SUPER. RICHARD CLARKSON
ÂŠ Richard Clarkson 2014 Edited by Julia Plevin Graphic Design by Charlotta Hellichius
table of contents
Introduction Why I wanted to be Super: Intent p.7 Methodology p.13 Exploring what Super actually is: Research p.27 Audience p.45 Being Super: Initial Lenses p.51 Intermediate Lenses p.79 Infinite Lenses p.99 Helping others become Super: Transitions p.109 Exercises p.149 Conclusions
If you are reading this it means I have succeeded. It is likely you sit where long ago I once sat, reading what I once read. This is a tale of my journey, how it changed me and how I hope it can change you. I sit blindfolded in my quarters writing this in total darkness â€“ feeling my way through the words with my fingertips. This is a most remarkable journey, with terrible evils and legendary battles. When saving the world, one must first find his or her place within it.
Super is the explorative research of my Masters of Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The thesis is an inquiry into why superpowers hold so much sway over specific western populations and exploring why I was so enchanted by them. Through the research I found that historical superpowers were derived from abstractions of human nature, fears and desires, and later used as a way to mitigate paranoia and social unease. Superpowers became my coping mechanism during my transition from New Zealand to New York, which appeared to me as an enormous world with seemingly insurmountable problems such as poverty, greed and corruption. While these problems do exist worldwide, I only began to truly recognize them with that shift in context. In further research I found that ‘superpowers as a coping mechanism’ goes much deeper than standard escapism, but can actually be leveraged for lasting meaningful change. I argue that small bursts of sudden unexpected success can be carried over as sense memory into other moments of significant social challenge. Through exuberant delight and empowerment these moments of success can carry over into other areas of life. By utilizes performance art as a frame to deliver this to create an interactive gallery show I can draw from cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology and entertainment narrative structures. In the final prototype performance participants are guided through a selection of coping mechanisms and scenarios inspired by Angela Duckworth’s character strengths research. The prototypes incorporate abstractions of superpowers as core real world strengths such as curiosity (flying), zest (energy blasting) and super-speed (grit). They are meant to ultimately help each participant reframe and rescale the perception of their own world and their ability to positively impact it. The mechanisms and scenarios create the context that makes these reflective conversations and discoveries possible. In effort to break the mundane routine of modern-day life I strived to rekindle the value placed on remarkable experiences. Never before has our smallness been so magnified or our lives so constructed for depression. We need these extraordinary objects and experiences to provide both momentary joy and long-term shift towards an understanding of what makes us special in order to battle those insurmountable obstacles. My overarching argument is simple: People are powerful and that they can realize their potential through remarkable experiences. This is a hero’s journey, as you read through the sections
of this thesis you will come across paragraphs of fiction â€“ such as that at the beginning of this section. These fiction sections are based on truths but written in the structure and tone of a superhero narrative, identified with the blue font. These sections are road markers of the progress along the heroâ€™s journey but also allow insight into my own feelings and emotions at that particular stage of the thesis. They tell the story inside my own head in a way that only fiction can do. I invite you to see yourself as this character, to feel, to understand and to become them. Prepare yourself, for this is your journey as much as it is mine.
It begins with a three-year-old Richard standing on the hilltop of a neighboring farm looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Heâ€™s dressed in a homemade Batman costume and flying a kite. The blades of grass are crisp underfoot and a strong sea breeze sends chills up Richardâ€™s spine. There are other children playing here too, but none so close to the edge of the hilltop near the waves. The deep rumbling sets of waves mix with the happy squeals of the other children. Heroes are made in ordinary moments like these. This is when we are called to adventure.
why I wanted to be super.
Even as a young child I gravitated towards superpowers. I had various costumes and outfits of both Batman and Blue Power Ranger. I spent countless hours in front of the television sharing in their adventures and many more running around the family farm in New Zealand envisioning myself as them. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later in my college education that I realized how deeply ingrained the teachings of these heroes had become. I have an inflated sense of justice, an unfailing belief that good will prevail over evil and a never-ending desire to find my true power. I suspect that when the conditions are right, an inner superhero will emerge and I will become powerful. I am not alone in the search for my power. Since the first publication of Superman in June of 1938, readers of comics have marveled at displays of physical and mental superiority. Dreams of possessing powers lead to fantasies of what one would do with them. This leads to the first question: where does the overwhelming desire for powers come from? I begin this journey exploring the concept of control. For instance, the lack of control of a social situation leads to a desire to become invisible. Lack of control over ones geographical situation creates a desire for flight. Lack of spatial control leads to an aspiration for telekinesis. Tom DeFlaco, editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics claims that superheroes present us with what we wish we had.1 They are idealized versions of us, possessing the attributes, honor and courage we often lack. The lack of control versus the wish for power is a feasible argument, but others argue it is based on a deeper, primal set of desires and unconscious fears. Author, actor and humorist John Hodgman conducted a social experiment offering people the choice between flight or invisibility. Hodgman found that flying comes from the ideal selfless, confident and unashamed hero complex. In contrast, invisibility reflects the fear of who we actually are, the fact that deep down we might be fearful and depressed.2 Professor Will Brookers of Kingston University elaborates that superheroes, and thus superpowers, enable readers to imagine a better world with an alternate version of them.3 Chris Dais speculates that these alternate versions are born of a given society’s values, struggles and beliefs. Therefore while wishes for power are the derivative of an imagined self, it is the societal context of the time that actually defines the alternative version. In The Hero defines the Genre, the Genre defines the Hero, Peter Coogan states that the superhero genre 1 Tom DeFlaco, Superheros Are Made. (Rosenberg and Coogan 2013) 2 This American Life’s #178 Superpowers Podcast. Act One. Invisible Man Vs. Hawkman. 3 Will Brookers, We Could Be Heroes. (Rosenberg and Coogan 2013)
specifically responds to changes in culture. The powers of Jerry Sigel and Joseph Shuster’s golden age Superman responded to wartime anxieties and industrial promise. Originally superman had enhanced superhuman powers such as the ability to jump over tall buildings or run faster than a speeding locomotive. It wasn’t until later years that his powers of flight and even time travel reflected that of the contemporary “Supergod.”1 From a philosophical viewpoint the context of superpowers explores questions central to the human psyche. Tom and Matt Morris cite such themes as ethics, responsibility, justice, identity, destiny, faith, love and courage among others as questions society may face in radical new ways in the near future.2 Understanding previous cultures’ affinities with various powers will provide valuable insight into how to navigate new areas in the future. Advancing technologies in areas of genetic research, nanotechnology and robotics indicate that society’s modern-day perception of superhuman powers has changed. This makes sense considering that the abilities generated from technologies such as Google, Skype, gesture control and personal smartphones would most certainly have been perceived as superpowers just three decades ago. Why do I seem to feel an exasperated desire for superpowers? Initially I chose this thesis to find answers to these questions. What I found was that really I was looking for something far more complex – the meaning of my life and my place in the world. 2013 had created the perfect set of conditions for me to begin questioning my existence, not only as a designer but also as a person. For the first time in my life I didn’t know where I would be in a year. It was a feeling that terrified me. I felt powerless in the face of my New York context. I had my eyes opened to a much larger and much less forgiving world filled with seemingly unsolvable problems and insurmountable obstacles. The previous year’s classes on social value, sustainability and resilience gave me firsthand experience in the face of these problems. We had lectures from people who really were changing the world such as Panthea Lee, the lead designer for Reboot. Reboot is an impressive company doing life-changing design projects in Afghanistan, China, Nigeria and Pakistan. Lee emphasized the fact that sometimes you have to spend a year doing something you know is not going to help just to eventually reach something that might. This clashed dramatically with my previous mental model of design. 1 Comic Book writer Grant Morrison. (Morrison 2011) 2 (Morris and Morris 2005)
The aspirational nature of design education, full of in-depth studies of god-like designers of the past and present, had made me brainwashed into believing that design would save the world and that I could be the one to do it. When I saw that the world was not the superhero-like design life I had envisioned, I reacted to those models. I recoiled and escaped to superhero cartoons where saving the world was easy and took all of 20 minutes. It took a long time to realize that I was trying to vicariously save the world through these animated heroes. All the while I couldnâ€™t see my own powers, my own strengths and unique talents, which was the very thing I was trying to help others to do. It is this personal journey that makes me uniquely able to do this thesis. I have lived through feeling powerless, I have journeyed far into the unknown of my inner self and I have returned a hero of my own perception.
I fear I may not be as special as I thought I was. I fear I am normal. I fear I am not going to change the world. I wonder what people want in life? Is it balance, happiness, money and power? But if life is not a competition nor contains the possibility to change it then what is the point? What sad insignificant lives we must live if that is to be our destiny. Perhaps we create our own destruction to give ourselves a collective purpose. I was told that I can change the world and I was told I was destined for greatness. I was told I could save the world with design. But Iâ€™m not so sure anymore. Perhaps I should stick with my cartoon heroes. I donâ€™t know what I want. I no longer see my destiny.
The Illustrious Omnibus of Superpowers #2 by Pop Chart Labs
This has been a challenging process. For whatever reason, at every opportunity to be super I fell short. This began to perpetuate to the point that even when I won small battles I saw only failure. I fell into the same cognitive traps that I was reading about. Though in the midst of that confusion, I began to find myself. I had to become lost in order to better understand my path. This was my process. I ensured I did not fall completely by maintaining certain structures across each of the subsections. The models and methods created from those before me became my guide. While every journey is different I was able to take refuge in these structures and maintain forward momentum. The first of these structures was that ideas and experiences take many forms. These forms are shaped by views of context, stakeholders, needs and opportunities and influenced by advancing technology, economics, media and societal structure. The definition for the word “products,” as outlined in Allan Chochinov’s Masters of Fine Arts program Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts encompasses an array of outcomes. Product is used as a term to describe objects, systems, services and interactions that emerge from multifaceted design processes. The benefit of framing outcomes as such ensures that the offerings and end results remain flexible, adaptable and relevant. The idea of a flexible definition of outcomes and offerings is important to the methodology of this thesis, especially when the vessel of theory is experience. Recognizing that a product will carry with it a set of consequences is also essential. This thesis has been instantiated through a series of deliberate lenses. Each lens surfaces different urgencies involved with the “super” topic, and each carries its own set of consequences. The lenses have been, and continue to be, a way-finding system, and a large component of the core methodology. It is through these lenses that I was able to arrive at a product of design for Super. The product and making section of this thesis is founded upon models established by designers Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa and exemplified by Milan Metthey and Andrew Friend. Videography, curation, furniture design, literature, speculative objects, retail products and immersive environments are the tools and languages of the modern-day designer. The methodology of this thesis involves utilizing these very tools, focusing primarily on speculative object experience and performance art, which in particular play to strengths and skills gathered throughout my upbringing, industrial design education and my aspirations as an artist. Speculative object experience and performance art are both very powerful experiential devices, in that users are able to interact with them physically and emotionally.
For the most part I reach my audience digitally, through video or blog. Video is fast becoming recognized as the lingua franca of design. The ability to very quickly and efficiently present information and convey emotion through video makes it a particularly attractive method for reaching a vast digital audience. Platforms such as Pinterest, Tumblr and other living blog services enable participants to dig deeper, see the process and understand evolution of thought. These two mediums are particularly powerful when used in tandem. These tools allow access to such a wide breadth of communication opportunities like never before in the field of design. The many hats a modern designer must wear allow integration, investigation and espionage into areas designers have previously had no place being in. Design itself is beginning to be recognized by the greater public as not just style and decoration, but rather as a vehicle for understanding, synthesis, problem solving and behavioral change on a micro and macro scale. Design might not save the world, I realize that now, but I will never stop believing that people, using it well and for the right reason, can help lead the changes that will.
