Living at WeLive validates my skepticism and fear about fast-growing companies that claim to value design.
|Jun 10||Public post|| 2|
“The best qualification for a prophet is to have a good memory”
— Lord Halifax
Hello, beautiful people —
After reading the New York Times feature named "We work, we live, and eventually we die," I decided to try Welive, the co-living apartments by the We company, and Rise by We, the fitness studio before my bed arrives at my new place.
The consistency of WeWork's Airspace aesthetics is uncomfortably comforting. The studio that I stayed at is everything I would expect from the Wework brand, and it's everything that was elegantly depicted in the piece that my friend Albert shared with me:
"Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes [...] changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you're not where you started."
The sterile aesthetic of Silicon Valley is spreading across the world, and tech companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and WeWork are critical shapers of this cultural convergence of global metropolitan — you either belong to the Airspace class, or you don't. Now we get to appreciate the latte art on that oat matcha with wellness shots wherever we go. I'm hyper-aware of my attachment to these coffee shops with wifi and laptops and the odd anxiety I experience without them. I did a quick search of coffee shops around the world.
The problem to me, however, doesn't merely lie in the homogeneity of style. In fact, consistency in style applied in the right context can help foster familiarity and trust. It is the rough implementation of an awe-inspiring idea without the attentiveness to people's real needs that validates my skepticism and fear about fast-growing companies that claim to value design.
My studio has everything that would look good on my Instagram but I may not necessarily need. There are more than enough coffee mugs and bookshelves with irrelevant book titles that seem to be picked up from a mass book sale. The room smelled like aged laundry forgotten in the basement, and the fridge roared at night. I sent in a maintenance request and didn't hear a response. I wanted to meet some other folks and went to the fitness class that they offered at the shared studio, yet the instructor didn't show up. I then went downstairs to take solace in the free matcha latte that they offer, yet the hasty barista smashed fancy matcha powder like smashing a potato and dumbed the chunks in a cup of not-so-steamed almond milk.
At that moment, I've come to terms with the fact that I've paid not for the hospitality and service that I would expect from a hotel, but for the familiarity and comfort of my own echo chamber. I just can't be sold that I'm really being cared for as a community member when I don't feel cared for as a resident here.
The We Company has a great mission and story-telling ability. Maybe the reason why I'm overly critical is due to my desire to see genuine strides towards what WeWork has promised.:
“WeWork's mission is to create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living. WeLive's mission is to build a world where no one feels alone." I want The We Company to succeed in its mission, but its current execution is not getting them there. ”
As much as I appreciate aesthetic design, it has, in most cases, become a quick recipe but not the remedy to the root problems experienced by real people. Just like attempts to increase diversity without inclusion, pretty design without the experience craftsmanship becomes another empty corporate promise.
This is not new.
Tampons and high heels that claimed to maximize women's comfort and confidence have been designed and defined by men. Curriculum designed for children in developing countries tends to overlook their own wishes and goals that are closely tied to their own communities. There has been plenty of discussions on the misalignment between the change-makers and the people they claim to serve, yet there hasn't been a satisfactory solution. I still believe that methodologies introduced in the Design Thinking™ process are powerful tools. For example, in "Ruined by Design," Mike Monterio defines the responsibility of a designer, yet I think this can be applied to anyone:
"If you want to do good work, start doing it at your day job. Start asking questions about what you're building. Start asking questions about who benefits from what you're building. Start asking questions about who gets hurt by what you're building. Take a look at your team. Does it look like the audience you're trying to reach? Especially if you're building something in the social sphere, where trust, safety, and understanding the needs of a diverse audience is paramount."
Thanks for listening to my vent about WeLive. I'd love to hear if there are spaces that you've been that you really enjoyed and why it made you feel that way.
Speaking of experience craftsmanship, Daisie, started by Maisie Williams, provides one of the most inspiring product experiences I’ve had in a while.
I could make a profile in seconds, and quickly dive into an ocean of creative projects all over the world. Unlike Behance, the renowned creative network acquired by Adobe, that focuses mainly on commercial projects, Daisie truly focuses on open creative collaboration from all around the world, and the simple interface reflects just that. Most of the people on the platform are in their teen or early twenties.
