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Critical Thinking

Design for Good

Design for Good

Have we created yet another silo allowing us to make excuses and behave badly

As mentioned on AIGA ‘s website— Design for Good is an ethos to use problem-solving and design thinking towards social change. … Design for Good recognizes the wide range of designers’ work and hands-on leadership and professional development opportunities, which benefit the worldour country, and our communities.

As mentioned on DesignLab 360 — Design for Good is any form of design work that aspires to better someone’s life. Design for Good is inclusive rather than exclusive. To be effective, our work must be timely and responsive, not just to a client deadline but say, to the urgency of a burgeoning epidemic. We are pragmatic as we are idealistic.

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And if that is the case then what is the function of design? What is the role of a designer? What is good? and, What is bad? What does Design for Good stand for? Most causes come out of a need, personal loss, or injustice. However, does something bad have to happen to you before you decide to do good?

Wherever we look, everyone is talking about it, ‘work on things that matter’, ‘use your power for good’… is it just fashionable to do good when it is convenient to you?

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So why do I care?

I care because as a creative human being I’m seeing so much anxietydissatisfactiondistrust, all around. There is so much negativity, finger pointing, fake news, entitlementone-up-nessspecial interest bragging. There is so much, look-at-me!selfie cultureself worthiness, going around. There is loneliness, mental instability, and pain in the superpowers and the developing world while there is sufferinginequality, and lack of freedom of speech, freedom to choose .

What kind of social system have we designed?

This looks broken…

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Richard Ting at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Richard Ting at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Richard Ting questioning the systems we currently have in place and the shift we all need to make

Why should you care?

As problem solvers and as human beings living in the current political climate, worldwide, we are seeing this…

• Everyone for themselves

• If you do not have the means, too bad, you are a loser and you caused it

• If it’s not happening in my backyard, its not happening to me

• If I do not acknowledge it, it’s not happening

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Human beings behave the way they live-

• If we believe in equality, we act equally.

• If we believe in diversity, we engage with a variety of people.

• If we believe in the freedom to choose? We support a women’s right to choose.

• If we believe in freedom of expression? We allow for different voices and agree to disagree.

Now if we dig deeper and look for the dictionary meaning of design-

design (noun) — a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation

design (verb) — to plan and make decisions about (something that is being built or created)

• Decision-Making is Design.

• This means that every decision we make is basically designed.

Design is not only visual, conceptual… it is also functional which means we are responsible for how people perceive messages, products, and pretty much everything they come in contact with. Whether the message is for a for profit enterprise or a cause or a social impact enterprise.

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So if we are saying that the message is the medium regardless of the sector we work in then are we doing a disservice by putting ‘design for good’ in a silo? Are we giving people an excuse to cop out?

I do not have money to do good. I need this job, I do not have time to focus on spending my design energy on designing for social impact. There are other do gooders who will step up. Our company has to accept paid projects, we cannot afford to take on pro bono clients, let the big agencies do that they have money and people. Do these sound like excuses?

Zita Cobb at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Zita Cobb at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Can we create a culture for good so that design for good does not have to be an afterthought or only to be ‘ taken on’ because you are a ‘nice’ person or a ‘wealthy person’. Each and every one of us is responsible for the world we live in, the systems we create, the infrastructure we benefit from, and the destruction our habits cause. So something for all of us to think about…

• if Design is problem solving and decision making

• and Good is goodness, morality, ethicalness, upstanding, integrity, dignity…

• then doesn’t Design for Good become problem solving with integrity, dignity, morality, for all of our human problems, not just social ones?

Todd Waterbury, Chief Creative Officer of Target, at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Todd Waterbury, Chief Creative Officer of Target, at the Design Observer Conference at Yale SOM in 2018

Sentiment Analysis of Trump and Obama in Hip-Hop Music

Sentiment Analysis of Trump and Obama in Hip-Hop Music

Maybe an analysis of politics in hip-hop will tell us how Kanye’s bright idea will turn out… Art by Greg Bunbury

Maybe an analysis of politics in hip-hop will tell us how Kanye’s bright idea will turn out… Art by Greg Bunbury

As a fan of hip-hop music in this current political climate; I started noticing artists like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky referencing political figures in their lyrics. The question started to grow on me, how long has this been going on? Is there some way to analyze the spread of presidential references in recent hip-hop music? Recently, as a RISD student, I took a data science class at Brown University, and I thought, what a perfect time to figure this out? Let’s get a little bit more formal about defining the problem:

Analyze hip-hop lyrics for the mention of Trump and Obama and compare the annual average sentiment.

