Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. We've had our hands tied with works and lots and lots of writing for our thesis books. In an effort to refine our books further, we're to define the top ten terms that define our theses, to ensure that what we mean to say in our writing, is precisely what we end up saying. Without further ado, here are the top ten terms of Unbound: Psychophysical Design for Spinal Cord Injury and Disability.
Since Wednesday, I have had a loaner wheelchair from SVA in my possession. The chair was obtained through the school's film department, where they have a surplus of wheelchairs. Allan, our department chair, had originally put me in touch with the film department in the hopes of securing for me a wheelchair that I could modify - weld to, tear up, tear down, etc. This, of course, was way back in first semester, when we both thought that a wheelchair product would end up being part of my final portfolio of thesis designs in May. Now that my gears have shifted somewhat, I have no real need for a wheelchair for prototyping purposes, but I found myself arranging to borrow one of the film department's wheelchairs for a little over a week a little over a week ago. I think that part of me knew all along that my thesis wouldn't be complete without this exercise in empathy, especially because, back when my thesis was still in the research phase, I was told by at least one person that I interviewed that I should find a way to rent a wheelchair and go around New York City in it.
Throughout the course of the semester, we've been asked at various points what our thesis framing statements are. The framing statement became a special point of emphasis in our Service Entrepreneurship class taught by Steven Dean. In this class, we were walked through the basics of conceptual modeling, a useful practice that, while tricky and time-consuming to nail down correctly, paid off large dividends once the modeling work has been completed. The act of modeling itself is one that is deliberate and needs to be taken step by step - and in this sense is a meta practice, being more concerned with the structure of structures, i.e. the design of structures of thought, of understanding, of knowledge, than with the design work itself. The concept map below is the result of many, many iterations and many hours spent trying to distill Unbound into its constituent concepts with the aim of developing a lexicon marked by a certain economy of language that was still descriptive enough to avoid oversimplification. If the map seems simple when you read through it, I won't be offended; a good concept map makes the complex seem simple and somewhat obvious.
Something that I've been struggling with in the course of developing my thesis has been the concept of emic and etic and where my thesis experience fits into this binary positioning. For the unfamiliar, these terms come from the field of cultural anthropology, and refer to the positioning of the investigator, or in this case, thesis-er, with respect to the population that he or she is investigating. The form of investigation can take many forms, and in my case, the investigation that I'm in the process of completing is design. There are many dichotomies that can be used to position the two terms relative to each other: insider-outsider; cultural-scientific; subjective-objective. An emic account is one that is observed from within the culture, within the subject of observation. An emic observer brings into play the biases and cultural norms inherent in the very object of study. By contrast, an etic account describes the object of study from without, with a very deliberate aim of describing things impartially, as they are, sans bias.
As a follow-up to the speculative product assignment, we were tasked with creating a newspaper of the future, to fully flesh out the sociopolitical context of the worlds that we were imagining through the articles found on the front page of the newspaper. Opposite the front page is always a full page ad, giving us an opportunity to create an advertisement related to the product that we created. At first, I struggled with this assignment, realizing that the idea of a newspaper in the year 2075 was surely a conceit - in a world with bionic implants and devastating environmental damage from global warming, what place would there be for printed newspapers?
Design thinking is in vogue, being used in more contexts than ever, with periodicals constantly heralding this epoch in business as the age of design, and championing job titles such as Chief Design Executive. While this certainly makes now an interesting and exciting time to be a design student, it also incorrectly suggests that design thinking is the only methodology with which to approach product design. Sometimes, though, it's just as important to identify where society ought to be in the future as it is to identify where it is now. For those cases, futuring is a useful tool and design methodology.
As promised, here is the post about designing a postcard for my intended thesis event - a yoga session for able-bodied and disabled participants alike, with audio recordings of people reflecting on what their experience is like with the sensation of paralysis. Participants are expected to leave the event with a better understanding of their own bodies as a result of this visceral experience that is both within [the yoga itself, and the breathing associated with it] and without [the personal nature of the recordings]. For our second class of Design Delight, we were expected to come up with a postcard that informed people about the nature of the event.
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.
Happy New Year everyone! This will be my last scheduled post for the blog, and so I thought that publishing it today and speaking about next steps for my thesis in the coming semester would only be appropriate.
I only prototyped one more product for the two week product design sprint. This didn’t make onto a more refined model, despite this final prototyped idea also being one that I’ve been toying around with since the original 100 sketches that we did for thesis.
