A Week of Engagement in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

As part of my research and engagement scholarship, I attended the 2018 Engagement Scholarship Consortium in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past semester. The conference supports a range of engagement research that focuses on university-community partnerships—partnerships that build and strengthen diverse communities for residents.

The types of projects represented at the conference cross many boundaries of specialties from conserving environmental and cultural landscapes, to fostering economic development and/or improving healthcare for citizens, to higher education reform and service design collaborations in the classroom. Academics and professionals from many disciplines, beyond design, including architecture, communications, social sciences, and humanities, participate in the conference.

The event was hosted by the University of Minnesota from Monday, Oct 1 — Wednesday, Oct 3.

This was also my first time visiting Minneapolis and Minnesota, so while I was not at the conference, I made an effort to explore the city. On Monday morning, before the new attendees “meet and greet,” I took a long walk from downtown to the uptown area. I walked along the Loring Greenway for a mile or so and then followed Hennepin Ave toward the Lake of the Isle and Bde Maka Ska Parks

I stopped for lunch at Lake & Irving Restaurant & Bar in the trendy uptown area to catch up on some work and eat lunch. I had my first Minnesota craft beer, an IPA, from the Surly Brewing Company.

I also spent a few hours of the trip visiting museums in the area. Tuesday evening, I visited the Walker Art Center, which was hosting the exhibition, Siah Armajani: Follow This Line, a collection of work by the Minneapolis-based artist Siah Armajani. The show spans six decades of work—”from Persian calligraphy to the manifesto, letter, and talisman; from poetry to mathematical equations and computer programming; from the Abstract Expressionist canvas to the vernacular architecture of rural America, Bauhaus design, and Russian Constructivism.”

On the last evening of the trip, I joined others at the Mill City Museum for the ESC conference reception. The museum, located on the Mississippi River front, tells the story of how Minneapolis became the flour milling capital of the world, a title it held from 1880 to 1930. A beautifully renovated historic building, the museum was the perfect location to celebrate a week of engagement. 


Horn Island 34: A Personal Mindquest to Meet the Magic Hour, Let go of Distractions, and Coexist with Nature

Horn Island 34 was many things for me.

It was a chance for me to reconnect with real wilderness camping, adventure on the island, hike, swim, kayak, survive storms, sketch, read, write, photograph, bird watch, alligator “hunt,” and occasionally spot sharks. It was a chance to make nature-mediated-art and search for/document inspiring natural forms and patterns in the landscape.

And in some ways that I did not expect, it was a personal mind quest to meet the magic hour, let go of distractions, and co-exist with the island. It was a chance for me to detach from technology, reprioritize my focus, and rediscover a new kind of independence that can only happen when you maroon yourself on an undeveloped island.

An unforgettable adventure, this was my first experience camping out on the island, but it was MCA’s 34th year making the trip out. Led by Don DuMont, my friend and colleague at MCA, the program follows the American artist, Walter Inglis Anderson, who spent the years between 1946-1965 drawing and painting the landscapes and life on the island.

We spent 9 days on the island, one day shorter than planned because of a tropical storm. In the evenings, Don would read passages from Walter Anderson’s journal. In this spirit, I’ve included a collection of some of my journal entries, photographs, and videos from my experiences living on the island.

The Arrival

The island’s landscape is striking with long stretches of white sand and rolling dunes, contrasted with dramatic shadows. The sun is hot and bright, reflecting off the water and sand. Shade is scarce, but there is some natural shade that provides refuge from the sun. Tall pine trees, palmetto bushes, cacti, and small groves make up most of the greenery on the island. In some vantage points, the landscape feels rich with lush greens and blues (mostly inland by the lagoons), but in others, it feels starkly different, with an isolated-apocalyptic vibe with limbless dead trees, driftwood, and sticks.

I arrive on one of the last boats to the island and begin to set up camp. I find a spot tucked away from the shoreline between two large dunes off of the lagoon with a nice north/south breeze. A thunderstorm in the distance keeps me motivated to set up my shelter before doing anything else. I fill garbage bags with sand to secure my tent. In the end, twelve sand-filled garbage bags secure my tent to the ground. It is hot and the sun is strong so I go for a swim to cool down. I join the others at basecamp to sit in the shade and relax for a bit. After some time, I go back to my tent for a nap.

The Shore

Sitting by the ocean, I watch the tide come in and out. Along the shoreline, interesting patterns emerge from the tide, creating dynamic, overlapping contours in the sand. Thin strips of seaweed exaggerate these marks, adding contrast and depth. These patterns catch my attention and I consider how they might translate as dynamic digital renderings and 3-dimensional forms.


The Thunder Storm

The thunder and lightning start over the mainland, across the sound. It looks like it is hitting Pascagoula pretty hard. The sun sets, red, pink, and orange. We watch it disappear behind the horizon. The lighting keeps the skies lit up. We sit on the beach at basecamp and watch. It’s like a strobe light, making it difficult to focus. Hard, fast, strikes hit the earth and water. It stays warm and dry on the island with soft winds coming from the north. After a few hours, the wind stops and the temperature drops quickly. The storm is coming. We disperse and brace ourselves.

The wind picks up from the north. The front side of my tent is pushed inward, at some points, almost flat against me. I hold it up, hoping my tent doesn’t buckle under the weight of the wind. The storm moves closer and soon it is right above me. The wind feels less severe, but then the lighting comes. Loud blasts. I can tell the strikes are close. I hold my breath, but relax as I remember that this soon will pass. As it does, the wind picks up from the south but the thunder softens. I start to drift to sleep, in and out. I’m not quite adjusted to my new home, but I trust my tent and so I rest.

