by Jung, Seung ho
by Jung, Seung ho
The signals are clear: World Health Organization (WHO) reports that suicide rates have increased 60% over the past 50 years, and that by 2020, depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the rate of antidepressant use in the United States rose by 400% between 1988 and 2008. The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported in its General Social Survey (GSS) that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely, and a following study published in the American Sociological Review (ASR) have shown increase in "social isolation" and "a very significant decrease in social connection to close friends and family.” These social phenomena have consequences on economy and personal health: Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill. A study published on National Academy of Sciences discovered that loneliness is not simply a sad state of mind, and physically trigger changes in our body, weakening our ability to fight viruses, and pushing blood pressure into the danger zone for heart attacks or strokes.
There are several factors to be considered: Increased work and commute hours, globalized working environment, and higher geographical mobility. All of such factors are possible contributors to greater spatial and temporal distance between ones friends and family members. One might speculate that popularization of technology and personal gadgets are to blame. That is, these high-tech devices have overturned the way we communicate, and to value quantity in relationship over quality; sacrificing the selected few individual relationships for oversized and shallow relationships that we have to manage persistently. For example, the number of "likes" on Facebook has become as significant as, if not more significant than, a person-to-person conversation with a friend, because of its effortlessness and instant satisfaction. An article published on Computational Culture demonstrates how engaging (addicting) quantification in social media can be; with intention to stop feeding the Facebook addiction, artist Benjamin Grosser have gone a step further and developed a browser plugin named "Facebook Demetricator" that hides all quantifying indicators such as number of "likes." There are already studies that show severe side effects of such social media usage as well. A recent study published on International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology (ISPNE) found that teenagers with high number of friends on social media are likely to have higher level of stress hormones, and this could lead to risk in depression in their future. While criticizing technology for being the cause of such failures in our social interaction is agreeable to certain extent, uncritically accepting such hypothesis might only generate irrational tendency of intolerance to technology and its devices; bias that high-tech culture is bad in nature. However, because technology is a tool that we develop, we deliver its intentions. Then, it can be said that technology itself is neutral in essence, and therefore the problems have more to do with how we build, and use technology. After all, it is how our intentions play in designing the technology used as a tool for our communication.
The term "design" should not be exclusively used to aesthetic and visual factors. Contemporary design development process includes decisions in such factors as purpose, function, performance, value, interaction, and experience. Nevertheless, the answer might not be as simple as, "Yes! It’s a design failure." My study begins here, with the following questions: "In what perspective do the problems fall into categories of design?" "Considering all, why and how did design fail?." and "In what ways can it be improved?"
Let us begin with some deductive reasoning and sensible speculations regarding technology and social/cultural change:
B: There is a strong correlation between change in technology and social/cultural change. That is, change in one seems to have effect on the other, and thus accompany each other. For example: the invention of Gutenberg's movable type and printing press, to the age of enlightenment, and the Industrial revolution are all parts of a profound technological and social chain-reaction that can be interpreted as a largely relating course of events in history.
Speculation: Therefore, the rate of social and cultural change is comparable to the exponentially faster rate of change in technology.
That is, our current society might be experiencing social and cultural change at an unprecedented rate of acceleration. Such change might not seem obvious, because we are remarkably adaptable and open to accepting new technology, and even ones with significant social implications. For example, a study on Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) shows how some of the most controversial type of technology, such as nuclear energy and genetically modified food, become socially accepted over time. As published by the U.S. Census Bureau, prevailing use of personal computers in the U.S. confirms the individual acceptance of technology for personal usage as well. As a society and as individuals, it is evident that we are able to cope with fast technological and social changes.
As such, concern is not of our adaptability to technological and social changes. It is rather of unintended effects of what might follow such hasty and incautious adaptation; the side-effects of overlooking the values that are deemed relatively insignificant when making choices. For example, today's $8.3 billion USD global banana market might face a great collapse because the banana industry has decided that economic efficiency is more valuable than long-term sustainability and preservation of biological diversity. To elaborate, in spite of the fact that bananas naturally have rich genetic diversity, only a few seedless clones have been developed for global market, and the current banana industry effectively produces a single kind of crop, called Cavendish; and a recent study published on PLOS Pathogens shows that, because Cavendish is monoculture (genetically identical), all Cavendish are at risk of extinction due to its genetic susceptibility to a certain fungus contamination. Such risk is especially concerning because bananas in many parts of Africa are a staple crop, and a major component of national food security. When coupled with political and economic limitations, devastating results could follow; such as the infamous Irish Potato Famine that wiped out ~25% of Irish population in the mid-19th century.