Of course, I knew that the outcome might not be perfect, but as a hip-hop head, I was excited to see the outcome.

Here is my working hypothesis I started with: Between 2000 and 2018, I believe that lyrics containing Trump will start higher in sentiment and go lower over the chosen time frame, Obama will begin neutral and go higher in sentiment within the same time frame.

The data I used was collected through BeautifulSoup by crawling the lyrics website Genius. The data is originally collected in .csv format and then converted into .txt. The data has a few main columns: The specific date and year that the song was released, the artist, the name of the track, the amount of views it received on Genius, the name of the .txt file created with all of the lyrics, the person of interest (Trump or Obama), and the average sentiment score of that track.

Originally, I tried to use the Spotify API, but it turned out that it was limiting with regards to how many tracks it allowed me to download. It didn’t give me much freedom at all so I decided to use BeautifulSoup and the Genius search function to get all of the tracks. I used regex to clean it up a bit but I also went through the data by hand because I didn’t trust the natural language toolkit, or NLTK, that we were using. As I expected, there were a lot of things that got grouped into the data that shouldn’t have been there, like full novels. I also want to mention that the reason that my .csv file contains the number of views that the track got on Genius is that I used that number to weed a lot of tracks out. Any track under 10000 views was not considered due to there being a lot of very random small tracks posted to Genius. Below is a snapshot of the full dataset.

The data includes all sorts of tracks. Everything from Yung Joc’s dirty south classic, “It’s Goin’ Down,” too much more recent additions by Kendrick Lamar, like “XXX.”

There are plenty of biases with the data. Biases not really because of a person influencing it, but because Genius has a lot of random pages with a large number of views that either has nothing to do with Trump but include the capital word somewhere, or have to do with Trump but is not a track. Also, the sentiment analyzer is not perfect. There are professional python coders that struggle with successful natural language analysis and I am solely relying on NLTK to give me results. Furthermore, NLTK has a pool of bad words that bring the score down. It shouldn’t be news that hip-hop music generally has a lot of negative words or expressions in the lyrics whether or not they are meant to be negative. NLTK does not care and so it will see a swear word that may be used in a positive way and yet bring the sentiment score down. When I started on this project, I knew that it would not return me the most perfect dataset, rather I did it because it is a topic that is interesting to me and I truly felt that it would be a great way to incorporate and encapsulate everything I have learned in this class.

The project can be broken down into three main steps. I split up the code into three separate documents for this reason as well:

  1. The first step is to grab all of the URLs from Genius in HTML. This has to be done manually. I basically went to the Genius website, searched the person of interest, then kept pressing load more until I got every single search result. Then I used the inspect function to get all of the links. This is put into one file. Now onto the first step. In my first block of code titled html2url, I simply change the HTML file into a nice list of URLS written in a .txt file.

  2. Using this new file, I took it to the next block of code called processURL. This does exactly what its title says. It goes through each URL using BeautifulSoup and collects the views, date, name of artist and song, and the location of the full lyrics. The lyrics get written in full in a folder titled lyrics in case I want to check the full lyrics to any song. It is during this step that all tracks under 10000 views are filtered out.

  3. The final step uses the code called songsentiment. Here, the sentiment of the song is calculated by using the file that was written as the outcome of the last step with all of the full lyrics. What this means is that songsentiment goes through this file one song at a time and for each song, it also goes through that song’s full lyrics. When this code is called, the user also has to specify what the word of interest is. This way, going through the lyrics, the code knows to look out for either Trump or Obama. Then it analyzes those lines and returns the average sentiment for that song. The user also has to specify if they want the data by year or by song. If by song is chosen, the code will write a .csv file that included everything about the song. The date, the name, the artist, the lyric location, the views, the person of interest, and the sentiment for that specific song. If by year is chosen, the code will write a .csv file that includes just the person of interest and the average sentiment for each year.