The First Morning

I didn’t sleep well the night before. I’m still adjusting to all the new sounds on the island. I wake up early, with the sun, to cook breakfast and make coffee. I make breakfast and coffee most mornings on the island and enjoy the quiet time. Oatmeal, almond butter, trail mix, dried fruits and nuts, couscous, tuna. After some writing and sketching in my journal, I clean my dishware in the ocean, gather my things, and join the others at basecamp. When I arrive, I discover that the storm knocked down basecamp. It really was a pretty epic storm.

The Southside Excursion

I hike to the Southside today to discover more of the island and get a better sense of my surroundings. We stay close to the inland area first, stopping by the edge of a lagoon to see if we can spot any gators. There are two in the lagoon sunning. They aren’t too big, about 5 feet long. We watch for a while and then continue on, this time walking closer to the shore. There are many shells on this side of the island and the sand is darker, probably because this ocean-facing side of this island gets a lot more wind. Walking and exploring the island, we observe, discover, and contemplate the landscape, wildlife, and marine life. There are many birds—pelicans, ospreys, skimmers, and sandpipers are my favorites. We also see a lot of crabs on the shore. It is interesting to think about what nature can teach us about its rhythms, systems, and mechanics, and what it can teach us about ourselves, our relationships with ourselves and nature, and our relationships with each other.

There is a special shade tree that we hike to. We stay there for a while. We write, sketch, photograph, talk, nap. Time feels like it slows down on the island, but it feels pleasant. After the tree, we swim and play in the waves. The water is rougher on the ocean side, but it makes for fun swimming. That is, until, we spot a shark. We hike some more and start to feel tired so we head back to camp.

The Southside Again

We hike over to the Southside again today. We talk about the challenges of being mindful and present on the island, enjoying it and experiencing it, in the moment, but also being conscious of making recordings and documenting things. We follow a similar hike as the day before but this time, thinking more about documenting and recording what we see.

The tidal patterns in the sand look very different on this side of the island. They are more like dune shapes versus contour lines, with deeply defined edges and shadows. I take notice of the forms and patterns of the sand, comparing the landscapes of the north versus the south. Perhaps there is an interesting visual comparison I can create across the north side, Mississippi Sound and the south side, Gulf of Mexico that expresses the tide variations, water, and movement recorded in the sand.

The Island Miracle

I meet the others under the shade tree. What was lost has now been found. The island returns my hat. I lost it the day before, not sure at what point or when it happened, I was doubtful it would return. It washes up to shore not far from where we sit. It is an island miracle.

The Injury

I see an osprey perched over its nest and move closer to take a photograph. I step directly on a stick with bare feet. It stings, but I don’t think much of it. I notice later it is bleeding and I need to return to camp to clean and bandage it. My first injury. I hike an hour in the high sun to get back to my camp. It’s hurting now. I clean it, disinfect it, which stings pretty badly, bandage it, and wrap it with duct tape. I kind of feel like a badass.

The Day Trippers

The weekend weather is warm and sunny and sure enough, it brings the day trippers to the island on their motorboats, with their floaties, and their beers and their loud music. It’s a strange site after camping so primitively on the island, now for three days. I return from my hike, foot injured, to find a group parked directly in front of my tent. Annoyed, I walk up to my tent to find my first aid supplies to clean my injury in the ocean. Petty, probably, but I am bothered that they couldn’t find an open spot on the beach that was not in front of someone’s tent. Later, I think, this is the first time I really start to think of Horn Island as my Horn Island.

The Surprise

Each evening, we gather at basecamp for dinner. It is a time where we share stories, eat, relax, and enjoy the sunset. We finish dinner and watch the campfire. Later, some of us walk down the beach and regroup west of basecamp. There is a very welcome, very pleasant, very cool surprise for us. We hang out pretty late this night, chatting under the stars, sharing life stories, having some laughs. It is a great night with great friends.

The Lagoon

We take the kayaks out and paddle west toward the lagoon entrance of Garden Pond. The weather is beautiful, clear skies, and the water is still and blue. We reach the opening into the lagoon and it is very shallow. I can see straight to the bottom. There are many crabs and stingrays. We paddle through the narrow entrance and it quickly opens back up into a large pond. I am hoping we might see some alligators, but we do not. We paddle around the edge of the pond and through the center. The sun is flickering off the water. The landscape is very lush, blues and greens, and there are some good views of pines and osprey nests. We make our way back to the entrance area and find a sandy spot to dock and have lunch. We eat and then I spend some time scavenging for wood for an art project. I load up my kayak, pack up, and we head back to camp.

The Drawing Machine

I’m feeling a lot more acclimated to the island. It’s day five now. The day trippers from the weekend are gone and we have the island back to ourselves. I meet friends for coffee in the morning but leave early to finish building my wind drawing machine. Interested in exploring nature-mediated art making, I set up a large drawing machine that moves and makes marks on fabric via the wind. I finish installing the machine and plan to let it draw throughout the week. The machine consists of four wood boards, suspended rope, and markers attached by fishing line. Below the structure is a fabric canvas attached at four points with zipties and sandbags. Both the suspended markers and the fabric moves in the wind, making an interesting, a certainly festive installation. Happy with my work, I plan to let it draw while I go for a late morning hike.


The East Tip

I make it to the East tip of the island today. I walk along the north shore for about two hours, stopping here and there. The shoreline feels like it goes on forever. I pass by some friendly faces on the way. There is a wonderful breeze. Storms off the north and south shores keep the air cool. The sky is cloudy, which offers some shade from the sun. As I get closer to the tip, I walk through some inland water to make it all the way to the edge. There are many birds, so many birds that you can’t count. The pelicans land in a group on the very tip. I watch them fly around and land for a while. They are so graceful. There is a heron standing in an inlet body of water and I watch him for some time. He is funny. He has long legs and reminds me of a lanky teenager getting used to his new body. I sit down and eat some lunch on a log. It sounds like the storms are getting closer so I gather my things to head back to camp.

