Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Think about it.

A design podcast I recently discovered has been keeping my mind occupied at work. The episode I listened to yesterday was an interview with Milton Glaser, the designer of the famous NY graphic. The discussion was about ethics, a topic I wasn't expecting for a design show. Glaser's passion for ethical design challenged many of the ideas I've adopted just because they're popular, not because I've actually thought through them and formed a conviction.

One of his life convictions is to avoid promoting or participating in things that harm a human being in any way. I think most of us would agree that this is good and right. And then he got practical. As a designer, he must decide what sorts of jobs he's willing to accept and which he's not. Can he in good conscience design a campaign to market a food product to children that is high in sugar and low in nutrients? Can he design for a dieting method he knows won't work? What about companies that in some way use child labor? Can he design ads for cigarettes, knowing the product does only harm to its consumers?

He asked a group of design students if they would work with a company that used child labor, and of course they immediately said no. He then asked if they would design a campaign for cigarettes, and many of them said they would. He presented the question another way: what if that child has no other way to make money, so although he makes a brutally unfair wage, is it better for him that he have no work, or work at little income? And then there's this unfriendly fact: according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. It takes an estimated 400,000 American lives every year. That's tangible evidence. Why would we more readily support something that directly caused someone's death?

Milton Glaser believes it's the popularity factor. His point was that we like to appear to have compassion. We like to be trendy and appear to care about today's moral, ethical issues. But when you find someone who would refuse to design something for a company who uses child labor but would willingly design graphics to sell a product that would directly cause someone's death, a thinking person must realize that these don't match up. So then, how many of our so-called convictions are for appearance's sake? Do they really hold up when we stand back and look at them with a thoughtful, objective eye?

Social justice is a huge trend for young people, and I think this is an important thing to ask ourselves. Why do we want to be involved in social justice? Do we truly care about people? If I support a child who lives in Swaziland but don't think to give food to my neighbor who can't pay his bills this month, do I really care about people? Or do I just like having Swazi girl's picture on my refrigerator and patting myself on the back when I see it?

This has challenged me to look for pretense in my convictions and to replace it with substance. To be aware of what's really happening and not take pop culture's word for it. Glaser has written 12 Steps on the Road to Hell for Graphic Designers, and they're presented well in this video. Most of us aren't graphic designers, but all of us are faced with decisions that could help or harm someone else, so what are we all about, really? Think about it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm in Love

Something has come over me and I can't stop it. Colorado -- everything about it -- is suddenly irresistible. It's a place where the adventurous soul can find a home. I suppose life itself could be exhilarating anywhere if you're the "bloom where you're planted" type, but simply seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and touching Colorado is an experience unlike anywhere else I've been.

Two years ago, fresh out of Los Angeles, I considered myself a city girl and felt so out of place among the primitive mountain folk. I owned a lightweight J. Crew jacket, a few breezy tees and some heels. The most "Colorado" thing I owned was my pair of running shoes. Of course I still enjoy cultural things, of which Colorado happens to have plenty, but now, nine times out of ten, I'd rather climb rocks than go to a fancy dinner. Snow season is here and I'm excited beyond my wits to learn how to ski and/or snowboard. I'm even wearing my snow hat (with a puff on top) as I type this.

Colorado has been described to me as a state full of independent, individualist people who can never relax and just "be." First, please define 'relax', and second, there's something missing in that statement. We are a state full of independent, individualist people who like to do almost everything with other independent, individualist people. The active mountain lifestyle builds a community around the activities themselves, and that's what unites us. In L.A., you had to have the friends before you could do the stuff. Here, you do the stuff to find the friends, which then leads to doing more stuff...together. Voila.

And more than that, this is the place I am most often reminded of the beauty and intelligence of my Creator. Every single day when I open my front door and step outside, I'm astonished by what I see. It's unfathomable that the One who created such a magnificent place knows my name, let alone puts air in my lungs and gave His life so that I could live.

"The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory." psalm 97

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bad Wheel

To write often and to write well, one must be disciplined. Hence, the last post was over ten days ago. I've not been a disciplined writer lately. I've been a rockclimber instead. There are plenty of stories I could write about from the last two weeks, but whether or not I should -- for all the world to see -- is the question. 

The truth is, the only writing worth reading is honest writing, and I haven't wanted to be raw and honest for the last little while. It's hard, dadgummit. That's a writer's job: to think about life, describe it in honest detail and try to make some sense of it all. 

There are times that life seems more like an assembly line of perfectly synced parts and demands little reflection. Other times, one or two parts jump off their track or tucker out and require some attention, and sometimes the whole machine smokes, screeches, and shuts down for repair. Time to reboot. 

You know the grocery cart with one bad wheel? That's life right now. But you know, it's times like these that really make you stop and ask yourself important questions. What am I doing?  Why? I'm learning that quality relationships take a lot of maintenance. I'm learning that every interaction I have with someone sets the tone for our friendship. Every single interaction -- every word, every look, every action. I've felt a heavy weight of responsibility over this, because I'm aware of times I took this responsibility far too lightly and it will take hard work to recover. 

I also don't recall ever being more aware of the reality that the only reason we love anything at all is because God first loved. The capacity to love comes from Him. That's why relationships matter. Were it not for God and the love, forgiveness, grace and mercy we have so abundantly in Him, I don't know where the motivation to work through difficulty would come from. He is a refuge in time of weakness. His joy is our strength. 

He is my only hope, my anchor, and when we're weary, that's cause for rejoicing.

In other news, I've decided to allow comments again. I removed all comments because I read somewhere that you should hide comments until you have several hundred readers a day (because no one wants to read a blog that no one else thinks is worth commenting on). Oh my. My hair will be gray by then. Life is too short for that! It's no fun to write when friends can't comment. I don't write for the hundreds, I write for you and me. So feel free to comment, and feel free not to. But at least you have the choice. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

First Local Pick: Word on the Street

Alright, if I'm tired of writing "First Local Pick," you're certainly tired of reading it. Especially if you're not a local. This is my last post for the locals, but it's the post that keeps on giving. It's about a website (and no, that's not cheating). Colorado Springs folk: if you haven't perused peakradar.com, you must. It's the best source for everything cultural in town. Who knew Colorado Springs had a First Friday Art Walk? Peak Radar did. It will tell you when the Harlem Globetrotters will be in town, where to see the best local musicians, and has a good collection of free events.

If you're new to the "exploring your hometown" idea, peakradar is a great place to start. To bargain hunt your way around town, sign up for daily discounts at sites like livingsocial, groupon, and Gazette Deal of the Day.

Wherever you are, start exploring. If you think your town is boring and mediocre, I challenge you to make it different. We all contribute to the culture we live in, so find something to enjoy and enjoy it. If you're convinced there's nothing to enjoy, then plant a flower outside your front door and call it a day. The End.