The other product idea that I wanted to prototype for the product design sprint was another idea that I had from the very beginning of thesis. One of the hardest things for people with spinal cord injuries to adjust to is the incontinence that they develop as a result of the injury.
One of the first ideas that I wanted to prototype for the product design sprint was the rollable ramp. Longtime followers of the blog will recognize this idea as an iteration of something that Chris P, one of my users who participated in the co-design workshop, came up with. Chris, a New York City resident, told me about the problems facing wheelchair users in New York City, especially around food and restaurants. A ton of restaurants in the city are still not ADA complaint [a theme that I touched on earlier in the blog when talking about the service ADApt], and many feature [somewhat maddeningly] a single step up or down into their premises. The rollable ramp is meant to counteract that tendency.
A few things to note before I tell you what the latest and greatest sprint has been like for thesis. Those of you who come to the site itself to read my blog will have noticed that I redesigned my website! It feels less stark now, with shades of grey and a bit of what is known around the studio as "Souvik Blue" - my favorite shade of blue, found in a lot of my clothing and some of my drawing tools. Take a look around, kick the tires a bit and let me know what you think! For those of you on RSS or what have you, swing by and also let me know what you think!
My last design for social innovation utilized a mix of public perception and disruptive tech in order to combat ableism. Near school is a Juice Shop, one of those fancy places that offers fresh blended fruits and vegetables as a supplement or replacement for meals. That people would willingly forego full meals in favor of liquids in a world where hunger and famine are epidemics affecting people everyday is actually surprisingly [given how much I eat] an idea that has appealed to me in the past [though my grad school budget would never permit me spending $50/day on juice for an extended period of time]. On the topic of food, I also thought about what seems to be a perennially recent trend of blind eating - where people dine in the dark, depriving themselves of their sense of sight in order to be better able to taste their food. All of this combined and conspired in my mind and got me thinking: what if disability were rebranded?
Here we are at the last of the Social Design lenses - public perception. By way of an example, in Montana in 2005, an organization called The Meth Project used a hard-hitting advertising campaign targeted at current and potential abusers of crystal methamphetamine to educate state residents about the dangers associated with crystal meth abuse. As a result meth use dropped by an astonishing 72% amongst adults, and 45% amongst teens.
The penultimate lens of social design that we were forc-erm, asked, to consider was bright spots. These are easily replicable, scalable programs or interventions that offer simple solutions to complex problems. That sound esoteric, because it is. Bright spots are only bright because someone discovered them, otherwise they're as obscure as any other wildly effective solution that addresses social ills. I know, I don't sound bitter at all.
I realized that even though I told you last night that I would be covering the first lever of social innovation design from my assignment with you today, I didn't tell you what I identified as my issue, or what my insight was for this assignment. I don't want to jump the gun here, so I'll take you through my issue, insight, and further qualifying statements, before telling you about the actual interventions tomorrow. Sorry, I'm not sorry.
Sorry for missing the post last night. We had a bit of a monstrous assignment due this week, and as a consequence, I was up until 5AM working on my presentation, only to get up again at 7:30AM to finish things up [and I actually overslept - I was supposed to wake up at 6:30AM]. That's enough of the pity party though; there's a ton of content that's directly inversely related to the amount of sleep that I got that I'm excited to share with you this week. As is my usual modus operandi, I will share with you the prompt today, while working through presenting the work that I managed to get done over the course of the week.
My second app explore new territory for my thesis. So far, I think I've been focused on very practical things - my services and products all address the physical aspects of paralysis and wheelchair use, without delving into the psychological. My thesis interviews and additional reading that I've been doing on the side [design meets disability by Graham Pullin - a great read] suggest that I can't begin to design for my users without addressing their psychological needs as well. A lot of those needs originate in the physical condition that my users have, but that doesn't mean that addressing one necessarily addresses both. Recognizing this, I designed my second app to really try to get to a deeper and more profound place than any of my previous designs.
Today will be the last post [for now] about the services that I came up with as a part of my thesis. The original assignment asked for the 2nd year students at Products of Design to come up with two service ideas by using a presentation template as a generative tool for fleshing out our concepts. In addition to this, we were to brand the services in order to better convey the meaning and intent of them, and to make them seem more real. The human imagination is like a vine - if you put a structure in place that it can grow and wrap around, it can ascend to heights that are unbelievable [irony sort of unintended]. And so, I want to walk you through the decisions that I made when pulling together a brand for each of my services.