Today is the beginning of my specific power exploration. This year is about pushing my specialty to its limits, exploring all of its directions and mastering it to its complete potential. I had been thinking over the summer about which particular power I would take to the next level, the power that would become me. Everyone has a power, often many powers, but the calculated shift from power to superpower is through a conscious understanding of oneself and one’s essence. We embody not just the potential for superpower development, but also the willingness and motivation to bring it into reality. As it stands I have a few natural powers: speed, mimic learning, mood influence and advanced intuition. I won’t actually refine down which exact power we will be developing until near the end of the first semester – similar to those annoying “your power chooses you” type situations. I will need to learn what each of the powers represents and where it comes from.
exploring what super actually is.
I am inspired by theories and teachings from the comic book industry, but super goes far beyond that of conventional graphic novels. In terms of reaching the goals of the experiential interaction of this thesis, I have found it is necessary to expand my reading beyond the realm of strictly superhero related material. This introduces the first question: which industry does this thesis actually exist in? Immediately I came upon a ‘wicked’ problem (defined as an unsolvable problem with many complex players). To find where this thesis belonged I needed to talk to the experts, but to find experts in this area I needed to find where this thesis belonged. So began the mapping process. I began to use my immediate networks to identify and make connections with those who could assist in helping to define what superpowers actually are – what super was and what powers meant. Each conversation brought a new perspective to the table, and with each came increasing diversity of ideas and opinions. Within a topic as irresistible as superpowers, everyone has a strong opinion. Initial primary research proved exceptionally positive and helpful. Participants such as journalist Rob Walker and food designer Emilie Baltz reinforced assumptions about the importance of having heroes and recognizing powers. Conversations with ‘superhero’ artist Issa Ibrahim further reinforced these themes in relation to overcoming adversity. Further conversations became detrimental to my understanding of the topic. Each perspective that was added to the definition of ‘super’ further distorted it. As a researcher I was pushed and pulled in every direction. It was a conversation with design writer John Thackara that created a pivotal point. He identified an opportunity to reframe the topic into two areas, separate but integrally related. First, framing “super” as fantastic abstraction of oneself. This is based primarily on the wish fulfillment discussed earlier. Second, framing “the power” as a deeper understanding of oneself. The separation of these two elements was crucial to unraveling the perception of this topic. If super is creating an artful means to attract people to this space, then powers became the method in which to establish the discourse. Indeed examples of this were found in the early primary research of this thesis. When interviewed, participants were encouraged to talk about themselves, their powers, weaknesses, heroes, villains and origins as if they were superheroes. This abstraction created enough of a disconnect that the participant was able to intimately converse about the “super-participant” without compromising himself or herself. In fact this theme became so prevalent as to drive much of the interview questions for later interviews. A typical interview consisted of questions such as:
What does the word super mean to you? Who are your superheroes? What is your superpower (real or not real)? Do you use your power for good? 30
While interesting discussions were had, this eventually perpetuated the original problem of distorting the essence of what it was to be super. The momentum of the discussion with Thackara dispersed with no more clarity than prior to it. Two things then happened simultaneously. I acknowledged this struggle, accepted it and made an effort to understand it. Second, I expanded my reading to include works beyond what I thought was relevant. It was in those readings I found something great. The power of Myth by Joseph Campbell was particularly inspirational and the following quote specifically helped to define what the research was beginning to reveal. “I think that what we’re all really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell1 Early primary research had pointed to the idea that discourses of the super can lead to a reflection of inner power, but it is Campbell’s reasoning that provides an additional method to reach that space. By operating through designed experiences one can access the same inward reflection as that generated by conversation. This notes a shift in the approach of this thesis from one of discourse to one of experience, and here is where the true power of design can be fully applied. In summary I moved from talking about superheroes to creating experiences of superpowers in order to reveal powers, with insights that the latter was a more powerful, opportunistic approach. Conversations with Futurist designer Elliot P. Montgomery of the Royal College of Art in London provided advice to “just get making” and references to existing projects such as ones by Milan Metthey, who directed, edited and produced a series of videos entitled Super. These three videos each explore different elements of the superhero world, from adoration, physical graphic elements and role-play.2 Montgomery also referenced experiential designer Andrew Friend whose 2010 Fantastic series allowed users to experience invisibility, 1 (Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces 2008) 2 (Metthey 2010)
lightning and disappearing at sea.1
At this stage the thesis was also strongly influenced by Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa’s literature Supernormal. The two designers compiled 204 everyday objects in effort to catalog the “exceptionally everyday.” “Super – Normal is not a theory. I believe it’s re-realising something that you already knew, re-acknowledging what you naturally thought was good in something.” – Jasper Morrison.2 While Morrison and Fukasawa are exploring a different theme, the goals are the same as in this thesis – using objects and products to rediscover what we already know. In the case of this thesis what we already know is that we are powerful in the everyday sense. In order to better understand how an experience might impact emotion and behavior, the focus of my research shifted into the realm of psychology. I found specific relevance within cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology. One study in particular from The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports findings of experienced-based interventions affecting emotional and social factors. The report “Superman to the Rescue: Simulating Physical Invulnerability Attenuates Exclusion-related Interpersonal Biases” by Julie Haung, Josh Ackerman and John Bargh conducted three studies on how invulnerability can lessen one’s need to cope with exclusion. Using a simulation methodology, they has participants to read a statement of guided visualization. This involved imagining themselves accruing a particular superpower. The participants selected for the invulnerability power were instructed to read the following passage: “On a shopping trip, you wander into a strange store with no sign out front. Everything is dimly lit and the shopkeeper calls you by name even though you have never seen him before. He tells you to come close and he says to you in a weird voice ‘I have decided to give you a gift. Tomorrow, you will wake to ﬁnd that you have a super-power. It will be an amazing ability, but you must keep it absolutely secret. If you purposely tell anyone or show off your power, you will lose it forever. That night, you have a hard time sleeping, but when you wake, you ﬁnd that you do indeed have a super-power. A glass falls on the ﬂoor and without meaning to you accidentally step on the broken glass. It doesn’t hurt you at all though, and you realize that you are completely 1 (Friend 2010) 2 (Fukasawa and Morrison 2007)
invulnerable to physical harm. Knives and bullets would bounce off you, ﬁre won’t burn your skin, a fall from a cliff wouldn’t hurt at all. You don’t have any other super-powers though (for example, no super-strength). Everything else is exactly the same as it was yesterday.” – Julia Huang.1 34
The findings suggest there is a measurable psychological change in perception through a visualization of a superpower – in this case invulnerability.2 I interviewed one of the writers of this paper, Josh Ackerman, who led me to several other ‘superpower inspired’ psychology experiments and studies. These included studies from Amy Cuddy, Caroline Wilmuth and Dana Carney called The Benefit of Power Posing before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation – which indicated that adopting a power pose for five minutes before a job interview gave measurable increases in performances of interviewees. In the discussion section of the study the authors indicate that people who took the high power poses (open stance, arms on hips or stretched out occupying a large space with confident body language) in comparison to low power poses (closed or protective stance, taking up as little space as possible) appeared to be more composed, confidence and present more captivating and enthusiastically and led to higher overall performances.3 Another study by Kathleen C. McCulloch, Gráinne M. Fitzsimons, Sook Ning Chua and Dolores Albarracin titled Vicarious Goal Satiation explored the ability for goals to be completed through observation of someone else completing them.4 Their findings support the claim that I was able to relieve the pressure I felt to change the world through Superhero cartoons. Further reading on goal satiation and motivation lead me to Bernard Weiner’s 1985 paper, An Attributional Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion. The insights from this paper on sudden, unexpected success helped establish credibility in my theory that an experience of temporary success at a perceived impossible task had a proven a relationship with both emotion and motivation. Weiner identified three common properties associated with this relationship: locus, stability and controllability. He suggested that attributions resulting from an unexpected outcome were associated with different psychological consequences for each of the three causal 1 (Huang 2013) 2 In the control condition, participants read a similar passage, except they imagined being able to ﬂy instead of being invulnerable. The study found that those instantiated with the invulnerability power felt more positively about stigmatized groups (M=51.25, SD=18.90) as apposed to those with the flying simulation (M=41.73, SD=10.48). (Huang 2013) 3 (Cuddy, Wilmuth and Carney 2012). 4 (McCulloch 2011)
Amy Cuddy Ted Talk 2012 Martin Seligman Ted Talk 2004
dimensions. Locus related to pride and self-esteem, stability to hopefulness and controllability to gratitude.1 This approach is critical to establishing the concept that through changing the proportions of the elements relating to an unexpected task results in achievement of different psychological consequences. With this method I am able to justify prescribing personalized sets of tasks for particular psychological needs. Donald O. Clifton, father of strengths-based psychology and creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, who led a team of Gallup scientists in surveying over 10 million people worldwide over forty years on the topic of human strengths. From this they were able to create a language of the 34 most common human strengths and have developed a way for people to identify the five that most represent themselves. These themes include consistency, empathy, focus, responsibility and self-assurance, among others. The benefits of knowing which themes relate most to a particular individual are obvious from an economic and emotional standpoint. By optimizing what an individual is good at they are six times more likely to be engaged at work, and three times as likely report having an excellent quality of life in general.2 The problem is that the majority of people are not aware of these strengths within themselves. In StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath states: “So why isn’t everyone living life with a strengths approach? One big problem is that most people are either unaware of, or unable to describe, their own strengths… or the strengths of the people around them.” - Tom Rath.3 Returning to the central problem this thesis addresses, that people don’t feel super, the Gallup research suggests that this is because people generally are not aware of what they could be super at doing. Other positive psychology research supports this claim. Martin Seligman’s work with Christopher Peterson on Values in Action (VIA), a positive strengths character assessment measure4, and Angela Duckworth’s research into character strengths – curiosity, gratitude, grit, optimism, self-control, social intelligence and zest, align with that particular viewpoint.5 While each of these 1 (Weiner 1985, 565) 2 (Rath 2007) 3 (Rath 2007, 13) 4 Dr. Seligman theorizes that the 24 VIA character strengths are the pathways to each of the 5 areas of wellbeing - Positive emotion (Of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects), Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment (PERMA). The VIA compares an individual’s compatibility for each of the strengths against him or herself and not against other people. It is possible to identity an individual’s five ‘signature strengths’ – those that come most naturally to that individual. (Seligman 2002) (Seligman, Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being 2012) (Rosenberg and Canzoneri, The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration (Psychology of Popular Culture) 2008). 5 (Tough 2011)
DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN: #4. Marvel, Ink by Sunny Gho
studies varies in approach and terminology they all allude to the fact that people already possess a set of positive attributes that can help them succeed. The jump from character strengths to superpowers is not a difficult one. In fact, a particular psychologist utilizes such a framework in her practice. Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist and writer of superheroes and other popular culture figures. Her literature explores the psychological phenomena that her participants’ stories reveal. Her specialty is teaching participants to become aware of and then harness their own outstanding ability or skill – their superpower. One of her books that was particularly inspiring during this process, The Psychology of Superheroes, helped tie all of these thoughts together. The book is a collection of essays by a number of distinguished psychologists and practitioners. One essay, Positive Psychology of Peter Parker by Robert Biswas-Diener, identifies elements of positive psychology embodied by Peter Parker (Spiderman) in the form of the three character strengths of Seligman’s VIA – humor, hope and resilience. He incorporates this into a conversation about the benefits of using these strengths and the resulting happiness. He cites an experiment in which Seligman challenged college students to take the VIA and “use one of these top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week.” Results were summarized by the following passage: “There were few differences in happiness between the strengths group and a placebo control group. However one month later the strengths group was significantly happier, and this emotional boost appeared to last for as long as six months. In addition, the strengths group showed far fewer signs of depression than the control group.” - Robin S. Rosenberg.1 Using that approach I am able to conclude that knowledge of an individual’s character strengths combined with sufficient motivation can lead to lasting change in that individual’s emotional state. This is supported by concepts established in The Undervalued Self 2 and the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy textbook, second edition.3 Beck identifies that by using assisted conceptualizations of positive strengths to overcome automatic thoughts patients are able to challenge negative perceptions about themselves and lead more emotionally health lives. This is the concept known as locus of control.
