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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 018
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

In today's newsletter...
  1. An essential for reopening spaces from Jillian Rosen-Filz
  2. The trouble with frictionless spaces from Fabian Castro
  3. The art of starting at zero from Cole Nielsen
And this time, our illustrations from Nora Mestrich.
From the Field

01 / Value in the Margins

From Jillian Rosen-Filz
The Target in South Minneapolis, destroyed during demonstrations against police brutality after George Floyd was killed, is reopening. But this time, with a new commitment to its local community and keeping Black shoppers in mind.

In recent months, leaders have been meeting directly with Black residents, employees and community organizers to understand what people would want to see in this reconstructed store. And although the look and feel of the store will remain quintessentially "Target," the space was reimagined to create "environments where Black guests feel overtly welcome."
Why It Matters
One space is just one step, and doesn't singlehandedly represent commitment. But just as Target is reckoning with its own inadequacies in serving the Black community, so too should every organization in this critical moment (and opportunity) of spatial redesign. Because in our offices, our virtual spaces, our communities, leaders have an obligation to take this time to redesign spaces to better serve the people occupying them.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Make "reconstructing for inclusivity" a new requirement for reopening your business.
It's the little things that can make spaces feel more inclusive. Engaging with not only your team, but the extended communities that make up the neighborhood in which your employees congregate-it matters. As you proceed with reimagining your own space, remember the inherent value of incorporating the voices of those in the margins.

02 / Reimagining the Digital Commons

From Fabian Castro
Technologies designed to connect us have in many ways torn apart our social fabric. However, history of our public parks offers a proven template on how to create healthier virtual spaces. Reviving the spirit of healthy debate requires us to reimagine the digital public sphere, from the walled garden it currently is, to a space we can gather, see each other, and coexist in the same space.
Why It Matters
Accelerated by the pandemic, much of our time is spent living in a bubble of confirmation bias. Without the friction from dialogue, our social fabric unravels any time partisan bubbles are forced to interact. This is because the structures meant to facilitate conflict and contestation today are created with frictionless design: allowing us to avoid people we don't want to deal with and encounters we'd never expect, negotiating with other groups with their own needs. Yet there remains an opportunity for virtual spaces to bring different bubbles together-though it may take a little friction-through shared experiences or indirectly shared struggles.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Analyze what inviting constructive friction into otherwise harmonious spaces would look like.
Things Required for Public Space
  • Design of the space must inherently be diverse so that it is able to properly:
  • Invite friction and contestation into the structures you create.
  • Build opportunities for run-ins across groups rarely encountered
  • Require constant, active care and maintenance by skillful stewards.
  • Balance between welcoming everyone and providing safety and comfort for everyone

03 / The Opportunity of Zero

From Cole Nielsen
Visiting MoMA this past week, there was a strong curatorial throughline-from the permanent collection to the special exhibition, Degree Zero - Drawing at Midcentury-of the work artists did post-WWII to recreate the thoughts, spaces, and societies they inhabited. The audio recording to Franz Kline's Painting 2 explained, "It wasn't just about creating a new art. It was about creating a new world. It was about saying, we have to begin civilization all over again, and we have to prove that human beings are capable of greatness, and not just barbarian behavior."
Why It Matters
While we are not emerging from the ashes of WWII, many of the spaces we inhabit-our routines, our relationships, our offices, and our business models-have been flipped upside down. From the pandemic to unyielding political rancor to the slow awakening to the problematic paradigms we live within, the world is demanding change. Going back to normal is not a step back to stasis-it's a step away from progress. As these artists showed us decades before, new worlds can be created and we can be better because of it.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Whether for your office, home, or otherwise, "sketch" a space you want to exist within coming out of these challenging times.
Digging Deeper
Mid-Century artists stripped away representationalism and re-grounded themselves in the foundations of shape, color, movement, etc. Their revisions were not the subtle recontextualization of the past for the present-it was an entirely new way of thinking.

We inhabit spaces built from past paradigms. Look at your (home) offices, your workflows, your team structures and imagine all could be recreated from scratch. What would you do differently? What patterns of behavior are you hanging onto that are not serving you or your teams? What methods of communication are bringing more pain than promise or productivity? Your sketch can be just that or whatever's more your style: write, draw, build a Jamboard, or make an audio note. Imagine what it would look like to build your future "from zero".

While many of us feel the need for dramatic adjustments, this kind of change is not easy. Start by granting yourself the freedom to dream-even for just five minutes-and take note of what these new-world spaces might become. Surprise us. Better yet, share them with us at

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