Q&A: 4th Street Bikeway Project

[Today: The return of guest Q&As to Murketing.com. This one comes from Nate Schulman, a master’s student at California Institute of the Arts. He brought to Murketing’s attention a recently completed graduate thesis project that you can read about below. More about Murketing.com Guest Q&A’s, and how you can submit ideas of your own, here. Take it away, Nate.]

We all know about things like customizable shoes or DIY silk-screening outfits, which charge and assist you in the co-creation of “your” product. But those examples of “collaboration” are more about an end product than an end system. A thesis project by Joseph Prichard of the MFA graphic design program at the California Institute of the Arts offers a look at a different form of collaboration: Working with cyclists on a mapping system for cyclists.

His 4th Street Bikeway effort created an informational graphics system for a Los Angeles bike route, and involved Angeleno bikers in the process. I had a class with Prichard, and what interested me about his project was that the end-user/consumer of the program he come up with had a role in its creation — but in a new way. And I had a few questions. Those questions, and Prichard’s answers, follow.

— Nate Schulman

Q: Tell me how this project came about. Those not in Los Angeles might be asking: “People bike in LA??”

A: It started out with the vague notion of wanting to design something that would address some of the transportation problems we have here in Los Angeles. I’m not an engineer or an urban planner, but I feel strongly that there is a role for graphic design in encouraging alternatives to car use in our city.

The initial idea was a speculative redesign of the signage for Los Angeles’ 4th Street bike route. The goal was to design a comprehensive system that would make the route more attractive to potential cyclists — something that would address the shortfalls of current signage and hopefully serve as a model for future route planning.

To create a system that really spoke to the needs of the cyclists, it was important to me that I have members of the cycling community contribute to the design process. To that end, I held a series of participatory workshops where I worked with local cyclists to determine the form and content of the final system.

As the project progressed, a second component emerged that came to be as important as (or more important than) the first. In addition to the proposed “official” signage system, I designed a set of tools and templates that would allow cyclists to easily create their own DIY bike route signage. My aim was to involve cyclists not only in the design of the system but also in its eventual implementation and expansion. By providing a set of open tools, my intention was to give people the ability to design for their own needs.

What was the most exciting moment of the process? Likewise, were there moments of panic (a true testament of a thesis ;0)? If so, how did you work through them? Read more

Guest Q&A: Buy-By Brian: Losing all, starting over, learning much

[Today Murketing.com brings you the latest guest Q&A, conducted by Ada Puiu, a senior at (or actually, I believe, a recent graduate of) the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Her earlier Q&As are here and here. More about Murketing.com guest Q&As here.]

I got my baby back, originally uploaded by BrokenStar57.

Imagine going to bed one night, waking up, and discovering everything you owned (from the sentimental to the practical to the luxury) is gone. This is exactly what happened to designer Brian Jones. After waking up on the day of his big life move from San Francisco to Chicago, Brian faced the harsh reality that the van sitting outside his home, filled with all all of his possessions, had been stolen while he slept. After trying in vain to recover some of his life, he decided to look at this tragedy as an opportunity — a way to reach a better understanding of what it means to be a consumer.

Since late-August 2007, the Buy-By Brian Blog (buybybrianblog.com) has been a virtual diary of every item Brian has had to purchase (and repurchase) in order to rebuild the material part of his life. Some things (like pictures or his work) cannot be bought back. But in the more than 100 entries he has written over the past 9 months, he has chronicled every non-disposable item he has bought, and has given his readers an insight into what factors influence his buying decisions (need/want, price, sentimentality, etc). In reading his entries, I’ve actually found myself becoming more aware of how much we consume as a culture, and how easy it is to fill our lives with “wants” rather than ‘needs’ – something I was always aware of as a business student, but rarely got the chance to see illustrated in a real-life way.

Brian was kind enough to answer some questions for this Q&A, giving a little more insight into what this project means to him.

– Ada Puiu

Q: If it’s true that “you are what you buy,” you’ve pretty much opened up your entire life to your readers. You even make a point of recounting things you’ve bought that may be out of the norm, or even embarrassing (the tweezers, for example). Have you noticed your buying habits change at all with everything being so out in the open?

