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"Design is a tool to amplify others’ voices, co-create a new world, and enable social change."

Justin Ware & Evie Cheung share the process behind their Finalist submission in the Coronavirus Design Competition

First, a little about each of us:

[Justin] I'm an architectural designer based in Brooklyn, New York. With over eight years of professional experience, I currently work as a designer, senior project manager, and brand strategist at Mapos Architects, a small studio in New York concerned with the creation of informed architectural environments and experiences that are focused around the user. I have designed and managed projects around the world, from initial concept through to construction, and across a wide range of project types and scales. I'm currently completing a Master's program in Emergency and Resilience at Università IUAV di Venezia in Italy. I'm focused on contributing to the built environment in ways that promote social justice, human dignity, and enduring resilience.

[Evie] I'm a product and visual designer and creative strategist with a passion for working on complex problems with a social impact. I'm currently a Senior Design Consultant at Doblin, Deloitte's Applied Design practice, where I work with companies to innovate through human-centered design practices and to integrate design thinking internally. I approach problems with a social science lens and a cross-cultural perspective. My process is grounded in user-centered design, co-creation, systems thinking, and storytelling. With a professional background in marketing and creative content, my work is guided by an understanding of user psychology—whether it's designing a new digital experience for customers of a Fortune 500 company, or launching a campaign that promotes equity for underserved communities.

What inspired you to enter the coronavirus design competition?

As both of us began working from home in the middle of March, life outside of work was almost entirely absorbed by the pandemic. After developing some understanding of what we were actually up against and what we might expect, we settled into some kind of a new normal. For one of us (Justin), that included establishing a working group with some colleagues to discuss and write about the crisis from more of an academic standpoint. This helped to inform our thinking around what kind of a response should come from the design community. For the other (Evie), it included shifting to a full-time initiative at work that is focused on researching the ways that everyone is processing and responding to the pandemic in their lives through both qualitative and quantitative methods. Much like the rest of the world, we've both been thinking a lot about it.

From there, we both felt an urge to use our respective skills to respond in real time to the crisis in a creative and impactful way. The design for Houselet originated from this desire and the connection that we made with an organization that was specifically looking into solutions to providing temporary isolation housing for people experiencing homelessness during the crisis. From our conversations with them, we developed an understanding of just how big of an issue this was and how little American cities were doing to solve it. We also sat in on some calls with organizations and activists in New York that were specifically focused on the issue to better inform the design.

We encountered images like this one from Las Vegas alongside the following headlines (The Guardian / NYTimes):

[Homeless people sleep in a parking lot with spaces marked for social distancing in Las Vegas. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters]
The New York Times
Source: The Guardian

And then, as we were conceptualizing the design, New York leadership became defensive about the issue of homelessness and engaged in dehumanizing rhetoric and a kind of victim-shaming. It was deeply disturbing. The solution to the problem of people turning to the largely abandoned subway for shelter was to shut down the subway overnight and not to offer some kind of safe accommodation to those who needed it most during a public health crisis. The shelters were overcrowded and under-resourced and those in need were terrified of going to them for these reasons. The challenge of homelessness is not a new one, but certainly one exacerbated by the pandemic.

Source: The New York Times

With all of this as a background, Houselet was our way of offering a realistic and actionable solution to a very real problem impacting one of America's more vulnerable populations.

What role do you think design has in today's world?

At its best, design is never the destination, but rather the vehicle to get there. It is a tool to amplify others’ voices, co-create a new world, and enable social change. The systems and institutions that we have today were purposely designed to have us arrive at the inequities of our society; but there is good news in this—we have designed our way into this mess, and we are perfectly capable of designing ourselves out of it. As designers, it is our role to consider not just the intended outcomes, but also the consequences. It is our responsibility to question the status quo and imagine paradigm shifts; and to transform the imagined into tangible, conspicuous change.

Any closing thoughts? Anything you'd like the world to know

Our contact information

Evie Cheung @eviecheung

Justin Paul Ware @justinpaulware

Justin & EvieJustin & EvieJustin & EvieJustin & Evie
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