Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Goals and Objectives

This week in Thesis II we covered setting intention and performance continuum. My first draft contained four continuum.

My first continuum is between encouraging analytical thinking and encouraging visceral experience. This came up in part of the critique at the midterm thesis defense. The subtitle of my thesis is currently "A Visceral Approach to Sustainability" yet my work from last semester (or at least the projects I focused on in the defense presentation) weren't extremely visceral or corporeal. I am still trying to sort out what the magic ingredient is to achieve viscerality in an experience, product, or service, but I think it will be a good start to use this continuum as a reminder to constantly push this element in my work. This is opposed to analytical thinking as my thesis is not about intellectual analysis and optimization of sustainability initiatives. It is about deeply caring for the place we live and desiring a life that brings us closer to the wild living planet. I want people to feel the pull and magnetism towards plants and dirt and being outside. So far the work that I think most closely aligns with this are the soil spa, the rain shower, and the barefooting app (though the graphic design of the app is a bit removed). The most difficult part will be balancing between this continuum and the next one, as in some of my previous projects (like Jay) it seemed like there was a tradeoff between viscerality and glossy corporate aesthetic.

This second continuum ranges from glossy corporate to small scale minimalist. This consideration of form and aesthetic may seem antithetical to my topic of focus. Isn't it obviously going to be that earthy-crunchy sustainable looking design? I'm not so sure. Being somewhat near the glossy corporate end is important for my future career development, and, as I'll discuss in the next continuum, I came to this program for a career shift. While, given my sustainability priorities, I prefer working in the aesthetic and materiality of smaller scale production and minimal design, and this aesthetic may be more consistent with my thesis, in order to develop my skills I am leaning a bit closer to "glossy corporate" than expected. Part of what minimizes any concern I might have about this is that my career goals involve being somewhat subversive in larger companies. This is basically practice for that future in which I can leverage current mass market trends and aesthetics  to shift behavior in the way I want it to go. This is somewhat Machiavellian - ends justifying the means - and so I certainly want to give this continuum more thought over the next couple weeks, but initially I find myself aiming somewhere in the middle.

As previously mentioned, the third continuum includes development of marketable skills versus academic study. I came to SVA to shift from my engineering discipline to design and design strategy. While I've thoroughly enjoyed the academic aspect of this thesis, as I am a person that loves to read and learn new things, now that it's coming time to create the final pieces of work I am reminded of my initial purpose. I want to leave this program feeling confident that I can create beautifully industrial designed products and graphical designed collateral, engaging and delightful experiences, and impactful services. The fidelity and craft of the projects is very important to me. I do want the concepts to be well-thought out and grounded in literature, and so that's why I've been closer to academic study, even now. But there needs to be a shift soon where my focus goes towards fidelity of output.

The fourth continuum spans from pulling people out of comfort zones to being relatable and approachable.  Here I want to be smack dab in the middle. I don't want to jolt people and scare them away because of how dire the circumstances are right now. However I need to push them enough to create the change in behavior that I'm looking for. Further, rewilding itself involves stepping out of one's own comfort zone, at least for many people. So the work I hope can strike a clean balance between the two - enough comfort to draw people in, enough push to encourage them to change.

After receiving feedback on this draft, I created a second version. In this version I also incorporated the continuum of behavior change and perspective change. This distinction was intrinsic in some of the other continuum, so it's helpful to surface it for clarity. I'd like to position my thesis more towards the behavior shift, as in the end rewilding will take very significant behavior shifts. However, before people can get there, many need the perspective shift that this is worthwhile, and that current methods of "being sustainable" are simply a band-aid for a larger problem. 


Jenna Witzleben