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Diverge Weekly Issue #5: The First Reflection Issue

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Diverge
April 07, 2020
5 min read

We’re going to try something a little bit different this week and reflect a bit about this project and its goals. This is issue #5 (including a prototype issue 0 which no one saw), so it felt like time to take stock.

What is this Newsletter?

I’m still trying to figure out what this newsletter is meant to be and where its identity lies. The current subtitle of the site is: Every Wednesday, a look at design and designers through the lens of global affairs to inform, inspire, and activate. This tagline is going to change a fair bit as the site changes, of course, but it does do a good job addressing what I want to accomplish:

  1. To use design practice and discourse as a lens to engage with global affairs — from conflicts, to supply chains, to our current global pandemic. I’m also trying to focus on the work of design, asking what products, services, insights, and experiences are generated through design practice and where we are seeing that in international events.
  2. To funnel critical international relations theory and practice INTO the domain of design practice. I’m currently doing a masters in International Security Studies, so this is very much something I’m discovering. I’m not quite sure what this looks like yet, but one of the ways I’ve been trying to do it is through the “Happenings” section, which looks at regional news, highlights non-western (though ultimately usually still English language) news sources, and contextualizes that news around the weekly topic.
  3. To highlight the different ways that design manifests around the world, ESPECIALLY where it doesn’t get framed as design. IR scholar Cynthia Enloe suggests that “Making feminist sense of international politics requires that you exercise genuine curiosity about each of these women’s lives—and the lives of women you have yet to think about.” I believe that this person-centric lens on the international is the most meaningful entry-point for designers, and perhaps one that should be most familiar to designers. Engaging with the question of who does the “invisible work” of global affairs becomes a foundation for considering how design can have impact. I’m interested in looking past the often homogenous cliques of world leaders, looking at why power dynamics are the way they are and looking to the individuals and groups engaged in those systems.

Informing

My goal here is to highlight news that you might not see if you weren’t looking for it. I consume a lot of news, and I recall when I was living in the States, most of that news was caught up in American federal politics. Since moving to Copenhagen, I’m still pretty wrapped up in American politics, to be honest, but I’ve also been following a lot more news from the Middle East (I’m learning Arabic), from China and East Asia out of interest, from Africa as part of my masters and startup mentorship activities (that part is a bit random), and of course, lots and lots of European sources.

I don’t think you need to consume all of that. I probably shouldn’t. But as there’s a topic each week, I think the exercise of reflecting on that topic through the lens of these articles (primarily in the Happenings and Security Blanket sections) helps flush out the argument and gives you a starting point to structure your own view.

Inspiring

My perspective on all this is shaped by the designers and thinkers I’ve had the good fortune to work with, not to mention the near-unlimited access to the process stories of incredible design work from around the world. In the Design Voices, Feature, and ultimately this main writeup, I’m hoping to bridge design practice to the global in a meaningful way and set the example of how individuals and groups are already engaging in this work.

Activating

Finally, this is where I’m going to be developing this newsletter as I would develop an application. I want to use this platform as a way to create tools that help people get involved. Right now, that just looks like the job postings I share each week. But I’m also writing how-to guides and resources for preparing for international work and jobs, as well as personal design tools (like the Covid Anxiety forecasting game my wife and I made) that will help bring a level of focus to that work.

So. There is a lot going on here, and already from starting 6-7 weeks ago on this project, my perspective is changing and narrowing in quite a bit. Fundamentally though, I want to thank you for subscribing early and helping me get this going. It means a lot. Most of you are friends or former colleagues, some of you found your way here from my design research and consent app, Knowsi, and some of you just found your way here some other way. But I’m super grateful that you’re here. Also, if you want to give me any feedback (some of you have filled this out already), I have a small feedback form I sent out in Issue 3 which is still open.

Redesigns?

You might also notice that the newsletter and DivergeWeekly.com site have the beginnings of a redesign. The first version of the newsletter came together in January in two or three days. It’s a heavily DIY project. As a quick intro: I wrote the newsletter generator using GatsbyJS, a static website/blog tool I use for my website andrewlb.com. I modified it pretty heavily so that in addition to creating a static site (hosted on GitHub), it also generates the files for the newsletter, and uploads it to my self-hosted newsletter application, Sendy.co.

From there, each week I write this newsletter in Markdown, compile it using the special format that I developed, make sure everything is in place and hit send.

The first site didn’t have any visual design applied to it. This next version will have a fair bit more, and I’m hoping to get some help from someone with better visual design chops to develop the brand and layout a bit. However, what you’re seeing is the first step, and you can expect more changes in format and visuals to come along.

Additionally, I’m working on changing up the data model a bit so that it’ll be easier to see the Design Voices, News, and perhaps most important, jobs in a single place. That won’t happen immediately (this is a late-night passion project), but expect to see that coming up.

Finally, I mentioned the how-to guides and similar. I’m going to be interviewing other designers with international work experience both on the consulting and employment side of things in the weeks to come. So if you know anyone who fits that bill, please let me know, as I’d love to chat.

Thank you again for subscribing to Diverge! I love writing this, and I’ve been incredibly grateful for those who have helped. In particular, Ayla Newhouse, Scott Young, Zahra Ebrahim, Kai Brach and Michael Schwanzer to name a few.

As always, please subscribe to and share Diverge Weekly if you haven’t, and send me a note if you have questions or feedback!

Security Blanket

US cast as culprit in global scrum over coronavirus supplies

One of the most striking things about the Covid-19 pandemic has been the surge in protectionist measures that different countries have taken. It makes sense. The generous argument is that a country manages its own crises and then is able to open up to help its allies. Sitting here in Denmark as we’re beginning to loosen restrictions, I’m watching the Danish relationship with the much more at-risk Sweden around that particular theory.

But then there’s the more realist view that this was inevitably going to be the response — that state structures hold primacy, and that the state places its own power and security over all other things. What we’ve seen so far certainly can be seen as supporting that view. Countries are desperately competing for supplies, with the US leveraging its incredible wealth to push many of its allies around — most recently with the supposed hijacking of a personal protective equipment shipment to Germany.


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Diverge Weekly Issue #4: The Cycles Issue

Andrew Lovett-Barron

Software Designer and Researcher

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter (along with hundreds of others). I keep it short and useful.

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