SDW Highlights Part III : "Landscape of Loneliness"

We are lucky to be living and working in a vibrant environment like Singapore, where the design scene is booming rapidly. Although part of Heist is busy doing fieldwork in the Middle East, the rest of the team remaining at home base took advantage of the events and workshops happening during Singapore Design Week - this is Part III and the last of the mini-series (Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here).

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On a bright Sunday morning, Heist attended a workshop co-created by Quantum and Analogy that honed in on the topic of loneliness in the urban environment. This topic, though complex and extensive, is not often discussed and even dismissed as taboo. Although none of us are experts in this subject, and a few hours does not even begin to scratch the surface of this multifaceted phenomenon, we were all curious to learn a little bit more about it. The workshop started off on a casual tone, everyone introduced themselves and we had an ice-breaker to get to know each other better (see image below). Then, we proceeded to take a look at a handful of facts on loneliness. Some were surprising — for example, one may assume that loneliness comes with old age, however as it turns out that is not necessarily the case, several younger people are also severely affected by this phenomenon.

Snippet of the gamified icebreaker.

Snippet of the gamified icebreaker.

What is the opposite of loneliness? Together, we had a conversation about what that may be. Is it connection? Companionship? Could the opposite of loneliness actually be health? Indeed, loneliness is now being spoken about in the context of a public health problem. Social media and technology — having taken over so much of our lives — poses an unprecedented threat, so as a society how do we respond to that? Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, but loneliness has existed historically since the beginning of humankind. If it is true that we have never been as connected as we are today, why does the issue of loneliness seem to be amplified? These were just a handful of “food for thought” questions that arose during our group discussion before moving to an exercise where we were introduced to a fictional persona from a booklet provided.

Enter Tina, a 24 year old girl living in Shanghai, who holds a bachelor’s degree and works for a Fintech startup. She lives a relatively comfortable lifestyle —travels overseas 1-2 times a year and has recently purchased a luxury handbag. Her values and priorities are linked: she wants growth, progress, and demands uniqueness — always needing more “success”. At first glance, Tina seems like a well-rounded individual: she enrols in guitar classes and exercises at the gym regularly. However, she experiences anxiety and cites one of her feelings as “being nameless and faceless in a big city”. Do you know a Tina? Perhaps, like me, you relate to some aspects of her personality? How might we design for Tina without “othering” her?

The next portion of the workshop focused on looking at Tina’s environment in three different contexts: her bedroom, her workspace, and her transit. We were split into three teams - one per context. My team had Tina’s bedroom, and we started off by looking at the visuals provided for her bedroom. One of the things we noticed was that the windows were small and the bedroom was dimly lit. In every frame, her head was down in a book, on a computer or her phone screen. Her posture seemed relaxed, which made us think about her social face versus her personal face — especially when compared to her posture at the work and transit context where she is sitting or standing upright. This made us think — does Tina actually need a design intervention in her bedroom? That is the space where she can come back to, and shut out the outdoor noise. What is the difference between being lonely and being alone? There was so much to unpack, and my group started to come up with ideas on how to improve Tina’s neighbourhood rather than her bedroom. Some ideas that came up: a community garden and monthly BBQ’s, a building lounge area with pool table and similar games, a mural to be painted by residents… all impactful ways that can bring people together in order to alleviate loneliness.

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