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Design Provocations

For Identity and Shame

By Manako Tamura

Hacking the Racial Binary Design Provocations for Identity and Shame

Manako Tamura MFA Products of Design School of Visual Arts

Hacking the Racial Binary Design Provocations for Identity and Shame a thesis book presented by

Manako Tamura in partial fulillment for the degree of Master of Fine Arts Š 2018 Manako Tamura All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. School of Visual Arts MFA Products of Design 136 West 21st Street New York, NY 10011-3213 To see more, visit For inquiries, contact:

Manako Tamura Author and Designer

Allan Chochinov Chair, MFA Products of Design Thesis Advisor

Andrew Schloss Thesis I Advisor

Leigh Gallagher Editor

CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1. My Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Goals & Objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3 7

RESEARCH 3. Context: Assimilation and Black/White Racial Binary in America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Audience: The Model Minority & Design Personas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Lexicon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

15 19 27 41 60

DESIGN LENSES 8. Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 9. Service Design: Dress Code . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 10. Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 11. Business Modeling: Prisma Stock Photos. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109 12. Speculative Design: Xenophone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117 13. Experience Design: Hyphen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139 CONCLUSION 14. Looking Forward . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 15. Gratitude . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179 REFERENCES 16. Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182 17. Image Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184






A week before I turned 13, I moved with my family from Tokyo to the suburbs of Boston. I did not speak a word of English, yet I did not need to know the language to understand how alien I was at my new, predominantly white, uppermiddleclass junior high. Everything about me, from the way I dressed to the way I smelled, signaled to my peers that I was not one of them. The pickled daikon radishes, staples in the wooden bento box my mother packed for me for lunch, marked my locker with a pungent smell. My

fuchsia and purple hiking bag, which used to be my favorite, suddenly felt like a target on my back in the sea of L.L.Bean backpacks, and I begged my parents to buy me one like everyone else’s. Even though I was full of questions about all of the newness around me, after overhearing some kids imitate the way I spoke, ridiculing my accent, my fear of encountering contemptuous looks kept me quiet. Like many 1.5 generation immigrants, however, within a matter of few years I fully assimilated to New England culture. I eliminated

My Story


“Being Asian did not make me less American… Though I had spent my life distancing myself from Asia.”

Stephanie Siu The New York Times January 2017


ig. 1. New York Chinatown

my Japanese accent, wore Gap and L.L.Bean like my classmates, and pretended that my family ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes every night for dinner, too. I ditched my favorite graphic novels, One Piece, for Harry Potter, so I could join in the conversations my friends were having on the bus. I wanted to be accepted, acceptance meant being ‘normal,’ and ‘normal’ meant becoming fully American, instead of Japanese. Until now, I have neglected a real investigation into my experience of assimilation, and its diicult, sometimes painful, efects. My thesis, “Hacking the Racial Binary: Design Provocations for Identity and Shame,” takes my own personal experiences as a jumping-of point for a deeper exploration of identity as a 1.5 generation Asian immigrant. Through research, interviews, and design proposals, the following chapters address foundational problems and potential tools for articulating and resolving questions of race for immigrants of color. It is this group that is the primary audience for this thesis; those who migrated to the US during the formative years of their identities, and who make up what is sometimes referred to (though unjustly) as a ‘model minority’ group. This group faces the primary

problem of ‘itting in’ to the American racial binary, which maps either black or white race onto immigrants, thereby mutilating their multidimensional identities. These conclusions are supported by the interviews I conducted, which reveal that many immigrants and children of immigrants felt whitewashed as they worked to assimilate in the United States, just as I did. Their stories take diferent forms, but share two main commonalities: the challenges immigrants face in understanding their race according to America’s black/white binary, and the sacriices inherent in making choices that require them to value either the cultures of their heritage, or those of their adopted country, but rarely allow for both to take priority at the same time. While my journey into this topic began with an exploration of identity and immigration more broadly, two key insights from user interviews inspired a change in focus. As I spoke with more than twenty immigrants and children of immigrants, it became clear that, irst, the central tension in their identities was between the community they assimilated to and the community they came from. Many described their double-sided shame in both not being American

enough, and in losing touch with their cultural heritage. Second, to further complicate matters, because the dominant culture in America is white, Asian Americans aspire to assimilate to white culture—a culture guilty of both institutional and everyday racism, in which immigrants are often met with stereotyping and discrimination. Multiple interviewees cited times when they were considered exotic, primitive, or childlike because of the way they look and their countries of origin. Furthermore, many relected on being designated ‘model minorities,’ a kind of veiled racism that this thesis will explore in the next section. I have designed a suite of products, including a physical object, a mobile application, and an experienceevent, that explores what it means to be Asian in America today by broadening the black/white binary into a racial spectrum, and freeing Asian Americans from the oppressive efects of assimilation. I hope that readers of this book will ind the proposed design initiatives to be as empowering as I found their creation.

My Story


ig. 2. San Francisco, CA 1942 Library of Congress




Many non-white and non-black immigrants of color are pained by the familiar, diicult experience of authentic self-presentation in their adopted country. Caught between families and communities that share their cultural heritages, and their dominantly white workplaces, schools, and social venues, this group is consistently subject to the stereotyping and unfair expectations of others on both sides. It is a daily challenge for immigrants of color to both retain their cultural backgrounds and assimilate into white

America. As a result, many Asian Americans feel a deicient, false, or threatened sense of identity that inds few spaces for articulation. Currently, integration into American society is synonymous with exchange of one’s cultural background. Immigrants are granted the symbolic capital of higher social class—an American accent, brand-name clothes, and certain table manners— at the cost of having been stripped of what marks them as ‘other.’ But how might immigrants both assimilate

Goals & Objectives


Integration into American society is synonymous with the exchange of one’s cultural background.


and safely maintain their otherness? How might “model minority” immigrants comfortably present a complex of identities, and how might the dominant culture rethink its tendency toward whitewashing as the primary means of inclusivity? While I want my users to embrace their cultural heritage and dare to be diferent, I am also mindful of their other objectives: to be accepted in their environments and successful in this country. These two opposing objectives, i.e. to be diferent and to it in, are part of the everyday experi-

ence for the model minority as they navigate through prejudices, misperceptions, stereotypes, and biases.

Two opposing objectives, i.e. to be different or to fit in, are part of the everyday experience for the model minority

continuum, a scale that helps measure the efectiveness of my projects with my intentions. Each of the three continuums is comprised of two ideas related to my design projects. The circles indicate where my work fell on the continuums during the midterm thesis defense in December of 2017, where it existed in March of 2018, and where I intend to eventually take it.

In eforts to clarify the objectives for this thesis, I used a performance

The irst continuum, Safe Space vs. Tools, distinguishes between types of products. ‘Safe Space’ refers to

Goals & Objectives


ing their cultures outwardly. While I want my users to embrace their cultural heritage, I respect their desires to be successful in America, and their eforts in learning to adapt to their new country. The key is to give immigrants more agency in making these decisions for themselves. Currently, normative inluences like peer pressure and beauty standards force

both physical and igurative spaces in which users feel comfortable displaying aspects of their cultural heritage. ‘Safe Space’ also suggests locations for identity exploration and experimentation, and venues in which users might confront and relect upon the oft-ignored wounds caused by assimilation. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Tools’ refers to products that might help users display their cultural heritages outwardly, or facilitate in challenging social norms. The second continuum, Exploration and Empowerment, ofers a spectrum for gauging user intent. ‘Exploration’ implies the range of options available to users when choosing and imagining how else they might


most honestly present themselves, while ‘Empowerment’ suggests the enhanced sense of comfort and selfconidence a given tool might ofer users. The third continuum, Awareness and Healing, refers to the types of audience. I may target the public at large to raise awareness about my topic, or design speciically for Asian immigrants. As the red circles show, the eventual goal of this thesis is to create a set of tools that empower my users to challenge socio-racial norms through visualizing the plurality of their cultural identities in their day-to-day lives. It is important to note that I am not a proponent of immigrants always looking like immigrants and display-

The key is to give immigrants more agency in making these decisions for themselves. immigrants to give up their cultural inheritances in order to be accepted, as we shall see later in the Research section. Through creating this suite of provocative designs, I hope to raise awareness about the reality of navigating selfhood within the black/ white racial binary, and to ofer ways to mitigate that psychic and emotional diiculty.

The goal of this thesis is to create a set of tools that empower my users to challenge socio-racial norms through visualizing the plurality of their cultural identities in their day-to-day lives.

Goals & Objectives




For immigrant workers, the process of ‘becoming white’ and ‘becoming American’ were intertwined at every turn . . . [ethnicity and race] were not only the means by which native born and elite people marked new immigrants as inferiors, but also the means by which immigrant workers came to locate themselves and those about them in the nation’s racial hierarchy.

Barrett and Roediger Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class



CONTEXT: ASSIMILATION AND BLACK/WHITE RACIAL BINARY IN AMERICA In exploring class and assimilation in America, we must irst recognize the black/white racial binary that is embedded in American society and culture. Many scholars have noted the ways that white race in America has been constructed in juxtaposition to black race. Historian David Roediger, whose work is often cited as a starting point in contemporary whiteness studies, explores the ways in which race and class were constructed in the US in the 19th century.

Whiteness was a way in which white workers responded to a fear of dependency on wage labor . . . the heritage of the [American] Revolution made independence a powerful masculine personal ideal. But slave labor and ‘hireling’ wage labor proliferated in the new nation. One way to make peace with the latter was to differentiate it sharply from the former . . . [The white working class began to] construct an image of the Black population as ‘other’—as embodying the preindustrial, erotic, careless style of life the white worker hated and longed for.1 1

Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness, 13.

Context: Assimilation and Black/White Racial Binary in America


Therefore, Roediger claims, the white working class in post-colonial America crafted a racialized class for themselves that positioned them above black slaves. This racialized diferentiation enabled them to occupy a new, higher status when (in a surprising parallel to contemporary issues around automation) many white craftsmen lost jobs due to the factorization of labor. This status aforded them a symbolic ‘wage’ despite the similarity in the actual working conditions between white workers and slaves. Furthermore, highlighting how Jewish and Catholic immigrants integrated into mainstream American society decades later, U.S. historian Nell Irvin Painter notes how “being a real American often meant joining antiblack racism and seeing oneself as white against

White race in America was constructed as an antithesis to black race, and becoming white... was part of becoming American the blacks.”2 Thus, white race in America was constructed in antithesis to black race, a binary inseparable 2


Painter, The History of White People, 363.

from class, and becoming white (as opposed to Jewish, Irish or Italian) was historically part of becoming American. This thesis addresses the problem of the white/black binary, particularly as it complicates the inclusion of non-white and non-black population like Asian Americans, and furthermore questions another set of racially charged polarities: mainstream American culture and the heritages brought by immigrants

Assimilating in America, as experienced by the users I interviewed, was a transaction from their home countries. In order to integrate into American society (and not just live on its outskirts, as in self-contained communities like Chinatown), many of the immigrants I interviewed reported the pressure they felt to remove all signs designating them as diferent from the dominant culture (see Research chapter for details).

