Jenna Witzleben

Design and Politics

Design and politics

How can we foster political conversation at the Thanksgiving table?


SVA MFA Products of Design

Fall 2016

Experience Design, Interaction Design, Fabrication

The task was to design a public interaction around the topic of politics, and to implement this interaction on Election Day 2016. My team, Julia Lindpaintner, Jiani Lin, Sowmya Iyer, and Teng Yu, and I chose to highlight the importance of political conversations and design to enable these conversations between family members. With it not only being Election Day, but also with Thanksgiving approaching, we wanted to help people more easily start political dialogue at the dinner table.


Drinking Age and Cranberry

If we lowered the drinking age, everyone could have vodka cranberry.
— Re-Union Participant

Minimum Wage and Pie

If we raise the minimum wage, everyone can have a piece of the pie.
— Re-Union Participant

With these goals, we created RE-UNION, a matching game for talking about politics through Thanksgiving vocabulary. Players spin two wheels: one with political topics, and another with Thanksgiving words (i.e. Turkey, Fork, Cranberry, etc.). The player then creates a phrase that links these two, transitioning from the Thanksgiving word to the political topic. Responses ranged from the literal to the metaphorical.


Gun Control and cornucopia

If we don’t have gun control, it will be like the cornucopia scene in the Hunger Games.
— Re-Union Participant

After two hours of being stationed at Union Square Park in Manhattan, we had collected over 120 responses from participants. We heard from our participants that they were expressing opinions they'd never voiced before and seeing these political topics in new light.


Marriage Equality and Cranberry

Some people think turkeys just don’t taste as good without the cranberry sauce. But not everyone likes cranberries. You should let the people who want cranberry have cranberry. And just because someone else is having cranberries doesn’t mean you have to as well.
— - Re-Union Participant

The next day, the world changed. Viewing this design prompt from a new perspective, I questioned whether our interaction should have or could have been more critical or urgent. But I do believe the importance of our message reigns true. If we cannot start these conversations with our own family members in a way that is open and productive, how can even hope to converse with strangers who hold contrasting viewpoints? How can we spread our messages of social and environmental justice if we only remain inside a bubble with those we know share our viewpoints?