Saturday, January 21, 2017

Nancy Austin CV on Design, Design Education for Women & the History of RISD

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2008-2017: Selected Projects

Women Founders & Leadership: RISD & the Art Club.” Making Her Mark - Symposium on the women founders of the Providence Art Club. (Saturday March 25, 2017)

The Women Who Founded RISD (Jan. 2017). Now available on

PechaKucha PVD for DesignxRI Week  "Imagine 19th c. Design Schools for Women", 2015

My Women's Fund of Rhode Island Blog post September 2, 2014

“The Utopian Promise of 19th c. Design Schools for Women”
Trade School/OurGoods collaboration at the Whitney Museum of Art, 2011

"Between 1848 and 1852, the first three design schools in America were opened by women for women in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. More cities founded design schools for both men and women in the years and decades that followed. This Trade School class starts with a talk about what this transformative design school movement meant for First Wave women, and for the next generation of women like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) who became a sculptor and later founded the Whitney Museum. We will then transitions into a group discussion of how this history might inform the education of today’s artists and designers. For example, how can we best mentor one another towards subjective, creative, and economic freedom?"

“First Wave Feminism and the Ecology of Culture in RI”
First Annual Feminist Art History Conference in Honor of Norma Brode, American University, 2010

"Thomas Tefft's Plans for an Art Museum and Design School"
Guest Curator,  Providence Athenaeum

“Women and Social Entrepreneurship in American Design Education, 1848 – Now” International IDSA [Industrial Designers’ Society of America] Annual Conference, Miami, 2009

[book review] “Andrew Saint, Architect and Engineer: a Study in Sibling Rivalry,” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (December 2009): 581-582.

[Three chapters in] Infinite Radius: founding the Rhode Island School of Design, ed. Andrew Martinez and Dawn Barrett. (2009): 171-242.

“Towards a Genealogy of Culture at the Rhode Island School of Design, 1876-1896.” 
Brown University PhD Thesis:
1.     “What a beginning is worth”: The Women’s Centennial Committee and Founding RISD                    
2.     “No Honors to Divide”: Mrs. Metcalf and the Trustees of the Women’s Centennial Fund
3.     A Place for Design: RISD at the Hoppin Homestead                           

4.     The Jones Bequest Lawsuit and the Meaning of a Museum at RISD

RISD Teaching ended: 1991-1999, 2003, 2008. Began Studio Austin Alchemy, 2008.

“Albert J. Jones: The New York Times’ Sculpture Critic in Italy, 1860-1876” 
City & the Book IV: Florence and the Americans, Florence, Italy (October 12, 2008). 
[See TLS February 27, 2009: 15.]

Footnotes (2008). A collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist Caroline Woolard for the juried show, Cryptic Providence. Austin exhibited an iteration of this project at the RISD, Museum of Art (2009). []

Teaching RISD 2008-1991
Rhode Island School of Design, 1991-1999, 2003, 2008
History of Industrial Design - servicing 80 global students for one-T.U.; Design History seminars; Undergraduate Advanced Design Studio on Interactive Appliances; Graduate Studio Seminars in Design History and Theory; Graduate Studio Thesis Advisor and Critic; Business & Professional Practice for graduating seniors; Guest Critic in Graphic Design & Architecture Studios.

“The RISD Hybrid: Design and the Language of ‘Art’, 1876-96,”
The Winterthur Biennial Conference on “Rethinking Design” (2004).

“Defining the Design in RISD,” RISD Views (Spring 2003): 22-23.

“‘What a beginning is worth’: The Women’s Centennial Committee of Rhode Island & the Founding of RISD, 1875-77.” The American Seminar, John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization, Brown University (2002).

“What a Beginning is Worth,” RISD Views (Fall 2002): 4-5.

“Founding Notions of Design at RISD,” Founders Day Forum for RISD’s 125th Anniversary (2002).

“Industrialization and the Language of Art and Design,” College Art Association (2001).

Teaching Yale University, 2001-1999
History of Industrial Design; Thesis Critic, School of Architecture.

“The Jones Bequest and the Meaning of a Museum in 1890s Providence,” The Rhode Island Round Table, John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization, Brown University (2000).

“Educating American Designers for Industry, 1853-1903,” in The Cultivation of American Artists: Education and the Commerce of Art in 19th-century America, ed. Diana Korzenik. (American Antiquarian Society, 1997): 187-206.

“Early American Female Designers: Betsey Metcalf, Sophia Woodhouse, and Mary Dixon Kies,” College Art Association Annual Conference -Women’s Caucus (1996).

Session Chair - “Tracing Usable Legacies: The Production of Art in Modern Consumer Societies,” College Art Association Annual Conference (1994).

“Educating American Designers for Industry, 1854-1903,” 
American Antiquarian Society Conference: Education and the Commerce of Art in 19thc. America.

