8: Brainstorming possibilities for a design response

POST 8: Brainstorming possibilities for a design response 

By Rachel Mah

Over the last few weeks, it proved to be a mad challenge to tie all the loose ends of my research together and decide on my point of interest. Saying that I was interested in everything would be an understatement. I did a lot of initial research in depression and suicide, however felt that it was too superficial and struggled to find an angle to delve deeper into. I looked at facts about things like morbidity, diagnosis and referrals, and all-in-all, even though I was intrigued at all the unexpected facts such as the increase in suicide rates, it just felt like a giant school essay about general mental health.

However, something unexpected occurred one weekend which eventually changed my thought processes during in-class brainstorming sessions. This made me consider another side of mental health that should have been apparent, however was not discussed at all.

On that weekend, I was at a reception area of a building, walking towards the desk when I saw a man lying unconscious on the floor of an elevator. A worried companion and the receptionist were crouched next to him in the tiny space. Apparently they had asked around if any nurses or a doctors were present. I rushed over, in my head I anxiously ran through an endless list of causes while I checked for a pulse.

“PLEASE just be a normal pulse”, I thought to myself as I leaned in.

And then I smelt it. The companion sheepishly looked at me and sighed. It was the sweet, pungent smell of alcohol on his breath. It smelt like we were inside a brewery… snorkeling inside a barrel of whiskey, while drinking whiskey.

“Yeah, it happens all the time, actually. Drinks a whole lot, seems OK and just falls over unconscious out of no where”.

Hearing this statement both relieved and scared me. I felt relieved because the issue at hand was an obvious one – alcohol poisoning. But I was scared at this relief I felt. Walk around Sydney CBD for a couple of Fridays and Saturdays and soon you may find yourself numb to the common sight of people slumped over the sidewalk, paperbag-covered bottle in hand. There is an undeniably strong drinking culture in Australia.

I was amazed at my level of okay-ness at someone being unconscious due to drinking, as I would probably be more concerned if it were something like hypoglycaemia, epilepsy, or underlying health issues. Does it truly make it okay though? After all, what WAS the difference at the end of the day? This person’s health was still at risk.

It’s a cliché. Everyone goes through rough times and often turn to alcohol, drugs and other things as a band-aid approach. However, things start to unfold and get ugly as the band-aids start stacking, and the actual problem putrefies beneath the surface. The alcohol doesn’t help and neither do the anxiety and depression made worse by alcohol. It is a downward spiral.

This took me back to a time while I was on placements at Sydney mental health facilities. Incidentally, I spent a lot more time working in the AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) mental health facilities (privately owned) where there would be a very long waiting list for patients to come in for admission and  go through intensive therapy. It makes me wonder what people who need help do while they wait for their turn.

Working towards a design outcome that I hope may be of help to this issue, I have included a five-point summary of the outcomes I have identified as possibilities below:

  1. Alcohol consumption habits may be targeted via alcohol consumption touch points such as bars or bottle shops (generative/service design).
  2. Short term help: Support of some kind needs to be accessible to those who are at risk (general education, pre diagnosis/admission, or are just having it really rough) (service design).
  3. Narrative exploration to reveal our relationship with alcohol (visualisation/generative systems/service design).
  4. Facts and figures on alcohol-related deaths and self-harming presented to the public (visualisation practices)
  5. Experiential design to show alcohol impairment (generative systems).


Initially, I thought that I would create a service design proposal, however, after discussing the matter with my tutor, who indicated that what I wanted to do sounds like it would reflect better as a form of generative design. This led me to analyse my ideas and really think about how I could relate the subject in a more appropriate way to the target audience of young adults (18-24) as well as be a project that worked on my design strengths and interests.

My Proposal:

(Based on Point 3)

This project would encompass the stories and experiences about our relationship with alcohol. It will potentially look into the highs and lows experience by people as well as their functional emotional and physical attachments to it.

How I would like to do this:

By means of something generative and self narrated. To elaborate, this would mean a collation of data relating to drinking habits that are constant.

Through this project, I intend to show the helplessness and isolation brought on by the disease as well as feelings of confinement in hopes of shedding light on how alcoholism is not a choice or a lifestyle but a disease.

This proposal will be informed through findings from my research such as the article about a person’s recovery from anorexia, visual imagery of the helplessness felt by those suffering from mental health issues which I found to be a great narrative and educational tool for empathy.

The findings and stories will be visually interpreted through digital storybook that contains animated .gif illustrations. These will depict the various experiences faced by alcohols in a digital storytelling form as well as draw upon non-edited highlights and raw extracts from the stories collected.


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