Five Artists Designing an Emotional Response to Ocean Plastic

Plastic waste — it’s everywhere! Every ocean. Every beach. Every river. Every community. It’s even in your drinking water. (Deep gulp. Swallow. Raise eyebrows and open eyes wide — yeah, we had the same reaction.) In fact, current research (A global inventory of small floating plastic debris) estimates that every year 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic ends up in the sea — picture that for moment; in reality, it’s far worse than what we can visualize. Even so, the production of single-use plastics continues to increase across the globe as humans find it difficult to forgo a convenience-based lifestyle for something a bit less harmful on the environment. We are all guilty. Still, we all have the power to reverse this trend. As Captain Charles Moore said in response to discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997,

Humanity’s plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint.

From corporate programs to government regulation, many people (and groups) are showing intense interest in reducing plastic waste, or better, stopping it at the source. And this mindset absolutely makes all the difference. Clearly, we need more of this thinking.

We need large populations to form emotional bonds with the places most affected by plastic waste: the ocean. We also need people to better understand the ocean’s role in our health and survival. Although educational efforts have made progress, it’s the creative lessons that seem to resonate the deepest, the non-verbal forms of expression which strike a nerve and influence action. Much like the classical lessons we all learn from the humanities, art has proven to be a powerful tool for communicating the dire need for immediate change on how we use and discard plastic waste.

From developing a sense of what activists and designers are currently doing to communicate their concern for the plastic-waste issue while inspiring others, it’s clear that artistic creation is the preferred channel of expression. No paid ads. No digital strategy. Just art. Art that incorporates the physical pieces of plastic removed (by hand)  from a local beach, river or the stomach of a dead seabird — harsh. These may be creatively-gifted minds, but they are keeping it real. And somehow transforming a dark problem into a pretty call to action.

The Designing North mindset speaks to our belief that everyone is creative in one way or another, and by practicing artistic creation, a person can design a life that’s more enjoyable and fulfilling, even if it entails tackling the heart-wrenching reality of ocean plastic.

The following artist-driven projects are some of the best ocean-plastic campaigns on earth, especially with their success in transforming the way people are educated about the severity of plastic waste. These people — artists, non profit organizations, and activists — are making a real, measurable impact in the world by designing a life that promotes sustainability; a life where art speaks louder and with more authority than words ever could; a life of creativity and learning in the name of environmental healing. Let’s find more of these creators. Let’s celebrate them — now and forever.

Angela Haseltine Pozzi: Washed Ashore

Prior to attracting hundreds of volunteers, it was just Angela Haseltine Pozzi. An Oregon native, Angela was moved to do something about the relentless waves of plastic waste washing up on her local beaches. As an avid beachcomber, it was only natural for Angela to begin collecting ocean plastic and transforming it into artistic sculptures for others to see. Little did she know her heartfelt creations would create such a widespread movement for others to join. As an artist and activist, she designed a community doing what she loves most: advocating for the ocean environment.

As a multi-talented community of activists, artists, and recycling “pros,” Washed Ashore offers a clean perspective towards removing plastic from the ocean: even small actions make a positive difference.

We collect trash that has been removed from beaches through volunteer community cleanups. This trash is then washed, sorted and prepared for the creation process. Each sculpture is designed and directed by a professional artist and then formed through a collaboration of Washed Ashore team members, volunteers and students.

A work of art is born. From tons of plastic pollution, monumental sculptures have arisen to awaken the hearts and minds of viewers to the marine debris crisis.

Their plastic art is making a difference:

  • 90% of marine debris is petroleum based
  • 95% of all debris collected is used in the artwork
  • 300+ miles of beaches cleaned
  • 60+ sculptures have been created
  • 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed
  • 14,000+ hours have been contributed by volunteers
  • 10,000+ volunteers have participated

*Stats by Washed Ashore 

Washed Ashore plastic whale exhibit

Of course, you have to see the Washed Ashore Traveling Exhibit for yourself — and possibly walk ‘through’ the skeleton of a whale made completely from ocean plastic. How cool would that be!

 

Alejandro Duran: Washed Up Project

Washed Up Project

Mar (Sea), 2013, Alejandro Durán

The beauty of Mexico’s Caribbean coast is undisputed; but the influx of ocean plastic washing ashore isn’t adding to this appeal, especially since the local population has little control over how much plastic arrives on these beautiful stretches of coastline. Documenting the litter firsthand, Alejandro Duran, a photographer and artist from Mexico, has “identified plastic waste from fifty-eight nations and territories on six continents that have washed ashore along the coast of Sian Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally protected reserve and an UNESCO World Heritage site.”

Best identified as a ‘plastic artist,’ Alejandro collects plastic debris, organizes it and creates an installation depicting the influence that the trash is having on the local environment. Beautifully described on his website,

At times he distributes the objects the way the waves would; at other times, the plastic mimics algae, roots, rivers, or fruit, reflecting the infiltration of plastics into the natural environment.

Washed Up project

Brotes (Shoots), 2014, Alejandro Durán

Although his creativity and artistic touch is beautiful, his greater goal is to educate and influence others to notice the problem, influencing change through awareness. Not many people take just a few minutes during the day to realize the immense crisis our planet is facing regarding plastic waste. There is no such thing as a safe zone; UNESCO World Heritage site’s aren’t immune to pollution. But with the mindset, determination, and creative abilities of Alejandro, a more positive future with less plastic waste is possible. And just maybe, enough people will share his work to influence a community to create the change needed to save this one-of-a-kind landscape.

Chris Jordan: Albatross

The way photographer and artist Chris Jordan sees it, plastic waste is a ‘gut-wrenching tragedy.’ And although this project is much too serious to be characterized with a witty pun, “Albatross” is a visual journey into a grim existence for one species of seabird (the albatross) that’s being devastated by ocean plastic. As Chris discovers, his annual journey to the remote Pacific where he and his team document the cycle of birth, life, and death of Albatross and their chicks, is far more than a reminder of the impact humans have on the environment and creatures that inhabit it. It’s a catalyst for the intimate connection that many of us feel with this earth, inspiring real people to take notice and change their habits for the benefit of others, both human and non-human.

