A conference full of educators

I’ve been to my fair share of conferences. Design, tech, sustainability, activism. Last week I made it to my first conference focused on education. Hosted by the BARR Center, over 300 teachers, administrators, and advocates came together in Moreno Valley, California to learn from each other and immerse themselves in the challenges facing public education in America.

When it comes to the education of our kids, I feel that nothing should stand in the way. But as we all know, so much stands in the way. Funding, resources, bureaucracy, poverty, racism, apathy, and on and on. The question of how can we provide high-quality education for all is often replaced with how can we just get through the day. Which is absolutely heartbreaking. 

However, at this conference, the educators in attendance brought their passion for teaching and optimism for change in education that is very much possible.

The story of BARR is one of success, from 1998 to now. Started by Angela Jerabek in one school just outside of Minneapolis, the program is currently in 88 schools in 13 states. In all cases, no matter the school size or makeup, there are proven results. Better attendance rates, decreases in suspension days, and higher GPAs.Whatever metric is looked at, the results are there. 

How is this possible? I think it’s because it’s a program by teachers, for teachers, with the goal of doing their very best by every single one of their students. The other thing I kept hearing at the conference from everyone who was using the program is that it’s both firm and flexible, which means it can be applied anywhere.

I also heard plenty of success stories. From principal Karen Johnson at Valley View High and from the superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District Martinrex Kedziora. From veteran teachers 20+ years in the profession to those just starting out.

Speakers who are leaders in the movement for education reform included Dr. Pedro Noguera who spoke about leading with equity, Nadya Chinoy Dabby who spoke about how we can model the best of our cultural values through education, and LaShawn Routé Chatmon spoke about turning toward one another with constructivist listening.

All in all, I left feeling inspired and energized. With the division the country is dealing with currently, working to make education available for all our kids no matter what is the type of work where we can all come together to make lasting change happen. And if we do that, we’ll all be better off for it.

On Criticism

Few things that matter in this world move forward without criticism and feedback. Especially when it comes to making an idea happen that’s seen as being somewhat new/original.

Designer’s Quest

Originally published Nov 7, 2009 by Design Feast

2. Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

Coming up with something new, something moving, something relevant. And in the mix of it all, there is the big question: is this authentic? In a world of faked, contrived, staged, hyperbolic, and outright lies, it’s something designers have to continually be asking. It’s not the most glamorous, and it’s hard to do completely, but without that check on yourself, there’s a good chance you’re just creating garbage for the media (and physical) wasteland of the trite and the useless.

4. From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

Adaptable, daring, imaginative, dedicated, determined and good with your hands. From there, a designer has to connect the dots, see the larger picture, and put it all together in a simplified, compelling way that is honest and true.

Full Interview »

Wanna dance (freelance)?

I’ve met up with a few designers over the last couple weeks to discuss design and its challenges. One topic that came up repeatedly was on the business of going independent. The how and the why, the pros and cons. Questions around such things always seem timely, especially as the workforce in general continues to be filled with more independent contractors. 99u has a good article on the subject, including a lot of stuff I’ve discussed before and certainly agree with.

So to supplement, if I were to distill down the main points I want young (and old) designers to consider before going freelance, I’d want you to focus in on these points:

  1. You get the clients, you retain the clients. And you should have a few before you even think about going out on your own.
  2. If you’re worried about where your next projects will come from or if you’re worried about delivering on the projects you currently have, that’s good. That worry will never go away. Get used to it.
  3. When you work for yourself, you work more, not less. And not just on the “cool” stuff. But on administration, project management, proposals for work you don’t get, paying taxes, selling the work, making changes, getting feedback, doing QA, instructing the printer, responding to emails, and juggling and juggling and juggling. That last one is a metaphor.
  4. What if you say yes to this one project, a project you’re pretty into, you get all booked up and busy, and then another project comes along that’s even better, in fact you’re way more excited about this new one, but the timeline is way too fast, you can’t do both, and because you’re already committed, you have to say no, and it sucks, and you feel terrible about what was lost that could’ve been. Yep, that’s a thing. Deal with it.
  5. Come up with incentives to get clients to do what you want. Whether that’s related to timelines, budgets, or both.
  6. And finally, this list has gone on long enough, you need to get back to work. My final thing is this: Before you go out on your own, you need to know how much design work costs a client for them to utilize your design skills on any number of projects in varying degrees of need and complexity. If you don’t, it’s going to be a rocky, uncertain road. It already will be, but more so. 

Ed Ruscha at the Joslyn

In regards to the artwork BARNS AND FARMS, what about this piece sparks my interest? My answer is as follows:

You’re telling me about something that you’re not showing me. With two layers presented in a square, a square that would feel very-much-at-home on an Instagram feed, I’m moved by the vibrant colors of a big sky as well as the purity of machined, white type.

The horizon line of blackened land at the base of the work anchors and helps to let me know just how small I am. The golden sunset (or is it a sunrise?) gives me a cue to close up shop for the evening (or to get ready for the day). 

As an advertisement, there’s a cadence I like. Chop-chop, barns and farms. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. I didn’t live on a farm growing up, but I visited the one where my grandparents lived often. I’ve seen this scene thousands of times driving on the gravel county roads of Nebraska. I didn’t need a message to entice me there, I was there already. 

As a moment in time, with the clouds frozen in place, it causes me to pause and to recall the smell of those massive, wooden structures called barns. The dirt floors, the hay bales, the musty interior of the vehicles parked there. Things stored inside were protected, sort of.  Things stored inside had value, monetarily speaking. The barn was a key part of the working farm operation.

