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3636 Project Opens at Paxton Gate’s Kids in SF Friday, February 21


36 antique spoons rebirthed by 36 artists. 3636 Project opens at Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids February 21. Reception 6-8pm. 766 Valencia Street (between 18th & 19th Streets).

The curator of the show, Courtney Cerruti, is always making the world around her more beautiful. She calls herself a maker extraordinaire and that she is. Doesn’t matter the medium (although I believe her heart is happiest dripping in paint) she’ll turn it into something magical. Somehow I managed to sneak an invite to participate in the show. Lucky for me, someone who wouldn’t dare call herself an artist (at least not in front of other artists), Courtney can see creativity in most people. I think it’s because she teaches so many workshops around the Bay Area and can bring out artistic qualities in all her students.

So here I am, with a spoon in the show, alongside 35 extremely talented artists. Here’s a peek at my spoon. Come check out the rest! Some are already teasing us on Instagram #3636project


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Flocking v Differentiation aka why I’m uncomfortable in IKEA

(image from Flickr Creative Commons)

I have a lot of anxiety around IKEA. For starters, it’s always packed full of grubby kids and Noah’s ark styled couples, you know, the kinds that dress alike. Second, they trap you on certain floors and sections, by making you go up an escalator with no way down, urging you to follow the yellow brick road through the store. I’ve solved these problems by never going on a weekend and entering the store through the exit (and first getting a $1 ice cream cone as extra incentive). Seana has already written on IKEA as a sore subject.

My biggest beef with IKEA, however, is that I really like their stuff. I go happily along picking new sheets and pillows and crap and then it hits me that millions of people have all this same crap in their homes. The cool style reinforces your belief that you are a unique individual with good taste but in reality you are unique just like everyone else buying this mass-produced consumer good. This tension has pecked at me for years but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I was listening to an episode of the Planet Money podcast today, Episode 457: Why Pink. In the episode they discuss how fashion trends occur and why copying is so prevalent (embraced even) by the fashion industry. The reason there may be 50 different kinds of denim shirts for sale in 2013, is that we all want to be accepted and fit in (flocking), yet we want to feel unique and like we have our own style (differentiation). Designers offer so many different iterations of what’s in right now so that you fit in, but allow you to select one piece to stand out from everyone else.

(image from Flickr Creative Commons)

I think this tension is most profound in IKEA because of its lack of direct competitors. Really, who else is in the affordable furniture biz. Target maybe? There is no middle market for furniture. The next step up, we’re talking about Design Within Reach and Room & Board, where a couch may go for $5000. Besides antique, vintage, estate sale type situations, the only place to go for affordable designerly furniture is IKEA, and thus the conundrum. There aren’t enough iterations to make me forget that I’m like everyone else, and to fool me into believing I’m a unique snowflake. They definitely have fresh, youthful, clean styles with some variety, yet lots of people I know will have the same exact thing, not a variant, the same exact thing. I walk into a new client’s office. Oh, that’s my coffee table. At my friend’s house, oh I have that rug. It’s too much flocking folks. I haven’t solved the problem of furniture & home goods differentiation, but I’ve identified a new piece of my Ikea-discomfort puzzle. And thus, a win.

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What do you do? A printable booklet for applied anthropologists

I usually cringe slightly when people I just meet at a dinner party ask, “So, what do you do?” Not because it’s very complicated, just because it’s a little amorphous. I created this booklet so that I can simply hand it to the person who asks. You can print your own copy by clicking the PDF below.

Here’s what it looks like:






If you’re an anthropologist and would like to use this – Download your booklet here. Simply print out the two sheets. Fold each in half with the images facing outward. And then fold in half again. Slip the middle pages inside the cover and staple. Voila, your very own business card booklet. Don’t forget to add your own contact info on the back page!

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Permission to Play

First, a plug. My lovely and talented friend Courtney Cerruti just released her first book, Playing With Image Transfers.


And it is wonderful. Beautiful artwork, creative projects with clear “how to” instructions, and delightful personal anecdotes that give the book warmth. It would make a wonderful holiday present for kids and adults. Just saying.

