Diverge, Converge, Repeat

pile-of-post-its

Initial Ideas
My initial idea was to create a product that would maintain a persistent connection between a family and a loved one who had been placed into a nursing home. This stemmed from my personal experience with my grandma who lived at a nursing home in Queens for almost 5 years. Since she spoke a rare Chinese dialect and was suffering from dementia, our family want

After our first year of school, I left for Shanghai for a summer internship. Upon arrival, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the elderly and their lifestyle in such a densely populated city. All I had was my experience at a nursing home in Queens, the Keystone Project (a project that I worked on with fellow classmates Katie Koch and Chia Wei Liu), and my childhood growing up with my grandma. After a few weeks of readjusting myself to the new city, I went out to do some initial research.

Fortunately, for the first month, I had a chance to live with my uncle’s in-laws who were independent and were well into their late 70s. I noticed that they had developed strong ties with their neighbors in their community and according to them, this was quite normal. As for the less independent, they had caretakers instead of nursing homes caring for them throughout the day.

My uncle's mother-in-law making dinner

My uncle's mother-in-law making dinner

Caretakers and the elderly in the park in Shanghai

Caretakers and the elderly in the park in Shanghai

During my three months in China, I noticed many outdoor activities happening at public spaces throughout neighborhoods in Shanghai. From Tai Chi to the Cha Cha, older adults were participating together in these group activities. This observation led me to my first thesis proposal, Dancing with Lights, which focused on improving mental acuity in older adults living in populated cities by encouraging a less sedentary lifestyle.

It's like Scrabble, but for the stairs

It's like Scrabble, but for the stairs

When I came back to the States, I realized that one solution for a group of people didn’t always quite fit with another. In other words, unlike China, the elderly in the States rarely spend their time outdoors, which meant that my initial proposal would have probably flopped.

I took a step back and decided to focus on younger adults. This idea was still relevant to people of old age because it encouraged physical wellness earlier on in life. By addressing physical wellness at an earlier stage, there is a greater chance for healthier habits to form, setting up a healthier lifestyle in the long run.

I then started to think about the city and the various modes of transportation that were available to commuters. From snowboarding in subway cars to forming words as a person ran up a flight of stairs to an extreme version of hopscotch on city sidewalks, I was looking for the carrot at the end of the stick that would get people to participate in such physical activities.

Building balance on a train with Trainboarding

Building balance on a train with Trainboarding

Dave, my roommate, taking a test run with Chalk Walk

Dave, my roommate, taking a test run with Chalk Walk

Dave, my roommate, taking a test run with Chalk Walk

See Dave run

See Dave jump

See Dave jump

In the end, all of these proposed solutions seemed like they were a part of a larger solution. Unsatisfied, I went back to the drawing board.

As suggested by Jennifer Bove, I took some time out to reflect back on the concepts generated so far. From each concept, I pulled the most interesting idea and came up with the following list, which turned out to be my design principles:

  • New layer of information
  • Patterns
  • Support through social networks online and/or offline
  • Discovery/Exploration
  • Happens in a public space
  • Feedback (check-in, score, progress, achievements, etc.)

Around the same time, my thesis advisor, Rob Faludi, sent me an article about dérive (drift) written by Guy Debord. In it, Guy describes dérive as “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” (1)

Reimagining how we perceive travel in a subway car

Reimagining how we perceive travel in a subway car

Satisfied with my design principles and inspired by the article by Guy, I continued ideating and came up with Mad Dash, a service that holds asynchronous foot races throughout the city where people compete against each other to win discounts at their favorite stores. Unfortunately, the thought of people bolting down the sidewalk during rush hour brought up safety concerns and the idea was dropped.

Mad Dash pits pedestrians against each other in street races with checkpoints in between

Mad Dash pits pedestrians against each other in street races with checkpoints in between

New Year, New Direction
In January 2011, I had a talk with Paul Pangaro, who was teaching Thesis Presentation, about my project and he asked me what was more important to me, the physical activity aspect or maintaining memories? After some thought, I felt that memories were more important since it was what sparked my interest in the first place.

Around mid-January, Craig Mod held a lecture at the studio on Post Artifact Book Thinking. During the talk, Craig weighed the benefits of a physical book against a digital book. One of those benefits included marginalia, which are basically notes written in the margin.

In physical books, these notes are written down and once the book is closed, they are forgotten. Unlike its physical counterpart, digital books provide an opportunity to bring these notes to life by sharing them among members within your social network. (2)

I started to think about how marginalia could apply to a city in a digital context. Are people able to leave behind their opinions, ideas, and viewpoints of the city as they move from one point to another? Can they share conversations about these points of interests? Through discovery and exploration, can we encourage people to move off the beaten path? To my surprise, I sort of touched on this topic earlier last semester, but was unable to solidfy on a concept until now.

Are memories of a location based around a person? Or are people based around memories of a location?

Are memories of a location based around a person? Or are people based around memories of a location?

Concept map containing all relevant nouns and verbs

Concept map containing all relevant nouns and verbs

Looking for groups to naturally form among nouns and verbs

Looking for groups to naturally form among nouns and verbs

Figuring out how all the nouns and verbs are relevant to each other

Figuring out how all the nouns and verbs are relevant to each other

The concept map from above helped set a foundation for me to work off of for the rest of the semester, phew.

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