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Time to write.
Vol. 4 | Issue 9 | January 2023
Thoughts or something like it
The last few months since my August newsletter have been eventful: moving and making my new flat into a home, speaking engagements and travel (including a trip to Japan, a long term dream of mine), buying a TV (11 years of resistance), owning a dinner table for the first time in my life, and most excitingly, a research sabbatical.
While September-December passed like a flash, they were productive: I met the most challenging of the goals I set for myself in 2022, a practice I started a couple of years ago after avoiding it for years due to its cheesiness, but I am seeing the benefits. They also reminded me of something I lost these last few years: purpose. Thankfully, a sense of purpose returned to me while in Eindhoven for Dutch Design Week. The first moment came when visiting the Design in Conversation exhibition, curated by Cecilia Casabona who invited four designers to produce new entries for my book Designerly Ways of Knowing: a working inventory of things a designer should know. The second was playing the game “Designerly Ways of Knowing + Question Closely”, crafted by designer Eleonora Toniolo, using entries from my book. The fact that a small text could inspire people to produce work in that way filled me with emotion and reinvigorated a sense of purpose.
In preparation for my one term sabbatical (which officially started last week), I have set up my office at home, purchased an actual office chair (sorry to my Robin Day 675 chair, it’s just not your function), installed a cork board and put up a calendar. It is both daunting and exciting, but I plan on taking full advantage of 10 uninterrupted weeks away from Head of Department duties (and having men repeat exactly what I said but they are heard), feeling like an actual academic (something we lose when we are overwhelmed with other responsibilities) to write my book on Design education in the Arab world, and enjoying the wonders of Borough market (since I’m an SE1er now) has to offer without tourists galore over the weekend.
How great Japan is
I have been going off ad nauseam about how great Japan is, and could dedicate an entire newsletter about this other worldly place. But I have not even scrolled through the pictures I took on my camera yet, so here’s a short one.
Japan is both the 21st and 22nd century – with a dash of the 1990s and early 2000s when you see briefcases and stamps and people not talking loudly on their phones or wearing enormous headphones. It’s being able to pay in cash and get a physical receipt and old interfaces on futuristic machines (reminded me of Demolition Man). It’s seeing Harajuku style in full effect and thinking Hollaback Girl is still a hit). How can a place be both futuristic and trapped in the past? They still use fax! You can buy anything in shops (it’s like online shopping but real life)! The interaction design touches on most senses!
The mix of consumption and capitalism, yet a collective society (it is not about the individual) is fascinating to observe. Designed objects are so well considered. Of course, things are tightly controlled (eating, drinking, speaking on the phone, smoking), and you become hyper aware of your behaviour. The cleanliness however was a dream come true – especially since I grew up with the idea that cleanliness is next to godliness and was forbidden from wearing shoes in the house (seriously people, gross).
I can’t wait to go back.
Isn’t it infuriating that everything is something you now need to pay for (increasingly after every crisis)?
These ideas are half baked. Maybe the next newsletter.
Danah (The Pessoptimist)
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My keynote for Futuress titled “On the Contradictions of Sustainability” is live. Watch it here.
I’m scouring the internet for interesting newsletters, and the Monocle Minute is both informative and at times ridiculous. The editorial director Tyler Brûlé is from my hometown and always takes a jab at it. He’s not wrong. Read “Going nowhere fast”.
I am growing tired of reading articles from American publications because they are so insular (nothing outside of Americana!) but Jonathan Haidt’s (even though I did not like his last book) latest for the Atlantic is worth a read.
Laleh Khalili talks about management consultants – or the mercenaries of capital as she referred to them – for the LRB podcast. Listen here.
The newsletter The End of the World Review recommended Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History, a YouTube video about waiting in line at Disney. Because I now own a TV, I can tolerate long YouTube videos. The documentary was one of those throw as much info in a quick voice documentaries people seem to enjoy that get tedious after 45 minutes, but it does demonstrate yet again how much Disney contemplates new ways to hike up prices (which they are now undoing!).
N.B. I’ve moved this newsletter to Substack because TinyLetter has too many bugs, despite being owned by the behemoth of newsletters MailChimp.