Consumption Communities in the 1990s,” 
College Art Association Annual Conference - Design Forum. 

1991: Began Teaching at RISD

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Then: Design Thinking about Cloud Computing & the IoT in our RISD-ID studio, Fall 2008

Design Thinking is a dynamic process of iterative discovery.  

Design Thinking helps dismantle starting point preconceptions in order to discover and focus the intelligence in the information right in front of your eyes. 

The Appliance Studio that Lane Meyer and I taught at RISD in the Fall 2008 semester offers a case study of design thinking in action. In 2015, it is also an historical document of the last seven years during which time cloud computing, smart networked appliance peripherals and the Internet of Things, or IoT, have gone from being futuristic concepts to an accepted part of our lives. 

We began by considering the category: Appliance. How could we open the Design Thinking process? Perhaps by asking if appliances were gendered? What was the difference between a tool and an appliance?

We began the studio asking: 

"If a toaster is “clearly” an appliance, and a refrigerator the largest one, where does that leave an elevator, electric wheelchair, cell phone, hand drill or vibrator? Are appliances in some way “female” and domestic, while "tools" are just re-labeled "masculine" appliances? If the category of appliances did begin in the 1880s as a way to domesticate the new power source of electricity, what analogies and opportunities can we draw today in our connected world? This studio is concerned with how designers can reconceptualize this product typology.

We will be asking questions like:

  • What social, cultural, and historical conditions gave rise to the appliance as we think we know it? 
  • How can designers use this conceptual insight to redefine the parameters of their participations
  • What are goals for the "new"? To be better? Higher tech? Ecological? Stylish? Subversive? Spiritual? Instructive? Or maybe, eliminated? 
  • What happens when we consider behavior and context more than form? That is, when the focus shifts from designing for the appliance as a stand-alone object, to seeing it perform as an actor in a larger narrative of use? What will appliances look like when they move almost entirely from noun to verb?
  • How are these insights and objectives interpreted into: expression, design approaches, materials, manufacturing, marketing and use?

The studio journey ended in a very different place:

Having studied the past, how do young designers at RISD envision the future of appliances today? The conclusion is clear. One hundred years ago a string of innovative new electrical appliances (from toasters to vibrators to vacuum cleaners) were designed to make use of the new mass distribution of electricity. A century later, we are in a similar moment of high innovation. But the utility the young designers instinctively responded to was “cloud computing”, not electricity. In their near-future scenarios, these designers imaginatively considered appliances as Web 2.0 peripherals - part of the coming Internet of Things (IoT).

What does this mean? “Cloud computing” refers to the time when computation will take place in a centralized “cloud” of data servers to provide a service as ubiquitous as electricity is today. Thus, the appliances we use will become “peripheral devices” that “talk” to the cloud, but won’t need computer hardware to so.

Further, these new appliances will not be toasters and vacuum cleaners, but products that are interactive and respond to emotional as well as physical data. Originally the Internet handled documents, but Web 2.0 refers to the shift toward social network interactions. Already many Web 2.0 Internet applications feed information into the cloud, and reveal us to ourselves as we become human sensors, adapting to and describing social networks and emotional states. 

(For example, this capability is imaginatively revealed in the Web 2.0 project "We feel fine".) When this possibility is coupled with new smart materials that respond to bodily metrics, a whole new range of design possibilities open up. It is a given that we will use gestures of touching the surfaces of our Web 2.0 appliances in order to sort information on demand.

The work of the RISD-ID Appliance Studio student designers reveals a future of networked appliances and smart materials that will provide metrics about our own emotional and bodily condition, and that of others. It is in part a practical world where data from one context is easily transported to another location, and turned into useful information. In other scenarios the students predicted a future of narrative and role playing that cuts to the heart of how we present ourselves to our self, to our partners or to anonymous “others”. Still other projects dealt with light and time, and the tool/nature interface.

We are in the middle of a period of innovation and the future is still to be determined. Personal portable computers did not become widely available until the 1980s. This first decade of the 21st century has brought us a host of hand-held devices. And within another decade each of us will be managing a personal network of 1000 devices, according to a recent European Union study. Who will design these devices in the coming Internet of Things or IoT?

Clearly the design of appliances as Web 2.0 peripherals in the new age of cloud computing is an opportunity of great magnitude for industrial designers. If we look to the past and the historical analogy of mass electrification, we discover that the form language of electrical appliance design was in large part determined by the electrical engineering industry and sheet metal manufacturing companies that had staked out this new market. 

And so we need to ask: what industry will move in to develop the future of Web 2.0 peripheral devices? Will these products be defined mostly by cell phone companies, like Nokia’s morph and lifelog project? Or computer software and hardware companies, like Microsoft and Apple? Or can we approach the problem another way? What do RISD’s young industrial designers see?