In other words, assimilating in America, as experienced by the users

I interviewed, is a transaction, where one must give up their heritage in order to be accepted. This description its the explanation ofered by sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee, who deine assimilation as “the decline, and at its endpoint the disappearance, of an ethnic/racial distinction and the cultural and social diferences that express it.”3

So what constitutes the Americanness that immigrants so aspire to assimilate to? One way to explain this is through the idea of the ‘American dream,’ an image of America as the land of opportunity and freedom. The American dream constitutes of a “belief that there is a fair chance of succeeding… and hard work will be rewarded”4 and manifests in becoming middle class. As we have seen earlier, in the context of the American racial binary, the white race was constructed as the higher working class in juxtaposition to black slaves. Therefore, achieving the American Dream, attaining middleclass status, and assimilating are all synonymous with becoming white. This is not a particularly contemporary or new argument. Studying 3 Alba and Nee, “Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration,” 863. 4 Clark, Immigrants and the American Dream, 6.

Achieving the American Dream, attaining middleclass status, and assimilating are all synonymous with becoming white. the Southern and East European immigrants to the US between 1895 and 1924, Roediger and Barrett argued, “For immigrant workers, the process of ‘becoming white’ and ‘becoming American’ were intertwined at every turn . . . [ethnicity and race] were not only the means by which native born and elite people marked new immigrants as inferiors, but also the means by which immigrant workers came to locate themselves and those about them in the nation’s racial hierarchy.”5 In summary, integrating into mainstream American society requires immigrants to become not only upwardly mobile economically, but also their attainment of white racial identity.

ig. 3. San Francisco, Calif., April 1942 - Children of the Weill public school, from the so-called international settlement, shown in a lag pledge ceremony.

5 Barrett and Roediger, “Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class,” 104–5.

Context: Assimilation and Black/White Racial Binary in America





Aliens Ineligible for Citizenship

Assimilating Others

Model Minority

“persons acknowledged as capable of acting like white Americans while remaining racially distinct from them”

“the Asiatic who was at once a model citizen and definitively not-black”

Ellen Wu, Color of Success



AUDIENCE: THE MODEL MINORITY & DESIGN PERSONAS In deining the audience for my thesis, it is irst crucial to deine the ‘model minority,’ since the term describes the broader demographic to which my speciic user groups belong. Ellen Wu’s The Color of Success provides a rare and insightful account of how Asian as a race formed in America and evolved into a model minority. Wu chronicles how Chinese and Japanese immigrants of the 1920s were labeled “aliens ineligible for citizenship” but became “assimilating others—persons acknowledged as capable of

acting like white Americans while remaining racially distinct from them” in the 1940s. Eventually, this group became the irst “model minority: the Asiatic who was at once a model citizen and deinitively not-black” in the 1960s. Wu argues that the model minority is a “simultaneously inclusive and exclusive” category, enabling upward social mobility into white communities even while its explanation of culture as the source of their success excludes Japanese and Chinese

Audience: The Model Minority & Design Personas



people as not-white. Emphasizing the causal role of Asian Confucian culture, which claims values such as “self-reliance, valorization of family, reverence for education, and political moderation”1 as an explanation for Asian American achievement was also used to delegitimize Blacks’ demands for structural change during the civil rights era as well as in the 1980s. This idea falsely proposed that Black poverty was caused by deiciencies in Black culture, ignoring the history of institutionalized racism that prevented upward social mobility for this group.

ing their yellowness. They have become white in every respect but color… Asian Americans have formed an uneasy alliance with white Americans to keep the blacks down… Frightened ‘yellows’ allow the white public to use the ‘silent Oriental’ stereotype against the black protest… Fearful whites tell militant blacks that the acceptable criterion for behavior is exemplified in the quiet, passive Asian American. The yellow power movement envisages a new role for Asian Americans: It is a rejection of the passive Oriental stereotype and symbolizes the birth of a new Asian – one who will recognize and deal with injustices…2

Understanding that this Black/Asian juxtaposition was used to serve agendas by politicians and journalists alike, activist Amy Uyematsu proclaimed in her 1969 manifesto: Asian Americans suffer the critical mental crises of having “integrated” into American society… Having achieved middle-class incomes while presenting no real threat in number to the white majority… Precisely because Asian Americans have become economically secure, do they face serious identity problems. Fully committed to a system that subordinates them on the basis of non-whiteness, Asian Americans still try to gain complete acceptance by deny-

Despite Uyematsu’s call to arms, even today, the myth that attributes Asian success to Confucian values and hard work prevails. In New York Magazine, a left-leaning national publication, Andrew Sullivan writes: “Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years… Yet, today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous em-



Wu, The Color of Success, 242.

Uyematsu, “The Emergence of Yellow Power in America.”

ig. 4. United States Code: Naturalization, 8 U.S.C. §§ 351-416 (1925)

ig. 5. Civil RIghts Movement, 1968

phasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?”3 Here Sullivan suggests that Asians overcame negative racial stereotypes through hard work and achieved the American dream. As Kat Chow, a reporter for NPR’s popular podcast Code Switch, rightly criticizes, this argument is false for two reasons. First, Sullivan “spreads 3 Sullivan, “Why Do Democrats Feel Sorry for Hillary Clinton?”

the idea that Asian Americans as a group are monolithic” when, in fact, disparities in class exist between various ethnic groups. Second, this argument is particularly harmful because it equates the oppression experienced by Asians with that of Blacks, failing to recognize the racism and inequity that Black Americans still experience today. Chow explains how “this allows a segment of white America to avoid any responsibility for addressing racism or the damage

it continues to inlict.”4 In the same work cited earlier, Nell Irvin Painter argues that the white race as a category has expanded over the years to include groups that were formerly discriminated against, and the middle class is more multicultural than ever. Yet “the fundamental black/white binary endures, even though the category of whiteness— or we might say more precisely, a category of nonblackness—efec4 Chow, “‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks.”

Audience: The Model Minority & Design Personas


Fully committed to a system that subordinates them on the basis of non-whiteness, Asian Americans still try to gain complete acceptance by denying their yellowness. They have become white in every respect but color… Asian Americans suffer the critical mental crises of having ‘integrated’ into American society. Amy Uyematsu Yellow Manifesto 1969


Audience: The Model Minority & Design Personas


tively expands. As before, the black poor remain outside the concept of the American as an ‘alien race’ of ‘degenerate families.’”5 Today, then, Asians continue to beneit from their almost-white status at the expense of Black Americans, but at a cost: identity crisis is now part of the Asian American experience. Asian Americans struggle to navigate their race as they become part of the

Asians continue to benefit today from this almostwhite status, at the expense of Black Americans, but it comes at cost: identity crisis is now part of the Asian American experience. dominantly white higher economic class. As noted earlier, Asians are simultaneously accepted because of their non-blackness, but also othered because of their cultural diferences. Furthermore, the model minority experience is no longer one that is experienced only by Asians. As more non-black and non-white immigrants 5


Painter, The History of White People, 396.

such as Latinx and Muslims gain upward socio-economic mobility, they, too, face the challenges of becoming white, and the racist narrative of hard work may also be attributed to their success. As this thesis addresses the issues of identity struggles for this expanding notion of the model minority (i.e. non-black and non-white immigrants of color who have gained higher socio-economic status), it does not exclude the Latinx and Muslims from its audience (the Research chapter will show that my user interviews includes these demographics). However, to deine the scope of the research as well as my design projects, I have narrowed my main audience/user group to Asian Americans, and envisioned three subsets of this group as ‘design personas’ below: 1.5 generation Asian immigrants, second and third generation Asian immigrants, and multi-racial Asians.

Persona sketches



The primary audience/user group of this thesis is 1.5 generation Asian immigrants who immigrated to the US during the formative years of their identities (7-18 years old). These immigrants have achieved assimilation into mainstream American culture. They have attended top American colleges, luently speak English, and are often the only individuals of color in their workplaces. Considered model minorities, they may be described as “one of the good ones [immigrants]”6 as they ‘blend in’ so much that they pose no threat to white Americans. 1.5 generation immigrants are accustomed to the negative stereotyping of their inherited cultures, for example, the extreme ‘cuteness’ of Asian beauty standards. Most importantly, they struggle to understand where they land in the American racial binary, and they experience a mixed shame/pride in having won acceptance among their white colleagues, neighbors and in-laws even as they are constantly reminded of their otherness.

Those born in the US to immigrant families are diferent from 1.5 generation immigrants in several primary ways: they have not had to learn a second language at a later stage of development, they are born as American citizens as opposed to becoming them, and they are culturally more distant from their family’s homelands. And yet they face many of the struggles 1.5 generation immigrants experience. My interviews uncovered that many later-generation immigrants share similarly complicated relationships with their cultural heritage, which includes both shame and pride, and experience dichotomous lives: being American at school but Asian at home. They, too, strive to relate to their cultural heritages in ways that feel true to themselves. In one conversation, a second generation Chinese immigrant noted, “I’ve been an immigrant from the moment I left my mother’s womb.” Just as much as 1.5 generation immigrants, they face challenges in navigating their identities and cited “constant soul-searching.”


Jesse Conner, Interview, October 16, 2017

MULTI-RACIAL ASIANS Multiracial people share all the struggles described above, and in addition, they are visually recognizable as diferent in both their heritage and current communities. In one conversation, Matt, a man whose parents are Chinese and Jewish American, shared the story of how he would be asked to leave the kosher line at bufets even though he is Jewish, while his white non-Jewish friends could go hassle-free. While the pain points of minorities often include being stuck in stereotypes, the challenge of multiracial people may be that they do not yet have a stereotype they can belong in.

Audience: The Model Minority & Design Personas




INTERVIEWS: USERS AND SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS Over the course of researching my thesis topic, I conducted more than thirty interviews with a diverse variety of immigrants, including recent immigrants and those who have lived in the US for decades, whose ethnicities include African, Asian, Arab, Southeast Asian, Latino/a, and European. Additionally, I spoke with experts including therapists, scholars, teachers, social workers, social media inluencers, and activists in order to gain additional insights into the complexities of the immigrant experience.