The graph below is the comparison of Trump and Obama’s sentiment in hip-hop music over the course of 18 years. While Obama isn’t mentioned until 2006, I decided to keep 6 years of just Trump to show how he was portrayed in hip-hop before he had anything to do with politics. Trump appears to have started off neutral before jumping drastically between positive and negative. Starting in 2008, the appears slightly positive before going on a downward trend past his election date. Obama starts off neutral leaning on negative before a huge positive jump in 2010. During his second presidential term, he appears to bounce between positive and negative, before ending on a higher positive than ever before.

I also wanted to highlight some interesting points in the data. With regards to Obama’s data, his most positive song, among many, appeared in 2018 in one of Chief Keef’s tracks. Sosa’s line, “feel like Obama up in the V.I.P, may not seem like a very positive line, but keep in mind, there were many high scoring songs, and Sosa’s happened to be a few decimal points more positive. Obama’s most negative song appeared in 2015 on Tech N9ne’s Special Effects. The line addresses Nina’s haters, saying, “hate me like Obama.” The song was the introduction to Nina’s album, and he touches on many political, religious, and personal topics. The song came out during Obama’s second term, a time that drew a lot of negativity from many in the hip-hop community.

On the left is Chief Keef’s song I Need More, while one the right is Tech N9ne’s song Aw Yeah? (interVENTion)

With regards to Trump’s data, his most positive feature appears in 2000, far before Trump had any significant part in politics. The line appears in Nelly’s first hit single “Country Grammar (Hot Sh*t),” and has a fairly significant placement in the track. Around this time, and even years before, Trump was gaining traction in hip-hop music for the money he had. Many tracks actually started using his name as an adjective, when referencing money. This reached its climax with Mac Miller’s 2011 track titled “Donald Trump,” a song Mac noted he regretted making later in his career. Then Trump started getting involved in politics, which was not taken lightly by many in the hip-hop community. There are a lot of negative songs about Trump, but the one that had the worst rating was a 2017 track by the Gorillaz titled “Let Me Out.” The track has an interesting, albeit depressing, story about its conceptualization and recording. The Gorillaz originally came up with the idea and recorded their parts while Trump was still running for office. The song imagines a theoretical Trump presidency. The Gorillaz approached Pusha T, featured on the track, to record a verse, telling him, the album was a party for the end of the world, like if Trump won the election. When Pusha wrote his verse, Trump had won already, which created this eerie, crystal ball like feeling, when the song was completed.

There were also some very odd, yet ironic items that found their way to the dataset during the first round of data collection and before I sifted through the data. They also go to show the limitations of the program. One was Thomas Moore’s Utopia, and the other was George Orwell’s 1984. Both works are in essence about theoretical worlds, one which dreams of the perfect society, and the other, imagine what happens when that perfect society goes a bit too far. Fitting for the world we live in right now.

My battle with the data collected through crawling was definitely a challenge. Figuring out what to call with BeautifulSoup was difficult as well. Overall I am happy with the product, as it is what I hoped to have coded, even if the results are not perfect, in the sense that the data collection was a bit flawed. The next time around, I would use a different sentiment analyzer. I am unaware of others at this moment, but I am sure there are some out there that might be more complicated but more accurate. I also chose not to include Hillary to make the data clearer and simplify things overall. In the future, maybe I would consider adding more people. The code is set up such that I could technically look for any word in the lyrics of the songs that I have collected. Maybe I could expand from just presidents and analyze other aspects of the data.

I want to thank my teacher, Chris Tanner, and all of the wonderful TA’s for such a great class.

What do Pepsico, Target, and New York Times have in common?

What do Pepsico, Target, and New York Times have in common?

Design Observer, November 2018

Last year I attended The Design of Business and The Business of Design conference at Yale School of Management. It was two days of mingling with high energy creative thinkers and strategists.

The design industry has evolved so much. When I went into ‘applied arts’ some decades ago, spending money to go to art school was looked upon with a different lens. Especially in India where I grew up you either became a Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer, or CPA. But if you decided to go in the arts or design… you were an odd ball, maybe considered a loser too because you would not be able to support yourself.

