Post A: Quiet Chairs

Back in high school, one day in English, my class was abnormally restless. Being a public school (and holding little respect for the staff), one bright eyed boy decided to push his chair out of the first floor window whilst the teacher’s back was turned. When she failed to notice, the rest of the class quickly caught on. Whenever she was preoccupied, we would pass along our chairs until they reached the desk of the Ringleader. He would then send it to the gathering mound in the garden below. A few minutes after adding the final chair to our contemporary artwork, the poor teacher noticed the lack of seating first beneath Peter, in the front row, and then quickly the rest of the room too. After muttering an impassioned expletive, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and wandered from the room. It might be poetic to insist, ‘Never to return!’, but, of course, she was back a few minutes later with the vice-principle (under whose interrogation I’m proud to say nobody cracked–the identity of the creative, yet ill-disciplined, boy by the window remained safe. That is until they made the connection between his geography and the significant pile of evidence beneath his window).

Image result for classroom window

But what has this to do with design? Well, tenuous though the connection may be, I believe we, as designers, should be more like Window Boy. No matter the background work, no matter the complexity of our design, it should be intuitive for our audience. That is to say, the user should be oblivious to much of our good design (though if the quality of design were less they might notice, and criticise, immediately). We want our audience as content and unconcerned as my teacher that day, before she noticed our classroom’s newfound minimalism.

Taking a step back, design in the global culture, along with many other industries, is centred around individualism; the objective of discreet design to offer products and services which bolster the individual, offering them greater freedom and comfort [Huntington 1996]. As the intent of so much design in this cultural context, Individualism begins to seem integral to design. Yet when compared with more local contexts, this deception falls away. Indeed, this comparison between contexts requires that the subjectivities in values be discarded in order to discern similarity. The likeness left standing is the measure of good design.

Image result for at&t picturephone

One such likeness, and the example we’ve been discussing, discreetness. In the global cultural context, the success of Apple operating systems stemmed from their philosophies of ’empathy’, ‘focus’ and ‘impute’, inspiring minimalist products of high quality which were not only easy, but intuitive to use [Levy 2000]. Or the AT&T Picturephone of 1970; users were put off by the complexity of use and the product was pulled from the market after only three years [Computer Design Solutions 2006]. The ‘discreetness’ applied (or not) in these designs seem characteristic of the global individualistic culture, yet it is not exclusive to it.

In a local context, the Boomerang, designed tens of thousands of years ago, demonstrates early application of ergonomics [Hess 1975], an example of discreetness in design from a culture utterly disparate from the one in which the Macbook Air was conceived. Similarly, in Jakarta in the 1980’s traffic congestion was increasing, but road closures and expansions would create too great an interference to be viable for the developing city. As a solution, Tjokorda Raka Sukawati designed a road development method (Sosrobahu) which allowed flyovers to be constructed with minimal disruption to existing roadways [Construction Asia Online 2017]. Rather than a simple user interface or a comfortable grip, Sukawati achieved discreetness by lessening the impact of development on his city.

Image result for boomerang

Culture may affect the execution of our design, and the philosophies motivating it, but it does not altogether revise the characteristics of quality design. A textile may differ drastically across cultures, or the need for a particular product, yet as we seek to design empathetically for our stakeholders, we apply universal processes which better connect us with those we seek to serve.

So we need not discard all of our knowledge and experience in order to design for a new context. We (and here’s the kicker) can draw to mind the wisdom of Window Boy (in order to recall the value discreet design) without (necessarily) neglecting those for which we design! Regardless, I, for one, will sleep easier knowing that design everywhere is inspiring the sweet innocence of an oblivious year eleven English teacher.



Computer Design Solutions 2006, Working AT&T PicturePhone System, viewed 2 February 2018, <;

Construction Asia Online 2017, Sosrobahu, World-Class Construction Technology from Indonesia, viewed 2 February 2018,< project/sosrobahu-world-class-construction-technology-indonesia>

Hess, F. 1975, Boomerangs, Aerodynamics and Motion, University of Groningen Press, Groningen.

Huntington, S. P. 1996, ‘The West Unique, Not Universal’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 75, no. 6, pp. 28-46.

Levy, S. 2000, Insanely Great: The Life and Times of MacIntosh, the Computer That Changed Everything, Penguin USA, New York.


Post C: The Language Door

Growing up monolingual, and thoroughly established in the cultural bubble of Sydney’s North Shore, other languages seemed separate worlds; they were magical. Not quite so magical that I insisted upon learning, apparently, but enough that by it I could foster my cultural ignorance. Yet my childhood fantasy was quickly dispelled when first I tried conversation with a non-English speaker. Less magical world, more inescapable frustration; language showed itself as the portal to the places I imagined.

