the sally sisson blog


March 9, 2018

Wear Equality: Design of the Times

Last fall, on a guided walking tour of the Helsinki Design District, I learned a fun fact in the Marimekko flagship store. The Tasaralta, their iconic striped shirt (pictured above), is more than just a wardrobe staple. It’s also a bold statement piece.

Unlike the stripes on, say, the classic Breton or L.L. Bean sailor shirt, these ones are equally spaced. The even stripes symbolize equality—between genders and people of different ages, shapes and sizes. “Even stripes for equality” is the tagline.

This was news to me. I’ve been a fan of the textile brand for decades (even making curtains out of Marimekko sheets to match my Marimekko bedspread in my first college dorm room). But I guess I’d never given the stripes on their pillows and T-shirts a second thought.

Purposeful design is a hallmark of the company. “Fairness to everyone and everything” is one of their company values. The vision from the start was to create functional, everyday, often unisex (or anonymous) clothing that would suit anyone and everyone, “empowering people to be true to who they are.”

Last year the company teamed up with Equality Now, an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of women and girls around the world. As part of a six-week campaign, Marimekko stores in North America and online donated $10 USD to the charity for each Tasaraita “even stripe” garment sold. Read more here:

WWD: Marimekko Partners With Equality Now for Partnership to Encourage Women’s Empowerment

Feminist icon, ahead of her time

Later that day I lingered in the Design Museum and learned more of the backstory. Finnish textile designer Armi Ratia and her husband Viljo founded Marimekko in 1951 after buying the Printex fabric company. These were drab post-war times and their aim was to crank things up with bold, colorful patterns and create inventive new designs. In the first decade Marimekko built up a solid line of clothing and home accessories, along with a loyal Scandi following.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the company really made a name for itself worldwide. That’s when Jackie Kennedy bought seven of their dresses in a single shopping spree, later showing them off on the campaign trail. Pictures of the First Lady in her crisp, modern frocks soon made the fashion news and, most famously, the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. The fashions were seen as comfortable and approachable, everyday designs for everyday life.

The late sixties brought bolder designs and political statements. 1968 saw the launch of the Equal Rights Amendment campaign in the U.S., a strike for equal pay by 850 women machinists at the Dagenham Ford factory in the U.K., and the election of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to sit on the U.S. House of Representatives. Looking back now, the debut of the Tasaraita even-striped T-shirt that year makes perfect sense.

 

“I don’t sell clothes, I sell a way of living. They are designs, not fashions. I sell ideas, not dresses.”

– Armi Ratia, textile artist and founder of Marimekko, 1963

It wasn’t until decades later that Armi gained the recognition she deserved as Finland’s foremost female entrepreneur—and one of the world’s most famous designers.

“At Marimekko, Armi Ratia was a textile artist, managing director, creative director, wizard of words, publicity guru, and wellspring of inspiration. She had an incredible ability to decipher the mood of the times and sense future trends. She also had a genius for recognizing talent and finding ways to realize even the wildest, most imaginative ideas. 

“Even today, Marimekko’s success owes much to Armi’s ideas. She was a trailblazer who made Marimekko a way of life, an attitude, a phenomenon embracing the everyday and the extraordinary.”

– marimekko.com 

Another bold icon to celebrate on International Women’s Day, I’d say.

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November 22, 2010

Where’s Bill Nye When We Need Him?

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Climate Change Skeptics vs. 21st Century Skills Movement in Schools

I’ve got Bill Nye on the brain. I miss seeing him on PBS and now he keeps popping up in unlikely (online) places. Recently he was featured in an Utne Reader blog post (“Bill Nye is the Archbishop of Scientism”) that described his take on the current climate change debate. Having been awarded the 2010 Humanist Award, he was extolled for his “unflappable faith in science.”

In his words:

Climate change is going to affect the world in ways that are truly hard to imagine. And it’s this hard-to-imagine nature that’s costing us so dearly in time. We’re losing valuable time because of disbelief in the scientific method.”

Math + Science = Future

A couple weeks ago Bill joined Al Gore and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a Global Online Town Hall forum called “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation.” More than a thousand students joined in the live discussion about the future of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Other panelists included astronaut Sally Ride, inventor Dean Kamen, and the stars of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. The program was just one small piece of Connect a Million Minds (CMM), Time Warner Cable’s $100 million philanthropic initiative to advance education and careers in STEM fields.