Depending on the priority of values, intended and unintended results will follow. Sometimes, unintended results can have greater influence than the intended results, as demonstrated above. As such, the observed phenomena of loneliness, feeling of disconnectedness, and diminished social ties, may also be interpreted as a part of the unintended results from rapid adaptation of advancing technology. We are experiencing side-effects of the advanced technological devices permeating through our personal lives, and quickly establishing itself as a dominant method for our personal communication and social interaction. Understandably, the values and intentions, which are embedded by design of such advanced technological tools for our communicative usage, are critical in revealing the cause of such phenomena. Thus, designing the communication tools with different values and intentions can solve the problem.
My hypothesis is that the development of contemporary communications technology prioritizes two main sets of values: economic and rational; economic values such as productivity and efficiency, and rational values such as reasoning and logic. This shapes social interaction into mere act of exchange of information, and drives the society to value quantifiably measured factors of interaction. In turn, utilization of diverse senses in communication is greatly restricted, thus disturbing fluid interaction of feelings and lacking emotional aspects critical to social bonding. Hence, design with balanced values of the two sides may provide solution to this social problem.
A broad range of extensive research was carried out in order to examine the issue from all directions, and secure logical validity.
A broad range of extensive research was carried out in order to examine the issue from all directions, and secure logical validity.
This section aims to further explain and provide comprehensive description to support my hypothesis. Considering that the cause of our depressing social phenomena lies in the side-effects (unintended results) of our intended actions, philosophical origins of the conflicting values are assessed, and the historical circumstances that shape its conditions are examined. The studies are categorized into two large groups as shown below.
In humanistic studies category, the issues are mainly discussed in context of history and philosophy; inspecting the flow of change in human perspectives and values.
In scientific studies category, contemporary scientific findings and its significance in relation to our issues are examined, and various case studies are presented.
Both economic and rational values and ideas underwent significant development in the western culture during the modern period, partly because the Scientific Revolution, the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution all took place in the modern period.
Regarding development of economic ideas, "The Wealth of nations," arguably the first book on fundamentals of the classical economics in the western culture, is published in 1776 by Adam Smith(1723-1790), who criticized Mercantilism –the heavily regulated, dominant economic practice at the time. The classical economics is further developed notably by David Ricardo(1772-1823). This economic idea attains philosophical morality from the thoughts of such utilitarian philosophers as Jeremy Bentham(1748-1832), who famously develops the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" principle; Idea that the moral good and bad is distinguished by quantity of utility (individual happiness). The principle is further sophisticated in part with the qualitative aspects, by John Stuart Mill(1806-1873). All of such studies partly build the groundwork of Capitalism, which greatly influences the dominating economic systems of today's developed countries. In turn, Measurable values that contribute to profit, such as productivity and efficiency, become significant due to competition of free market.
Rational values, such as reason and logic, have mostly remained relatively significant throughout the history of western philosophy. Stemming from the great ancient philosophers such as Plato, the discipline of western philosophy has grown as the pursuit of reason for the most part. (Robert C. Solomon, 2008, The Philosophy of Emotions, Handbook of Emotions 3rd ed.). During modern period, the significance of the human capacity to reason is pushed to the extremes, in part because of the declining authority of Christian theology at the time. The Catholic Church and its dominant influence during the medieval period has much deteriorated by early modern era, due to such events as the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Counter Reformation, and the European Wars of Religion including the 30 Years War. Modern thinkers were faced with some of the most critical questions that were previously answered by the authority of the church: such questions that provide answers to existence, reality, knowledge, and values. René Descartes(1596-1650), in his study "Discourse on the Method"(1637), famously states "cogito ergo sum," and shows how knowledge is found using only the capacity to reason. His skeptical methodology through reason emancipates western philosophy from the church doctrine, and greatly influences modern philosophy, including the rationalist philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza(1632-1677) and Gottfried Leibniz(1646-1716).
