Browsing articles in "Ideas"
Sep 16, 2010
Zelda Harrison

Design, A Viable Tool For Social Innovation?


Philosophy, Motivation and Inspiration

XCD: Could you please share your background with our readers? How did you launch a career in Design? As someone who arguably has many career options, what has been the most compelling aspect of being a Designer?
WD: I began my career with a decade-long stint in advertising, working at Saatchi & Saatchi in Italy, Canada and the U.S. I then launched a design firm, Drenttel Doyle Partners, in 1985, and latter mutated into an online designer when I merged with my future wife, Jessica Helfand, to form Winterhouse.

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May 2, 2010
Zelda Harrison

Sebastian Guerrini: The Social and Political Life of Images

Our contributor from Argentina formulates a theoretical framework on how identities are shaped by images.

Identities are built in a process of identification which is related to the social life of images. For this reason, it is important first to analyse what an image is.

There are many definitions of what an image is. As Mitchell pointed out, Plato relates the definition of image to that of an idea, whose root idein means to see (Mitchell, 2006: 348). Likewise, the image has also been defined as imitation in itself relating its name to the Greek term imitari, to imitate (Barthes, 1991: 21). Later, Maimonides defines the image as likeness such as in the “man’s creation in the image and likeness of God” (Mitchell, 1986: 31), as a series of predicates, listing similarities and differences, as an essential reality of a thing.

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May 2, 2010
Zelda Harrison

Stefan G. Bucher: The Monsters Made Me Do It

AIGA XCD catches up with Stefan G. Bucher in Cape Town

Editor’s note: a slideshow of Stefan’s work is available on our flickr page.

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Apr 11, 2010
Zelda Harrison

Harry Pearce’s Schizophrenic Road

Musings from Harry Pearce, Pentagram

Over the next few weeks, AIGA XCD recounts escapades in Cape Town, South Africa at Design Indaba with interviews of speakers who generously shared their thoughts and experiences designing across cultures.

We start with Harry Pearce, Partner at Pentagram, UK.

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Jan 2, 2010

AIGA XCD Student Showcase: Erik Peterson’s Qeej Hero

Peterson reviews “Qeej Hero,” his new game concept and interface design.

The relatively fresh Hmong Diaspora in the United States has been forced to adapt quickly to American culture. The generation of Hmong people that fought in conjunction with the CIA in the jungles of Laos is now battling to preserve elements of its heritage in the suburban cul-du-sacs of California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.


Through visual, verbal, and musical poetry, the Hmong Diaspora has defended traditional cultural heritage and synthesized new forms of aesthetic production outside their homeland. The tradition of oral storytelling is combined with abstract needlework “flower cloths” to form representational “story cloths,” the ancient practice of chanting poetry (kwutxhiaj) flows through hip-hop songs by urban youth, and the age-old wind instrument, the qeej (pronounced GHENG), is integrated into B-Boy dance competitions.

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Dec 11, 2008

Finding Your Rwanda Part II

What about the human condition needs improvement?

Claiming a personal and a collective uniqueness can be achieved in the participative action of designing our environment.In its essence, this declaration of uniqueness through the design and transformation of place, speaks to the power of branding and is illustrated in the Rugerero Genocide Survivors Village in Rwanda (see my previous blog post, Finding Your Rwanda, designing and debating our role in social responsibility). The cooperative design and building of a genocide memorial and the painting of murals on the mud brick homes of the village changed the spiritual and physical essence of this wounded place.

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Aug 24, 2008

Decoding Design

Early on in my design education, I was taken with the work of Herb Lubalin. To this day, the design he proposed for a masthead for the publication, Mother & Child, still resonates. It’s clever, simple and elegant.*

After reading Maggie Macnab’s book, Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication, I have a more profound understanding of why this design works so well. Besides the universality of it (who doesn’t see the baby within a mother’s womb), it is the concept of wholeness, represented by the circle that makes it appealing. Wholeness is both everything and nothing; right and wrong; light and dark – it is life; so it is with mother and child.

With the advent of technology, we communicators live in a competitive arena, we struggle for our messages to be heard above the din of the marketplace. It is our role as designers to fight the instinct to follow the crowd and instead, create unique, meaningful work that communicates effectively and, in more and more cases, cross-culturally. As Ms. Macnab states in her introduction “it is crucial to be aware of the quality to quantity ratio…there are far more compelling ways to create a message besides saturation”.

Her answer to our complex and challenging world is to step back and recognize the simple patterns that have been part of humankind since the beginning of time. She delves into anthropology, mathematics, physics and spirituality to weave together a very informative and engaging thesis on the importance of symbolism in creating impactful design.

She has organized this intricate material into 11 easy-to-read chapters, the first one examines our relationship to patterns in nature and architecture; each subsequent chapter looks at a number, from one to ten, and interprets that number’s symbolic meaning. In addition, she provides a wealth of examples and case studies to support her theories, some more obvious than others.

Although as designers we generally work on instinct and intuition, this book would be worthy of a place on your bookshelf. You may not use it as a starting point when tackling a new design project, however, the wealth of information contained in its pages may just provide you with the language and validation you need to communicate and support your ideas.

About the book’s author Maggie Macnab is a designer, writer and educator. Her design work has been recognized in Communication Arts, Step by Step, Print and Graphis and her articles have been published by Communication Arts and the AIGA. She is past president of the Communication Artists of New Mexico, teaches at the University of New Mexico and speaks at national conferences, universities and school.

For more information on Maggie Macnab and her book, please visit

*Herb Lubalin's proposed design

*Herb Lubalin's proposed design

Review by Deborah Plunkett

Aug 19, 2008

Finding Your Rwanda

Designing and debating our role in social responsibility.

I accepted AIGA XCD’s offer to open a blog on social engagement with the idea of provoking discussion on how we Designers can reach into into our “Tool Box” and make a difference in our world today. Many designers–Shiego Fukuda, Grapus, Herb Lubalin and Tibor Kalman, to name but a few–have committed their talent to sensitizing their audience to the problems that plague humanity, provoking thought and inspiring action.

My path has been somewhat different, perhaps a reflection of the evolution of social activism as we’ve come to know it and what I believe is an example of our increasing ability to design our own roles in social engagement.

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Aug 18, 2008


Lend a Hand, See the World

At the tail end of last year, Firebelly Design closed its office for 2-weeks and took a volunteer vacation in Thailand to work with Buddhist monks, serve the Thai people and bond as a studio.

The trip was facilitated by GlobeAware, a nonprofit organization offering short-term “adventures in service” in several countries including Cambodia, Romania, Ghana and Peru. With a focus on cultural-awareness and sustainability they could best be compared to mini peace corps.

We arrived in Bangkok and met our home stay host: Duangjai Thitayarak aka Mammee. Mammee is a 60-something firecracker with a big friendly smile and a twinkle in her eye like she already knows all your secrets. We traveled by van about an hour north to Ayutthaya (eye-you-TEE-ah) province and settled into our home for the next 8 days: simple wooden houses on stilts, open to the outdoors, no running water, no electricity–and it was perfect.

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