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Typocentric: Bazaar

Last month I had a blast hosting the Typocentric: Bazaar workshop at Delhi’s UnBox Festival. We had global players join local folk to construct typographic forms from objects commonly found in Indian markets – buttons, bindis, decorative mirrors, candles, textile embellishments, match-boxes and more. I had initially proposed the workshop to run over three days which somehow got condensed to three hours – but much fun emerged on this insane time frame. Having graphic designers joined by those with backgrounds in anthropology, education and finance led to a random-specific blend of capacities which kept everyone typo-ventilating throughout.
 

I got a particular kick out of working alongside my gifted former student and pixel-pro, Abishek Ghate, who experimented with constructing typographic forms out of various elements to devise the intense workshop format.
 

We started out by having small groups create Hindi words in Devanagari script out of bindis. For those of you who are in the dark, bindis are the red or coloured forehead markings worn by many South Asian women – often but not always signifying marriage.
 

Bram Pitoyo, Digital Strategist at Weiden + Kennedy, collaborated with others to form Usha (उषा) meaning the first ray of light from the rising sun.
 

Another group took a different path to create the same word. And that’s the arm of Kriti Monga from Tumeric Design – a typographic doyenne – who wears it on her sleeve. Some of you may recall her superb visual journal from Design Yatra which featured in Creative Review.
 

Workings + resolutions for Sakhi (सखी) – an endearing term for a girl, a friend, a confidante.
 

Babe (बेब) – phonetically from English and peppered through Hindi conversations when hotties are on the radar.
 

We then switched to a smorgasbord of elements from local bazaars. The pressure mounted and creativity escalated as teams raced against the clock to follow typographic guidelines while exploring the limits and opportunities that their designated objects presented.
 

Decorative mirrors, often used for textile ornamentation, were used to artfully form the word Chhavi (छवि) which means reflection or image.
 

A team working with matchboxes experimented with multiple approaches to celebrate the name of our hosts: The UnBox Festival.
 

Impressive collaboration from those who worked with coloured buttons to create the name of our host city: Dilli/Delhi (दिल्ली)
 

Decorative flourishes from a group working with gotas – pleated fabric embellishments used to adorn sarees and other traditional clothing.
 

And pyromania ensued to give justice to the word Lau (लौ) or flame, built with candles.

Ghate and I were joined in energising participants by Codesign founder and UnBox spearhead, Rajesh Dahiya – who was a former colleague of mine at India’s National Institute of Design, where he continues to teach typography as adjunct faculty. My Design Observer co-contributor and by now close conference-buddy, John Thackara, had to put up with our fervored racket from his more earnest workshop which took place a just few paces away – luckily I made up for it the next day by swinging us a table at the ever popular dining spot Gunpowder. With it’s scenic view, this was a great vantage point to reflect on the UnBox Festival – where I had also presented as Community Manager on OpenIDEO. It had indeed lived up to it’s promise to encompass work and play across contexts and mediums plus “rethink and stretch design practice through imagination, provocation and stimulation for those interested in social and cultural change.” While many of the conference sessions were focused on more worthy pursuits, we’d like to think that Typocentric: Bazaar ignited a hankering for the handmade, a love of the local, a craving for collaboration – all within the alluring hype of type.
 
Related posts:
Typocentric Bazaar on Flickr
Overlap: Intersection of Desi & Diasporic
Viva Vernacular

Last month I had a blast hosting the Typocentric: Bazaar workshop at Delhi's UnBox Festival. We had global players join local folk to construct typographic forms from objects commonly found in Indian markets – buttons, bindis, decorative mirrors, candles, textile embellishments, match-boxes and more. I had initially proposed the workshop to run over three days [...]

Novel Tales and African Teens

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone?

Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology researcher in Cape Town – and financed by South Africa’s Shuttleworth Foundation, is dedicated to a participatory culture hungry for micro-doses of literature that are accessible as pixels not paper.

Officially launched last September, Yoza is based on Vosloo’s observations that African youth are book-poor yet mobile-rich. An estimated 90 percent of urban South African youth have access to cell phones and 70 percent of those phones are web-enabled. In stark contrast, more than half of South African households own no leisure books and only 7 percent of public schools have functional libraries.

Illustrations from Yoza’s premiere edition: Kontax

Yoza’s first story, Kontax, followed the adventures of a local graffiti crew around Cape Town. Its 20 pages were initially published over a month of daily dispatches via a mobisite and later on the popular MXit social network. Each episode, released in both English and isiXhosha, was around 400 words long. Prizes were offered for the best comments and sequel ideas from Kontax readers.

Via Yoza, 17,000 users accessed the full premiere Kontax series for free — well eclipsing the South African “best-seller” standard of 5,000 book sales. Each chapter costs the reader around 1 US cent to download. Explains Vosloo, “Mobile data is cheap relative to voice and SMS — and of course, books. It’s also about access.” According to Vosloo, readership exploded when Yoza was made available to MXit’s 15 million local subscribers — a share currently far greater than Facebook’s.

