DESIGN FROM ABUNDANCE
The weDub Project is designed from a position of abundance— investing in local talent, electronic materials, and media culture.
It also takes the position that technology is merely a conduit for community engagement; while the technology is groundbreaking in Kampala (first of its kind), it is ultimately the group of teens that brought this experience to life.
Research process in a nutshell: months of on the ground field research with partnerships made based on developing relationships on my own. I came to Uganda without a design brief or predefined collaborators.
"It's the only research method [ethnography] where your goal is to find the unknown." Tricia Wang
Research and design on the ground can find the unknown— it can help us problem-find and design can help us keep asking the right questions.
Not having a design brief was a major challenge on the onset, especially when in an entirely new cultural context. I quickly turned it into an advantage. Instead of asking the question, how can I help, I asked, what can I learn from people in a culturally different context?
Instead of focusing on problems sprouting from negativity, what is a delightful human experience for Kampalans?
Design from abundance, not from lack.
James Ferguson's work, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order had a huge influence on my design principles for this project. And thus, shaped Design from abundance because the stereotypes of Africa, African youths, Africa as a "country" were mostly negative. The narrative of Africa is that it is a place of lack, absent of opportunity. I was determine to debunk this.
Just like the collaborative and improvisational flow of VJing, I tailored my design investigations and process in the same way. Through infusing attitudes of improvisation and mischief, I was able to discover vernacular, local design languages and principles. This grounded the project and rendered its design language more approachable and accessible to the audience it intended to connect to.
From on the ground research, I came into contact of the media and cultural phenomenon of VJing.
I learned that the phenomenon had widespread social impact, in that it is an art form developed out of the slums of Kampala and is a source of national pride.
The weDub Project places the act of VJing and the making of its technology into the hands of Ugandan slum youth. This has never been done before.
An example of this is how weDub is encased; during one performance, I noticed a toy car built from empty juice boxes by a boy around age 6. When I encased the circuit in the iconic mango juice box, the youths laughed and told me how funny it was in comparison to the militaristic and metal encased technology given to them by non-profits. The youths upcycled other local materials such as straws or banana leaves to encase theirs.
My hope is that this project affirms the view that designers can spearhead a process that starts with designing from a place of local cultural abundance instead of absence. This is a paradigm shift for designers that are trained and work in Global North contexts. Put into practice, this effectively combats unintended neoliberalistic consequences in a postcolonial context.
The value of The weDub Project is that while there are precise learning outcomes for the youths in Kampala, it also invites for introspection on the home front as to how designing projects that utilize technology can be positioned and employed effectively and consciously in a postcolonial context. My hope is that the social impact of the project resonates both in Uganda and the States.
I balanced needs from multiple stakeholders: the youths at TLC Youth Center, UNICEF Innovation Unit in NYHQ, UNICEF Tec4Dev Innovation Team in Kampala, Art Center College of Design MDP/Field, and even my own graduate student goals. This was one of the best challenges of the project, because it ensured the project's academic, social, and design rigor. weDub had to be successful in a multitude of lenses to demonstrate impact: academic, community, design, and professional to name a few.
In the middle of weDub's development, I had the opportunity to work with UNICEF as a consultant for two weeks. I was financially funded for my thesis and I continued to develop weDub on the ground in Kampala for another two weeks. Another iteration of the circuit was made and sustainability measures were taken, all the while consulting for the Tech4Dev team in Kampala on a project I paralleled my design with, The MobiStation.