1 . (Rosenberg and Canzoneri, The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration (Psychology of Popular Culture) 2008) 2 (Aron 2010) 3 (Beck 2011)
Julian Rotter presents the concept of locus of control1 as an individual’s perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life.2 A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes, while someone with an external locus of control blames outside forces for everything.3 It’s important to note that Rotter’s scale is not a binary category, but in fact a scale between internal and external. Evidence4 supports the theory that an internal locus of control is generally desirable and is more closely related to subjects who are achievement oriented, older, and higher up in organizational structures.5 Locus of control explains the idea I was alluding to earlier in the thesis of feeling powerless against my New York context. I had shifted from an internal locus of control to an external one. The effects of which create the feeling of learned helplessness described by Rotter. This research is incredible for identifying how one might reach the concept of super but the question remained: what actually is being super? To understand this I leave the realm of psychology and turn to narrative structure and film theory. I came across a character state known in cinematography as the film trope “Hell Yes!” moment. This is a moment in which a character realizes that things are finally starting to go their way. This moment is known as the ultimate boon in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey structure.6 This can be seen in numerous film and literature narratives such as in Lord Of the Rings; The Return of the King, when Aragorn’s banner unfurls over the corsairs, it creates a heroic “Hell Yes” Moment from the defenders of Gondor: “…And the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the city was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells.” - J.R Tolkien.7 But these moments are not restricted to fictional narratives. I have personally experienced a number of these throughout my lifetime. They vary in intensity and catalyst for each person but mine are typically predicated by a very positive interaction. When walking back home later the day of such interactions, usually listening to epic music playing in my headphones, I think to myself, “Hell yes, I can do this, I am awesome, I am exactly where I 1 One of the four key self-evaluation dimensions, along with self-efficacy, narcissism and self-esteem. 2 (Rotter 1966) 3 (Neill 2006) 4 Marsh, H. W. & Richards, G. E. (1986). The Rotter Locus of Control Scale: The comparison of alternative response formats and implications for reliability, validity and dimensionality. Journal of Research in Personality, 20, 509-558. Marsh, H. W. & Richards, G. E. (1987). The multidimensionality of the Rotter I-E Scale and its higher order structure: An application of confirmatory factor analysis. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 22, 39-69. 5 (Mamlin, Harris, K. R. and Case 2001) 6 (Campbell, The power of myth 1988) 7 (Tolkien 1986)
Angela Duckworth Ted Talk 2013
want to be in life and doing exactly what I need to be doing.” In that 5-10 minute window I feel incredibly powerful, like I could take on the world, like I am a superhero. That particular moment is what I mean when I refer to being or feeling super. While empowerment plays into that being super is so much more. To validate this concept I began asking people to describe the last time they had one of these moments. While they were able to relate to this feeling people generally had a lot of difficulty identifying one specific one in their own lives. I followed this question with “Well what is your trigger or thing that helps to induce one of these moments?” Once again the majority had difficulty finding an answer. This is exactly the problem that this thesis addresses: people have difficulty identifying what makes them powerful and have trouble explaining what induces this feeling of super in their lives. The reason people have trouble identifying these moments because it’s not something we generally think too much about in modern culture. These moments are too often perceived as random outcomes instead of consciously strived for and worked towards. The goal is not to be super all day everyday, rather the goal is simply more of those moments in life. My theory and the basis of this thesis is that a better understanding of one’s key character strengths will optimize the conditions in which more powerful, more frequent and more meaningful super moments are likely to occur. In summary, this research identifies that an effectively prescribed experience of unexpected success can lead to lasting meaningful change in a participant’s emotional state and increased occurrences feeling super through identifying key character strengths and shifting towards a more internal locus of control.
What I set out to discover for myself I began to uncover in others. The deeper into that world I went, the more I saw the powers I so greatly desired residing in others without their knowledge. But, rather than this become my undoing, I reveled in the belly of the beast. Through understanding others I came to understand myself. Not in a supernatural out of body experience, but through genuine selfreflection. Though I sense the presence of another in this place. Not another wanderer like myself, but rather the very image of myself â€“ the embodiment of my darkest fears lurking in the shadows of my own self-doubt. Not a reflection, but an inflection. Me.
Industrialized, middle-class, western generations X, Y and Z were told from birth that they could be anything, do anything, and that they are special.1 The implications of this hyper-encouraging upbringing are only now beginning to be understood. With impossibly high expectations and harsh realities many young adults are left feeling dissatisfied, depressed and under empowered. In fact a record 21.6 million Americans between the ages of 18-31 live with their parents.2 I do not disagree with a supportive upbringing, quite the contrary. Film studies researcher Frank Verano suggests that a socially advantageous situation such as a loving family, strong role models and economic stability are key factors in defining what keeps a hero from becoming a villain.3 The reason I isolate these generations is that the research points to them as being the most susceptible to avoiding “the heroes journey.” This is a concept central to Joseph Campbell’s The power of Myth – where a hero must leave the realm of the familiar over which they have some control, to a space where they do not have control. This concept is a common narrative structure used by many superhero origin stories, tales of mythology and even in some African tribal cultures.4 Campbell explains the journey is either physical or spiritual and often involves some form of hardship or challenge the hero must overcome. Modern generations have tendencies to be protected from these hardships, and thus protected from such a transformative journey. This makes them prime audiences for the products of this thesis. It is also advantageous that these generations are already familiarized with the concept of superpowers. People in these generations even have their own set of new and reimagined superheroes. Spider Girl in particular, a creation of comic book writer Tom DeFalco, embodies the struggles of contemporary generations. As Spider Man’s daughter she takes responsibility as a given, not struggling like her father Peter Parker with the choice between selflessness and her own desires. She instead struggles with living up to the expectations that others have placed upon her.5 In this way, her understanding of her duty (which is reflected by her understanding of her power) differs from Peter Parker’s. It is the development of these understandings that is a key element in allowing readers to relate to them. Superhero examples of the transitions from ‘normal’ to ‘special’ reflect real world challenges such as responsibility and independence. 1 (Rath 2007) (Henrich 2009) 2 (Fry 2013) 3 Frank Verano, Superheroes Need Supervillians. (Rosenberg and Coogan 2013) 4 Campbell alludes to the ceremonious act of transition through leaving the tribe as a boy to embark on a journey and returning a man. 5 Tom DeFalco, Superheroes are Made, (Rosenberg and Coogan 2013)
Spider Girl is able to overcome her challenges because she has an understanding that she has power and the ability to utilize it. Similarly in the real world we have the capacity for power but different degrees of awareness of that power, or what I call the ‘consciousness of power.’ 48
In my research I have identified that there are four types of consciousness of power: 1. The Empowered: Those with the capacity for power and are utilizing that capacity for good. 2. The Hero in training: Those with the capacity for power and feel it but have yet to enact it. 3. The Citizen: Those who have the capacity for power but do not know it. 4. The Villain: Those with the capacity for power but deny or abuse it. In identifying these four proto-persona categories I begin to refine my target audience and am inspired by the work of Peter and Gabriella Hancock1. First, note that theoretically there could be a fifth type: those without the capacity for power. However this definition is negative and counterproductive. Research into neuroplasticity by Michel Merzneich would support the claim that everyone has some form of natural skills and abilities – generated from a combination of genetic potential, context, environment and neuroplasticity of the brain: “In fact, no two of us are quite alike, everyone of us has a different set of acquired skills and abilities that all drive out of the plasticity, the adaptability of this really remarkable adaptive machine [the brain].” - Michael Merzenich.2 I use the word “power” to describe a person’s latent or active abilities and skillsets that Merzneich presents. These powers have the ability to affect both an individual’s own emotional wellbeing as well as others. For instance, a particularly inspiring speech raises the morale of the audience (power to inspire others) or a highly driven student who utilizes positive self-talk to get through an exam (power of self motivation). These powers are inspired from research into VIA inventories and character strength assessments discussed in early sections of this paper. Not only the type and level of power vary from person to person but also the form of conscious thought surrounding it. It is this conscious 1 An essay entitled: Is there a superhero in all of us? Looks at perception and action in relation to powers. Discussions of technology advancements and humanity are also present in the discussion of the various personalities and consciousness of human and superhero types. (Rosenberg and Canzoneri, The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration (Psychology of Popular Culture) 2008) 2 (Merzenich 2004)
understanding of a personâ€™s own power that separates the four categories. I have outlined four proto-persona narratives to help illustrate the differences in thinking of each of these groups. Itâ€™s also important to note here that these personas are temporal in nature â€“ as in a person can move from one to another throughout different life stages.
This is the road of trials, or at least the training for it. I cannot be sure. It seems I have no power here â€“ powerless by my own hand. This is more dangerous than I could have imagined. In this place everything is a test. Powers gained are stripped away immediately. But small victories made here reform the context. The montage of trails is not fast and joyful as in the stories or films. It is slow, it is painful, and it is hard. But it is moving forward. A feeling of power begins to surge through my very being, the road is long and perilous but not all those who wander are lost.
This section is broken into three layers of lenses: initial, intermediate and infinite. The initial are early exploratory lenses. These help shape the thesis topic by exposing it to many different avenues and directions. The second layer is intermediate. These are more in-depth prototypes, which are supported by context and research. This layer provides the foundation from which the final body of work will be presented in. The final layer is that of the infinite. These are higher-level lenses that help elude to what the topic will become beyond the thesis. There are elements such as service design, business structures, and sustainability considerations. This is the final step in moving from an object to an experience, and from an experience to a platform. The following initial lenses are a holistic, integrated and divergent set of design approaches. They are initial speculative objects to help understand my own preconceptions. The lenses are instructions to establish how to communicate the topic, a positioning paper to begin to clarify and organize ideas and research, a onehour hack to drive creativity within constraints, a social innovation exploration to identify opportunities and methods for changing behavior, a video to communicate new perspectives, a branding exercise to create an identity and portray a set of values, speculative futures and iterative prototypes to explore the future of the topic through narratives and prototype deployment, and disruptive objects to inspire radical changes and reach unexpected insights. Together they help shape and clarify what being super feels like, looks like and sounds like.
