At this weekend’s Wanted Design show in New York City, a team of students from the School of Visual Arts created a series of interventions that encourage guests to interact with one another. This analogue social media involved a series of communication platforms that the students carried around the show. Dubbed “MissionCtrl,” the students can be spotted in white shirts and blue ties, with wooden objects in tow.
The project was created as part of an intensive studio course called Design Performance, for students earning their MFA in Products of Design. Last year's class created new ways of seeing or experiencing the objects on exhibit at Wanted Design. This year, the students aim to get people off their phones.
First, there’s the “portal,” a kind of introductory entryway to the project. Guests walk through this gateway as a kind of symbolic login—and will hopefully engage with students and other guests who share the experience.
Then, there’s “press,” a rolling stamp station where visitors can create messages with large letter stamps, a smiley face or a thumbs-up. The process of stamping slows down your speed of communication, student Julia Plevin told me on Friday, and requires the user to work “with the whole body”—the stamps take a little muscle.
Using magnetic message boards, white boards and the stamped signs, guests can “post.” Their messages are then carried through the show’s space on tall wooden signs, disseminating a message until a different guest decides to post.
Then, there’s "decisionctrl", a “binary” decision board that can help you determine if a message is worth posting. A series of questions, like “Does mom think it’s cool?” will lead to conclude if a bulletin should be posted or shredded. There's a physical bin for colorful shredded messages. Guests are encouraged to make their own modifications to the mission control board by swapping out questions.
Finally, there are the fans. The students distributed neon plastic fans to each exhibiting vendor, while guests received cardboard fans which were screen printed by the hands of student Elisa Werbler. The fans can be used to signal a vendor; a friendly wave that shows you like their work or are enjoying their booth. The gesture is at once a nod to art auction paddles and the Facebook "like," the Twitter "favorite," or any other social media "heart."
“The challenge with any group project is managing the individuals to tell the same story,” said Sinclair Smith, who taught the Design Performance course. For MissionCtrl, that meant weaving together many different ideas.
As I wandered through the show, it was clear that the project succeeded in starting a lot of conversations. Yes, many visitors were also taking cell phone pictures of the interventions, and certainly sharing them online, but not before having a face to face conversation.
You can learn more about the project by visiting the MissionCtrl tumblr.