Speaking with individuals who have had a wide range of immigrant experiences helped to clarify my user group as the model minority. Some came to the US as illegal aliens, living out their childhoods under the fear of deportation. Others migrated later, in their twenties, and retained much of their original cultures, preferring to remain part of the immigrant communities that shared their heritage. I interviewed immigrants from Africa who have faced black discrimination, and irst generation immigrant college

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts




Jessi Prois

Joshua Kissi

Jon Bialecki

Henry Yu

Asian Voices Editor Huington Post

Co-Founder Street Etiquette, TONL

Cultural Anthropologist University of Edinburgh

Historian, Asian Migration Studies University of British Columbia

Saada Ahmed

Kenny Fries

Bruce Fulton

Senongo Akpem

Co-Founder Everyday People

Gay, Jewish, Disabled Writer Memoirist and Poet

Korean Literature Scholar, Asian Studies University of British Columbia

Founder, Pixel Fable Design Director at Constructive

Kate Johnson

Jennifer Rittner

Kerry Jongelward

Martha Black

Author Oppression Meditation Specialist

Founder, Content Matters Communications Consultant

M. Ed. High School Counselor Fort Bend, TX

Curator Royal BC Museum

Hiro Yasuda

Camille Mahlum

Van Hua

Riley Hooker

Director of Training, LCSW-R Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy & Training

ELL Teacher, NYPS MA TESOL Program, Hunter College

Social Worker, LMSW Fort Bend School District, TX

Intersexuality Activist, Graphic Designer, Editor of Facadomy


Jennifer Shen

Miguel Olivares

Anya Gallardo

Jesse Conner

Chinese College Student

Mexican American Designer

Half-Mexican, Half Jewish Californian “Reluctant Tech Worker”

Child of a Vietnamese Refugee, Graphic Designer

Elizabeth Cheong

Jocelyn Joson

Louis Elwood Leach

Ergin Dogan Yıldız

Vancouver Chinatown Foundation

Filipino American Fashion Designer

New Zealand British Designer

Turkish Android Developer

Pooja Bhaskar

Krithi Rao

Mike Nguyen

Priya Patel

Indian American Biology Teacher International School in NYPS

Indian American Musician, ESL Instructor, MA TESOL

Vietnamese College Student

Indian American Architect

Matt Schwartz

Gin Chen

Eden Lew

Half Taiwanese, Half Jewish Graduate Student at Cornell University

Chinese American Graphic Designer

Chinese American Designer

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts


students in the midst of assimilation. And I spoke with second and third generation children of immigrants who have long struggled with their racial identities and deinitions of success, but have also found creative ways to defy stereotyping and feel like themselves. Several factors in my interviewees’ backgrounds played key roles in their experiences, and helped me to further locate my target audience. I found that in interviewing 1.5 generation immigrants, the age in which they immigrated had substantial effects on their experiences in the U.S. Those who moved to the US during formative years of their identities experienced more drastic feelings of identity-confusion and greater pressure to assimilate than those who moved later in life. While older 1.5 generation immigrants expressed having a harder time learning English, this also protected them, since the ability to pass as a native speaker is crucial to full assimilation. And because this group immigrated with an already-established relationship to their birth countries, their struggles in the U.S. tended to have less to do with identity than those who settled in the U.S. in their formative years. In addition to the age of migration,


the current age of the interviewee also dictated the breadth of our conversations. I found that a certain degree of maturity and distance was necessary for interviewees to relect on their struggles around race and being other-ed. The college students with whom I spoke often treated the challenges of assimilation as problems that could be overcome. The mentality seems to be, if they have come this far, successfully learning English and getting into college, then hard work and perseverance will lead them toward their next eventual goals, and their complicated cultural identities will naturally grow into place. Despite the diversity of my interview group, many commonalities emerged from the personal stories I heard, and nearly every interviewee cited the navigation of their own racial identity as primary to their experience. What irst became clear in collecting stories was a sense of shame my interviewees revealed toward their cultural heritage. Priya is a woman in her forties who was born in Kenya, though her family is from India. Growing up, she attended a British school in Kenya, then migrated to the US for college. In her words, “I used to refuse my mom to cook Indian food in elementary

school. People [kids at her school] would say ‘What are you eating, that looks gross’ just because what I ate looked diferent, it wasn’t pastry or sandwich.” This anecdote may seem familiar to any normal childhood experience, but in fact it illustrates a common immigrant story. As one of the few non-white students in a dominantly white community, rather than feeling encouraged to express her unique heritage, she felt peerpressured into hiding it.

“I used to refuse my mom to cook Indian food in elementary school. People would say ‘What are you eating, that looks gross’” Similarly, Eden, a third generation Chinese American from Texas explained, “I never cooked at [school] because I didn’t want it to smell. I didn’t want to hear anyone criticize the thing I love... If I say I like certain things, I’d be too exotic. I felt like they’d label me as disgusting for the things I like.” Both Priya and Eden’s stories express the fear they felt in being singled out because of the traits that made them recogniz-


felt by immigrants who move to the US btw ages 7-16


is about

shared cultural/ethnic heritage ů unsophisticated ů weird-smelling ů being different


but when they feel

not criticized for being different ů you belong there ů shared values

Culture they want to share

what they love ů food ů how to call them

Sticking together perception of failure to assimilate

also can be


leads to

losing connection with community

Searching for Alternatives being cool in a way that is not cultural appropriation

ů losing accent, passing as American ů changing physical appearance ů acting white or black

Concept Map: insights from user interviews

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts


“The problem with model minority is that the moment you want to step out people push back. ‘Stay in your lane, get back in the box.’ Inidividuality becomes a privilege.”

Gin Chen Chinese American Graphic Desginer In an interview with the author on October 27, 2017


“I was ashamed to be seen in a group of Asians because then you’re not diverse, you just stick together” ably diferent from their peers. Being diferent, in their experience, was not something to be celebrated, but rather feared and avoided. Furthermore, the qualiications they used to describe their fears—‘gross,’ ‘exotic,’ and ‘disgusting’—express feelings of shame evoked by the experience. They might have loved the food that they ate at home, but at school they were made keenly aware of their peers’ perception. These ‘gross,’ ‘exotic,’ or ‘disgusting’ foods not only marked them as diferent, but marked them as belonging to a more primitive and unsophisticated racial group. My conversations with immigrants also uncovered a common equation; that becoming American meant becoming white, sometimes even literally. In trying to it into any community, we often adapt to its thinking and behaviors. However, this process is especially oppressive and homogenizing for non-white immigrants to the US because of the

ideological blackening and whitening that they face. “My skin color used to be more olive in Philippines, but here I never went out in the sun because I didn’t want to tan and get it darker . . . I wanted curly hair, because that was what American hair was, so I’d perm my hair,” Jocelyn,

“My skin color used to be more olive in Philippines, but here I never went out in the sun because I didn’t want to tan and get it darker... I wanted curly hair, because that was what American hair was, so I’d perm my hair”

hair, immigrants strip away cognitive cues that mark them as not only diferent but also exotic, unsophisticated and less desirable. Time after time in my interviews, whitewashing was cited as a primary tool by which immigrants gave up aspects of their cultural and physical inheritances in order to become more American. These stories of micro-adjustments resonated with me immediately. The motive to ‘it in’ is a concept all too familiar to me, as in my own immigrant experience, the ability to blend in with my peers became a survival skill. I, too, adjusted what I ate and wore, and even changed my mannerisms so that I would not stand out as ‘the Asian girl.’

a Filipino woman who moved to California at the age of seven told me. Jocelyn’s comments relect her understanding that her physical body difered from the status quo. The body she describes, with fair skin and curly hair, is one that is not really tenable for someone of her ethnic background, i.e. with darker skin and straight black hair. Her response was to change what she could, through sunscreens and perms. From switching to sandwiches to perming one’s

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts


“Passing is an important thing to consider because a lot of people would be comfortable with non conforming, but they would take it to the point of passing, just so that you can have the comfort of passing privilege. You’re automatically that much safer. It doesn’t just have to do with immediate physical harm. It also has to do with walking out of your house and feeling chill.” ig. 6. Riley Hooker’s publication, Facadomy, looks at contemporary identity through the lenses of art and architecture


While speaking with my user group allowed me to more deeply explore immigrant identity and whitewashing, additional conversations with experts in various subjects helped me to understand and hone my indings. Riley Hooker is an intersexuality expert who particularly inspired me to rethink identity categories. While Hooker’s work centers around gender and sexuality, his proposed dismantling of traditional categories can be directly applied to racial stereotyping. Although he is not a theorist on immigration or race, the way he described his agenda gave me the language to talk about mine. “The agency of determining gender needs to be put in the hands of the individual . . . [if a child is born with]

variation in their genitalia, doctors and parents will correct it. But I see it as mutilation. It’s a form of violence. It should be up to the child to make the call.” In much the same way prescription of gender at birth is a form of mutilation on a child’s identity, as Hooker argues, prescribing race onto an immigrant can be a form of violence. If an immigrant or any person of color feels that they have no choice but to strip away cultural cues to their identities to feel that they belong, that is a mutilation of their identity. The notion of ‘passing’ is another useful concept that Hooker introduced to me. Passing is a person’s ability to be classiied as an identity

group that is not their own. When a person is transitioning from one gender to another, they may choose to transition to the extent where they are passable as the second gender (even if it does not feel completely authentic to their sense of identity), in order to enjoy the social acceptance, privilege, and the security that comes with that identiication. Applied to race, then, if an immigrant speaks her native language, walks around with people of her same ethnicity, and wears clothes that are speciic to her cultures, she stands out, and cannot pass for white—or, therefore, American. While transgender individuals often rely on passing as a means of safety, for immigrants, the prerogative to pass is more about avoiding shame. Eden told me, “I was ashamed to be seen in a group of Asians because then you’re not diverse, you just stick together.” Jocelyn said, “I felt shame for my culture, so I didn’t want to socialize or speak in the language.” In order to have the privilege of being perceived as American as an Asian person, you cannot aford to show your culture, in this case, by socializing with other Asians and speaking a foreign language. To pass as an American, you must remove your community and your language.

