Steph's Blog

A group of students bustled around the first floor of the Comal building at Texas State University. Already, I could tell these weren’t normal college students. They were smartly dressed and fully alert at 9am on a Saturday morning. I grabbed my name tag and made a beeline for the coffee.

As I munched on a tasty sticky bun, I listened to the conversations around me. There was so much energy in that lobby!  A group of students chatted comfortably with representatives from Dell and AT&T about research. One girl waved her hands as she explained her work with Hays County Food Bank to an attentive group of students from universities across the state. I knew right away that the 2017 Texas Applied Anthropology Summit was going to be a Saturday well-spent.

So what can a Designer learn from a bunch of Anthropologists?

Focus Group Techniques

Focus groups get a bad rap these days, but mostly because they get misused. In this session with Jessica White-Sustaita, of Sentier, and Tanya Feinstein, of Dell, we learned when Focus Groups are appropriate. We also touched on common pitfalls, like asking leading questions, or showing bias. Finally, we did our own card sorting exercise.

Stakeholder Communication & Relationship Building

In this session with Winter Calaway, Senior User Experience Researcher at AT&T, we learned all kinds of tips about making it in the corporate world. Turns out, anthropologists attain mad people-skills that can help them navigate shifting priorities from stakeholders. They are also trained bridge-builders who can mediate cross-cultural differences for companies and organizations. I think what I learned most from this session is simply to keep an open mind and ask lots of good questions.

Facilitating and Managing Customer Panels

By far, my favorite session was the last one of the day. It was a workshop by Cary-Anne Olsen-Landis and Susan Jasinski, both of IBM Design Thinking, and they covered a LOT. Cary-Anne talked to us for a bit about IBM and then we jumped right into our activity. We had to come up with a new Apple watch feature, define our users, determine how to test this new feature, sketch out a rough schedule for conceptualization, prototyping, and user-testing. We did this in 3 10-minute sprints, and it was COOL. Cary-Anne and Susan were super supportive, and, of course, I had an awesome partner, Sarah Davis, of Baylor University. We were having so much fun that I forgot to take pictures, but I did get a snapshot of our idea board.

Collaborative Problem Solving

In conclusion, TAAS reinforced the importance of cross-discipline collaboration. In school, we tend to stay in our own little groups. However, as I learned on Saturday, the best ideas and the most efficient solutions happen when researchers, designers, engineers and stakeholders get together.

I truly hope I am not the only designer to attend TAAS next year!

Shout Out

Special thanks to the woman who split the sticky bun with me!

Also, thanks to Reyda Taylor of PKE Insights for chatting with me.

Thanks to Angela Ramer of HKS for being kind even though I temporarily stole your swag bag.

And, most important of all, thanks to my husband, for being a kick-ass husband and anthropologist and flying in from training in Chicago to attend this event. xoxoxo

Steph's Blog

Flea Markets and Postmodernism

On any given Saturday afternoon in the 90s, my family could be found rummaging through a garage sale or hitting the road to some little downtown to explore the antique shops. Department stores, with their carefully selected, priced, and arranged items were not for us. We were after unique items with a story that spoke to us on a personal level.

There was one type of venue that was always my favorite: the flea market. Not the antique shop on the square, where all the items are thoughtfully curated and overpriced. No, I am talking about a true flea market located in the still-to-be-renovated part of downtown. It is open during odd hours and the only way to find it is to follow the hand-painted signs. It’s a risk. You might get lost, or you might find a fabulous chandelier.

This to me is postmodernism.

Flea markets reject the grid. You walk in and there is a table full of dingy stuffed animals, dishes, and spare car parts to your left. To your right is a hodgepodge of furniture. There’s an add-on where the carpet changes color and slopes down into a room of flower pots and romance novels. No signs, no flashing lights, you the shopper must make sense of it all (Figure 1).

Figure 1. April Greiman, The Modern Poster, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988. Text swirls in space, some is set at an angle, and it is up to the viewer to decide what to look at first.

The flea market embraces the juxtaposition of retro and contemporary. New stuff is mixed in with old stuff. A 20s flapper dress dangles off a rack next to a flat screen TV. “High art” mixes with “Low art”: a stack of dogeared People magazines sits atop a shelf of encyclopedias.


Figure 2. Herb Lubalin, U&Ic Magazine Cover, 1978. Retro type mixes with a new technique of inserting photography into type.

Nothing is priced in the flea market. Value is in the eye of the shopper. A $35,000 antique armoire could go for $50 if the shopper is a good haggler. On the other hand, a broken radio worth nothing to most people might sell for a few hundred bucks to someone who sees it as sculpture art.

You get the idea. postmodernism design can appear disorganized, embraces retro typefaces and vernacular, and caters to the individual. It is risky, but worth it to a willing audience.

Image references

Greiman, A. (1988). The Modern Poster, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, N.Y.: Accessed through ARTStore Slide Gallery, 9/7/2017.

Lubalin, H. (1978). U&Ic Magazine Cover. New York, NY: Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography. Accessed through Graphic Icons by John Clifford, pg 148.

Steph's Blog

Defining Postmodernism

Rick Poyner writes in No More Rules that “Postmodernism cannot be understood without reference to modernism.” (Poyner, 2003, p. 10).

Therefore, as a design theory, I define postmodernism as an extension of modernism: postmodern design is an expansion of typographic rules and an evolution of spacial understanding. For starters, in typography even the rebellious Wolfgang Weingart first learned the modernist rules of typography during his apprenticeship at a letterpress before he and his students began experimenting. Their work eventually became known as New Wave Typography. (Meggs, 2012) They sliced up characters, explored wide tracking, mixed typefaces, and pushed the bounds of readability in favor of imagery.

Second, in postmodern compositions I find example after example of letters and objects floating in space. In a complete rejection of the grid, postmodern design embraces intuition and favors personal interpretation. Without a grid, there is little in the way of traditional hierarchy to guide the eye through a design; looking at a poster, some viewers may see an object first, some may see the title first, some may see a quirky piece of punctuation first, and so on (see Figure 1). In postmodern design, this is an acceptable approach because typography is an experiment and space is subjective.

Greiman, postmodernmism poster.
Figure 1. April Greiman. Sci-Arc Poster, 1991. ARTstor Slide Gallery, accessed 9/7/2017. The photograph of the hand anchors the poster, but from there where does the eye go? To the eyeball at the top? The title in reverse? Or to “1991” with the thick border?


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Self Intro Type Poster

Last week was the beginning of Semester Two of the never-ending MFA program I got myself into (why do I do this to myself!?). I am a little more organized this semester. I bought a 3-subject, college-ruled notebook with dividers and pockets. And I revamped my blog so I can try to share what I’m up to with my 2 followers–one of whom is my mom, Hi Mama!
Our first project was pretty simple. A warm-up for the punishment that is to come, I’m sure. We each prepared something to introduce ourselves, using only type.  So … I designed a poster, featuring my scarf collection… tada!


An 11x17 poster, scarves shaped into letters to spell out "Stephanie" with a short paragraph describing Stephanie.
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