The Value of Impermanence in Design

Designers should consider the balance between documentation and impermanence and ask what is permanent versus what is ephemeral?

Christopher Previte
Associate Professor
Franklin Pierce University

Many spaces on the web (social media, photo sharing, genealogy sites, etc.) ask us to document so much of our lives. From photographic evidence of what we eat and who we are with to digital dog-ears of our favorite music, political leanings, and familial connections, we willingly and slavishly create collections in an effort to connect with each other and prove that we matter. There is an implied permanence to these collections and they are used as currency in maintaining social hierarchy and relationships. This reliance on documentation creates an imbalance and denies the value of impermanence.

Buddhists, for example, believe that impermanence brings us hope and embodies the spirit of freedom and shatters the concept of predestination. Science teaches us that old cells in our bodies die and yield place continuously to the new ones that are forming. Technically speaking, no individual is ever composed of the same amount of energy. Impermanence and change are thus the undeniable and essential truths of our existence.

Therefore, while online culture and mobile connectivity continues to grow, it must also evolve. 

Designers should consider the balance between documentation and impermanence and ask what is permanent versus what is ephemeral? Snapchat, for example, sought to convey what made face to face conversation special. The notions of impressions and deletion by default were baked into its user experience. At its best, user experience design focuses on the intangible and speaks to concepts such as atmosphere, personality, familiarity, and comfort—remembering that “users” are, in fact, humans. Given that, should not more research and discussion be dedicated to finding that balance and uncovering the value of impermanence?

Here we will begin that discussion and ways we can incorporate it into our design practice.

Exploring Narrative Inquiry as a Design Research Method

Anne Berry
Assistant Professor
Cleveland State University

Whether working as industry professionals or engaged in academic research, designers are trained to embrace complex, unframed problems and prioritize the needs of end-users. Processes derived from design practice, such as design thinking and human-centered design (HCD), can subsequently be useful in providing frameworks and strategies to address broad, undefined challenges. There are limits to the depth and breadth of information that can be gathered about the complexities of human nature when filtered through these approaches, however. Designing products for people versus designing to affect change within complex political, social, and cultural systems—or what scholars Cinnamon Janzer and Lauren Weinstein refer to as “object-centered” and “situation-centered” practices—run counter to one another. Questions subsequently remain as to how designers should bridge gaps between the design problems identified and the research techniques employed when working towards solutions.

In contrast to “object-centered” approaches inherent in design thinking and HCD, narrative inquiry is a qualitative method particularly suited to human complexity. Everyday lived experiences, their impact, and the social and cultural contexts in which the experiences take place are examined through storytelling. With an emphasis on building knowledge, versus setting out to achieve specific outcomes, narrative inquiry has the potential to help designers develop deeper understanding of the people and systems they design for. This talk, consequently, will address how narrative inquiry can be utilized as a research method for design research.

Worry Quest: Adventure Games for Fighting Anxiety

Matthew Bambach
MFA candidate, Graphic Design
Maryland Institute College of Art

Worry Quest is an app that helps fill gaps in mental health care experienced by young adults. It uses joy and technology to combat anxiety with simple, proven, psychotherapy techniques. The app lets youth envision themselves as a hero and their anxieties as a personalized monster. From there, they can choose between three different therapy adventures to “defeat their demons,” depending on how they prefer to cope with their own anxiety. Users are directed through a rousing dialogue with their “anxiety demon” and are rewarded along the way with pleasant visuals, sounds, and animations upon completing both tactile and self-reflective activities.

Activities in the app have been conceptualized from participatory research prompts, and are backed by approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, humor and mindfulness practice. The app continues to be developed in consultation with public input, beta testers, and mental health professionals. The app blends information design, interaction design, motion design, game design, user research and cognitive science—accessible through a device that nearly every millennial uses every day. By doing so, Worry Quest will help youth contextualize negative thoughts in an empowering way that affirms psychological agency and encourages positive self-care.
Abstract
Design Incubation Colloquium