ll finish with some comments on some ideas that this chapter started out with. Design thinking is a term that gets tossed around so much today that I begin to wonder what value it holds anymore. Design thinking is a great methodology that can be utilized in non design businesses but as a fellow designer, it comes across as a bit pretentious when it morphs into teaching other design driven companies / consultancies how to design. IDEO used to be a great design firm that created unbelievably innovative products. Now it seems that all they do is talk about design and tell other people how to design without designing much themselves anymore.

Reading Response 04 / Jack Thrun

Erik Olin Wright begins his Guidelines For Envisioning Real Utopias with a formula to critique “existing institutions and social structures.” According to Wright, in order to be a “radical critic,” one must identify generated harms, formulate alternatives, and propose transformative strategies. As an advocate for capitalism but understanding that it could be better, it really annoys me when people just start shouting out talking points on why capitalism is evil without offering any solutions or criticism that is actually constructive. That being said, I really appreciate Wright’s term “envisioning real utopias.” Too often, ridiculous solutions get thrown around – or worse yet, no solutions at all. Wright seems to be taking the discussion and critique seriously.

I was confused, however, about the difference between viability and achievability. Even though Wright gave a few examples, those two words still seem synonymous for each other. Achievability is the ability of something to be brought about or reached successfully and viability is the ability to work successfully. If I were to understand the differences in regards to Wright’s reading, I would say achievability is the ability to reach something and viability is how successful it will be once reached.

I was intrigued by a passage on page 34 when Wright paints a difference between Capitalist and society as a whole in regards to profit maximization. Wright claims that “profit maximization is generally facilitated by a certain amount of unemployment and insecurity among workers.” If I understand what Wright is saying, I feel it is a totally backwards from the basic idea of economics. If companies are making more money, they will hire more workers. High profits increase job opportunities. It makes no sense that profit maximization will lead to unemployment.

Wright then claims, on page 36, that conservatives argue a redistribution of wealth will reduce incentives for investors, entrepreneurs, innovators and risk takers. It seems as though Wright is combining two different conservative arguments and passing it off as one. The first conservative argument is that if everyone makes the same amount of money (a true socialist economy), there will be less incentive to innovate. The second conservative argument is that redistribution of wealth only helps “McDonald’s” because “the people who are poor need to buy hamburgers to feed their children…They don’t have the money to invest in building an iPhone…That does not create new products and services that become cheaper over time through competition” (Ben Shapiro – @ 3:00). Conservatives don’t believe that a simple redistribution of wealth leads to a loss of incentive. They believe redistribution will, in return, naturally reduce the total amount of investments towards products and services.

The McDonald’s reference brings me to the concept of Universal Basic Income. If everyone is given just the basic amount to survive, that money will never be invested into new products or services because they’re only spending the money just to get by. So for me, it’s hard to say if UBI is good for the economy but I can agree it is a virtuous thought. One of the problems with UBI that I see, and agree with Ben Shapiro’s argument on, is that it would cause inflation. Business’s will adjust to the fact that everyone now has more money and therefore raise their prices. UBI will only be a good idea when technology becomes so automated that there are literally no jobs left. That will be the time when UBI meets all of Wrights criteria of desirable, achievable, and viable. With a current 4% unemployment rate, it’s near impossible for UBI to become reality. (

I’ll end with a few questions:            

  1. Surely there will be the ones who put it to good use. but what about the ones who take the free money and use it for ill intensive purposes? Tax payers just keep giving them money for their drugs / unproductive lives?
  2. How much do people get? Certain places are cheaper to live than others.
  3. “The starving artist:” You make money because you offer a service to someone and in return they give you a reward (money). If you’re not selling paintings, you won’t get paid. Thats a life choice so why should other people pay for you to survive?

