On the 25th of September 2015, when the 193 Member States of the United Nations approved the 2030 Agenda, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals was also created. Communication Design Juniors in the Designing for Complex Communication Systems class were challenged to create 60-second videos that educate, challenge and inspire people on the importance of these Sustainable Development Goals.
“This project was created to help students design something that offers multiple points of view, interpretation and audience participation,” said Associate Professor Kristin Hughes. “There were many ways students could think about the project but in the end the video needed to exhibit one clear, concise actionable message.
“The overall goal was for students to educate and inspire people to take action because of their design and its execution.”
“I wanted to focus on the justice system in the United States and certain inequalities that people face in that system,” said Madison Headrick. “During my research I looked into many different issues pertaining to the justice system such as racial inequality, mass incarceration, mandatory minimums and sentencing, and protecting family units affected by the justice system. However, the single topic I was most interested in and personally touched by while researching and getting to know the justice system was re-entry into society for ex-convicts."
“This issue is all about helping those who have been previously incarcerated get re-integrated with society,” continued Headrick. “Getting jobs, housing, and proper rehabilitation is key to helping those people stay out of prison and stop the all-too-familiar cycle of re-incarceration in the United States.”
Headrick added that she wanted to impart on the audience a sense of responsibility to reverse the discrimination and lack of care shown to ex-convicts. To achieve this, Headrick used stories through found audio footage of ex-convicts who have faced the harsh reality of re-entry in the United States in order to give a "realer" sense of the issue. Headrick used the method of rotoscoping to create line animations of four distinct scenes/examples of how re-entry has failed.
“In the end I came up with the concept of creating a metaphor between an ex-convicts experience with re-entry and the hidden costs of a bill; even after these ex-convicts have paid their debt to society through prison time, they continue to face hidden costs through the struggles of re-entry,” said Headrick.
“I decided to take on a light-hearted approach to the tone my video with my hand-sketched watercolor style,” said Sherry Wu, whose video focused on the issue of food waste. “I wanted to keep it simple but powerful, so I tried to keep the narrative simple and self-explanatory just by the sequencing of the scenes."
“Because of the project’s limitation of being only 1 minute, I just want my audience to walk away with 1 line –'love your produce’ in the end," continued Wu.
“When given the challenge of making a video related to one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, I was immediately drawn to Gender Equality as it is a subject I feel personally passionate about,” said Zoe Lehn. “After doing a lot of research through the resources the UN provides, I ultimately settled on gendered violence, and more specifically, the statistic that 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. I found it really important to highlight a statistic that encompasses all women, to make a video that was universal and relevant to anyone viewing it, therefore creating a greater impact."
“When handling such a universal message, it became important to use imagery that was also universal to all women,” continued Lehn. “In the end, I decided to take the approach of literally showing all kinds of women, to not only highlight my point that sexual violence happens to all women, but to better help the audience visualize who those women are.
“I hope that being able to look these women in the eye will evoke empathy in the viewer and compel them to help change her bleak odds, whoever she may be.”
“Around the time I started doing research for this video I was seeing a lot of reactions on social media to the IPCC climate change report that were mostly along the lines of ‘well, we're doomed,’” said Allissa Chan. “I decided to look into this idea of ‘climate dread,’ or how people became overwhelmed with the reality of climate change and respond with hopelessness or apathy instead of taking action. I wanted to try to combat those feelings of despair and convey the message that even though it might seem hard as an individual to have any effect on such a massive problem, we can have an effect working together.”
“Since my topic was a little abstract, I decided to present my message in a more metaphoric sense, using fantasy tropes, like fighting a monster, that would be familiar to my target audience of people my age,” added Chan.
“I was impressed that students took seriously the challenge of communicating one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” said Professor Emeritus Dan Boyarski, who attended the screening of the Juniors’ videos. “Doing so in a one-minute video was not easy. It demanded careful research, editing, and visualizing in a way that engaged the viewer and conveyed the information.”
So why are designers such an important tool when it comes to tackling the various issues like the ones put forth by the United Nations 2030 Agenda?
“Designers are important and necessary in tackling these kinds of issues because as a designer I have been taught to not only ‘make something beautiful,’ but also put form, story, and meaning to that thing,” said Headrick.
“Especially with issues like these brought up by the UN, I think these videos could have easily become very political or too authoritative, and instead, I think as designers we saw the value in appealing to human emotion and getting our audience to reflect on their actions and realize their own need to change,” added Lehn. “With this sensitivity to what the audience feels, I believe we can also see the skill of the designer in addressing specific groups and again, creating a message that motivates someone to take action.
“Overall, I think the sensitivity a designer approaches a design challenge like this with is what makes them so important in creating this kind of content.”
“While scientists, policy makers, economists, etc., are working hard to figure out what needs to be done to make the world a more sustainable and just world, they often don’t have the skills, time or the necessary tools to communicate their findings in a clear and accessible way,” concluded Hughes. “In fact, their research is often disseminated through academic channels that never reach the general public.
“Communication designers contribute the skills necessary to creatively communicate with the public.”