The Magic Hour

Walter Anderson describes the magic hour as the time of day where the sun would begin to set, the air would cool, and the sky would shine hues of pink and blue along the horizon. We describe the magic hour as the moment on the island where you begin to let go of your mainland attachments and priorities and begin to connect with the island. I notice this transformation today when I begin to feel more at home on the island, and no longer just a visitor to the island. Making my first hike alone on the island today, I start to see Horn Island as my own, and other distractions start to fade away. I feel less concern for time and feel more mindful in the present. I lose track of time. I appreciate the storms, the clouds, the sun, the birds, the ocean, the sand, the sky, the island.

The Walter Anderson Trail

It’s another hot day on the island. I skip breakfast this morning and go to basecamp for coffee. I pack snacks in my day pack and get ready for a morning hike on the Walter Anderson Trail. We pass the broccoli tree, cut across to the Southside and head west. We walk through the dunes that border the east-most lagoons. We see two alligators sunning. We walk around to another vantage point. On the shore, there is an alligator impression in the sand where one rested earlier in the day. We linger for a while and see four more alligators swimming in a row, following one another.

We continue west, walking up and down the dunes until we reach the shade tree. We stop for rest, water, and food. We continue on to find the trail, which is marked with a mustard bottle. We find the trail and begin to make our way through. The hike takes you inland and back to the north side. It is full of cacti, brush, and other greenery. Unlucky for us, it is also full of horseflies. They are everywhere and they are intense. Unfortunately, I fight the flesh-eating horseflies more than enjoy the scenery of the hike. Jogging, Flailing, Cussing. I try not to be so distracted that I step on a cactus or worse, a cottonmouth (which I know are back here).

When we return to the north shore, the ocean breeze blows away the remaining flies. We hike back east until we find a place to relax and swim.

The Downtime

Everything you do—the hikes, the meals, the baths—take a lot of time and energy to do. But, there is also downtime. And, on the island, it doesn’t consist of social media, texting, TV, and all those other mindless ways to spend time. On the island, downtime is for thinking, making, writing, reading, observing, napping, learning, and it is time well spent. I think a lot about how I spend my downtime on the mainland. Am I more productive with time on the mainland or am I just filling in the gaps with unfocused tasks? On the island, everything is focused, even downtime. At first, I feel like time moves slower on the island, but now, it feels like it is moving faster.

The Knife, Rope, Duct Tape Epiphany

I find a new sort of independence on the island. I wash and hang my clothes. I work on my tent. I make food and coffee. I gather water. I do these things at home, but not like this. On the island, the priorities are clothing, food, shelter, and money doesn’t help supply any of these things. Working with your hands, building and creating things, being self-sufficient is truly rewarding here. I learn some new knots, which I use in some of my island creations. On the mainland, I leave the house and think, phone, keys, wallet. Here, I leave my tent and think, knife, rope, duct tape.

The Headdress

It is super hot today. The hottest day so far, and it has been a very sunny, very cloud-free, very rain-free week, with the exception of a few evening storms. I’m tired of the heat, and it is hard to do much of anything today. I stay at basecamp most of the day and swim in the water. It is headdress day so I spend some time in a shady spot at basecamp working on it. I venture out for supplies, but the sand is burning hot, so I don’t go too far. I find some film-looking material. There are a lot of hermit crab shells on the shore, so I also pick up a small one. I collect some seashells, sticks, and other found items that look creatively promising and return to the shade. I start to build a headdress with rope, knots, and sticks, but it falls short of anything interesting. I look at the film and think about how I might make something like a veil. If I cut the film into short pieces, I could connect them with rope and duct tape. This is a slow process, but it is relaxing, untangling, cutting, and adhering. I work on this for a while and then fasten a rope around it that can tie around my head. I puncture two small holes into the crab shell and attach that to the center of the veil headband. It has a Wonder Woman feel to it. I love it. I wear it proudly.

The Grill

Today was hard. Did I mention that it was hot? It was so hot, above 100 degrees. We help make dinner and manage the grills. We are all pouring with sweat, standing over the hot grills, on this hot day, flipping Spam patties. At first it is a bit chaotic, but eventually, we get into a rhythm. Still, a sweaty rhythm. It is hard work.

The Pier

It is a little cooler today, but still warm and sunny. I wake up early for coffee. Some are going fishing today to feed the camp. The annual fish fry celebration is tomorrow night.

We take the kayaks out and boat to the pier. The pier is about three miles down the coast where the Ranger’s station is located. It is the furthest west that I have traveled on the north side. I would like to go to the chimneys but it is too far of a journey for an afternoon trip. We paddle close to the shore on the way toward the Pier. We make it there and plan to sit on the edge, but there is a piece of the Pier missing. I decide I’m not confident enough to balance-beam my way across and so we hang out at the base of the pier. We watch the sandpipers along the shore. We have lunch and make a return trip. On the way back, we are way out in the ocean, far from the shore. It feels amazing, open air, wind, dark waters. We make it back to camp and sit and talk and drink coffee.

The others return from fishing. They are back early. I hope they have caught a lot of fish, but wonder if they have caught very little and have given up for the day. They did catch a lot.

The Tropical Storm

The storms are rolling by in the distance. Over the last few nights, we have had more. There is a tropical storm moving in from Florida. They say that it will hit the island on Sunday. We venture over to the Southside after dinner. The air cools way down and the wind switches direction, a sign that the storm is coming. We hurry back to our camp on the north side.