Early Speculative Objects
Super-Mask was a cardboard facemask that invited participants to write what their superpower was and where the desire for it came from. It was designed as a method to better understand where the desires for powers come from. The answers people wrote on their Super-Mask were broad, ranging from sketching to invisibility, with few real explanations about why or where the power came from. These answers hinted at a lack of knowledge or understanding of his or her own powers. An interesting insight here was the variation in what different participants considered a superpower. I had anticipated that each participant would enter a power based upon what they most desired. I was surprised to find that empathy, making people truthful, and sketching were considered to be super or remarkable by the participant. The investigation of what is considered remarkable or exceptional would later help to differentiate between powers participants covert versus
powers participants value. Super Smoothie was a second attempt at using an object to create discourse around the origin of powers. Participants were told that this smoothie was made of powerful secret ingredients and would make them super. The feedback was mostly about the deliciousness of the smoothie and not about feelings of actual super-ness. I am intrigued to do some brief research into what legal substances could induce a feeling of power. In many ways caffeine and alcohol are synthetic enhancers that are regularly consumed. Remote, a third speculative object is an arbitrary universal remote that participants were encouraged to envision controlling anything they chose. This prototype was an effort to better understand the telekinesis power and to find out what participants would control given the power to do so. Once again answers seemed superficial and shallow, mostly pertaining to tricking people, performing magic or born out of laziness. These three early speculative objects were insightful for identifying the same traits in others that I felt within myself. This early validation gave credibility to the exploration.
Set of Instructions
Following an inspiring conversation with food designer Emilie Baltz, who encouraged the exploration of the form language of the Super, I crafted a set of instructions on how to sculpt your superpower. I gave half of the participants black clay and the other half white. Those with black were told to follow the instructions in regards to a power they deeply wished for but could never possess, such as time travel, immortality or super speed. Those with white were told to follow the instructions in regards to a power they already possessed -- individually unique powers such as those discovered in the SuperMask experiment. All the participants were then led through a set of verbal instructions used to help shape the clay in the image of their respective powers. The structure of these verbal prompts was similar to the methodologies used by comic book writers when designing a new character. Prompts went as such: Think of a name for your super character. Give them a symbol. Give them a costume.
Give them a backstory â€“ where are they from, how did they become super, what is their personality. Give them a weakness. Give them an archenemy. Visualize a typical battle between the two. How does your character prevail? The goal was to investigate if there would be a common form language throughout the clay models, and also to see if there was a notable difference in the forms of those with black clay as opposed to those with white. The findings were inconclusive but still valuable. The forms varied vastly, some bulbous and organic while others jagged and sharp. There were references to animals and geometric forms, and some participants even combined their models into one larger form. The sheer diversity of form pointed to unique interpretation of power for each participant, indicating that true understanding of power must come from more personal discourse. I suspect that this experiment could be suitable as a tool for a psychologist to inspire meaningful conversation in a nonvulnerable manor.
Thesis Positioning Paper
Each of the three copies of the thesis positioning paper was bound in a method subtly inspired by three different powers, super stretch (rubber band), invisibility (hidden staples) and adaptability (hole punch). This lens forced the thesis to form an argument on the topic. It encouraged recognizing other expertâ€™s contrasting viewpoints as well as themes such as needs, evaluation methods and relevant topics. This paper was the first instance in which academic research and grounded points of view were established and elaborated upon. I introduced topics of good versus evil, super in relation to social factors, psychology and philosophy. I also speculated that the thesis would become a collection of superhero inspired furniture whose success would be evaluated against a large social media and web presence. The key learning from this positioning paper was the already strong connection with the social and with the psychological. As the research began to develop even at this early stage it was clear that a strong foundation in research psychology would be essential to evaluating my claims.
One Hour Hack
While exploring the sub-topic of good versus evil I was challenged to very quickly make a representational object of my current area of interest. Having recently been inspired by the image of Tao, the yin and the yang, in which there is always a balance, I wanted to embody that essence in jewelry format. To acknowledge that we are all both good and evil, and that one cannot exist without the other, each piece had two sides, a good and an evil, but were essentially two parts to the whole. The jewelry enables the wearer to choose between a good or evil state representative of the wearer’s own mood at that particular instance. Using elements of color and symbolism, this jewelry places a conscious awareness of ones outward facing energy. The use of jewelry as a vessel to explore this was an exciting development within the thesis topic as a whole. Within this discussion of good and evil is a question of agency. Specifically as designers, how much agency should be left up to the user, and who are we to say what is right and what is wrong. I continue to search for answers to these and other ethical questions, aiming to find some form of midpoint under the ethics lens of semester two. The main take away from this very quick exploration was the identification that my interventions need not be limited to furniture, as I had previously assumed. In fact, other forms may be beneficial for reaching different audiences. This helped to widen my scope and expand my palate of communication structures.
Using concepts from Aaron Hurst’s The Purpose Economy and Everett Rogers’s Diffusions of Innovations, this lens was an opportunity to frame the thesis topic as a problem space with a definable metric and market segmentation formula. The problem space I focused on was this: There are a large proportion of people not currently empowered to use their natural superpowers for the good of society. This is due to vast populations of people who are either unaware of their power or unsure of how and/or why to use it. This creates a severe underperformance and loss of ‘collective productivity’, both economically and emotionally. The metric was the collective percentage of true potential reached as measured by an adaptation of Martin Seligman’s concept of positive psychology, which uses the acronym of the five areas of wellbeing: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and
Accomplishment.1 As explained in the research section of this paper, PERMA and positive psychology play key roles in the development of the justifications and reasoning behind this thesis. Through this lens I was able to explore the topic further in relation to the specific context of social change. An additional layer of understanding came in a lecture Hurst gave on a formula for social change. His formula consisted of an understanding of audience adoption curves, barriers, and levers to overcome those barriers. My speculative offerings to solutions to the barriers were an electromagnetic glove, an advertising campaign that encouraged Super, a mandatory therapy session on powers, and the addition of Empowerment to the acronym PERMA to become PEREMA. Each of these played upon a specific lever, from bright spots to policy. Developing offerings for this lens was a bit of a struggle. The real value came in trying to understand the problem. Up until this point I had been relating to the topic as an area of opportunity, but by viewing it through the lens of social innovation and behavioral change, the problem began to become apparent: people often don’t recognize the power they have, and in turn feel underpowered.
Video is an extremely powerful tool for spreading concepts. This lens is situated to become a highly visible communication resource for spreading interest in this thesis across digital media. I was interested in developing the concept of choice structures within discovering powers, inspired by the decision making process of one of Batman’s foes Harvey Dent aka ‘Two Face.’ The supervillian is obsessed with chance and flips a doubleheaded coin to decide the fate of his victims. I use a similar choice maker when making difficult but not important decisions. The theory is that one will become aware of his or her preference once the coin lands by recognizing disappointment, relief or impartialness. Certain board games, such as Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life, use a similar device of chance progression. I created an adaptation of this game titled: The Game of Super-Life. This in itself proved to be a beneficial exercise, not so much in the outcome but more in the theory behind it. In my adaptation I had to define what the currency of the game was. To do so was to delve deeply into what it is that Superheroes really want. 1 (Seligman, Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being 2012) (Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment 2002)
I speculated that this could be a currency of love. A personal mission, rather than a financial reward or even fame, is what drives superheroes. I argue that it is love, love for their city, love for their fallen mentors or love for their enemies that dictate that mission. While the final video may not have effectively reflected this, it was useful in communicating what it means to be a superhero beyond the just having powers.
Brand Exploration i
I treated the branding lens as an opportunity to shape an exercise I had been planning for some time, a “designan-object-a-day-for-11-days” type of experiment. In numerology the number 11 symbolizes the potential to push the limitations of the human experience into the stratosphere of the highest spiritual perception; the link between the mortal and the immortal; between man and spirit; between darkness and light; ignorance and enlightenment. Using a series of branding filters I generated mood boards, a branding triangle and brand elements. The most beneficial exploration was the brand triangle, which helped to refine the core essence of what I was alluding to – that of being unique. I arrived at a set of words to describe this phenomenon, Empowered… More… Special… Powerful… Unique… Super. I might use this as a template to help others create their own super-hack or super-workshop. It was an excellent point of clarification for identifying a potential goal of helping to make people feel special and unique by gifting them the format to do so on their own terms. In that way the super brand would grow into something more powerful than what could be achieved by me as an individual.
Brand Exploration ii
A spinoff branding exploration was done in collaboration with Damon Ahola – a fellow classmate at the School of Visual Arts. The B. Super project embodied the concept
of a commercialized protesting product inspired from Superheroes. The brand, B. Super, gives citizens the confidence to get involved by offering an ensemble of transformative tools that evoke the inner superhero, and to be ready for anything. The speculative product is aimed at researching and investigating ideas around consumer products, brand and public participation of protesting. The product line consists of simple, well-made tools that enhance the protester’s efforts. Through numerous brainstorm sessions, we prototyped three product lines: small single-use items to be stored in a wallet, a utility belt featuring detachable tools and a modular super jacket. We concluded that the utility belt captured the essence of the B. Super brand most effectively. The singleuse items could still be incorporated onto the belt. The final B. Super system consists of seven tools that attach to the belt through a robust sliding lock interface. Each tool aids the protester in a specific task and is branded as such. The respirator mask, “Breathe,” assists in surviving airborne toxins. To elude authorities, “Disguise” is a fake mustache kit at the ready. Duct tape, handy in any situation, is included as “Repair.” “Relieve” is a lemon juice solution applied to alleviate the sting of pepper spray in the eye. As a mask, “Hide” protects the protester’s identity. Embodied as “Declare,” a rewritable roll out canvas and marker act as a necessary communication tool. The single-use items are encased in a reusable box as “Revive.” Finally, the starter kit including the belt system and three of the tools is “Empower.” Damon and I envisioned the packaging design for the B. Super product line to be simple and modest, yet unique among the sea of blister packs and boxes. A set of premium brown paper bags feature large graphic icons with minimal text. A strip of color at the bottom indicates the color of the product within. The product line would be sold at fashion-forward retailers such as Opening Ceremony in Manhattan and high-end skateboard shops like Homage Brooklyn. B. Super gives protesters hope for the best, while equipping them for the worst. This exploration helped to explore the topic in a highly specific and controversial area. It proved an excellent testing ground to gauge what the atmosphere of super should be. In this case there was a fine line between humorous respect versus offensive disregard. It helped me to establish that I want super to be both fun and impactful. They can exist in the same space if carefully considered and managed through communication tools such as branding.
Future Object & Speculative Narratives
The Spinal Inhibitor artifact was based on the work done in Design Futures class. It is a spinal power inhibitor, originating from the time period 2050. The speculative process involved a phase of research, which provided insights to create a diagram of a future world. From this world I developed a narrative using Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey format. The story then gave context for which a speculative object could exist, in this case the spinal inhibitor. In the narrative stage I developed a story describing how being special is more of a curse than a blessing and alluded to the amount of self-imposed pressure. The resolution of the story indicated the main character’s acceptance with not being special and the release it gives her. The form of the final model was inspired from a tessellated, low-resolution geometry, synonymous with a range of popular futurist aesthetics. In reflection, this aesthetic may have been detrimental to the objects authenticity and perhaps a lower profile, more neutral form factor would have been more suited. The inhibitor was also fitted with a central power core (prototyped with Electro-luminescent wire). This flashes in rhythm with the wearer’s power level and delivers a dose of a chemical known as “Psytroform,” a synthetic power sync – rendering the wearer powerless. One element of the narrative and world diagram exercises I found of particular interest was the theme of advance selfimprovement following the quantified self-movement. I argued that the only logical outcome of the self-data collection and analysis is actually using that analysis for drastic improvement. I also argue that as the technologies in this area advance so too will our trust and boldness at experimenting with such improvements. This exercise was not only helpful in relating a narrative to an object but also as a speculative prototyping process. Through introducing what could happen we can better prepare ourselves for the probable future. This proved to be especially important when dealing with the concept of super powers, for in the future what we currently consider to be a superpower may, in fact, become the everyday. If we have the references and the discourse to discuss this transition we should be able to better recognize positive directions and avoid negative ones.