Reading Response 03 / Jack Thrun

In his book Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary, Dan Hill refers to the context surrounding a product as “the meta,” or dark matter. This is something I’ve felt has always been common sense in the design process I just didn’t know what the specific word was. What makes strategic design different from traditional design practices, however, is the level to which “this ‘dark matter’ is part of the design challenge” (Hill 81).

When describing dark matter, Hill mentioned that “the user is rarely aware of the organizational context that produced [a product], yet the outcome is directly affected by it” (82). This particular sentence got me thinking about Foxconn, the electronics contract manufacturing company that assembles the iPhone, among other products. As of March 2015, Apple has sold a total of 700 million iPhones and most of those people don’t know the unethical labor practices that went into making those phones. In 2010 alone, there were 18 attempted suicides by Foxconn employees, all of whom jumped from the building. This forced Foxconn to install safety nets at the bottom of their buildings (see Figure 01). This news obviously reached the media but with my feeling that still not many people know about the unethical practices within Foxconn, I wonder if everyone did know who is making the phones, if they would still buy them. The answer is, unfortunately, undoubtedly yes. I find it to be a weird contradiction knowing how connected to our phones we are yet we are so far detached from the processes that actually produce them. The production methods of the iPhone provide quite a literal meaning to the term “Dark Matter.”

When talking about the Renew Newcastle team, Hill focused a lot on the idea of immersion. “Renew Newcastle immersed itself in this world, in order to understand the affordance – the handles, the sockets, the switches – with which it could manipulate the city” (92). This particular passage made me think of Patricia Moore. Patricia Moore, in my mind, is not only the most influential female industrial design, but arguably the most influential industrial design (researcher) period. For three years, Moore disguised herself as an elder woman more than 80 years of age as a sociological experiment to study the lifestyle of elders in North America (see figure 02). This research led to Moore starting her own design firm that specializes in developing new products and services for the lifespan needs of consumers of all ages and abilities. It makes sense that she has been recognized by ID Magazine as one of the “40 Most Socially Conscious Designers” in the world.

At the bottom of page 100, Hill began using a sports analogy and that really roped me in. My life before DAAP was devoted to ice hockey. I played defense. And defensemen in hockey are very similar to quarterbacks in football as they initiate the rush up ice. As the play develops in front of you, you have to think quickly and read the play several moves in advance. Play options come and go in the blink of an eye so you have to be ready to act quick. Hill puts it a little more eloquently when he says “it’s almost instinctive, the sense of reaching into the very matter of an organization and rearranging it on the fly…it requires an understanding of the architecture of two systems – the problem, and the organization – and a sense of direction” (101). Designers have a new role to play and we have to adjust. Long are the days of simply designing “hot shit.” But you can’t disrupt the system without first knowing the structure.

Figure 01: Shot of suicide nets installed at dormitories at iPhone factory Foxconn.
Figure 02: Patricia Moore disguised as an elder woman as part of a 3 year long sociologic experiment to study the lifestyle of elders in North America.

