Category Society

Conejo en la Luna – A socially-driven enterprise

Conejo en la Luna is a company that sells artisanal food products, made mostly by women who work in rural parts of Mexico. My work with this project was to design the visual identity, packaging and other communication products for the company.

The brand positions the product with other gourmet products, and communicates the social mission of the company: to bring the products made by small producers to larger markets, where their products can be bought at higher prices. Part of the sales are invested into training programs that ensure the producers comply to quality standards.

Project website: conejoenlaluna.org

Advertising in cities: Learning from Netflix, Intel and Google

When it comes to the visual landscape of cities, advertisements and billboards have played an important role across the world. Take Times Square. It is the world’s most visited place. This New York intersection provides a spectacle to over 300,00 visitors and tourists who pass by everyday.[1] These signs, designed to insert brand names in our minds to increase sales, play a role as entertainment with their flashing lights and moving images. Times Square is an example of Robert Venturi’s “less is a bore” dictum. The more signs, the more entertaining.

Times Square

Times Square. By Terabass (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

In dealing with outdoor advertising, cities negotiate both sides of the visual noise spectrum, either relying on advertising to bring in tax revenue to the city, despite the visual saturation it produces. Park benches, bus stops, trash cans and even wifi kiosks, like in New York, are subject to being covered with advertisements. On the other hand, some cities have opted for a visually clean and ad-free urban environments, like Sao Paulo that in 2007 removed 15,000 billboards and 300,000 over-sized storefront signs, or Chennai, India that banned new billboards in 2009. [2]

no-advertising billboard

A “no-advertisement” billboard by Lead Pencil Studio, installed on the US-Canada border.

The attention people put on an outdoor billboard is now challenged by online ads, as more people have access to mobile devices with internet access. Whether riding a subway, or sitting through traffic, our attention throughout the day is grabbed by screens large and small, at work and while traveling.

Google continues to dominate the online advertising industry through ads placed on websites, search results and other Google products like Gmail and YouTube. Google, along with other websites that rely on advertising, like Facebook and Yahoo, have contributed to build an ad-based model for a great part of the online content we consume. If the world wide web had a physical representation, like a city, it might very well look like Times Square, except with a population of over three billion, the equivalent of the current number of people with internet access.

The City is the battleground of the values of the culture

—Max Lerner, 1958

Learning from Netflix: An ad-free world for cities is possible

Netflix is the 35th most visited website in the world.  In 2013 Netflix began producing its own shows, reducing the need to rely on third-party produced content. Every year Netflix commissions dozens of shows, documentaries and films. Its original content produced by world-famous directors, producers and actors. Since Netflix began streaming movies, it did so without any ads. All content is paid for by the fees paid by the 74 million users it currently has.

Cities that adopt a Netflix model would eliminate outdoor advertising altogether, and invest in cultural production that would in turn attract companies and retain the city’s talent. As urbanist Richard Florida proclaims, cities with a strong “creative class” attract talent and investment. Cities with a strong cultural agenda and tolerant to people of different cultures, sexual orientation, or viewpoints, are more attractive than cities without such an offer.

The piece “Perception” by Tunisian-French artist eL Seed spans over numerous brick buildings in Cairo’s neglected Manshiyat Naser neighborhood. (Photo: eL Seed; Image via egyptianstreets.com)

Learning from Intel: Collaborating with content creators 

While some public transit systems post poems and artwork on their advertising spots in subway trains and buses, much more can be done to output creative work in cities. What if cities followed the steps of Intel to create novel cultural projects? In 2009, Intel partnered with VICE to produce a series of events and creative works. Since the beginning of Creators Project, both brands have made possible 600 collaborations with artists involving the likes of Daft Punk, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Ai Wei Wei, Pharrell, and other innovators that combine art and technology. Intel has tapped into VICE’s experience curating content in order to deliver cultural projects that entertain millennials and adults all over the world.

