Better Living, Together by Katie Edmonds

Today my research lead me to Elinor Ostrom, a Nobel Prize winning economist. She didn't study liquid capital or the behavior of markets, she studied Common Pool Resource management. CPRs are like a stone soup of economics, where some contribute to the benefit of all.

Those familiar with CPRs link them to game theory, where sharing is assumed to occur between people who can't/don't communicate, and who act in their own best interest (rational choice). The cold, hard zero-sum games that game theory studied in the 1940s and 1950s caught the attention of evolutionary biologists in the 1970s, and the assumptions about competition began to break apart. The fields discovered the success of tit-for-tat engagement and reciprocal altruism behaviors in the 1980s, bringing cooperation back into the conversation that had been dominated by ruthless self interest.

This self interest paradigm was based on the assumption that privatization is the only way prevent overuse and destruction of shared resources. Olstrom's research refuted this claim. She discovered that farmers in a Swiss village successfully maintained their commons. She was able to identify the principles that allowed them to be successful:

8 Principles for Managing a Commons

1. Define clear group boundaries.

2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.

3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.

5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.

6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.

8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

If you  look for them, you might find common pool resources all around you. The environment is one (we often break it up into pieces: water, air, land). The world wide web is another, both the front end (stuff you surf for) and the back end (the code base for the network). If you go the next step to the more abstract, you might see civil rights or personal safety as a common pool resource. The eternal optimist in me is validated by Ostrom's discovery.

Designs of the Year Awards 2013 by Katie Edmonds

I finally made my way through the list of nominees for the 2013 Designs of the Year. It took a bunch of work, but here are some selects with links throughout. I included more links than the awards page, so happy clicking.

For the overall winner the judges went with a design for civic use when they selected the Gov.UK website. In 2009 it was Shepard Fairey's Obama poster. Other less publicly recognizable designs are this lightbulb from 2012, and this electrical plug from 2010. And despite some other questionable design choices by the Olympic committee, the 2012 Olympic Torch won last year.

Here's some background on the awards, in their words:

"Designs of the Year" is the Design Museum’s annual exploration of the most innovative, interesting and forward-looking designs of all kinds, from around the world.

The nominated designs fall into seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport. They can be designed by a practice, team or individual. Projects are nominated by an independent group of trusted industry experts from four main groupings – practicing designers and architects, curators from other institutions, academics and tutors from design schools and a selection of journalists and writers.

A winner from each category is selected by an international jury and the overall winner from the best-of-category winners is awarded the Design of the Year. All the nominations can be seen at the museum in the Designs of the Year exhibition."

And now, my favorites.

This 16th century manor house was abandoned and crumbling. The architects tasked with the renovation preserved the details of decay and the result is a minimalistic hybrid of fresh and aged.

This architectural PR campaign promoting literacy and reading is adjacent to a new public housing community in Spijkenisse, The Netherlands (north of Antwerp, south of Rotterdam and The Hague).


Designed by architect Louis Kahn in the early 1970s, this memorial park was scrapped due to economic collapse in NYC. It opened to the public in the Fall of 2012. It's named for the speech FDR delivered in his 1941 State of the Union address:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world."


As a means of turning away from the allure of tidy, young, apolitical life presented in the Ikea catalogue, this team experimented with a variety of domestic constructs and installed a piece of each in Brooklyn's MOMA PS1. The result is a living and interactive work that presents ways to define and inhabit a home.

Orhan Pamuk built a museum as a companion piece to his novel of the same title. It houses artifacts of everyday life from the 30 year period covered in the novel, begun in 1970s Turkey. The book links with the museum as the novel's storyline links two families from difference socioeconomic classes. Read the author's explanation here.

Danish art group Superflex designed Superkilen to be a "tool" of transformation for the culturally diverse Norrebero district using design elements, chosen by members of the community, from places around the world the residents call home. Visitors can arrange to meet friends by the Spanish bull or the American neon star. Sections are divided into black, red and green for easy navigation and high impact experience.

These hanging LED clusters and exposed circuit boards imitate the color and movement of a candle flame. Designer Moritz Waldemeyer identifies as an electrical engineer and a designer, but his practice is such a proper hybrid that it defies definition.

This instant styling for maps comes from the go-to data visualization firm Stamen. The iteration nominated for the award was later released as Map Stack, an event during which anyone was invited to make beautiful maps with their software. A leaner version is still happening here. Their maps GitHub is public.


The Chirp app is a result of the academic entrepreneurship work at University College London. The software's core functionality allows media to be shared by sound recognition. It's like a sonic QR code. The spin-off company is called Animal Systems, and their business relationship with UCL is a prominent example of the European academic entrepreneurship model.

