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, <;