I like the idea of The Liberal Arts. I sometimes say that I studied Computer Science but accidentally ended up with a liberal arts education. Design is supposed to be a new liberal art, too.

The great blog Snarkmarket released a book 8 year ago called “The New Liberal Arts“. It’s kind of like a speculative course book for a fictional university. You can get it as a free PDF or .prc file (which Kindles can read).

I read it the other day. It’s short. Here are some parts I liked.

Attention Economics, by Andrew Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald says that in the new world of scarce attention we’ll need some new skills:

  • multitasking (doing more than one thing at once)
  • ambient consumption (figuring out how to cope with the stream)
  • focus (how to stop multitasking)
  • stillness (how to stop consuming from the firehose and turn it all off)

If you follow any of the social media discussion on task management and mindfulness, you’ll see these broader concepts sneaking in.

Food, by Gavin Craig and Theresa Mlinarcik

Food is a great lens through which to view the world, according to Craig and Milnarcik, because:

Food is intrinsically connected to nature, ecology, politics, pop culture, family values, and economics.

It’s hard to disagree. I think this might be why design students (in my experience), often end up doing projects about food.

Micropolitics, by Matt Thompson

Micropolitics explores the idea that:

So much of the texture of everyday life is hashed out in obscure municipal backchannels, by small groups of engaged citizens getting together on weekday evenings. The buildings you see every day, the restaurants you dine at, the closing time of your neighborhood bar, the bus routes to and from your home—these things are the way they are because of a complex system of professional networks and planning meetings that few have the know-how to navigate.

You can also see this idea of small, kind of hidden, aspects of everyday life having outsized influence in in books like Dan Hill’s Dark Matter and Trojan Horses.

Photography, by Tim Carmody

I am a very bad photographer, but I’m fascinated by it. Carmody says that photography is basically the way that we write the world today. Snap (and Facebook) think of themselves as camera companies which is partly right and a good enough reason to think harder about what photography means.

If I went back to uni, I’d study photography, I think.

Translation, by Rachel Leow

This is fascinating:

Every student would declare at least two languages: their native tongue and one or more languages of their choosing, however firm or tenuous their grasp of them. Seminar groups would consist of students who declared the same two languages, so that discussions could take place in two mutually intelligible languages, at varying levels of ability. These are the groups they’d work in, communicating in online forums and discussion groups, live chat, and video conferences.


Published by bjkraal

I'm an Experience Designer from Brisbane, Australia. I use design to make better ways for people to work and play.

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