Over the years my basic design background evolved and expanded to encompass book design, fashion design, textile design, painting, and all of these skills evolved with digital tools. As I went through grad school at Pratt Institute in New York and later moved to the Bay Area, the world wide web was just taking off. I vividly remember sitting in meetings and arguing with engineers who would not think twice when using multiple fonts on a web page and unintuitive colors for links and visited links. I lived and survived through the era of web pages that had black backgrounds and yellow and lime green type. And let’s not forget those blinking buttons for call to action.

When designers started designing for the web there was a clear divide between the print and the web world. There was this unspoken superiority and the east coast — west coast divide was evident. I myself remember the snobbery behind working on online projects. The Google search page always came into every conversation. Craigslist was another. How not to be like them, all text, and all links.

When it became cool and acceptable, suddenly a surge in job titles came about, User interface designer, Information architect, multi-media designer… Trained designers were able to expand their design prowess, their grids, gutters, typographical expertise, and nit picky leading and kerning and created a new language with the new found tools for onscreen needs. Print and Multi media design became two parallels that learnt to coexist. Over time, they also learnt to collaborate, and then came a time when it wasn’t a choice anymore, they had to blend and work well together, or else…

Then came the boom before the bust.

To add fuel to fire, everyone you interacted with, your nanny, the mailman, the taxi driver, everyone had a startup idea.

They all needed a website designed, they all needed a product prototype and presentations. I was teaching at the Academy of Art around this time and we had to incorporate app design in our new media class. The world wide web was getting smaller, it could fit in your pocket and we had to train designers to think outside the box one more time but this time the box was becoming much smaller, beyond the 1042 pixels.

When the dotcom bust came about and the economy slowed down, the in-house creative departments started shrinking rapidly. The love for design started to fade. You had to work so hard to convince a client to go through a redesign or think about their branding and engagement.

But problem solving was still required.

With lessons learnt from too many startups and not much thought into why they were there in the first place, a new breed of design thinking came into play. Consequently, media consumption and well designed consumer eye candy was subtly educating lay people on the benefits of a well designed product and interface. A creative problem solver became part of every team. It became fashionable and vey forward thinking to visually verbalize your problem statement. Design thinking became a snob norm. Thinking outside the box was your edge in the noisy overcrowded valley and elsewhere. What did that mean? What did that look like? If you have seen pictures of meeting rooms with white boards and colorful post it’s you know what I‘m talking about. Big word clouds and minimal viable questions preceded big spending.

But according to me, a lot of this design thinking became more thinking and less doing. There was a lot of noise. We suddenly saw design thinking houses opening up at every corner along with a Starbucks and a Philz. Everyone went through Design Thinking sessions and came out with lots of takeaways but there were fewer next steps. Where do we go from here? I don’t know, we never talked about that. We only talked about the problem, and figured out where it came from and how many ways we can dissect it to see if we really have a problem but we never talked about forming a committee or assigning a team to follow through on the takeaways. Of course, this is not the case with everyone, but it was largely the issue people started facing.

What are we doing as designers? Why are we saying what we are saying? How are we envisioning the message?

I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my life as a designer, and my normal human life. My role as a designer started off as a creator, someone who spent a lot of time to hone her craft. However, life had other plans and I had to quit my job as a creative director and become a full time cancer caregiver but, my design background and my need to find meaning in the mundane led me to question the cards that were dealt to my family. My son who was fighting cancer was three and his sibling was six when we started his treatment and we ended up spending so much time in the mindless activity of going in and out of the hospital to cure him that no thought was given to his our our emotional and psycho-social needs. None. My training in the discipline of design made me question that. My craft became the vehicle in creating a non profit that focused on bringing art as healing to the patient, siblings, and the care circle.

My 2018 Vision Board had a prominent spot for professional growth. The Design Observer Conference seemed like just the right fit. I was really hoping that this conference would do none of that preaching, if I may use that term. I wasn’t looking for a hands on training workshop on design, neither was I looking to be told how to do something. What I was looking for was to have a conversation, hear creative minds talk, share, question, and be humble.

So did that happen? Did Design Observer’s first conference deliver?

Zita Cobb, Founder and CEO of Shorefast and Innkeeper of the Fogo Island Inn.