A collaborative project between F.A.T. Lab and Synaptic Lab turns the proprietary hardware of different construction kits into one giant interoperable set. This is a great first glimpse into the original hacker ethos, for kids. Their distribution model follows that same ethos: kits are delivered as specs that can then be built by any 3-D printer.

This is the first consumer grade light field camera. It allows users to focus and manipulate an image after it's shot. More features are rolling out, and they can be applied to anything shot with the Lytro camera in the past. This review from Digital Photography shows how it works.

The combination of this collection, the designer's background, and his past collections make this collection stand out. His designs follow the direction of clothing as clothing, but deconstruct fabric and styling conventions just enough to make his pieces look fresh and unique. Among all the fashion collections nominated, this one does the best job of calling attention to the design aspect of fashion.

 Luxury brand Marni executed this beautiful departure from their core product line, and embraces sustainability. Their labor was hired from a pool of recently released prisoners in Colombia. Each chair is created in traditional Colombian color scheme and woven style.



This collection was built out of a pile of discarded chairs. Together these chairs challenge the habit forming concept of "throwing away" and align decay with opportunity.

The Sea Chair is made of plastic harvested from the ocean. Consider this use of the word harvested. Each one is unique and completely beautiful.

More on the theme of turning trash into functional objects that we use with our bodies, how about this chair made of manufacturing byproducts. The irregularity of the raw surface fits so well with the crisp line of the molded seat. The choice to put something this raw into daily life feels fresh and frank.

This merging of nonlinear storytelling and pure text is fits with all the best ideas coming out of the sequential art and digital humanities spaces, but keeps its roots firmly planted in words and the page. Does the book as an object get in the way of the story? I'm inclined to enjoy forgetting about the object entirely, but I'm willing to trade that experience for the opportunity to meander along with a story.

Thankfully the protest paper is not dead. Pictured above is a multipurpose edition, but many layouts and lengths were put together for different issues.

Every page is edge to edge.  I sincerely hope these colors and patterns never feel dated. I could look at this all day.

It's lavish to turn a financial report into a piece of visually compelling work, so if your company  had a good year and wants to celebrate with a gift to their investors, this is how to do it.

The prescription on these glasses is adjustable through the injection of silicone into the lenses. While a Toms model for glasses might be more practical for developing countries, as complex prototypes tend to fail in the field, I'd love to have a pair of specs that I can adjust without going to the eye doctor. Considering how long I'll be paying off design school, I could use a longer lasting set than I have today.


Compared to other uninvited social interventions this is light, effective and sustainable. It might even design itself out of existence after a healthy population begins to produce its own creative solutions for its own needs.

E-Source Waste Recycler

This effective alternative to burning as a means of harvesting precious material from electronic waste is exactly the kind of intervention every home needs. Breaking down waste at the site of use would lift so much weight off of centralized infrastructure and turn individuals into actants in the made world rather than just passive consumers.


The compact kiosk and the unique object it's designed to make is such a fulfilling combination. It's maker culture at its best.

Speaking of kiosks, how about this approach to "made to order"? I like anything on a bike, but this framing of  3d printing helps position ingredients and making in a space where we like to pick and choose based on our needs and whims: the street vendor's cart.

In a world full of toxic industrial chemicals an edible lubricant seems like a fantastic alternative . Why can't we figure out another substance to put in our car's gas tank?

Other solar lights projects are more local, but this leap away from the grid and toward mobile energy means the design community is looking in the right direction.

3D Printed Exoskeleton ‘Magic Arms’

I've spent a significant amount of time aiding people with disabilities, and know how real solid, light, affordable tools can make daily life less painful and actually livable for disabled folks and their families. When design can help a person feel in the world, it's a very big deal.

Surface Tension Lamp

While this lamp doesn't change the world, at least it uses LED lights, which are far more efficient than other bulbs. And while an inconsistent light source isn't functional, it's certainly decorative and interactive.

I love everything modular, and everything cycling, therefore, I love this cargo bike. And it's affordable.

This took some time to put together. After a while all the rhetoric and claims started to blur together. What stood out as I investigated each nominee was the pair of discoveries I made with every search. First came the design and its creators. Then came the websites presenting or treating the design. I came to see the latter as the packaging design for the former, and am developing an understanding of virtual packaging as a result. It doesn't feel right to call this advertising, though it certainly function as such.

Diversity and Specialization by Katie Edmonds

Do you know someone who is very good at many things? I've started to pay attention to people's pursuit of new skills, and see that more often than not the most interesting and capable people are always looking to become good at something new.