Furthermore, both Eden and Jocelyn saw not being American enough as a humiliating thing. Even for those who ‘pass’ without trying, acceptance comes with a label that the immigrant might not electively identify with. In the case of Louis Elwood-Leach, a Caucasian immigrant from New Zealand, being labeled white was also an uncomfortable experience. “White’ is a foreign label to me. When I went to CMU in Pittsburgh for the irst time, on the registration form there were check boxes for ethnicity. I checked Paciic Islander since I’m from New Zealand. They later told me, ‘No, you’re white. That’s American way of saying that your family is from Europe.’ White/black is a way of putting people into fabricated categories. I don’t want to attach myself to the white label.” One creative activist, Saada Ahmed, is seeking to disrupt our binary notion of race in America, and that binary’s tendency to reinforce oppressive stereotypes. Ahmed, the founder of a social venture called Everyday People and herself an immigrant of Somalian and Kenyan descent, inspired this insight. “It’s so easy to get pigeonholed in our stereotype. We can defy it by showing a variety

of blackness.” She sees the lack of representation in the media as one of the major reasons for negative racial stereotypes, which associate Black Americans with violence, the urban ghetto, and hip-hop. Her way of combatting these assumptions is through the parties she hosts nationwide, Everyday People, where stylish, young, professional guests exhibit the multitude of ways to be black in America. In keeping with the aims of the Everyday People events, the chance to display a plurality of identities is one important way that immigrants might subvert unjust stereotyping, and authentically present themselves as individuals with unique cultural backgrounds—rather than as immigrants who either pass or do not.

which explored identity more abstractly. Having read various articles about immigration, I understood that ideological blackening and whitening existed as phenomena, but hearing immigrants’ irst-hand stories added a sense of urgency to my topic, and encouraged me to consider problems and solutions, as opposed to the vaguer notion of ‘exploration.’ As I reframed my topic, my thesis shifted to propose a series of design interventions that campaign for immigrant inclusion. It is my hope that these creative tools will enable immigrants to embody both their cultural and American selves, and work to interrupt the American race binary.

Over the course of these interviews, I found that each time I introduced myself and explained my thesis, I relected more and more deeply on the goals and intentions of this project. Hearing immigrants recount their experiences, especially the stories of assimilation, often left me emotional, as again and again they relected my own experience. I felt a moral obligation to tackle racism and whitewashing as it pertains to the model minority head-on, rather than according to my previous proposal,

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts



“It’s so easy to get pigeonholed in our stereotypes. We can defy it by showing a variety of blackness.”

Saada Ahmed Co-Founder, Everyday People In an interview with the author on October 27, 2017

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts



“Japanese-American, Ghanaian-American: the hyphen is how you define it with your own voice”

Joshua Kissi Co-Founder, Street Etiquette, TONL In an interview with the author Won Nover 17, 2017

Interviews: Users and Subject Matter Experts




CO-CREATION WORKSHOP: AWKWARD MIDDLE PLACE On November 18, 2017, I hosted a workshop called Awkward Middle Place as part of my user research. I invited participants to address questions about their personal experiences navigating race, equity, and acculturation through an art making and sharing project. Participants included twelve immigrants and children of immigrants aged 20 – 50. The two-hour workshop consisted of seven rounds in which a banner with an uninished statement or question regarding identity was revealed as a prompt.

These seven prompts were: 1. What I see when I see you . . . 2. My friends from home think I am 3. I want to be perceived as . . . 4. But I fear . . . 5. I feel American when . . . 6. All my life, I avoided being . . . 7. I aspire to be . . . Using magazines as source material, participants were then given seven minutes to respond visually, collaging found images onto the prompt banner. At the end of each round, the

Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


group gathered around the banner to share insights that arose through the process and exchange comments. For the irst prompt, participants were paired with partners who they had not known before and asked to describe what they saw in the other person. I encouraged them to respond honestly and without fear of stereotyping, and began by ofering examples of what a person may see when they look at me: an Asian woman, someone who is good at math, someone who might like ramen, etc. This prompt gave participants the opportunity to critically examine their own perceptions of others, thus priming them to think critically about the ways in which they, too, are perceived in relation to prescribed assumptions and stereotypes.

Setting up for the workshop


In subsequent rounds, the prompts were individually directed and participants worked solo. During each collage session, the room was illed with quiet energy as participants focused intently on locating images that would best fulill the given question. The brevity of the seven-minute rounds created a space of concentrated, almost urgent self-relection as participants searched for the most authentic answers possible.

Greeting guests and explaining the workshop

In preparations for the workshop, I negotiated with local city bodegas to obtain stacks of free magazines that represented a variety of images, cultural values, and ethnicities. I wanted to be sure that the participants had a range of visual material to explore in order to create responses that accurately represented their thoughts. Thanks to those generous bodega owners, I was able to gather more than 30 international magazines, including Marie Claire Germany, National Geographic, Japanese Pop Teen, and African Newsweek.

The efort deinitely paid of, as one guest in the follow-up survey remarked that it was unexpected “how relevantly the magazines and current-day media could portray [her] feelings.” This aspect of the workshop was successful beyond my expectations. I chose magazines as the medium for collage because magazines present idealized imagery, especially of people, and are designed to entice and attract readers by their representation of cultural paradigms. This makes magazines an appropriate medium for highlighting

the gap between a culture’s projected expectations and an individual’s sense of personal identity. An added and surprising beneit of using magazines, however, was participants’ creative use of the media. For example, one guest made a folded box from a torn-out magazine page to signify his fear of being boxed into a stereotype, creating a metaphorical rather than literal response. Initially I worried that magazines may be insuicient for expressing participants’ thoughts, yet they proved the complete opposite. The abundance of imagery,

Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


Step 1. Express Answer the prompts through collages


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

What I see when I see you My friends from home think I am I want to be perceived as But I fear I feel American when All my life, I avoided being I aspire to be

Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


“The problem with model minority is that the moment you want to step Step“Stay 2. Share out people push back. in your What does your collage mean? lane, get back in the box.” Inidividuality becomes a privilege.”

Gin Chen Chinese American Graphic Desginer In an interview on October 27, 2018


Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


combined with the users’ creativity, enabled the expressive portrayal of a range of thoughts and feelings. The results of the workshop in general exceeded my expectations all around. The collages were moving and evocative, and the comments ofered by participants were touchingly personal. One person said, “I want to it in without being whitewashed . . . I think it’s still awkward to it into mainstream American culture as an Asian person. There is tension there.” Another commented, “Mexicans sometimes see someone who comes to America as no longer Mexican. You’ll go blonde or start looking American, and I fear that I might not be considered Mexican any more.” Another participant commented on their surprise in “the similarities between participants and how we were all talking about how to maintain certain aspects of our background while embracing other cultures’ values.” Indeed, this struggle became the dominant theme of the workshop without my ever directly stating it. Others recounted that they left the workshop feeling “optimism.” Someone commented that “everyone seemed to acknowledge their struggles and we validated each oth-


Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place



er’s experiences whether they were similar or diferent,” and another participant noted coming away from the experience with “a better understanding of how it does not have to be either one culture or the other,” meaning that the workshop helped them to remember the multicultural aspects of their identity. The workshop conirmed many of the insights expressed in the user interviews I’d previously conducted. In both the workshop and the interviews, immigrants identiied the central tension in their identities as the conlict between their heritage and white America. Many expressed feelings of shame around both the white washing they’d sufered, and around their relationship to their cultural heritages. Furthermore, the immigrants I spoke with expressed that this identity-confusion and related shame colored their understanding of their race more generally, as they were repeatedly stereotyped as exotic, primitive, or even childlike in comparison to the dominantly white communities they’d integrated into. Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro

Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


“All my life, I avoided being that Indian guy who does all the traditional stuff... I never wanted to be stereotyped that way. So I maybe overcompensated for it by being very whitewashed.� Participant Second Generation Indian American


Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place



“I want to fit in without being whitewashed. I think it’s still awkward to fit in mainstream American culture as an Asian person... There’s tension there.” Participant Half Taiwanese, Half Jewish Second Generation Immigrant

Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place


“A lot of people in Mexico see someone who comes to the US as no longer Mexican. You will start to go blonde or start looking American, and I fear that I might not be considered Mexican any more.� Participant First Generation Mexican Immigrant


Co-Creation Workshop: Awkward Middle Place




American Dream William A.V. Clark, a professor at UCLA and a leading geographer in the ield of immigration studies, deines it as “a belief that there is a fair chance of succeeding and ample opportunities to do so. Everyone has a chance, the opportunities are there, and hard work will be rewarded.�1 In addition to this belief in self-fulillment, it also has a material side, where symbols such as houses, cars and other consumer goods illustrate what it looks like to have attained 1


Clark, Immigrants and the American Dream, 4.

the American dream. Relecting both the ideological and material sides of the narrative, Clark uses middleclass status as a measure of success in achieving the dream.

Model Minority Asians and other minority groups who have achieved assimilation into mainstream American society. They have middleclass to higher socioeconomic status, and the reasons for their successes are attributed to hard work. The idea of hardworking

Asians achieving success has wrongly been used to condemn black Americans, ignoring the institutionalized racism and discrimination that black Americans have faced, and foolishly claiming that their plight is because of laziness. Model Minorities are whitewashed.

Third Culture Kids Refers to children who grow up with exposures to more than one culture. Its most recognized stereotype is children of expats who attend international schools. For this thesis, third culture kids refers mostly to immigrants who migrate to the US in formative years of their identities (618), and second to third generation children of immigrants.

Assimilation Often, this is the trait that distinguishes whether or not certain immigrants are perceived as deserving to stay in America, and it is synonymous with the notion of whitewashing. It is most prominent in the ways in which the media portrays DACA recipients. The Dreamers who are interviewed are often those who speak English luently, have attained higher education, and therefore arouse sympathy in the viewers and show themselves as “good immigrants” who can contribute to society, rather than exploiting its resources. Highlighting that assimilation is more than upward social mobility into the middleclass, sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee explain how

assimilation strips away the markers of one’s cultural heritage by deining it as “disappearance of an ethnic/racial distinction and the cultural and social diferences that express it.”2

Racial Impostor Syndrome The feeling that you do not have the right to claim the cultures and races associated with your identity. It is most pronounced for interracial people who cannot visually it in one race or another, but the experience is also shared by third culture kids who learn to wear many cultural hats depending on contexts.