The storm comes, but not until later. I wake up in the middle of the night from the thunder and lightning. My tent is secure and I feel safe. I fall back asleep to the sound of heavy rain. It is cool and comfortable, and I curl up in my sleeping bag for the first time the entire trip.

The Evacuation

I sleep in this morning because it is finally cool. It is the coolest it has felt all week and the rain is still falling. I lay in my tent a little longer. I finally get up and out of my tent. The rain sounds louder than it actually is. It’s only drizzling out. I walk to basecamp to join the others for coffee.

In the midst of learning how to make my first pot of coffee at basecamp, it is announced that we are being evacuated off the island. The tropical storm will be here tomorrow, Saturday, not Sunday. Everyone has to be off the island by 5pm today. The trip will be ending a day early.

The evacuation is slow. We do not see any boats for a while. We have some help bringing people and supplies over early, but our charter boats are delayed with other things. It is not until mid-afternoon that we have consistent transportation off the island. It is a lot of hurrying and then waiting. I’m still on the island, waiting. It will take at least another four loads surely, maybe five.

I’m sad to leave the island. I want to stay with my friends. Or, go down with my friends. Either way, I will take one of the last boats back. Last to arrive. Last to leave.

The Last 30 minutes

Everyone and most of our gear is off the island. I sit with friends, with the last of our gear, under the last of our shade tents. We are the last on the island. For this brief moment, I forget about the storm and want to stay. We have laughs and enjoy this special time together. I will miss Horn Island and my experiences here.

In one of Don’s evening talks, he says something that sticks with me. He says, This is Horn Island… this is my Horn Island… this is your Horn Island… this is our Horn Island.

I feel like I am part of something special.

The mention of we in my journal entries refers to my colleagues and friends who traveled with me on the island. Special thanks to Don DuMont, Adam Hawk, Joe Morzuch, and Remy Miller for making the experience so wonderful. 


A weekend in Michigan: Exhibitions, Robots, and MSU

A few weeks ago, I made my first trip to Michigan and traveled from Detroit to East Lansing to visit my collaborator, Rebecca Tegtmeyer at Michigan State University. She and I have been working together remotely since 2013 researching design collaboration & technology, and have been developing collaborative drawing robots since about 2015. You can see some previous posts about our research here:

Expanding the Robot Family: An update in collaborative drawing tools and speculating future design possibilities

Exploring the Wild and Weird on Vancouver Island with Design Inquiry

Since we published and presented work last year, we have been working on many types of technical upgrades to our drawing robots including enhancing movement and drawing capabilities through physical (hardware) and digital (software) development. We are also developing interface upgrades with new drawing functionalities. With so many new developments going on, this past year has been a divide and conquer sort of year, where the main goal has been to prototype and test as many new robots and drawing platforms as possible.

Sweet Tea, one of Rebecca’s new robots (built in collaboration with partner Tom Nelson), was recently featured at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in the MSU Faculty Triennial show. Sweet Tea is the first robot in the family to be featured in a gallery space and she can receive texts from museum-goers (and anyone really who has her number) and responds to them by drawing. Either forward, back, right, left, she responds to commands and draws on the canvas in real-time. The result becomes a series of collaborative drawings between all participants who engage with the project.

With some institution funding, I was able to travel to MSU for the opening reception, and we met with Michelle Word, Director of Education, Brian McLean, Manager of Public Programs, and Meghan Zanskas, Museum Educator: K–12 and Family Programs to discuss the possibilities of a robot workshop for the upcoming “Future Lab,” part of MSU Science Festival, focused on STEAM education.

During my visit, we also spent some time in Detroit and walked along the Riverfront Conservancy, looking across the river to Canada. We stopped in the historic Guardian Building to admire the art deco architecture and rode through Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project.

Research Travel

Exploring the Wild and Weird on Vancouver Island with Design Inquiry


Traveling to West Bamfield on Vancouver Island is no easy feat. The trip took two days, but well worth the journey. After flying into Vancouver on Friday evening, I met up with my robot-making design collaborator, Rebecca Tegtmeyer, and we took the Skytrain downtown to our hotel. Nick Liadis, a fellow Design Inquiry (DI)-er, met up with us Saturday afternoon (from Pittsburg), and the three of us caught the bus from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay to catch the BC Ferry to the island. We arrived on the east coast of the Island in Nanaimo. We were picked up at the port and driven to Port Alberni by our fellow DI hosts, Emily Luce and Rod Sayers who offered us a place to stay the night before we could make the last leg over to the west coast of the island. That evening, we were also joined by DI-ers, Dagmar Dahle, Hester Jiskoot, Lewis Nicholson, and Gwen MacGregor. The next morning, we all took the Frances Barkley from Port Alberni to West Bamfield.

We arrived in West Bamfield on Sunday afternoon.

We presented our research to DI-ers and shared the development of our collaborative drawing robot that fosters remote making in the physical space. We framed the work by thinking about how technology can act as a mediator between collaborators, and if we were completely limited to technical tools in remote collaborations, how could remote collaborators make physical artifacts together in real-time situations. Look for a future article post, where I will include some updated imagery, learnings, and outcomes of this research. 

On the island, and as a way to contribute to the discussions of the wild and weird, we thought it would be interesting to explore collaborative work mediated by nature. As it was the first time Rebecca and I actually met in person (we have been working remotely since 2013), we planned to work on site together and think about ways that nature might play a role in our collaborative design making activities. Our inquiries that led the making activities were: How can we speculate on ways to collaborate without technology? and How can nature be a mediator in our collaborations?

