Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis: Sprints

MFA Thesis Sprints

What does a rewilded world look like and how do we get there?


SVA MFA Products Of Design

Fall 2016

Design Strategy, Design Research, Workshop Design, UX Design, Product Design, Service Design, Sustainable Design

In the fall semester of my second year of graduate studies, I began work for my thesis through a series of design sprints, ranging from product design to mobile applications to a public workshop. I was exploring the topic of rewilding broadly, including investigations into personal barriers from nature, community culture in a rewilded future, regional landscaping, regional food production, and global overpopulation. For more information on rewilding, as well as the process of completing this work, please visit my thesis blog here.

BARELY: Screen Design Sketch

In interviews with long-term barefooters, Matthew Medina and Stephanie Welch, they discussed the awareness that walking barefoot creates around the amount of litter we put onto the sidewalks and ground surfaces. It generates empathy between humans and the earth in this way. They also discussed the feeling of adventure created by walking across many different types of surfaces throughout their day.

In response, I imagined barely - a digital platform for barefooters. This platform in its larger instantiation would include business and region ratings of barefoot friendliness, texture-based directions, and navigational hazard alerts. For the purpose of this exercise, I explored four modes for how to display route options. The first option includes color-coded breakdown of the different textures to be encountered on the route. The second options gives you an overview of the textures without showing exactly where each texture would be encountered. The third focuses more on the hazard notifications - providing recommendations of where not to walk. And the fourth allows users to select the overall type of their route, i.e. the "smoothest" route, the "most varied" route, and the "most dangerous" route. 

BUD: Service Design Sketch


Bud is a service that works with community members to ideate and implement local food production systems. Interested community member(s) sign up on our website. They are assigned a representative who works with them to create a community workshop event. The representative will help guide the assembled community members through the key considerations of: types of food systems, potential locations, and modes of distribution and sharing. 

It is a non-profit organization and operates on a variety of grants such as the Ford Foundation Sustainable Development Grant. Our vision is to expand to various cities throughout the United States and remain a long term resource for communities who want to continually improve their local food system.

DEPAVE NYC: Speculative Product Sketch


This sidewalk greenhouse is part speculative design, part street art. It takes the stance that we should be fostering the growth of wild plant life, as opposed to trampling it or spraying it with chemicals. While not extraordinarily practical due to safety issues, it questions our current interaction with the wild that is trying to emerge and suggests that maybe we should have to alter our actions and paths in order to allow nature to grow. 

ENVIRONMENTAL STEALTH: Speculative Product Sketch


Human depaving efforts have seen great success, particularly in cities like Portland. However, many of us in cities like NYC lack the capabilities and authority to take action on our own. That’s where Environmental Stealth comes in. This league of robots emerge at night to covertly attack the pavement. Each has a specific function that it performs under the cover of darkness. Pierce drills holes in the ground. Blade spews bits of grass and dirt. And Scion deposits seeds. 

GEMINI: Speculative Product Sketch

Gemini is a dual method medicine system, embodied as a double syringe. Each one comes with a modern pharmaceutical as well as a more traditional or "natural" one. This example contains cayenne pepper rub on one side and acetaminophen on the other side. Both are solutions for muscle pain. 

GOING WILD: Co-creation Workshop Sketch

On Sat. Oct 22 I held my thesis co-creation workshop entitled "Going Wild".

The majority of current literature around rewilding focuses on the environmental and ecological changes that would be part of a rewilded future. But in order to convince a larger majority of humans that a rewilded future is not only necessary but desirable, we need to start imagining the cultural and social elements of this future. This goal formed the basis of my co-creation workshop. I wanted to understand what people would do for entertainment and leisure in a rewilded world.

In order to make this futuring exercise more accessible for my participants, I used the framing and visual language of "birthday planning" - inviting guests of my workshop to plan their birthday party in a wilder future. First they were given a cupcake with two scenarios to provide some context for their rewilded future (i.e. rain water collection is legalized and 60% of NYC is depaved). Then, using these scenarios as guides, they were asked to fill out a birthday invitation card planning out the activity, location, and menu for their future birthday party. Attendees with additional time were asked to sketch out birthday wish lists and create party favors. 

The primary workshop took place in Central Park. However it was a rainy day, and I inadvertently chose a touristic photo spot. The people there just wanted to get in, get their photos, and move on. So I was having difficulty recruiting participants. I shifted and went back indoors, turning my workshop into a mobile interaction and going "door-to-door" within the SVA building. If I were to do this again I would choose a park area with more NYC residents.