2 Alba and Nee, “Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration,” 863







INITIAL PROTOYPES: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION BARBIE, POWER BOOTS, MARACASTICKS Speculative design is a unique creative perspective that allows designers to imagine objects as they might function inside an alternative human future. Stemming from the radical design movements of the ’60s and ’70s in which architects and artists used speculation for socio-political criticism, speculative provocations are still enticing as a means by which designers may radically reimagine the future . In direct opposition to the social and humanitarian design initiative like Human-Centered Design, which favors studying how

existing designs function now and might be improved upon, the concept of speculative design proposes beginning with an ideal future in mind, then working backwards from there to envision new objects and systems that act as functional means to an end. As Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby explain in their inluential book, Speculative Everything, “Conceptual designs [like speculative objects] are not only ideas but also ideals . . . we should measure reality against ideals, not the other

Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks


way around”1. Thus, design ideas should not be merely judged according to their present plausibility, but according to the otherwise unimaginable futures they might suggest. These concepts informed my prototyping of three speculative objects related to my thesis. Speciically, I created objects that seek to address three distinct problems: 1. uninformed or insensitive appropriation of minority cultures by dominant cultures, 2. the immigrant’s fear of standing out as ‘other,’ and 3. immigrant shame around food brought into the dominant culture from the inherited culture. My irst provocation is called Cultural Appropriation Barbie, which ofers a tongue-and-cheek spin on the clothing of the traditional Barbie doll. My product imagines a number of diferent doll outits inspired by traditional or everyday fashion worn by women of diferent cultures, and proposes an alternative to the typical Barbie outit, which is generally representative of white, suburban North American, or the classical western fairytale princess. The particular prototype I created, “Ghetto Barbie: Let’s Play Ghetto, 1


Dunne and Raby, Speculative Everything, 12.


Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks


Prototyping: carving the platform for Power Shoes out of blue foam

Y’all,” is intended to show just one outit of many. “Ghetto Barbie” wears a black hoodie, a basketball shirt, and gold hoop earrings, stereotypical symbols of contemporary fashion for young female minorities in urban areas. This example difers from just borrowing elements from another culture in that the stakeholders in higher position of power, i.e. the toy maker as well as the consumers who purchase the doll, are proiting from the Black urban stereotype by dressing a white Barbie doll as one. The young urban minorities to whom this style belongs do not have a say in how they are presented, and the children who play with these dolls would be ignorant of the socio-political and historical backgrounds from which this style came. As the artist and theorist Coco Fusco rightly claims, cultural appropriation is determined by “the nature of the genre worked in and the power relations it sustains among artist, subjects, and audience . . . the power to choose, the power to determine value, and the right of the more powerful to consume without guilt.”2 The doll maker and the consumers alike assume creative agency in dressing their white Barbies in the style of economically marginalized, young urban Blacks, thereby embrac2


Fusco, English Is Broken Here, 68.

ing ghetto culture while rejecting the people who originate it. This product is meant to spur conversation about the ethics around the cultural appropriation of fashion. When are fashion trends ‘inspired by’ vs. appropriated? Is it exploitative or exoticizing to use fashion trends inspired by urban poverty to sell white-skinned dolls to whiteskinned girls? Or, from another viewpoint, might such an outit change help open the minds of young girls to imagine a world where cultural fashion might serve an educational purpose? My second provocation, Power Boots, is a pair of surreal and impractical golden sneakers that are 15 inches tall. Inspired by the argument which claims that the added height lent by high-heels makes women feel empowered, sexy, and more conident, I created a pair of everyday sneakers with large platform soles whose added height might ofer users the positive efects of increased self-esteem. The sneakers address the reality that so often, people who consider themselves outliers in a community end up trying to it in in ways that make their authentic identities invisible. These sneakers are meant to ofer a fun, paradoxical

Maracasticks, along with two other sound making utensils

way of both blending in and standing out, as the normal shoe is elongated by an impossible-not-to-notice sole. However, when I tried to wear the product, they were much harder to walk in than I had expected. My movements were clumsy, and instead of standing tall and proud as I imagined, the shoes made me wobbly and vulnerable. While this might in some ways be an accurate relection of the assimilating immigrant’s experience, ultimately the shoes would not have served users in the ways that I had envisioned.

My last speculative object, Maracasticks, highlights the visceral ways in which we react to the methods by which other cultures consume food. In America, slurping one’s pasta or broth is considered bad manners, yet in many Asian cultures, it is the proper way to eat noodles. To underline the absurdity of denouncing slurping as uncultured, primitive, and disgusting, I created Maracasticks, a pair of oversized chopsticks that challenge cultural norms about proper ways of eating. Comprised

Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks


of a set of two 24-inch long chopsticks with maracas on the end—a traditional Mexican percussive instrument—the musical chopsticks crackle and hiss as they’re used, both masking the slurping sounds and caricaturing the biases that make noodle-eating a spectacle. To better communicate the purpose of Maracasticks, I created a one-minute video that illustrates a use-case for the product. In the video, two classmates sit side by side in a studio working at their desks. While reading, the Caucasian student notices that his Asian neighbor

From fusion food to world music, we are used to constant cultural mixing. Maracastics challenges, “why should Asian noodle-slurping be any different?” is eating soup and slurping loudly. Disgusted by her poor manners, he coldly refuses when she ofers him a taste of the soup. The next day, when he sits down with his takeout lunch, he inds that instead of the usual utensils, the restaurant has


Frames from the Maracasticks Video

Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks


provided him with the cumbersome Maracasticks. He has no choice but to eat with them, making noise in the studio that causes his classmates to turn and shush him. The video recreates the experience of being publicly shamed for eating ‘the wrong way.’ Through this experience, the male student learns to put headphones on the next time his neighbor eats her lunch in the studio. This change on his part implies a simple adjustment, while a change on her part would mean repressing a culturally inherited behavior for the adoption of the dominant culture’s behavior. Furthermore, from fusion food to world music, we are used to constant cultural mixing. Through attaching an instrument from a nonAsian culture on the end of a traditional Asian eating utensil, Maracastics asks why Asian noodle-slurping in an American lunch setting should be any diferent? A mockup for grubhub page that shames slurp harrasment


While the video narrates a parallel between slurping and eating with Maracasticks, it does not take the viewer through a plausible user journey. It is not made clear in the story how the protagonist would acquire Maracasticks. In a critique of the video, viewers noted that the mocked-up Grubhub page that

ig. 7. Frame from Otohiko’s promotional video

shows Maracasticks as a purchasing option further confuses how this design intervention would work for the real-life user. Furthermore, viewers noted, the video comes of too comically. The mariachi music that plays in the background juxtaposes harshly against the tone of the scene, and makes the scenario into too much of a joke. In the inal cut of the video, therefore, I tried to restrain the humor and make the experience more subtle, as it might play out closer to reality.

By sheer coincidence, a month after I completed Maracasticks, the Japanese ramen company Nissin published a video documenting a quirky advertising stunt with a goal that is in direct opposition to my Maracasticks. Nissin created a smart fork, Otohiko, that plays a recording on a nearby phone to cancel out the noise of noodle slurping, the traditional method for eating ramen. The video for the campaign shows Otohiko masking the embarrassing noise of slurping as Asian diners encounter

ig. 8. Otohiko smart fork and its accompanying app

Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks


Do I as a designer want to empower users to be different, or do I want to facilitate fitting in?

irritated, disdainful looks from nonAsian eaters at nearby tables. Encountering this smart fork challenged my point of view. Maracasticks and Otohiko make it okay to slurp in opposite ways: while Maracasticks questions the visceral reactions that diners have toward Asian slurping, Otohiko hides the sound so it does not bother nonAsian diners. Do I as a designer want to empower users to be diferent, or do I want to facilitate itting in? With the case of Maracasticks, it was clear


that I viewed the slurping sound as part of a cultural experience that one should not be embarrassed by, and should never seek to hide, but this acceptance is not always so obvious in my other projects. Relecting on a number of my designs, it becomes clear that the tension between cultural authenticity and ‘itting in’ is at play throughout my body of work.

Fit in

Be culturally authentic

Initial Protoypes: Cultural Appropriation Barbie, Power Boots, Maracasticks





Many 1.5-generation immigrants and many multi-cultural people sufer from racial impostor syndrome, or the feeling that, having assimilated to American culture, they no longer have the right to claim their inherited cultures and races. I created Dress Code, a web-based shopping platform, in order to address this particular problem as it relates to fashion. Dress Code empowers users to ind clothes that are just as multi-cultural as they are. A database of tags identiies diferent cultural inluences around particular items of

clothing, then curates and suggests clothes inspired by 1.5-generation immigrants’ unique cultural heritages. With Dress Code, users can own fashion in a way that is authentic to them not just stylistically, but also culturally. When users sign up for Dress Code, they are asked to drop pins on a map to identify diferent countries they associate with their identities. Dress Code then curates and suggests garments that draw on the traditional and trending fashions of

Service Design: Dress Code


I missed things about my childhood, the colors from my culture

Priya Patel Indian Kenyan American architect In an interview on October 17, 2017


I don’t do Asian. I don’t want to be boxed in that style.

Jocelyn Joson Filipino American designer In an interview on October 5, 2017

Service Design: Dress Code



those countries. Users can purchase clothes from various partnering brands featured on the site. Dress Code functions primarily as a shopping platform, but secondarily as an educational tool: through tapping on speciic global regions, users learn more about the traditional clothing and craftsmanship unique to diferent cultures.

curated by Dress Code. Dress Code would supply a trunk-show-like kit of cultural clothes tailored to the heritage of employees who’ve registered for the service. Users dress up according to the choice of garments provided, and an oice party becomes the social event in which they may present their new identityconscious outits. Any clothes users

While Dress Code is meant to appeal to those 1.5-generation immigrants who struggle with racial imposter syndrome, it might also service a much wider audience. A range of various users might simply be curious about the ways in which culture, regardless of their personal heritage, is translated and presented through fashion.

Dress Code addresses racial impostor syndrome by helping shoppers find clothes that are just as multi-cultural as they are

Dress Code is a shopping platform that curates and suggests garments that draw on the traditional fashions of a culture A social media campaign called #dresscodefriday would make an appropriate irst user-acquisition for Dress Code. #Dresscodefriday functions as a costume oice party

the cultures that give rise to various trends. Because these brands create replications of replications, an H&M beach cover-up kimono, for example, becomes completely detached from its original source as a Japanese garment for formal occasions. By using Dress Code as a plug in, fast fashion brands can share authentic information about their clothes and promote better ethos.

decide to keep can be purchased after the party. The campaign allows users to both try out product before committing to buy, while social media posts documenting the parties increases traic to the Dress Code site. Additional applications for Dress Code might include plugins useable with other fashion platforms. Fast fashion brands like H&M and Asos, who rely heavily on styles originating on runways and from high-end designers, end up creating garments far-removed from their original creators, not to mention

Service Design: Dress Code


User journey for the social media campaign, #dresscodefriday


Dress Code also functions as an educational tool, informing users about traditional clothing and craftsmanship.

wear clothes authentic to who they are, while also making visual public statements of cultural ownership over certain appropriated trends.