Soon after Descartes opened the door to modern philosophy, the modern philosophy is under a great divide between rationalism and the empiricism. Immanuel Kant(1724-1804), the giant in modern philosophy, overcomes the disputes by synthesizing the major conflicting schools of thoughts under Kantian critical philosophy; Empiricism (Hume), Rationalism (Leibniz), Classical mechanics (Newton), and Metaphysics (Wolff), all under one roof. As the streams of western school of thoughts were gathered by Kant, it created a great lake of thoughts or the German Idealism. While Kant critically defines the perception mechanism and the boundaries of knowledge, the later German Idealists' thoughts, such as Fichte (1762-1814) and Hegel's (1770-1831) dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) and the notion of linear progress towards absolute and universality, provide the purpose of humanity and our objective in existence. Major questions formerly answered by religious doctrines have now been answered by human reason, and the apex of modern philosophy is achieved. However, in practice, such ideas consequentially promote totality over individuality. Ultimately, it creates discriminated superiority in values, and leads to rationalization of violence that occurs in extreme nationalism and authoritarianism. For example, in combination with capitalism, imperialism and colonization is rationalized as helping the "others" to reach the enlightenment and cultural civilization in Eurocentric view. Also, the violent discriminations demonstrated in WWII, particularly by Nazi Germany, was justified at the time by eugenics among other factors. In Zygmunt Bauman's(1925-) Modernity and Holocaust, Bauman argues that such modern features as rationalization of the procedural systems and division of labor into smaller tasks contributed in actualizing the Holocaust. As reason was considered superior human trait to emotion, detachment of emotions in decision making was encouraged. Following the rules was more valuable for it was built on reason. The operations of the Holocaust were intentionally designed with bureaucratic procedures and terminologies to help with the detachment of emotions. As such, when a given society's dominating ideology provides absolute value or objective, it becomes easier for power structures to become unilateral, aligning different values in a single line for absolute measurement, often resulting in oppressive violence. In another example, the classical view of social evolution, and Karl Marx's (1818–1883) theory of historical materialism shares the linear progress of humanity. The classical social evolution believed that the western culture was at the contemporary pinnacle of social evolution at the time, and Marx believed that such social evolution is on progress towards an ultimate state that needs to be achieved. Communism's perfect theory fails in practice because human are not built on pure reason, and power is vulnerable to corruption. Despite the ensuring beliefs that our power of reason will set humanity on a linear path to progress, such optimism collapses after experiencing the brutality of reason during the two World Wars.
Postmodernity and extended modernity.
Modernism and its core values of metanarrative are questioned in the counterculture movement towards postmodernity. Although some might interpret post modernity as something that concludes modernity, it is not as black and white as one would like to think. Zygmunt Bauman(1925-) proposes the idea of liquid modernity, which interprets postmodernity as extended modernity. Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998) states that Postmodernism is a engagement with various conflicting micronarratives that have appeared from the gaps created by the questioning of the grand metanarrative. Unlike the medieval to modern period phase, core characteristics of modernity are largely maintained in mainstream postmodernity. That is, the increase in movement of: goods, capital, people, information, and influence is still a great part of the postmodernity. Similarly, the obsession with evidence, visual culture, and personal visibility are also some of the modern characteristics that are seen in the postmodernity. It may seem like the transition from monism/dualism to pluralism has taken place, and diversity of values seems to be recognized in the postmodern. In reality, it is more likely that diverse micronarratives are stacked on top of the grand metanarrative. The metanarrative still exists as the majority that tends to dominate the mainstream while micronarratives bring diverse values, and diverse directions to progress. As such, while the dominating values such as rational utility in modern technology exist, progress towards other directions and values should be explored when faced with critical problems.
Overcoming technology with technology.
Walter Benjamin(1892-1940) saw technology as a man-made nature (Die Zweite Natur) that we need to learn to adapt to, just as we learned to adapt to nature. Benjamin distinguishes technology into the first technology, and second technology (die erste Technik & die zweite Technik). The first technology is the elitists instrumental technology, where its primary usage is to build hierarchical structure in relationships, and take control over others and the nature. The second technology is liberated technology. It takes part in creating harmony between men and others/nature. Unlike the instrumental characteristics of the first technology, Benjamin saw that the second technology is a playful technology (die spielerische Technik) that enables the interplay between human and nature (das Zusammenspiel zwischen der Natur und der Menschheit). Benjamin states that art is where the second technology’s characters are most prominently seen, because art opens up the play-space(Spiel-Raum) where nature, human, and art exist in a non-hierarchical structure. For example,reproduction of art by technology brings the “loss of aura,” as Benjamin puts it. Without uniqueness and authenticity, art no longer stands on a pedestal, and the power structures collapse. Art and technology that was once used as instrument to control nature and others, now provides a space where play is possible.
