What We Neglect
We are currently in the middle of the 6th Mass Extinction event, also known as the Holocene Extinction. Biodiversity is on a severe and fast decline on all environmental scales. For my Senior Thesis, my design objective was one of both formal research and education, in an effort to bring a pressing and calculated scientific event into a gallery setting.
- Information Design
- Interaction Design
- Data Compiling
- Graphite Illustration
When I began my thesis, there were endless possibilities as to what I could tackle throughout two whole semesters—Who is it for? What issue? How can I make it? When you begin a detailed brainstorm, often too many ideas can float in your head. One thing I did know was that I wanted whatever I made to involve the condition of our environment. So, I began with some tentative sketches. Could I create a futuristic living model? Or maybe even a garbage sifter that told you whether you could recycle an item or not! But as I sketched, I was realizing I was attempting too much from an architectural, or maybe even an engineering standpoint. What could a designer say about the environment?
Framing the Problem
What regarding our current environment is an issue? Well, as of now we are facing the 6th mass extinction event—a widespread amount of species are going extinct at a rapid rate, all across the world. No continent is exempt from habitat loss and drastic environmental change causing these extinctions, even islands which are in fact the most vulnerable.
IUCN Red List
So how could such a broad topic such as mass extinction be condensed into tangible evidence, and something designed? Luckily, there's plenty of data keeping track of species loss and their patterns. The largest and most credible database, the IUCN Redlist, is an official directory of endangered and extinct species. The list gives a wide range of details for each species, including name, location, level of endangerment and organism class. With all these details, I was able to compose a data sheet to organize a selected 430+ species.
Creating the Experience
After gathering countless hours of data and research, it was now time to focus on the best possible medium I could readily employ. For the gallery setting, it was in the my best interest not to create a stagnant list, but rather a composition that can be explored and discoverable. Lasting impact was to be based on impression and interest. To me, it became clear this composition needed to be an entire digital experience to also show my best qualities as a designer.
The Back End
Taking the data sheet, I created a visual script that would transform each individual row into its own interactive node. Each of these nodes needed to convey statistical breadth and depth, as well as uniqueness. With the script, I based these nodes' size qualities on their population numbers and level of endangerment, and their location in the piece on their location in the wild. To create another layer of discoverability, I made Amphibians in magenta to distinguish them from the rest, as they have the highest percentage of species loss. With this script, I was then able to officially make the interactive piece to be used.
Trophic Cascades and Further Research
This interaction alone could not cover the amount of discoveries I personally made in my research. To supplement this abstract data, I decided to bring more clear, emotional and concise information about Trophic Cascades, habitat loss and the species that matter most for our well-being.
Posters on environmental loss and trophic cascades, including the cascading effects bees have on their environments.
Bringing everything together, the material presented itself at its most naked form as something of a science project. With the constructive qualities in both the data and topic, I kept its arrangement skeletal and let the words and research make their impact.
Drawings and Deliverables
To tie it all together however, I wanted to also have emotional resonance. With all these numbers and explanations, there needed to be a way to humanize this event. My choice was to bring in a tactic I've had for as long as I can remember-drawing. Drawing animals gives them emotive gravity that people tend to only possess. As a take-away, I drew both the Honey Bee and Brown Bat with supplemental cards, which are both two of the most important species to local New Jersey environments.