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Human-Centered Design – A Socially Responsible Approach to Engineering Consulting

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As I got off my plane and hit the dusty streets of Bangalore, I can’t say that I knew what to expect from the weeks ahead. The bumpy taxi ride to my hotel however, through a city alive with bustling streets full of cows and other honking traffic, gave me a brisk introduction to the Indian lifestyle.

I found myself in India earlier this year, after travelling to attend a 2-week long Humanitarian Design Summit run by Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Australia. By nightfall I was at the city’s busiest train station, where for the first time I could meet the other students attending the Summit with me. There were more than 40 of us, from universities all across Australia, trickling into the station wide-eyed and bleary from the many hours spent in transit. Together we then endured a rickety 12-hour train ride, sleeping on bunk beds through the night until we reached our destination in the town of Hubballi, Karnataka.

This was where our Design Summit officially began.

We spent the first couple of days exploring the town and adjusting to the local cuisine (and its effects on our digestive systems). Whilst Hubballi is considered one of the ‘smaller’ cities in India, it is home to nearly one million people – roughly a quarter of Melbourne’s population in an area one-tenth its size. Here EWB introduced us to the principles of Human-Centred Design and Appropriate Technology.

Typically, when engineers are faced with a design task, they are hardwired to use an old, conventional approach – to look for what problems exist, and then to see what needs fixing. In contrast, the Human-Centred model encourages engineers to focus instead on the strengths of a community first, to allow existing opportunities for development to be identified and further built upon through their designs. Additionally, Appropriate Technology aims to use locally sourced materials to create practical, low-cost design solutions for communities.

To practise using these methods, we were sent out in groups around Hubballi to discover how local people went about their daily lives, and use that information to create simple designs which catered to their lifestyles.  While this sounded easy, we soon found it was far more difficult than we’d imagined. Some locals told us there was no need for a design, or that they preferred to use other methods to achieve the same function, promptly dismissing many of our ideas. It became clear to us that one day of merely observing their community was not enough – we would need to consult with locals further if we wanted to present them with good designs.

Modern approaches like the Human-Centred model can help to counter some of the issues that emerge from traditional design methods, where well-intentioned programs can end up doing more harm than good to a community. Negative effects can often arise within the “voluntourism” industry where programs often attract volunteers looking to undertake meaningful work whilst travelling abroad. Despite their goodwill, such programs can inadvertently take jobs away from locals as volunteers end up doing the same work for free.

There is also the risk that a program identifies an issue – such as the fact that a village has no water supply – and invests in building a top-notch water pump before packing up and leaving. Yet later, when the pump inevitably needs maintenance, there may be no locals with the specialised knowledge or tools to fix the technology. Or, locals might discover that their pump drains water out of a local river, which causes villages downstream to have problems watering their crops. These are the types of problems which can result from a failure to properly consult with communities and consider the long-term consequences of a project.

In the next phase of the Summit, our group moved on to our homestay in the small quaint village of Nivaje, with a population of only around 1,000 people. We were welcomed into the village with open arms and swiftly became immersed in the locals’ way of life; working the fields by day; eating meals cross-legged on the ground, and sleeping on hard concrete floors by night.

The more time we spent amongst the locals, the more we were astonished by how tight-knit and resourceful their community was – they even had biogas chambers throughout the village. These large concrete chambers were being installed next to villagers’ houses, to allow locals to cook with the methane gas produced by cow manure as a cleaner, a more sustainable alternative to using conventional wood-fired stoves. The villagers were almost entirely self-sufficient too, growing all of the food and materials they needed to sustain themselves on their own land, and throughout our stay, we were shown how they practised rice farming and made their living – knowledge we could use to further improve our design concepts.

As the Human-Centred model encourages volunteers to empathise with locals first, and gain a proper understanding of how their community operates before designing anything, we aimed to avoid many of the problems associated with ‘voluntourism’. We used the model to focus our time on asking the locals questions, including what aspects of each design they liked, what they felt could be improved, and whether they would use it in their day-to-day lives.