Martin Heidegger(1889-1976) questions the existence and essence of technology. He defines technology not as instruments, but as part of human behavior. That is, technology is not merely some tools that help achieve goals of human needs, but the whole process in itself is technology. Heidegger notes the Greek term techné, and states that shedding light onto truth was also called techné, and the poiesis (make/form) of art was also called teckné in the ancient Greek times. Heidegger saw that the essence of technology is to unconceal (entbergen), which leads to truth (aletheia); The bringing forth(Hervor-zu-bringen) of what is hidden inside, or Poiesis. By Heidegger’s ideology, art and technology could be the gateways to truth.
Oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" is the chemical compound known for its profound association on our social interaction. Oxytocin is known to promote trust, relaxation, psychological stability, and romantic attachment. It helps women give birth, and makes you care about others. It is the chemical released when making eye contact with either babies or puppies. High levels of oxytocin has been observed when breastfeeding, with couples in the first 6 months of relationship, and during and after sex. People with high levels of oxytocin are better at detecting emotional cues in facial expressions, and show greater concern and attraction to partners, and show less signs of attraction to anybody else. It is also proven to boosts social skills in kids with autism when taken as medication. Albeit the profound effects of oxytocin in human socialization, the mechanisms of its functions and effects are not as evident. However, a recent study published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that oxytocin triggers a particular neurotransmitter–a messenger molecule–named anandamide. Anandamide, dubbed Bliss molecule ("ananda" Sanskrit for "bliss" in English), plays a critical role in relation to oxytocin's functions and our behavior by effecting the motivation and reward operations. It is also found to act as a chemical messenger between embryo and uterus during implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall. As such, it might be interpreted that the bliss molecule is not only the fundamental agent responsible for building social ties, but also one of the first communications that occurs between mother and child.
Contemporary notion of emotions is far from the opposite of, or inferior to reason. Emotion is now studied as an integral part of intelligence, cognition, decision-making, problem solving, and social behavior & functions.
For example, such studies as Kansei engineering takes into consideration how emotion or psychological feelings play part in improvement of a product or services. Similarly, there is the concept of Emotional Design by Donald Norman. Emotional design takes the basic attitude components models of psychology to explain how design effects emotions to create deeper values in objects. In Chasing the Scream, the author Johann Hari argues that addiction is essentially a byproduct of lack of social connection. Hari demonstrates this with a lab study, and also with study of the heroin addicted soldiers of the Vietnam war. 
As for the significance of touch, a study published on NCBI demonstrates that deep touch pressure has calming effect on patients with autistic disorder, college students, and animals.  A study published on PNAS shows the close relationship of touch and emotional bonding. The topography of social touching literally defines emotional bonds between people.  In marketing, Guiness beer takes advantage of the softness of foam. Harley Davidson is famous for the masculine vibrations of its motors. Many packaging designs incorporate an opening where potential customers can touch the product, and it has proven to lead to higher sales.
Significance of touch in communication.
Different methods of communications, such as visual, auditory, and touch, are essentially different deliveries of certain fluctuating waves, or pressure when scientifically deconstructed. One could argue that the light and sound is basically touch at distance.
As such, visual and auditory messages may be interpreted as being "touch" of fluctuating waves, only with greater distance. Major senses utilized in digital communication are the distant of the three: sight and sound, lacking close touch. Touch is the most intimate method of communication of the mentioned three types. Naturally, distance makes communication more open to public, thus less intimate. This is one of the reasons why communication lacking the sense of touch is not as effective in delivering emotional information. Abundant use and development of emoji & kaomoji (literally “picture character & face character in Japanese) today may be seen as an evidence that there are needs to better communicate emotions.
A spectrum of visual experiments was carried out in order to provide solutions for the discussed social issues.
A spectrum of visual experiments was carried out in order to provide solutions for the discussed social issues.
This section gathers from the researched studies, and aims to showcase the visual progress of various experiments executed for the project Emotional Communication. A brand is developed with intentions to ultimately achieve services and products in relation to the study of emotional communication. In particular, possibilities for improvement of parent-child relationships by emotional communication are considered. The experiments are categorized into two groups, as shown below.
The concept of emotional communication is challenged and experimented with to push the boundaries of perception.
A brand is developed considering the target market and various design elements as: logo, typography, and layout.