A: Ha, yes. I debated with myself about the tweezers for a while. Surprisingly that’s probably the most personal thing I’ve purchased. That and all my readers know that I prefer briefs to boxers. A lot of the personal items people buy usually fall under the “disposables” category, which I decided in the beginning not to include in this project.

What the pluck, originally uploaded by BrokenStar57.

As terrible as it was to lose all that I did, it was extremely liberating. I actually don’t like buying things now. After seeing how simple and clutter-free my life can be, every purchase makes me feel that much more weighed down. However, this conflicts quite a bit with me writing a blog about the things I buy. Sometimes I actually feel like I should go shopping just because it’s been two weeks since I posted something.

How much of what you’ve bought has actually replaced what you used to have, and how much has been things you’ve always wanted but never got around to purchasing? Read more

Guest Q&A: The Shirt Project

[Today Murketing.com brings you the second guest Q&A, conducted by Ada Puiu, a senior at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Her first Q&A is here. More about Murketing.com guest Q&As here.]



Louise Ma and Richard Watts were both design/printmaking students at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York when the idea for The Shirt Project came to them, somewhere in the East Village in the spring of 2007. That idea was to “diagram the news, on shirts.” They were awarded the Rhoda Lubalin Fellowship later that year (an annual design grant from Cooper Union), and set out to produce 10 breaking-news shirts. For a $75 subscription (or, alternately, paying $15 per shirt), The Shirt Project provides 5 diagrammatic tees detailing a story that’s making news – for example, one charts the correlation between the declining US dollar and sunspot activity, while another points to just how little of the sun’s energy we’re actually utilizing.

Aside from clever graphic design, their aim is to reach those who may not always read the headline news. I find it really cool that you can raise awareness about Myanmar just by rocking a regular ol’ Jersey T. With 24-hour news channels, e-mail updates available from all major newspapers, and shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, all constantly increasing the flow of information and awareness, wearing a news item on a shirt in place of a brand seems like a logical step. I contacted Louise and Richard, curious about their inspiration and goals for the future with The Shirt Project. Below is our brief Q&A. – Ada Puiu

Q: What is your goal with these t-shirts? What was your inspiration?

Louise: There are a few goals. The main one is to inform people who may not pay much attention to the news or have the time to read newspapers. The T-shirt as a format presents some limitations, but also a lot of interesting ways of sharing information. So this experiment explores those different ways of story-telling.

As for inspiration, Rich was a Threadless subscriber — he was a big fan of their shirts. We actually had our first kiss while he was in his “Dog ate my homework” shirt. Our professor, Mike Essl, teaches a class at Cooper on information design, and that really got us hooked on maps and interesting educative visuals.

Q: How do you decide which news articles should be printed on your shirts? Read more

Guest Q&A: Davey Dance Blog

[As noted earlier, Murketing.com today brings you the first guest Q&A, suggested and conducted by Ada Puiu, a senior at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Take it away, Ada…. ]

I was introduced to the Davey Dance Blog by a friend, last spring. A 27 year-old Minnesota native, David Fishel came up with an idea involving a basic formula: historical monument, Canon Powershot, and an improved dance to a pop song. His first video was posted last March — leaning tower of Pisa to the Beatles’ classic “Don’t Let Me Down” — and 43 entries later, his dance blog has gained quite a following. (It sure spread like wildfire for a while among friends of mine). His most popular YouTube posts have topped 10,000 views. He also posts on Vimeo, and of course his own site, www.daveydanceblog.com. He’s been featured on a France 2 Channel program dealing with Internet celebrity, as well as in the New York Metro. And he’s even started spawning fan videos!

Personally, I love that he does what me and my friends have always wanted to do – dance our hearts out to our favorite songs, in public. Plus, I tend to really dig his music choices. So while there’s no real message behind the videos (short of some tonge-in-cheek song selections), I keep checking his site because it’s amusing and fun and funny — and pretty brave. So I was curious to find out more about him and why he does this. — Ada Puiu

Q: What do you hope people take away from your videos? More importantly, what do you take away from not just doing them, but making them public?

