2023 Design Week: Future of Connections Recap

This year’s Design Week was held recently by the NYU MakerSpace Design Lab. Design Week 2023: Future of Connections, focused on how we can work to create connections using the world’s constantly improving and advancing presence of digital interactions. It was all about answering the following question: how can we leverage emerging technologies to help us build and strengthen human connections? Engineers, artists, urban planners, social workers, and designers mustt all work to use technology to create these connections and create holistic, real-life solutions across all scales and design with the future in mind. These questions were explored during Design Week through different workshops, an interactive installation, a panel, as well as a DesignJam.

View the Design Week 2023 page here.

The Third Place: A Multi-Disciplinary Workshop

Our first event of the week was The Third Place: A Multi-Disciplinary Workshop, with our guest host Samara Younes, Founder and CCO of Samaritual. As a visionary artist, Samar seamlessly blends art, culture, innovation, and wellbeing through her multidisciplinary approach to design and storytelling. With over two decades of experience at the forefront of her field, she has established herself as a leader in the realm of creativity and innovation. As the founder of Samaritual, a research and design consultancy that seamlessly integrates art, culture, and wellbeing, she is dedicated to fostering a more interconnected future through the celebration of diversity and inclusivity.

With a diverse array of clients and collaborators, including Coach, Loro Piano, Anthropologie, Colette, Reed Krakoff, Barneys, Disney, American Express, Samsung, and Mastercard, Samar advises and guides luxury and start-up brands in defining their identity and building social and cultural campaigns and environments. A graduate of Central Saint Martins with a background in architecture, visual communication, and scenography, Samar has received numerous design awards and serves on the editorial advisory board of VMSD. She is a frequent speaker, educator, and juror in the design, innovation, and creative circles, recently serving as a juror for the Frame Awards 2023 and a speaker at NYU’s Technology, Culture and Society department and Future Forward Chicago.

During this workshop, participants learned about third places as a a way to build communities, and how their design is crucial for this. Using a combination of physical prototyping materials like paper and clay, as well as new AI technology using a program called Midjourney that creates images from text prompts, participants were able to use their imagination and creativity to collaborate with each other and come up with ideas for third places that would foster human connection and community, as well as wellbeing and neuroaesthetics.

The Connections Capsule: Interactive Installation

For our interactive installation, participants were able to put together their very own laser cut Connection Capsules! They were able to write down motivational quotes and doodles on different laser cut pieces, and put together a box using their own and other participants pieces to hold meaningful mementos. They took these boxes home and were able to form connections with other participants!

They also got to contribute to the Connection Constellation by placing stars on a board with their ideas and thoughts, and connecting with other participant’s thoughts by attaching strings to other stars. Through this, participants were able to think about new ideas that aligned with the theme of building connections through technology, and connect with others who share similar thoughts, creating a foundation for collaboration!

The Future: Problems and Possibilities Panel

During the Problems and Possibilities Panel, several industry guests came to talk to attendees about different approaches to connection-building from a variety of lenses, including digital spaces, emerging media, human-computer interaction, and human-human interaction. Our panelists included:

Lauren Race, Former Staff Accesibility Designer at Twitter, who has a mission for innovation, removing access barriers through her love of design, research, and teaching. Her process combines human-centered, multisensory, and co-design methods to craft and evaluate accessible experiences.

Ben Swire, Senior Design Lead at IDEO & Co-Founder of Make Believe Works, an award-winning designer and writer, and former Design Lead at the legendary innovation firm, IDEO. The thread that runs through his varied background in design thinking, philosophy, quantum theory, cinema, psychoanalytic theory, and literature is an exceptional curiosity about the hidden factors that influence our lives when we’re not looking.

Deana Yu, Design Lead at the NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, half graphic designer and half policy analyst, who works artistically and analytically to bridge the information gap in public service. It is her mission to increase the equity and accessibility of government systems through intuitive graphic design. She believes that design is a catalyst for communication, education, & social change.

Angela Hawken, Ph.D., Director of the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management, the founding director of NYU’s BetaGov, which supports innovation-and-testing for social good. Her team of research and practice scholars, along with a growing cadre of NYU graduate students, works closely with state and local agencies, schools, and nonprofits across 32 states and six countries in developing and testing practices, policies, and new technologies.

Amy Hurst, Director of the NYU Ability Project, who is an Associate Professor at New York University with a joint appointment in the Occupational Therapy Department in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the Technology, Culture and Society Department in the Tandon School of Engineering. Her work primarily focuses on working closely with end users to understand accessibility challenges and the potential for novel assistive technologies to address them.

Together, our panelists were able to discuss the different ways they have been able to build connectioons through technology, bringing in examples from each of their own lines of work. They talked about the different methods of community building through the advent of new technologies, as well as how new technologies are also becoming an obastacle to community building. They also discussed their thoughts about the future when it comes to tech and connections.

During this year’s Design Jam, participants collaborated in interdisciplinary groups to research, ideate, and create working prototypes, both physical and digital. They were challenged to strengthen communities in public spaces using wearable technology, and were asked to consider factors such as environmental context, remote technology, and face-to-face interactions while ideating their designs This year, the first year prize went to Theresa Merchant, Fatou Diouf, Nina Singh, and Shruti Garg who created the Be My Friend! wearable bracelet. This prototype was powered by Arduino and designed to assist in making friends in public spaces based on shared interests. Users wearing the bracelet are able to find other users open to companionship through the use of proximity sensors and light indicators based on potential commonalities. Their creative use of physical space and sensor data resulted in a fun, unique way of socially interacting with others through the use of technology.

For our last event of the week, guest Kari Love joined us and led a hands-on workshop on making kinetic balloons out of heat-sealed mylar, while learning how materiality, motion, and play, centered a journey across many fields, artistic and technical. Participants joined us in the EventSpace to explore not only the technical side of soft robotics, but also ways to approach it through human-centered design methods and accessibility standpoint.

Kari Love is a Soft Roboticist, Space Suit Designer, Costumer, & Puppet Builder. She co-wrote the book “Soft Robotics: A DIY Introduction to Squishy, Stretchy, and Flexible Robots” for Make Media/O’Reilly. Ms. Love teaches “Exploring Concepts From Soft Robotics” and “Considering Religious Robots” at NYU ITP. She worked at a commercial space suit company as a technical expert on 3 NASA SBIR contracts, a Space Act Agreement, and a contract on Mechanical Counter-Pressure gloves. She is perhaps most known around NYC for costuming humans, puppets, and robots. Her Spider-man costume for the Broadway production of “Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark” was inducted into the Smithsonian collection. As a puppet costumer she has worked on productions such as Sesame Street and Helpsters. Her personal work dances around “women’s work,” play, and the unexpected, including building robots out of candy.