"This is my favorite park."
I was walking up Elsie Street in San Francisco towards Holly Park, with my eleven-year-old cousin and her dog.
She was quiet for a moment and then asked, “Why?”
"Well, because it’s on top of a hill."
"Why do you care that it’s on top of a hill?"
"So that I can see views from it."
"Why do you want to see views?"
"I guess I like to see cities from up high."
"So I can understand better where I am and see how far the city goes."
"Why do you want to see how far it goes?"
"Mmm, I think I like to have a sense of place and a sense of scale when I’m walking around."
I told her I’d have to think about it. I spent some time considering why those things were important to me, but what I thought about most was the value of asking questions. She could have said, “I like this park, too” but instead she wanted to know why. I appreciated her query. She was engaged and thereby engaged me. We should apply questions to the statements we make and the actions we take.
In Bruce Mau’s insightful Incomplete Manifesto for Growth he writes, “Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence.” Design sage Milton Glaser, in a collection of things he’s learned throughout his life states, “I think that being skeptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential.” The 5 Whys is a question-asking technique that comes from engineering and manufacturing, a process intended to get to the root cause of a problem.
Asking questions is one of the most important aspects of Design Week Portland. Questions about the practice of design, its implications, and its definition (that last one haunts me—it’s messy.) Through this process we attempt to better understand and get closer to some semblance of conviction.
In the spirit of asking questions, I offer you a handful of queries about design, Portland and Design Week Portland as you embark on your full week. I may try to answer some of these and I may not. Please feel free to share your own. You can email me at nicolelavelle at gmail dot com.
Questions I Have About Design, Portland, and Design Week Portland
Can you get an MFA in graphic design in Portland? Should an advanced design degree really be a Master of Fine Arts, anyways?
On Thursday, Ziba Design will present a series of short talks by local writers on the topic of designs that have shaped the city. Do we have design writers in Portland? Do any of these panel writers regularly cover design? Do disciplines need their own critics?
Is there such a thing as regional design anymore? Does Portland have an approach or style that is recognizable outside of this place? Are people traveling from outside of Portland to attend Design Week events? What impression do we make on them?
What can we learn from flowers?
It seems that a wide sampling of Portland design people are represented in Design Week programming. But did we leave anyone out? Are there individuals or groups that should be included, and how do we ensure future Design Weeks remain inclusive?
What on earth is Produce Row? (Isn’t it a restaurant with a nice outside patio?) Does branding a neighborhood really help it grow?
Wieden+Kennedy is hosting a talk on Thursday called “Selling people things they do need,” discussing their work for cultural institutions such as Travel Oregon, the American Indian College Fund and Caldera. Does that mean the rest of their work sells people things they don’t need?
Should humanitarian design be shown in a craft museum? How does that help the public understand design? How does it confuse?
Where does the creative services industry rank in relation to Portland’s other industries?
If Portland had a design manifesto, what would it say?