Friday, March 26, 2010

Class of 2010

We were asked to brand the senior show in groups or individually this year, a radical break from that past that added a much needed emphasis on how we present ourselves to the world. This process generated a wide range of very viable options that really harness the spirit of the quality of the education we receive at this institution, what it means to graduate, and how this transition means a new creative life for each of us.
However, due to the fragmented way we approached the branding process from the beginning, we all have ownership of our own specific vision for how we believe it should unfold. In my opinion, that makes voicing dissent with present circumstance a fragile situation. It’s easy for our peers to think “Oh, they’re critiquing the show because they wanted their concept to win.” However, that isn’t what’s happening in this short treatise. The senior show is something we have to collaboratively work on and get excited about individually (every one of us).

Before I begin to voice my concerns, I’ll explain my attraction to the initial concept. At first, I didn’t get it. But after the presentation, I saw myself buying into it for a few reasons. I admired the flexibility, but also the statement that it made. It represents changing the way we understand the world. As designers, we’ve been trained to do this. To examine existing paradigms, to shift our idea of what they mean, and through process and careful experimentation, provide meaningful design solutions that have the potential to affect society in meaningful ways.

But moving forward with the selected show is difficult for me, and several of my peers for several (I feel) valid reasons.

Reason #1: The Mom Test

With my work, I always do what I call the Mom Test. It’s pretty simple. I’ll call my mom, explain what I’m doing, and see if she gets it. If she doesn’t, I keep working. This show didn’t pass the Mom Test. Im not saying that Mrs. Masri should choose the show concept -- but -- I think its important to remember that as students of KCAI, we live in a pretty thickly-padded bubble. What may seem brilliant to us, may not float outside of our little world. To people outside, un-think is esoteric. It needs explanation to be appreciated. Without this explanation, its pretty easy to not get behind, or be attracted to. As designers, our audience is the people. I’m uninterested in design masturbation. Im uninterested in preaching to the choir. Our audience as designers is the masses. It bothers me that this show title won’t appeal to this audience. Limiting our audience to creative professionals (I believe) loses sight of our true purpose and audience. Why can’t we get the public in this building? Why can’t we affect them in the same way we hope to affect the design community? It’s not all about getting hired, but about sharing what we’ve done with our fellow students in other departments, and the community.

I think a good way to move forward would be to do some audience testing on people from other majors, people outside the art community, and creative professionals.

Reason #2: Stereotypes

Our school is commonly critiqued for its unabashed emphasis on concept, and lack of formal sophistication. This stereotype is common amongst both design professionals in the community, as well as other schools. This concept does nothing else but affirm that stereotype. Can’t we let our audience make the conclusion that unthink so boldly proposes without spelling it out for them?

Reason #3: The Work

One thing that was difficult in branding the show was making sure to always keep in mind that the emphasis of this event is a focus on the work. While I understand the aesthetic of this show can change, I feel like it doesn’t reflect the work that will be in the show. While I appreciate its “un-designed” quality (and personally find it appealing), I don’t think that its an accurate reflection of what visitors of the show will experience while they’re here. Perhaps conceptually it is, but I believe that the statement is something our audience should come to a conclusion about on their own.
While it’s important to make sure that the brand doesn’t overshadow the work, I think that the way the show is handled will dictate this. For example: the Nelson’s interior is neutral and allows the work to stand out. But do they send out gray postcards? The whole argument about the brand not being too flashy is moot concept. This show’s gonna be a spectacle! And we have to visually express that in the way we advertise it.


So I hope that this isn’t read with the opinion that I’m an asshole. I only hope that this show is as best as it can be, and the above concerns articulate my critique of the intended direction. As I said in my Ampersand article -- we shouldn’t be afraid to critique anything or voice concern. It’s about making the best show possible -- together. This critique comes not from anger, but from a passion to make sure we’re presented as best as possible to the community. Excuse this disclaimer, but I felt it was necessary in preventing any kind of divisive arguments or thoughts.

Feel free to use the comments section of this post to talk about what you think. My thought is we could use this section as a record of how to move forward on Monday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Midsemester Degree Project Summation

My degree project has evolved significantly since its inception and initial proposal. Originally, I was interested in exploring how the creation of domestic spaces that embody the cultural language of various ethnicities might begin to shape others. In other words, my job as a graphic designer was to take an environmental and multi-disciplinary approach to what a "package" can mean: in this case, a carefully curated room with a didactic purpose. I had planned to infuse various objects (both traditional and non-traditional to the field of graphic design) with informative subtexts about other cultures. To quote my initial research question:

"Through an investigation in spatial design and packaging, how can a holistic, interdisciplinary experience be created for an ignorant majority, that encourages a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City?"

