Photo by Žygimantas Dukauskas on Unsplash

The brilliant Nichol Bradford (from the Transformative Tech Lab) invited people online to name the current moment.

Hi there community, I’m very interested in your thoughts on what we should call this. Have been thinking of the impact of The Great Depression and how it shaped lives, mindsets, and countries. What do we call this? As it will surely be something everyon…

- Nichol Bradford (@Nichol_Bradford) March 25, 2020

In her/their words [1]: “Because we are meaning-making machines, what we name this moment matters for how we will respond to it”. These are what people came up with:

  • the…

The 2019-nCoV virus is here and it’s likely to be an ongoing presence in our lives for a year, perhaps two. There’s even a small chance it will be a permanent feature in the long term if it turns out that antibodies for this virus don’t last in the bloodstream.

This is not a change we were prepared for, and we weren’t prepared for how much of our world and daily lives it would affect. We certainly weren’t prepared for the speed at which all this change would hit us.

We don’t know where this is going go lead… what…

We have just got back from hosting a popup studio at Burning Man, and it was a deeply fulfilling and inspiring experience.

Who are we?

We are Adam Menter and Arvind Venkataramani, and we are creators of an open source toolkit for designing secular rituals. Our purpose is to democratize rituals.

We set ourselves up near the Temple…

Originally, we had intended on setting up a portable studio in different parts of the playa every day, but having scouted out the location near the temple we realized it was a really good location. Our purpose aligns well with the Temple’s: provide support for people going through emotionally challenging situations.


… a promo for Netflix’s Black Mirror series, the current pre-eminent critical commentary on technology

A group of twenty professionals from the fields of design and social sciences gathered at SonicRim’s San Francisco studio recently for an open discussion session about the need for tech companies to establish an “ethical foresight” practice to be mindful of the social impact and consequences of their innovations.


As technology spreads into the most intimate aspects of our lives, overlooking possible consequences of our innovations can lead to dire social impact. Disruptive innovations can cause harm at a mass scale and quickly. Our capacity to do harm can outstrip our capacity to mitigate the harm.

Here’s an example of why it’s important to be present in the actual environments where users use your product.

Above is a receipt from an order at a quick-serve restaurant. The receipt is placed on a stand with an order number written large to help the server locate the person who placed the order.

(You cannot see this in the photo, but the written order number is the order number generated by the point of sale system with extraneous zeroes removed.)

This is a classic work-around — a user-created way of modifying the use of the product in order to…

Here follow some propositions making parallels between the two and why there is a case for governance and politics to draw from the toolkits of user/human centered design.

(And, to a smaller degree, why design practitioners can learn from the larger patterns of governance and politics in the world today to make their work more grounded, ethical, and inclusive.)

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups” — not George Carlin.

We can think about the parallel challenges in two categories from design discourse; I’m using these two categories because it seems to be that framing governance in terms of design is the more interesting move for me. …

Propositions on sensibly making use of metrics when designing things: (for mathematically minded people)


  1. Those metrics matter, which matter to the people the metrics are supposedly helping serve
  2. Those metrics matter, which represent the fitness of a “solution” to its context
  3. Those metrics which represent desired levels of stability & quality are not necessarily the same as the metrics that represent improvements in the solution
  4. A thing may not be measurable on a scale but still be usefully quantified in terms of presence


  1. The velocity of a metric is not necessarily representative of the success of the design/development processing shaping…

Consider the following stupid machines:

  1. machine that runs into corners at high speed and yelps upon impact
  2. goes up against a person’s leg, looks up at them, and smirks
  3. same as above, but sprays water at a leg
  4. accelerates towards raised edges and falls off
  5. machine composed of two halves that repeatedly pull themselves apart, in opposite directions
  6. machine that continuously falls apart while you assemble it
  7. machine that topples itself onto its back, repeatedly
  8. machine that develops boils, which expand and finally burst
  9. machine that freaks out on hearing a particular word or phrase, which it won’t tell you

Cross-posted from I am one of the EPIC2016 PechaKucha Panel Leads, and I wrote this as an elucidation of a good ethnographic/design/user research PechaKucha.

  1. Even in a heterodox community such as EPIC, ‘Papers’ can feel like a forbidding mechanism for generating knowledge and exchanging ideas. To those not accustomed to, or comfortable with, thinking verbally (and verbosely) EPIC Papers are an odd ‘Other’, and almost never experienced directly.
  2. Sometimes you just need to say things simply, quickly. This is why I love PechaKucha at EPIC. We’re all interesting people, but we don’t all speak the same way. …

What does one need to have well-designed services? A recent trip to India suggests that it might take more than good blueprints and planning, and that culture may play a role.

Two anecdotes illustrate this.

A positive anecdote: Buying a car

My parents bought a car recently, and shopped around for various brands. Instead of having to take time off from work and spending it in Delhi’s busy traffic to visit the dealership, the dealerships brought the cars home to test. …

Arvind Venkataramani

design researcher at sonicrim. i sense and work towards emergent futures. help me make the world a place of flourishing for all life.

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