After five incredible days in Nivaje our time ended with an emotional farewell ceremony, and we moved on to the larger town of Sawantwadi where we spent the last phase of the Summit finalising our prototypes. After presenting them back to our community leaders on the final day, we were pleased to find that they were mostly surprised and thrilled by our ideas.

Through the Design Summit, I learned an awful lot about rural Indian communities and their way of life. I was provided with great insights into the different approaches that exist towards community development, and how collaborative design has the real potential to benefit engineering and many other professions alike.

The locals’ kindness and hospitality towards visitors like myself allowed me to experience the vibrancy of Indian culture firsthand, and I certainly believe that the Design Summits run by EWB continue to provide students with a fantastic opportunity to learn and make great contributions toward disadvantaged communities across India, Nepal and Cambodia.

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Syria’s Struggle: What’s Really Happening

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March 2011; the words ‘It’s your turn doctor,’ appeared spray-painted on a wall in Syria’s Daraa.  The culprit’s a teenager, his words directed at President Bashar al Assad, a former ophthalmologist. Following a movement of uprisings across the Middle East, it was Assad’s ‘turn’ next to fall.

Dozens of children, reportedly as young as ten, are held hostage and tortured for weeks until the vandal confesses. Syrians respond to their leader’s ruthlessness with protests across the city. Security forces attempt to silence the protesters by opening fire, yet more Syrians join the rebellion. The government’s retaliation sparks an insurgence of radical groups to revolt against them and a civil war is born.

From the outside, it is easy to perceive the war as two sided, however the reality is much more complex. Assad’s original opposition was the secular group Free Syrian Army led by former military officials with the intent of creating a democracy. A few years into the war however the group has broken and is now random rebel militias fighting under it’s name. There are also a multitude of Islamic groups, ranging from moderate to extremist, most notably ISIS and al-Qaeda partner, Jabhat al-Nusra wanting to form an Islamic theocracy. Kurdish forces are also fighting hoping to obtain power of the territory, following their over 100-year long struggle for statehood. The greater issue at hand is that these groups aren’t only fighting Assad, but also each other.

Outside states are also influencing the war and whose intent in intervening is questionable. Syria’s flight and sea paths along with the country’s size and position is highly valuable, making it an asset as an ally. The U.S initially averted from the conflict until Islamic fighters moved into Iraq. They, along with a confederation of states including Australia, began airstrikes on Islamic targets in the area. Opposing Syrian neighbour Lebanon has shown Assad support along with Iran sending fighters and Russian bombing campaigns. Turkey opposes Assad however their attacks have targeted both ISIS and the Kurds.

Our most paramount concern within this conflict should be humanitarian and not political. Reportedly all parties, whether groups or governments, are guilty of targeting civilians and are accused of torture, abduction and employing children as soldiers. Assad has been accused of deaths in custody, arbitrary arrests, dropping bombs, cluster mutations, sieges and use of chemical weapons. Attacks involving poison gas leaks killed over 1000 people in Damascus during 2013, and at least 100 individuals in Idlib on April 4th of this year. Islamic groups are notorious for targeting civilians with tactics including public torture, executions, beheadings and kidnappings like the 154 Kurdish children in May, 2014. The effects are both extensive and astounding, with the United Nations estimating 400,000 dead, 7.4 million displaced and over 12 million needing humanitarian aid. The UN has had to cut many services as they can only afford to support half of the demanding need, including basic health and food subsides.

The unfortunate truth for Syria is that due to the widespread complexity and magnitude of the conflict no one knows how and when it will end. Resolution would be impossible to reach internally and instead relies on the moral assistance of outside parties; the results of which in the past have varied. In May 2014, 60 countries co-sponsored a Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court but it was blocked by Russia and China. However, by July 2014 UN agencies were authorised to deliver aid within the country. The reality is despite attempts for action, no group is strong enough win the war itself. Many suggest negotiating a new government is the only way the war may be able to end. All that is certain is that no one could have imagined four words painted on a wall could bring this level of catastrophe to a country.