Yoza content on MXit social network and on a mobisite (Image courtesy of Yoza)

The comments feature allows Vosloo to stay in touch with what readers want. “It’s become clear that youth are keen to be both educated and entertained,” he notes. “We get many requests for stories which are relevant to their lives. We’ve had requests for story lines which cover drugs and teen pregnancy, careers, money and more.” Feedback has helped to shape onwards content which includes Streetskillz, set during the football World Cup, Sisterz which explores dark family secrets and teenage life plus Confessions of a Virgin Loser which follows a boy steering his way through a complicated world of peer pressure, teenage sex and HIV/AIDS. Social issues provide a further avenue for interaction. A story which touched on domestic violence elicited a slew of comments in support of the affected character and posts of personal accounts which empathised with her situation.
 

South African students read and respond to Yoza content. (Image courtesy of Yoza)

Alongside popular culture content, Yoza has also been adding episodic versions of classics from Shakespeare to Wordsworth and other curriculum related texts. Feedback from teachers in low-income schools tells of class assignments given in conjunction with Yoza content and applauds the access to classic literature which the platform has provided. While some may criticise the informal use of language by readers – comments across the site also highlight an engaged audience ready to amend mistakes which have eluded Yoza’s editors. Although youthful readers may comment in text-speak, they eagerly respond with corrections on errors which creep into stories.

Looking to the future, Vosloo has been speaking with various potential sponsors who understand the bridge he has created between reading, response and social issues. One such discussion has been with a bank around the notion of a series featuring elements of financial literacy within its storyline. An aspect which is attractive to sponsors is the appetite created through releasing stories in installments but also that the entire series is then available on the Yoza site and continues to attract commentary. “It’s a bit like the transition from a box-office to DVD release,” adds Vosloo. “There’s the initial rush to devour a fresh feature yet the legacy contributes to a growing library of accessible content.”

An edited version of this article appears in my Change Observer Report on Design Observer.

Related posts:
Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens
Amplifying African Ingenuity

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone? Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology [...]

Street-wise: Pedal Powered Retail


I’ve been following the cycle-centric developments between the Department of Counter Culture and RMIT University’s School of Industrial and Interior Design in Melbourne with some interest. Together they’ve been exploring changes of retail exchange in the public space and challenges facing the fixed-store trading paradigm. (Image: Raphael Kilpatrick)
 

In pursuit of socially engaged endeavours they teamed up with The Social Studio – a local, community-facing fashion and textiles training initiative. Recycled and excess manufacturing materials are gathered from local industry and re-configured into original clothing with the style & skills of the young refugee community at the Social Studio. (Images: The Social Studio + Nicole Reed for The Vine)





(Images: No Fixed Address on Flickr + TSS Pedal Powered Pop-up by Raphael Kilpatrick)

In an approach that’s been cross-disciplinary, collaborative and focused on customisation – students devised twenty pedal-powered-retail concepts. From these they developed two transformable bicycle kiosks which used sliding and folding mechanisms respectively. The operational mobile enterprises were launched as The Social Studio | No Fixed Address at this month’s spirited State of Design festival. (And speaking of mobile – the festival came with it’s very own iPhone app.)

Check out the project video to hear more on the design process.

Related posts:
Mobile Enterprise
Astronomical Outreach (Mobile Education)

I've been following the cycle-centric developments between the Department of Counter Culture and RMIT University's School of Industrial and Interior Design in Melbourne with some interest. Together they've been exploring changes of retail exchange in the public space and challenges facing the fixed-store trading paradigm. (Image: Raphael Kilpatrick)   In pursuit of socially engaged endeavours [...]

Creating Waves through Collaboration

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I was reflecting today on my involvement as a mentor on the 2007 Creative Waves Project. It was a 3 month online education initiative which sought to facilitate global participants to propose initiatives to raise health awareness in Kenya. The project championed collaborative practice and encouraged intense and pro-active engagement of participating students, pharmacists, graphic designers, health workers, professional bodies and education institutions.

Over 50 pharmacy students and 50 graphic design students from diverse locations worldwide were united by the comprehensive online platform and had contact with international mentors and participants on the ground in Kenya throughout. Health related concerns including malaria, tuberculosis and immunisation were to be addressed through a well devised learning methodology which spanned 12 weeks. This included ever-inclusive tasks within the stages of Socialising, Gathering, Identifying, Distilling and Resolving – some of which were addressed from within assigned groups and all of which were lively points of intersection.
 
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As a mentor it was interesting to note the principles of self-organisation play out as some students rose to the fore and took up leadership roles, groups figured out their respective skills and capacities, particpants cross-pollinated ideas and assisted each other to overcome technical challenges. The discussion sections with collaborators onsite in Kenya were particularly active and provided essential insight to the project at large. Guest professionals came in at various stages and memorable was the input by Anne Miltenburg, of Studio Dumbar, who spoke of issues surrounding visual communication and illiteracy.