2008 RISD-ID Advanced Studio on Appliance Designco-taught by Nancy Austin and Lane Myer.

Students + Final Project:
  • Amy Su - Shared Heartbeat Appliance
  • Andrew Bui - New Interactions for Time, Light, and Nature Appliances
  • Arthur Harsuvanakit - A Good World Appliance
  • Ashley Schwebel - An Apt Appliance
  • Bam Wipop Suppipat - Emotional Safety Appliance
  • Crystal Soares - Stored Rest Appliance
  • Joo Lee - Combined Appliances
  • Meng Le - Small friends for Big Appliances
  • Michelle Lee - Light Pattern Home Appliance
  • Soomi Lee - Sex Play
  • Tal Yehoud - Interactive Elevator Appliances
  • Toomi Moilanen - Coffee4U Appliance

Lane Myer on visualizing Design Thinking as a Process

Lane Myer on “Four Mythical Approaches to a Project. Or Investigation” (November 08, 2008)

1. You Start. You hope to Finish.
No need to identify a Middle. You just work.

2. You Start with a feeling of LOTS OF TIME. Then suddenly you feel TIME IS RUNNING OUT and you push to “finish”.  Again, there is no middle. It is more about a feeling of time as a substance you have to push through, and then it is gone/over.

3. There is a Beginning. Middle. An end.
They are discrete doors you pass through and you do not or cannot cycle back into the earlier steps. It is a linear sequence of clear-cut steps.

4. Like #3, but with a Cyclical Method that allows constant investigation from beginning to middle to end to new beginning.

These “Four Mythical Approaches” can each be visualized as follows:

1. Start ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Finish


3. Begin. Middle. End.

4. Research Phase-----Development Phase-------Presentation Phase------Research anew
It is a cycle you never leave for life.

Question, research, explore


Form an opinion,
Make connections.

Communicate with others in a context.

Presentation – not as icing on cake but response to question: does this segment of research satisfy you with what’s at hand?

Visualize this process constantly to help the cycle of question/opinion/point of view.

So. This process is active and external to the mind. At every step you need to visualize the investigation, the connections developed, and the best way to communicate to others.

It is a mistake for people to think the Start to Finish process is going to take place all in their mind and then suddenly find external form. In fact, it is a disaster to work this way.

Discovery is fun. Ask: What do you need to do to make the next discovery and get the question advanced?

Use the right tool. 

In this way you have a path that never ends, but which is constantly communicating to yourself and to others.

This is about the process of doing and communicating. It does end up accomplishing a lot, but a primary need to focus on the end mission of “Accomplish” can get in the way. Method #4 takes the panic out.” It is not possible to do it all in your head. You must have a process for dealing with the middle in the best, fun way.

Nancy Austin 2008 talk at Yale on
 “Appliances as Performance Peripherals in the New Age of Cloud Computing," 

Yale University Material Culture Lecture Series (December 4, 2008). 
[Archive of talk coming soon.]

Lane Myer at Nancy Austin's Site Specific Installation on
RISD history, October 2008
It was a booked semester! Nancy Austin spoke on RISD history in Florence Oct 12, 2008.
[See the TLS Feb. 27, 2009: 15.] And also the RISD student-led initiative, "What We Do".
She also taught a Critical History of Industrial Design alone for a final time to 70 global students.
See RISD ID History

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nancy Austin CV on Place Making & Disruptive Location Technologies

2014: "Glocal" Place Making & the Digital Front Door blog post

Lovecraft’s surprise ranking on Pantheon, that I described in an earlier post, and this surprise donation to the Providence Athenaeum provide a case study on how a local nonprofit can greet and partner with a digital global “public”. … The H.P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust project is an example of a digitally connected community longing for place-based ways to witness their respect and admiration.

Who are your ambassadors? Outsiders & the Open Door

Neither Lovecraft nor Poe nor even Sarah Helen Whitman was ever a member of the Providence Athenaeum. These outsiders recognized and became devoted to a special place, but were never part of the inside circle - or even the next few rings out. Yet it was the financially beleaguered female poet Sarah Helen Whitman (1803-1878) who has been the most effective long term maven connecting the Athenaeum to Poe, Mallarme, and Manet. Now, H.P. Lovecraft joins the ranks as vital ambassador for the Providence Athenaeum. This is the kind of historical insight that can channel strategy in new ways.
Posted May 6, 2014

2014: "Pantheon" - Greeting the Global at your Digital Front Door 

Pantheon is a “Big Data” project from the MIT Media Lab that will convince non-profits to visualize Wikipedia as a digital front door that can advance public mission. What strategies can help the local nonprofit greet the global digital public? 

Posted April 28, 2014

2014, 2012: “People in Place”, Mapping Barrington, Rhode Island’s Industrial Past
Currently on view at the Barrington (RI) Preservation Society through June 30, 2014

Designed as an innovative prototype for the digital humanities, this Roger Williams University Historic Preservation student project provides new contexts for understanding about 25 historic buildings and locations in Barrington, and the men and women who lived and worked here.

