Encouraging a sense of belonging at Smith is a challenge like no other. How do you even begin to address histories of exclusions that are so central to the core of an elite institution like Smith College? As 11 students with different experiences and understandings of what belonging means, we spent the semester digging deeper into the concepts of belonging. Our various prototypes throughout the semester helped us explore different ways to express how our campus is connected and similar.
It is no secret that 2016 has been a year full of challenges, of circumstances in our country that have made many people feel unsafe, afraid, and angry. Despite the social and political mayhem, or maybe because of it, we knew that inspiring a time and sense of belonging at Smith was critical, now more than ever. Through our Design Thinking course, we decided to take on the challenge of designing an interactive art installation that would inspire a sense of belonging through participation. However, after the 2016 presidential election results, we shifted our focus from belonging to action, specifically reaction. Our project still included much of the things we learned through testing this semester, but grew from creating one single interactive display, to an event. Our event prototype combined new and old ideas and was set up as a way for individuals to choose which projects helped them express their own or just see others’ feelings. We believed our event, Smith ReAct was a good way for individuals to share something, leave something, and feel something.
Below you will find summaries of our experiences with each of the design thinking stages. For more information on our work or a specific prototype, click on the blue text. It will take you to a page with a complete description of that part of the process or that project. Because the design process is one of iterating, it is important to note that many of these stages may have overlaping information and that they may jump around in time a bit.
We began our semester-long design project with a dive into empathizing. We spoke to a variety of students, staff, faculty, and Northampton residents, asking questions about what it feels like to belong in the Smith Community. Interviewing 5-10 people each, we gathered responses, opinions, and drawings about what it looked like to fit in or not fit in at Smith. Our empathy work helped us better develop our concept. While we did a lot of empathizing at the beginning of the semester, we made sure to use the information we gathered as well as incorporate new responses from interviews to inform our decisions in each of our prototypes. Read more about our empathy work here.
Define and Ideate Stage
Our next step was to define our problem. We knew that we wanted to focus on what it meant to belong at Smith and how to make more people belong at Smith, but it took us a while to decide how to frame our problem. After the election results came out, our problem became much clearer. We still wanted to change the narrative of belonging at Smith, but we also wanted our project to focus on unifying the community and giving people a way to express their feelings of frustration, confusion, love, and happiness. While it’s clear to pinpoint when we defined a problem, ideation is a little more unclear. We ideated over the entire semester, but found our ideation was most productive when we broke into smaller groups. Come check out our define and ideating work here.
We spent a large portion of the semester creating prototypes of all sizes and quality. From low-res prototypes to a full scale festival, we made many prototypes as a way to gather user input and to see how effective our prototypes were. What started off as two small prototypes at a booth at Fall Fest blossomed into hosting our own festival called Smith React. Read more about all of our prototypes here.
After finishing Smith ReAct, we took a moment to reflect on the positive aspects of the event as well as what could be improved if we did another iteration. Find out what we would change about the project here.
Smith ReAct gave our group the chance to work both as a team and individually to create art that would bring people together and give the Smith community the chance to express their emotions. While it took us a while to reach our final prototype, our projects along the way gave us greater insight into what it means to belong at Smith. We would like to see Smith ReAct iterated again as it would give Smith students a platform to share their feelings as well as create an expressive, unified community.
Team Member Reflections