On Thursday, we had the opportunity to work with one of our fellow classmates in order to dissect and critique our draft proposals and thus receive suggestions on how they could be improved. I found this process really useful, particularly because I was paired with someone looking at the same issue as me—climate change—which meant that she was able to share deeper insights with me about the issue than someone who had just general knowledge of the issue.This exercise allowed me to discover flaws and gaps in my proposal that I had not picked up on my own, as well as helping me to think of new ways to approach the proposal.
In response to my focus area looking at the factors that influence a person’s views on climate change, my draft proposal, as seen in blog post 8, laid out a concept for some type of service/generative design that would deliver tailored climate change messages to people, showing them the realities of the issue, based on information collected about a person’s values and experiences. Both my partner and my tutor agreed that it was a very interesting concept, but they gave me some very useful feedback, which I have discussed below:
1. It may be difficult to visualise
Because the concept still seems quite broad, it may be difficult to visualise the service that it is providing. In order for this concept to work, the service it is delivering will need to be well thought out, and really consider the audience of 18–25 year olds that it is targeting. My partner and I brainstormed some possible options in response to my proposal, including an anthology (inspired by Ella Cutler’s work); a field guide; or a climate change ‘package’. I think that whilst all of these sound really interesting, I perhaps need to venture into the digital space in order to utilise more generative design systems, and also a system that can continue to be updated to produce a more accurate response for each individual user.
2. It should definitely be a service design
In my draft proposal, I also suggested the idea of creating a data visualisation which would utilise a visual system to present scientific facts of climate change in a non-biased and neutral manner. Whilst my partner found this idea to be interesting as well, they suggested that it could perhaps also be a service design and be joined with the other proposal. This was an interesting suggestion, and one that I will take on board, as I still quite like the idea of developing a visual system.
3. Everyone brings their own bias to any form of communication
This idea that was raised by my partner is something that I have come to realise through my own research. My partner raised the issue in relation to my idea of creating a visual system that would present information in a neutral manner, and I realise through discussion that people will bring bias even to a visual system. In light of this, it may perhaps be better to focus more on the service/generative design proposal.
4. Come up with some personas
This was an idea suggested by my tutor and I think that it is a method that will help me to determine ways in which to realise my proposal, as well as the types of services that may help different people to understand climate change and its impact.
5. Think about the language that is used around climate change
After reading through my draft proposal, my partner pointed out that it seems very much to relate to the kind of language that is used around climate change. I thought this was a very interesting observation, and I really want to look at how to use language to realise my proposal, rather than using graphs and numbers.
Research and Revision
After Thursday’s feedback session, I came away still unsure about the direction I was heading in, and not confident about the idea I had proposed and whether it was fulfilling the ‘brief’ I had set myself in the form of the problem statement set out in blog post 8.
Prompted by these feelings, as well as a realisation that I perhaps had not done enough research to really be able to define my design proposition, I set out to find some more scholarly sources, in the hopes that I would discover a point of inspiration. Whilst initially I simply looked at more articles discussing the factors that influence a person’s views on climate change, which all cited the factors of beliefs, values and experiences, I soon stumbled across an article by Saffron O’Neill and Sophie Nicholson-Cole about ways of engaging people in the issue of climate change through visual campaigns. This provided me with a revealing insight into the prevalence of fear campaigns in the dissemination of climate change information, “…with the language of alarmism appearing in many guises.” (Nicholson-Cole & O’Neill 2009, p. 358) Whilst using fear to incite action may be effective at first, it has been shown to over time distance people from the issue as they feel helpless and are unable to see any way of taking action. The alienating impact of fear in climate change campaigns I would argue is heightened by the fact that “climate change is temporally and spatially remote from the individual.”(Nicholson-Cole & O’Neill 2009,p. 360) The article concludes that in order for climate change messages to reach people effectively, they need to be set in a local context, and that “communications approaches that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference (e.g., based on an understanding and appreciation of their values, attitudes, beliefs, local environment, and experiences) are more likely to meaningfully engage individuals with climate change.” (Nicholson-Cole & O’Neill 2009, p. 375).
In essence, this article highlighted to me the prevalence of the use of fear in the dissemination of climate change information. Considering my own exposure to climate change campaigns, as a member of the general public, I cannot recall a single one that has not used fear to incite change. The most memorable campaigns to me have been run by the World Wildlife Foundation, which uses fear as its main driver, and I can say that, whilst the campaigns have caused me to stop and think, they have not ever encouraged me to take action because they are so overwhelming. As such, my new design proposal is centred around the creation of a campaign presenting the realities of climate change in a less confronting and more relatable manner.