In the trailer for the book, Courtney tells us that art can be made anytime. Art making doesn’t need the perfect setup. Don’t be too precious about it. She says that image transfers in particular give you permission to play and experiment.

I really like this idea of giving ourselves permission to play. I want to figure out how to do more playing. Playing with purpose, playing to make stuff, playing just to play.

I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t playing until I visited some friends who have a three year old. She started to make believe that she was driving me to a restaurant for breakfast, and we acted out the whole scene. From parking the car to ordering to picking up the bill. It was one of those things that you just had to put your whole heart into, otherwise it would have been boring and lame. So I did. I have to say I improvised the hell out of that restaurant scene.

I stayed with those friends for a couple weeks, so there was a lot of playing, and make believe in particular. A lot of times what you end up saying is garbage, it’s not witty or doesn’t make complete sense. But the three year old is actually quite forgiving and will go along with you. And sometimes you say something that is completely out of the blue improvised and it is just magic. Just effin perfect, something I could never have thought of if I sat down to think about it.

I’m trying to bring this to my writing and sketching. With drawing I usually go for portraits. I start with the eyes and never quite know who is going to appear. Sometimes, they are really ugly or just bad. But sometimes they are so so good. Again, something I would never have made if I sat down and tried to do it.


These are some improvised sketches.

If you draw a turd, just turn the page and move on. So I encourage you to try playing. Playing like you did when you were little, and to not care about looking like an ass in the process.

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When the hipsters co-opt your lifestyle


“Where did you get this?” Seana’s man-friend says to me, nervously pawing the Klein tools bag that I’m using as a purse. “You didn’t buy it at Urban Outfitters or something did you?”

“No. I stole it from S who bought it at the hardware store.”

He lets out a billowing sigh, “Well, that’s a relief.”

“It’s the hipsters,” Seana whispers, “they’ve taken over everything he’s into.”

It’s true. I look around their loft space, speckled by unintentional hipster goodness. The work boots, home-jarred peaches & pickles, and cans of PBR for starters. The wood working projects, shaggy curly hair (on head and face), and record player for seconds. And Seana isn’t helping, with her zeal for vintage clothing (which she posts on her shop GrandmaISH) and furniture that she has reupholstered with fabrics of teals and oranges harking back to the 60s and 70s.

“It’s bad enough. The shoes, food, drinks that are now all expensive…but not my Klein bags.” He launches into a story about his first Klein tools bag, which was white and glorious. He’ll send me a photo of it later. “They make really nice tools…and bags.” He looks wistful.

I’m not sure, but I think he’s mainly annoyed that his favorite things and areas of genuine interest are now trendy and expensive, meaning less available and accessible for himself. It must be annoying as hell, because he’s not spending his Saturday nights pickling and freezing homemade chicken stock because it’s cute and ironic. My guess is that he does it because that’s how he’s always done it. That’s how his papa did it, and his papa before him. Because hand-made, good quality things are just plain good. I keep thinking about what will happen when the hipsters move on. I mean, they won’t be wearing plano glasses and skinny jeans forever, right? What will happen to the folks whose interests and objects were taken over and then discarded? Will the originators of these trends then be seen as passé? Will the hipster items go back to being cheap or will they become obscure and difficult to find, even more expensive? Should we start hoarding Chucks now? I think they will move on. And when they do, watch out! The hipsters may be out for you and your lifestyle next.

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Between the Lines: Listening with a Tarof Ear

With a background in anthropology and a family of immigrants, I like to think that I’m pretty good at understanding people. For folks who grew up with tarof we’re going to say things differently than say, plain white people from the Bay Area. But I’ve realized that even though I should be listening with different ears depending on who’s talking, sometimes I get lazy and mix them up.


Let’s go through an example with my make-believe friends Shirin and Emily. Emily/Shirin is going to do a load of laundry. I’m visiting from out of town, staying at her house.

Emily says: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Emily means: If you have clothes to wash, go ahead and put them in the washer.


