Elevator Pitch
As part of thesis development we were asked to define our direction through a mad libs, fill-in-the blank style prompt:

“I’m making a ______ to be used by _____ to address the problem of _____.”

This construct was useful for me to start to hone in on how I would like to spend the coming academic year, albeit somewhat restrictive. Here is my initial response:

“I’m making a series of urban interventions to be 
used experienced by New Yorkers to address surface the problem phenomenon of thoughtlessness.”

On Thoughtlessness

My hypothesis is that much of our daily lives are spent in inattention or auto-pilot. The human species is naturally a pattern maker and our ability to do this is an adaptive mechanism that helped us navigate our ancestral environment. However, I would argue that some of this thoughtlessness results in behavior detrimental to our health and well-being and that of the people/animals/environment within our circle of influence. I also believe that as a society we are trending toward more thoughtlessness. As advertising and digital products become more sophisticated in capturing our attention, we become more sophisticated at filtering out distraction and optimizing our cognition on only certain activities, allocating much of our behavior to mindless habit.

The big fight now is for attention” – Jake Barton

Thus I would like to produce a series of physical interventions that will help me understand the nature of thoughtlessness by disrupting it in the urban environment. Several typical contexts of thoughtlessness are in garbage disposal, purchasing using credit, and consumption (of food and time). Some strategies for doing this are by reconnecting act with consequence, surprise, and entertainment.

Approach

I think it’s worth outlining my design approach since it does not necessarily align with conventional user-centered, design thinking, or other similar “methods.” While these ideologies are useful metrics for evaluating design, my experience over the last year has led me to beleive they are more descriptive than prescriptive. What I mean by this is they are more useful as a metric for understanding what good design is once it exists, rather than as a guide for on-the-ground practitioners.

If I could summarize the approach I will be taking in a sentence it would be as follows:

“Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.”
Charles Eames

I think it’s somewhat of a cop-out to use quotes to explain yourself so allow me to explicate. Let’s start by dissecting that idea. Firstly choose your corner. That’s probably the most important step and it’s less of a choosing and more of a realizing what that corner is for you. This is a combination of your passions and your competencies; along the lines of an answer to “what would you do every day if money and expectations were a non-issue?” Apple has mastered the art of hiring for employees that possess both of these in the work they do for the company. William James highlights the value of finding this corner and the necessity of exerting disciplined loyalty once you do:

In almost any subject your passion for the subject will save you. If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly attain it. If you wish to be rich, you will be rich; if you wish to be learned, you will be learned; if you wish to be good, you will be good. Only you must, then, really wish these things, and wish them with exclusiveness, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.
William James, Talks to Teachers

…But I’m quoting again.

It’s worth noting that this is nothing new. In fact, this very approach was used (although inadvertently) by Yvon Chounard in the product development process that resulted in the creation of Patagonia. It’s still being used by some of the most innovative designers practicing today including BERG. Furthermore, agencies under fire that Design Thinking is a failed experiment such as IDEO are now acknowledging a more “entrepreneurial” approach as the real source of innovation.

Influences

Jason Eppink, Candy Chang, Sebastian Errazuriz, Matt Kahn. If you refer someone inspirational enough to me to put on this, I’ll give you a gift.

[back to thesis]