Design And Politics: The 2016 Presidential Election


On Tuesday, the students of the MFA Products of Design were out on the streets of New York City, creating design interventions around politics and citizenship. Please find below the results of that work, begun with an introduction by faculty Manuel Toscano and Natalie Balthrop:

"It's the day after the presidential election, and for many this is a time to celebrate! and for just as many it feels like a time to panic. The real story is that this outcome would have been the same regardless of the winner—one side is joyous and empowered, the other taken over by disbelief and fear. On on Election Day 2016, the students of the SVA Products of Design had already understood this to be the biggest challenge of our political system, and as part of the Design and Politics Workshop, they dived into the many aspects of our political discourse that are broken, that need reinvention, that require design solutions to mend what is clearly a system in need of new ideas. Let's hope their work is only the beginning, and a hopeful sign of the ingenuity and positive effort that will bring this political conflict to an end."

 

Team "Secession"

Team: Arjun Kalyanpur, William Crum, Antriksh Nangia, Da Young Hong, Juno Lee
Location: High Line between
Time: 10:00am - 1:00pm

Secession is deeply rooted in the American identity. From our original separation from Britain that led to the Revolutionary War, to the fight over slavery that started the American Civil War, the process of splitting a nation apart when domestic diplomacy fails is engrained in our national DNA. Regions are already divided on several issues—the basis of food, music, and political view. But in an increasingly divided and vitriolic political climate, secessionist movements are gaining traction, and even more so today.

Our installation asked participants to imagine how the United States of America might split up based on different divisive issues such as climate change, immigration, gun control, marriage equality, or abortion access. People randomly selected one of these issues (“pick a card, any card,”) and then used markers to draw their ‘projection’ on a large dry erase map of the United States. As an added twist, state boundaries were removed from the map, forcing participants to call on their own geographical knowledge while drawing. Once finished, actual state lines were revealed via a transparent overlay. At this point, users were introduced to today’s ‘real’ maps of how the US is divided on these issues—typically a color-coded portrayal of differences in legislative policy around each issue.

By forcing users to make tangible generalizations on a big map, we intended to hold a mirror up to our collective assumptions and reveal how inaccurate they often are. While many users were pleasantly surprised at the ‘accuracy’ of their state lines, the most common sentiment evinced from the real map reveal was one of surprise and incredulity.

In one example, two high school-aged girls were asked to envision the ‘access to abortions’ map. They drew blue areas of good access on the east and west coasts and around the great lakes, but with poor/no access everywhere else. They were shocked to discover that there are at least 2-4 barriers to access in every state besides Vermont, and that it is similarly difficult across much of the country.

One woman refused to choose a card, instead choosing to redraw the country as she imagined it split on “all the issues.” She outlined the coasts and connected them by a thin strip that ran east to west through Chicago, isolated the northern Midwest and South, and created three separate nations. She may not have learned as much from us about the ‘real’ maps, but she did underline one of the key themes from the day which would later prove true in the election: the coasts are seen as different than, and disconnected from, the rest of the country.


Team "RE-UNION"

Team: Jenna Witzleben, Jiani Lin, Teng Yu, Sowmya Iyer, Julia Lindpaintner
Location: South end of Union Square Park
Time: 11:30am to 1:30pm

We have never been more aware of the polarization in our country, and these divisions are often deeply felt even within families. Looking beyond this election and towards Thanksgiving, the team designed RE-UNION—a game that generates unexpected ways into conversations about political topics at family gatherings. “We feel strongly that we need new ways to talk to each other about politics if we are to overcome partisan and ideological divisions and collaborate across differences,” said the designers. “If we can’t do it with our family, how can we do it as a country?”

To play, participants spin two wheels, one with political topics like “Immigration Laws” and “Minimum Wage,” the other with Thanksgiving items like “Turkey,” “Pie,” and “Gravy”—to generate random combinations. When three combinations have been made, they have two minutes to come up with connections between the ideas. The designers elaborated: “The point is to use the Thanksgiving item as a way into a conversation about the political topic. For example, if you had ‘Immigration Laws & Fork’ you could say, ‘I think we’re at a fork in the road on immigration…’ or ‘Immigration is a really sharp, pointy issues, with a lot of prongs to it.’”

Stationed at the southwest end of Union Square Park, the RE-UNION booth attracted a diverse crowd of curious passersby. Participants’ responses ranged from the literal—“If we lowered the drinking age, we could all have vodka cranberry”—to the metaphorical—“if we raise minimum wage, we can let everyone get a piece of the pie.” Over the course of two hours the designers gathered over 120 unique connections made by participants. While some used the game as an opportunity to express their opinion, others surprised themselves by casting these political subjects in a new light.

 

Some Matching Examples:
Death Penalty + Carving = “You know, carving reminds me of the death penalty. It just carves people out of other people’s lives.”
Marriage Equality + Cranberry = “Some people think turkeys just don’t taste as good without the cranberry sauce. But not everyone likes cranberries. You should let the people who want cranberry have cranberry. And just because someone else is having cranberries doesn’t mean you have to as well.”
Gun Control + Cornucopia = “If we don’t have gun control, it will be like the cornucopia scene in the Hunger Games.”
Drinking Age + Turkey = “Don’t be a turkey, lower the drinking age!”
Immigration + Fork = “Don’t fork up our immigration policy!”
Minimum Wage + Cornucopia = “I would’ve liked to bring a cornucopia of food to this party but I only make minimum wage.”
Abortion + Pumpkin = “Are gourds aborted pumpkins or are pumpkins aborted gourds?”
Immigration + Carving = “Is immigration causing us to carve up our country into fragments?”
Gun Control + Gravy = “Does gun control derail the gravy train of 2nd amendment extremists?”

