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about us: the collective intellectual

Communicating By Design is a communications research & design consultancy run by Deborah Taylor-Pearce, who is its principal, and the voice behind the website.

It is also part of a thriving collective intellectual — Pierre Bourdieu’s “name for individuals[,] the sum of whose research and participation on common subjects constitutes a sort of ad hoc collective.” (Edward Said, “The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals”; see Home page for references)

Communicating By Design is pleased to be part of the broad-based, informal network of scholars and professionals exploring “the possibility of ‘collective invention’” afforded by ICT (Information and Communication Technology). Most of us are energized by the many creative opportunities we see before us, and want to collaborate on projects that take advantage of ICT’s untapped potential. But even ICT’s biggest boosters within this network of users are not uncritical enthusiasts. We are always dismayed to find ICT run amok, ill-conceived, poorly designed, or carelessly introduced into the workplace.

Taking full advantage of the new workflows ICT allows, I run Communicating By Design with a loose network of partners who come together, as needed, to collaborate on interesting projects. Some communications projects I tackle on my own. Others require assistance from specialists in different areas, and I must turn to the collective intellectual for help. In such cases, the team I come up with to do the job will be interdisciplinary, and most likely geographically dispersed. But we work — and create — well together.

[ Deborah’s autobiographical sketch ]    

I am an independent scholar, with a PhD in Literature from the University of California, San Diego. “Literature” is one of those umbrella concepts that subsumes many different specialties, so most of us receive training in several areas (e.g., literary history, “theory,” cultural studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, semiotics, composition, critical literacy, and so on). My own specialties include rhetorical studies; the history of science, technology, and culture; and the 17th century.  ¶  Although I continue to do postdoctoral research (which I publish at my website), I am not a professor. I like to move freely in both a business and academic environment. I seem to need something from each in my life.  ¶  I formed my first communications consultancy (Write Solutions) in 1990, hoping that I would not have to settle for one or the other.  ¶   Communicating By Design is the inevitable outgrowth of that first company. We matured together.

at RIGHT >
A panther chameleon
(Digital picture from the breeders at Screameleons, where you will find many more photos of these fantastic creatures)

21st-century photo of a chameleon

The back-and-forth between academic and non-academic worlds works because I’m a chameleon at heart. I focus intensely on whatever task or role I’m performing at a given moment, and register the complete experience with my whole being — head, heart, and hand.  ¶  Like the chameleon, I adapt well to changing circumstance. And I range the spectrum, too.  ¶  I can hand-tweak computer code, do archival research at museum libraries, design & desktop-publish a glossy brochure, lecture on 17th-century philosophies of technology, learn just about anything I set my mind to, run an organized office, make an excellent plum jam, and lay level concrete.  ¶  I began my career in “communications” doing technical writing — mil spec manuals, test procedures, technical proposals, reports, spec sheets, training materials, journal articles, and whatever business writing (such as Policy & Procedures manuals) needed doing at the time.  ¶  Most of this was produced under harried circumstances. Like the five-volume Operations & Maintenance manual for a remotely-operated deepsea vehicle system that went from pen to print in eight weeks flat. And the one-volume O&M manual I wrote in 24 hours straight. (This was also the first time I ever used a computer, and quite remarkably, not the last.)  ¶  I’ve never missed an official deadline yet, although there have been times when I probably should have.

I don’t do much technical writing any more. Just the occasional project that presents a special challenge, or otherwise intrigues me. But I’m still passionate about improving the quality of workplace communications, and getting learning to flow the way it’s supposed to within a given community of practice.  ¶  I’m not some literature PhD who would rather be writing the great American novel. Or teaching Shakespeare.  ¶  I choose to do what I do because I think it matters.  ¶  Because I know I have a valuable contribution to make.  ¶  And because I continue to have fun doing it.

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Illustration of a chameleon from Athanasius Kircher’s book on optics, Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (The Great Art of Light and Shadow), published at Rome in 1646