If Intel’s Creators Project promotes the use of products that bear their computer chips to a young audience, then cities that follow their steps could partner with like-minded companies. If Intel appointed will.i.am as its director of creative innovation, then cities could also bring chief creative leaders into government. If the Creators Project reaches a global audience of over 85 million, then cities could promote their brand globally.

Learning from Google: Relevant information in the right place

The world’s biggest company has expanded its revenue year after year thanks to the growing rates of internet adoption across the world and the increase of mobile devices users. One of the keys in providing a successful service is Google’s relevance of search results, whether searching on a desktop, browsing maps or videos on a mobile device. What might cities be like if their outdoor advertising was run by Google? Would the aggregate preferences of people passing by in a given street corner, determine the type of ads that are delivered to that group of people, based on their tastes, surroundings or destination? The same billboards could at other times deliver information about the city’s services.

The way Google has managed to continue bringing in more cash is not by its ability to place ads on websites, but by deciphering the relevance and value that an ad has to its target audience. It is only a matter of time when we will see new developments in advertising, now experienced in small screens, brought to large screens in physical spaces. In public spaces, like Times Square, we might soon see advertisements  delivered by the aggregate interests of people passing-by at any given time. Or cities could tap into Google’s data to deliver relevant information: maps and information for tourists, reminders about the city’s services, invitations to government-citizen dialogues, statistical data about a city block, etc.

The conventional advertising model based on displaying a single message to as many people as possible is no longer the only, or even most effective model to promote brands or products. Cities will continue to be working experiments for how advertisements and cultural expressions intertwine. Cities can learn from Netflix the importance cultural production plays to add value to public life without the use of ads or billboards, creating a clean visual culture of their cities. Mayors can also learn from Intel as a model for collaboration with like-minded companies and how to promote a city to a global audience. Or following Google’s model of relevant advertising, cities could deliver the right messages to the right people in the right places.

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Notes:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Square

[2] Can cities kick ads? Inside the global movement to ban urban billboards. Arwa Mahdawi, The Guardian. August 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/11/can-cities-kick-ads-ban-urban-billboards

Book: Spanish edition of Do Good [Design], by David Berman

Haz el bien diseñando, the Spanish edition of Do Good Design, by David Berman, explores the ethical implications of communication design and the role designers play as accomplices in mass media production. The author has decades promoting social responsibility among design professionals and has been influential in the adoption of web accessibility legislation and ethical rules of conduct for design associations in his native Canada and internationally. In the first part of the book, Berman invites designers to question whether the things they design prompts people to do good things or whether they help craft visual lies and biased messages that incite irresponsible consumption.

In his book, Berman argues that by designing marketing campaigns, ads and packaging, designers play a crucial role in influencing people’s decisions. He presents several examples of posters, ads, found street signage, packaging and billboards from his trips across different continents. These examples act as short visual literacy lessons that shed insights on major brands’ messaging tactics: How children incidentally recognize the cartoon character behind Camel, the famous cigarette brand, more easily than Mickey Mouse; how sex and the female body are used to sell water, magazines, phones, servers and even political campaigns; how Coke is the world’s second most recognized word after OK, among many others.

“We live in a time where it’s easier to leave a more influential legacy popularizing our ideas than spreading our genetic material” — David Berman

The book presents a plethora of examples that demonstrate how communication design can have a big impact. One of the more famous case studies is the design of the US presidential election ballots in 2004 that affected the election results that put President Bush in power. Or how the design of tabulated sheets, designed by Herman Hollerith to compensate for his cognitive deficit, led to the invention of computing and the founding of IBM. Designing for the extremes, or for people with all cognitive or physical levels of dexterity and visual cognition is a strategy that creates better products that function for everyone, explains Berman.

Toward the book’s final pages, several tips and practical advice for designers to “do good” at a strategic level: To consider cultural, social, environmental and financial sustainability at the beginning of each project; to commit to the design profession and join professional associations,  implying these organizations require a minimum ethical commitment from its members, just like doctors and lawyers abide to certain rules of conduct; to donate 10% of our time to worthwhile causes on a volunteer basis.