Shirin says: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Shirin means: Do you mind if I wash my clothes first?


Emily says: My socks are upstairs.

Emily means: Please don’t start the wash ’til I get my socks and add them to the wash.


Shirin says: My socks are upstairs.

Shirin means: Would you mind going upstairs, getting my socks and putting them in the wash?

Now imagine that I’m doing laundry with Emily but I’m interpreting the words as if I were with Shirin. Let’s listen in:

Emily: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Me: Oh, go ahead, no problem.

Emily: Well, I don’t have a full load.

Me: Oh, do you have other clothes you need to wash?

Emily: No. I mean, do you want to add your clothes to mine?

Me: Oh, oh. OK, um, sure. Let me add some.

[As I’m loading my clothes…]

Emily: My socks are upstairs.

Me: Sure, where upstairs?

Emily: Huh?

Me: How can I get them if I don’t know where they are.

Emily: I’ll get them of course, just wait for me to add them to the load.

So, this actually happened the other day. Fucked up, right? That’s what happens when I use my tarof ear to listen to a non-tarof conversation. It is tedious for all involved and happens more often than one would think. I did at least respond non-tarof. Otherwise I wouldn’t have added my laundry to her load. I would have said, no I don’t have clothes to wash. Confused yet?

For more tarof tales, read this post, or listen to this great story from This American Life.

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Thinking on Microinteractions

I just read Dan Saffer’s Microinteractions: Designing with details a great, straight-forward approach to thinking about design details in any given user experience design. It got me thinking about my own UX preferences as well as past pleasant and painful interactions. But first,

“What the heck is a microinteraction?” you might be asking yourself. It sounds kinda silly, like a microthought or a micropoop. Not really satisfying, right? But it’s actually a really cool concept. A microinteraction is the simplest, tiniest piece of any kind of human-machine activity. Saffer (2013) calls it, “a contained product moment that revolves around a single use case – a tiny piece of functionality that only does one thing.” For example, you “slide to unlock” your iPhone. Your iPhone unlocks. That’s a microinteraction.

The good ones are hard to recall since they’re so small and mundane. If it’s a good one, chances are it’s unmemorable. It just works. The bad ones are way easier to remember because they make one feel desperate, frustrated, anxious and are an obstacle to our main goal. They might take time to resolve, and sometimes spoil the whole experience of using a product or service.

While reading this book, which is chock-full of great examples, both the good and the bad, I tried to think of my own experiences.

I’m going to start with the good, since, as I mentioned earlier, they are way harder to think of.

Pleasant microinteractions:

  1. Google Now automatically sending me driving directions (and estimated time of arrival) to my home, work, and any address I look up, across devices. Nice and easy. I don’t even mind when it guesses wrong because it doesn’t cost me anything (wrong meaning I look up an address but am not actually going there and it pushes the directions to my phone anyway). I remember the first time I found the ETA to my work one morning, like a little gift. I love it.
  2. Turning off the alarm on my droid. This one is not obviously good. You have to swipe left to snooze, and swipe right to turn it off. This is hard for me to remember when I first wake up (even though I’ve been using it for over a month), and trying to remember which is which actually helps wake me up. So, mission accomplished, I guess.
  3. Using the shortcut to open the camera app on my iPod Touch. Next to the “slide to unlock” there is a camera icon which I can grab and slide upwards to open the camera app. That way I don’t have to unlock the screen, find the camera icon, click on it, etc. I can’t remember when I first noticed this and I’m still not sure if everyone has this option, or if it “figured out” that I use the camera a lot. Who knows, but it is good.
  4. Seeing if someone else is already editing the Google Drive file I’m in. I don’t enjoy all aspects of editing in Drive, but I like being able to see who else is in the file, making it easier to see if someone else is editing at the same time. They appear as a little bright color square in the top right corner of the browser.
  5. I haven’t used this, but my brother tells me that Autodesk’s Inventor program has great tool tips (instructions that appear when you hover over a tool). He says these practically eliminate the need for tutorials. (I wonder, however, do they always appear? Even after the 1000th use? That could be a little annoying, unless it learned how often you use the program and adjusted.)