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The intern: working out work experience

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“Make the most of it,” my dad says via Skype on the first day of my Arts international internship at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium. It’s the same advice he’s given me on the first day of every previous internship I’ve done: barrister’s chamber, publishing house, radio station, magazine office….

In this case I’ve travelled overseas for a slice of Europe, a character building experience and 12 credit points. But there are some things about internships that stay the same across the world. Excitement at new experiences conflicts with fear of endless photocopying. These are pretty regular emotions for any intern who’s put on a blazer and their best maturity for the first day on the job. While nothing can really protect you from the joys of photocopying if they do come your way, there are a few ways to maximise the results of your internship and gain much more than just 12 credit points.

Have confidence in your contribution:

Entering a workplace as a nervous intern, it’s easy to feel you should be seen and not heard, that you should avoid asking questions unless necessary and tiptoe past the other desks. Remember, you’re providing (normally free) help to an organisation – you should be praised! You’ll enjoy your experience more if you hold your head up high from the first day.

Ask questions:

Ask all possible questions about the industry and staff s’ specific roles, from exciting tasks to the more mundane. Ask especially about the mundane: Google will inform you about the glamorous side of job without having to leave your bedroom so maximise on the opportunity to hone in on the nitty gritty.

Take notes of their answers. Any feelings of dorkiness at pulling out your notebook will be well outweighed by the fact you’ll actually remember the precious, ungoogable information at the end of the day.

Once you’ve got a greater understanding of the workplace, don’t be afraid to ask staff slightly more meaningful questions. Why do they believe their work is important? What inspired them to pursue this path? While some will be willing to share more than others, gaging the values of people who work in a certain field is a good way to ascertain if this career path is for you.

Practically speaking, if you don’t want to distract people with questions while they’re working, approach them confidently and ask them by name if you can arrange a later time to sit down with them. They will be impressed by your interest and professionalism.

Don’t limit yourself:

While choosing a field of work related to your degree is relevant, when it comes to choosing an internship, don’t be narrow-minded. Work experience is exactly that, work experience.

You’re not committing to a career by spending a bit of time in an office. Internships are an opportunity for a short immersion in a field without long-term commitment. It’s the perfect way to learn about an area of work that you might be interested in but not inspired to devote your life to.

Don’t have too high expectations:

As previously alluded to, sometimes the tasks delegated to interns aren’t as exciting as you would like. In particular, the nature of short internships may make it hard to get involved in work requiring greater explanation or training. At the publishing house, I was thrilled to read publications and give a verdict on whether or not they should make the cut (extremely cool right?!). Rearranging the filing cabinet the next day was not quite as exciting.

View your internship holistically and you’ll find there’s no such thing as wasted time or a pointless task. The chance to see an office’s inner workings, ask endless questions, improve your communication skills with professionals, feel comfortable in a different environment and survive a full 9-5 day can be just as valuable.

Keeping in contact:

Half the benefit of an internship doesn’t happen in the office. Internships are about connections and networking which means asking outright for business cards and email addresses. The week after the internship send follow-up thank-you emails to everyone who answered your questions, helped you with work, made you feel welcome, and showed you where the closest coffee shop is…

It may feel slightly silly, particularly if you didn’t have the most welcoming experience. However, if you want someone to remember you when you need a reference or industry contacts, your memorable photocopying skills are probably not going to cut it.

If a thank you email feels too contrived, think of further questions you can ask by email to show a sustained interest in the field of work. That’s where the trusty notebook can come in handy. Being able to look back at a specific conversation and generate questions from your notes makes it look like we’re been paying attention big time.

In any internship, the benefits up for grabs are much more than just a CV reference and 12 credit points. While these ideas won’t save you from photocopying, hopefully they’ll allow you to walk away satisfied knowing you’ve made the most of a quintessential student experience.