2012: Historic Urban Signage, Place Making & new Cultural Tourism Apps

“Urban Signage in Providence, 1770-1890,” Before Madison Avenue: Advertising in Early America  
[Co-sponsored by the Visual Culture Program at the Library Company of Philadelphia (VCP at LCP) & the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society (CHAViC at AAS).]

2011-10: Facts & Interesting Fictions: Locating the American Academy in Rome’s Founding History

Friendship at the Shack - Presentation at American Academy in Rome (Feb. 23, 2011)

Founding the American Academy in Rome - AARome Blog (May 24, 2010)

Tracing the AAR’s First Twenty Years: The Villa Aurora -  AARome Blog  (March 16, 2010)

2010: Locative Media and the Possibility of Place,” Monthly Design Review.
Launch issue of an online design journal edited by RISD-ID grad, Tino Chow.

Less than one hundred years ago the US Congress formally recognized the standardized time zones we rely on today without thinking. This “tipping point” occurred decades after Greenwich Mean Time was adopted, and it was an agreement reached only after decades of confusion caused by the new railroad networks trying to arrive on time at the hundreds of locally determined time zones enacted across America. Now we are at a turning point in talking about location, just as we were more than a century ago talking about time. As this important conversation goes forward, I hope it will be joined by a broad coalition committed to exploring the broadest range of possible implications. We need a common vision of a sustainable future. Talking about “where” will be part of it.

Article illustrations by RISD-ID grad Arthur Harsuvanakit

2010-2009: Off-Road - Historic Synagogues in New Haven. 
Memory, Mobility & Location Technology

"Off-Road: Experimental Cultural Tourism in New Haven's Yale Hospital, Oak Street Connector and Historic Orchard Street Synagogue Area. An Art Installation by Nancy Austin,” The Cultural Heritage Artists Project of the Orchard Street Shul (2009): 64-65.

2008: Cloud computing as an Emerging Location Technology - Yale University Material Culture Lecture Series  “Appliances as Performance Peripherals in the New Age of Cloud Computing,”

1995: “The Mass-Produced Pen and Images of Writing in 19th c. America,”
American Antiquarian Society Seminar in American Art History

1994, 1991, 1983:  “Naming the Landscape: Leisure Train Travel and the Demise of the Art Salon,” International Association of Philosophy and Literature Symposium on Art and Change (Montreal, May 1991).

“Naming the Landscape: Leisure Travel and the Demise of the Salon.” In Transformations: The Languages of Personhood and Culture after Theory , ed. Christie McDonald. (Penn State Press, 1994): 35-60.

…Between 1845 and 1860 railroads penetrated most of France, making the entire national landscape available as a leisure travel destination. Ironically, this emphasis on the specific and on regional differences occurred as these very qualities were being obliterated. …Naming the landscape thus became an integral aspect of the painting. This articulation of difference – by insisting that this was a view of here and not anywhere else – is evident despite the generic similarity of many of the landscapes.

…In the 1850s, new means of leisure travel opened up new ways of experiencing nature that were reinforced in various ways in the rest of culture during the 1860s and 1870s. By the late 1880s, these mutually reinforcing practices had split apart. The marketing and consumption of representations of the French landscape after mid-century are details that can help focus cultural production in the nineteenth century as a whole.

My pre-computer "Big Data" master's thesis on Salon landscape paintings

1992: The Amazeing Grace Clothing Project - Collaborative Performance as Academic Conference Intervention

This was a performative intervention at a women's study conference. As an emerging academic, I had been on the scholarly conference circuit for some time in an effort to establish myself as an interdisciplinary academic in a tenure-track job. The A*maze*ing Grace Clothing Project was my activist response to the complicated conventions of networking and competition that hovered around non-tenured scholars at these academic conferences. How hard would it be to offer an opportunity for a different kind of embodied voice? For shared making outside on the grass, as well as conference speaking in the anonymous spaces of the conference rooms? Was this "legitimate" knowledge production?

1981: Manet & the Execution of Maximilian (exhibition & catalogue)
“Metaphor and Fact at Mid-Century: Manet and Contemporary History Painting,” in Edouard Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, ed. Kermit Champa. (Brown University, 1981). 
My essay was part of the forward-looking exhibition and catalogue produced by the Brown University Master's Degree graduate students in Art History, 1980-81.

We think of the 24/7 news cycle as a recent phenomenon, but in 1869 the French painter, Edouard Manet had to develop an entirely new painting style to adjust to the changing public awareness of the details surrounding the execution of the Emperor Maximilian in Mexico on June 19, 1867. Manet’s body of five works on the Execution of Maximilian document the impact of information on visual narrative.