This experimentation begins with a piece of music by Claude Debussy(1862-1918). Debussy composed Reverie in 1890, the late modern period. Debussy is one of the most prominent figures associated with impressionist music, where emotions and moods, unlike detailed tone-picture, are the subjects conveyed. In this experiment, the emotion aroused by Debussy is translated into a musical composition. The composition is interpreted and performed by pianist Simone Renzi. A recoding of the performance is reinterpreted, and then a video is produced. As viewers access the video, the composer of the music, the performer of music, the producer of the video, and the viewer's emotions share a common emotional essence. One might see the individual emotions as being connected, transcending the barriers of language, space, and time. The viewer's action demonstrates an emotional connection that doesn't require rationality, or spatial and temporal proximity. All the while, the connected emotions are all individually respected as genuine and true. This conceptual experimentation is to demonstrate the possibilities of communication of emotion via technology.
Challenge & Solution
Targeted User Demographic
Key Brand Equity
A wirelessly connected, fashionable clothing that simulates sensation of hugs by gently tightening heated belts installed inside the clothing.
Typefaces are carefully selected to reflect the brand image, considering legibility & readability on both printed and digital platforms. Layout exercise progression is shown in gallery below. The sketched drafts initially intended for printed media was further studied on 1:1 ratio art board to maximize flexibility for use in digital devices as well.
Final Typeface Selection:
Charles K. Bliss(1897-1985), engineer and inventor of Blissymbolics, was a Jewish refugee in World War II. His name was originally Karl K. Blitz, but changes his name for "Blitz" reminding "blitzkrieg," which is a German military tactic term used in WWII. Bliss saw that the phrase "Deutschland über alles" translated "Germany above all," was being appropriated out of context by the Nazi to propagate German superiority above others. This line is from "Deutschlandlied" (Song of Germany) written in 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann, originally meant to unify the fragmented states of Germany in the 19th century. As such, he claims that the conventional language can be confusing, and the we are vulnerable to misleading propagandas and its ideas of violent hate that it generates. He believed that language was at the core of such problem, and wanted to create a language fix such issues; a logical language understood by all regardless of conventional language. With his impression with the Chinese characters, and the universal symbols of circuit diagrams and the chemical symbols, he publishes three volume "International Semantography Blissymbolics: A non-alphabetical Symbol Writing readable in all languages" and contacts politicians, educators, governments, and universities with no success. The world paid little attention to Blissymbolics, while it seemed to have achieved a part of Characteristica Universalis–the ideographic universal character intended for international communication– that Gottfried Leibniz imagined but could not finish in his lifetime. In 1971, Blissymbolics is applied an interdisciplinary team led by Shirley McNaughton at the Ontario Crippled Children's Centre(now the Bloorview MacMillan Centre), for children with cerebral palsy to learn to communicate. Children who are challenged in communication due to such symptoms of disorders were commonly regarded as not capable of complex emotions simply because of their disability to communicate. McNaughton believed in the capacity of children complex emotions, and by teaching the children Blissybolics, the children demonstrated communication of complex emotions, showing their love and affection to their parents.
Blissymbolics greatly exemplifies the modern idea of noble effort to "make better for all". Although it failed in its grand objective of repairing the world by human reason, its success as an example of technological instrument for communication of emotions makes the idea and history of Blissymbolics an ideal emblem to be incorporated for my project of Emotional Communication. On a side note, the name, 'Bliss' symbolics, perfectly resonates with the 'Bliss' Molecule, a name given to type of messenger molecule essential to emotionally healthy relationships.
Color experiments were carried out with children to examine their tendency of attraction to colors. The expectation was that the children will react most with colors that has the highest saturation level, and other factors such as gender and age might play a significant role. Total of 16 Children (aged 5-10, 10 female and 6 male) were provided with colored papers and crayons. They were individually explained of the project, that this is for a mobile app. One example was shown to demonstrate the process in advance, and structure and function of a page was explained to their best understanding. The children were asked to: 1. choose the colors first, 2. divide the box into explained structure of a page, 3. fill in the colors as they see fit. Their choice of colors was limited to 3-4 for each boxes, and they were encouraged to color the two boxes as different as possible to attain a wider sample of color combinations. All children were guided and helped by an adult instructor in each steps. As expected, the bright colors of yellow, green, and blue were most popular. Majority of the children either used bright colors to fill in larger portions at the start or switched to brighter colors on their second box if darker colors were chosen for the first box. The unexpected part was that gender and age difference had no visible effect on the results, rendering the bright yellow, green, and blue to be most popular among all genders and ages within the tested group.
Interactive user experience design workflow is planned for website and app services. Factors such as differences in targeted user demographic, interactive methods, visual signatures, brand image, and use of words in instructions are particularly considered in developing the UX design. For example, Interface for children lacks menu bars, has smaller number of icons, larger buttons, and space intentionally left without buttons to allow better grip of a mobile device.