Service Design: Dress Code


While Dress Code enables users to ind clothes that reference their culture, it also addresses the problem of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation refers to unequal power dynamics where members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture that is marginalized or oppressed and use those elements for capital gain. Once the Dress Code database is populated, the platform can begin to identify manufacturers that engage in unfair appropriative

Once the Dress Code database is populated, the platform can begin to identify manufacturers that engage in unfair appropriative practices and encourage education and change ig. 9. Famous case of cultural appropriation by Victoria’s Secret where they took a sacred Native American headpiece and reduced it to a meaningless costume in 2012


practices and encourage education and change, perhaps in the form of ethical partnering with source cultures.

While Dress Code enables users to find clothes that reference their culture, it also addresses the problem of cultural appropriation.

Service Design: Dress Code


The current iteration of Dress Code as a web-based shopping platform is based on my original idea for an app that runs on a home smart mirror called Idbo. The smart mirror would allow users to try on clothes in the comfort of their own homes simply by running the Idbo app. Much like the current version of Dress Code, the app proposes a potential solution to the problem faced by many model minority immigrants, who take pride in their cultural heritages yet ind it personally uncomfortable or socially unacceptable to wear culturally-au-


thentic clothing in their day-to-day lives.

Dress Code originated from my previous idea for an app that runs on a Smart Mirror, called Idbo. This original design concept is similar to the current version of Dress Code in that both ideas use the 1.5 generation immigrant’s background to suggest garments inspired by

their unique identities. Initially, I sought to create an opportunity for immigrants to reclaim styles that have been appropriated from their cultures, while simultaneously taking into account the normalization of un-credited appropriation by both high and low fashion brands. However, as I developed the app further, it became clear that the thing that made this concept strong was the database of cultural inspirations and its various applications as a shopping platform, educational tool, and potential for expansion. I abandoned

the smart mirror app idea in order to focus more directly on the Dress Code platform, and shifted the problem Dress Code addresses. Rather than focusing on cultural appropriation by fashion brands, I opted to tackle the more user-focused (and consequential) problem of racial impostor syndrome. Fashion is one of the most direct, visible, and immediate ways we have to signal identity outwardly. Ultimately, users of Dress Code could combat feeling like racial imposters and instead feel empowered by the opportunity to

Tags like the “Onest Cards� that ship with the items sold further enforce the service’s ethos by informing shoppers of the cultural references.

Service Design: Dress Code




BEYOND SCREENS: SWITCH MOBILE APP AND SMART SPEAKER SKILL Inspired by personal accounts of code-switching from my users during the interview process, I wanted to explore ways in which an app might interact with the ways immigrants present themselves through speech. Code-switching is the practice of shifting the ways one speaks depending on context, as when one changes their accent to sound more like those around them to it in. It is a practice most recognized when black Americans shift their speech from slang usage to more grammatically proper (or white) “standard�

ways of speaking. But code-switching is also an everyday experience for many immigrants, and often happens involuntarily and quickly, without the speaker recognizing the change. Switch is a mobile app designed to help users understand when, why, and how often they code-switch, and more frequently and eiciently by tracking changes in language choices and accents, then clearly presenting this data. In its irst iteration, I imagined Switch as a tracking app that would

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Accent is a signal you don’t deserve to be treated the same.

Henry Yu Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia In an interview on October 17, 2017


I feel more confident and American when I’m Mike.

Minh Nguyen Vietnamese American 1.5 Gen Immigrant In an interview on November 1, 2017

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Turning on and off an accent is a privilege‌ a protective layer.

Senongo Akpem Founder, Pixel Fable In an interview on November 17, 2017


Scenario mapping

track users’ language and draw awareness to their habits and frequency around code-switching. First, the app would sync users’ manners of speech by recording their phone calls and identifying speech patterns. Next, the app would prompt the user to name identities associated with changing speech patterns like alter egos or aliases. In one example, the user chooses the name Minh for his culturally Vietnamese self, and Mike for his Americanized, whitewashed persona. Once the app knows which speech patterns designate Minh and

which Mike, Switch silently responds to the user throughout the day, tracking changes in his speech, then documenting their locations on a color-coded and time-stamped map, illustrating where and when the user was Minh or Mike. It soon became clear, however, that users generally know they speak diferently in diferent contexts, and such an app would merely present data without serving much of a purpose. I decided to reframe Switch as a habit-changing app. In

its new iteration, Switch sends the user nudges when they’re speaking in one manner for a certain period of time, thus encouraging them to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and try speaking with other accents. For example, if Mike wants to speak more like his Vietnamese self at work, Switch can send Mike an encouraging notiication like, You just broke your personal record! You kept your accent at work for 2 hours! Or, as is the case with many immigrants, if Mike wants to eliminate his accent to sound more American

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill





Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill



Learnings from User Testing 1. Timeline of screens unclear 2. Needs signiďŹ ers to prompt interaction 3. The app presupposes that users already know who they code switch to 4. Geo-location stats not as useful (they already know where they code switch) as time 5. Make stats more tangble, % is not relatable

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Switch helps you code switch less


Switch helps you code switch more

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Catch me when I code switch, so I can stop it, and be more culturally authentic.


Train me to code switch, so I can sound more relevant at work.

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Switch acknowledges that there are two opposing objectives when it comes to code switch. While users want authentic self-expression, they also strategically change their accents depending on context to win acceptance. during a meeting with a particular client, the app would notify him with messages like, You just switched back to your accent and instruct him in the Americanized pronunciation of what he just said. Integrated with a smart speaker like Amazon Echo, which already listens to everything users say, Switch can easily track the user’s speech and ofer even more personal nudges. If the user wants to speak more with her accent at work, an Alexa in her oice might say, “You switched 28 times in in the last hour. What is going on?”. If, instead, she wants to remove her accent, her Alexa can inform, “I have searched my archives. You switched back to your accent in your oice today. We already talked about this.”


The new version of Switch acknowledges that there are two opposing objectives when it comes to codeswitching. While most users desire to express themselves authentically, they also strategically change their language use depending on context or to win acceptance. Users can set diferent goals, then: to either speak more like their culturally authentic selves, or to adopt white American language habits and pronunciation when it beneits them, speciically in professional settings. Alerts act as reminders to users: either to codeswitch less or to try it more often. In its potential to partner with other companies, Switch’s tracking system could share useful data and help expand hardware in order to challenge trends toward whitewashing in technological development. By implementing smart eyewear, for example, the app could track not only variations in speech patterns but also the visual elements of certain interactions that trigger code switches. Or by sharing collected data with developers of smart devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home, Switch could aid in the development of multicultural AI “voices” that immigrant users would feel comfortable interacting with in their own homes.

Nudge me to speak with my accent

Help me speak in Standard English

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill


Hello, Manako. You switched 28 times in the last hour. What is going on?


Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill



I have searched my archives. You switched back to your accent in your office today. We already talked about this.

Beyond Screens: Switch Mobile App and Smart Speaker Skill





Prisma is an ethnically diverse stock photo site that broadens visual representation of identities in photos used in various media. Prisma helps designers and companies ind images that include a diverse group of people through custom photoshoots and stock images featuring diverse models. Prisma addresses a problematic lack of diversity in stock photos databases. A search of the word “doctor” on a popular stock photo website like Shutterstock immediately yields im-

ages of 117 model dressed as doctors. Yet, only eight of these doctors are people of color. Given the pervasive use of stock photos in blogs, social media, advertisements, and company websites, the lack of representation in this medium may have critical consequences. The harmful efects of symbolic annihilation is well researched, and they include: lower self-esteem for people of color and diiculty in imagining themselves in positions of importance.1 To combat Boboltz and Yam, “Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters.”


Business Modeling: Prisma Stock Photos


Prisma suggests other alternatives that are similar yet use models from other ethnicities


Market analysis of stock photo services

this problem, Prisma makes it as easy as possible for designers to ind alternative images. When a user clicks on a photo on Prisma, the platform immediately suggests other alternatives that are similar, but use models of other ethnicities. For example, if a user is looking for a photo of a

Value Proposition: make it easy to find socially conscious alternatives doctor in a senior position and clicks

on an image of a white, elderly and male, the site also shows images of elderly women and men of color in lab coats. Starting out, Prisma might link images from other stock image sites to aggregate their collection. It could build its depository of diverse images through custom photoshoots to tailor user needs, but by retaining licenses. This structure lowers the cost of photoshoots for smaller businesses, while Prisma keeps proiting from assets gained from a shoot.

Prisma’s goal is to ultimately subvert negative racial stereotypes and expand roles associated with speciic races by making it as easy as possible for designers to make a more ethical choice. Upon research, I learned that representing a diverse range of models is essentially good for business. Diversity is shown to increase sales and helps align brand with millennials’ values. A study that interviewed more than 3,000 women to understand consumer behavior found that

Business Modeling: Prisma Stock Photos


“Black women were 1.5 times more likely to purchase a fashion product advertised by a black model. Caucasian women’s purchase intentions did not change regardless of whether the model in the fashion campaign was black or white.”2 Furthermore, an article in an inluential advertising industry blog, AdAge, noted “Big brands have woken up to the realization that . . . young Americans across the board value diversity and orgaBarry, “Diversity in Fashion Advertising Does Sell.”



nizations or brands that explicitly airm their acceptance of diversity.” 3 Furthermore, showing the concept to professional designers yielded enthusiastic feedback. One interaction designer commented, “I want this service to exist now. I sometimes have to type in uncomfortably speciic words like ‘African American, middle-aged, male’ to ind more diverse photos, and I love that this platform automatically shows me Zmuda, “Ad Campaigns Are Finally Relecting Diversity of U.S.”


alternatives that I could use. Also, I’d rather pay for a custom photo shoot than to Getty Images to purchase one of their photos.” There are already other services that ofer diverse stock photos, but what makes Prisma unique is its suggestion feature. It makes it as easy as possible for users to ind more diverse alternatives, and confronts their own implicit biases.

Business Modeling: Prisma Stock Photos



Business Modeling: Prisma Stock Photos





With their unique ability to make ideas that seem plausible, feasible, and even inevitable, product designers are able to critique contemporary systems through tangible means. Speculative objects can provoke conversation by raising valuable questions: Should the object exist? Why doesn’t it exist already? What must we do today to avoid needing the object in the future? In this project I explored speculative futures to inform product proposals for the present day.

I began this speculative futuring process by developing a newspaper and advertisement for a product that might exist decades from now in a utopian or dystopian future, and which represents an extreme progression of present-day trends and behaviors. Once I leshed out this world by writing the headlines of the day, I worked backwards to ideate a product that might either foster or forestall the envisioned future. I designed critical products for the here-and-now, abiding by Raymond Loewy’s “most advanced, yet ac-

Speculative Design: Xenophone


ceptable” principle for developing cutting-edge products that people will not be too alienated to adopt. The inal product is the ‘original specimen’— the initial product offering that would precipitate a chain of events that ultimately prevents the dystopia I crafted at the beginning of the course. Thus, products are objects of design, functioning as instruments for political, social, and cultural critique.


