Exploring unity through design | Pratt News
Finding ways to be with others has been a challenge throughout this time of pandemic isolation and social distancing, and an important reminder of the value individuals and communities place on being together. How to overcome not only the physical obstacles, but also the cultural, linguistic and other barriers that separate people? Is it possible to be both apart and together? How to find empathy and connection?
A group of communication design graduate students from Pratt and Design School Kolding (DSKD) in Denmark recently explored these and other questions in a month-long project in which they were asked to explore the theme of unity by design during this time of pandemic transition, looking to the virtual and the physical as we finally move towards being together in person again. An additional optional prompt was to explore how the idea of a magazine could be reimagined within the context of the theme of usability.
This was the fourth iteration of an international collaborative program between Pratt’s Graduate Communications Design Department and DSKD that was initiated in 2019 by Tom Klinkowstein, Pratt-CCE Assistant Professor of Graduate Communications Design, and Barnabas Wetton, an international innovation leader and associate professor at Design School Kolding, to enhance learning and increase mutual understanding for students across different cultures and backgrounds. The fall 2020 collaboration was also facilitated by Lars Hoff-Lund, Assistant Professor, DSKD. In the fall of 2021, Lorenzo Bigatti, designer in London and former DSKD student, was an external critic.
Each semester, students choose to participate in the program, developing projects with their international peers. During the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, a series of complementary lectures with guest speakers on hot topics such as trend forecasting and the decolonization of design were also offered. The initiative began as an exchange with an in-person component, with Pratt students visiting Denmark in 2019 and DSKD students coming to Pratt in early 2020. The program has since been held online due to the pandemic .
“This experience was a powerful affirmation of design as a deeply connecting thread between students from two institutions on two continents on mutually selected topics of critical importance in a truly extraordinary time,” said Professor Klinkowstein.
Working in mixed teams that paired students from Pratt and DSKD, participants spent 15-20 hours this fall researching and working on projects exploring the theme of “Together and…” before pitching them to the ensemble. from their peers and academic advisors via Zoom at the end of the program.
The Together While Apart project (Brynn Anderson, Pratt; Emily Fromhage; DSKD; Maia Ronan; DSKD) used snail mail and email to create a mixed media newsletter, with visual and written content added sequentially by each member of the team as he received the piece in progress and built on the contributions of others. The final contributor served as the ultimate “editor” of the piece.
Reminiscent of the intimacy of traditional letter writing, the process was designed as a counterweight to screen fatigue and the hectic pace of contemporary life, and created a safe space for deeper conversations and topics. The two plays they created focused on unity and desire. The letter exchange approach could potentially be extended to people around the world through a website that would host content on different themes. Individuals could submit their exchanges of letters to the site, another reimagining of the magazine viewing letters as content.
See the invisible
Two other projects probed hidden connections in everyday life. Together and Parallel (Kassandra Ruiz (Kassie), Pratt; Camilo Andres Rodriguez Casas, DSKD) used sound mapping to explore cultural parallels by comparing the everyday sounds of cities in different countries and finding common ground through conversational patterns.
In Together and Litter Watching (Mariam Elasser, Pratt; Nadia Henrique, DSKD), chronicling and comparing litter in New York and Denmark tells the stories of different communities through what they leave behind. The team focused not only on the composition of the waste, such as tobacco or alcohol-related items, but also on its volume, noting the increase in the cities studied at one point in the pandemic during their reopening to tourists. The work was featured in a zine that could also serve as the basis for other editions focusing on other cities and themes.
Transcend language and other barriers
Another team, made up of Austrian and Chinese students, used comparisons between their two cultures as a springboard for their project, Together (Marie-Thérèse Schleich, DSKD; Xun Zuo (Hins), Pratt). With inspirations ranging from emojis to IKEA and beyond, the duo created an image-based user guide with cross-cultural scenarios, such as the similarities between Chinese New Year and Christmas, or Austrian food traditions and Chinese, to create greater empathy and better understanding. The visual guide transcends languages and can easily be adapted to different themes.
The Together and (Enemies to Lovers) project (Jorge Villar Blanco, DSKD; Qinyan Liu (Doris), Pratt) also explored breaking down barriers, with a question-and-answer-based website/app that would serve as a safe space where strangers could become friends or where those on opposite sides could evolve into an alliance.
Answer questions such as “How would you like your funeral to be?” or “If you could change one thing about the way you were raised, what would it be?” facilitate the process as participants go from “Unknown” to “Reliable”, and finally have the possibility to continue their journey outside the platform.
“One of the important points of our project is to save us from the terrible isolation both mental and physical since the pandemic and to prepare us to meet in the real world one day in the future,” Liu said. “Every individual matters on our platform.”
Enabling moments of solitude even in a public space, the collaboration Alone, Together (Antonio Tharp, DSKD; Abby Shuster, Pratt) relied on the ability of music and light to express and influence mood to create immersive installations with participants brought into the sensory universe. individual experience, while sharing it with others nearby. When entering an experience, participants can use their mood to set what the mood will be. Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, a person getting into a subway car could join the experience with others in the car and leave it when getting out. Outdoor locations in parks or on the sides of buildings would be a canvas for light projections, with an augmented reality element where people could use their phone’s camera to explore different light patterns.
Expanding the concept by aggregating the light patterns into an interactive web application and extending the experience worldwide would allow the globe to be used as a map to dive into the moods of different cities and explore how people are feeling at any given time. given in various places.
“As we imagine our world going from pandemic to endemic, I think it’s important to notice the dissonance that occurs between this intense need to be fully together again, but also this residual kind of fear and of danger of being alone, which varies in degree depending on location,” Shuster said. “We thought this experience was something that could really straddle those two fears, both physical and virtual.”
New editorial perspectives
With a range of approaches, content, materials and technologies, the collaborations open up new avenues of connection and offer new perspectives on what the idea of “editorial” can be.
“All of these projects create a kind of editorial access, for example going from hyperlocal to global, from what simple letters or punctuations can be to how we can understand the world, or by allowing us to see something like trash that’s invisible to us,” Wetton said. “I think in this space there’s a new way of creating value that allows us to include a lot of different kinds of voices .”
The fall 2021 projects will be added to the growing archive of the collaboration, which already includes work from fall 2019 through spring 2021. The program will be held again in the spring.