Midterm: Pollution Inequality Factory

For the midterm assignment I worked with Stefan A Skripak, the first stage of our procvess was to sit together and discuss about a subject that was important for both of us, he have worked together in the past and we already knew that we care about some common issues therefore we started by discussing them. He both care about environmental and also racial problems and Stefan found a Scientific Paper that talks about the inequality of the pollution created vs the pollution received by different racial groups.

In summary the paper indicates that in the US, the white population creates more pollution (by consuming more products and services) than the Black and Latino population, however they receive less pollution (
based on the places where they normally live). At the same time the relationship is in-equal because the Black and Latino population create less population but they receive more.

For the assignment we decided to work with the following constrains:

Device: Incongruity

Attribute: Interactive

Mood: Frustration

We focus specially in the mood frustration because we wanted to be able to display the data by creating an interactive physical data visualization of the percentages extracted from the scientific paper and the frustration we wanted to be able to communicate by creating an unfair or inverse relationship between the action (consumption/creation of pollution) and the result (being affected by the pollution). In essence we knew we wanted to be able to communicate that even though the white population created more, they received less pollution, and make the users feel frustration by this in-equal distribution.

We considered gamification for being able to communicate the frustration in an easier way however we decided not to go for this approach because the intention will never be to encourage the users to create pollution, even if it is in a metaphoric way. We tried different ideas on how to be able to visually represent this unfairness, one of them was to play with gravity and visual illusions but the problem with this approach was the design component of it and how to be able to use metaphors for the consumption and the pollution.

We decided to work with the component of “Air Pollution” and “Plastic consumption” by using inflatable plastic bags based on the fact that we see a lot of plastic bags hanging from trees in NYC and this is something that frustrates us, therefore we wanted to use it in our favor.

Plastic bags on trees

The next phase of the project was to prepare a quick prototype and materials for the feedback session that we had in the last class, the main goal for us was to test if we were being able to communicate the message correctly and we also wanted to receive feedback on what was the best was to inflate the plastics bags by using the user interaction with the piece and at the same time how to be able to use that interaction in order to imitate the human consumption.

Feedback Session subject and inspiration

Feedback Session subject and inspiration

The first proposal that we took to the class was to activate the fans by pushing buttons with three different timers, we envisioned this being used by 3 users at a time however we didn’t want to gamify the experience, therefore we also sketched some silicone pumps (one bigger than the others to communicate the fact that the white population consume more).

Sketches first proposal

Sketches first proposal

By sharing our Device, Attribute and Mood with the class and explaining our research and our ideas we were able to gather really good feedback and at the same time the location of the dots among the triangle gave us an idea that we were heading in the right direction because most of them were located to the center. We also figured out that the interaction with either the buttons or the silicone pumps was not intuitive and clear enough so we went ahead and continued the brainstorming. Another element that was still not solved was the form factor so we did some more research and sketches to define how we wanted the box and the containers to took like.

Parameters and triangle voting activity

Parameters and triangle voting activity

For the feedback session we also created a “works like” prototype to be able to test if the idea of inflating plastic bags with computer fans was going to work. We decided that this was a viable solution for our plan therefore we continued working with this functionality in mind.

works like prototype
works like prototype

For the second round of sketches we decided to work with a “factory” look and feel, in order to generate a shape that will use a metaphor as part of our communication system. We also reimagined the user interaction by creating 3 “trash cans” that each of them would have the size of the hole different according to the data extracted from the scientific paper. We also thought about limiting the amount of trash that each container could receive in order to be able to display the data in a more interactive way.

The way that we envisioned this working is by using IR sensors in order to detect when the user throws trash in a specific container, and sending that signal to be able to activate the computer fans in the bottom of the pipes.

sketch round 2
sketch round 2

For the fabrication we used mezonite for various reasons, the material cuts very good in the laser cutter, technology that we wanted to use in order to be able to fabricate the shapes in a more precise way, we also wanted top work with materials that are not (as) bad for the environment therefore we knew we wanted to avoid acrylic. The design process of the pieces for the containers took a lot of trial and error as well as tolerance considerations in order to be able to fit all the pieces together.

We used PVC pipes and painted them with two layers of black spray and after that we applied a metallic spray in order to imitate some factory pipes. The plastic bags process was long and it also took a lot of testing, we tried at least 5 different kind of plastic bags and decided to use compostable bags, we needed something thin that would allow us to inflate the bags quickly but at the same time to make it obvious when the bag was not inflation (when the fan is off).

It was necessary to cut and re-seal the bags in order to remove the logotypes in them and also to make them look like clouds or flumes. I used the heat gun in order to reseal them and also change the shape a little bit and make them less uniform.

Fabrication process

The final result is a structure constituted by three containers, each of which has a hole for the user to put trash on it, the three holes have different sizes, according to the amount of pollution produced due to consumption of products and services (numbers extracted from the scientific paper). The first container to the left represent the white population, therefore the hole is bibber, the bottom if the container is the floor (therefore there is more room to put trash, and the size of the bag that inflates is smaller, representing the fact that they produce more but receive less pollution. The other two containers to the right are the hispanic and Black population, which holes are smaller and also the containers have a limited amount of trash that can be put in, and also their plastic bags are bigger, representing the fact that those populations produce less but receive more pollution.

Final Result