The Evil Little Printer is a modification kit for an existing product, The Little Printer by Berg. Given the challenge of creating something my target audience will hate, I wanted to create something that would still make
them powerful in the end. Similar to the discussion of ballerinas wearing ankle weights and baseball players warming up with bat rings, I wondered if such a handicapping device could be applied to the mind. This device would mentally and emotionally weigh down the user, temporarily putting them in a state of controlled depression. The device would specifically target the user’s strengths and use them against the user. The embodiment for this is a physical and digital hack of The Little Printer, a cute thermal printer that is connected to the Internet and based on what “feeds” you subscribe to it prints them out at your command. I created the Evil Little Printer by physically adding red horns, a fork and a tail to the faceplate and body of The Little Printer, thereby creating a devil persona. While it still looks cute this Evil Little Printer is deceitful and viciously mean. Here is where the digital hack plays its part. During setup the printer program will playfully ask you questions about your interests, what you do for a living and what you are good at. Later the software uses these answers against the user by printing out targeted phrases such as, “You think you are good at sketching, but everyone thinks you suck at it!” “You’re worthless and you’re not good at anything!” “You are not special!” and so on. Ethics aside, this is an intriguing theory, and perhaps maybe more fruitful in establishing the link between experience and reflection than my current joyful superre-creation models. I think this space needs exploring further beyond the Evil Little Printer hack and I will continue to test and refine the concept. Some other ideas based on this theory include restrictive rubber tie downs, a lead jacket, an unsolvable puzzle, and several other ideas with different mixtures of humor and self-esteem destroying elements. Each concept has the aim that when it is removed from the user’s environment or deactivated they then have an overwhelming positive release and almost euphoric reflection as they recognize they have overcome a challenging task. Both their self-efficacy and their belief in their powers will have been amplified through this process. This was an intriguing lens, almost a look from the other side. It helped me to understand there are multiple facets to helping people feel special and powerful. Through the process of this lens I began to question my own preconceptions of what being powerful felt like, asking if it was not the success that gave power, but rather the struggle. Overall these lenses proved incredibly valuable in driving the thesis and helping to understand the ‘why’ behind
the topic. Many of my own initial ideas and values were challenged and changed ultimately positioning the topic to present itself in a more refined form for the intermediate scale. 75
What appears as struggle surely is triumph, what sounds like death is surely the very beginning of life and what comes too easily surely is undervalued. When time is running out, pushing comes to shoving and swords must be set into stone. Make your mark here they said, because you must, because if you do not do it now surely will make no mark ever. The faker becomes the maker only when he decides so. Only when he changes his title. And so I began to change my title and make a mark in the stone where marks are made.
These intermediate lenses are called Moments of Power. They are a collection of experiential object interactions. Together these objects represent a series of referenced gestures, actions and postures that allow participants to feel powerful for a brief moment. They are a curation of prototypes designed for the experiential interaction in the context of an exhibition. This experience was set up in a white room gallery space at The School of Visual Arts (SVA).
Over the course of two days twenty-five participants from a number of different SVA programs were invited to take a private tour of the collection. The participants were intentionally given a vague description of the nature of the gallery and were selected in small groups ranging from one to eight people. I acted as a guide and took each group separately around the space to interact with each of the objects. As each of the groups was taken around the space separately, I was able to gauge the success of each interaction and identified measures to improve it. Under this iterative structure I quickly realized the optimal group size was two or three people – more than one to give a sense of success over someone else, but not too many as to leave people out or to become congested. The level of performance was also continuously adapted by playing up or down the level of acting and magical flair of each of the different objects. In many ways some of these objects were a failure, but as learning devices for the development of this thesis they were a huge success. Some of the participants made verbal sound effects while interacting with the objects – a positive indication they were really engaged and showing a level of connection both with the object and with the topic. An explanation of each of these particular object interactions follows.
The Password Lamp
A black desktop lamp with an Apple brand QWERTY keyboard at its base. It sits as the only object in the center of a large white desk. It enables its Master private control of its lighting capability. Only its Master has the ability to turn the lamp on or off. Using the keyboard to type in their unique password then typing “on” or “off ” is the only way to control the lamp. This object is a reference to the secret entrances of superhero lairs and headquarters. Three precise notes played on Bruce Wayne’s piano in his study reveal a doorway to the Batcave.1 Particular arrangements of crystals in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude allow access to its secrets.2 However what is interesting here is that for such a utilitarian object as a desk lamp to become inaccessible to others pushes 1 (Kane and Goyer 2005) 2 (Dougherty and Harris 2006)
the boundaries of ownership into the absurd. To add a performative element, participants were instructed one at a time to type their initials into the keyboard. The Password Lamp mysteriously selects a Master by lighting up when that person types their initials. This person then has exclusive control over the lamp and no matter how hard the other participants try, no matter what they type into the keyboard they cannot gain access to it. This exclusivity momentarily heightens the Master’s sense of importance and uniqueness.
The Chameleon Chair
A birch plywood chair with wooden dowel legs and layered multicolored felt cushioning. It is a more straightforward experience, hinting at the control of a participant’s physical environment. Participants have the ability to change the color of the chair at will by paging through the felt layers from darker colors to lighter. Participants often selected colors that matched their outfit in effort to blend in with the chair. Other novel interactions were folding the felt layers in different color arrangements to achieve different color patterns and multiple color palettes. While participants reported this as an enjoyable enough interaction it did not reach the level of a super experience. Suggestions were made that a more powerful experience might be achieved if the color of the whole room changed to match the color of the chair as the user paged through the colors. This effect could be achieved with a color sensing diode and projector. I expect that even that would not be enough. In some of the other interactions simply adding a degree of magic does not tend to dictate a super object. What is more commonly associated with super is a sense of achievement, a second level if you will, that the object can transcend its original form and become a true interaction. This is important in identifying the different elements of a super object.
The Power Glove
A direct reference to Ironman’s Repulsor beams on his gloves.1 To activate the Power Glove the user must take the stance of Ironman – a wide foot stance with the gloved hand held straight out in front of the body. The user then flexes the gloved hand wide open, and a bright LED light is emitted from the center of the user’s palm. This particular prototype was a concoction of duct tape, wires and a safety glove. The function was derived from a physical connection on the middle knuckle that was connected when the user’s palm fully opened. While a rudimentary prototype, it proved a valid experience if 1 (Fergus 2008)
developed further. The second iteration used a moving magnet and reed switch to achieve the same effect but proved problematic with smaller hands. I had the opportunity to show this particular object at the SVA Products of Design job fair in March 2014. It generated a great interest from companies including eBay, Fab, Google and Designer Fund. In the correct context for this concept it had much potential to become a truly enjoyable super interaction. I have plans to create a third version that will be more reliable, durable and mysterious. There will also be a left and right version and a game where the user will blast different targets with the gloves and receive a score based upon how many they hit within a certain time frame. Points are added for green targets and removed for red ones.
The Super Mirror
A 8’x8’ mirror with bold black vinyl lettering across the top that spells out “SUPER.” It was hung on a plain white wall at average eye height. This was aimed at a more reflective and self-discovery type experience. Participants were instructed to stare deeply into the mirror and consider what makes them unique. The overlay of the word Super onto the participant’s reflection was intended to give a sense of power. Half of the participants were asked to state their power and the other half instructed to shout their superhero name. Both sets of participants displayed notable signs of discomfort and often gave redundant or unconsidered answers. Possible reasons for the failure of this prototype could be in the context, the overly public setting, or simply in the perceived ridiculousness of the act itself. I speculate that I was asking too much of people, both in terms of the public setting and in terms of the impromptu nature of the question. One participant stated, “This is really hard,” and refused to continue with that particular interaction. However the failings of this prototype help to further illustrate the point that people are generally unaware of their powers.
A 70-watt vintage style light bulb suspended by a white ceramic fitting on a light blue electrical cloth cord. This was perhaps one of the most interesting objects, partly due to the theatrical element I used to present it to the participants. I would select a participant to “give the power to” – a power transfer gesture involving full contact of the hands. That participant was then instructed to make a gesture of immense power and focus towards the filament of The Bulb, which lit up when they did so. As
the participant took their hands away, The Bulb turned off. The wonderment began when a participant who did not have the power tried this and failed to make The Bulb turn on. After much frustration, the participant would generally request the power from the user who did have it. The transfer gesture was made, and suddenly The Bulb worked for the participant who now had the power.
What was intriguing here was that the concept was just believable enough to be accepted as possible. Indeed similar interactions could be made with relatively simple technology such as heat, capacitive and motion detectors, or advanced technology such as feature recognition and gesture control. As participants searched for answers they were left wanting, as the simple construction of the device hid no such electronics. The concept played with the balance between what is just real enough to be accepted and what is magical enough to not be real.
Time Control Clock
A wood grain-faced clock with simple hands and time indicators. Near the bottom of the face are an infrared proximity sensor and the word “super.” The sensor was intentionally placed in full view to provide participants with the “just real enough to be true” factor. Participants were then asked to lean into the clock, close their eyes and upon the count of three open them and freeze time. In the first prototype of this concept the clock’s timing mechanism was not actually altered. Although the clock never fully stopped, there was an instant before the next tick of the second hand that in that moment, the participants could believe they had stopped the clock, and thus by reference, time itself. In the second iteration of the clock I programed an Arduino microprocessor to read the IR proximity sensor and detect if someone was close to the clock. When someone came close enough the Arduino microprocessor took control of the clock’s timing mechanism and froze it in place. As the user removes their hand the clock goes into hyper drive to catch up to where it should have been had it not been stopped. Unfortunately, for some reason, the second iteration clock ticks backwards, a problem I assume was created during the hacking of the clock’s timing mechanism. This will have to be rectified if this concept is to progress.
Low Altitude Flyer
A wheeled three-quarter inch plywood platform approximately two inches high that is shaped in a fullscale silhouette of Superman in flight. The participants take the posture of Superman and “fly” across the floor at
a very low altitude by propelling themselves forward with their hands or being pushed by fellow participants. This gave noticeable enjoyment to participants, which for such a simple concept I found surprising. I suspect that while participants did enjoy the interaction they had a sense of fun rather than of feeling super. This interaction also requires a large space to properly fly around in, which could be problematic in some contexts. The question then is how to create a super flying experience that still has an element of fun but more of a feeling of empowerment and has a small enough spatial footprint to fit and accommodate for a range of contexts.
A second iteration of this concept had the platform raised to a height of two feet, and a screen placed in the eye line of the participant. The screen played a video of a bird’s eye view of a quad-copter flying over a forest. To add a sense of motion and speed a powerful desk fan is placed in front of the participants face. By incorporating the added visual and haptic sensory elements, a more convincing simulation of flying is created. A third iteration utilized a helmet-mounted iPhone to mimic a virtual reality headset. This presented a new set of problems such as the weight of the helmet and clumsiness of the set up. While the virtual reality direction might be feasible in the long term for these prototypes it proved too difficult. The forth iteration returned to a screen based visualization but this time the participant lay on their back and the screen content was inverted to appear right-way-up to the participant. The effect is similar to a feeling of anti-gravity and assists in the realism of the simulation.
A blue pillow with the word “super” adhered to it. While this was the quickest and easiest prototype to make it was also the least successful. Participants were encouraged to rest and take a moment to think about the experiences they had just undergone. Unfortunately by this stage of the gallery the participants were usually over stimulated and the sudden shift to “just a pillow?” was jarring. I suspect that there are more appropriate and more effective methods to induce a reflective experience, such as a follow-up conversation or group discussion context. This could be integrated into the event either in the gallery space or near it. Participants could gather there after each of their experiences and could mingle and discus their experience with others. The act of sharing and describing each of the experiences would be a suitable method to not only lock in that experience in the participant’s memory but also to
emphasize the effect of it. The act of telling someone what your power is can be a very powerful moment. A declarative statement of this nature will help the participant believe in it and can potentially create a more long-term effect. In this way an outward declaration is more useful than an inward reflection and will suit the context of the final event.