Proposals that came out of the project included a headscarf that could be laid out and used as a board game to highlight health issues, soccer uniforms which vibrantly carried relevant messages and stickers to be adhered to fruit and vegetables, bearing health information. As a mentor I found the process as rewarding as the results. Social media initiatives are gaining popularity in bringing people together to solve diverse challenges. The Creative Waves project was pioneering back in 2007 and gave all participants a taste for the power of participation. One hopes that many were inspired to go forth and… collaborate.

Photo credit: Women’s Que for HIV Testing in Kenya, by Georgina Goodwin for Vestergaard Frandsen.

I was reflecting today on my involvement as a mentor on the 2007 Creative Waves Project. It was a 3 month online education initiative which sought to facilitate global participants to propose initiatives to raise health awareness in Kenya. The project championed collaborative practice and encouraged intense and pro-active engagement of participating students, pharmacists, graphic [...]

Sidewalk Scenarios

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My week has been peppered with conversations on the use of scenario building as a
method of design thinking. This took me back to fond memories of working alongside my inspirational colleague MP Ranjan at the National Institute of Design (NID) in India who has been pushing the barrow of design thinking and its extensive applications from way before it became a hot topic.

Energetic in mind and manner, Ranjan has been evolving his invigorating, provocative and immensely popular Design Concepts & Concerns course for close to two decades now. A cornerstone of the programme is his learning from the field model which is kicked off by investigating local micro-enterprises.

By closely examining sidewalk entrepreneurs, students are encouraged to engage in a rich exploration of current scenarios to spark dimensional discussion towards enhanced scenarios. This process lays the foundation for future envisioning that can be scaled to embrace complex challenges to which design thinking can be applied: from systems to services and beyond.
 
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Ranjan elaborates on the course blog:

… it is far easier to start with small and micro enterprises such as street food vendors who are easily accessible and can therefore be a very useful source of business learning and about a number of finer aspects of entrepreneurial behavior. Each of these micro businesses is indeed homologous to a huge multi-national business conglomerate in a similar line of business such as the ones involved in the preparation and delivery of food to their customers across several continents.

As design extends its focus from product innovation to social innovation (including significant expansion into service design) one hopes that design schools are exposing students to relevant skills and contexts. And as Ranjan has clearly demonstrated – those contexts can be as close as the nearest street corner.

Images from students of the DCC Foundation Class of 2006
 
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Related posts:
Creating Waves Through Collaboration
Mumbai Markings Enhance Service Design

My week has been peppered with conversations on the use of scenario building as a method of design thinking. This took me back to fond memories of working alongside my inspirational colleague MP Ranjan at the National Institute of Design (NID) in India who has been pushing the barrow of design thinking and its extensive [...]

Astronomical Outreach

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The UNESCO supported International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global tribute which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The central theme of the year long program is The Universe, Yours to Discover. A former student of mine from the National Institute of Design in India, Kathan Kothari, was involved in a brilliant local initiative last month for the 100 Hours of Astronomy project which was observed simultaneously by countries across the globe.

He co-developed a mobile camel cart exhibition on Astronomy which visited villages, slums and local neighbourhoods in and around Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He was happy to report the enthusiastic reception by locals, especially children, for many of whom it was their first exposure to topics such the solar system, eclipses and celebrated Indian astronomers. Hands-on activity was encouraged with 5000 solar viewers being distributed so that people could view the sun safely while being told about its various characteristics by a team of volunteer guides.
 
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The cart and crew stayed overnight in villages during the 100 hours and held telescopic star-gazing sessions with enthralled locals. The initiative was accompanied by a radio broadcast which included activities that guided listeners to make basic astronomical instruments like a pinhole camera and a simple telescope. The project was later extended to further Gujarati locations and included quiz sessions and drawing competitions.
 
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Kathan works alongside his inspirational father, Abhay Kothari and a dedicated team at the Manthan Educational Programme Society which focuses on popularising science in India through folk and local mediums like toys, puppet shows and plays. For their 100 Hours of Astronomy project they settled on the camel cart exhibition concept due to cost, mobility and the added bonus that no food had to be provided for the camels as they snack on the foliage of local trees. (and I’m guessing their carbon footprint isn’t too bad either!)

Having extensive experience in the field of street science education, Manthan are continually exploring new avenues for educating and engaging young minds. Kathan reports that they are keen to look into promoting further scientific topics that make use of camel carts to access common people in their local communities. I was thrilled that one of the most popular destinations for the exhibition was the slum at Gulbai Tekra where I have photographed extensively and enjoyed many festivals from Uttarayan to Diwali.
 
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Kathan was invaluable when I was living in Ahmedabad, patiently translating for me on projects such as my Indo-centric Typo-centric and Glocal Cola research plus my collaborative exhibition endeavours with Indian street painters. Every time I learn more about the uplifting and significant projects carried out by Manthan I hope that one day that it will be me that has the honour of assisting him and his father in some small way in their incredibly meaningful and highly relevant work.

The UNESCO supported International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global tribute which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The central theme of the year long program is The Universe, Yours to Discover. A former student of mine from the National Institute of Design in India, [...]