Clarity First Newsletter,
April 2, 2021

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” — W.E.B. Du Bois

Clarity First

A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

The quote of the week has a compliment:

“True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.” – Karl Popper

We are a learning species, as is every other species on the planet. But we were blessed — or is it cursed? — with consciousness. And we’ve yet to learn to use it. Let’s keep learning. We have so much potential.

Happy Friday.

Systems Thinking

“We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them.”

“People who are raised in the industrial world and who get enthused about systems thinking are likely to make a terrible mistake. They are likely to assume that here, in systems analysis, in interconnection and complication, in the power of the computer, here at last, is the key to prediction and control. This mistake is likely because the mindset of the industrial world assumes that there is a key to prediction and control.”                                                                                                                                                   – Donella Meadows.

“We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!

“I already knew that, in a way before I began to study systems. I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide-awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback. It had never occurred to me that those same requirements might apply to intellectual work, to management, to government, to getting along with people.

“But there it was, the message emerging from every computer model we made. Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity–our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.”

Article: Donella Meadows, Dancing With Systems


“Our bodies are designed to respond to touch, and not just to sense the environment around us.”

Helena Backlund Wasling.      Image: Julia Lindemalm

“We actually have a network of dedicated nerve fibers in our skin that detect and emotionally respond to the touch of another person — affirming our relationships, our social connections and even our sense of self.

“So, what happens when we don’t receive that?

“This was one of the first questions that neuroscientist Helena Wasling PhD considered when social distancing restrictions were introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19. Based at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, she has studied these nerves — known as C tactile or CT afferents — and their importance to our emotions for over a decade.

“’What struck me very early on, in the first week of being told that we were restricted from touch,  was that people no longer knew how to behave,’ she says.”

Article: Humans Are Made To Be Touched — So What Happens When We Aren’t?

UX, Branding

The concept of user democracy

“Knowing our users, and designing for them, brings with it many benefits. The engagement of users with the product increases customer loyalty and company revenue, which then reduces development costs and saves us from wasting resources. This avoids project failure and costly redesigns later down the line.”

“In 10 years, a $10,000 investment in design-centric companies would have yielded returns 228% greater than the same investment in the S&P”

Article: User Democracy: Obtaining Feedback for Successful UX

Packaging, Circular Economy

An alternative to plastic that combats ocean acidification, encourages biodiversity, sequesters carbon and is fully compostable.

“Plastic alternatives fail to catch on for various reasons. Cost is a big one since no one will want to switch to anything more costly than the ever-affordable plastic. For manufacturers, a material that requires entirely new machinery or systems is a huge undertaking. And aside from that, whatever gets used has to be durable and look good. Nothing quite ticks all the boxes, so brands continue to use plastic despite the fact that our planet is swimming in it.

“Julia Marsh found that seaweed, however, makes an excellent plastic substitute. She spoke with agriculturists, visited seaweed farms in Indonesia and down into South America, researching the kind of regenerative ocean farming and environmental impact seaweed can have. Her findings? Where producing plastic causes harm in every part of the process (from manufacturing to long after its use), seaweed only uplifts and regenerates natural and human-built systems at every step.”

Article: How Sway’s Seaweed Material May Replace Single-Use Plastic and Lead a Design Revolution

Advertising, Social Messaging

Using poetry, rhythm, and animation to tell a powerful story.

Titania Tran, Jamon Sin, and Mimi Munoz are creatives for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy. Late last year, in response to the rise in anti-Asian racism, they created this very short film called “a word”. Words matter, and this brilliant use of words, and rhythm, and animation, makes the case so well.

Video: “a word”

Visual Identity

The origins of the Smithsonian logo

Two event planners at the Smithsonian Institution were digging through some archives on the hunt for graphics with which to publicize an event. At the very bottom of a storage box they found a folder. Inside was “a translucent annotated paper from 1965 filled with finely executed graphite drawings. These designs were logo ideas for the James Smithson Bicentennial Celebration, and there among the drawings was the now-familiar Smithsonian sunburst. Alongside the symbol was a typewritten note:

‘As a good graphic design, the sun seemed not only appropriate for its scientific element, but as a symbol for enlightenment to the whole world—and less hackneyed than the usual torch. It is also an important element in the Smithson arms and crest.                                                                                                                                   — C. Pontes’ ”

It seems that they found an early draft of what is now a very recognizable mark.

Article: The Surprising Story of the Smithsonian Sunburst


Fyre Festival Founder Sells Failed Festival Logo as NFT, Earning Him $122,00 in Crypto Currency

Art Newspaper Museum Attendance Report Shows 77% Drop in 2020 Museum Attendance

Can Smart Buildings be More Equitable Buildings?

Very Funny

Article: Opening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic

Graphic Art: Holy cow! Betty accurately predicted high school life in 2021 in 1997. (Except for the fashion, the Star Trek thing still hasn’t caught on. And except for the coffee, she’s still pouring from a percolator. And, our cars are still earthbound.) Thanks @davepell



I first saw Lucias at the Green River Festival in 2014. I’ve been a fan of their incredible harmonies and boundary-free style since. I’ve been a fan of Andrew Bird even longer, always amazed by his musicianship, technical mastery (few can play with loops as he does, and he’s his own engineer) and his total fearlessness. So, I was thrilled to learn that they’ve been working together. This is a beguiling concert they performed in his great room.

Video: Andrew Bird’s Live From The Great Room feat. Lucius 


Image of the Week

The image of the week is a Guadeloupean woman shot by Augustus Sherman, on the day she emigrated to the US via Ellis Island in 1911.

Hindoo (sic) boy

“An avid amateur photographer, Sherman’s photographs were not taken in an official capacity, but they were used by immigration officials to promote the work of Ellis Island. Sherman took photographs of families, groups, and individuals who were being detained either for medical reasons or for further interrogation. In some cases, such as his images of a gypsy family, the subjects of photographs were deported. Over the course of his career at Ellis Island, Sherman took more than 200 pictures, often encouraging his subjects to open their suitcases and put on their elaborate national costumes or folk dress. His photographs are part of the collection of the New York Public Library.”

Article: Stunning Portraits of Ellis Island Immigrants

What’s Clarity First?

If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by me, Mitch Anthony. I help people use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as a pedagogy and toolbox for transformation. Learn more.

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