Well, you'll notice that I did not end up posting everyday the way that I said I would in last week's post. The reason why? Well as it turns out, the powers that be at SVA PoD are trying out a new system where only two classes at a given time assign homework, which means we can spend more time on each assignment. Today's post is about one of those two assignments, for a class called Design Delight, taught by Emilie Baltz. In it, we are to reframe our thesis as an experience, evocative of a feeling or a set of feelings that represents our thesis. Our first assignment was to create a postcard for the thesis event, thereby beginning its exploration and development.
In the first class of Design Delight, the 2nd year students at Products of Design were asked to come up with a feeling that represented their thesis, and to create a silly walk that evoked that feeling in the walker. The purpose of framing the deliverable as a silly walk was to remind us all that even though some of us are exploring serious topics [paralysis, assisted suicide, bereavement are a few that come to mind], we aren't prevented from making our thesis experiences fun. With that in mind, I decided that the feeling that my thesis was meant to inspire was freedom. I believed that the products that I would end up designing would help people with spinal cord injuries overcome the obstacles that their conditions presented them with. My silly walk was a sort of constrained crouch walk that lasted for half of the walk; after reaching the halfway point, the walk became a cross between a lunge, a skip and a slow motion run. Afterwards, as a class we dissected the walks and how they made us feel. My classmates pointed out that the real feeling of freedom was at that transition point between crouching and lunging, perhaps pointing to a specific typology of movement that I could explore for my event.
Reflecting on this silly walk, I felt that I didn't quite nail down the feeling that my thesis is meant to evoke. For one, I want the feeling to be lasting, and not temporary, unlike the feeling of freedom granted by my silly walk. I don't even think that freedom is the right word, and that it actually trivializes the permanence and pervasiveness of paralysis. A new product or thing wasn't suddenly going to make someone with paralysis better; it wasn't going to erase the trauma of injury or the hardships associated with SCI. What I was, and am, hoping to accomplish through my thesis is to help foster, or contribute to, a feeling of quiet determination - a sense of agency that defies the condition of paralysis. I'm not so hubristic as to think that my designs will be necessary for people to reach this feeling of determination - from my subject matter interviews, I talked to countless people with SCIs who needed no help from anyone to lead the lives that they wanted to lead, paralyzed or not. I want to make reaching this feeling easier for my users, which, I now realize, points to a specific moment in the timeline of recovery from injury that I'm targeting - the moment of adaptation and transition.
I threw around a few different ideas for what my event could be in my head, from a gamified physical therapy session to an Escape the Room style game that was structured so that a seated posture would be advantageous. I couldn't really figure out what the point of those events would be - why would people participate, and what would they get out of it? As Emilie taught us in class, a good event is like a story - it has an introductory part, some kind of an attraction; there's the meat of the story, the part where the participants are engaged; and then there's the conclusion, where participants realize why the event/story matters. I couldn't wrap my head around the conclusion part - if I did do an Escape the Room style event, what would people leave with? How would the event have impacted them?
As ideas tumbled around my head, I remembered some of the work that I did last semester for the social innovation design sprint. One idea in particular focused on sensory deprivation in order to foster empathy and to help able-bodied people appreciate what it means to live with a disability in an ableist world. Taking the core of this idea, and wanting to turn it into something less kitschy, I explored ways in which participants could learn more about their bodies while learning more about what being paralyzed is like. At the beginning of the research phase of this thesis, I found myself wondering a lot about what paralysis actually feels like; from reading books and talking to people with SCI, I discovered that the sensation of paralysis differs from person to person, and most people with an SCI could distinctly remember very specific sensations after the accident that caused their condition that told them that something was wrong. I wanted my event to be an arena where these stories could be shared, to help disabled and able-bodied participants alike gain a renewed appreciation of their bodies.
This led me to yoga. I read about the benefits of yoga, especially for people with SCI - how positioning the legs differently could lead to bursts of energy, and how yoga as a practice fosters an inner connectedness that transcends physical ruptures in the spinal cord. Matthew Sanford, quoted extensively in an article by the Christoper and Dana Reeve Foundation, says that people with disabilities should listen to their bodies through yoga, "so they can hear a different level of sensation, so they can experience freedom that comes from connecting to this subtle level of sensation. It's not going to reverse their condition, but if you can listen to it and follow it, it'll lead to a better life". Yoga is also an intense sensory experience. The first time I ever went to yoga, I remember being astounded by how visceral it was. Emilie taught us in class that engaging in as many of the senses as possible would be key to designing a memorable and effective thesis event.
And so the details of my event began to flesh themselves out - a guided yoga session, adaptive in the sense that disabled and able-bodied people are able to participate, with audio recordings of people's experiences with paralysis being played in between poses.
Next time I'll talk about the actual design of the postcard, and the trials and tribulations along the way.