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Tips and Tricks for First Years

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By Brian Shih and George Kopelis

Illustration by Angus Marian

Picture this: you are about to stride into a new stage of life. A stage in which you have to learn and study independently, write essays or reports that require perfect citing and referencing. This transition may be overwhelming, however, we’ve complied a list of the best tips and tricks that you can follow to bolster your confidence and performance so you can make the most of your first year at university!

Get A Map
Turning up late to your first tutorial because you couldn’t find the room is embarrassing – take it from us – so plan ahead and figure out where on campus your classes are. Download the Lost on Campus app or even the Monash app to make sense of all the building numbers and addresses. If you’re still lost in the middle of endless corridors, ask someone who looks like they are walking purposefully for directions.

Study On Campus
Classes don’t take up a whole lot of time at university, so make good use of your spare time and do some work on campus. The Louis Matheson library is the go-to study space at Clayton but with the refurbishment works all year, some sections may be closed.
If you want to do some serious study, check out the quiet upper floors of the Law library. More interested in chatting with friends and not getting work done? The Hargrave- Andrew library is perfect for that.
Brian says: There are plenty of alternative study areas, like the informal open space lounges in the Menzies building or the secluded John Medley library in the Campus Centre.

Actually Go To Lectures
You’ll struggle to get a seat in week one. However, by the mid semester break, half the lecture theatre will be empty. Keep up your routine and attend your lectures. Turn them into a social occasion – get your friends and hang out on the campus lawns or grab lunch as a group and suddenly you’ll have a reason to show up every week.

Extreme Couponing
Make your dollar go as far as possible – take advantage of weekly free/dirt cheap breakfasts and barbecues organised by the MSA or other clubs and societies. Carpooling costs $75 per person for a year and is way cheaper than forking out $400 for a blue permit. Pick up an MSA Card for $20 and get access to a whole range of discounted food and other goodies on and off campus. (20% off everything at Sir John’s Bar adds up after a semester).
George says: Before buying your textbooks, have a look online on Monash Marketplace to see if anyone is selling your book second hand and at a much more affordable price. Make sure it’s the right edition though.

Practice Your Signature
You’ll be signing up to plenty of clubs during O Week, which is a great time to find groups that match your interests. MSA cards give you free membership to most clubs on campus. Don’t feel obligated to go to every event if you sign up and feel free to drop out of any group if you find them too boring/too rowdy/too time consuming.
Brian says: I started uni in the middle of 2015, and with no major exhibitions for clubs and societies in July, I missed out on being properly introduced to a handful of clubs and societies. Take the time during O Week to find like-minded people outside of lectures and tutorials because it’s a great chance to do so.
University is a place where you learn and create memories. Do not be afraid of making mistakes and always remember that you are not alone. – There are plenty of resources at Monash to reach out to. Now, embrace all challenges and start exploring!

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Toying With Gender

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In the UK, they sell more Rabbits than dishwashers. I’m not talking about the little fluffy animal; I’m talking about the sex toy.

Sex toys can be a pretty fascinating (as well as deeply satisfying) interest. For example, some of the first vibrators were invented in the mid to late 1800s as a medical device.  See, when a woman came to her doctor with a vague variety of symptoms including frustration, cramps, headaches or really anything experienced on a near day-to-day basis, it was pretty common to be diagnosed with a disorder called “hysteria”. The treatment- and I am not making this up- was for doctors to masturbate their patients to orgasm, except they referred to it as ‘pelvic massage’ to ‘hysterical paroxysm’. They thought it was a totally non-sexual, standard medical procedure.

As you can imagine, it’s a pretty tiring occupation if your wrist is making the same gesture for 8 hours or so a day.  Thus, a (male) doctor in the US made a steam powered machine that could do the job for them and vibrators were welcomed into the world. By the early 1900s they had become electrified and available for retail as readily as toasters so women could treat themselves at home. But, when they started making an appearance in pornography in the 1920s, people realized that women were having orgasms with the things. Shock horror! They fell out of the mainstream, becoming part of the realm of ‘deviance’ before their triumphant return in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. They have been creeping back into the limelight ever since.