Proved too dangerous to properly trial. It was an effort to recreate the takeoff moment when a superhero takes flight for the first time. A pulley system was rigged up to the ceiling and to a harness attached to a crouched participant. Additional participants were on hand to pull on the cord when the participant was instructed to quickly stand. The participant’s own momentum combined with the lifting force of the other participants would, for half a second, simulate the feeling of taking off. There were concerns that the pulley system was not correctly fixed to the ceiling and the experiment was cancelled. This concept is very important to any flight-based superhero because it captures a feeling of total freedom and release from the bonds of gravity. This is shown in Man of Steel as a transformative moment when Clarke fully accepts his ancestry and transcends his ‘human’ limitations.1 This was a moment I personally wanted to experience, something I have visualized many times over. Unfortunately this prototype was not able to reach a minimum level of safety required to test it. I also suspect that I may have glorified its potential success. The takeoff moment would be so fleeting as to last only microseconds, and the sharp pull of the harness would dissipate any temporary realism. Still one can dream.
1 (Goyer 2013)
It is difficult to define what the end will be like when one is in the difficult stages of the journey. The visions are so often tainted by the senses of the now and of the past. When I look to the horizon I see only more horizons. It is the path that returns to itself that is infinite, that is the most difficult to travel. In these final trials there is a maddening contradiction of excitement and fear â€“ of what really looms over the infinite horizon.
The following are large-scale lenses to be applied both to the thesis as a whole and the final prototype offerings. They peer forward even before the offering is complete, speculating about the future of this body of work and this area of research. From services to digital representations to business models these final lenses, which are exactly not final, are the beginnings of how super might help save the world.
Super as a Service
Here I was exploring models, maps, systems, first and second order cybernetic feedback loops and conversation theory. As the work shifted from definitive mind maps towards cybernetic feedback models and conversation theory, the service opportunities and structures began to become apparent. I created a system as an alternative to cognitive therapy, using superpower experiences and insights from positive psychology and existing cognitive behavioral therapy. This would exist in a performance art space and be focused on the idea of reframing participantâ€™s scales of perception (their perceived world and the perceived relation upon it). This lens proved exceptionally helpful for clarifying the why, what and how of the thesis and also the value propositions and relevant stakeholders. For instance, in this frame key research institutions proved to be a key stakeholder that would collect data on the participants in return for funding and financial support. In time as this form of therapy became accepted by the greater public, a more direct cost structure would be adopted, where patients would pay for services similar to an entrainment model of Sleep No More (an interactive performance piece based on Shakespeareâ€™s Macbeth). Understanding where the value exchanges and rewards were coming from and going to helped direct attention do more relevant entities for the long-run service model.
Screens & digital representation
How will the super live on beyond the thesis? How will it be perceived and communicated without you to explain it? How will it reach the online audience? Digital representation design, interaction design and user experience design all play a role in helping to provide answers to these questions. They consider not just what device a user is viewing the content through, but also the user himself. Explorations were done through protopersonas (very quick assumption-based prototypes of user demographics and needs), journey maps and user testing. Research into current digital trends, patterns and
typography supported the conceptualization of a screenbased interaction for super. Drawing from elements of strong bold typefaces, large sections of white space and hidden details, the graphic design of the screens for super build a strong sense of power. In addition, the website allows for collection of data in a novel and real-time method, pulling directly from Instagram using an API. During the show the site goes into secret mode stating, “moments of remarkable are currently being had at (location of gallery, time and date).” During this mode all navigation is hidden, only findable by those who know where to look. When a show is not on the landing page reads, “Moments of remarkable are shown to make people feel good… …(duh!).” The navigation bar is also fully available, showing a list of the various powers with descriptions, a feed of people using them and a brief “About” section that discuses the thesis and myself. This outward facing communication lens is one that will only grow stronger with more use. As more powers are added, more people contribute to the feed and a larger following in the press strengthens the overall message of both the thesis and the digital representation of it. I found the exploration of the target audience particularly helpful in identifying the ‘who,’ discovering that perhaps rather than a specific demographic, I was targeting a time-based audience of people who were early in their career and still trying to find who they were and what their true power might be.
Business Structures & Models
Rather than explore how super might become a business structure, I took this lens as an opportunity to see how I could develop super into my own business model. How it could live on in my work not just as a project, but as a process. Throughout the thesis and the time spend at the Products of Design program I have come to consider myself not as a designer, nor an artist, yet somehow both. While the two are closely related they each have specific focuses, goals and audiences. This understanding dictates the essence of the studio I wish to create: a design and art studio that encompasses both the real and the unreal and uses the two to develop different areas and reach different audiences. The unreal is the art side, which will be experimental and curious. The real is the design side. Refined and efficient, it creates a platform for which to share the things from the unreal side. Not only to support the unreal side financially but more so because I think others will find value in them and will come to love them like I do. I make delightful things that people want. That is my true power and that is my dream. Realunreal is
not about separating out the two creative processes, but celebrating their nuances. It is my interpretation of the age-old artist and patron model. â€œI am an industrial designer in an art school, in a design program, doing an art-performance based thesis that I hope to share with the world through a design platform.â€?
In those dark times of temptation there is a definitive moment. A pivotal meeting with the Goddess. My meeting came during a conversation on the essence of human nature and reminded me that sometimes in spite of public ridicule, a hero must focus on the one thing that matters. That the reward of the saved few is many times more powerful than the adversity bestowed by the na誰ve many. In this intoxication I saw a glimpse of my true path. It was no longer an exploration to find myself but a much more purposeful mission, to help others find themselves, to help them see true value in what makes them remarkable.
helping others to become super.
Transitioning from objects to experience and then from experience to platform. The final product offerings of the thesis reside in a collection of simulations and challenges presented through a designed performance. The performance as a whole is a journey in which the final destination is important but not the focus. The journey is the key because we already know the destination or are at least subconsciously aware of it. It is through the path towards it that we begin to truly understand it, to appreciate it and the value it. This is why the final offering of this thesis is presented as an experience, as a performance. Under that frame the path and the journey are celebrated. Indeed on a higher level it is the initialization and validation of super as a platform. While there are many design vehicles that could have been used to transition this thesis into a platform, few are as efficient and powerful as experience – where insights from science and emotional immersion of art can come together through design. In this section of the paper I will refer to guests of the performance as participants. I do this to encourage the vernacular that represents users as co-creators. Each participant brings their own set of skills, interpretations and values to the experience as a whole, and under this light they each can begin to shape their own journey and take control of their own path. Other players include an Oracle, a Guardian and numerous helpers such as Security, Hostesses, Receptionists, and Personal Trainers. Each of these players is drawn from a character in the greatest journey of all time – Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey structure.
ACT 1 - Scene 1 The Invitation
An email is sent to potential participants informing them of the performance’s intention, time, date and location: You are invited to SUPER, the final project of Richard Clarkson’s MFA at SVA. Friday 25th April | 7pm - 11pm | Specials on C Gallery | 195 Ave. C at 12th St | Alphabet City, New York. The thesis is an inquiry into why superpowers hold so much sway over specific western populations and explores why so many are enchanted by them. Richard found that historical superpowers were derived from abstractions of human nature, fears and desires and later used as a way to mitigate paranoia and social unease. The performance is
about becoming super in every sense of the term. This is a transformative journey through different ‘moments of power’– simulations and challenges that give context for a higher level conversation of what makes you unique, what makes you special, what makes you... super. .
ACT 1 - Scene 2 Follow up
RSVP is requested through website entry field at: www.richardclarksonstudio.com/rsvp
The morning of the journey a reminder email is sent to those who RSVP’d. It states:
Between the hours of 7-11 tonight your journey to discovering your true power will begin. Before visiting the gallery space you (and your plus ones or twos) will need to meet with The Oracle at Matilda’s Cafe on 647 East 11th Street NY (just around the corner from the gallery space). Look for the man outside Matilda’s in the white scarf and say the code word: “SUPER”, he will respond with: “POWER” and give you instructions for the next step of your journey. Good luck.
ACT 1 - Scene 3 Secret Word
As participants approach Matilda’s Bar & Café they see a security guard wearing a white scarf, a white halo and thin white eyeliner. The participant says to the man, “Super.” He responds with “Power, please put on this protective face-shield– it is designed to both protect your secret identity and empower your true self. Please leave it on until instructed to remove it. Go to the bar and choose the two statements that you resonate the most with you. The oracle will see you when the time is right.” The participant enters the bar and looks over the power menu. This is comprised of six statements...
As participants choose and wait for their meeting with the Oracle they mingle and discuss the statements with other participants.
ACT 1 - Scene 4 It’s Time
Another actor approaches the participants in the bar, this time a hostess figure – also wearing the white scarf, halo and eyeliner costume. She organizes the participants into a group of three (often separating friends and merging strangers) and tells them, “The Oracle will see you now. She will help you identify your power through a masking ceremony.” She walks the group over to a candlelit table near the front of the bar where the Oracle is seated.
ACT 1 - Scene 5 The Oracle
Bestowed in a large white headscarf and heavy white eye shadow, the Oracle gestures to the first participant to sit. If they had raised their mask she also indicates for them to put it back on. She says nothing as she takes out six cards, with each of the six statements from the power menu, and lays them out on the table in a very deliberate fashion. She raises two fingers and points to the cards to which the participant answers by pointing to the two they chose. She picks up these two cards, one in each hand and weighs them while evaluating the participant. When she makes her decision, she places the selected card on the table and double taps it gesturing to signify, “this one here, this is the one for you.” Next, she dips her finger into one of the colors on the paint tray next to her and paints a unique symbol on the mask of the participant. The color that she paints corresponds to the particular card that she selected for the participant. It is important to note here this process is set up to avoid multiples of the same color going through the gallery with the same color. The Oracle then gestures for them to get up and for the next participant to take a seat. When the third and final participant of the group has had their meeting with the Oracle, she gestures for them to follow the white chalk path by pointing at it. The three participants leave the bar and follow the chalk path to the Specials on C Gallery just around the block. As they walk away, the security guard outside radios through to the helpers at the gallery space to inform them of the three colors of the approaching participants.
ACT 2 - Scene 1 Good Luck
At the end of the chalk path and the entrance of the gallery a third actor waits. Seeing they are wearing masks with colored symbols he automatically opens the door for them, saying nothing but, “Good luck.”
ACT 2 - Scene 2 Reception
Just inside the space to the left is a white reception desk with two people standing behind it. They are both wearing the white scarf, halo, and make-up outfit. One of them speaks, “Hello and welcome to Super, a membership only Gym for superpowers that reveals the remarkable in you. The Oracle told us you were coming, but we still need to process you into the supercomputer. Please stand one by one in front of the processing window so we can prepare the right power exercise for you. As you stand please adopt a power pose like one of the six you see diagramed on the window.” Each participant then takes a turn holding their power pose for 20 to 30 seconds. During this time the other receptionist is taking a snapshot of them in this pose from a discrete camera at the base of the floor. This photo is printed on a digital photo printer while the participants continue their journey. When they have each completed this step the receptionist says, “Great! I will bring out your Personal Power Trainer, one moment please.” He ducks away to the end of the gallery space and returns with the Personal Power Trainer (PPT) who wears a much larger white scarf and heavier white eyeliner. The receptionist bows to the PPT and returns to his desk.
