Designing for Peaceful Protest
Protests are one of today's most complex tasks to organize and participate in. A protest itself can be empowering, invigorating, and lead to social reform and change. However, there is an increasing concern for how organizers can best prepare for protests- as they become ever more popular and large in scale.
My partner and I researched, conceptualized, and proposed a system-based, environmental solution to aid in support of public and peaceful protests.
Safety and protection are a key part of every protest for all groups of people. In the ideal cases, this is done well by local law enforcement, organizations, and individuals, however, things still go awry. This project is meant to look at opportunities to improve how we can protect participants when things go wrong.
Design a representative prototype that engages the use of our proposed safety system for peaceful protest.
Protests are inherently disruptive in nature. In the ideal case, protests allow participants to exercise their freedom of speech, connect with their community, and perhaps achieve some form of reform. In the worst cases, protests lead to violent and unforgiving actions- which can paint a whole event in a far more negative light.
Research was broken into three phases of collective research within the class:
1. History of Protesting
2. Analyzation of Protesting
3. Interviews and Synthesis
History of Protest
Protest is an activity that has evolved over history, in this respect it made sense for our class to not just look at how current protests are held, but how they have changed over time due in behavior and technology.
Analyzation of Protest
Our class also conducted research to break down protesting as an organized event-- materials, common processes, and time were important factors to consider. It's here where we can begin to see the complexities of an event's organization and identify needs more specifically.
Finally, we conducted 9 interviews- 1 involved with University Law Enforcement, 2 with experience as organizers, and 6 student participants at different levels of protest experience.
Over the interviews, we learned a lot in terms of nuances each type of stakeholder cared about. Coming from in-person conversation, we could empathize and learn more about individual experiences.
In regards to our research, Grace and I focused on the protection of participants who are not a recipient to violence. In order to ensure the safety of those involved in a protest gone awry, we centered on how we can best prevent more escalation and decrease someone's risk of safety by communicating the need to leave.
Grace and I proposed a three-part alert system that would be situated within the local environment of a protest. It would be communicating at large and directional scale in the space, be activated by volunteers (empowering those who are trained beforehand) and notify individuals through their phones.
Grace and I moved towards designing a system rather than a singular product in order to bridge the communication gap across multiple scales– we hoped by integrating physical products at environmental and group scales we would communicate at-glance information that could be acted on quickly.
After decided our main products, Grace and I focused on individual parts. Grace worked on the environmental beacon below– more information on its process can be found on her site.
I focused specifically on the design of the Hero Vest, our activation device that's placed directly in the hands of trained volunteers at the event.
The final aspect of our system is the mobile application: safe track. This app would is targeted at specifically communicating alerts and information to individuals in the area- including participants and bystanders (whoever has it registered). This app is engaged to direct participants to safety in explicit danger, and illuminate the locations of volunteers and beacons.
So, why vest? After iterating and careful thought on potential solutions, the vest became the ideal form factor for continued visual empowerment for the volunteer. Compared to a smaller device- like a bracelet or clip, the vest actively communicated who the volunteer was and differentiated them from an otherwise homogenous crowd of people.
At the beginning of iterating prototypes, I first looked at safety vests already available in the market.
After initial sketching, I immediately started to prototype with paper and then fabric. In this case, I was pretty nervous because I had never sewn before. I wanted to get a sense of what it was like before started any high-fidelity modeling.
While prototyping, I was gaining a sense of features and aspects that needed to be incorporated in the design. For example: the need for adjustment in size, and for ventilation in hot weather. Through drawings, I was able to hone out details to incorporate in the final design.
One of those features was ebb fabric, a fabric developed by Google's ATAP team during the development of project Jacquard. I wanted to propose an application of this fabric- where the clothes we wear can be dynamic in their use.
I strongly believe in the potentials of a future where dynamic technology can be integrated seamlessly into the fabric of our physical interactions. This is why I've envisioned the design to use ebb fabric.
Finally, I started the build of the final prototype. The final prototype was made with rip stop nylon and constructed mostly with the Singer model 5528 (a gorgeous machine that's been in our shop last few generations of students).
Throughout this part of the process, I had to practice countless times and make many mistakes- in some cases altering my initial design. One of the greatest lessons to me at this time was to see how the making process changed (using the materials intended) had evolved my design and how I evaluated my design.
* At the very end, I realized I had made the collar far too high- we had a laugh at how much she looked like a cartoon villain.