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Design for Fostering Action-Oriented Awareness Towards Sustainable Transition

INTER- is a design research aiming at fostering action-oriented awareness towards sustainable transition. It is a graduate thesis research and practice by Elena Danlei Huang, a recent MID graduate student from the industrial design department, Rhode Island School of Design.


In order to meet the need for sustainable transition, it is vital for the general public to be aware of the social and ecological interconnectedness within existential climate crisis, local sustainable development, and urban individual’s behavioral patterns. As a method to rebuild interconnectedness, this thesis explores design interventions for fostering action-oriented awareness towards sustainable transition. An integrated theoretical model built around a local contextualized issue is proposed in the thesis, followed by a practice-based case study focusing on Rhode Island Squid Fishery as a proof-of-concept. The model consists of three layers of design interventions: Design as Narrative, Catalyst and Engagement. As the designer and first case practitioner, I have been creating: The visual mapping of the RI squid network; Invisible Skin, the garment made from squid fish waste; and Gladius, the kitchen utensil for at-home squid processing. Through this holistic approach, I want to provide an alternative perspective from the field of art and design, reversing negative, disempowered public impression on environmental crisis, and further generating a readiness towards sustainability.


A well-designed overpass bridge can be helpful, in the present moment of transition, facing the challenges from climate change, towards a better, sustainable future. Based on Self-Determination Theory, which provides a mature and empirically validated approach to examining factors that promote sustained motivation and wellbeing, I propose three perspectives of the design strategy: triggering, communicating and embodied practicing. Through my master thesis, I have been developing an integrated model built around a contextualized regional ecological issue, which has considerable potential to reverse negative, disempowered public impression on the environmental crisis, thus generating a sustained, action-oriented readiness towards mindful sustainability. This model consists of three layers of design intervention: 1). Design as a narrative that rationally records and communicates the contextualized issue; 2). Design as a catalyst that emotionally provokes a dialogue around the local context; 3). Design as engagement, that plays as a follow-up tool-aided actionable activity, enabling the audience to deepen the awareness establishment.


My following practice-based thesis project acts as a first case study to demonstrate art and design intervention for fostering sustained and action-oriented awareness towards sustainable transition. I chose a Rhode Island squid fishery focal context, considering geographical accessibility.
The multi-perspective approach, in this project, is presented by:
Communicating a situation of the local squid network through visual mapping;
Crafting a garment using ‘invisible’ fish waste from squid - skin, ink and quill;
Designing a kitchen utensil along with a creative cookbook for the audience to engage in at-home cooking and dining experience with squid.
By promoting a new consumption behavior this case project aims at: Reshaping the conceptual metaphor of climate change and sustainability from the existing visual representation stereotype to a new tangible, up close alternative; Connecting local stakeholders: scientific research institutes, non-profit organizations, fishery communities, processing businesses, chefs, retailers and customers.

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About Individual Designer

Elena Danlei Huang is a multidisciplinary designer and researcher. In her research-based practice, with a focus on nature & human relationships, transition design towards sustainability, and embodied social innovation, Huang draws upon both artistic and scientific inquiry and generates methodologies for design-driven interdisciplinary collaboration. It is her goal to build a bridge that connects art, science, engineering and the general public.

model: Edith Morgan Law

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