ACT 2 - Scene 3 Three Exercises
The PPT leads the group over to the exercises three exercises that are lit up. The lights are controlled by one of the receptionists who uses the information from the security guard about which colors are on their way to dictate which exercises should be illuminated. Each color relates to one of the exercises. The PPT energetically claps his hands and in a loud voice says, “I am your your Personal Power Trainer for your tour here today. I will lead you through three of six power exercises that will reveal your true superpower, at the end of which you may have the opportunity to join us. Lets get started!” He brings the group to the first of the three illuminated exercises (The six exercises will be explained in-depth in the next section). The PPT explains what power the exercise is testing for, and why it is valuable for a superhero to possess that power. Each participant attempts the exercise, but only one of them reaches the second level of interaction. The person who reaches the next level is the one who has the color on their mask that corresponds to that particular exercise. The second level of interaction helps to add an additional layer to the experience by making the participant feel like they possess a unique superpower
that the other members of the group do not. 1 This process is repeated for the two other exercises, with a different member of the group reaching the second level of interaction each time. 137 ACT 2 - Scene 3 The Hand-Off
The PPT tells the participants, “Great work, you have all performed amazingly! I’ll hand you back over to reception to receive your application for membership consideration packets.” The PPT returns to the back of the space where he initially emerged. The participants walk back to the front of the space and meet the receptionist.
ACT 2 - Scene 4 Membership
The receptionist greets the participants with, “Please take your masks off. According to these results, it has been revealed that your superpower is (enter one of the six character strengths here)! Given this finding we would like to invite you to be considered for joining us and advance you to round two of super. In order to apply to be considered in this membership package you will find a short survey, please fill this out, photograph it, and share it to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #momentsofremarkable. You will also find a promotional sticker, a referral coupon and more information about your specific power.” The participants leave the gallery looking through their packet and follow the chalk path back to the bar where they continue to discuss and evaluate their experience.
The performance overall was not without a few small technical hiccups, but overall I was extremely proud. The actors performed flawlessly and the participants I spoke to said they had an amazing time. Both of the spaces, Specials on C and Matilda Café & Bar were extremely accommodating. Over-casting proved to be especially helpful when additional roles were needed, and it was truly heartwarming to see everyone come together to help out. Having a separate videographer and photographer 1 Early on in the first round of prototyping of this thesis I found that there were three very effective methods to make a participant feel a sense of being special and powerful. The first is if they attempt a task they don’t think they can do and then do succeed, overcoming the negative preconceptions of themself. The second is if they attempt a task and fail, but push through that failure and attempt again until they succeed. The last is when they are chosen for a task that, for whatever reason, only they always succeed at, and others will always fail. By having a combination of these embedded into the exercises it effectively generates a feeling of bring special and unique that transcends the experience to a deep emotional connection with the exercise.
was useful in capturing both forms of documentation. The aesthetics of the exercises, set and costume merged seamlessly and really created an immersive atmosphere. Some things I didn’t expect that pleasantly surprised me were the number of walk-ins who saw the performance through the windows of either space and joined in. The level of delight some participants received in the set up was hugely encouraging – some even stating that their meeting with the Oracle was the highlight of the performance. It was interesting to note that the most chosen character strength statement was, “I always express my thanks and appreciation.” This was drawn from the power of gratitude. There are few things I will do differently for the next iteration, such as spend more time on each of the individual exercises in order to really perfect each of the interactive elements. I will also rehearse with the actors more beforehand to more quickly allow them to settle into their roles. A final high-level element that I would improve on would be to use a more active encouragement for participants to fill out the survey, perhaps providing a greater reward for doing so would encourage a larger degree of participation within that.
#momentsofremarkable Instagram photos 2014
The ultimate boon, a pure moment of absolution where everything clicks into place. This came about in a very spiritual moment walking in the rain today. The drizzle refracting in the street lights with Allan Watts in my ears. And I knew in that moment I had done it. That I was going to pull this off. I was exactly where I needed to be. I had the tools to do it. I let myself sink into the moment, stepping in time with the beat of the music. That’s what they don’t show in the films – the secret smile or small sign of joyful emotion that comes with this knowledge. When things transcend from being okay or even great to being… super.
What follows is an exploration of the super exercises that participants interact with during the performance. All the participants go through the first exercise called Pose, but from there they only attempt three of the remaining six: Energize, Accelerate, Control, Escape, Perceive, and Release. Each of these interactions is based upon one of the seven key character strengths developed through the Character Lab (discussed in the research section of this paper). These include optimism, zest, grit, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity. I have used these character strengths as a scaffolding structure to build the final set of super-interactions. Each interaction is an enhanced or abstracted version of one of the seven strengths. As you read through them, note which resonate with you the most. You are likely to have at least one or two that you can really relate to. These might just be your true powers.
Represents the character strength of Optimism. “Optimism and hope are not random feelings; they can be conscious choices.” – Jane Gillham.1 This was the first super experience of the show. It was also the only compulsory experience that all participants underwent. As the participants entered the space they were greeted by the receptionist, who instructed them to one by one adopt one of six power poses for 20-30 seconds. A power pose is a posture of high confidence and control, often associated with a very open or wide stance such as hands on hips and chest puffed out or sitting with feet raised on a desk and arms stretched out. The participants adopted their own interpretation of a power pose in front of a small window facing the street. Any initial feeling of vulnerability was be mitigated by wearing the mask to hide his or her identity. The longer the participant held that pose the more powerful and optimistic they began to feel. A study by Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School has shown adopting these power poses even for just a short time raises levels of testosterone and lowers levels of cortisol – the hormone related to stress. Cuddy and her team found that adopting these types of poses before high stakes social evaluation significantly increased performance.2 What participants did not know is that a hidden digital camera was taking snapshots of them in these poses. The photos were printed and given to each of the participants at the end of the experience. Participants really enjoyed this exercise and didn’t become 1 (Gillham 2000) 2 (Cuddy, Wilmuth and Carney 2012)
self-conscious. As they had seen other participant’s membership packets and photos they knew they were being photographed and made quite an attempt to perform the most powerful pose. 152
Represents the character strength of Zest. Sometimes referred to as vitality1, zest is an approach to life filled with excitement, engagement and energy.2
“A vital person is someone whose aliveness and spirit are expressed not only in personal productivity and activity - such individuals often infectiously energize those with whom they come into contact.” – Martin Seligman.3
This interaction was two-fold. Firs, the participant was fitted with two power gloves. Early iterations of these power gloves were described in previous sections of this paper. The gloves produce a very bright light from the center of the palm when the wearer’s hand is fully flexed open. As the user was fitted with these gloves they were instructed that their power was going to be tested. They had to ‘hit’ a minimum of twenty green-colored-light targets within forty seconds and avoid red colored targets. A hit is achieved when the participant opens his or her power glove and points the light beam at the selected target before it fades. After this exercise, participants were encouraged to try their hand at energy transfer. This involved transferring energy from the power glove to a light bulb in the center of the room. Earlier versions of this bulb are also mentioned in previous sections of this paper. As the user attempted this act, the bulb lit up and then it faded off when the participant removed his hand. The participant was then instructed to remove the gloves and try the same action and magically the bulb still turned on.
1 From Dr. Ben Dean’s definition of vitality on the Authentic Happiness website: “The concept of vitality has deep roots in Eastern philosophies and healing traditions. The ancient Chinese concept of Chi, the Japanese notion of Ki, the Balinese notion of Bayu, and the Indian notion of Prana all refer to an underlying life energy or force that flows through living things and is the basis of life and health. Ancient and enduring health practices from acupuncture to reiki to yoga focus on manipulating and increasing the life energy. Early Western psychodynamic psychologists such as Freud, Jung, Reich, and Winnicott incorporated the notion of life energy into their theories of mental health (and illness). At the heart of these theories was the notion that we have a finite amount of psychic energy (or, as Freud called it, libido). Internal conflict, stress, and repression detract from our energy, and freeing ourselves from this conflict allows greater access to this energy.” Source: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ 2 (Ryan and Frederick 1997) 3 (Peterson and Seligman 2004, p. 273).
This was only partially installed into the space during this experience. The glove element was excluded due to time constraints. However participants still interacted well with it. The extra set up of the journey down the dark mysterious path to the room with The Bulb helped to create more of a sense of adventure and a hint of danger, which helped deepen the emotional experience.
Represents the character strength of Grit. It empowered the participant to push through in difficult times. As Angela Duckworth’s extensive research on the subject was fundamental in her involvement with the Character Lab, grit is one of the seven key Character Strengths. This was embodied by the interaction with a specially modified treadmill. An aesthetic structure was built around the treadmill, which holds a large fan at the front at waist height positioned to blow air into the participants face. The treadmill was set up in front of an immersive projection screen on which was projected the point-of-view of a seven-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo. The fan and the speed of the projection are both linked to the participant’s speed, so as the participant ran faster they were provided with both a visual and sensorial feedback that they were in fact running at super speed. To add another layer of interaction, a level two mode was implemented. When a selected participant approached the treadmill the guardian discreetly flipped a switch, which enabled threshold mode. In this mode, once the participant ran fast enough they passed into a time freeze mode, where it was made to feel like they have run so fast time has actually stopped. This feeling was generated a number of key elements. First, a bright flash filled the room at the same time that the music stopped and the projection slowed. An Arduino controlled clock near the projection stopped ticking and the guardian froze in place. This moment only lasted as long as the participant maintained that very fast pace. So as soon as they lost concentration or broke their pace they were pushed back into the current time speed.
This was perhaps the most responsive and interactive exercise of the performance because the speed of the participant was directly related to the effect. The physical exercise of running also boosted the participant’s endorphins and really helped create the essence of a gym.
Represents the character strength of Self-Control. So many of the super power categories originate from a lack of control in ones own life, elemental control as a lack of control of nature, mind control as a lack of control of others, time travel as a lack of control of time, etc. The key theme present in all of these is a relationship between oneself and one’s environment or elements within that environment. This power explores the concept that true control starts from within – in the form of self-control. Renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, designer of the famous Marshmallow Test, explains that self-control originates in the pre-frontal cortex as an inhibitor of the primal drives pushed by the limbic system of the brain.1 His key method for exercising self-control is to maintain a higher-level goal and to focus on that rather than the short-term payoff of the temptation or distraction. Dr. Roy Baumeister2 and Angela Duckworth3 also make arguments to support this claim. Mischel’s research helped to inform the interaction of this power.
For this exercise, participants gathered around a white standing table with a large silver ball in the center. One by one they were instructed to think about a higherlevel goal in their life and use that energy to move the ball with their mind. For the chosen participant the ball mystically glides around the table, following her every hand gesture of the participant. While a fairly rudimentary form of telekinesis, it does allow for a mental connection between the participant’s goals and the ability to exercise control. The few participants who got to experience this exercise responded very well to it. Unfortunately it became temperamental and participants with that power had to be redirected to another. It has the potential to be a really amazing interaction and is one I plan on developing further in the future.
Represents the character strength of Gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude has a strong relationship to happiness, longer life span and greater sense of purpose. In The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want Sonja Lyubomirsky states that up to 40% of your happiness is within your power to change, with one of the key methods for this 1 (Mischel 2014) 2 (Baumeister and Tierney 2011) 3 (Duckworth 2011)
being gratitude.1 This strength was embodied through an enhanced version of The Cloud, a product previously in my first year at The School of Visual Arts. The cloud is an interactive speaker and lamp combination that responds to a user’s motion with a thunder and lightening show. To add another sensorial and symbolic layer for the application of empowering through gratitude, I added a raining feature. Participants where told to perform a rain dance to give thanks to the gods, and if they were worthy and had a thankful heart a great storm would bring the rains they desired. As they danced the cloud began to awaken with small burst of lightening to encourage the participants to dance harder. If they danced hard enough a great thunder strike and bright flash erupted from the cloud and filled the room. Then, finally, a heavy mist fell from the cloud and showered the participants. Beyond simple appreciation, gratitude itself incorporates a desire to reciprocate with ones own positive actions.
