Price of Values

The purpose of this study is to inform advertisers, designers and consumers of our individual values, collective values and ethical standards.

Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna
Graduate student
Vermont College of Fine Arts

When stopped to consider the culture of the 21st century: Each morning, we hear a half dozen ads on the radio before our feet touch the floor. Staggering out of bed, we pass brand logos on our clothing and in our bathrooms. By the end of the day, hundreds – perhaps thousands of marketing messages would have targeted us, and yet so little is understood about how marketing affects our lives, our society, our world and most importantly, our personal values.

This research paper takes a hard look at the dangerous side effects of advertising – especially for women. The paper reviews how us women, who are biologically more vulnerable to alcohol than men, and who often suffer from depression and eating disorders, are more likely to seek connection to alcohol, food, and cigarettes, partly as a response to disconnection in our human relationships. The paper proposes that this disconnection is a sense of emptiness, and people who feel empty make great consumers. The text ponders on how this emptiness makes us turn to products, especially potentially addictive products, to fill us up, to make us feel whole.

Additionally, the paper deliberates the importance of responsible and empathetic design to make real, world changing, culture defining, values shaping difference. It discusses how every one of us designers in the advertising industry have an important role to play, and since the advertising industry played a part in building and setting in motion the wagon of consumerism and capitalism that is now diving us to the edge of the cliff, we should help solve these worldwide problems in a responsible and engaging way.

To demonstrate the observations, research, and opinions discussed in the paper, posters were designed in pop-art style because pop-art is not only drawn form mass media and popular culture, but is also “coolly” ambivalent. Whether that suggests an acceptance of the popular world or a shocked withdrawal is viewer interpretation – all with a sprinkle of parody.

The purpose of this study is to inform advertisers, designers and consumers that our individual values, collective values and ethical standards define us both as individuals and as people.

10 Case Studies in Eco-Activist Design

Kelly Salchow MacArthur
Associate Professor
Michigan State University

Activism through design is especially timely, as the effects of climate change are becoming alarmingly obvious. Victor Papanek wrote in The Green Imperative, “Design must be the bridge between human needs, culture and ecology.”1 Armed with the powerful tools of visual communication, great responsibility rests on the shoulders of designers when conceptualizing and producing work—and presents an exciting opportunity to share one’s beliefs, and incite change within a broad community.

As a design educator and practitioner, I pursue creative research that aspires to catalyze empathy and positive action towards addressing climate change. Case studies will demonstrate various communication design strategies—humanistic appeals to reconnect with nature, statistics meant to instigate response, calls to action, aesthetic presentation of biophilia, concrete poetry, and community mapping for an ecological organization.


While such work has proven to be personally, conscientiously, and professionally enriching, the main ambition has been to relate to society in unexpected ways and affect change. As Eric Benson and Yvette Perullo write in Design to Renourish, “Designers as citizens have an obligation to be respectful to all fellow human beings and to the planet we share.”2 Through this body of work, I hope to contribute to (and sway) the ongoing dialog of environmental urgency that is often met with inaction.


  1. Papanek, Victor. The Green Imperative. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. pg. 29.
  2. Benson, E. & Perullo, Y. Design to Renourish. Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. pg. 115.

What Can Machine Learning Contribute to Empathy in Design? How to Build a Journey Map Using Big Data and Text Sentiment Analysis

Sarah Pagliaccio
Principal, User Experience Designer
Black Pepper

What can machine learning contribute to empathy in design? How to build a journey map using big data and text sentiment analysis.

Art and design are meant to reflect the world around us, show empathy for those we design for, and reflect the emotional state of our customers and target users. But how are we meant to empathize with situations that are unfamiliar or out of context? What happens when we over-empathize and project our own emotional states on our customers’ experiences? That’s where machine learning comes in. With enough input, we can use machine learning tools, specifically text sentiment analysis, to provide an objective score of our users’ emotional experiences. By feeding transcripts of customer interviews into a computer, we can remove our own subjectivity from our analysis and form a holistic picture of others’ needs and wants.

These sentiment scores can turn words into pictures, emotions into graphs, expanding our understanding of design goals and tasks.

Using Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a case study, we will talk through the emotional journey, i.e., the customer journey map, of major characters in the play using text sentiment analysis. A discussion of how these techniques can be applied to consumer application and website design will follow.

Experiments in Building Empathy and Revealing Bias

Rebecca Mushtare
Associate Professor Of Web Design & Multimedia
State University Of New York At Oswego

When left to our own devices, we unconsciously design for the audience we know best—ourselves. Although some traditional-aged college students have had travel opportunities or exposure to diverse cultures and communities, most still have limited life experience, which magnifies this tendency.  If inclusivity is an ethic we want our students to adopt as professionals,  we need to do more than read and talk about empathy and bias in the classroom. These values need to be embedded in our curriculum including how we frame assignments, the way we talk about design during critique, and our evaluation systems.