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

In October the National Journal reported that 19 of the 20 GOP Senate challengers deemed climate change a non-issue, declaring the science behind it either inconclusive or wrong. Some of those same politicians are now gunning for seats on the House Energy Committee, and pledging to attack existing environmental policies, discredit scientists, and do away with the EPA’s authority to tighten emissions controls on coal, oil and other carbon fuels.

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This flies against the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists.

Separation of Science and State?

As a citizen and parent, I find this disconnect deeply disturbing. As someone who writes about science, technology and trends in K-12 education, I find it mind-boggling.

Science is a key focus of the 21st Century Skills movement. STEM skills are in demand around the globe, and teachers, students and professionals are being challenged to deepen knowledge and keep on the cutting edge of scientific advances.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills outlines recommended outcomes for core subjects and relevant interdisciplinary themes, e.g., Environmental Literacy. In K-12 classrooms, students engage in authentic learning online with real scientists and government groups like NOAA, NASA and, ironically, the EPA.

So while students and schools are ramping up science, government officials are dumbing it down. It doesn’t make sense.

Call for Alternative Energy

Today I searched on YouTube for a video clip I’d seen a couple years ago. Nye’s call to invest in wind and solar energy seems especially prescient right about now. Check it out:

Repower America: Bill Nye the Science Guy

YouTube

Voice of reason

Okay, so here’s the other reason we need Bill Nye: He’s a reasonable, even-tempered guy who’s trying to help us reach across the aisle here. In his words:

We all have a tendency to dismiss people who believe other things, who are outsiders, or who speak other languages. I constantly have to fight the urge to say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! That’s crazy!”

My advice is just try to listen and see if you can figure out what it is that makes a person not want to believe in climate change, not want to accept that Venus is like Earth only a little different, not want to question things….So try asking instead of telling. Ask people, “What is it about science that you don’t like?”

Sounds like we could all read a page from his book. Click here to read more from his entertaining acceptance speech for the 2010 Humanist Award.

Closing thoughts…

“It is through science, and the discovery of scientific processes, that I came to be a skeptic and came to really embrace critical thinking. I came to embrace the idea that you probably only get one shot at life, so, roughly, don’t blow it.”

— Bill Nye the Science Guy
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November 4, 2010

Left vs. Right: Re-visualizing the political spectrum (in polarizing times)

l vs r

Click for full size version:

Left vs. Right: A Visualization of the Political Spectrum

Fair and balanced

Back in January I posted this infographic on my Facebook page as an interesting example of information design. I found it thought-provoking, but didn’t bother to articulate why.

Then this morning, I was watching a TED talk on YouTube with information designer David McCandless, and up popped the same chart. (Ironically, I had just come indoors after pulling my collection of political yard signs out of the ground, hoping to appease my neighbors.)

Viewing the graphic nearly a year later, in the aftermath of the cut-throat mid-term elections, it struck me as quaint and out of date. The hues of red and blue now looked too subdued, the lines too soft around the edges. It’s a friendly looking graphic, in contrast to the technicolor FOX News one in my mind.

And I guess that’s part of the point — and perhaps the chief reason it begs a second look. These are polarizing times, and we desperately need to find some commonality.

Oh say, can you see…

As McCandless eloquently described the thought process behind his infographic, I scribbled down his words (on Post-its, the back of an envelope, and the margins of the comics section of the Boston Globe). Here’s the bit that resonated with me most:

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“When I was designing this image, I desperately wanted this side, the left side, to be betterthan the right side (…being a journalist type, a left-leaning person). But I couldn’t because I would have created a lopsided, biased diagram. So in order to really create a full image I had to honor the perspectives on the right-hand side, and at the same time I had to sort of, uncomfortably, recognize how many of qualities were actually in me—which was really, really annoying… and uncomfortable.

“But not too uncomfortable … because there’s something unthreatening about seeing a political perspective versus being told or forced to listen to one.

You’re capable of holding conflicting viewpoints, joyously even, when you can see them.”

consiousnessA matter of perspective

“That’s what’s exciting for me: to see how data can change my perspective and change my ideas, even mid-stream.”

— David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful,
available on Amazon.com and at informationisbeautiful.net


Watch the entire TED Talk here:

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

(Click on link above. The Left vs. Right bit is at 14:50.)

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