This was one of the favorite exercises of the performance. The element of the mist as rain had a huge payoff for participants, especially when combined with the lightning and thunder. If anything the misting feature could be further emphasized in future iterations.
Represents the character strength of Social Intelligence. Both social and emotional intelligence have been popularized in recent years with arguments that the two may in fact be a more important measure than I.Q.2 Those with social intelligence are able to navigate difficult social situations using observations and perceptions about other people’s moods and motives. Initially embodied as the power of invisibility, it became clear though testing that an outward facing perception such as clairvoyance rather then an inward one such as invisibility would be more suited to evoke a sense of social intelligence. I predicted that seeing more would be more beneficial than not being seen. In this philosophical sense this power was perhaps the most challenging of the set. A specially designed periscope was set up so that it subtly faced the other participants. The participants were told that if they had the power of perception they would be able to see through the periscope, which would reveal something of great value. One by one the participants looked through the periscope and were not able to see through the lens. As the chosen person peered through 1 (Lyubomirsky 2007) 2 (Goleman and Sutherland 1996)
they were able to clearly see through the lens to the other participants, thus realizing that other people are the thing of great value, that is more often than not people that really matter and not things or possessions. Participants didn’t respond as well as I had hoped with this interaction, partly because the technology was unreliable, but also participants very quickly saw through the illusion. I learned that another layer of interaction might have assisted in overcoming.
Represents the character strength of Curiosity. Phrased as ‘active open mindedness’ by Dr. Jon Baron of University of Pennsylvania’s psychology department, curiosity relates to the search for information and experience for the sake of the search. An important element to this an acceptance that initial beliefs and ideas may be proven wrong and changed throughout the search. This strength was embodied through a flight simulator. The wonderment of flight is has sat in the minds of humans since our species first laid eyes on the various bird populations of the time. Since then we have seen numerous technological leaps that have provided in assisted flight all over the world. I chose to focus predominantly on creating an interaction to insinuate the feeling of unassisted flight. Participants lay on their backs with their arms outstretched towards an upside down screen. Playing on the screen is a shorted clip of CorridorDigital’s YouTube video Superman with a GoPro. The clip is a point-of-view of superman as he flies through the city. It is shot with a quad-copter and enhanced with visual effects to provide a more realistic flight.1 As the participants views the clip upside down it gives the sensory illusion of anti-gravity. The final layer is a large fan positioned just below the screen, which provides a sense of movement, acceleration and thus flight. This was another favorite of the performance. Operating exceptionally reliably and realistically, to the point where it became problematic having to ask some of the participant to allow others to have a turn. Participants seemed to particularly enjoy the level of humor associated with the original footage.
1 (Gorski and Pueringer 2014)
From the unknown to the known I return. I have been changed. I have been moved. I have become that which I set out to become but not in the way I anticipated. I return with knowledge that there are two ways to move a mountain. The first involves a shovel and hard work. The second involves shifting yourself in relation of the mountain. Because if you look long and hard enough you will begin to understand that you yourself are the mountain. And that you had the power to move all along.
People are powerful. Remarkable experiences have been shown to help people realize that power. Extensive research into positive psychology and cognitive psychology support this claim. Amy Cuddy’s research on power poses shows measurable changes in hormones resulting in measurable improvements in performance and confidence. Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth’s incredible work looks into character strengths and explores why they are so often overlooked. Josh Ackerman’s research looks into using superman as a visualization method to overcome social exclusion. These and other studies show there is a psychological connection between remarkable experiences and lasting positive emotion. These remarkable experiences range from euphoric, unbelievable experiences down to everyday examples of people helping other people. In fact there is something truly exceptional about the man who gives up his seat in the subway for the older lady. It is an affirmation that simple character strengths can carry the same power as those once-in-a-life-time experiences. Through these experiences participants are assisted in realizing their own true potential, that they have their own super powers that they can use to help challenge larger life obstacles. They realize they can use their understanding of their own power to steer towards the moments in life that make it so incredible to be alive. I presented these experiences in the form of a performance, an immersive evening of joy and celebration of participants powers. And so as this stage of the journey draws to a close I leave you with a challenge: find your power, identify what really matters to you in life and to use your power to help those things that really matter. You ask what is your purpose in life? I say what can be more powerful than that.
Super: an adjective to emphasis a particular term well above and beyond the ordinary. Powerful: emotional and psychological feeling of control and efficacy. Similar to empowerment. Scales of Perception: To re-frame and rescale the perception of a users own world and their relationship to it, this includes their perceived ability to positively impact it & change it. Experience: The body of work within the show is a collection of Interactive objects. Meaning you touch them, play with them and even climb into them. There is narrative structure and overarching journey. Performance: Super is a form of creative entertainment, referencing the work of Sleep No More by Punch Drunk Love, an immersive live action interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Involving actors, superpower props, scripts and a ‘set.’ Therapy: The objects & journeys are derived from research into cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology. A synthesis of studies and experiments focusing on locus of control and self-efficacy. Positive psychology: A method of psychology influenced by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which focuses on reaching a positive baseline of happiness rather than “fixing” people to return them to a normal standard. Intrinsic: belonging to a thing by its very nature. An internal relationship or reflection. Reflection: Looking inward at oneself – a reflection on ones actions, experiences or physical being. Moment: Temporal segment, usual only a matter of seconds or minuets. It refers to ‘Moments of Power’ a brief time period in which the participant experiences the power. Ordinary: Antonym of Super, it represents the civilian persona. Control: A degree of influence or command over certain elements, environments or people. This can range from no control to total control. Efficacy: ability to produce and intended or desired result. In relation to Self-Efficacy - extent or strength of one’s belief in one’s own ability to reach goals.
Empowerment: refers to increasing the economic, political, social, educational, gender, or spiritual strength of individuals and communities Marginalized / Underserved: overt or covert trends within societies whereby those perceived as lacking desirable traits or deviating from the group norms tend to be excluded by wider society and ostracized as undesirables. World: The higher-level environment & context in which a person lives. A person may perceive their world on a very different scale than another. VIA: a psychological assessment measure designed to identify an individual’s profile of character strengths, consisting of 34 key strengths. Vicarious: a feeling or action that is experienced or realized through imagination or sympathetic participation in the experience of another Good: inherently well intentioned and well actioned in regards to societal progress & protection. Often guided by a set of rules or higher-level principals. Hero: Advocate or embodiment of good through a particular recurring action set. Evil: Antonym of Good. Can either be an interpretation of intention or action that results in this title, as in doing the right thing in the wrong way. Happy: An emotional state of contentment and elation. Often seen as an outcome of the completion of a major goal. Enough: A self-imposed subjective quantitative or qualitative measure of at least minimum viable product. Often set as an ambiguous goal – “I will stop when I have enough money” Problematic in that is unattainable in relation to greed. Meaning of Life: The goal and or purpose of ones life. What one really wants out of life. Save: In the context of save the world, to influence or impact to the point of substantial shift away from danger or problem. Journey: An adventure, a shift from the known to the unknown and back a again. Based on Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey narrative structure.
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A journey is never an individual story. There are many players each performing an essential role. I have many thanks to give, however there is one in particular that I would like to pay homage to; Allan Chochinov, who I came to realize was my own guardian throughout this thesis journey. Allan plucked me from my known context of New Zealand, into plunged me into the unknown, wondrous wilderness that is New York City. Through his program at SVA I was pushed and pulled into so many different adventures each building skills and character. When I came to face final dragon that was the thesis I struggled, I failed, and I fell, but with the support of Allan, the Products of Design faculty and students I held on. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But through that struggle I saw the true value in myself that I couldn’t see before. You can tell someone they are valuable, you can’t even show them, all you can do is open the right doors and catch them when they fall. In this way they find their own value, its not that it’s meant to be hard, it’s that it’s meant to be a journey. I won my final battle not by slaying the dragon but by embracing it as myself. So I thank you for that Allan, for the opportunity to go on this journey and for the support throughout it. I am certain there will be more adventures on this path and on others. “…all those who wander are not lost” – Gandalf, Lord of the Rings. Others who played hugely important roles in this journey include: Kiel Mead – Thesis advisor Paola Antonelli – Advice & Mentorship Emile Baltz – Performance & Experience Mentor Abby Covert– Moral Support and Specials on C connection & so much help finding my “why & what” Erin Ross – Moral support, 1st pass editing and assistance Julia Plevin – Chief Editor Ray Hu – Presswork Rob walker – Interview Sinclair Smith – for help clarifying the crazy thoughts in
my head Jim Chu (Specials on C) – amazing space! Peter Knocke (Specials on C) – amazing space & help setting up Esteban Molina (Matilda) – amazing bar & accommodating venue Maristella Innocenti – amazing bar & accommodating venue Robert Galinsky ¬– who secured the second venue for the show Tommy Top – building assistant & painter Steven Dean – identifying value in the thesis through a service model. Elliot Montgomery – bringing the story through Kyla Fullenwider ¬– Interview & positive Psychology contacts Margaret Kern ¬– Interview & positive Psychology research Issa Ibrahim – Interview Dean Haspiel – Interview Andrew Schloss – Early Crafting of the thesis topic and direction Ingrid Fetell – Interview & presentation narrative Brent Arnold – Screens & digital representation Janna Gilbert – Business strategy & Realunreal Leif Mangelsen – Coding, Max MSP & VFL help Boris Klompus – Coding, build advice & VFL help John Heida – Acting, Booklet preparation & Vinyl prep Tak Cheung – Moral Support, Branding & VFL help Josh Ackerman – Interview Scott Barry Kaufman – Interview & validation & contacts.
Gene Moyle – Interview
Samantha Moore – Moral support
Andres Iglesias – Interview & card prep
Steve Hamilton – Acting
Brandon Washington ¬– Acting
Vidhi Goel – Photographic Documentation & set-up
Charlotta Hellichius ¬– Moral support & Graphic Design & direction advice
Willy Chan – Moral support
Elisa Werbler – Acting & being the best Oracle in the history of ever Heath Wagoner – Acting & performing outstandingly as a personal power trainer. Eliz Ayaydin – Booklet preparation George Crichlow - Booklet preparation Cassandra Michel – Moral support Clay Kippen – Moral support & direction advice John Thackara – Interview & direction advice Damon Ahola – Moral support Emi Yasaka – Moral support Gabrielle Kellner – Moral support & sandwiches & editor contact Gaia Orain – Moral support, material sourcing & costume Joseph Weissgold – Moral support, event narrative & direction & Tech assistance Kathryn McElroy – Moral support Lance Green – Acting Lucy Knops – Acting, on more than one occasion Mansi Gupta – Moral support & insights Marko Manriquez – Tech support Matt Barber – Moral support Miguel Olivares – Video documentation & set-up Rona Binay – Moral support
Zena Verda Pesta – Moral support Nicole Clarkson – Moral support Claudia Clarkson – Moral support Peter Clarkson – Moral support Cathie Clarkson – Moral support
Richard Clarkson Brooklyn, New York 28th April 2014
Products of Design Thesis | School of Visual Arts | 2014 The thesis is an inquiry into why superpowers hold so much sway over specific...