Both behind the lens and on the screen, Chris Jordan takes viewers on a visual expedition that’s both heart stopping and difficult to comprehend; it’s a compelling narrative which demands an emotional response towards unnatural death and a problem so immense that it tends to be swept aside.

Where most documentaries drop off, Albatross guides viewers with a lyrical journey to a place they have likely never been. So the question remains, will this film move you to be the change you want to see?

Liina Klauss: Salvaged Flip-flops

Liina Klauss Salvaged flip-flops art installation

Liina Klauss

With the help of Potato Head Beach Club — a resort location offering some of Bali’s best sunsets and tropical-modernism vibes — Art activist Liina Klauss is  using artistic creation to communicate the harsh reality of marine pollution. Giving life to this project, Klauss enlisted a small team to collect 5,000 flip-flops (soles) from Bali’s west-coast beaches. After a series of six clean-ups, sorting, and two weeks of constructing the installation, the large-scale “color-wave-sculpture” now rests on the beach club’s property and serves as a reminder of what Potato Head stands for: ‘providing good times and doing good in the world.’ Additionally, no detail was overlooked during the creation process, even the frame used to join the flip-flops was made from sustainably harvested bamboo (IBUKU) and thread constructed from recycled bottle caps. For those lucky souls traveling to Bali this year, you can experience this installation in person through the end of the 2018 summer season. But remember, please keep your flip-flops close, they are yours to keep and the ocean has no use for them.

Although this display of marine debris serves as a reality check for us humans, Liina has a specific message she wants to convey: “I want to show people a different perspective on what we consider ‘rubbish,’” says Klauss. “Everything we throw away comes back to us (via the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we grow crops and raise animals on). Flip-flops are just one example; there is potential within all these materials we waste and consider worthless.”

About Liina Klauss

A German artist living in Hong Kong, Liina Klauss specializes in creating installations and paintings made from man-made waste. An environmental artist to the core, Liina’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness for the threatening impact humans have on nature; and It just so happens that colorful salvaged sandals happen to be in abundance at the moment.

Mandy Baker: Photographing Marine Debris for Science and Activism

Mandy Baker

Mandy Baker

Scrolling through her detail-oriented instagram feed, it’s no secret that award-winning photographer Mandy Baker is a true storyteller, one that has dedicated her craft to documenting the adverse effect marine debris has on our environment and wildlife — such as seabirds. However, there’s much more to this story than just an artists perspective; Mandy has made it her mission to increase the “shock value” that people have when they see marine and plastic debris. She does this by coordinating her work with scientific projects, integrating factual statistics with undeniable artistic talent. The two really is a lethal combination, and it’s hard not to be engulfed in emotion when viewing her final product — a brilliantly composed image of finely curated plastic particles swirling in what appears to be complete emptiness. Could this be a visual metaphor of what is to come for our oceans if no action is taken? Oh. And did we mention — the plastic is often sources from the stomach of a deceased Flesh-footed Shearwater?

About Mandy Baker

The aim of my work is to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction along with the subsequent message of awareness. The research process is a vital part of my development as the images I make are based on scientific fact which is essential to the integrity of my work. The impact of oceanic waste is an area I have documented for more than 8 years and am committed to pursuing through visual interpretation. In collaboration with science I am hoping it will ultimately lead to positive action in tackling this increasing environmental problem which of current global concern.

These five artists are designing a response to ocean plastic in the most creative way possible. They are providing a pretty solution to an ugly problem, and educating the public in the process. In sharing their work with you, we ask that you take a moment to reflect on their work and ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference? How can I add a little bit of extra effort to create positive change in the battle against plastic waste?  We know you have it in you. You are designing north.

The First and Most Important Step in Designing a Remote Creative Team

So, you want to design a team of remote creatives… Well, it might be time to throw a party. That’s right, a party. Not the advice you were expecting, was it?

Throwing a party is the first and most important step in designing a remote creative team. Experience shows, distributed teams happily collaborate using technology tools (thank you, Slack, Trello, Invision Studio, and Harvest to name a few) but often miss out on the face-to-face interaction physical studio-based teams view as “the norm.” And although “going remote” is a choice, it can result in forgoing the group lunches, holiday parties, and birthday celebrations, a.k.a., the fun stuff.

These informal events help build comradery and reduce tension from the uncomfortable nature of group introductions — more so than a Skype call, or worse, a GoTomeeting! Of course, some virtual tools provide a robot friend to say hello every now and then or find a misplaced file — just like Slackbot (the trusty bot for all Slack users — and yes, it knows it’s just a bot). (Slackbot! What’s my password?) And although this introduction or assistance can be welcoming, humans need a more personal touch when meeting for the first time. They need to experience the benefits of inclusive design.

As we have already hinted, design leaders of remote teams need a trusted solution for assembling their ensemble of creatives. So, with a proof of concept to present, take our word for it: throw a party to begin designing your remote creative team.

While your at it, start them off with something memorable. Something clever. Something deliciously out of the ordinary.

A Party Proof of Concept

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

A master of PPC (no, not pay-per-click — get your mind out of the marketing gutter), Executive Creative Director, Lisa Peacock, is also the head “chef” of party design here at Designing North Studios, the crafter of our party proof-of-concept (PPC) coined “Night of The Roundtables.”

Planned for the introduction of a newly formed remote team, this concept was designed to reduce barriers and cultivate the most simple aspect of a good time — fun! Fun through eating; fun through listening; fun through conversing; and most important, fun through being. You heard it right, we believe that every team member has a right to just be. But, they better have fun doing it if they plan to be happy and be productive for the long-haul. Ok, enough fun. On to planning.

Throwing The Party — “Night of the Roundtables” Style

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

Establishing the tone and setting the mood, this is the best (and really, the only) place to begin. Each person has a purpose on your newly formed team, so provide them with a purpose for being at the party. As Head of Knowledge at First Round Capital, Anita Hossain advocates designing the conversation for thought and complexity. This translates to a carefully curated list of party guests and attendees, steady moderation, thoughtful topics, and a safe environment — with the goal of facilitating meaningful exchange.

