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March 01, 2005

Emerging economy design

Doors of Perception Report
March 14, 2005
By John Thackara

Doors of Perception 8 begins in a week from now. We've added a
pre-conference workshop about the business side of Emerging Economy
Service Design; this complements our street-level workshops which now
also include 'exploring the market cultures of Delhi' with Jogi
Panghaal. The media exhibit at Apeejay Media Gallery - 'Bombay,
Badarpur Border' - is also now online. If you really can't make it,
we'll post reports and photos from the event on the Doors 8 site.

Doors events are hard to describe in one sentence to a busy
journalist. Our work, and your interests, do not fit neatly into
traditional categories such as 'business', 'arts' or 'home'. But some
writers intuitively understand what Doors is about. Do you know of
any we might have missed who might like to know about 'Infra'? Please
send the name and email address of your favourite journalist to:
editor at doorsofperception.com

Ten days before Doors 7 (this was November 2003) our cable connection
crashed and our then Internet provider, UPC, were unable to fix it.
Then I located the home phone number of UPC's European CEO, called
him during dinner, shared my thoughts on the matter, and our cable
connection was restored later that evening. Now, just before Doors 8,
it has happened again: Our DSL connection went down and remains down,
as I write, after 15 days. We've spent tens of hours talking to what
is described with some exaggeration as the Wanadoo "help desk". We
finally gave up hope when a new voice said: "yes, now that you
mention it, we've had major problems in Toulouse for some time". If
you know the CEO of Wanadoo, don't go near him/her for a while: a
plague of pustulating sores and a painful parasitic infection has
been summoned for the leader of this company from hell.

Politicians, under pressure for doing something bad, sometimes play a
clever trick: they deny responsibility for a different action that
nobody had accused them of. The supporters of business schools are
playing a similar trick at the moment in response to a growing wave
of criticism that their education encourages amoral behaviour by its
graduates. The Economist, for example, has lambasted critics for
suggesting that scandals such as Enron are the b-schools' fault.
After all, says The Economist, many bad-guy CEOs never even went to
business school. Which is true, and utterly beside the point. The
problem with b-schools is not that they breed a few black-hat bad
guys, but that they train thousands upon thousands of future managers
to regard human beings as discretionary costs - costs that can be
eliminated by a bland-sounding technique, which they all learn by
rote, called 'restructuring'.

A full-page story in the Financial Times (March 1, page 9) waxed
lyrical about 'reality TV for the boardroom' - and went on to
describe the use of video footage to 'reduce the growing distance
between the corporate elite and consumers'. Executives in
multinational companies, understates the FT, 'often find themselves
doing business in places they know little about' (but) 'corporate
reality TV enables highly paid executives to cross the class divide
and get a glimpse into the lives of regular people'. The FT described
Ogilvy RedCard videoing 'the secret lives of consumers' - for
example, by following young women into bathrooms at discos, where
they are filmed reapplying makeup a lot. 'Video research has struck a
particular chord with executives at pharma companies' the story
concludes; 'they are intrigued with witnessing suffering'. The FT
story is a wake-up call: video ethnography is not a neutral activity:
we must be critical about the ways it's used, and by whom.

Information design students and professionals will converge this
summer on the Cape Verde Islands, in the middle of the Atlantic, to
develop a challenging communication project on issues of cultural,
educational and economic development. They'll surely be too busy to
work on their tan.

Island hooppers need to know about this conference in Malta about new
research on educational technologies. They also plan to set up a
consortium for future transnational projects.

A large meeting last week at the Tropen Institute in Amsterdam marked
the launch of a new project, Dutch Design In Development DDiD).
Participants ranged from young designers struggling to make a
business importing textiles from Africa, to eco-tourism marketers and
consultants who advise global companies how to behave responsibly. My
contribution was to complain that economists tend to define
'development' in terms of growth and productivity but ignore issues
of well-being. The day I spoke, a survey by the New Economics
Foundation in the UK found that although the British economy has
doubled since 1970, peoples' satisfaction with life has barely
changed - and their consumption of antidepressants has skyrocketed.

New York's most prestigious museums and exhibition spaces have
announced plans to host a roster of Dutch design projects. In 'Orange
Alert: Dutch Design in New York', which is organized by Robert Kloos,
The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Fashion Institute of
Technology, Museum of Arts and Design, Moss, and Olympus Fashion
Week, will spotlight work by the likes of Tord Boontje, Viktor and
Rolf, Hella Jongerius, Claudy Jongstra, and Droog Design.

A total thrill: I'm to speak about my new book at the Hay Festival in
the UK on 31 May. This event is a gem of the English summer season: a
small town in beautiful countryside with pubs, dozens of bookshops,
and publishing persons galore. A free pint awaits whoever makes it to
my session and mentions this story. Thrill number 2: 'In The Bubble'
won against Jack Welch in a Fast Company readers poll and will
feature in their May edition.

Posted by John Thackara at March 1, 2005 03:51 PM