Masters Thesis: Around: Drawing out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Environment, by Samantha Moore


Products of Design MFA student Samantha Moore's thesis, entitled “Around: Drawing out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Environment,” explores overcoming everyday frustrations in New York City. The thesis began as a personal journey for relief but was soon reframed and applied to a larger audience.

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Initial research led to examining relief in the form of escape, diagnosis and prescription. Inspired by Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place, Moore thought about the “third place,”—a place of refuge between home and work—and how this idea could apply to the on-the-go lifestyle of New Yorkers by creating a speculative portable room-scape that people can take with them.

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The insight that many don't seek relief until their health is affected by stress inspired the Let it out Service. “Venting Machines,” located on the city streets and in subway stations, diagnose the user’s stress level and prescribe an object for providing relief. Taking this further and rethinking the prescription landscape, Samantha created the over-the-counter line, Let it Out, available in leading drugstores such as Duane Reade. These accessible and inexpensive pill bottles are filled with objects that act as catalysts for crying, laughing or screaming—healthy ways of letting out stress. This exploration revealed that the world in which Samantha is most comfortable designing is one where reality is abstracted into the absurd. Investigating modalities in which to continue the work, Samantha landed on the medium of cartooning.

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Inspired by Comics of Invention, created by Rube Goldberg, Dominic Wilcox and Steven M. Johnson, as well as Comics of Observation, created by Nathan Pyle and curated by Bob Mankoff of the New Yorker magazine, Samantha drew her own series of comics. Spanning the topics of commentary, invention, delight, escape, they referenced previous work by using New York as the setting for the narratives. Through this process, Samantha experienced the benefits of this medium—not only for the reader—but also for herself, taking the form of humor, accessibility and therapy. This realization prompted Moore to create a platform in which New Yorkers could draw their own ideas around what would make the city better, and let other readers view them.

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Research revealed that only $1 in every $100 of government spending is backed by evidence that that money is being spent in a useful way. Samantha asked, “How might we connect New Yorkers with city government to create change that is wanted and needed in the city?” The platform, “Around,” allows New Yorkers to upload an idea for New York in the form of a drawing. 49.1% of New Yorkers do not speak English at home, and drawing is a way to connect this population through a universal language. Readers who are not comfortable drawing can still be a voice by clicking on the “Make it Real” button, voting on the ideas that they would like to see brought to life in the city. Crowdsourcing these ideas and opinions helps the the people of New York create for the people of New York, and once an idea gains traction, partnering organizations such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of Parks and Recreation can take the idea on and work to implement it in the city.

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Samantha prototyped some of her own drawn out ideas into the urban environment. The first intervention aimed to reframe the rickety ride of the subway by placing decals of snowboards on the train car floor. Riders eagerly participated—including those who already had a seat on the train.

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The second intervention, “scent stache,” aimed to provide relief from the odors in the city. Mustaches with scents of maple, vanilla, and pine were created for New Yorkers to wear as they went about their day.

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Samantha created an interactive installation on the subway as another lens of the cartooning medium, addressing the frustration she heard many times about the ride. “When we are on the subway, we are detached from the city above,” she argued, and took this response as an opportunity to devise a plan to connect the subway ride below the city (the “subplot” of the city) with the world above (the “plot”) in the form of an immersive comic experience. The performance took place between 14th Street and 72nd Street on the C train—Samantha choosing this train because it’s the line The New York Times called “the least loved train in the subway system.” Celebrating the train by providing appreciation for the path that the C train actually takes, Moore, along with three associates, installed an oversized comic at the center of the car. As the train moved along its path, the comic was unrolled, and the buildings and personality of the street above was revealed. Passengers were charmed and intrigued with the experience, photographing the buildings and smiling as the comic was unwound.

Taking this project forward, Samantha imagines partnering with the MTA to create a living comic in the subway tunnels, the buildings above shown below as the train passes through the tunnels. In addition, she envisions the web platform implemented in different cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles in the United States, and in London and Paris in Europe.

See more of Samantha Moore’s work on her website samanthamoore.me, and email her at smoorebk[at]gmail[dot]com.

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