Make it Memorable (Make People Dream)

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

Focused on accelerating the relationship-building process, “Night of the Roundtables” began in a garden oasis surrounded by artist studios with an open-air cafe. After all, this event was designed for designers, who regularly focus their energy on all sorts of creative projects; an environment conducive to building a creative yet comfortable atmosphere was key. And with extra emphasis placed on visual stimuli and sensory objects, guests were introduced to a discrete yet impactful driver for grabbing and holding their attention. As the studio’s design leader, Lisa was already subconsciously communicating with this new team without saying a word (but rather, atmospherically).

So, as it relates to your party design, use her tactic and don’t hold back. Knowing how to drive your team’s motivation is invaluable knowledge. However, visuals are always more valuable than words when experimenting with this — communicate with them from the get-go by crafting an environment filled with special details. They might just carry this visual memory into the workspace.       

Make it Transformative (Make People Get Real)

Designing North Studios Event

Making a lasting first impression on guests is only the beginning; having an impact is equally important to the overall party experience. As both Lisa and Anita share,

perfecting this detail requires continuous iteration, building upon what works and erasing what doesn’t. In order to have the intended impact, guests must be transformed from a pre-party state of mind to a post-party state of being. And it needs to feel real.

Designing North Studios “Night of the Roundtables” surprised guests with hospital wristbands in place of “Hello My Name Is” stickers. Of course, these wristbands were far more revealing than the “authentic” barcode type you might find at the nearest ER (what are we, products on a shelf?…), clearly marked with each person’s previously identified addiction — a talking point well suited for cocktail hour. Or in this instance, an hour of storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful tool, especially when paired with empathy and listening, and every participant of “Night of the Rountables” learned more about fellow guests than they expected — in a fun way, of course; they were all co-workers facing addiction together.

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

A lesson learned during this opening activity, the pre-party reconnaissance unearthed many of the creative opportunities Lisa used to break the ice. Something Slackbot hasn’t been programmed to do. Can you imagine signing up for a new communication tool and being greeted with: “Well that’s impressive… you haven’t missed one episode of A&E’s ‘Hoarders’ in five seasons. What has you so hooked!?” In all seriousness, wouldn’t you want to know if your fellow copywriter spent a measurable portion of his paycheck on vegan chocolate chip cookies to enjoy with his daily 2pm coffee break? Don’t judge…   

Cutting through the fluff and convincing people to get real — it’s the basis of having a transformative in-person experience. But, as Anita Hossain has identified, there are four important factors to keep in mind when designing an event and expecting it to have this impact: intention, structure, vulnerability and utility.

Make it Collaborative (Make People Fearless)

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

Moving on from heartfelt conversations about one’s guilty pleasures turned addiction (ahem, vegan chocolate chip cookies and pour-over coffee), hungry guests were presented with menu options for the evening: Lanced Armstrong; Mini HTML; Jesus’ Treadmill; Fowl Ball; A Mazing Grace – all without explanation. Adding suspense, small wooden tokens (referred to as a round “Tuit”) were handed out by the evening moderator with little explanation other than a hint at their future worth as food arrived from the night’s gourmet chef.

Of course, this was all by design, part of the structure that enticed people to mingle and cultivate conversation — outside of the yawn-inducing “hey there, what is it you do for a living?”. After all, the very nature of designing a party of this sort entails curating your guests, likely around a shared professional background. Guests were aware of everyones association to the technology and design field, but that was the extent of it. They would soon learn who their team members really were — unique, thought-provoking individuals.

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

As the first of four courses made their way from the kitchen, guests found themselves with odds and ends of a complete dining experience — some received utensils; others a salad; and for a few lucky ones, a glass of beer was all that arrived. It didn’t take long for the purpose of wooden tokens (round Tuit) to become clear. It was time to barter.

With the evening segmented by dinner courses and exercises, guests quickly overcame any fear of feeling awkward or exposed (quite frankly, everyone was having too much fun to give a damn), revealing their resourceful nature in the name of free gourmet food and obtaining the proper tools to enjoy the delectables with decency. (You wouldn’t eat with your hands on the first date… or would you?)

With trust earned and comfort levels peaking, it was time to add another element, effectively peeling back the layers of each team member — when the true psychological icebreakers should be introduced, opening the door for deeper connection and understanding of one another.

Make it Unifying (Make People Trust You)

Designing North Studios Team Party

With his charming British accent, Head of Technology, Nigel Peacock, took to the microphone and began asking questions guests didn’t see coming, questions revealing who everyone really was — as living, breathing, laughing, and happy human beings. As Anita Hossain explains to her clients, this is the best time to introduce a thoughtful exercise that fosters empathy, openness, and willingness to share.

Using his welcoming personality, Nigel called upon guests to answer questions along the lines of: What’s your favorite curse word? And, If in fact there is a God, what would Peter say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates? Of course, having a true charmer on the asking end of questions such as these makes all the difference. Leaving guests with no choice but to think on their feet, this exercise revealed just how confident they really were. As intended, responses revealed some of the quirkier aspects of the evening’s personalities — the byproduct of a safe atmosphere.

Designing North Studios Event

By the time it seemed impossible to conjure up another moment of mutual embarrassment, guests were asked to locate their last wooden token (a round Tuit) and inspect it for a star. As the scramble commenced and neighbors signaled the winners like a heated climax to community bingo night at the local retirement home, three fortunate souls came forth and were gifted generously: a pair of mustached shot glasses; (2) tickets to Pat’s hilarious one-man show The Wonder Bread Years; and a $100 Apple gift card.

Everyone was reminded that there were no losers at this party. Through all of the meals, games, and revealing roundtable discussions, everyone had gotten ‘a round Tuit’: the main reason for being at their tables, a part of this special group and special night. They were all the stars of the studio. Designing North Stars.

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

So, although this group understood they would spend the majority of their time communicating by text, email, and virtual chat, the party imprinted a mindset on them, one that required no further explanation. It was a feeling. Everyone was seasoned enough to know that the real value of this studio revolves around time spent with others, working with people who are happy, love life, are passionate about what they do, enjoy a good laugh, and always adding that extra effort – that hover above good enough. People who can check their egos at the door.

