Tag Archives: culture

What’s Culture Got to Do With It?

In short, everything.

Does your work culture make it challenging for your team or organization to do great work? Well this could be the year you make it better. Have a look at this talk I gave at Fluxible 2013 about the role and impact of culture on organizations…and tips for improving yours.

Make Culture, Not War: The Secret to Great Teams & Organizations

If this talk inspires you, perhaps you and a few folks from your team/organization might want to check out our newly launched 1-day Designing Culture Master Class at Cooper. This training aims to help people intentionally approach their team or organizational culture – through a cultural assessment, visioning and goal-setting exercises, and development of a tactical plan to improve their culture (some of the topics I hits on in my talk below). I’ll be facilitating this workshop along with Susan Dybbs, Managing Director of Interaction Design at Cooper, in our San Francisco offices on Friday, January 31st.

We are also offering Designing Culture in-house training for organizations that would benefit from having a larger group (management, teams, etc) go through this process together. Contact us at cooperu@cooper.com for details.

Interview on CBC’s Spark: Designing Workplace Culture

I’m thrilled to be a part of this episode of “Spark” (A show about culture and technology with the lovely host Nora Young, for those not familiar. It’s a popular show on CBC radio, essentially Canada’s NPR.). I discuss how workplace culture impacts the ability of teams to be creative/innovative – and what you can do about it. I’m on at about 25 minutes into the show.


Why it’s still as important as ever to build and nourish community online. Designing workplace culture to foster innovation. The NSA is watching you, what can you do? And, if this is the age of global connection, why are we still hanging out in our own digital backyards? Listen here.

What I’ve learned so far: A Sri Lanka brain dump

{A blog series about our 2 month honeymoon adventure through Sri Lanka & India. To read more, just type “honeymoon” in the search field to the right}


Crazy, but time just did that speeding up thing, and our journey in Sri Lanka is at a close. Zak and I now head to India. Here’s a quick rundown of things that stood out to me about Sri Lankan culture and getting around, for those of  you contemplating a trip:

People will give you a big smile – if you smile first. If they initiate, it’s because either they are curious about the foreigner (you) or because they want to sell you something you don’t want. Over time, you get better at figuring out which is which.

Many people speak basic English. If you speak English, you’ll be fine. You’ll also probably find yourself speaking broken, simple English when you return home for a few days, out of habit. Like, “What time bus?” or “Where toilet?”

Everyone loves President Obama (this includes all the traveling Europeans and Australians we met). When they find out you are American, they will ask if you love him, too. If you do, you’ll get smiles and responses like, “He good man.” You might even get a joyous fist in the air, like we did.

The island has a whopping EIGHT Unesco World Heritage sites. Sigiriya will blow your mind. I think it just might be the most compelling archeological site I’ve been to. Photos don’t really do it justice.

You’ll see a lot of monkeys, and that’s pretty cool. You’ll also see a lot of mangy, stray dogs, and that’s not as cool. For wild elephants (and a whole lot more), definitely go to the national parks.

The local buses are a really great way to get around. Surprisingly easy. Most times, you’ll get a seat. If you ask the bus driver to tell you where to get off, they usually will, which helps if you can’t read the road signs (though many are in English and Singhalese). Once in a while you’ll get a bus with exhaust that will make you gag the entire trip. But, usually, you’ll be just fine. You might even get to watch a movie on a flat screen while you ride. It happens.

The train between Ella and Kandy is an amazing way to see the mountain countryside and beautiful tea plantations. Don’t miss out on standing in the open doorways and leaning out to see all the other passengers who are doing the same.

Toilet on a train = a toilet with a hole that goes right out onto the tracks. If you’re on a train for six hours like we were, you’ll use it.

Sadly, there generally aren’t public trash cans. Most trash is burned or tossed on the ground.

However, they do have a great energy conservation practice: all power outlets have on/off switches, which they use. Why? (1) Electricity is expensive, and (2) during monsoons there are electrical storms. Apparently many people have been hit by lightening or had lightening literally come through their open windows. Most Sri Lankans turn off all their power outlets and lights during these storms. Some are nervous enough to turn off even their cell phones.

There is zilch, zero, zip graffiti, anywhere except the awesome murals by our new friend Alain Parizeau (Graphic Design professor at the Academy of Design in Colombo, Sri Lanka).