I really don’t have a defined message or purpose with the project. But I think people have responded to the images of a guy simply having fun in public, which is great. They can see that I surely do not have any kind of formal dancing skills, but I think that certain moments of emotion translate through the movements. I guess the most I can hope people take away from the project is a smile.

For me, the reactions from people are the most rewarding, both the Internet comments and also seeing how people at the locations cope with a man dancing to music on his headphones. I am drawn to the fact that the people who see me dancing live have no idea what sound (if any) I am moving to, and then occasionally their reactions are captured in the video, which is displayed synced to the music for an entirely different audience. The implementation of a performance and the documentation operate almost as separate works in the way. I guess I like that.

Q: In some of your videos, there’s an interesting sense of irony with your song selections (like “Milkshake” at Harvard Yard; link here). How do you decide where to film and how do you pick the songs? Read more

Guest column: “What Would Jesus Sell?”

Murketing is pleased to publish this special guest column by Jean Railla, which I believe will be interesting to many crafters and followers of the DIY scene. It was written for her regular column in Craft Magazine, which chose not to publish it out of concern, the magazine told her, that it might be “anti-religious.” (Update 1/25: The magazine says it was a matter of timing and space issues. Whatever the reason, the column addresses issues I think many participants in the crafter/DIY phenomenon are very interested in.) See what you think.

What Would Jesus Sell?

By Jean Railla

What Would Jesus Buy is the suitably ironic title of the documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame), which follows the antics of “Reverend Billy.” As the head of the Church of Stop Shopping Reverend Billy, a character developed by the New York City actor Bill Talen, preaches an anti-corporate theology with an authenticity of feeling and full gospel choir. In the film, Reverend Billy is up to his old antics–exorcising demons at Walmart Headquarters, taking over the Mall of America, and finally crashing Disney Land. His objective? “To save Christmas from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!”

I wonder what Reverend Billy would have thought about the handmade pledge sponsored by Etsy, Craftster, Craft Magazine and others this past holiday season: “I pledge to buy handmade…and request that others do the same for me.”

On the one hand, this sentiment, urging us to buy handmade goods, like fingerless gloves crafted by a seller named Corpseknit on Etsy, or a lavender soap found at Seattle’s new Urban Craft Uprising fair, is in opposition to the very type of consumerism that Reverend Billy is bemoaning. On Etsy we can actually “meet” the producer, read about him or her, see photos. Doing this, we know that when we buy from them, we will be circumventing horrific labor practices like those described by John Bowe in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, which chronicles dehumanizing cases of slavery, environmental damage and other atrocities both in America and abroad. Clearly, supporting Corpseknit, or sellers at any of the dozens of hip craft fairs around the country, is a welcome alternative to mass-production.

But I can’t help thinking: Isn’t shopping, no matter how wonderfully crafty and politically correct still, well, shopping? Can you escape the so-called sin of consumerism by buying handmade? Isn’t the whole point of modern crafting Do It Yourself — not Buy from Someone Who is Doing It Themselves? Not to be a total hypocrite; I shop Etsy and artisan crafters as well as buy the crap from China just like everyone else. It’s just that I see a new trend, which is moving away from crafting and towards consuming. What’s next? “Hip Craft” aisles at Wal-Mart?

Actually, it’s already happening. Scion, a youth-targeted-division of Toyota, which last year marketed its automobiles through West Coast street racer culture (read: Fast and the Furious), recently held a “Craft My Ride” competition, which strove to use modern craft customization to give a DIY patina to their otherwise anonymous econo-boxes. Clearly, this is not a good sign. Crafting is incredibly popular and corporate America is taking note. They are jockeying to figure out how to sell to the growing audience of crafters.

So, where does the craft community stand? Like all other subculture movements before, punk rock, indie rock, skateboarding, zinemaking etal, will crafting become just another consumer product, or is there something more meaningful happening here?

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Jean Railla is the founder of Getcrafty.com and author of the craft manifesto Get Crafty. Her ode to food and drink can be found at mealbymeal.blogspot.com. Murketing thanks her for allowing this piece to be published here.