CHAOS TO ORDER

Not the perfect title for the first blog of the Spring Semester, but that is what my life has been for the last few weeks. I got out of quarantine on the 10th of February and it has been a roller coaster ride since then. I have been running around the city just to get everything back to order as soon as I can, so that I can start working again.

But I realize it will take me sometime to settle down, adjust to the new surroundings. Right now, I do not have anything to investigate for this action, so I decided to write about my experience of moving to Vancouver. After months of anxiety and restrictions on travel, it was nice to be finally in the city. The quarantine was nice, gave me time to get over the jet lag. I finally got to my apartment and that is when things started to get out of hand. I had so much to do…get my ID, SSN, open a bank account, groceries, local number and what not! But thanks to my friends in Vancouver, they helped me a lot.

Over the past week I got a lot of things done and in doing so I got to travel a lot around the city. I wanted to mark all these places on a map, but I have not been able to find folding map, so I decided to use Google Maps for now.

Looking at the map and travelling back and forth daily from school, the streets have already started to look familiar and I have already started to learn some street names and bus routes. So far, it has been a wonderful experience here in the city and as things start to settle down, it feels like the time when things settle down right after a big explosion. I look forward to my time in Vancouver…and will try to continue with material exploration, where I left off at the end of the last semester.

My time in Vancouver so far.

A Letter To Future Self

The semester of Fall 2020 started with a lot of excitement but with a little bit of disappointment. I was excited to be finally starting my master’s but at the same time, was bummed to start it online due to the pandemic. There was a lot of uncertainty, but I had no choice other than just to start with it.

At the start of my studio class I was all excited to jump into the assignments and thrilled to know so many people from around the world. This was the first time I was interacting so closely with people from other countries. I even invited some of my cohort to join me on a one-on-one call on Skype just to break the ice.

The studio class started on a high note. I still remember all of us working on the Group Agreement, trying to comfort each other in this new realm of online learning, which none of us had experienced before.

Being paired with someone from a different country and culture for Action 1 was a wonderful experience. For the first time I had the opportunity to talk about my culture with someone from a totally different culture. I was delighted to find out how both our cultures had so many similarities.

Both the actions 1 and 2 were an opportunity to know people closely from different cultures. Through action 2, I had the opportunity to offer a dish from my culture while at the same time experience one from theirs. It is no surprise, that even now when kheer is made at home, I cannot help but think of Marcia, with whom I was paired for Action 2.

The turning point for me on this course was at Action 3. This was the first time I realized that I was not comfortable working with ambiguity. Trying to come up with an action and seeing things from a new perspective, I had to again get in touch with some of my cohort to share my ideas and get a feedback on them. Moving through actions 4,5,6 and 7 I had reached a place where I felt lost and demotivated to continue with my actions. Missing out on real time interactions and not being able to step out of my house due to the lockdown, really started to get on my nerves. Working continuously on my laptop was also becoming monotonous for me.

To overcome this, I decided again to reach out to my cohort and instructors. This helped me in getting out of the same routine and motivated me to try something new, without thinking much about the result. Doing this led me to my Action 8. For this action I just played around  with a bunch of stationaries I could find in my room. Completing this action, I was able to break the monotony of all my previous actions and to try something new. This was a major turning point in my practice and a big ‘AHA!’ moment for me as now I was motivated again to try and work with different materials.

As a result, I was able to work comfortably with different materials for Actions 9 and 10 (Cotton & Cardboard). Not just working, but at the same time I was able to look at things with a difference lens now.

Looking back at all my actions so far, there are somethings that I have learnt about myself. First, that its okay to work on/with something without knowing/worrying about the result and second is to open with my peers and share my experiences (good/bad) and vulnerabilities with them to keep myself motivated. Moving forward to the next semester, I would like to carry on with this newfound practice of material exploration and try to incorporate a wide variety of them in my design practice. I hope that I can continue the rest of my masters from Vancouver and get the opportunity to interact with my instructors and  peers in person. I feel that getting to do this would be a big boost to my design practice.

Although I am writing this letter as part of my assignment, but I realize that it is a good way to reflect on what I have learnt so far and how has it affected me. Moving forward I would like to continue with this practice more often maybe even after I finish my college. Looking forward to an exciting next semester.

Action 11: Reflecting Back

For the final blog before the end of this semester, I want to reflect on all my actions I have done so far. Through Action 1, I got to know a new culture. Talking to Iris for a week I learnt how our cultures are very similar in some aspects and though very different in some others. With the pandemic going on it was relatively easy to find a common ground between the two. Not just Iris, but over the course of this semester, I have come to learn a lot about so many different cultures and it has definitely widened my spectrum of thinking.