The Takeaway

Designing North Studios Event -- Night of the Roundtables

Few guests realized they were seated in a room with a veteran from Industrial Light & Magic, a former editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, a designer at Fitbit, one of first designers at Frog, three former vice presidents of Digital, and an entrepreneur that helped build YouTube’s DigiTour which incidentally just sold to Ryan Seacrest’s company for millions. It didn’t matter. They were simply a bunch of creative people taking a little time out for amusement. Roundtablers. Where no one was king, but everyone was a beloved knight. Each finding ways to pay it forward and support their new team members.

Now you see: throwing a party is the best way to design a team of remote creatives. With your new understanding, it’s clear that a generic party won’t do; you need a well planned event with exercises that move people and reveal a shared mindset. No matter who your guests are or what they do, use the factors above to throw the best damn party you possibly can. Make people dream, get real, be fearless, and trust – that your next party will be one they will not miss.

 

 

 

UX, Positive Change and Togetherness: Murals are Societies Best Tool for Expression

The events of 2017 have positioned 2018 to be a year for recovery, growth, and healing from recent events: political chaos, global humanitarian crises and environmental injustice to name a few. Feeling humanity’s readiness, Designing North Studios is on a mission to find and highlight the small details making a difference in society, starting with the collective effort witnessed from the creation of murals as a form of communication.

Cities across America are in desperate need of more public art — something thought provoking; emotional; relatable or just plain fun. Something to communicate positive vibes and inclusivity rather than negativity and fear. Could murals be the solution? A refreshing user experience for us all? We think so.

You see, murals are to the public as paintings are to gallery attendees: a visceral experience that requires little more than attention and interest, with the offering of pure enjoyment.

Deceivingly stationary, murals hold the power to larger movements, creating change and cultivating togetherness. Murals are the answer to designing more liveable communities for many important reasons: they are conducive to a person’s and group’s user experience (UX) within public spaces, they motivate positive change without name calling, and build community bonds through peaceful, artistic communication.

Murals Enhance User Experience

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

As a member of your own community, you might ask yourself, “what is there to do/see around here.” As a UX designer however, the question might sound more like this: How can I interact with my community in a way that’s enjoyable?

And through the lens of a UX designer (using design thinking), answering this question with a solution that provides equitable impact for both a business and the surrounding public will generate the most impactful outcome. Murals are proving to be the ideal conduit, straddling the border between tangible satisfaction and intangible fulfillment.

Whether it’s measured by local foot traffic, tourism or social media insights, the impact murals have on the user experience (UX) recorded by a person in a public setting is felt throughout many large cities. From San Francisco to Manhattan, urban murals have become an embedded attraction, a reason for people to visit a specific area within a city to see with their own eyes what the hype is about — searching for a genuinely unique experience. From interviewing people on the streets of our local community, the most common reason for visiting a mural is to personally see what the artist has created, digest the artistic message being communicated and somehow capture the moment to share with others — both friends and family.

 The Audubon Mural Project

Most often, discussions around UX are directed towards a digital product, however, the physical world also benefits from good UX design — especially urban environments where many people are interacting with complex systems. Los Angeles is a proof of concept: from Venice to West Hollywood, the city is plastered with influential murals created by amature artists and historical muralists alike. If your asking why, you are thinking like a designer! A two-pronged answer, many of the murals were first painted in the mid 90s for various political, social and humanitarian causes — a way of communicating change at the time. But now, the city is again home to a “mural boom,” a strategic tactic to improve the experience visitors have within evolving neighborhoods.

The city of Los Angeles, along with small business owners along Venice’s iconic Abbot Kinney Blvd have made mural viewing a visually rewarding activity, one that is user friendly to visitors on foot exploring the outdoor shopping hub. From corner to corner, local business owners have allowed their exterior walls to be used for large-scale murals, fueling the efficacy of this outdoor retail marketplace. At a time when the greater retail industry is synonymous with “retail-apocalypse,” components of user-centered design (UX in this case) are naturally adding value and reinventing the shopping experience — a concept we believe will define ‘modern retail.”

A recent visit to Abbot Kinney revealed a flow to it all. Almost all of the murals were on walls primed for photography — especially portraits, a.k.a., selfies. And they also ran perpendicular to the main street, giving visitors adequate opportunity to interact and hangout for a few minutes before their next stop. We also noticed that most murals seemed to be strategically located on the exterior walls of highly desirable restaurants, coffee cafes, and shops, a brilliant solution to reduce discomfort over wait times or purchase decisions (customers leave with a positive view of their overall experience). You may disagree, believing these factors to be too small and explained by coincidence, but we simply refer to that as good UX. (If it feels natural and compliments the overall environment, designers did their job.) And as Lisa Peacock, our Executive Creative Director, would say, “Small doesn’t even need to be recognizable to make an impact. That’s its beauty.” When all of the subtle, small details work together, like the murals within a vibrant community, a form of capital is created for that specific region; experiential capital as we call it. And it’s inclusive.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Facilitate Positive Change

An extension of a good artist, a mural has the power to speak without ever saying a word–the popular “Isabelle Gorilla” murals found throughout Venice, CA, are a great example–one look and you’d swear the Gorilla was telling you to change your lifestyle, maybe even “slow down and chill.” Although they may speak differently to each individual, the unique interpretations often lead to inclusive discussions rather than divisive belief.

Of course, change can come from many sources, but very few of those create desired change purely from spoken words. Often, expression, action, or in the case of murals–artistry is needed. An important detail, murals speak to all humans; race, age and ethnicity are not a factor. This is something Stanford Medicine has been sharing with its community since 2015 when Fair Oaks Health Center (Redwood, CA) revealed a mural in the pediatrics waiting room. A volunteer for the project, Stanford art practice lecturer, Lauren Toomer, MFA, strategically incorporated letters, numbers, shapes, and images of the Redwood City community, as well as three interactive learning panels into the artwork. With the goal of supporting pre-kindergarten-aged children, this mural serves as a tool to educate young children during their visits to the pediatrician–often the only contact they have with professionals of any sort. Part of a larger effort, this mural now aids many children from low-income families who simply don’t have the means to pre-school, setting them up for greater economic potential from a very young age. Now, you don’t need us to remind you of the cumulative benefits on society when all members have access to more schooling and therefore professional development later on in life (higher education and job opportunities, to name a couple). And to think, all of this positive change from the use of a mural…

Just three years later, MayView community Health Center in Mountain View, CA, is also using a mural for positive change within its pediatric care division. Replacing a TV, clinic workers have identified the value murals bring to both the children and the community, addressing knowledge gaps in relationship to other children their age from families with greater means to education and learning. A key component of Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program, murals are creating measurable change for many families in the community.