However... experimentation early in the project changed my planned route. I was instructed to make a list of small experiments that could inform my project, and pursue a few of them. One of my questions reads as follows:
If a map was made more entertaining / visually interesting, would it encourage a better understanding of geography?

This question led me in a lot of different and unexpected directions. I made map placemats, map blankets, map furniture, most of them were pretty stupid. At the time I felt confident about them, though! The experiment that I made as a joke actually ended up being the course that this project ended up taking.

I had an extra silhouette of Iraq, that I drew a beak, legs, and tail-feathers onto. At the time I saw it as process-filler, but after meeting with Jamie, was able to see the potential in it.

Animals carry with them all kinds of semiotic baggage & connotations. By making a country into an animal, the country then absorbs those connotations; which [in terms of rhetoric] makes a kind of metaphor through personification.

So I continued my exploration by creating a full gamut of 'country animals,' (pictured below).

But how could these anthropomorphic studies be applied in some way? For this question, I returned to my list of experiment questions:
Will telling the story of an ethnic refugee in a meaningful way yield empathy?

To help me tell this story I met with Farah Abdi, a Somalian immigrant who runs an organization in town aimed at helping the Kansas City Somali community. He told me all about the Somali civil war, through this starbucks napkin:

He broke down the territories for me, and explained how European imperialism was the cause of the civil war, and the following Somali diaspora, which moved millions of Somalis to this country after 1992.

So I applied my anthropomorphic studies to this subject, intending to create a book that illustrates the story of the Somali civil war, in a playful, imaginative way.

So I developed a cast of characters (pictured below) that embodied the attitudes and history of each territory, as described by Farah, and started to tell the story in book form.

But how could my original idea see new light? Could these characters start to live outside of this book?

In the same way that Disney creates a spectacle around their movies (in terms of merchandise), I hope to apply these characters to various forms that will enhance their meaning, and encourage interactivity.

Moving forward, I plan to design a myriad of things that these characters can live on, while also looking at how I can create awareness towards a broader audience. The poster I designed (pictured below) helps to spread this awareness through a bold, illustrative means.

Perhaps it would be helpful to re-write my research question, clarifying my direction for after the break:

How can the complexity of the Somali Civil War be clarified, and its story retold to a youthful audience in a playful, multi-disciplinary way, that creates a spectacle around the narrative?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

KC Auto Show

The Practical, The Persuasive, The Poetic. All available at the 2010 Kansas City Auto Show: (Images are in order)

#1. The Practical:
Pretty obvious. But necessary! This sign instructs visitors of the Auto Show not to climb on displays.

#2. The Persuasive:
As part of the Scion kiosk, this display shows visitors all the benefits that come with Scion vehicles.

#3 The Poetic:
This Hyundai kiosk suggests a poetic comparison: That driving a Hyundai is as smooth as a curling wave, or suggests speed.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

DP: Experiments

I was told to dig little holes, not one big one.
Here's a list of some proposed holes:

If I designed a game with an educational subtext, would the participants come away with a new-found knowledge of that culture?

Could an ethnic dining experience be enriched with an informative subtext?

Will telling the story of an ethnic refugee in a meaningful way yield empathy?

Will recreating traditional rituals bring about a new appreciation and understanding for minorities?

What if traditional artifacts and objects were updated / modernized?

Could oral history be objectified in an interesting way? IE: Book, visual storytelling

If a map was made more entertaining / visually interesting, would it encourage a better understanding of geography?

If an outsider was brought into a traditionally furnished space, and spent time in it, would they come to a better understanding of that culture?

If a traditional, ethnic doll was given to a child who played an active imaginative role in its naming and activities, would that child understand more about the origins of the doll? IE: Russian nesting dolls, Kachina dolls, etc.

If an historical, ethnic musical experience was constructed for a listener (IE: a mix CD, playlist), would the listener gain an interest in that culture?

If ancient ethnic traditions of art and design were infused with an informative subtext, would they encourage further exploration? IE: Persian rugs, Native American Blankets, etc.

Would wearing traditional garb from a certain ethnicity provide a greater understanding of that ethnicity?

DP: Researchable Question [ Revised ]

Original Question:

Through an investigation in spatial design and packaging, how can a holistic, interdisciplinary experience be created for an ignorant majority, that encourages a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City?

Revised Question:

How can a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City be encouraged through the creation of an immersive experience, exploring collaborative practices, and various design disciplines?

Revised Revised Question:

How can a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City be encouraged through the creation of an immersive experience, exploring collaborative practices, and multi-disciplinary design; including but not limited to: spatial design, packaging, and interior design?

Revised Revised Revised Question:

How can a multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach yield a new open-mindedness and appreciation of ethnic minorities in Kansas City, through the creation of an immersive system exploring facets of spatial design, packaging, and interior design?