See also an article on Design Inquiry’s website.

We experimented with making our own ink and paper from found berries and pulp on the island. Rebecca explored photo manipulation from natural compositions found in the sand. I explored screen-printing by sewing natural found objects to paper.

For our main project, we created a (very lo-res) wind drawing machine that we set up on the shore of Brady Beach by the DI house. We hung mark-making tools from a tree above and allowed the wind to move the markers around on the fabric canvas that lay below. The wind drawing machine sat out at the beach for about 3 days.

During the week, we also participated in other DI-ers making activities.

And, we spent a lot of time on the shore. The landscape of the Pacific Northwest is stunning; we saw numerous orca whales, eagles, and wolves along the coast throughout the week.

Many thanks to my fellow DI’ers: Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Nick Liadis, Emily Luce, Rod Sayers, Dagmar Dahle, Hester Jiskoot, Lewis Nicholson, Gwen MacGregor, Anthony Hawley, and Tawney Lem. It was an incredibly memorable week; I feel so lucky to be part of the DI family and I hope to see you all soon.


Research Travel

Design, Dumplings, and Deities: A Week-long Voyage to Hong Kong

Last fall, I attended the Cumulus Conference in Hong Kong to present my work on an open model of community engagement in social design. The conference, hosted by HKDI (Hong Kong Design Institute) in Kowloon was five days long, including an opening exhibition and reception (on Monday), followed by three days of keynote speakers in the morning and paper presentations and workshops in the afternoons. During the evenings (and on Thursday and Friday), I also participated in a range of cultural tours and design activities. This article will touch on my experiences throughout the week—a really fascinating and unforgettable trip.

Side note: My final paper, “Design as Process, Artistic Interventions and Civic-minded Improvements as Artifacts: Applying an Open Model of Community Engagement in Social Contexts” was recently published in Cumulus Working Papers 33/16: Cumulus Hong Kong 2016 – Open Design for E-very-thing (pp. 304-311). Please check it out, if you get the chance. 

After registering for the conference on Monday, I visited the Open Design for E-very-thing Exhibition in the main conference room at HKDI. The exhibition, like the entire conference, featured design work across six tracks: education, empathy, ethnography, engagement, experiment, and environment.

The host institution, HKDI, provided a great venue space for the conference. The building is impressive in scale, form, and architectural surfaces. It was designed by French architects Coldefy & Associés, Architectes Urbanistes and “features a glazed box raised seven stories above the ground on four lattice-steel towers that rest on a sloping, grass-covered podium” (Amy Frearson, Dezeen, 2011). The large quad area in the center of the building provided a great space for networking, eating, and relaxing for a relatively large conference plus their regular occupancy. All of the presentations and workshops plus the main auditorium and exhibition space was well situated around this central area.

On Tuesday, the conference kicked off with opening remarks and two keynote speakers in the main auditorium—Hideshi Hamaguchi, an executive concept creator and strategist at Ziba Design (who spoke about processes of innovation and strategy in design), and Steve Leung founder and chairman of Steve Leung Designers Limited (who spoke about Eastern aesthetics). As I had never attended a Cumulus conference before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the quality of work that would be shared, but I was pleasantly surprised after listening to both of these talks. Hamaguchi (you should read his bio) is kind of a big deal.

My favorite keynotes from the conference included two of the final speakers on Thursday—Wang Min, professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China (who spoke about advancing technology and design education) and Patricia Moore, Industrial designer, gerontologist, author and president of Moore Design Associates (who spoke about design, empathy, and aging with a political twist and feminist perspective). Moore’s presentation may have been one of the best talks I have ever seen. I laughed, cried, and learned. She is an amazing speaker and storyteller with a lot of valuable knowledge to share.

Regarding the paper presentations, including my own, I mostly attended the design engagement and empathy track presentations. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see them all, but everything I did hear, I enjoyed. The work was astutely relevant and pointed and I’m looking forward to reading all the papers, now that the publication has been released.

Tuesday evening, I participated in a dim sum workshop at the Chinese Culinary Institute (CCI). This was a lot of fun and I’d recommend trying something like this if you have the time and interest. It was also a great opportunity to meet some of my design colleagues at the conference in a casual, fun setting.

The head chef put on quite the show, doing a demonstration that showed the process of making the dumpling’s stuffing and skin, and piecing them together. He also, effortlessly I might add, showed us how to make Chinese noodles by throwing them up in the air. Some of us tried to replicate this technique, but with no such luck (or grace).

We broke up into teams to make our own dumplings with some of the students of the institute, and we also received recipe cards and a sweet certificate of attendance that has officially titled me, “Culinary Ambassador.”

On Thursday, I went on a city tour with fellow conference goers in Hong Kong Central. The tour started with a visit to Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and most revered temples in Hong Kong. Filled with burning incense, the temple honors two deities: Man, the God of literature who is dressed in red and holds a calligraphy brush, and Mo, the God of War (or Marshall Arts) who is dressed in a green robe and holds a sword.

After the temple, we walked about a block to the first built road of Hong Kong since British colonization, Hollywood Road, then Sheung Wan and the Central SOHO area. We rode up the world’s longest escalator in Mid-levels, and also visited Jamia Mosque, also known as the Lascar Temple, which is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. One of the highlights of the tour included a visit to the PMQ, formerly Police Married Quarters, which was renovated and revitalized as a hub for creative and design industries. There was a wonderful design exhibition on view.

We finished the tour with a dinner at a floating restaurant in Aberdeen harbor. To give you an idea of where I am in the week, it is now Thursday and it is Thanksgiving night. I celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with colleagues from Poland, Germany, Italy, China, and England, and drank my first Chinese beer. What a night.