DYSTOPIA One key insight derived from my research is the notion that shame simultaneously drives the immigrant’s desire to assimilate and his fear of losing touch with his ethno-cultural heritage. In an imagined future in the next century, a company called Eden Technologies devises a revolutionary ‘emotion-technology’ that temporarily removes shame from one’s body. In this world, people routinely visit Eden’s clinics to have

shame suctioned out of their bodies. As I have learned through the stories of 1.5 generation immigrants, it is shame that drives people to change their behaviors, languages, attitudes, or appearances, once they feel scrutinized or oppressed for being diferent. Because of Eden’s services, then, personal shame is managed in a clinical and systematized way. A shameless world is created, in which phenomena like assimilation, racial impostor syndrome, and social pressure to conform are experiences of the past.

Speculative Design: Xenophone


BANK OF ALL SHAMES SMART MIRROR In the dystopic future where Eden Technologies’ shame-suction centers prevail, all members of the society, from its elites to the more economically disadvantaged, are invited to enjoy shame-free lives. While newspapers include favorable headlines such as “Shameless Tech Tied to Lower Suicide Rates” and “A Pro-Shameless New Pope” the technology that manipulates human emotion artiicially is a source of public debate. Therefore, to persuade more citizens to support Eden Technologies, its parent company, Bank of All Shames, launches an advertising campaign. In this world, newspapers are consumed on tablets as well as smart mirrors, and Bank of All Shames distributes complimentary smart mirrors to newspaper subscribers as part of their campaign. In a shame-free world enabled by Eden, I envision that anyone can shamelessly stare at themselves as they read the daily newspaper. The free smart mirrors provide powerful arguments for the shame-suction technology, as they cleverly remind users of its beneits every morning.


Speculative Design: Xenophone



User journey

Transducer Vibration

Ear drum

Bone conduction technology


Speculating about a future in which shame-removing devices could be a scientiic reality is a useful exercise, but it does little to tackle the root of the problem, or the sources that invoke shame from the beginning. The medical device is prescriptive by nature, a problem I recognize from other elements of my thesis, which can err toward an assumption that my audience should—or should at least want to—value and incorporate their cultural heritage in the irst place. By taking the form of a medical device, the shame-suction reads like disease treatment, thus emphasizing the solution before taking into account the subtleties of the problem. Ultimately, I want my design interventions to feel inclusive, lexible, and unassuming, rather than rigid and prescriptive. I shifted my focus, then, to imagine a set of wearable masks that would enable users to embrace their cultural heritage without assuming that it would also bring about feelings of shame. Many cultures use masks as oratory devices, a history I wanted to reference through my design of Xenophone, a mask-shaped speaker that recounts the story of the user’s family history. Accompanied by a

smart-phone app used to record one’s family story, Xenophone creates a new ritual around the oral recounting and sharing of one’s cultural past. The irst step in using the product requires the user to download Xenophone’s accompanying app on her smartphone. The user would then open this app with, say, her grandmother, and record her grandmother’s story of how she migrated to the US, a story that might otherwise go untold. She then syncs the app with the actual Xenophone mask-speaker, so that the audio ile is stored within it. Now, whenever the user wants to connect with her family story, she can turn on the mask, wear it, and hear the story she recorded with her grandmother. The mask employs a cutting-edge technology called bone conduction. Unlike regular speakers, it conducts sound through a magnetic ield, rather than through sound waves, and when pressed against any surface, including one’s body, it can turn anything into a speaker. There are speakers and headphones on the market that already employ this technology, where users press devices against their skin to hear music, rather than inserting earbuds in their years. Em-

ig. 10.Circuit diagram and part photos from Adafruit

Speculative Design: Xenophone


Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Speculative Design: Xenophone


Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Speculative Design: Xenophone


ploying this technology, Xenophone transforms the experience of hearing one’s family history into an intimate and tactile one. The user has to wear the mask and inhabit it, in order to hear the story in her bones. The biggest struggle in my design of Xenophone came in deciding how the mask should look; and how it might visually convey one’s heritage formally. I experimented with two methods: I tried to make the mask either customizable, or to create several diferent masks representing a variety of diferent cultures. In the customizable version, I envisioned that a customer would choose different facial features (the shape of the head, eyes, and nose) through a website catalogue in order to create a unique face they might identify with. Each feature would relect an analogous aspect of their heritage, such as a headpiece shaped like a pagoda, or the needle-thin eyes of Japanese Ukiyoe prints. There were some problems with this approach. It was easy to make the features customizable on paper, but in threedimensional form, it was diicult to make parts that would it together interchangeably. Also, the exaggeration of certain facial features resulted in sometimes-comical forms, and the masks erred toward


Speculative Design: Xenophone


caricature. On the other hand, my idea to ofer users a variety of representational masks further reinforced reductionist stereotypes. By asking users to match their multi-dimensional identities with one ixed and predetermined visual representation, I feared I was participating in one of the very assumptions my thesis sets out to challenge. Finally, I chose to ofer one abstract mask, alluding to a representation of a face mounted in a wooden frame. I created the mold for the mask by


carving foam and creating an aquaresin coating, and vacuum formed it using polystyrene. I created exterior and interior layers for the mask, hid the electronics between them, and sealed the sides by enclosing the two layers within a wooden frame. When not in use, the mask would hang on the as a visual reference to one’s heritage. The user would take it of the wall and place it on their face to activate the bone conduction speaker and hear the recorded story.

Speculative Design: Xenophone


The commercial for Xenophone visually conveys the user’s connection with her family history by tranforming her outfit to a traditional one


Speculative Design: Xenophone


Promotional video I shot for Xenophone. The change in the woman’s clothes from western to traditional Indian garb shows the transformation from a whitewashed immigrant identity to one that is in touch with her cultural heritage


Speculative Design: Xenophone



Speculative Design: Xenophone





Experience Design is a term used to describe the design of engaging public events. Not to be confused with User Experience Design (which focuses on usability of digital interfaces, like a website or an app), these events provide ways for brands to reach new audiences, and can take a variety of forms, from popup shops to public installations to social media campaigns. In an article on Adweek, an executive for the experiential marketing irm IMG explains, “Experiential is a uniquely fast and efective way to build brand

awareness through one-to-one connections with consumers. It engages all ive senses, sparking emotions that form lasting memories which have been shown to drive brand loyalty.”1 Experiential marketing differs from traditional advertising in that customers actively engage with a product through lived experience. A link is created in the consumer’s mind between the brand and a personal event. The most successful of Monllos, “Brands Are Doing More Experiential Marketing. Here’s How They’re Measuring Whether It’s Working.”


Experience Design: Hyphen


these experiences are able to showcase the brand’s pre-existing values while forging a new connection with customers. As a graduate design student, I had the rare opportunity to design an experience from beginning to end: through inception of a brand, deining a target audience, building of physical props, and inally the execution of the culminating event. I began this process by irst deining my user group as 1.5 generation immigrants like myself, and envisioning the sort of atmosphere and feelings I’d like the experience to evoke for the audience. First and foremost, I knew I wanted the experience to somehow act as a celebration of inbetweenness. In between their cultural heritages and their adopted homelands, between their parents and their peers, and between the racial binaries of black and white, my user group identiies strongly with this gray-area of being. And because inbetweenness is such a personal and internal state, it seemed itting that my celebration should be private, quiet, and relective, rather than overtly expressive. This concept of celebrating inbetweenness became key as my event design went through many iterations.


1ST ITERATION: T/HERE PHONE BOOTH In its irst iteration, I envisioned an event called “T/HERE,” a public art installation celebrating inbetweenness. Using a reclaimed payphone booth as the impetus, my concept would prompt random passersby to interact with an actor on the other end of the phone, which would ring at random in its public location. The participant/answerer, having lifted the receiver, would ind themselves engaged in conversation by the actor regarding the participant’s personal history, family background, and experiences relating to their cultural history. I chose to employ a phone booth because of the ways phones have, in recent history, been the primary way immigrants stay connected to their families abroad. Furthermore, I liked the way this intervention could encourage the user to relect on themselves within an enclosed, safe space while in public, which I see as analogous to the way immigrant groups often occupy private-feeling enclaves within larger public spaces. But midway though the development of my intervention, I realized a similar project by an Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi, called Once Upon a Place,

Prototype for the maze

had been done already.2 In Mojadidi’s piece, fake phone booths were placed in the middle of Times Square and participants were invited to listen to recorded stories of immigrants’ challenging experiences in the US through the handset. Furthermore, I realized my intervention did not do enough to express the plurality of identities associated with inbetweenness. It seemed that it was not enough to provide a safe space for Cascone, “Artist Rewires Phone Booths in Times Square to Tell the Poignant Tales of Immigrants.”


expressing one’s heritage; I wanted my design experience to more afirmatively recognize participants’ plurality in terms of their cultural heritages.

2ND ITERATION: MAZE FOOTPRINTS In the second iteration of the event, I wanted to play with the structure of the maze, which seemed to ofer a itting spatial analogy to my users’ everyday experiences navigating

self-presentation. I imagined a maze at human scale in a large warehouselike space. A grid on the loor and tall fabric banners hanging from metal beams would delineate diferent paths within the space. In this interactive labyrinth, the audience would implement a set of interactive tools: audio sets, special slippers, and masks, on their journey from the maze’s entrance to its exit. Each of these design choices was intended to represent something about the experience of the 1.5 generation

Experience Design: Hyphen


immigrant. As a metaphor for the process of life-navigation, the maze makes visible the many choices my users must make in deciding how to present themselves in their daily lives. These choices, the maze reminds, are as instant, subconscious, and even arbitrary as the choice to turn right or left. By confronting the participants with questions over their audio headsets (e.g. “Do you have a Starbucks name?”), I hoped to expose the ways in which we make subtle choices to manipulate our identities in order to make ourselves


more acceptable in America. I hoped to give participants an opportunity to relect on what it means to, for example, adopt an easy-to-spell, American-sounding name to save yourself a few minutes ordering cofee. To further emphasize the visualization of daily choices, participants would use slippers that also function as stamps. Dipped in paint, the slippers mark the players’ footprints, as a trail of color makes obvious their paths through the maze and thus

the choices they have made. But to further complicate the event, the masks the users wear also prevent them from seeing others’ painted footprints on the loor. Covered by a colored plastic ilm the same color as the paint, the idea is that the users’ vision is impaired in such a way that the color on the loor is cancelled out. Like the subtle choices that we make to conform without much deliberation, these footprints are not visible to the participant when they make the marks. It is only at the end, when the mask is taken of,

that the efects of the footprints are revealed. The footprints illustrate the quiet ways in which assimilation works by removing cultural references associated with one’s identity. The goal is to show that the more one is white-washed, the more visible footprints there would be. The problem, however, is that after the grand reveal of the footprints on the loor, the participants would see footprints of the same color, which would not allow users to diferentiate their own footprints from those of the group. To solve this, I might have designed a mask that would ilter all color into gray-scale, and to assign vibrant colors to the footprints, but I could not work out the technology to actualize this.