Personally, I think sex toys are fabulous – it’s double the orgasm with half the effort. But unsurprisingly society seems to have a bit of a strange relationship to them. Depending on who you talk to they’re either  the new must have accessory or something that makes everyone within earshot feel a little awkward. But no matter the conversation, sex toys are almost always associated with women – whether it be the crude and grossly oversized phalluses you find in Club-X or the beautiful yet heartbreakingly expensive works of art created by JimmyJane, the assumption seems to be that sex-toys are intended for one gender only.  But, as I’m sure many of you non-women folk have experienced, this simply isn’t the case. The world of sex toys intended for bio-sex males is as wide and diverse as any; masturbators, p-spot massagers, rings, and sleeves harnesses are all designed for anatomy traditionally associated with men- but the mindset around them is different.

Cosmopolitan has written goodness knows how ever many top 10 lists about the best sex toys that are guaranteed to get their readership’s rocks off, but whenever Men’s Health mentions them it’s either about finding the best one for you and your (always) female partner or whether or not you should be intimidated by the toy she saw in Cosmo. Why is a woman having a sex toy is seen as sexy, independent and empowering but a guy having one is either creepy or pathetic?

What is odd about sex toy stigma hanging around men is how masturbation stigma seems to still surround women. In my experience of being a lady who associates with other ladies, masturbation is something that is just never, ever discussed. I’m sure it’s not exactly dinner table conversations with a group of guys either, but at least in my own experience, there is the expectation or at least the understanding that it’s just a ‘natural part of manhood.’ Among women, that same feeling just doesn’t seem to be there.  While there should definitely be a more accepting attitude towards masturbation all round, I don’t think that the current attitudes are really helping anyone (but they might help explain a discrepancy in sales).

Masculinity tends to dictate that men need to be in charge of their sex drive. Masturbation for them makes sense as something that they should do often and with vigor because they’re manly, virile men! Society holds for men (and to a lesser extent, women) this idea that sex, both by yourself and with other people, is something that should be easy. If it’s difficult, you’re the problem. This couples with the apparent goal of all men being to go and peruse as much sex with as many women as possible – masturbation’s only really meant to tide one over. I can’t help but think that under this logic, buying a sex toy as a man would (very unfairly) be perceived as a like a failure. The only reason a guy would need a toy is if he was inadequate at obtaining ‘actual’ sex and he can’t get his hand to finish the job.

The same idea that holds men to having an overwhelming sex drive holds women to the idea that they should have next to none. Though they may occasionally be in the mood by themselves, their sexuality is largely reactive to their partner’s – once they have a man, they only want sex to express their love and commitment. Thus, it would make sense for a woman to need a toy, she needs some sort of device to help her sexuality along as she waits for Mr. Right – how else can she possibly be expected to navigate the maze between her legs by herself?

Now I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I love sex toys. As much as a think that the two paragraphs above are generally bullshit, for me buying a toy was fantastic. I had a lot of sexual frustration coupled with a fantastically lazy personality – it was a good match. Even though I know plenty of women who just want sex for sex’s sake and buy toys with no intentions of waiting for Prince Charming, in this particular regard, I feel like the stereotype has been worse for men. For me it’s just frustrating that men should be barred from finding new avenues of pleasure just because it’s seen as gross or unnecessary.

What I’m getting at is we need to talk about masturbation more. We need to talk about it if we want to, when we want to and how we want to. Just as it takes time to know your partner’s body, it takes time and practice to understand your own. For some people this comes really naturally, for some not so much, no matter their anatomy or gender. You might find that it’s not your cup of tea –that’s fine! You may find that you love it – also fine! If you need or want a little assistance, then welcome to the wonderful world of toys.

