For this project, I had the pleasure of working with Julia de la Puente. We were asked to design a tool that would facilitate a ritual that would promote a connection, a relationship or an awareness with our local coastal shorelines and the organisms that compose them. The tool we designed had to be portable and engaging. We were asked to pay particular attention to kelp and its protection and the critical role that kelp forests play in this ecosystem.
We were very inspired by tangible experiences, memories you can trace back to yourself rather than a textbook.
We noticed paying attention to seaweed is hard. Not only are aquatic plants hard to focus on, but they are often unnoticed.
Our design intention was to imagine a tool that would invite people to touch kelp.
When it came to kelp, both of us have had experiences with it, primarily unpleasant ones, through touch. We remember going into the ocean and trying very hard to dodge kelp as we went into the water. We were always haunted by the moment when seaweed touched our skin.
Keeping this in mind, we thought that many people might share our same aversion to touching kelp, and we saw this as an opportunity to try and convince people that kelp is not something you should avoid but rather something you should explore and play with, feel. We wanted to create a bond between people and kelp through their hands and the closeness that touching affords.
Our tool and ritual would be aimed to invite people to have a profound experience with kelp. This is the first thing we need to establish if we want the public to be responsible for its protection. This might sound simple, but it's proven to be extremely difficult. We approached this through our physical body and the relationship one has with the objects we touch. We believe touching is a very powerful sense, and it triggers memory in a way that the visual does not. The experience becomes almost a tangible memory.
When researching, we found some fascinating pieces of kelp that had washed up to shore, and we acknowledged their presence on the beach. We observed, touched, smelled, and played with them in a way that we hadn’t done before. Because we knew the success of our tool would ultimately depend on it being able to be used with the kelp that could be found on the beach, we went to plenty of beaches. We went to Kitsilano, English bay, Third beach. We noticed that on each beach, we would find different kinds of kelp. Being able to visit numerous beaches gave us the ability to have a better understanding of the types of kelp found on the shore in Vancouver beaches.
We concluded that it wasn’t the fact that the kelp was a bit slimy or that the texture was weird, but rather the sand had a very unpleasant feeling in our fingertips. After realizing this was one of the main reasons, we didn’t want to touch kelp; we started designing a tool that would help people rinse kelp so they would be more inclined to touch it.
When we visited the beach, we noticed that many people who tried our tools were hesitant to put them in water because they didn’t want to get their arms wet and get cold. Because of this, we decided to incorporate a sort of long handle that would help people clean the kelp they had picked up without having to get wet. We decided to go with a curved shape that both mimic the pushing towards the sand and picking up motion. Although the form worked well, the scale took away from our intentions to facilitate close interaction between the user and kelp.
Later we realized we jumped right into improving the form. What we missed was the fact that the concept itself was not completely true to our design goals. We were pleased with how it turned out aesthetically, but we had to say goodbye because it was not entirely fulfilling the emotional connection we were seeking.
We had the idea of a throwing game that would invite players to search for kelp and use it to play the game. The game was distracting enough that people would actually enjoy themselves while touching kelp, and the experience would thus be a positive one.
The way the game would work is that you would have the pieces and take them to your beach of preference. When you arrived, you would assemble the structure and then look for kelp to throw at it. The goal is to get kelp to hang from the puzzle, and the person who had the most amount of kelp hanging would win. Experimenting with the form, we chose this shape because it was easy to carry, comfortable; it had an organic feel to it, without it being too figurative. It was overall a shape that afforded a lot of patterns and ways to assemble.
We didn’t want to include any instructions or any words in general with the game. We wanted users to experience it in their own way, learn by making mistakes, and incite their curiosity rather than tell them what to do from the get-go.
When assembling our game, we realized that we had a bit of trouble, and we decided we did have to include some imagery that would reference the shape one was meant to build. We were inspired by puzzles and how they have an image of what you’re supposed to assemble. So we decided to draw the overall final layout in one of the pieces.
Another thing we struggled with, given that there were no instructions, was getting people to actually use kelp for this game. Our solution to this situation was to add a piece of fabric that would resemble kelp, and hopefully, given that you have only one piece of fabric, it would be a hassle to play with just the one. Finally, we also decided to include another iteration of the rinsing tool. The rinsing tool would not only be used to rinse kelp but to tell you what to do, pick up, and the fabric kelp would tell you what to pick up, kelp.
-It is crucial to understand where your design will be situated and if it would actually work for that context. We tend to imagine the scenarios, but we don’t re-enact the use of our designs as much as we should. If we don’t outsource, to an extent, our design process, we will end with objects that work and serve no one but the designer itself.
-When working with nature, we’ve learned that you collaborate as equals rather than finding ways to control the uncontrollable.
-Rituals in design are important for the same reason that they are important in every aspects of life; rituals allow individuals to take a step back, observe and be present. They can be helpful to take some time and give yourself space to navigate into unknown waters.