Overhauling an entire curriculum, or even a course, and starting from scratch is likely not an option for most faculty. Additionally, teaching empathy and implicit bias can be overwhelming for faculty who have not been trained,  and therefore do not have the language to confidently speak on the subject. What we can do, though, is make incremental changes in our classrooms that focus on raising awareness of assumptions we make and how our choices impact our audiences. Small changes can have real impact.

In this session, I will share the successes, failures and limitations of four years of experimentation and tinkering in the courses I teach combined with my own journey to become more aware of my blindspots and biases.

Racism Untaught

John O’Neill
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
University of Minnesota Duluth

My presentation will speak to the legacy of how the graphic design industry throughout history has reflected racism in mass communication, shaping the attitudes and behaviors of the general public.

Teaching graphic design students the racial impact of design is as important as instructing them in software or conceptual and visual form-making skills. Racial components are often overshadowed within socially conscious design, for example higher sustainability standards to decrease waste and pollution. If students learn how racism is experienced within mass media, they will gain greater sensitivity how their graphic work could perpetuate racial stereotypes.

My presentation will showcase how a higher sensitivity to racism provides a greater context for the way different cultures and communities around the globe can perceive the same visual messages differently. Students will also gain an in-depth sense of empathy and critical thinking, which can be applied to other aspects of their design skills, most notability through their use of UI/UX design principles as they design interfaces. Students need to have the same sensitivity to societal and cultural norms when designing content for the 21st century, no matter if it is print or digital media.

With the use of web 2.0 and social media, graphic designers can have worldwide audiences for their projects larger than what could have been possible before. Communities around the globe are becoming more diverse, which requires graphic designers to have the skills to recognize racism in all of its forms. By doing so, they will avoid provoking overt and subtle racism in the work they produce.

Graphic designers are no longer limited to promoting social causes in their work to evoke social change. Instead, they can be agents of social change by intentionally preventing racial stereotypes in mass media.

How Hard Is It To Navigate A Rectangle? Harder Than You Think

Neil Ward
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Drake University

Wayfinding and signage are important pieces of a buildings structure and interior space, especially on college/university campuses. They provide a visual blueprint that informs students, administrators, faculty, and public visitors where they are and attempts to direct them to classrooms, galleries, labs, performance spaces, and offices. When the signage is missing, incomplete, or inconsistent, all who enter the space are left confused and quite possibly frustrated as they wander around. A missing/poor wayfinding system can intensify these feelings when an individual is mobility challenged and unable to use the stairs. Especially when the building in question is rectangular in shape.

This is a particular problem senior level graphic design students encountered during a Research and Application class in the Fall semester of 2016. Using photo ethnography, observational research, and visual anthropology, students learned and observed how and why visitors entered, moved through, and exited the Fine Arts Building (A building that is rectangular in shape). Based on their findings, students designed a wayfinding system for the building that heavily considered those who are mobility challenged.

An individual (we will call her Jane) from the Office of Student Disabilities, who is mobility challenged, volunteered to test the wayfinding systems. During the user test, dialogue ensued between both parties about what was missing, what could be done better, and what to think about for future iterations. Upon debriefing, students passionately discussed their systems and the building as a whole through Jane’s point of view. Experiencing movement through the building with Jane they unanimously decided the current systems are unacceptable for a campus deemed accessible. Furthermore, they were inspired by Jane’s encouragement and the notion of how their wayfinding could continually and positively impact a large audience.

“How hard is it to navigate a rectangle? Harder than you think” will feature project visuals, the unexpected drive to design for social good, and the issue of accessibility to inspire empathy through wayfinding.

 

Designing Immersive Experiences with Empathy

Ed Johnston
Assistant Professor
Michael Graves College
Robert Busch School of Design
Kean University

One essential component in the vast majority of design thinking methodologies is the importance of empathy. As designers, we have the opportunity to understand and share the feelings of another, articulate pain points within a situation and develop solutions to those pain points.

With the emergence of mobile virtual reality and augmented reality, designers can begin to develop novel solutions to some daunting and exciting questions. What if we could help someone travel through time to the past and see things as they once were? What if we could transport someone into a space, which they cannot reach? What if we could help distract someone from feeling chronic pain or loneliness?

I have been working with students and creative researchers on projects to respond to some of these questions. In my Liberty Hall 360 research initiative, I have been using immersive technologies, including 360-degree video and augmented reality, to address a variety of needs within Liberty Hall Museum. These needs include accessibility and enrichment of the museumgoer’s experience to feel a stronger sense of presence within historic moments.
In this presentation, I will share the development of my collaborative projects and some inspirational projects by other creative researchers, which are establishing the experiential and therapeutic significance of the application of immersive technologies. In addition, I will put forth an argument for the importance of incorporating immersive technologies into design education curricula.