The year of 2020 is coming to a close and for many students this means that their tutors will start pressing on the topic of Final projects. The absence of set objectives or deliverables that accompany these projects surely sounds enticing to many professionals who have been out of school for some time. Students on the other can get lost in the vast space offered by their newfound freedom. Dare I say that almost everyone, who is involved in the creative industries, can confirm that freedom is more often an obstacle. Here and there you might hear designers utter, “I don’t have enough creative freedom to do my work…” (or something along those lines) but deep down they know that objectives keep them on the right track.
To an outsider creativity might seem as something that is entirely experimental, free-flowing, or accidental – which would explain why so many people associate creative skills with freedom. However, there is a difference between being creative and doing creative work. What we really need is creative order – sense of purpose, a theme or a clear goal. That is why any final year project has to start with a search for that special WHY (and with a little bit of panic thrown in the mix, too).
So here are some of my lose thoughts and wandering ideas, which may or may not end up being the sole focus of my final year project.
1) How can we break down barriers and create acceptance for everyone in our society?
This year, there has been an undeniable shift in our society with movements (new and old) fighting for a more just world. However, this year these voices were amplified by social media platforms. Shining light on the issues and struggle’s minorities face in their day to day life. And yet there are many who have been completely untouched by these topics and remain completely unaware – this largely applies to the less ‘tech savvy’ folk.
The things that divide us are the same things that unite us.
Skin colour, Race, Gender, Sexuality, Body Size and Shape, Age, Disabilities, Mental health issues, …
But we are all still human, right? That is the one thing we have in common.
The Abstract Revolution
- challenging the current issues around identity and body image, which are only perpetuated by our social media obsession, our tendency to compare with others, our need to share only filtered and edited versions of ourselves
- aiming to improve mental health
- A photo-free movement on social media (maybe a month long campaign?)
- Re-imagining oneself (perhaps using only shape/colour -> collaborate with Pantone?)
- If we take away photographs and possessions, what makes you YOU?
- What would a photo-free timeline look and feel like?
- Would there be judgement against colours or geometrical shapes?
- Can you hate a circle?
Admittedly, this may not be the solution as these ideas are just a few though provoking questions with no answers.
In order to get a better understanding I have attended the ‘Is your brand QUEER enough?’ Webinar (take a look at my notes here).
I have used this opportunity to ask a larger audience about labels and the future of labelling. I have also spoken to some of my friends from the LGBTQ community. Understandably, some see their label as a part of who they are and would never give up something that they had to fight so hard for. Others are more fluid with their identity and don’t feel the need to keep the terminology. Notably, the younger generation is usually more relaxed.
Just imagine how it must feel having to 'come out', to oficially disclose yourself to others. How much soul-searching it takes to come to a decision and then having to share that very personal detail about yourself with the world. There is growing number of people who later on realize that their label doesn't quite fit, which means that they might have to 'come out again' - Wouldn't it be easier for all of us to just be people with the capability to love (whoever) and with the ability to act and dress in a way that makes us feel happy? No closets needed.
I do realize that getting rid of the things that make us different is not the solution.
In the end, It is about Acceptance (not indifference), which is going to take Awareness, Acknowledgment, Accountability and Action.
The most logical route would be through education but with a well thought out approach. We should not dictate how one should think about certain topics, we need to provide explanations, knowledge, and proper vocabulary. Perhaps the most effective strategy would be to start from the bottom up - start with children. There have been quite a few succesful projects in this area like picture books about LGBTQ tolerance. Another way of looking at this would be the education of upcoming and new parents as they should be prepared to accept and support their child as they are - raise children to be kind, teach them how to embrace diffrences, and how to overcome adversity.
"In school we are not told that apples are red, instead we are taught about colours, which means that everyone can tell if the apple looks red, pink, or green for themselves."
Unfortunately, arguments and disagreements are inevitable but at least we will have the necessary knowledge and vocabulary to discuss these issues properly.
You might be wondering, "How can language be an issue?" Well, if we were explaining transsexuality in English we have the words ‘female’/'male' (determining the sex/gender) and ‘women’/'man' (a human being/a role in society), which makes it easier to discuss. However, in my native language we have just one word that means both terms, which makes conversations around these subjects more complicated.
What does it mean to be a woman?
What does it mean to be a man?
What is the difference?
Should we get to choose?
Do we have to choose?
What am I then?
2) What accessibility looks like?
One of the worlds most recognizable symbols is the accessibility symbol (I am sure you have seen the stickman on a wheelchair). The main purpose of this symbol is not to sell products, direct traffic or create awareness. The wheelchair symbol is a sign for people with disabilities and its main purpose is to help people.
It is the international symbol of ‘access’. However, many people are unclear as to what the symbol actually means. The symbol we know today was first submitted into an international design contest in 1968 by a Danish designer Susanne Koefed. Simple, self-descriptive, practical and easily distinguishable from other existing symbols. The symbol went through a few tweaks over the years but still remains an international icon.
"What does it really represent?"
It identifies where there are accessible facilities. But accessibility isn’t just for people who use wheelchairs or for those with visible physical condition. It is a concept that applies to many different conditions (autism, visual impairments or autoimmune diseases...). There are approximately 1 billion people who have some disability – wheelchair users make up only 15%. The vast majority have invisible disabilities. There is a high chance that this group might include you, your relatives, friends or co-workers.
Is the symbol really accurate for the whole group?
How do you replace a symbol that is familiar all over the world?
What do you replace it with?
3) How we might explain what design is to (non)designers?