Similar to the walls of a pediatrician’s office, the urban landscape serves as an artist’s canvas, prime real estate for displaying visual art to convey important messages and change the status quo. A project accomplishing just this, Sea Walls by Pangeaseed Foundation uses public art to spread the message of ocean conservation into the streets. Since 2014, the group has created nearly 300 murals throughout 12 countries, including multiple pieces in San Diego, CA. And with over 200 artists on board, this community isn’t painting in the streets simply to display their talent, they are collaborating to change the way people see the ocean environment; murals are their medium. As Pangeaseed explains, these murals have a dedicated purpose:

While our oceans are the Earth’s life support system, providing 70% of the oxygen we breathe, a sixth of the animal protein people eat, medicines that keep us alive and healthy, and so much more, human impact in the form of overfishing, climate change, development, plastics, and other forms of pollution are taking a toll on the health of our seas. Unfortunately, these critical issues are often complex, multi-faceted and hard to understand for the average citizen. Through public art, Sea Walls has the opportunity to translate facts into visual stories that engage the public in a non-confrontational manner, and increase awareness.   

A lesson for all of humanity, why not let murals be our muse and allow them to communicate sensitive topics to a large audience without the anger-filled media battles? No matter what side of the fence you are on, art is always subjective–an effective method for communicating without insult or attack.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Create Community Bonds

From Harlem to Portland, murals are much more than artwork, actively driving collaboration and cultivating a narrative for the communities in which they are created. From facilitating coordination among the public, media, local leaders and the artists themselves, a simple creative idea can quickly transform into an organized public event, a process Forest For the Trees does exceptionally well. Curating both local and international artists, this nonprofit puts creators on the center stage. From sketch to unveiling, the entire project displays each artist as an individual but remains cohesive as a city-wide event. That’s the objective according to organizer, Gage Hamilton, “All the artists have their own themes and styles that they work within, and it was really up to each individual and pairing what direction they wanted to take. I just matched them up with property owners that liked their work, and all the property owners were cool enough to keep an open mind.”

Murals have significance in the Portland area, largely due to the bonding influence they provide. As this project displays, the local government doesn’t need to be relied upon for funding; by rallying local businesses and public supporters, community-wide mural events create more inclusiveness than a 4th of July block party. As the organizers had planned, Forest For the Trees wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many locals; because they had a hand in the facilitation, a sense of ownership was felt resulting in accessibility for everyone who wished to join the fun. For humanity, this is a rewarding experience, one that can be replicated from one community to another.    

Designed around a theme, The Audubon Mural Project is the perfect example of how murals can facilitate bonding within a community.

A city not often identified for wildlife viewing, Harlem, NY, now has some of the state’s best “bird watching,” with around 80 completed murals out of the 314 that the National Audubon Society and local gallery,  Gitler &_____ Gallery, wish to complete. Unique significance now resides on Harlem’s urban walls, covering the 314 species of birds labeled as threatened by climate change. You might ask, why Harlem of all places? Well, it happens to be the home of and final resting place of Mr. Audubon himself; a historical fact not recognized by many residents, that was until their home began receiving public art that made headlines across the country.

From Allen’s Hummingbird to a Swallow-Tailed Kite, avian masterpieces are splashed across Harlem neighborhoods, covering everything from aged brick high rises to the security gates of dental and vision offices. And this is all part of the design — when businesses close up, residents and passer-byers have something colorful and awe-inspiring to look at: birds!

Complementary to anyone wishing to view all eighty murals, a project map has been created for self-guided tours around Harlem neighborhoods. Communicating global challenges, this project is attracting accomplished artists from all over, further adding value to the experience of being a local resident, community leader or business owner. When people exit their apartments or visit the gas station they are greeted with lively artforms. It’s something different, something unexpected, yet so rewarding. This is the power of a mural.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

From feelings of unity and togetherness to cultivating thoughts for change, murals hold the power of influence. An answer to designing healthy communities, murals are conducive to a person’s and group’s user experience (UX) within public spaces, they motivate positive change without name calling, and build community bonds through peaceful, artistic communication. We say, let’s create more murals in 2018.

5 Stories That Will Make you say, Go Humanity in 2018

If you haven’t already heard, 2018 is the year of humanity: a year of inclusivity, togetherness, and kindness. In fact, it’s a chance for ordinary people to be celebrated for the small details and a reminder to everyone that we don’t need to be extraordinary to feel humanity. The fact remains, we all have a little extra to give society and one another, rallying together using action for the greater good — we can’t help it, it is our human nature. To demonstrate this mindset, we have curated the following five examples, which speak to the heart of humanity and reinforce our belief that humanity will validate the power of good in 2018. So, as we say, go humanity! We encourage you to say the same using #gohumanity2018 in your social-media conversations and visit gohumanity2018 for more feel-good stories and inspiring acts of humanity.

A feeling of “we are all in this together” for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team in Pyeongchang.

This may not have been his first experience on center stage, but Shaun White’s reaction to seeing his fellow Americans’ cheer for him during a historic gold-medal run was a priceless — a reminder of how connected we really are, especially during events as symbolic as the Olympics:

Lifting women and children out of poverty with help from four-legged friends and a dedicated mentor: that’s The Grooming Project.

Natasha Kirsch’s pursuit to create change for the homeless women she worked with reminds us that as humans — we all have the power to make a difference in another person’s life. With a focus on the small details, her ingenious solution has led to employment and personal development for those who never had a chance.  Although dogs weren’t part of the initial plan, they now serve as the means to a sustainable future for these women and their families.

A collective for creatives seeking big change for a small island using small efforts: FUERTE by Focus Lab — humanity rests in the people of Puerto Rico.