Action 2 was my first experience of getting to cook a foreign cuisine. Marcia’s offering of Brigadeiro is definitely something that will stay with me forever. Also, given that all our actions were being done online it was challenging to get all the ingredients and come up with a way to offer the right experience of the offering.

Moving on to Action 3, I realized for the first time how I am not comfortable  working with ambiguity and how I need a problem statement or clear set of instructions to work on something. But after completing this action I learnt to put a totally different perspective on anything which has helped me develop my creative thinking.

Action 4 was an extension to the previous action. Only, this was the first time where I started working with different materials. Looking at things with a different perspective and then using them to visualize something totally different really helped me in getting out of my comfort zone and try something new.

Action 5 was the first time I reflected on my previous actions.  Through the method of video sketching I learnt how to come up with a storyboard and then portray it in a different medium. Although I did not have a chance to repeat the same process again, but I would like to work more with video sketching as I move forward with my masters.

Looking back at Action 6 I realize that I should never come up with a problem statement that is very broad in itself. I have learnt that it is always better to start small and go big rather than doing something just for the sake of doing it. Although I did try to do justice to my problem statement for this action in the next action.

Action 7 was again an extension of the previous action. Now that I reflect back on it I do realize that it was executed poorly. Initially I wanted to change it, but later on I wanted to keep it with me as a mistake and learn from it for my future actions.

For all my actions so far, I had been working a lot on my laptop and using the internet. So for Action 8 I wanted to do something that did not involve the use of any technology. Stepping out further from my comfort zone, for this action I worked with paper. The high point of this action for me, was that this action was done without a plan. Completing this action further motivated me to explore different materials and move away from working on screens and softwares which by now had become monotonous.

After having spent most of the semester in lockdown, I was finally able to step out of my house for Action 9. Having worked with paper in the last action, I took this opportunity to explore some more materials. Completing this action out of my room, I realized I was now more comfortable with working with materials, ambiguity and providing different perspectives to things around me.

Throughout this course coming up with new actions every week, I have reached a point where I am constantly trying to find actions in everything that I do. Action 10 resulted from something similar. It formed while reading a book on type explorations. Completing this action I can finally agree that I am now comfortable in exploring different  materials and working with ambiguity, which personally for me is a big step forward in developing my design practice.

Writing about my experiences of the actions for this semester, has helped me in reflecting on how I have grown as a designer. Moving on to the next semester, I wish to take these experiences and incorporate newer design practices.

Action 10: Negative Spaces

This action started while I was reading a book on Type Exercises and came across a very interesting section about Form and Counter form of alphabets. Right after reading that, I just wanted to try to play with the negative spaces of the letterform myself.

To do so, I first made an illustrator file with the negative spaces of the English alphabets. But like my previous actions, I did not just want to complete this action on my laptop, so I decided to make a stencil out of it. This was the first time I was working with cardboard. (Another addition to my material exploration). After starting to cut out the letterforms with a cutter, I realized how tedious this was going to be. After spending hours cutting out each letter, I finally had my stencil ready.

At first, I started writing the names of some of my cohort. The interaction of the negative and positive spaces brought out some interesting patterns.

Next I decided to use just the initials of the names of my cohort.  Sketching those down paper, it looked like ancient markings found in the pyramids of Egypt.

After doing this action, I realized how the negative spaces in letterforms balance out the positive spaces to create something meaningful. Since this was the first time I was experimenting with the negative spaces, I used English alphabets and used a font that was relatively simple. Moving on I would like to experiment with more complex fonts, languages and test how negative spaces could be used to encrypt messages?

Action 9: Exploring

After being under lockdown for almost 3 months, we were finally allowed to go outside our locality. I did not want to miss this chance of stepping out, so I decided to go out on an early morning drive. Even after being in my house for so long, I did not feel like driving towards the city. So, I decided to go towards the countryside. My uncle has a farmhouse nearby and since I had not been there for so long, I decided to visit that.

It felt nice driving after so long. Since it was still early in the morning there were fewer people on the road and everything felt new, as if it were just washed.

Since no one had been to the farmhouse in a while, I could see how all the plants had all grown so much and covered the walkways which were earlier easily visible. I felt as if I was trying to enter some restricted area. In some parts the growth of the plants was so much that it had covered almost the entire fencing. The ground which was earlier open with no plantation of any sort, now had all kinds of shrubs, so much that it almost looked like a jungle. Looking at all of this I felt that if given a chance even nature around us is looking to take up as much space as possible.