Design is facing serious evolutionary challenges on a daily basis but there is one barrier that still keeps it from getting to the right solutions. It is the fact that these problems would be much easier to solve if people had the knowledge designers have.
The challenge i to create a Collective Bridge of Reponsibility.
4) How we consume?
We consume a lot, alright? But in the recent years there has been a shift towards a less materialistic way of consumption. Consumption went online into the world of digital, the world of untouchable. (Chayka, 2019)
Less physical ‘stuff’ allows for more experiential ‘fluff’. It is that sort of experiential ‘fluff’ which will make you want to take a bazillion photos just to pick one and post it on social media. Do not forget to get everyone to approve your little adventure by smashing that ‘like’ button – the currency of our modern world. Before COVID, we would be booking reservations for experiences such as unusual vocation destinations, escape rooms, tasting menus or visits to unique sensory exhibitions. Where the documentation of these journeys (videos, photos, Instagram posts) acted as a new form of a souvenir. (Onikoyi, 2018)
Services such as Airbnb, Zipcar, Peloton (or other services that let you spend an evening with a dog) established a new experience driven economy where renting became the new way of owning stuff. How does this translate to our new reality with COVID?
So far it seems that people are returning to the comforts of physical ‘stuff’ - panic buying everything and anything that might ease their mind during these times.
Another alarming aspect of the current situation is the social development of children. The government just waves these concerns away, “…kids are going to be alright!”, but will they?
I have heard many stories (in and outside of my family) that say otherwise. One of these families has two pre-school kids, they spend most of the time at home with their mother while dad is at work (or working from home). The mother is exhausted and barely managing – but still refusing help from others because she does not want to risk catching/spreading the virus. Meanwhile her children became so used to their tiny bubble that they throw tantrums when they are met with a ‘stranger’ and at this point the ‘stranger’ could be anyone outside of the bubble (mom and dad), even a close relative.
What about elementary school children? Their learning has been disrupted to a degree where I am not even surprised that they have lost their interest in academia. In regard to family life, it is not a fairy tale either. Parents are at work if they are lucky enough to still have a job and kids are glued to their devices for hours with no end in sight. In some families we can see a beautiful coexistence of a ‘work from home’ parent and a ‘learn from home’ child, both at either end of the house fully engaged with their own ‘smart thing’.
Tired out parents also must make up for school lunches and if you think that kids who can provide (as in cook) for themselves make this situation easier then think twice - wondering if your child has managed to burn down the house is not what you want to be thinking about while you are at work.
The message that I keep hearing is that parents wish that their kids had at least one thing that would make them get out of the house because otherwise they are quite happy to stay locked up and obey all lockdown rules and restrictions which is not doing any good to their mental or physical health.
5) Asperger's Syndrome in Females
Women on the Autistic Spectrum are less likely to be diagnosed and a large number of them make it to adulthood without ever receiving a correct diagnosis, instead they might be diagnosed with OCD, ADHD, Depression, Social Anxiety,…
This is not surprising as women with Asperger’s can experience a plethora of co-occurring mood disorders which stem from the internalized feelings of frustration and failure. A few studies have also found a strong link between Autism and eating disorders. These disorders often stem out of the ‘coping mechanisms’ that one develops to cover up the difficulties they experience. (Wutkiewicz, 2016)
Aspie girls are especially great at observing human behaviour and using it to decipher patterns, roles, and scripts which they then use to blend in (they play their role, they appease others, they apologise when they should) – which therefore, makes them harder to diagnose as they do not show any signs of social immaturity. Their adaptation to the world around them lies in imitation and imagination. Aspie girls might identify someone who is popular (in their peer group, or a character from a book, or someone from a tv show) and adopt that persona, mimicking speech, phrases, gestures, clothing style and even interests. The true self of an Aspie must remain hidden from the eyes of others because that person is defective. (Attwood, 2018)
People on the Autistic spectrum are known for having special interests which is often portrayed as an obsession with numbers or trains in tv culture. In girls this might be an obsession with Barbie dolls in early childhood, they can also have an encyclopaedic knowledge of specific topics – fiction books, animals, art. Later in life they often develop routines and rituals to help them cope with the daily stress of managing their true self, which might lead to obsession with nutrition and calories which in turn develops into an eating disorder. (Wutkiewicz, 2016)
Unfortunately, just the thought, “Could I be autistic?” is only a starting point as the time that it takes to get a proper diagnosis is well over 2 years – male or female regardless.
Attwood, T. (2018) Aspergers in Girls (Asperger Syndrome) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfOHnt4PMFo (Accessed 04/12/2020).
Chayka, K. (2019) 'The Decade We Paid to Feel Something' In: Medium 10/12/2019 At: https://gen-medium-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/gen.medium.com/amp/p/ba976e2be160?amp_js_v=0.1 (Accessed 05/12/2020).
Onikoyi, O. (2018) 'From Conspicuous Consumerism to Experiential Consumption: The Consumer of the Future' In: GEN 16/05/2018 At: https://olaonikoyi.medium.com/from-conspicuous-consumerism-to-experiential-consumption-the-consumer-of-the-future-b0ec2f033436 (Accessed 07/12/2020).
TED-Ed (2017) What does this symbol actually mean? - Adrian Treharne. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppNYZq-hYTw (Accessed 06/12/2020).
Wutkiewicz, K. (2016) Asperger and Autism Spectrum: Women and Girls. At: https://www.aane.org/women-asperger-profiles/ (Accessed 04/12/2020).