e-copyright Communicating By Design 2012

[ Ancient Europeans ascribed 3 legendary traits to the chameleon — that its frequent variations of color are determined by the colors of surrounding objects (it was also widely believed “that the Cameleon takes all colors but white”); “that it liveth onely upon ayre, and is sustained by no other” food; and that its eyes turned “two different ways at one and the same time.” These unique traits were soon deployed by fertile wits, who turned the changeling chameleon into a symbol of “Cunning and Deceit,” associating the reptile with such human archetypes as the accommodating lover (“As the camelion is, so must the lover bee, / And oft his colour change ...”) and the blow-hard professional (as “the Camelaeon hath verie great lunges, but nothing els within her bodie, so there be some, that beside their bosting & swelling ostentation, have nothing to be found in them,” opined William Goodrus in 1589, when characterizing the surgeons and medical writers of his day).
     Chameleon lore first recorded by “the ancients” was spread far & wide via vernacular translations of learned zoological tomes and bestiaries, while 16th- and 17th-century European travelers to the “new” and “old” worlds of the Americas and the Orient — along with the public and private museums and cabinets of curiosities in which travelers’ collectibles were on display (such as Kircher’s Romani Collegii Societatus Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum) — helped stimulate interest within elite and popular cultures.
     During the 17th century, scientific studies of the chameleon’s exotic anatomy — conducted by Kircher, by Fellows of The Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, by the “Ingenious Philosophers” of the Académie Royale des Sciences at Paris, and others — undercut received lore (especially the belief that the chameleon fed only upon air), but offered new metaphors to exploit: “though Orators have lost those pretty subjects to exercise their Eloquence upon, concerning the Wonders of the food, and of the Change of Colours in Cameleons; yet Philosophers doe now meet with new particulars, touching the motion of his Eyes and Tongue, and the manner of altering his Colour according to his passions, which are no less capable to employ their Witt,” wrote the Royal Society’s intelligencer, Henry Oldenburg, in 1669.
     NOTE: I am in the process of relocating my digital collection of early texts on the chameleon — from “the ancients” (Democritus, Aristotle, Pliny) to the early-modern encyclopedists — to my scholarly website, That website is currently undergoing extensive renovation, but you can preview my research on the natural history of the chameleon here]

[ Deborah’s personal profile ]     

An habitual skeptic (most often, within the bounds of politeness). I question everything. Especially the obvious. In turn, you can usually count on me for a different point of view. Most of my clients do.

A stickler for detail. And the big picture. Not a dabbler. I approach everything I commit to with chameleon-like intensity. And I work at things until I get them right. Not perfect ... but right.

A firm believer in planning ahead. Efficient. Disciplined. Unsentimental. Opinionated, but not rigid. Slow to make decisions. Informal. Accommodating (most of the time). Can be a bit of a space twinkie on occasion (or so I’ve been told). But always willing to be called down to earth.

I like learning. Research. Engaging those with different experiences and points of view.

I dislike rhetorical trickery. Arbitrary deadlines. “Quick and dirty” communications projects.


Wisdom from the collective to live and work by

Some favorite apothegms:


Opening quotation mark  Only connect.  Closing quotation mark

— E. M. Forster (1879–1970) in his fourth novel, Howards End, first published in 1910


Opening quotation mark  Use Thy Gifts Rightly.  Closing quotation mark

— Cornelis Drebbel (1572–1633); this motto was inscribed along with Drebbel’s monogram on all of his instruments and inventions (ranging the gamut from a perpetual-motion machin, air conditioning, an incubator, the thermometer, “an instrument to sink ships,” the first microscope, and several different types of camera, to the first sea-worthy submarine, which in 1620 traveled down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich under the surface of the water, with an 8-person crew and 12 passengers kept alive by Drebbel’s mysterious on-board manufacture of breathable air, 150 years before the “discovery” of oxygen in the early 1770s)


Opening quotation mark  Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.  Closing quotation mark

— attributed to Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937)


Opening quotation mark  ... [women and] men make their own history, but ... they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves.  Closing quotation mark

— Karl Marx (1818–1883)


Opening quotation mark  We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.  Closing quotation mark

— Albert Einstein (1879–1955)


Opening quotation mark  I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him. Closing quotation mark

— Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)


Opening quotation mark  We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.  Closing quotation mark

— Margaret Mead (1901–1978)

Including an ancient Taoist teaching:


Opening quotation mark  Go to the people
Live with them
Learn from them
Love them

Start with what they know
Build with what they have
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
The task accomplished
The people will say
‘We have done this ourselves!’  Closing quotation mark

— Lao Tsu (700 BCE)

An old Chinese proverb:


Opening quotation mark  That the birds of
Worry and care
Fly about your
Head, this you
Cannot change,
But that they build
Nests in your hair,
This you can prevent.  Closing quotation mark

— Anonymous

And, a final nugget of experienced wisdom from a fortune cookie consumed on 20 November 2007:


Opening quotation mark  A great pleasure in life is doing what others say you can’t.  Closing quotation mark

— Anonymous


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