Stressful microinteractions (these are the easier ones to remember. More dramatic. Not always easy to fix, unfortunately):


  1. Knowing when the Nespresso machine is ready to make coffee. Goal: to make coffee. Rules: 1. Toggle the machine on. Two buttons (which you later press to start the flow of coffee) pulse with green lights. 2. Open slot for coffee capsule. Place capsule inside. Close. 3. Check to see the machine has water. If not enough water, add water. 4. When the flashing green lights turn to solid green, the machine is ready to make coffee. Press either one of the green lighted buttons to start the coffee (the left one, with a small coffee cup icon, is a short coffee and the right one, with a larger cup icon, is long). 5. The machine stops automatically, or the user can press the same button to stop the coffee manually.// Now that I’ve been using this machine for months, most of the ambiguity, such as how short is the short coffee, has become clear. However, the feedback of the flashing green buttons still causes me distress. Most of the time I think it means that it’s warming up the machine (and the water inside). However, if the machine is left on for a while (say after I’ve made one cup and I go to make another 30 minutes later) the lights will flash even though it’s good and warm. Does this now mean that the machine is “sleeping”? Once this has happened, I do not know how to “wake it up.” I push the green flashing buttons. I turn the machine off and then on again. Flashing resumes. I open the capsule slot and close it, which sometimes works (but not every time). Sigh. Sometimes it just takes a couple minutes and then it presumably resets. On top of this, sometimes the flashing is synchronized and sometimes it alternates between the buttons. This drives me nuts. It’s keeping me from my coffee! And it uses the same feedback (flashing green lights) to indicate seemingly different states at different times in the coffee making process (once the machine is first turned on, and after the machine is on for a while).
  2. Entering my TicketMaster password. I never remember my TicketMaster password. Worse, I never remember to try to login first before looking for tickets. I’m always trying to enter my password after I have selected tickets. I enter a password. Password incorrect. I enter another password. Password incorrect. The system locks you out after three tries (I think) so I don’t want to try again. I see the little red clock counting down my remaining time to purchase the tickets. Damn it! I have to click on the “forgot my password” button and reset it, and sometimes I lose my tickets in the process.
  3. Screen brightness on my Android. I swear I have the screen brightness on a setting that makes it adjust based on context. I thought this meant it’d be less bright at night and brighter in the day. For some reason, my screen is blindingly bright at night in the dark. And I’m too lazy to spend any more time figuring it out.
  4. Vibrating home screen “buttons” on my droid. I managed to turn off all other haptic feedback. I hate it. There’s a delay and it slows me down. I don’t need all that feedback. I already have the visual, I don’t need the tactile. It’s annoying. I figured out how to turn it off once I’m in the app menu, but just can’t figure out how to turn it off for the buttons on the home screen. And again, I don’t want to spend any more time on this than I already have.
  5. Picasa photos appearing in my Google searches. Not cool. Picasa used to be my go-to photo storage and sharing service, but I had to stop once it became Google +’s photo tool. I have a lot a lot of problems with Google +, but most upsetting to me is I don’t have reassurance that my photos are only being shared with the people I want to share them with. Even though mentally I can reason that my photos must only come up on my searches, the visual combination of my private photos with public search results is unsettling and makes me want to vomit. I don’t think anyone has fully figured out photo sharing. My mom accidentally shared all her iPhone photos with the Apple TV via iCloud, so that all her photos come up automatically on the screen saver. Why? It’s really not easy to store, tag, sort, and share photos. I take a lot of photos.
  6. Unsubscribing. Period. Wait, I mean, unsubscribing!!! I hate hate hate trying to unsubscribe from email blasts and newsletters once I’m enrolled in them. I hate unchecking that box that subscribes you to newsletters when you register for any new service. I even hate when the default is an unchecked box because it reminds me that such a thing exists. If I want to receive emails from you, I will go out of my way to find you. I promise.
  7. I know this is a stereotypical girl thing, so I hesitate to say it, but turning on my TV. For reals. I have a universal remote that has been programmed for the TV, computer, DVD player, Apple TV, Roku, and it can take minutes to turn on any one of those things. boo.


