Monday, October 1, 2012

The negative impact of donations on economic stability

Resilient and appropriate economic development is lacking in certain parts of the world. In an effort to fill this void, many well-meaning individuals seek to provide impoverished areas with in-kind donations—goods and services given freely which could be given cash values. Often, such methods of giving do more to suppress the economic growth of targeted areas than they do to help. 

It is essential to consider the effects of economic interactions involving the poor to ensure that more harm than good isn’t being done to those in need. The desire to help is commendable, but in-kind donations are not the best ways to make a positive impact. By injecting outside goods at prices which undercut local merchants, TOMS and similar donation schemes prevent these sellers from earning a living and helping build their local economy from the ground up, stifling the organic growth these communities so desperately need.

Above is an excerpt of a brief and thoughtful article written by Kevin Laughlin for Makeshift Magazine outlining the issue of assistance.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Developing standards of trust across share-based services

This article by Paul Davis outlines the current challenges in creating trust across today's share-based services. With a mix of face-to-face and digital technologies, there’s a chance for a significant upgrade in our capacity to judge trustworthiness — and make that new capacity broadly available. The problem, he states, is that currently services each have their own methods and metrics for identifying the trustiworthiness of a participant. If we are to build a new economy based on share-based services and activities though we need methods and standards that can serve as an umbrella across those services. In today's wild west, the fact that each service uses its own system acts a disincentive for individuals because for every new service they engage with, they must jump through a unique set of hoops, pay another fee and release additional pieces of information in order to get to the prize. Over time, participants burn out and feel the pinch of proving their reputation before they even get to the service itself.

Reputation-based data aggregaters such as Trust Cloud and Legit Reputation Group are each taking this issue head on. In one combination or another they use verification of existence, transactional history, criminal histories, and social activity as their building blocks for defining reputation.

Critical questions for the group become how in any way do these data miners redefine a civic and democratic society? What conformity is mandatory in order to participate? What trade-off comes with that conformity?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

OurGoods: A barter network for the creative community

I have the good fortune of being on a panel this weekend at the ICEA Conference with one of the founders of OurGoods--a public service platform to support bartering within and among a community of creative makers and doers. In their words, "OurGoods exists so that creative people can help each other produce independent projects. More work gets done in networks of shared respect and shared resources than in competitive isolation. By honoring agreements and working hard, members of OurGoods will build lasting ties in a community of enormous potential."

I love these folks. The emphasis here is on honor, collaboration, and mutual respect. Driven by social and human values, they speak to the idea of industry, hard work and improvement. It's a brilliant service using a thorough and thoughtful process to bring talent together in an open, negotiable and mutually respectful way. What I'm particularly drawn to is their careful consideration on explaining how the process works, so people can confidently engage in new practices. Bartering may seem like a familiar idea because of it's informal nature. But OurGoods is very clear in explaining that bartering is very different than gifting. Bartering is a process of negotiation and expectation setting. There are rules involved that support trustworthy and satisfying transactions and interactions. 

I appreciate too the tone they use throughout their whole service: one that is clear, convivial, and inclusive. There is clear thought that has gone into their values and how they play out throughout and across their service. This service is a real inspiration and important case study for anyone interested in putting together a similar service or project centered around negotiation and resource sharing.

The Drawing Board: Lyrical Travel

At Cooper, where I work, we find that looking at the world from the perspective of people and their goals causes us to notice a lot of bad interactions in our daily lives. We can’t help but pick up a whiteboard marker to scribble out a better idea. We put together "The Drawing Board", a series of narrated videos, to showcase some of this thinking. These aren’t meant to be slick, highly-produced demos—just some ideas we’ve thrown up on the board to stimulate thought and discussion. So enjoy. Discuss. Design.
This Drawing Board was inspired by Experimental Travel, also called Latourex, in which travelers play “games” that determine what they do and how they might do it while on the road. We are enamored of this idea, and wondered how it would translate to a service design with a mobile experience.
Nobody likes to feel like a tourist. When we look for guidance from typical sources, it can feel like we're all working off the same script and we're still not connecting to the real place. In this episode, we explore how people can use chance to find inspiration and authentic experiences when they travel.

Credits: Chris Noessel, Greg Schuler, Christina Worsing

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Social Capital Products

Reposting from the folks at SOCAP--an argument for the need for new models of social enterprise that don't use financial enterprise as its springboard. The crux is that the financial enterprise model focuses on 1) profit first, 2) competition and differentiation. Where the model does enable cooperation the goals tend to be efficiency and economy. These are good things but they are not enough. We need a definition of social enterprise that explicitly recognizes a community of actors that comprise a social enterprise ecosystem.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Julia Lohmann

Grace in decay. 
Cow stomach lighting, concrete and wool table, soap cast chair

Saturday, July 7, 2012

UpDroog: New business models for the repurposing of materials

Droog, through UpDroog, has been branching out to explore new models of production and distribution for tangible goods made of dead materials. UpDroog defines dead as materials that have already played out their role as finished products and have lost perceived value through use. UpDroog uses those leftover goods as raw material for "creative re-interpretation in order to bring leftovers back into circulation." They claim they're an alternative to recycling but it's unclear in what way they differ. UpDroog is also claiming to be an investigation into alternative business models. Unfortunately, they haven't made clear what those models are; how they're different; or how they are effectively being applied. The model they've provided looks fairly traditional and has defined value in terms of profit. I look forward to seeing some of the details flushed out and would be very excited to see what their service system looks like especially with human-centered and ecological values as their centerpiece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


time/bank is a platform where groups and individuals can pool and trade time and skills, bypassing money as a measure of value. Focused on the field of culture, time/bank believes everyone has something to contribute and that it is possible to develop and sustain an alternative economy by connecting existing needs with unacknowledged resources. Their hope is to create an immaterial currency and a parallel micro-economy for the cultural community, one that is not geographically bound, and that will create a sense of worth for many of the exchanges that already take place within their field—particularly those that do not produce commodities and often escape the structures that validate only certain forms of exchange as significant or profitable. The service, run by the artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle from the e-flux network, is inspired from a long history of currency systems based on mutualism and labor theories of value.