In this context, I started looking into use of the term "microspecialization". It pops up in the legal practice and database management most frequently, so the term isn't used to  identify the tendency to cultivate small bits of expertise, building a personal and diverse collection of abilities.

I instinctively view this as a positive and rewarding version of a dilettante's approach to building a life full of accomplishments. Aristotle's critique of government followed a similar line of thought, proposing that an approach could be executed well or poorly.  So what shall we call the superior version of a dilettante?

image source:

Visual Networking by Katie Edmonds

Visual Networking is an industry term to describe services that match and connect people so they can interact visually using cameras. When we text or post a comment our tone and context are lost, so this industry is looking at ways for virtual communication to happen as if people were co-located, or, in the same space.

In this predictive report from Cisco Systems the shift from desktops to mobile devices and the increase of video content on the internet will be a major part of internet usage between now and 2018.


The Rochdale Principles, AKA the 7 Principles of Cooperation by Katie Edmonds

In 1844 a farming cooperative in Rochdale, UK authored a set of operating principles known today as the Rochdale Principles. They're still used today in cooperatives around the world. The International Cooperative Alliance promotes this version.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.


Podcasts! by Katie Edmonds

Since moving to New York from San Francisco my podcast consumption has skyrocketed, and I've started to run out of material, so I started asking around.

Yesterday a fellow grad student turned me on to 99% Invisible, and my life changed the same way it did when I discovered Radio Lab, This American Life, Mike Duncan's The History of Rome, or Stuff You Should Know (by the team that produces How Stuff Works).

Named after the principle that good design is 99% invisible, this blog is funded in part by the the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco and the Center for Architecture and Design. Each episode is about 10 minutes, and includes topics on sound arts, civics, material history, branding, and that's just as far as I could get between the West Village and Brooklyn.

Listen up, you won't regret it.

OccupyDataNYC by Katie Edmonds

This weekend I participated in a hack day with grad students and professionals from around NY, to create various visual representations of data about the Occupy movement. We will present our work at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center at the OWS ShareDay on Saturday March 31st from 3-6pm.

Our project attempts to generate a visual, event-triggered timeline of user-created and broadcast media. The aim is to facilitate a comparative view of the media published after an event, so as to see how its message changes over time. One hypothesis is that when citizen observers post videos about an event, the new story changes as more visual record of an event is released to the public. Our timeline is bracketed by the dataset released last week of Occupy related tweets, so we elected to use the November 15th evacuation of Zuccotti park as our first test case.

More info to come.

"Play hard. Play fair. Nobody hurt." by Katie Edmonds

This is the ethos of the New Games Movement, named to reflect its objective of establishing a culture of play in the 1960s. These outdoor community games were deigned to create a new means of public engagement, where people played together for the sake of play itself.

"People charged the ball from both sides, pushing and cheering. Slowly it began to move, first toward one end, then back to the other. The game got hotter. There waas plenty of competition, but something more interesting was happening. Whenever the ball approached a goal, players from the winning side would defect to lend a hand to the losers... That first Earthball game went on for an hour without a score. The player had been competing, but not to win. Their unspoken and accepted agreement had been to play, as long and as hard as possible." The New Games Book p.9 as quoted in Rules of Play p. 528

The aesthetic that produced this movement has faded, but games themselves have continued to edge toward the spotlight. The combination of mobile technology, diverse player demographics, and an overwhelming surge of efforts to "gamify" all sorts of experiences, what can the phenomonon of play for the sake of play do to balance these elements in a way that empowers the player to define their role rather than merely accept one which is assigned to them?

Podcasts! by Katie Edmonds

Since moving to New York from San Francisco my podcast consumption has skyrocketed, and I've started to run out of material, so I started asking around. Yesterday a fellow grad student turned me on to 99% Invisible, and my life changed the same way it did when I discovered Radio Lab, This American Life, Mike Duncan's The History of Rome, or Stuff You Should Know (by the team that produces How Stuff Works).

Named after the principle that good design is 99% invisible, this blog is funded in part by the the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco and the Center for Architecture and Design. Each episode is about 10 minutes, and includes topics on sound arts, civics, material history, branding, and that's just as far as I could get between the West Village and Brooklyn.

Listen up, you won't regret it.

Graphic Notation by Katie Edmonds

Graphic notation is the practice of writing down musical compositions graphically rather than on a traditional staff. The results are that interpretation or reading of the music is not longer privileged to knowledge of music theory.

I assisted on a shoot a few years ago for a film about a composer who wrote an epic piece of music entirely in graphic notation. It hung in the Kantor Museum at Stanford, and live interpretive performances took place over the course of the month long installation. 