There was a patch of chili plantation we had done before the lockdown and now it had some green and red chilies hanging in it. Looking at them it felt like the red chilies were acting as guards to that area and keeping everything at bay. While experiencing all of this I could not help but think how even nature is so protective.

Since the last action I had been trying to explore different materials, so for this action I decided to do something similar, with the things I could find there. I found a cotton bud and broken branch. I started to tear up the cotton just to explore what was inside. At the center I could feel the hard seed with my fingers. I decided to tear up the cotton to get to the seed. It was not easy. The cotton was stuck to it so hard I literally had to use my cutter to remove it. After opening the seed, I found some yellow sticky material inside it. (I do not know what it was), but that again took me back to the idea how nature is so protective. For one thing, the yellow material I found inside the seed had 3 layers of protection.

I also had some other things with me that day. A needle, some thread and my face mask. Putting down everything in front of me I could see how this yellow sticky material was so important for us. Since it was part of the seed which made the cotton bulb, which was turned into thread and used to make my face mask.

Doing this action took me back to my action 3 where I had tried to scale out my connections. After spending a little more time at the farmhouse I headed back home. With what I had experienced that morning, I came back with a new understanding of how space and the sense of being protected is important for everything around us, be it humans, animals or nature itself.

Action 8: Making Without Thinking

For all my past actions I had been working in pattern. Coming up with a plan, researching a bit and making something out of it. Also, most of it involved, me surfing the internet. For this action I wanted to do something that did not involve the use of internet or my laptop. I wanted to come up with an action that was not planned.

So I sat on my bed, (changing your place really helps!) put together some things I could find in my room, these included:

  • Cardboard
  • A4 sheet
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Colors
  • Cutter

I decided to put a repeat timer of 5 minutes and click a picture every time the timer went off.

The series of images below is what I ended up doing with the things I had.

0-5 mins.
5-10 mins.
10 – 15 mins.
15-20 mins.
20-25 mins.
25-30 mins.
30-35 mins.
35-40 mins.

I would not call this the end of my action but working with paper has really helped me break the cycle of just working on my laptop. It was nice to do something different after a long time. Working with electronic mediums has become monotonous and moving on to future actions I wish to incorporate more materials in my practice.

Action 7: Mapping the Focus

Often when we are surfing the internet, we come across random pop-ups on our screens, and to get rid of them quickly, sometimes we end up subscribing to notifications and newsletters.

Random pop-ups on webpages.

I would consider this as an unethical practice, as this involves making the user do something outside of their choice and at a point when they are most vulnerable.

To test this, I decided to make an action where I could map my user’s attention areas while they are interacting with a system. I chose 4 participants for this action. Let’s call them A,B,C,D. I started by asking them to choose between symmetry and asymmetry. These were the responses that I got:

A:  Asymmetry

B: Symmetry

C: Symmetry

D: Symmetry

Now that I had the responses, I wanted to design an action where I could map their focus on the screen with a sense of time crunch. I made a quick 6 second video with 5 slides. Each slide had a symmetrical and an asymmetrical shape and they had to choose shapes which corresponded to their choice of symmetry and asymmetry.

The results I got were as expected, only participant D was able to choose all symmetrical shapes, but all the others had chosen a shape which was not part of their initial choice of symmetry or asymmetry.

I mapped out the responses for each participant with a different colored lines and I could see that under a time constraint the user cannot interact with the entire screen but just with parts of it.

This action was completed with a very small sample size, but it did prove the point that design can be used to divert the user’s attention and manipulate their choices which is unethical. I would like to investigate this further and come up with actions where I can create methods to counter this practice.

Action 6: Identifying Ethical/Humanitarian Design through the actions of User Research & Experience Design

As a designer I have always agreed to the notion that designers are problem solvers. Everything around us, that we interact with, has been designed for a purpose, to make our lives better. While you are reading this….just look around at the things kept near you. It could be your mobile phone, your laptop, you might have a pen near you. All these things that you interact with need to fulfill a purpose, or else they are of no use to you.

Now that we are living in the post pandemic world, a lot of things have changed. We are more comfortable keeping our distance from others and this is for everyone’s safety. For instance, I try to make monetary transactions online more often than I did before. This way I do not have to worry about sanitizing my hands which I would have done if it were physical money. Our dependence on anything electronic has grown manifolds.

But now that everything around us is literally undergoing a massive change, I feel that as designers we need to reconsider the ‘goodness’ of everything – in terms of benefit to individuals, society and the world – how we practice our work and what we create.

What is ethical design?