Right: the view from the mask. The mask’s pink ilm prevents seeing the footprints of the same color

Experience Design: Hyphen


ig. 11. The “I AM” wall from In And Of Itself

3RD ITERATION: I AM CARDS AND COLOR In the next version of the event, I retained certain game-like and spatial elements from the maze while changing the reward at the end of the maze to be a celebration of color using Holi powders. Borrowing from the popular magic performance in a theater in New York City, “In and Of Itself,” I conceived of a set of cards similar to the show’s “I Am” cards. Before entering the theater, the audi-


ence is asked to choose their identity by picking a card from the wall in the lobby. The cards include anything from “I Am a True Believer” to “I Am a Mother”, and at the end of the performance, the magician announces which card a member of the audience picked. In this iteration of the maze, the user picks a card that best describes their answers to questions like “I feel American when . . . ” and “All my life, I avoided being . . . ”, rather than choosing one’s path by audible questions. At each Tintersection where one has to choose

Above: making my own “IAM” wall

whether to go right or left, the user is confronted with a wall cards each proclaiming text that responds to the questions, like “I see the opportunities I have” and “I am a chameleon”. Depending on the card the user chooses, they are assigned a direction to turn. The cards also assign colors on the back, which determine the Holi powders the participant receives at the end of the maze. By the time participants reach the end of the maze, they have collected variously colored cards which are direct results of the answers chosen at each


Experience Design: Hyphen


Colorzooka prototype

intersection. Participants give these cards to a staf person, who then collects the Holi powders with the same colors as the cards, and loads them into an air-gun. Participants have the chance to have their unique set of color powders shot at them to experience a Holi-like celebration of colors. While I hoped this event would ofer participants the chance to relect on who they are, reimagine themselves through color, and celebrate the multiplicity integral to their identities, once tested, the event missed my intended mark. The experience of being shot with Holi powder felt violent rather than delightful, and instead of evoking the celebratory feel-


ing of a party, the paint evoked an atmosphere of vandalism. Moreover, my peers pointed out that the lack of direct correlation between the paint colors and the users’ choices diluted the outcome of the experience. The colors made the journey through the maze feel arbitrary, and ultimately it was unclear what the participant was supposed to take away from the experience.

Experience Design: Hyphen


FINAL ITERATION: HYPHEN DIY KALEIDOSCOPE By the inal iteration of the celebratory experience, I decided to scrap the idea of the maze in favor of a diferent but still playful metaphorical structure, the kaleidoscope. This object, historically a children’s toy, is delightful both for its element of privacy (a kaleidoscope’s viewer can only be used by one person at a time) and because the image it


ofers is always a surprise (even a slight turn of the device changes the resultant design). The kaleidoscope seemed to me the perfect metaphor by which to celebrate the personal and plural nature of identity. ‘Hyphen’ is a roaming creative station that invites participants to create personal kaleidoscopes that celebrate the uniqueness of users’ American identities. Hyphen consists of three distinct interactions. First, participants are given a DIY kaleidoscope kit called “Hy-

phen Viewer.” Next, they’re asked if there is a culture they associate with other than American, ill in the blank for ‘________-American’ and write their answers with a marker on the Hyphen Viewer. Participants are then presented with 60 cards featuring quotes from my interviews with model minorities on one side, and on the other side, more general descriptive terms derived from the interviews—words like “Tokenized,” “White-washed,” and “Lucky.” After choosing the descriptor they most identify with, they receive stickers

Experience Design: Hyphen



Experience Design: Hyphen



Experience Design: Hyphen



with these descriptors to be placed on the interior of the kaleidoscope. While the culture they wrote on the outside of the kaleidoscope may be a more formal label for one’s identity, these descriptors are more personal ways in which minorities ‘label’ themselves. Users are then presented with a inal creative choice when they pick a variety of beads and sequins from a pool of thirty-two bottles in order to make a completely unique kaleidoscope. Each relection of beads and sequins remains distinct, yet moves freely to make a unique patterns as participants spin the viewer. In contrast to the object’s generically labeled exterior, the speciic combina-

tion of beads and sequins chosen by each user enables a beautiful image, when viewed through the kaleidoscope, which is as individual as each user’s own identity. And while the outside label reduces one’s identity to something as one-dimensional as “Japanese-American,” on the inside, Hyphen presents a metaphor for personal expression through an array of colors, shapes, and unexpected patterns.

Experience Design: Hyphen


Step 1. Identify

What cultures do you identify with?

Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Experience Design: Hyphen


Step 2. Reflect

Pick a card with a word that best describes you Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Experience Design: Hyphen


Step 3. Celebrate

Place your word inside the kaleidoscope and add color

Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Experience Design: Hyphen


Fig. 1 At quas et prat volorerum ima vel magnis est occatem rernam aspero consequi ute nis corro


Experience Design: Hyphen



“I’ve had a lot of people try to tell me how I should identify culturally, but I feel like I’m Puerto RicanAmerican and it feels good being able to just say that... because that’s how I feel and it puts my own stamp on how I identify.” Participant, “Whitewashed” Puerto Rican-American

Experience Design: Hyphen


“I think it’s important to identify as something-American because America is a place that’s all over. You’re not like American, that’s it.”

Participant, “Non-Mexican” Latin American


Experience Design: Hyphen


“I’m half-Iraqi, but my skin is white, and it’s always just assumed that I’m white. Like white passing.”

Participant, “Lucky” Iraqi-American


Experience Design: Hyphen


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“Being American is like being a blank slate. American identity is so many things and so many cultures. We’re a nation of immigrants. I think it’s cool when you’re able to hold on to your heritage and still contribute to building the American culture” Participant, “Loud” Wakandan-American

Experience Design: Hyphen







This year-long thesis has been a tremendous personal journey. I relected on my own experience of immigrating and assimilating in this country as I listened and learned from my users’ stories. The process became a real struggle when it challenged my point of view as a designer: should I dare my users to be diferent by empowering them to proudly show their heritage, or should I help facilitate their integration into the dominantly white American culture, thereby respecting their earnest desires for acceptance?

I struggled to reconcile this dichotomy; encouraging users to amplify their immigrant identities put me at risk of belittling all the work they (and I) put into assimilating. Yes, it is a problem that assimilation is synonymous with whitewashing for Asian immigrants, but knowing how hard it is to remove cultural references like accents, clothes, and food, I could not ask them to undo all that work just so that they would be what I believed to be their more authentic, un-whitewashed selves.

Looking Forward


I grappled with these two objectives, trying to decide which position to take until it became clear that there was no right answer. These two opposing objectives, i.e. to be diferent or to it in, are part of the everyday experience for the model minority as they navigate through prejudices, misperceptions, stereotypes, and personal shame. I cannot decide for them what they should do. Design initiatives aimed around immigrant identity and the complicated perceptions of race in America reveal that there is no one solution. But in


acknowledging these two common perspectives among 1.5 generation immigrants, I learned to develop design solutions that confront a spectrum of concerns. For example, an app could be used to help one user speak more comfortably with an accent, and to train another to speak standard English more luently. A shopping platform might help users ind clothes that reference their cultures while also exposing brands that practice exploitative cultural appropriation. Recognizing that in a complex system, designers

cannot always ofer solutions that single-handedly ix problems may be the most humbling lesson I learned from this thesis process. What we can do, instead, is to listen to users and respond to their needs in ways that are meaningful. I hope to take this lesson of humility with me as I continue my design journey.

Looking Forward




he past two years at Products of Design has been the greatest gift of my life. I could not have have done it without all the friends, family, and the teachers who supported and guided me through it. I would especially like to thank my parents for making this education possible and to Allan for believing in me even when I couldn’t.






Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. “Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration.” The International Migration Review 31, no. 4 (1997): 826–74. Barrett, James, and David R. Roediger. “Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class.” In Immigrant Identity and the Politics of Citizenship, edited by John Bukowczyk. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Barry, Ben. “Diversity in Fashion Advertising Does Sell.” Business of Fashion (blog), October 14, 2015. Boboltz, Sara, and Kimberly Yam. “Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters.” Huffington Post (blog), February 24, 2017. Cascone, Sarah. “Artist Rewires Phone Booths in Times Square to Tell the Poignant Tales of Immigrants.” Artnet News (blog), June 28, 2017. Chow, Kat. “‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks.” Code Switch - Race and Identity, Remixed (blog), n.d. codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-betweenasians-and-blacks. Clark, W. A. V. Immigrants and the American Dream: Remaking the Middle Class. New York: Guilford Press, 2003. Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London: The MIT Press, 2013. Fusco, Coco. English Is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas. New York City: New Press, 1995. Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. “Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Diference.” Cultural Anthropology 7, no. 1 (1992): 6–23. Monllos, Kristina. “Brands Are Doing More Experiential Marketing. Here’s How They’re Measuring Whether It’s Working.” Adweek (blog), October 1, 2017. Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People, 2011.


Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. The Haymarket Series. London ; New York: Verso, 1991. Sullivan, Andrew. “Why Do Democrats Feel Sorry for Hillary Clinton?” New York Magazine (blog), April 14, 2017. Uyematsu, Amy. “The Emergence of Yellow Power in America.” Gidra. October 1969, Vol.1, No. 7 edition. Densho Digital Repository. Wu, Ellen D. The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, 2015. Zmuda, Natalie. “Ad Campaigns Are Finally Relecting Diversity of U.S.” AdAge (blog), March 10, 2014.




Fig 1.

Christopher Gregory for The New York Times. opinion/20SIUweb/20SIUweb-superJumbo.jpg Fig 2. San Francisco, Calif., April . Children at the Weill public school for the so-called international settlement and including many Japanese-Americans, saluting the lag. They include evacuees of Japanese descent who will be housed in War relocation authority centers for the duration. California San Francisco, 1942. April. Photograph. item/2001705928/. Fig 3. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Fig 4. Fig 5. U.S. Congress. United States Code: Naturalization, 8 U.S.C. §§ 351-416. 1925. Periodical. Fig 6. Fig 7. Fig 8. Fig 9. Fig 10.


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Hacking the Racial Binary