Image result for magical door

This was the frustration Indah faced in answering my questions on life in Banjarmasin. ‘Sorry’ was offered often, as she blamed her English for the trials in our communication, despite my Bahasa Indonesian vocabulary of twenty words. Still, by her efforts I gleaned that Banjarmasin is an unusually friendly city, and that the anti-tobacco movement is close to the hearts of many of her peers. That Allah is deeply important to her, and she enjoys studying health care. Yet the opportunity for two university students, from utterly different cultural contexts, to share detailed insights on their political views was completely lost.

Thankfully, my own lingual competency did not completely inhibit my education. After a few minutes of very gradual conversation, we were joined by Vania, a proficient English speaker. As she explained the position of the locals toward the tobacco industry, more of Banjarmasin, the city and the culture were unfolded before me.

In my early research, before arriving in Indonesia, the theories offered by [Johnson et al. 2003] and [Chang et al. 2006] insisted that peer pressure and rebellion are key factors in motivating youth to adopt smoking, but our conversation affirmed that this data was relevant, at least anecdotally, in Banjarmasin too. Her explanation of Islam revealed the cultural significance of wearing the hijab, and the internalised value she experiences for her effort in Allah’s name. Theory became relevant and, gradually, in conjunction with my experiences throughout Banjarmasin, a cultural tapestry is woven.

Yet, as a designer, cultural comprehension is not simply an end in itself [Chitturi 2008]; it becomes the instrument of intercultural design. Indeed, mirroring Friedman’s methodology, the learning offered by quality communication throughout the conversation informed the cultural comprehension necessary for sensitive, and thus effective, design [Friedman 1996]. As the bulk of our team’s design work was complete, rather than altering the designs already established, it informed sensitive design by elucidating the limitations of our work and informing future process.

Syarifah illustrated, by her narrative of Banjarmasin culture, the capacity of design to expound the limits of language and culture, whilst insisting, too, upon the necessity of strong communication. Each feed the other, such that when culture is heard by design, design speaks the louder for it. Less cultural disconnection, more magical world.



Chang C., Lee, M., Lai, R., Chiang, T., Lee, H., Chen, W. 2006, ‘Social influences and self-efficacy as predictors of youth smoking initiation and cessation: a 3-year longitudinal study of       vocational high school students in Taiwan’, Addiction, vol. 101, no.1, pp. 1645-55.

Chitturi, R., Raghunathan, R., Mahajan V. 2008, ‘Delight by Design: The Role of Hedonic Versus    Utilitarian Benefits’, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 72, No. 3, pp. 48-63.

Friedman, B. 1996, ‘Value-sensitive design’, Interaction, vol. 3, no. 6, pp. 16-23

Johnson, J. L., Bottorff, J. L., Moffat, B., Ratner, P. A., Shoveller, J. A., Lovatoc, C. Y. 2003, ‘Tobacco dependence: adolescents’ perspectives on the need to smoke’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 56, no. 7.

P.S. Names are false, to protect interviewee identity.

Post B: On Exploiting Rocks

It is my belief that adolescence is the most difficult age to endure. Not for angst, as one might assume, nor the incessant torment of existential uncertainty or the insatiable void of unresolved identity. Rather, adolescents are trapped in between the intellectual capacity to understand stupid decisions and the youthful obligation to rebel. Thus, if a parent or guardian insists, “Do not walk around the city in bare feet, you’ll step on a needle”, what choice does the youth have but to walk around the city barefoot? As stupid as they may recognise this decision to be, the alternative does not bear thought. Though of course purely hypothetical (what can I say?–the example just came to me), we each lived this season of our lives with questionable sagacity. Yet despite shared trauma, Big Tobacco takes advantage of this phenomenon by targeting the resignedly rebellious youth population [Carpenter et al. 2005].

Image result for youth tobacco flavour

The Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine (though they do not abbreviate, we’ll call them TFM) is a top-down, state funded, youth targeted anti-tobacco initiative which illustrates the core flaws in methodology for social design today. Through a poorly designed web-interface, the initiative prioritises health impact awareness, announcing the damning effects of tobacco, the psychology of youth-influence and the evil of the industry, with no academic support. Though their practical initiatives, such as the LifeSkills Training program or the Real Talk About Smoking video, have had some success, they bypass the crux of the issue; the prohibition of tobacco increases its appeal [Johnson et al. 2003]. Credit where credit is due: their programs in response to the detrimental health impact of the industry have been more significant, providing services to assist in overcoming addiction, and training healthcare providers to do the same. Their counter-marketing and awareness campaigns have been effective in their base purpose, to reinforce the health risks of tobacco, but even so, they’re locked in the past and fail to address present challenges.

Big Tobacco spends millions of dollars on slick marketing tactics to replace those customers who die from using their product or who have quit smoking. –TFM

What has design to learn from the experience of TFM? Conventionally, our inclination has been to draw a direct line from problem to solution; from a lack of awareness to mass-marketing. Yet the vacillation of society interferes with this rigidity, as typified by the shortcoming of TFM. Brown offers a new lens through which to consider our approach to wicked problem solving, “Design thinking taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It is not only human-centered; it is deeply human in and of itself.” [Brown 2009]. Drawing from this order, by prioritising people and celebrating their expertise and values, we construct a methodology unconstrained by traditional faults. Fluid, inclusive, collaborative, thorough and equitable, deeply human design offers an approach to challenge Big Tobacco and positively redesign our world.

