Archive for March, 2011

GFRY Chile Trip

We returned today from a long, politically- and emotionally-charged week in Chile. The result appears to be a significantly reduced role for our initial partner and sponsor in Chile (Reconstruye) and an introduction to another group (Surmaule) for what has been reframed as an academic exercise. This is disappointing because there is so much we could do for them as designers.

Walk through almost any neighborhood in Talca and you see completely leveled buildings next to standing ones. Shacks called mediaguas spring up in patches like mushrooms after a storm. A year later, people are still living in these shacks that take up very little of their actual land. Walls of roofing steel, aluminum siding and any wood scraps cordon off sidewalks from property lines. Chains and double locks maintain the illusion of security. Visit a small collective. The pool overflows with muddy rain water. An inflated shark pool toy leans against the wall as a reminder of things before the earthquake. A toilet seat balanced on a bucket becomes an outhouse. Each day the someone steals water from a fire hydrant to sanitize the family. A little girl looks fragile and frightened. She pokes at the pile of dirt and rubble with a stick.

Some of us cried at the neighborhood meeting in Seminario before taking the tour. What we saw was a shocking reality. How could the Chilean government leave its people in these conditions? A major part of the problem are the laws which allow only one home per family and landowner. Those that had multiple homes or condo units were entitled to only one mediagua and one reconstructed home on the city outskirts in exchange for their more valuable centrally-located land. This left several classes homeless: renters who faced rising rent in the face of diminished supply, those who lived on land inherited but did not have the paperwork to prove it, and those who through other legal reasons such as separation without divorce were unable to file a “legitimate” claim. As a result, large buildings that once housed several families are reduced to two room shacks. For many, “cramped” is an understatement.

Reconstruye’s approach for integrated social housing seems humane albeit difficult to execute. They find landowners that give up the vertical space on their land in exchange for construction that other tenants finance. By building higher, a finite amount of land can accommodate more families within their respective neighborhoods.

Beyond the architectural concerns are the psychosocial concerns. The people of Talca feel betrayed by the federal government and its local appointees. Many voiced identical sentiments to what one woman in Paso Mayo said, “I’m never going to forget it (the earthquake). It’s a psychological trauma that will remain for many years. The only thing keeping me going is my brother and his business.” Children have been similarly affected. Some remain in a fight-or-flight state. “My 12 year old girl used to get good grades but now she’s fallen from a 6.1 to 4.5 in school. Each aftershock causes her to lose control. My other child, a toddler, everything scares her now.”

There is a playground in the city center, but outside of that area, there is little for children to do in their free time. Older children sit around talking in the green areas, but younger ones kick rocks and visitor guides for entertainment. After school, they are shipped home in yellow minivans (which are privately contracted by parents). Once home, there is little to do. Community centers are bare and provide only a roof and wobbly chairs for adults to talk about reconstruction efforts. The central park area is too far away for a child aged 5-8 to wander towards alone. In addition to the stresses of changing schools and making new friends, children retire to crowded realities in undivided rooms they must share with their parents and other siblings.

While I remain interested in the idea of a mobile playground, it seems that a lack of funding and the relabeling of our work as an academic exercise may change priorities. The need is there. We received positive feedback from almost everyone we spoke to about it. But Surmaule doesn’t want to raise the hopes of the people as other universities have without delivering tangible results. Bottom line: we need to regroup.

GFRY Draft Proposal for a Playscape

This week, we presented our proposal for a mobile playscape that could move through five elementary schools throughout the week and serve the two community centers on the weekends. The central idea is to create an outlet for stress for kids that is active, educational, and engages the senses. We purposely kept the presentation at a concept level that focused on the process of how we could work with our partners in realizing this vision. The flow diagram was shown as a step animation to demonstrate the iterative and collaborate design process. The sketches were modeled on the computer and traced over to intentionally lower resolution so that our partners wouldn’t think we were overly invested in a specific form. They exist to demonstrate the idea of modularity.

Feedback: The two main points of feedback concentrated on: Why portable versus fixed? and Why proscribed versus free? In the former, we wanted something we could realistically implement but perhaps it makes more sense to get things started on something more permanent. We will add that scenario to our presentation. We did not intend for all play to be limited to specific, organized games but saw that as a feature. We will change the layout and hierarchy of the last slide to reflect an either/or situation. We were also asked about materiality, something we felt was too early to consider. We were given several precedents to look up and will perform further research to get a sense of what can be done so we will know what to look out for during our trip next week.

Interview: Another Art Therapist on Therapeutic Toys

Last Thursday, I spoke with another art therapist on therapeutic toys. This time, the focus was on design. Below are selected interview notes.

What does a traumatized child need to get (developmentally) back on track?