On Friday, I hiked part of the MacLehose Trail with colleagues in a tour group. The hike included beautiful views of Hong Kong’s skyline, among the greenery and wildlife (monkeys and birds in particular). The monkeys are prolific in Hong Kong, and our tour guide shared that they are often so bold that they will steal your cell phones right out of your hands, if you get too close. There was no food on the hike either, obviously, as the monkeys would certainly mess with you if you had any goodies.

The MacLehose Trail was recently selected by the National Geographic Society as one of the world’s best hiking trails. The 4-hour tour, led by a professional hiker, took us to Section 6 of the trail, which cuts across the Kowloon and Shing Mun reservoirs.

After hiking, we visited Lei Yue Mun fishing village, best known as a seafood paradise. I wish I could remember the names of some of the things I ate, but I really can’t. I can tell you, that I tried some things that I did not like, and some that I liked a lot. Everything looked new to me, and I love seafood, so there’s that too.

After twenty hours of travel, I found myself half way around the world. It was now Saturday, and time to return home but it was such a pleasure to experience a new place and be with design colleagues from all over the world. I leave you with some pictures taken from my hotel room in Kowloon. What an amazing week, full of design and culture.


Racconti dalla città bellissima di Roma, Italia

Traveling to Italy this spring may be one of the top 2017 highlights for the year. Between touring the city, eating Italian food, and escaping to Anzio Beach down the coast, we covered a lot of ground over the course of the week.

Touring the City: Rome’s Fountains, Churches, Piazzas and ancient Ruins
We arrived Sunday and first thing, on Monday morning, we did a bike tour of the city. For those of you that know me, I love biking so this was a great way to get to know the city and get some exercise in the process. We rode around the city for about 4 hours and covered about 16km, with stops for detailed explanations and short walkabouts around each site with our guide. (In case you are curious, biking in Rome was not scary at all and I felt safe the entire time with our guide.)

Our first stop on the tour was the Colosseum. Its massive size is nothing short of impressive. The site, of course, was home to the great gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. We returned to the Colosseum later in the day to tour the interior as well (this was a separate guided tour that lasted about an hour).

The next stop on the tour was Venezia Square where we saw the Trajan Column (noted by graphic designers for the roman capital letterforms found at the base; letterforms introduced by the Romans and still used today) and the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (also known as Mussolini’s Typewriter or The Wedding Cake), which is currently the home of a fine art and history museum. We stopped for an espresso (and to make a wish) at the largest Baroque fountain in the city, Trevi Fountain. There is a tremendous amount of classical sculpture and architecture in Rome. There are fountains and sculptures in every square and there is a square every block. The entire city is a museum. We continued past the famous Spanish Steps that connect Piazza di Spagna at the base of the staircase with Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top. We returned back to both of these areas for shopping and nightlife later in the week.

We adventured onward to The Pantheon, which literally means “the temple of every god.” The beautiful building is now a Catholic church, like most churches in Rome, but was once a roman temple. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Where the sun god stood, underneath the center of the oculus, a beam of light enters, almost functioning like a working sun dial. Located around the sun god, on the inside perimeter of the rotunda, stood 12 other gods. Now there are Christian frescos, alters, and sculptures that occupy those spaces. The interior is stunning and many other domes, including ones found in the Vatican, are modeled after this building.

Next, we visited two plazas that were my favorite spots in town that we would visit again for dinner and drinks. The first: Piazza Navona is home to some of my favorite fountains in Rome, one of which is pictured as the feature image of this article. The plaza is a rounded-rectangular shape with the fountains and sculptures in its center. The main street of the plaza used to be a track and hosted many roman races.  The second: Campo de’ Fiori, also known as the executioner plaza, is where a famous philosopher, Giordano Bruno was burned alive in the 1600s for believing that the planet was not flat, nor the center of the universe. It is the only plaza in Rome that does not have a church. Instead, there is a sculpture in the center of the plaza (quite daunting actually) dedicated to Bruno as a martyr to freedom of thought. It faces the Vatican directly. The inscription on the base reads: A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE (To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned).

We crossed the Tiber river into a trendy neighborhood called Trastevere. The neighborhood includes a beautiful church, Trastevere Santa Maria, which we stopped and toured the interior briefly. After which, we crossed back over the river and walked by Portico di Ottavia and Theater of Marcellus. We cycled up the (one and only) hill on the tour, to Capitoline Hill. There we had an excellent view of the Roman Forum below us.

Day Trips Outside of the City: Aqueduct Park & Anzio Beach
On Tuesday, we took the subway outside of the city to Parco Degli Acquedotti and walked the trails through the ancient remains of the roman aqueducts. The aqueducts brought water to the bathhouses of the city center.

After the conference (yes, I did attend a conference too; I’ll be posting a follow-up article specifically about the conference and my research soon), on Friday, we took the train (3,5 euro) to Anzio Beach, taking in some lovely countryside on the way, and enjoying the relaxing, non-touristy beach town. Actually, if you are looking for non-touristy things to do, both Anzio Beach and Aqueduct Park may be perfect spots for you.

