geography of strangers, travel game
Geography of Strangers is a travel card game designed to make us open and ready to meet new people while traveling. The game was built after months of research for my Independent Design Research Studio at Parsons. While I usually work on teams, this project was independent. I conducted all human centered research, thinking, and visual design.
step 1 find your traveler archetype
Instructions: select the two cards you relate to the most. Explain your combination.
Why: to encourage reflection on our motivations for travel
step 2 probe yourself
Instructions: grab a close friend and ask each other these questions over a drink or on a long train ride. Or, probe yourself while no one is watching.
Why: to provoke uncomfortable conversations that lead to deeper reflection on your concrete actions
step 3 shift how you see
Instructions: best done over a morning coffee at your hotel. Select one movement and one noise card at random or mix and match to find the most inspiring combination. Use it to instigate some work of art or action.
Why: to reframe how you experience the world, invent your own way of looking
Step 4 go on missions
Instructions: when you’re ready for a challenge, take one of these cards at random (or find one that speaks to you). Complete the mission, move on to the next.
Shortcut: be prepared to move on when something (or someone) more interesting arises
Why: to get into the world in a strange and unexpected way, see what happens
design research process
Throughout the studio, I began to develop my own process of design research. I explain below alongside corresponding deliverables from the Geography of Strangers project.
Always remember why you’re doing it in the first place. I began with a desire to bring together people from different backgrounds.
Ask many questions, but focus on the sharpest one as an anchor for all investigation. Travel provided the most effective lens because we’re already in a foreign place; it’s a natural opportunity to meet people who are different than us.
Understanding the playing field in an unexpected way. I found that many new products were entering the travel market, but most focused on making a kind of direct experience. None focused on changing a mindset while fostering mutual benefit.
Have a controversial idea to test. For me, it was the notion that a traveler could make themselves ready to meet someone, or “ripe” as I called it. Through a process of reflection and attention to the outside world we could turn people into beacons, welcoming others to interact with them.
Get the idea out of your head as fast as possible and see if it passes the smell test. Instead of designing experiences, I wanted to design mindsets. I needed to see if I was on the right track so I tested an early version of the kit with a friend traveling to Shanghai for a conference. I made cards to hand out to strangers, but these backfired – my friend felt desperate. But the prompts that made him shift the way he saw the world around him had a funny affect. He noticed more people coming up to him for conversation and he found himself more willing to introduce himself to people. I had an aha moment: help people become open!
Ideas evolve and opportunities change quickly. After you finish, don’t assume you’re done. The graphic highlights words by my grandfather Jim Lepore about abstract expressionist art, he’s a painter. Art thinking influenced me to see what I had made and decide what else it could be. So what began as a mindset building tool could become the mental architecture for a network of travelers. Can we build a collective of likeminded strangers sharing experiences? I will work on the idea as a social impact business venture with a small team in spring 2019 as part of the Parsons Venture Lab and the Impact Entrepreneurship Initiative.