UT Senior Design Show, with a social slant.

I checked out the opening reception for the UT Senior Design Exhibition this past Saturday, and was delighted to see sustainability and social issues taking the stage in many of the thesis projects. There are three education-related things I was able to take away from this show:

1. Topics of social consequence are interesting to design students as an application of their process and skills (yay, and duh).

2. Due to the vastness and complexity of these topics, they often require conceptualization and abstraction to be remotely understandable in a short period of time (e.g. a semester).

3. There is a serious (and wholly necessary) shift happening towards the generalization of design practices, where a solution to a “visual design problem” can now take the form of a product or service, and vice versa. This generalization is great in that it forces designers to derive solutions agnostic of a format, however leads to a lack of depth in any one particular practice.

There were a few approaches that were shared by multiple projects; for example, using board games to extrapolate roles and variables that contribute to the confounded nature of wicked problems. Brandon Gamm’s Drug Games (shown below) is his commentary on the inefficiency/inaccuracy of the criminalization of drugs in the US:

This work-in-progress 2-player board game is a rhetorical argument against current US policies for combating drug abuse. It is a blatant call for legalization over criminalization.

The government player uses largely ineffective law enforcement and treatment pawns to stem the addiction brought on by the cartel player’s ever-increasing drug supply. The government player’s only hope is to legalize the cartel’s drugs, removing the profit margins that make illegal drug trade so attractive.

This game approach is also adopted literally by Carrie Gates, Meagan Greenwalt and Jennifer Boram Kim in Reuni, a board game which creates a medium encouraging negotiation and compromise, which they believe could be leveraged help to reunify North and South Korea.

A few projects focused on reframing perspectives, such as Blue Cube by Teddy Vuong, which aims to create a meme that is antithetical to marketing and advertising. There is definitely a thread of pushing/reinterpreting social and practical norms running through the show.

A neat highlight of the show is the recap of The Sustainability Project – a series of concept proposals for initiatives that might make UT more sustainable and heighten awareness among the UT community. These team-generated solutions ranged from a wayfinding system that considered the campus and its sustainable practices as a system (including an iPhone app), to a points-program which takes a gaming approach to create competition and reward the most sustainably-minded students with school swag.

It was interesting to see how different projects were approached, and how varied the outcomes were. I’m looking forward to seeing how UT’s design department carries and evolves these themes throughout the next few graduating classes.

The exhibition runs through May 22, and is worth checking out if you get the chance (here’s the link again). There are also some gorgeous prints and other non-related work in adjacent exhibition spaces.

Note: The waste from the show is aggregated and displayed as part of the exhibition, (I’m assuming) modeling after Trash Talk, a frog design effort in 2007-2008. Neat :)