Let’s Talk About Food:
Per my normal start to any vacation, I eat pretty regularly to how I would normally eat, paying attention to things like portion sizes and macronutrients for each meal. But, it didn’t take long before I started saying yes to the post-dinner dessert and espresso fourth meal. I had the best coffee, wine, tiramisu, and cheesecake while in Rome. Luckily, we were walking miles across town every day so I didn’t bring any extra pounds home with me, miraculously. If I had to choose, I would consider my dessert choices to be the best, but as you might suspect, the pasta and pizza choices were a close second. I had some of my favorite foods right away, the carbonara, a delicious cream sauce pasta dish cooked with egg and lard (ya, it’s good), a classic lasagna, and a killer “dried beef” pizza with rocket salad (dried beef is sort of like a salami). At the end of the week, I tried a few different seafood pasta dishes. I enjoyed the clams, mussels, and shrimp pasta; it was tossed in a red sauce and tasted light and fresh. Ray tried swordfish at Anzio Beach, which was very good and I tried a fish ravioli (it was a little too fishy for me). I think the seafood was good in Italy, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite thing I ate (no contest to the tiramisu and carbonara). At the end of the day, my seafood preference is still Atlantic (New-England seafood) and Gulf shores seafood.

Navigating the City:
The metro was a great way to understand the basic layout of the city. It was very easy to navigate, helping us find the places and sites we were looking for (especially with my not-so-dependable GPS connection). A 24-hour pass was 7 euro, which included all city public transit in and around Rome. We also enjoyed walking the city, as most of the places we were visiting were within a couple miles of each other. That being said, we did get lost and turned-around quite a bit (probably at least once/day) while on foot, so a map is a must. I blame this on the old-style city planning layout systems and curvy, round-about streets and plazas. When we thought we were walking in one direction, the road would twist around and we would be walking in another direction. After one week, I had a pretty good sense of where everything was, generally speaking, but I probably needed one more week to get a better sense of walking orientation and landmarks. Still, it was so fun. I would recommend a lot of walking and riding the metro to get your bearings around town. And, the good news is public transit is cheap (because that plane ticket was not).

The Duke Hotel Review:
In short, I would not recommend staying at this hotel for a few reasons, but I have also listed some of the pros in an effort to be objective. Pros: The room was comfortable with a nice bathroom and tub. It was slightly warm and stuffy, with less air circulation than I am typically used to, but this is not uncommon for European cities and there was a bay window that we left open for fresh air. The included breakfast was great—eggs, bacon, oatmeal, fruits, pastries, coffee­­, the works. But, there was no coffee machine (or electric kettle for instant coffee/tea) in the room (this was a first for me and I travel quite a bit; I don’t think this is common in Europe, but I could be wrong). Although not a deal breaker, this was a huge negative for me.

Cons: I was very unimpressed with the customer service regarding the concierge staff. Most of them were not well-informed, helpful, or friendly. After a week of continuous disappointment, we finished our trip frustrated with the hotel, right up to the moment of reserving a cab for the airport ride to go home, which was 20 minutes late and priced incorrectly. For a location that is less than ideal (and a shuttle service that they advertise, but is not helpful) and a price per night that is mediocre at best, I would not recommend staying here. There are much better neighborhoods in Rome that would surely compete with the Duke’s amenities, be comparable in price, be better situated in the city, and staff more friendly and approachable front managers and concierges.

If and when I return I would consider staying in Trastevere (my favorite neighborhood we visited, with the best walking scenery and dinner/nightlife choices), or somewhere near the Piazza Navona/Campo de’ Fiori plazas.

The Final Tour: The Vatican City museums and the Sistine Chapel
We only had one-half day left in Rome and so we decided to visit Vatican City to see the religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel, as you would imagine is breathtaking (no pictures were allowed to be taken in the chapel because it is a place of worship)—the paintings, tapestries, and sculptures in the museums are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Our guided tour ended in St. Peter’s Square, which is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Both the square and the basilica are named after Saint Peter, an apostle of Jesus and the first Catholic Pope.

What a wonderful trip to Rome. If we go again, there are two things that I would love to do that didn’t get to happen this time around. They are:

  1. Day trip to Mt. Vesuvius to hike the Volcano and Pompeii
  2. The creepy catacombs

New York, Design Incubation, The New School, College Arts Association, Cooper Hewitt Museum, Birthday parties, oh my

I love New York. An amazing city, always buzzing with people, and an infinite amount of things to do. Last week, I traveled to NY to present in a symposium with Design Incubation, my first experience with the organization, which turned out to be a great event. Hosted by The New School—Parsons, the presentations were structured in Pecha Kucha format, and the topics ranged from design education, game/app design, social design, data visualization, and others. My talk touched on resident engagement in community development projects. See more on this topic here: Design as Process—an open model for community engagement.

My friend and one of the co-creators of Design Incubation, Dan Wong introduced me to the organization. Dan and I have collaborated together in the past and it was great to participate in his design event and meet some of his colleagues.

The event was well timed with other festivities happening in New York as well. My good friend and someone I collaborate with often, Cotter Christian, recently relocated from Hong Kong to New York this past August in a new appointment at The New School—Parsons. He invited me to a critique with his interior design students who were working on an interesting project to design a hospice space for dying patients. They were just beginning the process of conceptual development and I was able to participate in this discussion, reviewing mood boards for three hospice concepts.img_20170216_123012

It was also Christian’s birthday last Friday, and we celebrated with Dim Sum followed by ice cream and some good-old-fashioned nightlife and dancing.

My trip also overlapped with the CAA (College Arts Association) conference, which is held in New York every other year, usually at the Hilton hotel in midtown. The conference brings designers, artists, and academics from all over, hosting presentations/workshops, a book fair, portfolio reviews, and other career development opportunities. Although I was not registered for the conference, I was able to meet up with my former professor, Liz Throop. She and I had lunch and talked about some new opportunities at Georgia State, my alma mater. I was also able to visit with some other friends who traveled for the conference—Colleen Fitzgerald, a photographer based in Massachusetts and Rebecca Tegtmeyer, another collaborator friend that I work with frequently, based in East Lansing, MI.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. They always have fantastic exhibits but I was very excited about two in particular—By the people: Designing a better America and the Process Lab: Citizen Design. Both exhibits highlighted the importance of design for good, design, democracy and citizenship, and design for social innovation, themes that are important to me personally and show up consistently in my research work.