Reading Response 02 / Jack Thrun

As the article implies, the main focus of Wolfgang Streeck’s essay is explaining how capitalism will end. His first order of business is to outline the three “crisis symptoms” of a dying capitalist economy. Included in that list are: “a persistent decline in the rate of economic growth,…a persistent rise in overall indebtedness in leading capitalist states,…[and the increase in] economic inequality,…rising debt and declining growth” (35). According to Streeck, all of these symptoms appear to be present in the “gradual decay” of capitalism. It’s not just about capitalism, though. The problem seems to be democracy as a whole. The rising doubts of the current system have to to with the “compatibility of a capitalist economy with a democratic polity” (40). To be completely transparent, a lot of what I read went straight over my head. I’m not a political science major. Surprise. But there was a term that I did recognize, although, being transparent, don’t totally understand. There is a whole paragraph on page 41 about Keynesianism. The only other time I’ve heard this term used before was in a debate between Ben Shapiro and Cenk Uygur at Politicon a couple of weeks ago. Shapiro starts by making the claim that Keynesian economics doesn’t even work in theory. He goes on to state that taking “all of the money from the rich people who are saving all of their money, and giving it to the poor people…doesn’t help spur the economy. What spurs the economy is the creation of new products and services, and that is only going to be done by people who have expendable capital to actually invest in new products and services that we all enjoy. This is what creates economic growth.” So how does this compare to the text of How Will Capitalism End? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I just thought I would share what I was thinking about when reading the passage from Streeck. Strike ends his essay with the explanation of what he describes as “five systemic disorders of today’s advanced capitalism” (55). The first one, stagnation, talks about how the spread of information technology doesn’t boost the economy as well as big innovations of the past such as running city water and the increased speed of transportation. Streeck’s second point, oligarchic redistribution, addresses the issue of “extracting resources from increasingly impoverished, declining societies” when redistribution should really be “serving a collective interest in economic progress” (58). “The plundering of the public domain through underfunding and privatization” (59) makes up the third disorder. Streeck goes on to talk about corruption within capitalism. He mentions that “capitalism was based not on a desire to get rich, but on self-discipline…[and] a sober devotion to…a rational organization of life” (61). It’s safe to say Capitalism has changed course from its original intentions. The essay is wrapped up by claiming that “Global capitalism needs a centre to secure its periphery and provide it with a credible monetary regime” (62). The main concepts of this text is that capitalism is dying but Streeck is able to break it down for the reader by explaining whats wrong with today’s advanced capitalism and how it will lead to its own demise.

Reading Response 01 / Jack Thrun

Capitalism is evil! Capitalism is the root of all the misfortunes in this world! Although these readings didn’t EXACTLY say those things, that was the general vibe I got when reading Speculative Everything and Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?.

In their article, Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk talk about the evils of capitalism. They even go as far as relating capitalism to the Atlantic slave trade. Hickel and Kirk talk about whats wrong with capitalism and describe what people are looking for but they fail to offer any possible solutions. Granted it’s a tough “problem” to solve, I would have expected at least some hint of an idea. When they mentioned how people want education to be a social good, it reminded me of a piece I read by Mike Rowe, Off The Wall: The Right of Free College. When asked why presidential candidates don’t talk about the necessity of training for the “trades,” Rowe suggested it may be “because most voters would prefer their kids get a four year degree from a university.” Rowe went on to say the stereotype that kids only attend trade schools because they’re not “college material” is “destroying economies large and small.” Instead of pushing the notion that you need to go to university in order to get a job, society needs to realize the value of trade schools and blue collar jobs. Why reinvent the wheel (capitalism) when seemingly simple solutions for a better economy are all around us?

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Speculative Everything, was less concerned with the “evils” of capitalism and instead focused more on how design can help foresee a future beyond capitalism. Being a meat and potatoes, classic industrial design guy, I found a lot of what I read to be a little strange. The examples provided in the text felt more like art rather than design. Making a statement or being provocative isn’t necessarily in the industrial design handbook. At its core, industrial design is the designing of products for mass production so it seems a little odd for an industrial designer to envision a world beyond capitalism. Because depending on what exactly comes after capitalism, industrial design might not even be a profession. However, when the authors started mentioning the likes of Mark Newson, Jasper Morrison, and Syd Mead, I was intrigued because I know these guys to be true industrial designers, with the exception of Syd Mead of course. Using their knowledge and background of product design, these designers were able to create futuristic concepts. Although these futures weren’t specific to the idea of “after capitalism,” their work made me realize that product design doesn’t always have to be about the practical solutions. It can be fun and totally blue-sky without being to “artsy.” The authors made a valid point about this though. It’s tough for designers and companies to put in the effort for this kind of design work when bills have to be paid and food needs to put on the table. Syd Mead was able to make a living on purely conceptual work because he was selling it to motion picture movies. Thats a job for a select few, including Daniel Simon, who in my mind is the modern day Syd.