Section 5: Prototypes

Exploring scale and form/material

I experienced a lot of confusion and joy about exploring prototypes.

Screen capture for my mid-term presentation
Screen capture for my mid-term presentation


Scale of public spaces

As a UX designer, my work largely lived in digital, trapped behind a screen. What excited me about Parsons and the New School was its commitment to think about scale and public design – how to design in and with communities, and to challenge ourselves to think wider than a simple intervention that we think will ‘solve’ the problem.  I explored and faced this in particular in my Studio 1 class, working with a team to explore Transient Identities, our cluster of projects (in an affinity group) exploring the challenges of identity in the 21st century and what it means to have a transient identity.

I was interested in exploring both a) what identity and mental illness meant in relationship to stigma, and b) what scale to use for my solo thesis project. Specifically I was fascinating with the role of pride in identity around stigmatized topics, and when there isn’t pride, and how group experience and public and private disclosure of such an identity made a difference.

Our final project was called ‘Playing Identities’, involving interactive spaces for students in high schools to explore issues related to migration, mental illness, gender, stigma and other sensitive topics.

A detail from 'Playing Identities' with the 'Mask' in the background
A detail from ‘Playing Identities’ with the ‘Mask’ in the background


Our goal was to understand how we can trigger playful conversations about sensitive issues about identity through spatial design interventions and objects. I created a few small prototypes of possible activities in this system. As a prototype, this system allowed me to explore spaces can help clarify the many issues of identity. And although I since decided to go forward into my own project I still consider the work we prototyped in the Transient Identities a huge step forward in my thinking –through making And it solidified the need for this work – that identity will be a major area of area for designers in the 21st century, be it working on gender, migration, feminism and other issues.

These activities explored how to help students understand what parts of their identity are visible and invisible, and why, and would help educators (and perhaps those studying social progress and education) understand what students are willing to reveal publicly.  In the activity called ‘Masks’, students are given a blank paper template of a mask. One side is marked ‘inside mask’ and another side is marked ‘outside mask’. (Could also call them ‘what I show and what I hide’ rather than inside and outside). They fill out both sides – the ‘outside’ mask is what others see them as (their identity, but also anything about them) but also they turn over the mask and fill in the ‘inner’ mask – the things that also part of their identity but perhaps are invisible or hidden. Students can use words or images or whatever is meaningful to them that conveys their identity. Afterwards the class comes together and discusses the results.

The issue of scale has been a key factor and challenge for me – do I go big for population health, or go more intimate and personal, to help an individual within the confines of my thesis? This project  allowed me to look at space, interactivity, and how to narrow down a target audience and ultimately what I was looking to do –  did we want inward facing interventions or outward. That idea of inner/outward would make its way later as I explored public/private. The scale we were working with – activities in a large room – is perfect for exploration (especially for teens, our target), and I know on a bigger scale there are efforts towards urban design for mental health – improving how we design cities.  Working at a larger scale – even Playing Identities – felt too forced for me, and I moved to a more intimate scale for my next set of prototypes.


The move to a more intimate scale

I decided to focus on the personal, the ‘micro’ for my scale, which would also allow me to think what kinds of materials would work to my advantage here, and would allow for a more personal connection to an object as part of providing care.  The theoretical foundations were the ingredients in the recipe book – the areas to work with.  For me, the scale helped me figure out what ‘problems’ to explore (often with gaps) and what materials could provide ‘solutions’ to do help address the problems or fill the gaps.

I created prototypes to explore different aspects of self-stigma (highlighted in the box) with an additional goal to challenge myself as a designer to explore new mediums and materials – to not limit myself by my knowledge or what I think I could do, and instead let the problems and insights from users and gaps I’ve identified drive my work.  Narrowing down the scope, I started prototyping in earnest, which you’ll see in the pages ahead.

Something key in these micro-moments is understand in more depth of what parts I could tackle that haven’t been addressed elsewhere.  For example, there’s a larger push in mobile medicine in monitoring, helping with medication management (refilling meds) and while all of these were valid areas to address, for the sake of exploring non-digital objects I focused on the gaps and issues in the blue boxes above.