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Accelerating Linkages Between Creative Industries In Australia And The UK

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In 2009, an innovative pilot program which endeavors to provide development opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people engaged in creative industries was launched by the British Council. This program, Accelerate, offers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the opportunity to travel to the UK for professional development and to build lasting connections between the two countries.  Three years down the track, the program has gone from strength to strength.

As Director of the British Council in Australia Nick Marchand says, one of the beliefs underpinning the program is that “future leaders need the time and support to develop their own career plans, explore their leadership strengths and weaknesses, and build local and international networks.”

The British Council also recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creative artists, art administrators and others in the industry are often not represented in senior levels of management and leadership in the Australian art sector. Positive signs that this trend is being redressed are already beginning to show, with alumni from past years of the program having formed strong collaborative projects with The Globe Theatre, Welsh National Theatre and the River of Music performances on the River Thames prior to the London Olympics this year.

The creative sector in Australia is somewhat limited, and artists often struggle to transcend barriers to success. As such, the international quality of this program is of great value to artists. One of last year’s participants speaks highly of Accelerate as “It introduced me to the rest of the world.”

In 2012, the Accelerate Program attracted 40 applicants, with 14 shortlisted and around five individuals to be selected later this year to take part in the UK residency. Shortlisted candidates have the chance to put the UK devised theories on cultural leadership including the technique of ‘action learning’ into practice over a weekend workshop. Over a few days, the shortlisted cohort will work collectively to develop creative strategies for addressing real challenges they face, each contributing their own unique skills and knowledge.

The applicants specialise in a wide array of disciplines. In 2012, Accelerate has brought together individuals involved in design, fashion, graphic, photography, new media, theatre, architecture and dance.

Isaac Drandic is the director of the Ilbijerri Theatre Company, and has been shortlisted for this year’s program. Ilbijerri is the longest running Indigenous Theatre Company in Australia, and the only one in Victoria.

Drandic speaks excitedly of being involved in the world of Indigenous theatre at the moment, which he says is “growing and growing”. Ilbijerri has recently staged exciting high profile collaborations at the Sydney Opera House and with the Melbourne International Arts Festival, all of which raise the profile of Indigenous actors, playwrights and the stories they tell.

Ilbijerri’s recent show Binjareb Pinjarra tackled some raw themes, including the disputed histories of Australia, with humour and strength. Drandic talks about the show as “a response to the challenge to the history books,” drawing particularly on the experience of cast members and their curiosity to learn more about the Pinjarra incident. This incident, which took place in Pinjarra, Western Australia, was initially recorded as a ‘battle’ but is now considered by contemporary historians to have been a massacre of Aboriginal people.

Keeping in mind the emerging success of companies like Ilbijerri and Bangarra Dance Company in Australia and abroad, there is evidence that many people are interested in Indigenous stories. In Drandic’s words “there is a great hunger out there for it.” Further to the function of theatre and the arts as a source of entertainment, there is also an inherent educational opportunity.

Asking Drandic what he thinks is unique about Indigenous theatre he tells of how “A lot of Indigenous theatre has a direct call to the audience. It allows the audience into the storyteller’s relationship with the story that they’re telling. It becomes this personal thing. It’s part of your history and your story.”

Drandic, if successful, will join a host of talented Indigenous artists and creative practitioners to take to the UK sometime in the next few months. Drandic will be able to take his message, and the message of many Indigenous Australians, to a broader stage, and receive the support necessary to make Indigenous stories a permanent part of the Australian arts scene. The long-term goal is to make Indigenous theatre as prominent and respected as Western creative traditions.

It has been calculated that 1.3 million people in the UK are employed in creative industries. The scope and impact of this industry for creating employment, encouraging a dialogue with the public and generating an image of Australia for cultural consumers abroad show why it is important to address the disparities of access and representation faced by Indigenous Australians within this employment field.

The message is a simple one; Indigenous creatives should be empowered to go abroad, be brave and bold and to hope that through intercultural experiences these individuals will accelerate the development of our domestic sector.

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