Focus Lab FUERTE Campaign

Six months later and many Puerto Ricans continue to live without food, water, and electricity as a result of hurricane Maria. At a time when confusion and political agendas have overshadowed the regions call for help, a small group of creative professionals are reminding the public that their small contribution can make a big difference. Their individual efforts may be small and seemingly ordinary, but their collective energy is anything but:

“‘Daddy, I love that you’re kind,’ he said to me.” “And if when I’m gone, that’s what my son says of me, I’ll rest in peace.”  A professor’s extra effort and kindness comes full circle:

Dr. Henry Musoma of Texas A&M University is known for always adding a little extra to every one of the classes he teaches — extra engaged, extra supportive, and extra caring. As a student in one of his classes he makes one thing very clear: he cares about you.

The garment industry is showing a commitment to people in 2018, and it’s good business:

Over 100 companies sign to renew the transition accord, covering over 1,200 factories and over two million Bangladeshi workers from workplace dangers including: fire, structural and electricity dangers. In May of 2018, this legally-binding document will go into effect, supported by some of the largest garment brands in North America and beyond. Not only is this a significant leap forward for the industry, it’s a reminded that every business must put people first if it wishes to truly succeed.

See the complete list of brands and retailers that have signed the 2018 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

 2018 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh

Only a small sample of the positivity experienced throughout society this very moment, these five stories have us feeling pretty good about humanity in 2018. From kindness and togetherness to celebrating the small details, there are many people in this world contributing to the vision for a better tomorrow for all. Whether it’s a friend, family member, random person or yourself,  if you have a story to share we’d love to celebrate it using #gohumanity2018 visiting our good-news feed.

Blue Planet II, the Ocean Experience we all Need Right Now

Blue Planet II is expected to be a thrilling journey, and David Attenborough will once again be our tour guide across the ocean.

With over 43 million views on its trailer video in under a month, Planet Blue II is poised to make an impact across the globe, starting with Europe on October 29th.

Us unfortunate ‘blokes’ in the states will have to wait until early 2018 for such pleasure. And the timing couldn’t be better. You see, the world’s oceans are under siege, battling the constant barrage of plastic waste, overfishing, illegal dumping, poaching and dare we say it: climate change. No. It’s not political. (And somewhere in this mix of obstacles we forgot to give a shout-out to climate deniers; or those who simply can’t fathom a world where man’s impact on the planet is influential enough to cause great harm and destruction.) We are confident that this ground-breaking series will extend a welcoming hand to those who are still shying away from fact: ocean plastic will soon outnumber fish populations.

Why is Blue planet II an important documentary for everyone to watch? Because the impact that climate change is having on the ocean environment is staggering; its importance as a discussion point among the human race deserves attention. And most importantly, the health of the ocean is a direct correlation to the health of our human population, and therefore our ability to thrive on the face of this Earth. It’s time to think about your children and your children’s children.

Who better to pioneer this discussion than the unmistakable voice behind the Blue Planet (and Planet Earth) series, David Attenborough. With David’s voice, Blue Planet II will highlight the threats to our magnificent ocean as much as it will showcase the marine life that makes it so unique and awe-inspiring. David Attenborough is far more than just an interesting voice; he is an influencer for ocean activism and conservation, and has been from a young age. But with the ocean environment in a state of emergency, it’s his research and experiences that can have a positive impact on how others can learn and adjust their mindset to create change. Fiona Harvey points out in her article with The Guardian, Attenborough feels more free to speak out about controversial issues surrounding the challenges we face as a booming population. In other words, Blue Planet II won’t shy away from tough conversations; it will tell the world what’s really going on, not what the media feels is “safe” to talk about.

Additionally, we look forward to listening to a man who hasn’t just talked-the-talk, but one who has walked-the-walk. An integral part of Cambridge University, he is leading an effort to integrate many academic disciplines in the name of collaboration and cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas. It’s an attempt to break down barriers, be a catalyst for rapid change and as we at Designing North Studios like to see it, an effort to design a community that’s willing to do a little extra in the name of the ocean. Or rather, our ocean. As Fiona Harvey writes, “Viewing conservation as part of the whole future of humanity, rather than a thing apart, is one of Attenborough’s great legacies.”

Blue Planet II is not a show, it’s an immersive experience. And it’s all new.

The original Blue Planet (aired on September 12, 2001) was a memorable experience for many that introduced the world to the ocean landscape. Not just a show or series for quick entertainment, Blue Planet was a different experience that transcended the coziness of a living room to the bow of a research vessel, and dared people to think beyond their existence with a curiosity towards ‘what else is out there’ in this great big blue ocean-world of ours. Centric to an ocean that plays an integral role in every humans’ life (70% of the Earth’s surface), Blue Planet was addicting to learn from. It was adventurous. It was fun. It was the ultimate opportunity to “explore” places where most humans can’t go. In a rare occasion for television, this documentary considered more than the crew or script, it put you at the center of its storyline, and guided us through a journey on the seas — it offered the ultimate viewer experience for the time. And because of this, we recognize those feelings and emotions of excitement felt many years ago, ready to do it all over again. With our tanks prepped and full of oxygen, we are eager to dive back in with Blue Planet II.

Many of us still own the complete DVD-set, which we keep as a reminder of just how mesmerizing this ocean journey was to watch. One that influenced viewers of all ages to care more about the ocean after watching than they did prior to tuning in. At the time (2001), Blue Planet revolutionized the way humans experienced a nature documentary. Not only was it filmed with cutting edge technology, but it also crafted a story from the wild places that exist in the world’s oceans and the plethora of creatures that call it home. By simply following along with the now infamous David Attenborough (the curious yet confident voice narrating what seemed like a personal expedition across the ocean), we as viewers learned more about the ocean than we could have imagined. But even more important to this learning experience, we were able to see it all with our own eyes. And now, in 2017, Blue Planet II will “enter new worlds and shine a light on behaviours in ways that were impossible just a generation ago” as Mr. Attenborough puts it.

It’s one thing to hear or read about the changes taking place in the ocean environment, it’s another to see it: the many islands, archipelagos, coastlines, trenches etc., all captured with stunning detail thanks to modern science and technology, and delivered to our devices in seven episodes. For many people, a documentary such as Blue Planet II is the bay-window into a world they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. And during this current time period, we all need to try and see things a little more clearly; understand what’s ‘really’ going on out there in the “great big blue.” After all, you don’t have to believe in science to accept the fact that this planet is in fact primarily ocean. Good enough reason to refer to it as the ‘Blue Planet,’ and understand the importance this series has for both educational and entertainment purposes.