People lived on farms, but they were there to work. Sunrise to sunset, constantly doing some form of labor. Gotta do the chores, grow the crops, and tend to the animals. You eat, sleep, and procreate so you can do those work things better, more efficiently. 

As nostalgia, there’s love in that square. Memories of family. As history, there’s mixed emotions in that square. A country feeding itself and also causing a great big dust bowl. Prosperity and livelihood for the working man and then the corporations squeezing them out with monoculture. The freedom and good nature of rural America now with declining populations, economic insecurity, immigrant tension, drug crisis, and an often referenced part of one side in the country’s deepening divide.

I’m in a car when I’ve seen this scene. I’m moving and feeling the freedom of the open road. But I’m also a little scared. Because I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to break down and have to venture onto a farm for help. There might be a big dog. There might be a suspicious farmer with a gun. It might be where I’m knocked unconscious and wake up in a dark basement. It’s there I’m plumped up over a few weeks and then turned into soup for a very traditionalist family of cannibals. Seen that movie

And I feel anxious. Like I get with most advertisements these days. I like the beautiful presentation of type over image but am also unsettled with the unspoken outcomes that could lie beneath. That’s not Ed’s fault. Na, that’s just advertising.

Framing the Flame: Art that Ignites »

More on Medium »

Posters for Change: The Book

Princeton Architectural Press has a beautiful new book out called Posters for Change. I have a couple designs in the collection. It’s a book Shepard Fairey has said some nice things about it:

Using our voices, not only to call out the injustices happening right now, but to empower creatives to amplify a spirit of resistance and unity, is essential medicine. This collection of protest posters showcases bold and impactful graphic design with a message, which is always something I can stand behind!

Having received 800 submissions from around the world, the best 50 are presented in a large format book with tear-out pages. You can buy the book at papress.com or wherever books are sold online or in stores. There’s been some nice press coverage as well:

Press via The Guardian »
Press via Co.Design »
Press via The Washington Post »

In the afterward, Avram Finkelstein writes:

Physical posters in physical spaces have a power that exceeds the evanescence of internet messaging. The poster comes for you where you live.

We invaded Iraq 15 years ago

Hard to believe. I remember watching the invasion unfold on CNN. The bombs and the blasts. Operation Iraqi Freedom. American boots on the ground. Ready to be treated as liberators. Because we couldn’t allow a madman to remain in control. And he had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). So we would invade quick, liberate quick, be out quick. For the cost of about $200 million. Small price to pay for freedom of the people and stability in the region.

What’s unfolded since has been absolutely horrific. Maiming and torture and death. More than $3 trillion later, and counting. All because of a dangerous ideology held by a majority of the American government. And for that matter, its citizens. That we are exceptional and we are called to shape the world in our image of capitalist democracy. Very manifest destiny.

Now, I’m not qualified to comment on such things in any official capacity, aside from being a citizen. The Iraq War is an issue of geopolitics and this is a collection of writing about design and collaboration. But it should be noted, that as a life event, the war in Iraq was incredibly formative for how I think about design’s place in the world.

My grandfather fought in WWII. He was in the shit. D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, real “Band of Brothers” situations. He lived through it and the medals he earned were displayed in his modest farm house. The stories he shared always left me in awe. He was a simple man who participated in great, consequential events. When he was 22, he was fighting Nazis in far off lands. For freedom, against fascism. When I was 22, right before the Iraq War started, I was trying to cobble together a design portfolio.

Unsure of my future, I had thoughts of what a potential draft would look like. After 9-11, America was now fighting the War on Terror. For freedom, against terrorism. Why wouldn’t it call to arms its citizens to join the fighting ranks and take on our existential enemy? Because shopping was America’s call to action. Capitalism, after all, requires people to spend their capital, no matter the national mood. Not to join a government-run bureaucracy like the military. Hence, no draft. But a plea to buy, buy, buy.

I got my first real job at an ad agency when the invasion took place. Designing for sprinkler systems. Paying off my student loans. Using my health insurance. Trying to find my place in America. As I was learning on the job how to be a graphic designer, while being highly tuned into the war playing out in the media, I got really interested in protest posters and design for a cause. I contacted anti-war groups and started designing for them for free—flyers, banners, signs, websites. With a few other designers, I put on art exhibitions and created other projects centered around activism and opposition to the war.

As the fighting went on, getting worse and worse, it felt like the lies and deception would always be us. As would the blind patriotism and unquestioning dedication of flag-waving USA-USA-USA chants. How long it took for it to be okay to criticize the war was really unsettling. Speak out and be written off as young and naive, incapable of understanding a dangerous new world. A new world where we just had to torture people because those were the stakes now. Speak out more and be called an unpatriotic member of the angry left. Be labeled a troublemaker, weakening America, a threat to the nation.

But eventually, we got to Obama. The fog of war seemed to clear away. We were going to be sensible moving forward. Now the government would be better, the media would be better, the citizens would be better.

As great as all it seemed in 2008, we’ve learned little. As a country, we are still struggling with who we are, how we should behave, and where it is we’re going.

I’ve since left that first real job and have tried to use my design skills as a citizen would, part of the effort to make a better world. Using various mediums, crafting messages, collaborating with activists, in the cause of truth and justice and peace. Fighting less against a threat from the outside, but instead battling with America’s own internal divisions. How we thought we were when we invaded Iraq was completely wrong. That thinking has been proven dangerous. How we think of ourselves now, we aren’t sure, but we need to figure it out quickly. Given the state of the world and the forces at play in it.

Yes, we invaded Iraq 15 years ago. We’re still there. And I don’t think America has fully grasped the implications for not only how we view our past, but how we plan to move into the future.