The learnings from this workshop were varied. It was interesting to see how few methods of preparation people imagined for green leafy vegetables - everyone just wanted to make salads. Additionally, questions around American food identity started to emerge. What actually is American food? Can we arrive at a more defined and beloved food culture and identity through the restructuring of food production?

GROUNDING: Service Design Sketch


Grounding is a spa experience that provides socially acceptable ways of developing an intimate relationship with soil. The entire spa is outdoors, tucked between two city buildings, with walls and trees for privacy, and a deployable greenhouse cover for winter time.

Patrons purchase services, like a traditional spa, but all services are soil centric.Our spa rituals help to create reciprocal relationships between the patron and soil, fostering the exchange of microbial organisms between the two. Human patrons gain emotional connection and microbial health benefits. The soil is fed with the cells and follicles of humans.


JAY: Sustainable Product Sketch


We are currently facing destruction of habitat for the sake of agricultural expansion, erosion rates at 10-40 times the rate of restoration, 70% of accessible freshwater being consumed for agriculture, and monocultures that lack resistance to pests and disease. I spoke with Dr. Jerry Glover, an agroecologist and soil scientist, about how to take action against these issues. He said that organic farming is not enough. These expansive lands have tremendous potential for rewilding and diversification but our idyllic image of agriculture is standing in the way of impact. Many of my other interviewees spoke about a shift towards permaculture – a method of food production, inspired by forest ecology, that implements perennial biodiverse edibles to maintain soil health and provide yearlong food and habitat. If we’re going to bring about this shift, we need to be working with the farmers and agricultural workers in the middle of this country.

To bridge this gap, I created Jay. Jay is a kit-based product platform for the children of farmers at ages 10 – 13 that leverages the goal of many farmers to pass their land down to younger generations. This time during coming of age is a great opportunity to give the child a small piece of the land to manage on their own. So in the starter kit the child is provided stakes for marking out their plot, soil sampling equipment, and workbooks for mapping out the land, as permaculture starts with observation before anything else.

Additional kits allow the child to experiment with water channeling, multi level planting, and introduction of non-human animals. By the time it’s their turn to lead the farm, these young farmers can witness the maturation and yield of their small experimental plot of permaculture and are thus more likely to expand these systems.

This project involved sustainable design of both form and function, so Jay kits are made with recycled steel and reclaimed wood, and are built to be durable objects that can be passed down to the next generation.

SPRING SHOWERS: Speculative Product Sketch


The overuse of the umbrella is an absurdity in our modern society. Two small droplets fall from the sky, and suddenly everyone is hiding under their pieces of nylon fabric. Instead we should learn to celebrate the element that is central to human life on earth. Spring Showers are pop-up enclosures for showering in the rain. Simply bring it outside during precipitation and expand to establish your privacy and claim your space. These enclosures easily stow away for small urban apartments.

SUSTAIN: Speculative Product Sketch


Sustain is a line of pre-grass stained fashion. Often a barrier, particularly for adults, to intimate interaction with natural environments is the fear of getting dirty. We don’t want to sit on the grass because we don’t want to tarnish our pristine garments. This design aims to question our judgement of grass and dirt stains as “ugly” and prompt for a reconsideration of fashion design to facilitate, not hamper, interaction with environment.

WILD PATCH MOVEMENT: Social Entrepreneurship Sketch

We are legally and socially bound into surrendering to the commodification of nature. The upper echelon has power over the land, over us, and over the relationship we have with the land. This issue encompasses paying for water, food, and energy, while not being legally allowed to harvest rain water, let our lawn become overgrown with natural food, or install off-grid energy systems. One key example of this was Robin Speronis in Florida, one of many people in this country and around the world who have been brought to court over living off grid, planting in their front lawn, etc.

To start to push at the edges of hierarchical control of our relationship with our land, I decided to focus in on suburbanites with manicured lawns. Specifically instigating the #wildpatchmovement - a social media (Instagram/Facebook) campaign to stop mowing a patch of lawn, and share your wild patch with the world. Using the provided adoption barriers analysis (looking at disadvantages, compatibility, trialability, simplicity, and observable results) I discovered that there likely would still be a lot of pressure from the Homeowner's Association to keep the lawns manicured. To mitigate this, I decided to make this campaign for charity. How could Homeowner's Association say no to that? Plus this assimilates my design to the Ice Bucket challenge model - largely popular and well-known in suburban circles. So, the #wildpatchmovement is a partnership with with a joint goal of freeing wild plants and edibles for all. 

The fully developed work of my thesis can be found in my portfolio here.