A Photographic Logbook of our Fantastical Family Adventures in Scotland

At last, a summer trip abroad.

My husband, Ray and I traveled from Memphis to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit my sister, Aline who had been living there for the past year for work, and my brother-in-law, Shane who traveled from their home base, Philly to meet us there. It was our first family trip where we all traveled and met somewhere to vacation together. We were there for a week and spent the majority of our time in and around Edinburgh, with a couple of day trips mixed in; one to Glasgow and another to a nearby island, Inchcolm Abbey. We had more things on our to-do list then we could have accomplished in a week, yet we were still able to see and experience a great range of Scotland’s history and culture, natural landscape, architecture, art, shopping, and more. This article captures some of our stories from the trip, revealed through my personal lens: a day-to-day logbook of happenings and lots of pictures.

Saturday, July 9
The Transition Day

We arrived in Edinburgh at 10:00 am and took the train from the airport to city center to meet my sister for coffee on Princes and Hanover.

SIDE STORY: Our travel day was long, we experienced some complications connecting from Memphis to NY because of T-storms and were diverted to Hartford. But, luckily, since all the planes landing in NY were either delayed or diverted, our connecting flight to Scotland was delayed to accommodate us, and we were able to catch it just in time. 

After some coffee and snacks, we walked to her place off Easter and Bothwell to drop off our luggage and nap. That evening, we went to a trendy restaurant called Compass; I ordered an English gin and had the lamb for dinner. Afterward, we walked around the neighborhood, Leith by the waterfront. It was an early night after a long travel day.

Sunday, July 10
The Overview Day

I woke up Sunday feeling energetic and excited. We began the morning with brunch at Urban Angel, a very friendly establishment with casual dining and pleasant atmosphere. I highly recommend the food; we had Americanos, fresh-squeezed juices, eggs benedict, toast, oatmeal, and other yummy breakfast foods.

SIDE STORY: Servers rarely bring you a check unless you specifically ask for it. We quietly waited for the server to bring a check, and they patiently waited for us to ask for a check. We must have spent about three hours here, by accident really. 

After we were properly fueled, the day continued with a City Bus Tour (insisted upon by yours truly—I have a shameful, yet unapologetic desire to take at least one city tour in every new city I visit), followed by an informal walking tour of Edinburgh Castle, the Old City, and shopping on The Royal Mile.

Throughout the afternoon, I was particularly enthusiastic about the typography and signage around the city, not mention, the medieval-style architecture of the historic town. The city is, quite notably, dimensional, and when you walk down the street, you can’t help but feel totally immersed in the spatiality of the city. The streets are windy and narrow, and everything has a certain formal architectural quality that is hard to ignore.

FUN FACT: As you might know, J.K. Rowling wrote her famous Harry Potter series books in Edinburgh and was undoubtedly inspired by the unique city’s presence, culture, and architecture. Even the abundance of pigeons flying back and forth over the streets, from rooftop to rooftop,  felt like an obvious reference to the messenger-ing owls from the books.

Our favorite beer stop in town was Brewdog—I’d definitely recommend this if you like craft beers. We actually stopped by this pub a few times throughout the week. They have great pizza too.

Monday, July 11
The Glasgow Day

When we arrived in Glasgow, we walked from the train station to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. On our way there, we stopped at a pub for lunch and an afternoon beer. It was a tiny establishment with one thing on the menu for lunch: meat pie and beans. Perfect, it was a great small lunch to keep us fueled up for the rest of the afternoon. Onward to the museum, home of architect/designer, Charles Rennie MacIntosh, and designers/artists, the Macdonald sisters collection along with other famous pieces, Dali’s Jesus, Glasgow boys paintings, natural science/history of Scotland.

After we returned to Edinburgh, we met back up with Aline and Shane for dinner and drinks at The Jolly Botanist—a gin bar in Haymarket area of the city. Did I mention, gin is my favorite.

Tuesday, July 12
The Hiking Day

Scotish breakfast at home—haggis and scrambled eggs, yum.

We began the day with a hike to Arthur’s Seat. The summit is 251 meters high, located in the heart of the city, and offers some of the best views of Edinburgh, as it sits on top of the highest group of hills that make up Holyrood Park.

After the hike, we walked back down to the city shops on the Royal Mile. Aline bought some clothes from a boutique shop. I found a handmade ring and watch that I bought from local artists.

FUN FACT: We averaged between eight and ten miles per day walking, which is good, considering our family is big on eating and drinking, especially amplified when on vacation. 

We finished the day with drinks and dinner at Nobles Cafe. We tried “black pudding.” It was really good until I found out what it was. If you don’t know, google it.

Wednesday, July 13
The Morningside Day

After a couple busy days in a row, we thought it would be nice to do a casual, relaxing day walking the Morningside area of the city and checking out the Arboretum, Royal Botanical Garden 

Thursday, July 14
The Ferry Ride Day

Today was a day trip to Inchcolm Abbey. This may have been one of my favorite outings, perhaps because first, it was an absolutely gorgeous day in Edinburgh, and clear and sunny days are rare in Scotland, and second, because we had an outdoor activity planned that included a ferry ride (with beers) on the water.

SIDE STORY: Edinburgh is a great place to visit in the middle of the summer. The days are long; sunrise is at 6 AM and sunset is close to 11 PM. But, it rains almost every day and it is common to experience gray, overcast days with light rain misting. It is a good idea to wear a light rain jacket every day as you adventure around the city.

We traveled to North Bridge, a famous engineering feat.