Another Question:

Which one???? :-/

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DP: Dream Design Job

What a question!

For the first time in my life, I don't have a plan, or many reservations as far what I won't do. But there are a few things I'm interested in:

Editorial design: Working for a magazine in NY whose philosophy aligns with mine.
Exhibit design: Working at a fine arts museum like the Guggenheim.
Fashion: Designing patterns & prints for clothing.
Nonprofit: Working for an organization whose philosophy aligns with mine.

Any combination of the above would be ideal :).

I think more than anything, being able to support myself and create work that satisfies my artistic inclinations & vision (work that also betters society in some way) while living in New York, or some other large city, is my dream.


DP: Researchable Question

I was fortunate enough to be in a group of three, so I received two responses to my lengthy, and probably boring explanation of my degree project. They are as follows:

How can the majority be given an experience through an interactive exhibit that encourages ethnic discovery of the local minority groups through an educational space full of culture and traditional artifacts?

Kyle Huber

Through experiential and exhibit design, how can I communicate a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in KC for the majority?

Laura Berglund

So, maybe it would be useful to recap how I introduced my degree project to them, before I attempt to combine the two into a question that will haunt me for the rest of the semester.

I introduced my degree project at my senior presentation as "packaging cultural language". People say you go to college to find yourself, and through my college experience I've discovered a passion for anthropology, human rights, race, art history, and politics. This has manifested in my work in the past few semesters through the lens of my own personal experience: being in a mixed race family, half white, half Arabic. Using my own ethnicity as a diving board for these issues, I've come to the conclusion last semester that helping only one culture through 'design thinking' is in some ways just as bad as discrimination itself, as it creates a kind of "zoo" atmosphere around that ethnicity. In my degree project, I'm hoping to broaden my horizons anthropologically and culturally by working with local Kansas City minorities, to recount the story of the beauty of their traditions through design. In my research, I've found the following minorities that have a high contingency in the Kansas City metro:

Hispanic (largest population is Mexican)
Restaurants: Pancho’s, El Rancho, Cancun
Restaurant: Vietnam Cafe (39th)
Various Asian markets
Organization: Kansas City Ethiopian Connection Group’s (ECG)
Restaurant: Blue Nile (River Market & Various Locations)
Somalian (Bantu)
Numbers around 6,000
Specific neighborhood (Northeast Kansas City)
Less apt to integrate, because they live in specific communities
Widespread poverty, ethnic refugees due to civil war
Native American
Heart of America Native American Society
Large population in surrounding region (Topeka)
(Influx during 1990’s due to civil war)
(Numbers around 4,000)
Restaurants: Korma Sutra
Middle Eastern
Organization: ISGKC
Restaurants: Aladdin’s, Jerusalem (Various Locations), Sinbad’s Hookah

I hope to choose a few of these ethnicities (from 3-6) and use my design skill-set to act as a middle-ground between the conservative majority, and the unrepresented minority. I'm highly interested in context, and considering a more interdisciplinary approach to how this can be translated. Through my initial research I've found that the reason many people don't identify with another culture is because of a lack of a concrete personal relationship with a representative of that culture. But what would this relationship entail?

Generally, modern friendships involve the most primitive or banal of human activities: the first and most obvious:

Spending time with the other person.
Through what kinds of activites? Eating, drinking, entertainment, general leisure, etc.
And in what environments does this naturally happen? Or maybe more specifically, what environments facilitate this kind of interaction?
Cafe's, Domestic spaces, "comfy" places, etc.
The common denominator is informal, comfortable, intimate.

The problem with most attempts to encourage ethnic appreciation is the tone that they take. Museums, books, magazines generally create some kind of formal atmosphere through which they "introduce" the culture. The focus of this project will be the opposite: to introduce them in a comfortable, intuitive, and entertaining way that encourages interaction and discovery.

But what is design's role in all of this? Design shapes spaces, and in turn, shapes people. The purposeful arrangement of elements in buildings, furniture, music, games, even food shapes more subconscious human behavior. To some designers, so-called "good design" is invisible. And this concept itself is interesting: for something to look as if it simply exists, that it wasn't "created" but simply "is." I believe that design has so many more possibilities for affecting the human subconscious in socially positive ways, and in short, that is what I hope my degree project will accomplish. I hope to design a holistic experience for my audience through the purposeful arrangement of spaces, objects, and yes, two-dimensional graphics. With all the pieces working in tandem, I hope to facilitate a new open-mindedness when it comes to ethnicity.

Hm. Long-winded? Yikes. Maybe its time to distill all this down and unveil the question:


Through an investigation in spatial design and packaging, how can a holistic, interdisciplinary experience be created for an ignorant majority, that encourages a new open-mindedness and appreciation for ethnic minorities in Kansas City?