MDes Open Project: Communicating Climate – Representing Risk

In contemporary practice, designers are often called upon to visualize the implications of and potential responses to climate adaptation on behalf of individuals and institutions, communities and cultures. While the representation of alternative and better futures has been central to the history of the design disciplines, the scope and scale of anthropogenic climate change presents unique challenges to the traditional training and skill sets of the design professional. As communities confront the various catastrophes, slow and less so, associated with changing climate, designers are increasingly called upon to communicate with various audiences on a range of topics. These include scientific data or geospatial models, future extreme weather events and their impacts, as well as their implication for public health and safety. Equally, designers are expected to be technically proficient and literate in the languages of various scientific, technical, economic, or political realms while communicating with decision-makers as well as broad public audiences. The representation of risk will be a central preoccupation.

Members of the project will be invited to curate a range of precedents and practices on the representation of risk and communication on climate adaptation from around the world. These comparative precedents and practices will form an archive of sorts from which members of the project will develop their own unique design research projects. This MDes Open Project invites members from all disciplinary and professional backgrounds across all MDes domains. Members of the project will be invited to identify their particular preferred media for design research on communication in relation to climate adaptation. MDes candidates are invited to work through media that they have previous experience or expertise with, or to identify new or emergent media that they have little or no experience with. The project engages with a range of leading designers and thinkers whose practices offer productive models for thinking through these questions. These interventions include lecture presentations, seminar discussions, and workshops on particular media.

As designers and researchers confront the challenges of climate adaptation their work necessarily implicates questions of communication with and between diverse audiences. This MDes Open Project proposes the development of innovative and unique models of communication on a range of topics associated with climate adaptation. These research projects will be developed through a combination of collective research on precedents and best practices across various media, the arts, and design. These include, but are not limited to, narrative storytelling and ethnographic study, time-based media including video and animation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, gaming and virtual or augmented reality, web platforms and apps, cartographic and geospatial modeling, graphic novels and illustration, graphic design and communication design, among other media and modes of communication.

The precedents and best practices informing the work will be drawn from around the world and members of the course are invited to bring their own previous work on the topic of climate adaptation as it relates to the topic of communication. Those precedents and practices will inform the development of individual or collective design research projects in relation to the Office for Urbanization’s ongoing research on climate adaptation on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The communities of Gloucester, Manchester-by-the Sea, Essex, and Rockport will provide test beds for communication with decision-makers, civic society, and local audiences. Members of the Open Project will be invited to continue this work with research assistantships in the Office for Urbanization over the summer of 2024.

Sarah Page, Research Associate with the Office for Urbanization, will join the teaching team for this Open Project.

Please see the MDes Open Project Website for more information.