Lay Me Down to Sleep: The Design of Coffins, Caskets, and Alternative Containers

Susan Merritt
Faculty Emeritus, Graphic Design
School of Art & Design
San Diego State University

Throughout our country’s history coffins, caskets, and more recently alternative containers have been invented or perfected by anonymous contributors working in the factories that manufacture them. These wood and metal boxes that have become the standard for American burial are being called into question due to changing attitudes towards death and the shift from indifference to action on the part of some contemporary designers.
This research tracks the journey of a corpse from site of death to burial, through the containers it may inhabit. First, I examine containers that are designed to contain, enclose, and preserve as much as possible the corpse, including historical examples gleaned from nineteenth century advertisements. Starting with body bags as a means of transporting cadavers from the place of death to the burial container in which the body will be either buried or cremated, next I consider the evolution from eight-sided English coffin to four-sided American casket; the desire to preserve the body and methods to achieve preservation; the introduction of gasket mechanisms for sealing bodies in metal caskets to protect them from the elements; standardization of design, materials, and casket dimensions, including oversized caskets for bodies that don’t fit the established standards.
The second part of my research considers an alternative route for the corpse, in which it is not preserved but rather encouraged to decay and decompose. This section encompasses Green 2 burial, the rise of Green cemeteries and memorial preserves, sustainable materials and biodegradable burial containers, shrouds, and unassembled casket kits. It also introduces the work of several young designers who are stretching the boundaries of death by reimagining burial practices and reconfiguring burial containers through the use of biodegradable materials and sustainable technologies.

Spark Collaborations: Design as Catalyst for Social Impact

Natacha Poggio
Assistant Professor, Visual Communication Design
Hartford Art School, University of Hartford

Designing for wellness has extended further beyond the creation of care products to the design of processes and experiences involving patients as learners and users. Visually compelling and meaningful systems of artifacts are part of the “wicked solutions” at the intersection between design and health.

The past decade has seen a radical revolution in the amount and variety of design products and systems addressing life-improving humanitarian issues and showcasing the transformational implementation of design as a change agent. Visual communication design education still struggles to transcend the conversation about effectively implementing and facilitating design curricula that could help trigger and sustain positive social and cultural change while balancing the need for portfolio-driven outcomes.

Approximately 3–11 million amputees worldwide are in need of a prosthesis, most are located in the poorest countries, where physical therapists are seldom available to teach patients how to use their artificial limbs. “Prosthetic Training Across Borders” (PTAB) is an ongoing transdisciplinary research initiative between Design and Physical Therapy departments at [University] and nonprofit humanitarian organization LIMBS International. Faculty leading teams of undergraduate and graduate students collaboratively co-created prosthetics training materials for above-knee amputee patients in developing countries.

Through the use of simple illustrations to overcome literacy limitations, these educational materials facilitate the communication process for local clinicians so they can effectively educate their patients about rehabilitation protocols and regain mobility. By following simple, concise instructions in posters, brochures, and manuals, amputees are able to perform various training activities and avoid inefficient gait patterns. After testing of prototypes in Peru, Ghana and Kenya, the materials are being translated for cultural adaptation to the 32 clinics in Latin America, India and Africa. PTAB initiative not only has transformed the lives of patients, but also shows a practical way in which the intersection between design and health matters.

Font Design: Caribbean Archeology Inspired Symbols

Maria Giuliani
Associate Professor
Communication Design
New York City College of Technology

The Taíno Indians resided on the island of what is today known as Puerto Rico. Hundreds of petroglyphs or images carved into stone have been found here and in many of the other Caribbean islands.
Contrary to other known archeological glyphs like the Egyptian hieroglyphs or Mayan scripts, these are not part of a written language or system, but rather isolated images with multiple meanings. Many of these images seem to be literal, while others are definitely more abstract, perhaps used as part of rituals and festivities.
These symbols have become a great part of the Puerto Rican culture and representative of its indigenous heritage. Today they are often used in the arts, fashion, crafts, and are an integral part of education. I started my research and found books on the subject, websites with downloadable jpegs, and even a Taíno inspired display typeface (letters), but not an existing font that purely depicted the symbols. I wanted to create an easily accessible version of these. By transforming these symbols into a font, they can easily be used as a traditional dingbat, a decoration, paragraph separators or even stand alone as a simple illustration.
I decided to design a symbol-font based and inspired by these stone drawings. My presentation will show the progression of my work from pencil and ink to Adobe Illustrator to the Font Editor “Glyphs”.

Graphic Design in the Zone: Peak Performance in Picturing Sport

Jen Roos
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Computer Arts + Design
Mercy College
Founder and Principal
8 Point Studio

While much has been written about the significance of sport and graphic design in culture, there exists a gap in research examining their intersection. The cultural impact of sport and graphic design has increased and so has the importance of this growing body of design. The history of graphic design for sport reveals important cultural attitudes toward human movement, and contemporary design in this category depicts our shifting attitudes in the face of significant societal change. Contemporary designs for sport display an increasingly sophisticated and groundbreaking visual language for the poetics of movement through space. This modern translation of the experience of “flow”, or “being in the zone”, provides a heightened and visceral sense of great feats of modern physical prowess — albeit at a remove. Our current outsourcing of movement to visual and virtual realms and idolization of the promise of technology threaten to imperil our actual experience of physical movement and health on a global scale.

Individuals experience the seduction of motion more than ever by virtue of the rapidly evolving digital world and expanding global presence of sport. At the same time, health research indicates that we as a society are becoming dangerously sedentary. Given that we are increasingly detached from physical movement and real-life athletic experiences, we naturally seek visuals that represent the glories of the pinnacle of motion. We now need to ask if design and sport can work together to encourage — not just lionize — movement. Global entities such as Nike have begun to experiment with ways graphic design might inspire physical movement, an important mission that could have larger, positive implications for the role that graphic design can play in improving our future health across the world.

Espiritu, Texas 1886-2015: An Essential Part Of American History

Andrés Vera Martínez
Assistant Professor,  Cartooning and Illustration
Lesley University College of Art and Design
Cambridge, MA

The Spanish term Mestizos, meaning mixed, came into popular usage during the 16th century to describe the offspring of Spaniards and Native Americans. Vaqueros, or the first cowboys, were Mestizos and their cowboy culture has been mythologized and marketed; but too often stripped of the ethnic origins before presented for popular consumption. Tejanos, or the first Texans, were borne of the mix of Spaniards and Native Americans and were the original cowboys of the United States. This culture lives on today in Texas through the food, language and ranching culture.
Espiritu, Texas 1886 -2015 will tell the story of a Texas built upon the struggles and triumphs of diverse people. This presentation will focus on one chapter, Lamesa, TX 1961: Andrew Martínez.