Referencing Notgeld Currency and Ithaca Hours, time/bank appears to tap into the role currency exchange can play on stabilizing and personalizing communities. One thing I challenge is the transactional nature of their payment process. It seems incongruous with the ethos of their over-all project. While the activities and efforts that are exchanged celebrate human connection and interaction, the actual exchange of currency--the physical gesture--still feels like the legacy of a commodity-driven process. "Every Time/Bank transaction will allow individuals to request, offer, and pay for services in "Hour Notes." If time/bank wants to embody structures that dismantle existing assumptions of value, how might they evolve the transactional payment process into something as meaningful and experiential as the rest of their service.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Design as process, not product

Here's an accessible, high-level synopsis on the role of design. Benjamin Winter addresses the challenge designers face in explaining what design can do and how it's much more than material outcomes. Take a look at Shareable for the full article.

"Design is often characterized by its products rather than its processes. Tell someone you’re a designer, and the first question they’re likely to ask is: 'What kind? A graphic designer? A fashion designer? Maybe an architect?' But the artifacts produced by these specialists are not what define design. Design is about problem-solving and opportunity-seeking, not predefined material outcomes. It’s about seeing problems as opportunities for innovation rather than obstacles to progress, and simply creating more products isn’t the solution to all problems.

Design is capable of much more. In addition to products, communications, and environments, designers today are creating whole new services, systems, and experiences. The field is expanding: taking on new challenges, bridging new disciplines, and inviting new practitioners. As a sharer, you might be a designer yourself. By developing new collaborative consumption strategies and cooperative business models, you are practicing design, whether you know it or not. The goal-oriented creativity that goes into these projects can be largely intuitive, so it often goes unrecognized or simply uncharacterized as design. However, with some simple design strategies, you can be more deliberate about what you do intuitively and better direct your creativity to meet your goals.

Whether you’re planning a small charrette or a larger project, there are some basic elements, common to most design processes, that you may want to incorporate. By no means do these elements constitute the definitive design process. Like all design processes, the one below is a variation, an adaptation, a hybrid methodology. It’s also not as linear as it might seem in writing. One should expect to cycle through and repeat some stages of the process as new insights and information emerge. Use what works for you, experiment, and integrate your own techniques. Your process is yours to design. Hopefully, the following suggestions will simply provide some guidance through the challenging work of creating something new."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

FoodHub: Public platform for direct food exchange

This is an important time for food and for its makers and consumers. The local food renaissance, which some small pockets of the country are enjoying, have been constrained by lack of connection. A peach farmer needs a buyer at the precise time his peaches are ripe. A caterer gets a last-minute request for duck: Who’s got some today for an event tomorrow? Restaurants open, restaurants close; it’s hard to keep track of who might want your fresh creams and fruit jams, and how you can get those products on the right truck. FoodHub is addressing these issues by positioning itself as a matchmaker. FoodHub aims to create an environment of relevant discovery that addresses a farmer’s needs as different from (but equally as important as) those of a caterer, dairyman, or distributor. It offers its members the opportunity to develop long-term relationships as well as one-time-only single connections.

FoodHub defines itself as a dynamic marketplace and online directory that makes it easy and efficient for professional food buyers and sellers to research, connect, and do business. FoodHub gathers food producers, professional food buyers, and the associations and suppliers that serve them both, in one platform.

The service is scale-neutral meaning they support anyone from a box to exchange to a semi-truck filled to the brim. They also handle a number of distribution models ranging from self-deliver, meet-ups and formal delivery services i.e. UPS. Once a connection is made via FoodHub, buyer and seller negotiate pricing and order details, execute the transaction and coordinate the exchange of goods independently. There are no transaction fees associated with making connections on FoodHub. If based in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska or California and fit one of the following descriptions, this might be a good service to check out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shaping Traditional Oral Knowledge

Sweet Mary. What beauty thoughtful design offers. This in from Jihyun Ryou who is thinking about traditional oral knowledge and how it accumulates from experience and passed not only through words but through our senses. Exploring the issues of waste and preservation, Ryou takes a critical and provocative approach to addressing food and tradition through the design of everyday objects. Why default to refrigeration and high-tech solutions when we can tap into our personal histories to find viable and delightful approaches to navigating our daily lives and needs. Enjoy!

Keeping roots in a vertical position allows the organism to save energy and remain fresh for a longer time. This shelf gives a place for them to stand easily, using sand. At the same time, sand helps to keep the proper humidity.

An egg has millions of holes in its shell. It absorbs the odour and substance around itself very easily. This creates a bad taste if it’s kept in the fridge with other food ingredients. This shelf provides a place for eggs outside of the fridge. Also the freshness of eggs can be tested in the water. The fresher they are, the further they sink.

We tend to think zucchini, aubergine, cucumber, etc. as vegetables.But they are biologically fruits. This shelf gives them a space to be outside the fridge. Also through the ritual to water them everyday, they will stay fresh.