Of course, similar to the work of UX designers, creating Blue Planet II required hours upon hours of strategy, journey crafting, and production. In fact, the experience that each viewer will have at some point in time while watching is partially influenced by the people who were behind the camera. As BBC News reports, “Blue Planet II involved ‘125 shoots, 6,000 hours filming underwater and 1,000 hours filming in submersibles’, explains production manager Katie Hall.” We must also not forget how advanced the filming techniques are in order to allow viewers to have a truly transformational  experience with the footage. The team even built new technology allowing viewers to see the ocean in a way that’s not possible on their own (unless they happen to have their own megadome lens or tow-cam). This is special. And we feel strongly that people will value the design and creativity of the final product. Where else can we see above and below the ocean’s surface at the same time? Where else can we swim full speed with wild tuna or a pod of dolphins? Thanks to Blue Planet II, our brains will be hard at work, saving information, painting pictures and recording an experience that will likely serve as the basis for which we “see” the world’s oceans.

It’s true. We can’t wait to tune in. Will you join us?

California’s ‘Super-Bloom’ 2017: User Experience Design Madness

California’s ‘super-bloom’ leads to a ‘super-boom’ of tourism, traffic, and confusion.

Wildflowers are popping up all over the map in Southern California — a place largely known for mars-like droughts — is turning once desolate landscapes into a colorful array of white, yellow, orange, and purple — the ideal contrast for your Instagram feed or Facebook wall. And as we have learned time and time again, when all media streams descend on a single subject, reality is quickly distorted; reflecting individual imagination and creativity in a method that portrays a universal reality.

We all want to experience the same feeling of excitement as the next person — missing out might trigger anxiety. It’s commonly referred to as FOMO (fear of missing out), and represents the California wildflower ‘super-bloom’ very well. In order to keep our dreams in sight we latch onto pictures, videos, and written words from strangers who have been where we have not. Sounds harmless, right? Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite; something the town of Anza Borrego recently learned.

The LA Times reported: JoAnn Maiter, a part-time employee of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, said she couldn’t remember how many phone calls she’d answered. Dozens and dozens.

“We’re swamped. You can’t even get into our visitor’s center right now,” she said, adding that nearly 300 people had already signed into the visitor’s log by noon on Friday. “They’re coming from everywhere — absolutely everywhere: Canada, Minnesota, Chicago.”

From a user experience perspective, you can’t design a guaranteed outcome, you can only design for an experience — which may or may not lead to the desired outcome. Even with all of the user research in the world there will always be situational factors that a designer simply can’t control — unless artificial intelligence has something up it’s sleeve.

External forces such as social media, rarely follow this thought process and often distort reality to a level that we can’t recover from — the ‘Super-Bloom’ is a prime example.

Impact of Media on Perception

A well respected photographer uses his highly trained eye, creative vision, and advanced equipment to capture a brilliant image of the desert bloom. As most experienced photographers do, he then uses post-processing skills to perfect the image and shares it with her thousands of eager followers; with a well written message of inspiration and eternal wanderlust. It’s a dream-worthy scenario and nearly every human on the planet wants to experience this feeling personally. And this is the expectation they have, all the way up to the moment they finally do — “the moment of truth.”

As was the case for many visitors, the ‘super-bloom’ introduced a reality that wasn’t entirely true to the stunning imagery and influential media viewed online — an all-too-common scenario in this “digital age”. Just like a moment in time, every human can’t experience the exact same event the way another person did previously. 

Anza Borrego Wildflowers

Instagram photos by professional photographer Scott Kranz

From a user experience perspective, I am able to understand why a highly anticipated natural phenomenon has turned into a complete headache for thousands of people. A quick comparison of expectation versus reality reveals two different scenarios; we all want the one that aligns with our media viewing experience. But not everyone will experience the event in the same manner; under the same conditions.

The first 500 visitors to the region likely had a great time; roads were clear, the sun was still rising, services were accessible, and fellow adventure seekers weren’t breathing down their throats. By the time ten thousand people flooded the park, reality took a turn for the worst.

Importance of Understanding User Behavior

When talking about the field of UX, understanding ‘user’ behavior through and through is a fundamental rule. Unfortunately, most professional industries — outside of the digital design or human factors realm — forget to rehearse their use cases, often leading to more harm than good.

Read more on the differences between UX, XD and other practices around UCD.

In predictable fashion, the governing bodies that control this impacted region, have been promoting the “super-bloom” for months — picking up the intensity over the past few weeks — as they prepared for this abundance of excitement in their own backyard. Shortly after, the media took hold and the conversation snowballed from there — fake news!

Because our studio practices the user-centered approach, I quickly recognized a parallel between the work of a UX designer and the experience that these state parks and media outlets were hoping to deliver. More importantly, I concluded that the managing bodies of these parks didn’t do their research on the possible user groups that might ascend and make up most of their visitors. As you might expect, the resulting experience was best described with frustration and disappointment — and that’s putting it politely.

Whether they were in communication or not, the media and state park services did a fantastic job promoting this natural phenomenon; you might even believe that it was a planned event from the look of coordinated PR efforts. In this case, it’s not what they did, but rather what they didn’t do that made the experience memorable.

Whether it was the severe underestimation of potential attendance or lack of education leading up to the event, the disconnect between visitors (users for all intended purpose) and the parks themselves was too great to recover from. From a user’s perspective, this is where the disconnect made the most impact:

I was promised once-in-a-decade-flowers yet I was never educated on what a super-bloom entails; how it looks and how it’s different from my garden at home — a bed of roses is far more spectacular than a patch of dandelion. Given the rarity of this phenomenon, it’s safe to assume that the majority of visitors didn’t have detailed knowledge on what exactly they were going to see; Leaving this experience up to my imagination was a risky approach to rely on.

Apply Design Thinking

Prior to the weekend, visitor estimates were casually tossed around. Whether a backup plan was strategized or not, it was evident that the actual attendance to the region was far greater than expected. The lack of parking — yet alone physical space — direction, and transportation resources caused a once relaxing environment to quickly become stressful and borderline dangerous.