People make their own food here, so there isn’t much of a “restaurant scene” in small towns. If you do go to a restaurant and want an authentic Sri Lankan meal, you have to tell them in advance (i.e.: earlier in the day) because they make it just for you. This takes a minute to get used to because it requires planning, on your part. Also, try the curd and treacle (Made of buffalo milk and something that tastes like honey, but isn’t. Apparently there are two kinds, made of either coconut or kithul). They don’t refrigerate the curd before use, but we haven’t gotten sick from it. They store it in these clay pots (this batch was transported on our bus):

The guest houses cater to Western food tastes. Unfortunate. Personally, if I wanted spaghetti or sandwiches, I’d just stay home. But, I guess there must be a lot of travelers who do want spaghetti because, I swear, every guest house we went to had the same menu – dominantly Western. Sigh.

The tuk-tuks (a three wheeled scooter with a back seat, a roof, and open sides) are everywhere, a great form of transport, and are individualized with funny sayings like “Still water runs deep” or “Don’t waste time”. It’s entertaining to watch for and collect these phrases. You need to negotiate with these guys, and if you’re in Colombo, insist on a metered ride (likely quite a few will refuse you, just keep looking till you find a willing someone).

Hinduism and Buddhism seem to intermix and mingle. You’ll see imagery from both in temples and buses.

No shoes in temples. Even ancient crumbling down temple ruins that are no longer in use.

Don’t stand with your back to a Buddha sculpture and pose for a photo. Big no-no. In fact, it’s such a big no-no, it applies to tiny sculptures of people, too. I know this because I tried to take the photo below with our honeymoon mascot facing the camera. A guard reprimanded me, explained “no backs to Buddha”, and made me delete the photos. Then, an old man scowled at me and said, “Photo no good.” When I tried again, the appropriate way, the guard made me show him my new photos (he didn’t believe I listened to him). It all worked out, but I felt like an ass, because I actually know better. It just didn’t occur to me that the same rules applied to our little mascot. Now I know.

Intentional Environments: Designing a Culture of Co-creation

Just gave this talk with Kate Rutter at Adaptive Path’s UX Week Conference.


Design doesn’t happen inside a vacuum. It happens inside teams, inside the context of relationships, inside physical spaces, inside organizations with very particular cultures. Ignore that intricate ecosystem, and you might as well give your project a death sentence.

Teresa Brazen and Kate Rutter draw from their experience bringing this holistic outlook to the design process. Pulling from methods used in filmmaking, fine art, design research, facilitation, improv, and UX design, they craft “intentional environments” for their teams and clients. These literal and figurative environments cultivate work that is actionable, co-created, co-owned, and much more likely to succeed in the world.
They discuss the benefits of intentional environments and walk you through how to design them and methods for keeping them activated throughout the design process. You’ll walk away understanding how to cultivate intentionality, co-create without compromising output, and inspire teams and clients along the way. But more importantly, you’ll have a powerful new framework that will enrich your entire design process.



Ask DJ Spooky

You love Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid). Or, maybe you just don’t know you love him yet. But, trust me, you do. Your love for him is in you. Waiting to find its way out.

Whether you already love him, or don’t know you love him yet, there is a likely a burning question in your mind…one you’ve always wanted (or will want) to ask him. One that keeps you up at night (or will), that you mull over (or will) as you stare out the window while you’re being creative. It’s one of those annoying brain itches you can’t scratch with your short brain arms.

Well, my friends, relief has come. Think of me as your conduit, a portal that will deliver your question to the man himself. I can scratch your brain itch. Let me explain…

I’m excited to announce that Paul Miller, composer, multimedia artist and writer, will be a keynote speaker at this year’s UX Week (Adaptive Path’s conference for user experience design folk, for those of you not in the know). He’ll discuss his book, Sound Unbound, a collection of thirty-six essays from musicians, writers and artists like Brian Eno, Moby, Chuck D, and Bruce Sterling. These are reports from the front lines on the role of sound and digital media in an information-based society. In preparation for his talk at UX Week, I’ll be interviewing him and sharing our conversation on my blog and Adaptive Path’s blog later this month.

Paul describes music as a social network that is “not about individual creativity but a collective process”.  In that vein, rather than crafting interview questions myself, I’ll be collecting questions from friends and colleges. I’ll take your questions, print them out, put them in a bowl and randomly select a handful, letting fate guide where the conversation goes.

So, send your questions to me at teresa@adaptivepath.com by Tuesday, May 24th.

For some Paul Miller goodness, check out his official website, his book, his Sinfonia Antartica project, his Rebirth of a Nation project or the DJ Spooky iPhone App.