Team: "Rewrite the Dream"

Team: Alexia Cohen, Xu Meng Mou, Kevin Cook, Andrew Schlesinger, Josh Corn, Will Lentz
Location: Tenth Ave. Square and Overlook on the High Line (just off of 17th Street)
Time: 11:00am to 2:00pm

“Rewrite The Dream” came together as a way to proclaim a new American dream. On a stage in front of the public, groups and individuals stepped up to shout their own ambitions out into the world. And while the American dream can no longer take hold in a unified belief of the atomic family, high society opportunity, and the white picket fence, we gathered to show that we can still join in support of each person’s individual dreams.


It started with just a few questions: What are three material things you want in your life? What are three non-material goals you have? And with those answers, a dream came to be in the form of a Mad-Lib. Participants could then take their dream up to the stage and read it aloud for all to hear. Sometimes non-sensical and sometimes very revealing, this comedic approach to co-creating a new dream led to a fun exposure of the things we have in common. There were aspirations, big and little fears, shared hobbies, and common interests. And everyone had a few material values. Everyone except our friend Gina—who had apparently achieved everything she wanted in life! Her Mad-Lib read, “the one thing holding me back from achieving my dreams is (material noun) -nothing-.”


Team "Eyedeology"

Designers: Bernice Wong, Sebastian Harmsen, Kuan Xu, Michael Kenney, Andrea Cameron, and Oscar Pipson
Location: HighLine, by the Whitney
Time: 12:00pm

"Has the political landscape become a blur to you? Do you often find yourself struggling to see clearly? Don’t worry, you're not alone, 9/10 Americans are affected by the same condition. Lucky for you Eyedeology is here to help. An interactive intervention, the Eyedeology clinic helps you find the right ideology to see politics clearly again. After an Eyedeology exam you will be prescribed a unique pair of glasses that represent your political perspective, free from the stereotypes and stigmas that clouded your point of view."

The designers reasoned that "everyone gets caught up in believing they have a perfect world view. Perhaps you’ve assumed that, as an American, you fall squarely into the liberal capitalist belief system." They added, "unfortunately, that’s probably not the case."

Eyedeology challenges the assumptions we all have about our own idealogical beliefs. Presenting participants with series of public policy conundrums—from Censorship in the Media, to Gender Roles, Income Tax Spending, and Minimum Wage Laws—the “Eyedeology” exam asks you to choose a visual metaphor that represents your approach to each issue. As answers are aggregated, your true political point of view becomes clear.

A day full of surprises abounded as NYC residents and tourists on the Highline adopted their new ideological identities. From Spandex Vigilantes (a type of anarchist), to Charismatic Kale Babies (a type of Liberalist), the Eyedeology team wrote dozens of prescriptions. Summed up the team: "When the next election cycle comes about, and you start to feel myopic, call our team of certified political optometrists."


Team "The Exquisite Candidate"

Designers: Gahee Kang, Manako Tamura, Alexa Forney, Ailun Sai, Louis Elwood Leach, Smruti Adya
Location: Madison Square Park
Time: 12:00 to 2:30pm

Inspired by the exquisite corpse game, The Exquisite Candidate aims to move past the differences highlighted in the 2016 election by asking participants “to build their ideal candidate—together.” For each of the three body parts (head, body, and legs), a pair of participants are asked to choose political statements that reflect both of their opinions. The chosen boards have visual illustrations on the back, and together the participants can then build full-size representations of their ideal candidate.

More than 30 passersby built their candidates in Madison Square Park—ranging from an 80-year-old Trump supporter, to policemen, to teenagers. “A common theme in their experiences was how tired and disappointed they felt about this year's election,” the group reported, “and how empowering they found the game to be.” Indeed, in many cases, the game revealed differences in the pair’s opinions. “In response to her partner's supporting the statement that guns make communities safer, one participant exclaimed, ‘what?! you crazy?’ And while they did not necessarily resolve their differences during the game, they compromised and found other statements to agree on.” The group reported that not a single pair failed in choosing their statements—and completing the figure.

TheExquisiteCandidate_6.jpg

“Many participants enjoyed the process of building a figure that represented the issues they cared about,” agreed the group. And added, “In one participant's words, ‘This election has been just so gross...the game was such a nice way to look beyond it.’"


Team "Take a Vote, Leave a Vote"

Location: Washington Square Park
Time: 12:30 to 3:30pm

Designers:  Lassor Feasley, Doug Fertig, Jingting He, Chris Rand

Take a Vote, Leave a Vote is a provocation for considering the value of our votes. Despite the recent polarizing election season, there are still many eligible voters who abstain from voting. At the same time, there are millions of people living in the United States who are not eligible to vote. Take a Vote, Leave a Vote gives the opportunity for people who are not eligible to vote a way to request a vote from eligible voters. When faced with the decision to actively give up their voice in the name of another, will eligible voters find more value in their vote?

On Election Day, in front of the Washington Square Arch, the Take a Vote, Leave a Vote crew began attracting a small but steady crowd. Engaging participants in the straightforward and simple interaction led to the start of some deep conversations about a citizen's place in American society and America's place in the world. Most were excited by the chance to give voice to the voiceless, or the chance to express their wish for election day. There were, however, some detractors who raised provocative points about personal obligation. In the end, a theme in the responses emerged: the idea that American citizens have an obligation to consider the billions of people who may be affected by the outcome of their choice—whether they vote or not.


Interested in more Design and Politics? Check out the "Non-Voting Booth" from the 2014 US Election, set up in Washington Square Park. View the entire project here