Radical Design: Making Civic Experiences

  • Future world collage. (Molly Brodsky, Sarah Davis)
    Future world collage. (Molly Brodsky, Sarah Davis)
  • Storyboard.  (Veronica Jong, Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)
    Storyboard. (Veronica Jong, Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)
  • Roleplay prototype. (Louisa Judge, Sarah Davis, Charlotte Jones)
    Roleplay prototype. (Louisa Judge, Sarah Davis, Charlotte Jones)
  • Final prototype of "The Token Room." (Molly Brodsky, Veronica Jong, Laken Sylvander)
    Final prototype of "The Token Room." (Molly Brodsky, Veronica Jong, Laken Sylvander)
  • Final Prototype from "Information Pharmacy."  (Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)
    Final Prototype from "Information Pharmacy." (Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)
  • Final Prototype from "Information Pharmacy."  (Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)
    Final Prototype from "Information Pharmacy." (Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)

In this elective course, students explored how the objects, interactions, and spaces that make up our political and economic systems can be redesigned in order to challenge the status quo. Louis D. Beaumont Visiting Assistant Professor Alix Gerber raised questions about the value of designing for fundamental change alongside more incremental reform.

The semester started with the exploration of civic experiences like paying bail, paying for groceries with food stamps, walking into an abortion clinic, or signing a child up for public school. Student teams mapped the journeys that different people take through these moments, examining the interactions, artifacts, and ideologies embodied in them. By better understanding the values and beliefs inherent in existing civic moments, students began to question these processes and open their imaginations to alternative possibilities.

The class selected an essential civic moment: the process of getting a public library card. Building on the values they found embodied in the current experience, such as the privilege of access to knowledge and the importance of information to survival and success, the students developed a framework to explore how access to public knowledge might be different. This led to four contrasting ideologies: everyone has the right to information in order to survive; privilege warrants survival, and survival increases privilege; access to knowledge is a conditional and granted right that can be revoked; and societal success is measured by an individual’s access to and pursuit of knowledge. Each team used one of these ideologies to imagine a fictional world that sparked discussion around a topic relevant to our current situation, such as data privacy or control of news and information. At the end of the semester, the teams produced final simulations to invite a public audience into their imagined worlds:

so•PER•to: knowledge I open is an experience with a “knowledge watchman,” a government official who uses intimate public data about individuals to develop a health insurance plan that works best for each person. (Cara DiLiberti, Jenny Li, Aviva Mann)

Information Pharmacy offers “information update” pills that everyone consumes once a year. Three options are provided, sourced from government, private industry, and grassroots community groups, questioning who we trust to provide our knowledge, and what it means to consume knowledge without criticality. (Anu Samarajiva, Sukari Stone)

The Token Room is a space for personal reflection in a world where emotional intelligence acts as capital, provoking thought around personal identity in dating and matchmaking. (Molly Brodsky, Veronica Jong, Laken Sylvander)

Empathy or Scorn imagines a world where mobility between classes is real and tangible. Debates between class members could result in a momentary promotion or demotion, ultimately affecting how much information each person is able to access. This was simulated through a game on the MetroLink platform, where traveling pairs were pitted against each other to be placed into classes. (Louisa Judge, Sarah Davis, Charlotte Jones)