Elevator Pitch

I’m creating a series of frameworks to be experienced by New Yorkers to encourage mindfulness.

Methodology


There is no one design methodology I feel comfortable prescribing to, nor have I codified my own process, though I’ve described some considerations and reflected on process. My process pulls from different conventional approaches as well as analogous disciplines such entrepreneurship…the Bruce Lee of design methodologies if you will:

“Be formless… shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You pour water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend…”

“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

I also identify with what Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes as a “bottom-up empiricist” in his book The Black Swan:

As I have said earlier, the world, epistemologically, is literally a different place to a bottom-up empiricist. We don’t have the luxury of sitting down to read the equation that governs the universe; we just observe data and make an assumption about what real process might be, and “calibrate” by adjusting our equation in accordance with additional information. As events present themselves to us, we compare what we see to what we expect to see. It is usually a humbling process, particularly for someone aware of the narrative fallacy, to discover that history runs forward, not backward. As much as one thinks that businessmen have big egos, these people are often humbled by reminders of the differences between decision and results, between precise models and reality.

Proposal

Again, I’m creating a series of frameworks to be experienced by New Yorkers to encourage mindfulness. More specifically I will build a series of physical objects and place them in social contexts with the intent of encouraging mindfulness or presence. This reflects a major pivot from my initial proposal and that is in the tone or approach. Previously my intent was to “surface thoughtlessness.” I had a latent discontent with describing “thoughtlessness” as a problem; I simply did not want to jump to conclusions. However, this approach was even more deeply and immediately problematic. In discussions with my peers and advisors, there was a tangible defensiveness when I described my intention. I received feedback along the lines of, “why don’t you practice this yourself?” “Do you think about every piece of garbage you throw away?” My answer was most certainly not!

I had inadvertently placed myself in a holier-than-though position of judgement, rather than as an equal member and participant in the social state I believe we are operating within. It reminded me of how initially surprised I was when Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma received such widespread acclaim (and consequent impact) in comparison to what I had believed to be a much more persuasive argument was posited 30 years earlier by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation. One of the fundamental difference between them, I believe, is in tone. Pollan takes the stance as someone struggling himself with the implications of eating meat, while Singer is a proud vegan. This dichotomy pervades all of their writing and puts Singer in opposition to the average reader, while putting Pollan bedside. Thus I would like to design to be persuasive NOT pedogigal. A good example of what I mean by this is in the service experience of Airbnb.

Audience

My users/participants/audience are New York residents. This self-imposed constraint is more a matter of convenience that anything else, but I’m confident that New York represents an ecosystem with sub-ecosystems within which I can thoroughly test my assumptions and builds.

Research

While I am deliberately not pursuing a research-centric design methodology, several streams of research will inform my making: including from the disciplines of behavioral sciences, design, and buddhism:

Mindfulness

You are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Behavior

Advances in Behavioral Economics edited by Colin F. Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Matthew Rabin; The Moral Animal by Robert Wright; The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins; The Social Animal by David Brooks; Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Design

Thoughtless Acts: Observations on Intuitive Design by Jane Fulton Suri; Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling; The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte.

More references

Book recommendations from Liz; Thesis samples from Liz.

Heroes

These are inviduals who’s work has influenced mine and advanced my thinking
Tobias Wong, Jason Eppink, Candy Chang, Sebastian Errazuriz, Matt Kahn, Francis Alÿs, William H. Whyte.

[back to thesis]