And to get a sense of the kind of things we might hear at UX Week, here's a snippet of him at SXSW last year.

UX Week is August 23-26 in San Francisco. Have a look at our speaker line up and register at the UX Week website.

The NO Project

I started a photo series a couple of years ago as a way to document and pay attention to the pervasiveness of NO in American culture – as expressed through signage. A few interesting observations:

The frequency of NO signs varies by location. In cities, there are a lot of rules about how you can interact with public space (ie: parking) and where you are (or are not) allowed to consume beverages, food, and cigarettes.  In rural areas, there are fewer signs, but there are very clear (and adamant) rules about how human beings are allowed to interact with nature. In my travels to other countries, these nature rules don’t necessarily exist — or if they do, there are far fewer. Nor do many other cultures have the same frequency of NO signs in urban areas.

I’m particularly intrigued by handmade signs. It’s curious that people make signs forbidding or discouraging behavior of other human beings with the expectation that these demands will be met. It’d be interesting to do a study on how often these handmade signs are adhered to as compared to government generated signs.

My overall insight thus far is that there are a high number of demands upon American behavior expressed in signage, and we’ve become quite accustomed to seeing these notifications.

See more photos on Flickr.

The Assumptions Designers Make

Why Mobile Phones Don’t Make Sense To Everyone

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Download podcast here

An interview with Natasha Alani, Cafe Enterprise Manager, Community Vocational Enterprises
Show Length: 20 minutes

Have you ever thought about the basic knowledge you need to use a mobile phone? There are fundamental assumptions that designers make when designing mobile phones…such as literacy, an understanding of numbers, and a grasp of basic computer concepts such as menus or folders. But, what if, like millions throughout the world, you couldn’t read or you’d never seen a computer before? How might your interactions with and understanding of mobile phones be different?

Researcher Natasha Alani went to the Kutch region in rural India to explore these questions within a culture that is nomadic and highly illiterate. I had tea with Natasha to find out what she discovered out in the field…and uncovered an exciting challenge for mobile phone designers everywhere.

NOTE: After this interview, Experience Design firm Adaptive Path used Natasha’s research to take a first crack at developing mobile phone designs that are not based on common assumptions of literacy and knowledge of computers. View the designs at www.adaptivepath.com/mobileliteracy

The Impact of Environments

A Shift in Pace = A Shift In Perspective

The other day, my mind slipped back to a one-week video art residency I attended in Kentucky years ago. I remembered the simplicity of my life then, how my only task was to edit a documentary. Not only did I accomplish a surprising amount, but I possessed a certain peace in knowing my To Do list contained only one item. I realized that week was the only time in my entire life I can recall having only one thing to do (well, not including vacations, of course). How is it that in all my years of living, I have only one memory of singular focus?

I can attribute some of my fragmentation to my tendency to find more things worth exploring than I really have time for. But, that’s not the whole picture. The truth is, that time in Kentucky was also the only time my environment supported singular focus – and granted me time for it.

I was recently in Costa Rica where time ticks to a different kind of clock. The town I was in had only one bank that only took Visa. Of course, I had a Mastercard, so the locals informed me that the only way to get cash was to take a two hour bus ride on a dusty road into another town and return via the same route. This meant a 4-5 hour trip for money! My American mind couldn’t grasp this, and I kept putting my Mastercard in the local bank ATM, in some vain hope that it would show me special treatment. Of course, it didn’t, and in the end, I took the bus…which turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to see how people really lived in Costa Rica. The thing that struck me about this experience was that in the United States, not only would I have been distraught by the situation, but my environment would have had a problem with it as well. How many Americans could comfortably take 4-5 hours out of a work day to retrieve cash?

That experience has gotten me thinking about the impact of our environments on our lives. Multitasking is commonplace and expected in the United States. The technology boom certainly encourages it. Advocates might argue this pace makes us a more productive society – after all, we have to keep up. But…at what cost?

I love to travel because inevitably I am reminded that there are so many other ways to approach life. This last trip left me wondering about the impact of the frantic pace of American culture. I’m not convinced there is a genuinely good reason to demand so much from ourselves in the pursuit of more and more productivity. We are human beings, after all – not robots.

Speaking in Tongues (Documentary, 60 minutes)

Winner of the SFIFF Audience Award for Best Documentary

Highly recommend this film – an attempt to help American children become bilingual in a country that is enforcing “English Only” requirements for schools in many states. Refreshing to see a concerted effort to embrace other cultures and language at such an early age.

For more info: http://www.patchworksfilms.net/coming_soon.html