Perhaps we never quite overcome our youthful defiance. I, for one, recall fondly my return home, triumphantly unshod and needle free. Still, it would be a comfort to know that those redesigning our world were doing so for our sake… designing to protect the vulnerability of our obdurate orientation between a rock and a hard place.





Brown, T. 2009, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, p. 4.

Carpenter, C. M., Wayne, G. F., Pauly, J. L., Koh, H. K., Connolly, G. N. 2005, ‘New Cigarette Brands With Flavors That Appeal To Youth: Tobacco Marketing Strategies’, Health Affairs, vol. 24, no. 6

Johnson, J. L., Bottorff, J. L., Moffat, B., Ratner, P. A., Shoveller, J. A., Lovatoc, C. Y. 2003, ‘Tobacco dependence: adolescents’ perspectives on the need to smoke’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 56, no. 7

The Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine 2017, Tobacco Free Maine Home, Augusta, viewed 15 December 2017, <;

Post D: Undesigning Education



As a child, what did you want to be when you, ‘grew up’? I wanted to be a palaeontologist, a fireman and a builder, simultaneously. Oh, and Prime Minister on the weekends. In retrospect, I was influenced heavily by the interests of my peers, and I’m fairly sure the weekend job was a listless attempt by my parents to prepare themselves for retirement. Nonetheless, my childhood dreams presumed much. I expected I’d have the socio-economic access, time, energy, self-discipline and intellect necessary to achieve them. Ironically, we’re taught that primary education, followed by secondary and tertiary, is the best route to fulfil these dreams [Redish & Finnerty 2002].

In the following dialogue, Rob Henry, independent filmmaker, speaks to Tabilik Kunen, one of the ‘Sikerei’, or shaman, of an Indigenous tribe in the Mentawai Islands, off the western coast of Sumatra. This community has become one of a small minority of the Mentawai population who still practice their traditional cultural belief system (Arat Sabulungan), revering the spirits of their ancestors and the land:

“Have you lived here a long time?”, Rob asks.

“We’ve been here since our ancestors! A long time, but I don’t know how to measure it.”

“Is it good living here in the rainforest?”

“It’s the best!”

For the majority, in 1954 the Indonesia government implemented policy (in the name of national unity and cultural adaption) which forcibly assimilated indigenous communities into government settlements, separating them from their traditional culture. The influence of western culture, in education, government and economy, has thus damaged traditional culture and separated many of the Mentawai from a self-sustainable relationship with land and kin. Hen, a Mentawai Indonesian and friend of Henry is one of those affected by the resettlement policy, generations on. Hen’s parents spent everything they earned on providing him with a complete education, but due to his low socio-economic background, he could never find a job in the city. Moreover, his ‘Western’ education had him forego education in Arat Sabulungan, leaving him stranded in-between cultures.

“We can’t allow other cultures to confuse who we are. Leave us wondering, ‘Is this my culture, or should I be more like that?’ We just end up in between. Not knowing where we belong. We’re like a kite flapping in the wind with no grip on the string.” -Ezma, friend of Henry

We in the West seem to presume that our system of education is the acme of schooling. As in Cajete’s thinly guised proposal for Native American educational assimilation [Cajete 1994], even with the best intentions, we’re inclined to impose our cultural values upon those with less established customs. The plight of the resettled Mentawai Indonesians highlights this collective foible. But what has design to learn from the errors of the Indonesian government and Western society in enforcing values? Dunne and Raby warn against presumptuous dreams (of which Prime Minister on the weekends must be one), instead advocating the value in challenging our own inherent values for the sake of effective design [Dunne & Raby 2013].

Perhaps, adapting Dunne and Raby’s position, by designing not within the confines of our own instilled attitudes but by arrogating the values of the culture for which we design, we can avoid the harm traditionally caused by Western influence and instead serve deeply those for whom we design. To recognise our predispositions and, for the sake of others, compensate humbly; more than human-centred design, other-centred design.


As Worlds Divide 2017, documentary, Roebeeh Productions, Melbourne.

Cajete, G. 1994, Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education, Kivaki Press, Durango.

Dunne, A. & Raby, F. 2013, Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming, The MIT Press, Cambridge.

Henry with Malagawasak Tribesmen, Rob Henry, viewed 8 December 2017, <;

Redish, M. & Finnerty, K. 2002, ‘What Did You Learn in School Today – Free Speech, Values Inculcation, and the Democratic-Educational Paradox’, Cornell Law Review, vol. 88, no. 1.

Suku Mentawai 2017, Indigenous Mentawai, viewed 8 December 2017, <;