A very comprehensive definition can be found on encyclopedia.com, which states:

Design ethics concerns moral behavior and responsible choices in the practice of design. It guides how designers work with clients, colleagues, and the end users of products, how they conduct the design process, how they determine the features of products and how they assess the ethical significance of the products that result from the activity of designing.

Given the current scenario where everything is undergoing a major re-design there are eight focus areas that need to be kept in mind while designing. These are,

  • Society
  • Sustainability
  • Focus
  • Persuasion
  • User Involvement
  • Privacy
  • Accessibility
  • Usability

After deciding to explore ethical design through User Research, I realized how vast this field is and in order to get started I would have to start small. After reading a bit about ethical design I will try to come up with an action where I can use design to map the focus of a user.

Action 5: Video Sketching

For Action 5, I was required to evolve some of my actions using video format.

The first video titled ‘Stepping Out’ is inspired by Action 4:Step Out and Look Wider. I wanted to show what I had experienced while working on the previous action. Action 4 required me to step out of my house and seek materials to re-define my problem through new acts of making. Since my neighbourhood was under lockdown it was not possible for me to do so. Hence, I started to look around for materials by not leaving my house. Unfortunately there wasn’t much that I could find to work with. Hence, this video is just a little sneak-peak into my experience of doing Action 4.

Personally for me Actions 1 & 2 were quiet straightforward. But things started to get a bit uncomfortable from Action 3. While working on Actions 3 & 4, I realized that I am more comfortable with work which has a set of guidelines and tells me what to do beforehand. This could be due to the fact that I have worked in a startup before, where even before designing we were given a design brief around which we had to work. Starting to work in this new format without any guides was not easy for me. In this next video I have tried to show how I come up with some ideas but don’t get anywhere with them. What happens next?…. well, watch it for yourself.

Action 4: Stepping Out & Looking Wider

While doing Action 3, I had thought a lot about being connected with my cohort, which is spread around the world in different time zones. This got me thinking, ‘how could I explore the connections present in nature?’ Unfortunately, I was not allowed to go out of my house due to the lockdown in our locality. The only place I could go to, was my backyard.

While sitting there, I started to think about the plants around me. How are plants connected with nature? Looking closely, it was easy to say that plants are connected at 2 levels:

One below the Earth and the other above the Earth. Let us call the former as Level 0 and the latter as Level 1. While Level 0 stays below the surface of the Earth and houses the Roots, which supports the plant and provides it nutrition, Level 1  stays above the ground and is visible to all of us and has all the branches, leaves and flowers. Both these levels are connected in some way to their surroundings.

To get this into perspective, I thought of staying connected like being in a closed circuit. For the current to flow, the circuit needs to be connected/closed/complete.

Soon, I started to think of my connections, how I related to my Family, Friends, the Nature, and the Society.

My family is my first level of connection or Level 0. They are the roots I am connected to which support me. Moving a little further I am connected to my friends. Friends from school, college, and work. These are connections I have  just outside of my family so let us call them Level 1. Then if I expand further, I am connected to my surroundings, this would be the place I live in, my house. How I am part of it, everything that it has and how that affects me. Lastly, how all these connections make me a part of the society? How do they connect me to my city, my state, my country, my culture, and the world?

Looking at my connections, I wondered if it was possible to disconnect anything at all? Even a pencil kept on my table was at some point a piece of wood which was part of a tree. For it to become a pencil all that changed was its form.

Visualising how a pencil still has wood in it.

I wanted to explore more connections in my surroundings and check if altering those connections changed anything? Since I wasn’t allowed to step out of my house, I decided to find connections in my room. Looking around my room I saw different things. All of these were kept in a certain place & in a certain manner. This got me thinking, ‘were these things any good to me if I were to change their place/orientation?

Where and how do I put the painting if it was not hung on the wall? Would it serve its  purpose? Where would the curtains go if they were not hung on the windows? Would the air conditioner be of any use to me if it were not hung on the wall? Certainly, I could change the place of somethings, but most of them had a certain connection to the place they were kept in. If this connection were to be altered there is a good chance that they would lose their purpose. I wanted to visualize the connection these things had with their places. To do so I started to tie things together with  a plastic rope.

Exploring Connections

Things which hung on the wall and things which settled on the ground. Doing this I could see my room split into 2 categories, reminding me of the plant example, I thought of before. Just as a plant required connections beneath & above the ground, in the same way, I required all these things to be in their designated places for them to be of any use to me.

Conclusion: For anything to be meaningful it is important that it is connected to where it belongs. Disrupting these connections can lead to unwanted results.