These may seem like mundane, unsexy UX problems, but they are so so important. An unpleasant microinteraction is a big buzz kill.  So, let’s work on making microinteractions lovely, please.

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Feeding Expectations

drakes beer

I’m a terrible hostess. I hardly invite friends over to my place. When I do I get so distracted by their presence that I’m barely able to ask how their grandma’s been doing lately and pour a beer at the same time. My meals are haphazard and I never have the right condiments. I invited my cousins over for a BBQ last year, declaring that I would have hotdogs and hamburgers, but then forgot that I don’t own ketchup (I don’t eat it, so I don’t buy it), much to the surprise of my guests. You don’t have ketchup?!

Despite being hopeless when it comes to entertaining and feeding others, I have learned that I do enjoy rules for feeding guests. And I enjoy being fairly certain of what to expect when eating in someone’s home. I have written about the differences in eating with my French relatives compared to eating with my Assyrian relatives. But they do have something in common, there are clear rules to feeding others, and guests know what to expect.

Every single time I’ve eaten at a French person’s home, they offer an aperitif. This is a little alcohol to stimulate the appetite and it is usually served with some nibbles. Sure, the quality of what is served varies a lot based on how old the host is, his taste, how much money he likes to spend on such things, etc. It could be malibu rum and lays potato chips or it could be champagne and home-baked bread with Sicilian olives and lardons. The point is, you know that upon arrival you’ll get to nibble and chit chat in the living room. Then you move to a table where you get entrees, then there’s the main dish, followed by cheese, dessert and a digestif. As a guest, you can bring a bottle of something or offer to bring a dessert, but rest assured you will leave satisfied.

french table

At an Assyrian (or we’ll more broadly call this Iranian) household, it’s the same thing. You can bring a bottle, dessert, or flowers as a guest, but no worry, you will leave with a full belly, leftovers in hand, and probably a little tipsy…or a lot tipsy. The rules are different, however, than the French rules, but in both cases as a guest, you pretty much just show up. As a kid at my aunt’s house, I’d be offered, or rather told to have some “pepsi mepsi” and munch on “chipseh mipseh.” Almost scolded, as if my refusing to eat and drink is a criticism that I don’t think their food and drink is good enough. Now as an adult, I get booze and the same appetizers. There are tons of dishes to snack on, and it’s easy to get full on this. Pace yourself! After a couple hours of grazing, comes dinner, which is always family or buffet style, including giant pots of stew, rice, salads, mounds and mounds of food for days. Same with desserts, there’s often more than two kinds to choose from, and you’ll be offered tea with your dessert.

At a “my great-great grandfather is German, his wife was Italian, my family’s been here for many generations” European mutt white-American house, there are no rules. It’s very inconsistent. You never know what you’re going to get or not get, and I’ve left more than one American party hungry. Hungry! The shame! I went to one party recently where we were instructed to not bring anything but booze. So that’s what everyone did. All liquored up, we realized, oh, there’s no real dinner. There were probably 20 adults and 10 kids at this thing, and enough food for half of us. I perched in the kitchen area and managed to grab 1/3 of an ear of corn and some chips but completely missed any salads and BBQ. The plates emptied before they hit the table. We were starving. “Aren’t they ashamed?” I asked my guy, horrified that the hosts would not have enough food to feed their guests. But I don’t think they knew that they should be embarrassed. Also, the parents at the party had no shame in grabbing food, “it’s for the kids,” they smiled sheepishly, sneaking bites into their own mouths. I know I’m whining, but I was stunned, and starving. I whispered to my man friend, “can we please go get some dinner and come back?”

All this to say, I like going to someone’s house and knowing I won’t go hungry.