Design thinking example

Hosting a large number of visitors — similar to a sporting event — called for an increase in staff or personnel to at least assist visitors during their travel, yet alone manage their experiences while visiting. This region in particular required off-road access to view some of the most appealing landscape. With no prior education or experience in off-roading, hordes of visitors took to the trails without proper equipment or professional direction; conflict ensued for many, positioning select groups against each other. Have you ever seen a Hyundai Sonata attempt a water crossing? We hadn’t either until this trip.

With consideration for the needs, wants, and limitations of visitors, the ‘Super-Bloom’ experience could have been something special. And had I not been working shoulder-to-shoulder with a team of UCD practitioners, reminding me daily how design should solve problems, I’d still be confused and frustrated from the tension felt during the experience. Understanding the gaps, missed communication, and lack of research helps to alleviate the disappointment I felt (kinda). Who knows, in the next decade we might just see designers in charge of the solutions to the problems we identified — wouldn’t that be smart. The events of the 2017 California ‘Super-Bloom’ are a reminder that design thinkers are needed everywhere; in every company and perhaps most especially when it comes to serving the people experiencing government services.

Design thinking can transform. Let us show you how that paired with a UCD approach can open the door to new possibilities.

A Night of Knights: Crusading Against Mediocrity

Our inaugural Night of the Roundtables event kicked off with flair. More importantly, it finished in success. No, we didn’t gather 18,000 freelancers’ contact info, nor did we book a million dollars of new business. And no, it wasn’t on TV – in fact, the press wasn’t invited. It was a success because it represented who and what we are: We are Designing North. A company with a mindset.

Freelancers don’t have company picnics in the summer or holiday parties in the winter. We tend to work alone, collaborating on projects when necessary, but typically from remote home offices or workstations. We wanted to host an event that was fun. Fun to eat, fun to listen, fun to converse, fun to just be, without worry that the ask was lurking somewhere in a nearby corner. We wanted to play with potential colleagues, and we gave these brave souls little indication of what the evening held.

After mingling at the picturesque bar of the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, and swapping Hello My Name Is stickers for retro pharmacy wrist tags that proclaimed each individual’s favorite addiction, guests were invited to take a seat. No seat assignments. Sit where you’re comfortable. The evening’s emcee, Pat Hazell, former writer for Seinfeld and one of DN’s favorite creative directors, gave instructions about menu selection: pick four items, from the list of 22, for each of the four courses. Simple right? Well, not really. Here’s a sampling of the menu: Lanced Armstrong; Mini HTML; Jesus’ Treadmill; Fowl Ball; A Mazing Grace – all without explanation. In addition, he recommended that attendees take particular care of their round *TUIT* chips, as their value would become apparent as the evening progressed.

Night of the Roundtables

I welcomed the guests and the evening began with a Thick Toast…vichyssoise in a champagne flute. Reaction to the first course varied from startled to enchanted to consternation. One gentleman found himself with a spoon, a knife, a Weizen glass of beer, and a toothpick. Another guest found herself with a crisp salad and no fork. Enter the barter system. What we termed a *Tuit* (essentially a wooden chip) could be traded for utensils or food items from either the kitchen or one’s neighbor. Conversation flowed in a lighthearted, collaborative manner rather than the tired old, So, what do you do? diatribe. The more pressing question was How do I swap out my spoon for one of those bacon, almond, cheese thingees…they look divine!

Night of the Roundtables

With a nod to Proust, Head of Technology Nigel Peacock took us Inside the Designer’s Studio and asked each guest a question as the second course was prepped. Like the admissions officers at Ivy League schools, we knew that our guests, like student applicants, were all highly qualified individuals in terms of raw capabilities. But we wanted to know who our guests were as people…are they peeps we’d like to spend time with in the future? With questions like, What’s your favorite curse word? and If in fact there is a God, what would Peter say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates?, guests had to think on their feet and be pretty confident about who they are. All prompts were lobbed out randomly with Nigel’s charming British accent, and responses revealed some of the quirkier aspects of the evening’s personalities.

Night of the Roundtables

By the time we’d made it through the fourth course, Pat had entertained us with his comedic remarks and invisible card trick, and we found ourselves sated both literally and emotionally. Pat had one last request. Determine whether or not your round tuitchip is graced with a star. And then the double entendre question of the evening was asked: Are you a Designing North star? Three lucky winners won prizes: a pair of mustached shot glasses; (2) tickets to Pat’s hilarious one-man show The Wonder Bread Years; and a $100 Apple gift card. The remaining attendees, although sans a star on their chip, had clearly still demonstrated that they too were Designing North stars. We had finally gotten ‘round tuit’: the real value of the chip; the real value of being a part of Designing North Studios.

Night of the Roundtables

The Night of the Roundtables illustrated the essence of who we are. We’re seasoned enough to know that we place deep value in with whom we will spend our time. We want to work with people who are happy, love life, are passionate about what they do, enjoy a good laugh, and will always put in that extra effort – that hover above good enough. People who can check their egos at the door. Few guests realized that they were seated in a room with a veteran from Industrial Light & Magic, a former editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, a designer at Fitbit, one of first designers at Frog, three former vice presidents of Digital, and an entrepreneur that helped build YouTube’s DigiTour which incidentally just sold to Ryan Seacrest’s company for millions. It didn’t matter. We were simply a bunch of creative people taking a little time out for frivolity. Roundtablers. Where no one was king, but everyone was a beloved knight.

Yeah, we’re pleasers – we admit it. We do the extra credit. Not in the brown-noser ass-kisser kind of way, but in the because it’s what we do kind of way – it’s our mindset. We revel in delighting our clients; and seek others to connect with who believe in the same. We’re the foe of average – the archenemy of mundane – and with a modicum of luck, our guests drank in that vibe on Thursday night.

Cheers

Night of the Roundtables

PS – Many thanks to our extraordinary celebrity chef Josh Alkire of San Diego who contributed his creativity to the menu and delivered cleverly crafted fare, whilst working with a rather bamboozled wait staff! Tanya Samuels our dedicated head of opportunity who helped put the entire evening in perfect order. And finally, our Designing North Studios photographer Georgia Gregory who never ceases to capture the real moments in every snap.

To see more photos from the Night of the Rountables please visit bit.ly/dnsnotrphotos.

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