This well-researched and visually compelling presentation is a thought-provoking call to action for all designers, not only communication designers. The book’s marginalia includes brief case studies of design professionals who are already “doing good” in their own work. Rather than providing answers, the book invites designers to create their own solutions based on their local context.

Five organizations that promote sharing

FIVE-ORGANIZATIONS

What does it mean to love in a capitalist modern society? Philosopher Yann Dall’Aglio asserts that the contemporary man lives in a constant state of anxiety where his value is constantly being negotiated and embraces a consumerist lifestyle in order to remain desirable.  See Dall’Aglio’s Ted Talk on Love.

While consumerism and material wealth accumulation is expected from a capitalist society, concentration of wealth in a few hands has an overall negative impact on society. At a time when 1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25-a-day, it is a moral imperative that those at the bottom of the economic ladder have the same access to wealth creation than the rest of the world.¹

Ever since the creation of Creative Commons licenses, peer-to-peer networks have allowed the average person  to share everything from cars, to skills and technology. Worldwide, the sharing movement has gained momentum and is redefining the way communities are strengthened, economies developed, and governments made accountable.

Five organizations seem to be paving the way for a wealth creation model based on sharing, not greed, and proving how access to products and services, trumps ownership, as Lisa Gansky has stated.

1. Social Coin

Barcelona-based Social Coin began as an experiment in generosity, promoting acts of kindness. After one year, they sparked 150,000 generous acts in over 100 countries. Their online platform allows companies and their staff to volunteer on various projects, while measuring their social impact. City governments can also collaborate with the civic sector on community-driven projects.

2. P2P Foundation

Founder Michael Bauwens is one of the intellectual minds behind this Dutch foundation whose goal is  to bring together ideas, research, people and the latest thinking on the emerging potential of commons networks. Follow their Twitter account for some stimulating thinking and ideas on peer-to-peer production.

3. Peers

Peers brings together a comprehensive listing of companies that provide income-generation opportunities for individuals. By sharing a ride, a house, or professional skills, Peers encourages its users to organize their work around their lives, not the other way around.  Its online-based platform allows people working with its partner companies to get health benefits plus life and accident insurance.

4. Shareable

This news website is a go-to source for learning about the latest news on commoning and peer-based initiatives. Its co-founder, Neal Gorenflo, has many years of experience in sharing-based initiatives, helping cities become Sharing Cities. Their website has a comprehensive toolkit for sharing, and over 50 maps of cities, that help people connect with local businesses and organizations.

5. Sharetribe

Sharetribe is a web-based service that allows anyone to create a marketplace for sharing or selling items in their local community. For people wanting to borrow or lease tools from a neighbour, or mothers looking to sell or donate baby clothes, Sharetribe takes care of the technical aspects, letting people to focus on their community-driven stores.

 

¹ “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016”. Published January 19, 2016. Accessed: January 25, 2016. https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016

Blake Mycoskie: Lessons on giving and being grateful

TOMS, the socially-conscious apparel company known for its policy that gives kids in need a pair of shoes, recently announced the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund. Through this fund, a group of eleven social enterprises will receive investments. Among the first group of companies supported by this fund are Change.org, the social change online platform; Andela, an African software development and training startup; and Ava, an application that allows the hearing-impaired to be included in group conversations through an application that transcribes what is being said among the group.

Blake Mycoskie, Chief Shoe Giver and founder of TOMS, launched this fund after selling half of TOMS private equity. Mycoskie has used a One for One strategies as a core business strategy. Each product line is paired with a set of life-improvement tactics. Its eyeware products ensure eyesight-recovering surgeries. Roasted coffee purchases support safe drinking water projects. Bags help fund safer birth deliveries and training.

