Sharing Wisdom Through Design

VCD Students Collaborate with Older Adults on 'Stories Connecting Generations'

During the Spring 2022 semester, Visual Communication Design students in the Glyphix Design Research Lab have been working on an intergenerational research project combining storytelling and design.  

For the Stories Connecting Generations project, young adult VCD students were paired with one older adult. The two individuals engaged in weekly conversations virtually for up to eight weeks. Through their conversations, life stories, memories and wisdom were shared. In some cases, even friendships were formed.  

Through listening and reflecting on these conversations, VCD students created designs to communicate and share the life stories and experiences of their older peers. The final projects will be on display in the Taylor Hall Gallery from May 6 to Sept. 15, 2022. An opening reception will take place Friday, May 6 from 4-6 p.m.

VCD Associate Professor Jessica Barness taught the course this semester. As she was preparing for the project, she ended up forming a collaboration with Manacy Pai, Ph.D, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology.  

While developing the idea for her research lab, Barness was inspired to have students visually communicate conversations and bring them to life.  

“In summer 2021, I reached out to Professor Barness,” Pai said, “and shared with her my vision for this project. I am a social gerontologist and so, I am constantly in search of ways to connect persons of diverse generations.” 

After realizing their ideas aligned, Pai became a close collaborator on the project. Through connections with senior centers in local communities, Pai got in touch with several older adults who volunteered to share their stories with VCD students.  

Through facilitating and observing the student’s experiences in the research lab, Barness has identified at least one key takeaway for students: wisdom.  

“The thing that kept coming out of this was, we found that our older adult partners in the communities were imparting wisdom to our students on a weekly basis,” Barness said.  

The group realized about halfway through the semester that the idea of wisdom would be their overarching theme. Many of the pieces on display are inspired by wisdom students received from their older adult partners.  

“The designs that came out of these conversations range quite a bit. Some are more interactive or participatory in nature, and some are just very visual,” Barness said.  

Transitioning from the conversation to design phase of the project was a challenge for students. In this process, Barness recognized that it would be difficult, if not nearly impossible, for students to capture the various dimensions of somebody’s life. She instead helped students identify different words, phrases or small ideas that later evolved into their final designs.  

“It was nice to hear my partner say that everything in her life worked out, and it was the way it was supposed to be. This class was very fun putting together an exhibit and sharing personal stories,” said VCD graduate student and adjunct instructor Maria Ahmad. 

While this research lab provided VCD students an opportunity to design more pieces, Barness hopes students are walking away with a deeper meaning, understanding and perspective on life as they grow older.  

“Through some of the stories that emerged, students realized it’s not like you just quit doing things when you hit a certain age. You’re active, you’re social, you’re having fun, you’re developing new hobbies, new friendships and more. I’m hoping the students are walking away with the idea that they’re kind of designing their own lives,” Barness said.  

POSTED: Thursday, May 5, 2022 - 4:49pm
UPDATED: Friday, May 13, 2022 - 4:24pm
WRITTEN BY:
Marisa Santillo, '23