Zita Cobb, Founder and CEO of Shorefast and Innkeeper of the Fogo Island Inn.

Keynote speaker Zita Cobb, a social entrepreneur, started the conference off by talking about ‘belonging’ in our societies. With everything going on in the world, especially here in the US with immigration, women's movement, diversity at stake, a conversation on ‘belonging’ in a design conference was refreshing and made me hopeful on the prospects of the conferences tone. The role of a designer most of the time becomes a work for hire. You are solving someones problems for a specific reason. As a creative thinker, owning the problem and looking at it inside out is what inspires me.

I had never heard of Fogo Island and I’m sure 95% of the attendees hadn’t either. It was fascinating to hear the social and cultural entrepreneur talk about returning to the island she grew up in and lay out the perils of growth, greed, and climate change on a small island in Newfoundland.


So what is design?

As I’m writing about the conference I can’t help but add my experience to the conversation. Something that resonated with me was this underlying theme- Design is Good. Design for Good.


Whether it was Pepsico’s outgoing CEO Indra Nooyi and Mauro Porcini, SVP & Chief Design Officer, or Richard Ting, R/GA’s Global Chief Design Officer, or Valla Vakili, Head of Citi Ventures Studio, their message seemed to outline a utopia where people who have the ability to think creatively should be sought out for higher office. Does not matter what sector, does not matter what segment. There seemed to be an untold urgency in everyone’s presentations for creative people to rise from their design departments and take on leadership.

Richard Ting, R/GA’s Global Chief Design Officer

Target’s Chief Creative officer, Todd Waterbury said, as a leader you have to balance the soul but also represent scale to be accountable. If managed appropriately what emerges is a Brand. But the larger question was, how do you find the brand in culture and the culture in brand?

What is the gaping hole you will leave when your company is gone?

Todd Waterbury, Chief Creative Officer of Target

Inviting people to a party is diversity, asking them to dance is inclusivity

Caroline Baumann, Director, @CooperHewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Caroline Wanga, Target’s Chief Diversity Officer talked about leadership, diversity, inclusion, and creating a space that create an unintended consequence for doing good. I liked what Caroline Wanga said, Equality is giving everyone a shoe, inclusion is giving the shoe that fits. Conversations about inclusivity and equality in diversity are on everyone’s mind right now with the #metoo movement, #racialprofiling, #immigration, #equalpay and many similar conversations in our life right now. It was refreshing to hear different voices on these topics. Creative people are passionate and they are natural changemakers.

Valla Vakili, Managing Director & Head of Citi Ventures Studio

Leaders need to have experience making things.

Mark Thompson, CEO of New York Times and Tom Bodkin, Design Director of NYT were in conversation with Ellen McGirt, senior editor at Fortune. NYT pushed for questions and got pushed out by the current democratic regime. The conversation of news and packaging news is fascinating to me as a designer. We have the ability to create images that several million people will see and react to. We have the power to package and incite anger, compassion, or movement. Copy + Visuals have the ability to change minds and directions. This is a complicated, scary, intriguing world and as creative people we have an added responsibility to bring the real truth to the forefront.

Most of the time we work on projects where we are paid to promote a brand and shape a story, yes that is to pay bills, but the real job we all have as creative people is to help lead the change, use our power of one and add it to the collective power of ten. We do not have to become activists or renegades, no that is not what I’m prescribing here, but in our own way we can use our creative thinking to look at our surroundings and question, emphasize, expand, embolden. We can help repaint an old picture. We can help add voice to a cause. We can align our creative voice to shape truth.

David Rose, VP Vision Technology at Warby Parker, said something that I would like to close with, Of course he was talking about this in context of eye wear and the future of wearables. For me this statement opens up a whole new dimensional thinking for creative people.

David Rose, VP of Vision Technology, Warby Parker

David Rose, VP of Vision Technology, Warby Parker

When photography moves from intentional to incidental, we as witnesses or as mere spectators, and as creative individuals are going to be charged with more layers and levels of storytelling. We as Design Observers will have to play an active role because we will have to make sure that there is an intention behind every message that is incidental.

I will leave you with Jessica Helfland and Michael Bierut’s closing remarks…

Designers are optimists

We must be futurists

Deeply committed humanists

Think for yourself and do it loud!