BF: The first step is establishing a sense of safety and equilibrium. Trauma causes the brain to shut down or function in a state of hyper-vigilance. You need to down-regulate the autonomous nervous system. Bruce Perry and Bessel Van Terkolk talk about pattern sensory repetitive involvement as a therapeutic technique in these cases. The technique uses repetition when the child needs to down regulate. Lullabies, heartbeats, familiar sounds, familiar smells, and soft objects can all have a soothing influence.

The second step is processing. You help the child understand what happened and come to a different conclusion. Children will play out traumatic events given the toys or props to do so, but that doesn’t mean they will learn anything from it. You must help a child understand why something happened and what can be done about it.

What are some techniques that you’ve found useful in your practice?

BF: It’s important to break the mental state of hyper-vigilance by shifting the brain’s focus. When patients come in, I give them lavender hand lotion. The tactile sensation of rubbing one’s hands together, combined with a strong scent sets the stage for a productive session. Some therapists make drums out of coffee cans and duct tape at the beginning of their sessions. You’re providing a predictable pattern at the start of a session that creates an entry point into an oasis from the rest of that person’s day.

You mentioned sensory repetition as a therapeutic technique. Can you talk about some appropriate things that a sensory kit for children might include?

BF: Sound-making devices, perhaps mimicking heartbeat. Crayons, or whatever art supplies are culturally appropriate. Stencils, because if you’re giving kids a way to draw, the idea of containment is important. They are comforted by the edge. Yarn. Puppets. Stuffed animals. I knew a therapist that would put a satchel of peppermint in a stuffed animal and use it to focus the child’s mind. You could put a box inside to symbolize private space. The child could decorate it as she saw fit and put it into the larger container for the kit.

Lessons: There are two stages that need to be addressed in trauma recovery. Cognitive processing fails if a child’s brain function remains in the primitive “fight or flight” state. In the first six months, focus on establishing safety and equilibrium. Six months to a year out, give children the tools to play out their trauma.

Framework for Design and Personal Immersion Exercise

Yesterday, Brian Graziano and Kelly Costello presented the IA Collaborative design framework. Below are notes on the framework and a personal immersion exercise.

IA Collaborative Design Framework

Discover
– Personal Immersion: try to become the user
– Observation: watch the user
– Contextual Interviews: talk to the user doing the contextual activity
– Expert Interviews: ask experts about the product
– Retail Audits: look at how similar products are sold

Design
– Design Workshops
– Design Development
– Behavioral Prototyping
– Strategic Road Map

Develop
– Design Engineering
– Design Refinement
– Evaluative Research

Tips for Design
– Fully engage: get as close to the process as possible
– Be open-minded: people will shut down if they sense you are being judgmental
– Get visual: draw as much as possible
– Be patient: design insights take time

What to Look For in Primary Research
– Workarounds: learn from users that create their own solutions
– Interactions: observe the exchanges going on in a space
– People: look for key players in the interactions, dependencies
– Processes: consider all of the decision and activity points, document actions and results

Combining Research With Team Members
– Observations: what you saw, what impressed or bothered you
– Insights: patterns of observations from several team members
– Guiding principles: statements based on insights to inspire concept development

Personal Immersion Exercise

Observations

We broke out into groups and went to fast food restaurants to observe and document. Jenna, Zhe and I went to Intelligensia. The Chicago-based coffee chain does not have a strong street presence. Upon entry, it took a moment to tell who was standing in line versus waiting for an order placed. We looked around for a menu but didn’t see one until we were next to the cashier. The regular coffee menu was next to the regular tea menu. A third menu for the daily specials was on the other side of the shelf. As we were deciding on our orders, people waiting behind us seemed upset. We let a gentleman pass us. The credit card machine malfunctioned for him and as we waited, we noticed a cold beverage counter below waist level, under the pastry counter.

We waited five minutes before our names were called. We sat and observed. People come and go in droves. Crowds form and the place empties. The four retail spaces seem awkward. Coffee beans are the most prominent near the entry. Coffee makers and accessories are located between two central and crowded tables. Tea gets a few wall-mounted shelves in the back. A single cup coffee making system is featured in a wall inset near the bathroom.

Insights
– Retail items are disorganized
– Space is a premium
– Menu system is inefficient
– Managing different customer speeds is difficult
– Queue experience lacks clarity
– Gourmet experience is one of exclusivity

Guiding Principles
– Exclusive experience should not compromise function
– Separate experiences by customer speed
– Integrate retail space into consumption experience

Bruce Mau on Ecological Change

Most actions are decided at the base of the brain. People act on norms. It took 20 years for the drunk driving campaigns to have an effect on government and on society. If it’s normal to drink and drive, they will drink and drive. Make it not normal, and they will stop. So if it’s normal to think about ecology, people will do that.

Thesis Investigations: Teaser Shots