Crowsourced Fortune-Telling by Katie Edmonds

This interactive piece on the New York Times website invites readers to review a comparative historical timeline of computation, artificial intelligence, transportation&lifestyle, and communication, then add their predictions of what is to come.

From 1617 when John Napier produced a system for computation using "bones" and "rods", to Watson the AI quiz master, the chart presents the past in a way that's intended to spur creative thinking about the future.

If you sit back and watch this list update itself, you can see predictions being revised and refined. Electronic ink by 2013, no red lights by 2037, and a telepathic society by 2372 are all on the list.

Comic books and global demonstrations by Katie Edmonds


In this piece published today in the Guardian shines a light on the relationship between the Guy Fawkes mask in Alan Moore's V or Vendetta.

"I suppose I've gotten used to the fact," says the 58-year-old, "that some of my fictions percolate out into the material world."

As the article aptly points out, the mask is a relevant fixture in the story, but was turned into a promotional product for the motion picture release in 2006. Then Anonymous picked it up, which blended well with the leaderless occupations in the US, and the need for anonymity in uprisings in more immanently dangerous political climates.

"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."

This instance of a character fluidly transitioning from sequential art to cinema to political action is transmedia.

Collaborative media technologies by Katie Edmonds

While working on a lit review of collaborative media I came across a paper by Hiroshi Ishii et al, Associate Director of the MIT Media Lab, and this awesome video.

From 1989 to 1994 Ishii and a team of engineers and designers created TeamWorkStation, a combination of digital and analog media designed to support working groups by providing them with a virtual group workspace.

What I find most striking about this project is that the developers focused on pragmatic user experience, acknowledging that individuals use a plurality of tools, even when they're working as a group. This system is designed to seamlessly incorporate any and all material an individual might use in a group project, and make it accessible to the group through the virtual work station.

Science and the Media by Katie Edmonds

After watching Professor Lisa Randall's appearance on The Daily Show, I briefly searched for articles on the link between scientific rigor and popular opinion. I found that that scientific inquiry and informative media are in a state of conflict, each claiming that the other is a source of self-interested or misleading information. This 2008 article in Scientific American proposes that news broadcasters commit reasoning errors which lead  people to make erroneous conclusions about events as important as declaring war.

This article from the Independent asks where the conflict between science and journalism started, and why it's so heated.

One thing science and media have in common is a dependence on their own social capital. Overabundance of information, and increasingly nuanced categories of authority and expertise, create new critical thinking challenges which often prevent a beneficial and generative public discourse.

The issue is well described in a Geographical Journal piece, published by the Royal Geographical Society:

"While many academics would like their research to be brought to wider attention through the media, few really understand how to go about this, what will make it attractive to media companies, and how, finally, to explain their work to cameras and microphones. This translation of their research from academia to a lay audience requires a transdisciplinary approach that bridges the boundaries of academy and practice. The programme makers must bring together different methodological approaches, integrate the results of many researchers, sometimes carried out at different scales, so that scientific advances overall can be explained simply and clearly to the public" (source).

When we're in our audience role each of us is in the position to ramp up our media and information literacy so we can be engaged and comfortable with what comes our way. It's not easy to do, especially when we rely so heavily on media and science for the information that we use when thinking critically.

Fortunately, we have some outrageously successful intersections of science and media to look back on, so we might be reassured that it's possible for them to be mutually beneficial. by Katie Edmonds

This crowdsourcing site is administered by the United States General Services Administration, an independent agency of the Executive. is a partnership between the GSA and ChallengePost that:

"empowers the U.S. Government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing challenges. This platform is the latest milestone in the Administration’s commitment to use prizes and challenges to promote innovation" (source).

Based on the 2009 Strategy for American Innovation and supported by a 2010 Office of Management and Budget memorandum promoting transparency and collaboration in government agencies, the administration made the ChallangePost platform available for federal departments and programs.

Since then, the platform has been used to submit public calls to action. Today an app currently in development was awarded funding in the Apps Against Abuse Category. The Circle of 6 app, developed by Oakland, CA based nonprofit Isis makes it easy for users to immediately contact a select group of friends when they need help or advise.

Considering the track record of innovation in US government, this partnership between government and industry on a small scale is both successful and inventive.

Digital Humanities by Katie Edmonds

The digital humanities is one of those great hybrid practice areas that I'm always tracking.

Digital humanities considers the intersection of digital media and humanities scholarship to be a means of self preservation and of producing excellent work in a new landscape.

Here are some of the places I'm watching.

UCLA Center for Digital Humanities

Stanford Literary Lab

Columbia Center for Digital Research and Scholarship


University of Virginia Praxis Program at the Scholar's Lab

NEH Office of Digital Humanities

Tribeca Film Institute New Media Fund