I teared up many times seeing the amazing things that they create and the genuine response from the audience.
For example, one of the projects that I applied to HoMie is an Australian made streetwear social enterprise. The production and the design are phenomenal, and 100% of the profits support young people experiencing homelessness and hardship in Melbourne. Project like this gives me a glimpse of what participatory design could mean for uplifting the community.
Another project is a mental health podcast with feedbacks that are really heart-warming.
This is reminiscent of Instagram and Pinterest at its best before they become mega huge and without the vanity aspect. With an explicit primary audience, I hope Daisee stays true to its mission to serve and connect creators as it scales.
Currently the platform affords very basic media upload and sharing, but it’d be very valuable to show the tasks that need to be done and the skills required to do them. Some of the asks are not explicit, and I don’t know how I can best contribute.
High Quality Dialogues
Our ability to converse with our neighbors, with the person sitting next to us in a cafe, with the shop owners downstairs has deteriorated for the past decade. It’s not new that we’re living in a fragmented society and we feel incredibly lonely, yet recently there’s been a focus on a group called “The Weavers”, who, by being who they are, weave the people in their community together. The irony is that “the Weavers” probably don’t know a group of people have given them such prescriptive name.
Some of them work at organizations: a vet who helps other mentally ill vets in New Orleans; a guy who runs a boxing gym in Appalachian Ohio where he nominally teaches young men boxing, but really teaches them life; a woman who was in the process of leaving the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago when she saw two little girls playing with broken bottles in the empty lot across the street. She turned to her husband and said: We’re not moving away from that. We’re not going to be just another family that abandoned this place.
Many others do their weaving in the course of everyday life — because that’s what neighbors do. One lady in Florida said she doesn’t have time to volunteer, but that’s because she spends 40 hours a week looking out for local kids and visiting sick folks in the hospital. We go into neighborhoods and ask, “Who is trusted here?” In one neighborhood it was the guy who collects the fees at the parking garage.
But the trait that leaps out above all others is “radical mutuality”: We are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us. “I am broken; I need others to survive,” an afterschool program leader in Houston told us. “We don’t do things for people. We don’t do things to people. We do things with people,”
So how do we cultivate and practice "this “radical mutuality” within a system that still glories hyper-individualism.
One of the reasons why the WeLive doesn’t work as well as it could is because people are getting more and more uncomfortable to have quality, organic, high-quality, soul-enriching conversations, and the demographics that it attracts is exactly the type that wouldn’t just spend an afternoon doing nothing “productive”. We’ve been talking about opening up to others and showing our vulnerabilities, but no one told us how to do so properly, both online and offline.
There are emerging trends of people craving for authenticity and quality in their consumption of food as well as content. High quality food fuels the body, high quality content fuels the mind, and high quality relationships with others fuels the soul. Innovations have been burgeoning in the food and fitness space for the past years, and there’s still a huge blank space in the latter two. One immediate idea that came to my mind is that the relationship between a writer and their audience needs to evolve.
I know the relationship that I develop by sharing my writing with you is very meaningful. As I wrote in my previous newsletter:
At this moment, I don't know whether what I'm writing would be of interest to you, and you don't know it's 5AM in LA, and I'm pouring my heart out in a dimly lit room. What I do know is that you are trying to get through the day feeling you've done your best, and you probably know that I'm trying too. What I do know is that regardless of how wild you dream and how far you've climbed, you'd still be haunted by a sense of loss and a yearning for meaning, and you probably know that I'm trying too.
That is the most important thing I want to share: the bond that's shared between you and me at this exact moment. We may not have exchanged names or smiles, but through this piece of writing, we've made a tacit agreement that we will together make the best out of the flaws, uncertainties, and unknowns of the world.
Substack, the service I’m using to send my newsletter, introduced a new feature to comment on my newsletter. This is the MVP of a possible model for more meaningful dialogues online.
I’m happy that Nike claims some leadership in the practice of sustainable fashion.
The guide is quite well-crafted, and I hope to see more brands can learn from the framework. I learned a lot about how the management, production, and selection of fabric impacts a product.
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