This past summer, SVA Products of Design and the Omidyar Network collaborated on a four-weeks project around the topic of Interdependence, examining how design might address one of society’s most pressing challenges of the moment: our increasingly polarized personal and political landscape.
BabyGym is a speculative, tongue-in-cheek product that casts a critical but constructive eye on fatherhood. Through his thesis work, GENTLEmen: Challenging Adults to Raise Feminine Boys, Andrew Schlesinger investigates the restrictive nature we place on men to conform to a masculine ideal that can be destructive to themselves and to those around them. The overarching initiative of his thesis is to challenge the influential adults in boys’ lives to rethink the stereotypes they project onto boys, and, instead, encourage traditionally feminine traits.
Since mass industrialization, the past few centuries have seen abundant growth and prosperity for humankind, but not so much for the planet. With little regard for the environment, industrialization has caused all kinds of pollution, loss of natural areas and biodiversity among others, and this carries a cost. This cost can be expressed as ecological debt that future generations must pay. By honing into the ecological debt accumulated by cities, Kuan Xu attempts to redeem by introducing the concept of ecological service and its significance. The design interventions then take a variety of lenses to advocate for ecological service design to instigate environmental consciousness and awareness driven action in the urban environment. With the mission of introducing ecological service into the city, and city dwellers adopting it, Kuan presents his thesis—Symbiosis, Ecological Services for the Urban Environment.
Designed by recent grad Louis Elwood-Leach as part of his Masters Thesis, FirstHand is a watch with an algorithmically-generated and digitally-manufactured watchface. Using parametric design on the input side, and digital fabrication on the output side, the innovative watch concept produces a unique design every time it is ordered and sold. "The experience of purchasing and assembling the product connects the user to the design and manufacture process," Elwood-Leach offers, "thereby developing a relationship with the product through understanding the details of its design.”
As a designer, Jiani Lin believes that great design can be inspired by our everyday experiences. Her thesis YES, MAYBE NOT: A Design Investigation into Young Adulthood focuses on exploring the shared emotions, behaviors, and experiences young adults have as they graduate college and enter the working world, or plan to do so, all while leaving behind their comfort zone. She addresses young adults’ identity exploration on a professional, romantic, and social level through designing objects, products, service platforms, apps, and systems that can help this generation prepare for the period of life post-graduation.
Nowadays, many people enjoy visiting amusement parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios. These parks are all about theme-based experiences—experiences which, in a sense, are very close to living inside a game. “Why then, can’t a person’s daily life be experience-based in a similar way? What would it look like if we augmented ordinary life with games and experiences to make a new lifestyle for people” Teng Yu questions. In response, he developed Respawn: Activating the Bedroom Generation By Gamifying Public Spaces—a thesis of speculative, service, experience, and product design that imagines near futures where games are designed to help people building character, learning skills, and conquering challenges. Yu’s designs and ideologies subvert the unhealthy lifestyles associated with gamers by providing new and wholesome ways to game in real-world contexts.
Bernice Wong’s thesis, In Equality: Migration, Labor, and Our Modern Global Economy, explores our relationship and role in the interconnected systems that allow some to prosper and others to suffer exploitation or enslavement. She traces the state of labor rights in today’s American agricultural industry back in time to the abolition of slavery in 1865, understanding that agriculture in the U.S. remains rooted in a system historically intended to control and repress the black body. Her design projects seek to intervene where there are structures of abuse, confronting the issues of immigration, exoticism, colonization, and race as intersected and inseparable.
In her thesis Prosumerism: Crafting Alternate Consumption Experiences, Sowmya Iyer explores whether products and services can ease the consumer’s guilt of excessive spending and materialism by providing them with options that best fit their values of sustainability. She also wanted to find out if these products/services could be adaptive to the consumer’s lifestyle and built for their convenience. As part of her research process, Sowmya spoke to researchers, innovators, educators, authors, and artists exploring ways to reduce the effects of modern consumerism on the environment.
Juho Lee’s thesis work was inspired by the conversation that he had with his close friend about depression and suicidal feelings in South Korea during the summer of 2017. He recalls, “It seemed like a very serious issue, and I didn’t know what my friend was going through until he shared his suicide ideation. Even though he said he is okay now and laughed it off when he told me, I didn’t know how to respond.” This experience made Juho realize that perhaps Korean men are unable to reach out for help when they really need it. As someone who spent his youth in South Korea, Juho also recognized that he never learned how to discuss the topic of suicide with anyone. This insight inspired his master’s thesis Cast Away: Designs for Socially Isolated Korean Men Contemplating Suicide.
The historical mindset towards people with physical disabilities has been one of pity and exclusion. While the notion of pity and exclusion is looked down upon in liberal societies, an understanding of what constitutes the objectification of people with disabilities, as well as a greater effort towards inclusion, is still not widespread. The voices of people with limb loss and limb differences (LL/D) are not part of an extensive ongoing conversation about their rights, needs and wants. Through her thesis Upgrade, Adya aims to create the conditions that lead to more open conversations about and with people with LL/D and their acceptance in society, as well as easier access to products and services that improve their quality of life.