Focusing specifically on the Rhode Island School of Design MID (Master of Industrial Design) program, my graduate thesis project was an investigation into building resilient cultures of collective care in pressurized workplaces. Such culture change can be achieved through sustained incremental middle out interventions, leading to stronger work with less stress. To better understand the challenges in MID, my process involved deepening my relationships with my community. I then designed and tested participatory artifacts and social events aimed at promoting an engaged pedagogy, increasing collaboration, and improving information opacity.
While every work environment has its own specific context, many work cultures face similar challenges. The aims, avenues, tools, and social events in this thesis have applicability beyond the context of RISD. We are in the middle of the great reshuffling. Since the pandemic, loneliness, mental health issues, and burnout have increased. Over 24 million Americans left their jobs between April and September of 2021. Record setting numbers. Employers are turning their attention towards employee engagement and are thinking hard about what the future of work looks like. How to create a strong and supportive work culture.
The research component of this thesis consisted primarily of secondary source reading and conducting a series of community interviews. The source material primarily focused on organizational design, education, and social wellbeing; adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy and bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress being seminal texts.
We understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic.
- adrienne maree brown
Output of this work includes creating two artifacts, two recurring social events, and a lounge space. Please see the corresponding website pages to learn more about the share boards, community values workshop and resource soup.
The artifacts I created are participation driven platforms which provide a structure that guides engagement rather than determines outcomes. They are primarily geared towards increasing interpersonal information opacity and community resourcing, by providing opportunities for community members to share information and learn about one another. These artifacts hold, display, and archive community input.
I’ve worked alongside my classmate Jenny Chen and Professor Ayako Takase to create recurring social events. The design considerations of the social events are very similar to those of the artifacts. We put care into making objects and events to encourage respectful and meaningful interactions, while incorporating moments of discovery and play. We built in elements of archiving and displaying information ensuring that the content accessible after the events comes to an end.
Thanks to administrative support, running these social events is going to part of a paid graduate assistantship role in the future. The community values workshop will run annually, so that the values on display in the studio are a representation of the current community. And Resource Soup will run on a monthly basis. Workshop artifacts and promotional posters will help reinforce these rituals. We created a website for the events that includes digital archives, workshop instructions, and accompanying slide decks.
Two questions that have continually come up in this thesis exploration are - where do you find the time, and whose responsibility is it? To me, it's a matter of what our priorities are and how we choose to practice them. We can create bottom-up actions rooted in collective care. Even in individualistic cultures, at RISD and beyond. It takes action and attention. Also, it takes breaks and the occasional nap.