“It’s so stressful,” my cousin said to me once, “going to a white person’s house, it’s all potluck, byob, you have to buy and prep stuff ahead of time. With Persians, it’s so easy, you go and you know you’ll be taken care of.”

So, come on my white folk, let’s pull ourselves together and buy too much food, or at least enough food. And I’ll promise to buy some ketchup.

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Why This Anthropologist Loves (and is frustrated by) Design(-ers)*

*Warning. This is a guise to promote the app, Design School Cheats, which I helped create with the lovely and talented Cara Oba and Kyle Oba of the design shop, Pas de Chocolat. At this time, it would be appropriate to visit iTunes and download it. The first section “LOOK” (like a designer) is free.


Anyway, what was I saying?

I stumbled into design from an already frustrated place. The year is 2007. I had a BA in Fine Arts that was a blast to obtain. I love art, galleries, museums. But had little job prospects outside of secretarial work in galleries and museums. Not that there’s anything wrong with secretarial work. I’m just bad at it. Had I gone to secretary school for 4 months I could have done my job better. So I run back to the university to do a master’s program. In applied anthropology. Using anthropology to solve problems. The trick with applied anthro, is that you have to find something to apply the anthropology to. I went around looking for problems to solve.

And you know who loves solving problems? Yup. Designers.

My prof, who had worked with the chair of industrial design for several years, hooked me up with a design project, working with design students. Which led to another design project. Then another. Pretty soon, I was in the design trenches, brainstorming, post-iting, concepting, ideating (psst, those are really all the same activity).

What’s frustrating about design, where is the rub against anthropology? In broad strokes, Designers tend to

  1. jump to solutions.
  2. make assumptions about who they are designing for and what they do or want.
  3. care more about how a presentation looks than making sure all the words in it are spelled correctly.
  4. be hyper-aware of what’s cool or not, and put effort into making sure that they are on the cooler side.

But, what I (especially at first) found frustrating about design, is now why I continue to seek out design work and design partners. Solutions are a way to test theory. Get the idea out in the world and see what happens to it. We can research forever, and not know how to move forward. Gotta jump at some point. Making a presentation look awesome, makes people want to engage with it. If I work with a cool designer, someone who is on the forefront of trends, then I don’t have to look cool all the time.

This is part of the reason why I was interested in co-creating Design School Cheats. Because I am frustrated by design and like to poke fun at designers and design process (like when we say “designers don’t read” – cheat #24). But I tease from a loving place, and I have done a lot of interesting work only because designers make work interesting.

Now, I’m in a haze, not a pure anthropologist, not a designer, but a curious admirer and connector of things and ideas.

If you want to learn more about design, or maybe you are designer that needs a little laugh, check out our fabu app: Design School Cheats. Did I mention it’s free? Also, don’t be startled by the 17+ rating. We mention drinking and smoking and sometimes say “shit” and this makes us debauched.

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synchronize: what we are all doing at the same time


I watched a tiny piece of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SF MoMA last week. From 4:37 – 5:05 pm or so. If you’re like me and had not heard of the work before, he (and most likely an army of unpaid interns) stitched together thousands of movie clips that reference time and matched each clip up to the actual time, minute for minute, for 24 hours. I thought it’d be a crazy hodge podgery, but the scenes, despite being from completely different movies, flow into each other quite well and create a unique narrative. It also makes for a great game, who can spot the clock reference first.

What I liked most about it, was thinking about what specific activities are time-bound. Around 5pm I saw:

sitting in an office eying the clock

working in factories

punching time cards

leaving train stations

meeting people

talking on the phone…

This made me think about our synchronous activities. If I’m eating breakfast at 7:30am, how many 1000s of other people are doing the exact same thing at this moment? Doesn’t it remind you of that scene from Amelie? The part where she wonders how many people are having an orgasm at this precise moment. And there’s something very comforting about this normalcy. I find comfort in the communal nature of every task, even if I’m doing it by myself.

What most commonly happens at 12 midnight in movies? New year’s or turning back into a pumpkin. What about 3am? Something dark, dangerous, or naughty?

What else is going on at this precise moment in time?