As a supporter of an ecosystem of  socially responsible businesses, TOMS also hosts an online marketplace, where different companies can sell their ethically-produced apparel and accessories. Last year, Mycoskie joined the B Team, positioning him as an inspiring leader seeking to affect change among young company founders and companies. Inspired by Lester Brown’s Plan B book, and the B Corp movement, Team B is a group of business and world leaders implementing new ways of doing business: creating thriving businesses and communities that are net-zero energy, transparent and collaborative.

Leading up to its ten-year anniversary, Mycoskie’s new year resolution for 2016 is to show more gratitude.

How we touched the lives of 16 people and 1 dog in one hour

This month we went on a giving spree. In one hour and armed with 100 pesos per person (about six US dollars), six people from our team headed to the streets around our Mexico City office. Our goal was to reach out to as many people as we could who needed some kind of support.  We broke into three teams. Team 1 (Dania and Fernando) soon went to glorieta de insurgentes where many homeless youth hang out.

They bought lunch kits (sandwiches and bottled water) and handed them out to seven hungry teenagers who started eating right away. Team 2 (Nancy and myself) were buying popsicles from an older man who sells candy on Reforma Av. to supplement his income. We then headed towards Team 1 and also bought six lunch kits. We handed three lunches  teenagers who didn’t get a lunch from Dania and Fernando’s team.

Our team then met a blind teenager. We asked her if she needed help. She asked us to describe to her what we saw around us. Then she asked to be escorted to the bus station, which we did. She had eaten already but gladly took a sandwich and a drink from us.

We then spotted an older lady who looked around 90 years old. Her skin was dark like she’d spent most of her daytime out in the sun. By her plain checkered blue dress she looked like she lived most of her youth in a rural part of Mexico. She’d just come out of the public toilets and before Nancy finished her sentence offering a lunch, she quickly grabbed it and gently smiled at us without saying a word and kept going.

We also ran into an older man crossing the street. He was limping from his right leg. His shoes with no socks or shoelaces looked liked they’d been used for decades. We talked to him and said he was heading to his house about five kilometers away. He told us most of his income comes from begging on the streets and the rest comes from his government pension of around 1,000 pesos (less 60 dollars per month). Team 3 (César and Miriam) decided to feed street dogs. They bought dog food with their money and walked around looking for dogs, but only found one.

They gave him a small pouch of wet food that disappeared right away. With 80 pesos left we headed to Pixza, a restaurant that donates every sixth slice of pizza it sells to teenagers who are living on the streets. The manager told us they don’t receive cash donations but they encourage people to treat themselves to a pizza knowing eventually one will be donated to someone who can’t buy one. Their program ensures teenagers do some form of community work and get job training in order to receive the support from the restaurant. All the waiters employed at Pixza are former street youth. 

What we learned from this exercise: It was a very touching experience for many of us. We had a chance to speak to people we normally ignore on the streets. Just asking if they need anything, or offering help opens up a conversation we wouldn’t have had otherwise. While the lives of those 16 people probably didn’t change from our quick exercise, it encouraged us to not be fearful and approach others who might need help.

Sustainable economic development assessment (SEDA)

Since 1934, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the single metric used to evaluate countries’ progress. This year, the Boston Consulting Group created a new progress evaluation system called Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA). Based on 50,000 different types of data points publicly available in areas like health, environmental protection, and freedom of expression, and grouped in ten different categories, SEDA measures people’s well-being, not only their country’s economic output.

 

 

SEDA

In their third SEDA edition 140 countries were compared. Poland showed a stronger sustainable growth than China. The European country performed well in employment, governability, civic society and the environment. Its Asian counterpart, showed a strong economic growth. However, it has one of the lowest scores in environmental protection.
Out of the top ten highest ranking countries, with the exception of Singapore, all are European countries. These top countries have been capable of turning economic gain into tangible benefits for their population. Countries like Mexico and the US fell behind other countries in their capacity to create progress for their citizens.