Because I have altered my idea, I have written a new problem statement, in order that I have an updated ‘brief’ to refer to. This can be seen below:
There are 2 problems that I have identified within the broader issue of climate change, being the confusion surrounding all the varying messages that are conveyed in relation to the issue, as well as the sense of alienation from the issue that is harboured through the continued use of fear as a means to incite change across climate change campaigns. These issues together predominantly affect the general population, but also more specifically the stakeholders who are creating campaigns to convince people of the effects of climate change, and scientists and governments. The main boundaries of the problem are a lack of understanding of how fear, rather than inciting action, actually causes people to feel disconnected and alienated from the issue. Further to this is a feeling of helplessness by the general public as the majority of imagery used in campaigns is of ‘icons’, or “…tangible entities that will be affected by climate change” (Nicholson-Cole & O’Neill 2009, p. 375), which are far removed from the audience, such as polar bears in Antarctica. The problem occurs most predominantly in the representation of climate change, as people come to feel as though any action they take to reduce climate change will not actually have any impact as they can only see the big picture. It is important that the problem is fixed in order that people feel empowered to help in the reduction of climate change, and so that they are not alienated from the issue and unable to interact with it.
My refined design proposal can be seen below.
Revised Design Proposal
‘Bringing Climate Change Home’
Through my research, I have come to understand that using fear as a means to incite change in the general population with regards to climate change is not as effective as it may seem. In addition, I have found that a lot of campaigns focus on ‘icons’, “…tangible entities that will be affected by climate change” (Nicholson-Cole & O’Neill 2009, p. 375), which are far removed from the audience, such as polar bears in the Antarctic. Thus people find it hard to connect with the message being conveyed, and feel helpless and as though any action they take will not make a difference.
The possible change:
The aims of my design proposal are:
- To bring the issue of climate change into a local context.
- To use a means other than fear to communicate the climate change message to the target demographic of 18–25 year olds, amongst others.
- To connect with people in their own environment.
In addressing these aims, the intended outcome of the design proposal is an increased appreciation of the realities of climate change within a local context, as well as an understanding of actions that can be taken locally to reduce contributions to climate change.
The design action to support change:
Drawing on both the feedback I received about my previous proposal being difficult to visualise, as well as the extra research I have undertaken since this feedback session, I have created a proposal which could take on 1 of 2 forms in an attempt to bring climate change into a local context in a non-threatening yet instructive and thought-provoking manner.
The first form which my proposal could take is a ‘small square book’ type publication, perhaps accompanied by posters and flyers, which presents through the use of whimsical illustrations both how climate change is affecting the local environment, as well as suggestions of small actions that individuals can take in order to reduce their contribution to climate change. The whimsical style serves to make the user feel comfortable, as well as distancing the book from the emotion of fear which is used in a lot of other climate change campaigns. Through positioning the information within a local context, as well as suggesting small opportunities for action, the book will hopefully engage the reader as they feel a connection through ‘cultural cognition’ (Schrader & Shattell 2013, p. 842), feel positively about the effects of their actions, and again move away from the alienating tone of other campaigns. In order to connect with the target demographic of 18–25 year olds, this campaign would be delivered either to all people within this age range, or placed in areas that people in this demographic visit regularly, such as universities. However, it could be used to target any demographic.
The second form which my proposal could take, which would fall more under the guise of a data visualisation, is a series of posters which would use handwritten statements to make up topographic maps of different areas in Sydney. The statements would either be the views of individuals from the local area on climate change, or facts about the effects that climate change is having on the local area. Through positioning these statements on local topographic maps, the issue is brought into a local context, and people can begin to consider the issue in their own surroundings. The fact that the text would make up the topographic map presents the issue in a non-threatening manner as people will at first just see the posters as normal topographic maps, and will only engage with the deeper message upon closer inspection. Also, the use of words rather than images makes the message more individual as people can conjure their own images in their minds as to what the effects of climate change might look like in their local environment, rather than being confronted by an imagined apocalyptic scenario. This also makes it less confronting as people are not immediately faced with this image.
- Nicholson-Cole, S. & O’Neill, S. 2009, ‘“Fear Won’t Do It” Promoting Positive Engagement With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations’, Science Communication, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 355–379.
- Schrader, S. & Shattell, M. 2013, ‘“Cultural Cognition”: What Mental Health Researchers and Clinicians Might Learn from the Climate Change Debate’, Issues in Mental Health Nursing, vol. 34, no. 11, pp. 842-843.