I started this project thinking about the dynamics of online communication.
The spaces where it happens, public and private, the particularities, qualities and limitations of these platforms, and how we use them. I found myself thinking about how we curate our voices in online spaces, strategising on how something would be read, what audience it would reach, packaging up an idea to be fit to be published. We operate in these places of communication where everything can be permanently fixed and stored, shared.
And yet we have so little tools to express nuance and complex, human context. For example, if a tweet was shared in a moment of anger or pain, or an opinion was expressed that has now evolved from
a greater understanding of a situation. There's a struggle to express this shifting, nuanced human nature within digital discourse.
This is something I think of a lot, and is the starting point of this project.
My approach is often, instead of digging for a solution individually, to create space to learn more about a situation from a collective input. Throughout the process of building this visual system and platform, I reached out to my community online and offline to feel out how relevant these questions were, what resonated with other’s use of online spaces.
The first step in that process was building and sharing a survey, with questions ranging from "Are you aware of what you post being read by others?" to "Do you think there are benefits to communication being preserved online permanently?". Opening up these questions of mine to a wider peer community grounded me in a sense of community and conversation. The responses I got back from my audience research were fascinating, honest and complex in their emotions.
What if users could have a visual language to inform the context of their communication, identify themselves by their individual complex voice? I wanted to make a tool that would add a layer of information to online communications, one of emotional context.
This tool would have to be able to represent the complexity of a unique voice, blending multiple feelings. I prefer to work with generative, modular systems, and this design process applied well to the needs of this project, a way to create a personalised visual through a set of parameters, something that the audience could built themselves by selecting the attributes that make up their "online voice".
This modular shape system and the the layering of colour created a depth that I thought would connect to the complexity of these individual voices. Each shape and corresponding colour represents a trait, which, when layered up, constructs an icon, an avatar for the user’s online voice (wether in general, in a moment, or on a topic). This system currently has a limited amount of traits recorded, but it’s design makes it possible to generate many more expressive shapes.
It’s interesting to think of the potential applications of this visual language to online spaces
like social media, online publications and articles, personal messages… If you could have a visual code that informed the personal and emotional context of communications online, could we have more nuanced conversations?
I wanted this space to act like a forum board where many responses coexisted. The audience would be prompted to respond to a series of questions about community, privacy, social media...
They would be offered the possibility of informing their response with an emotional, personal context, choosing from a selection of proposed feelings or traits. That selection would build their "voice icon", the layered visual described previously.
I wanted to utilise this icon visual in the way a traditional avatar would be, placed before the text response, introducing the speaker. Instead of being identified by their name, picture, gender, the users' icon represents the emotional context that this person is entering the conversation through.
An important part of this project was creating a space for conversation, where these individual experiences could be shared. This forum would allow the audience to safely and anonymously share candid testimonies of the feelings that come with existing online. These fascinating and enlightening responses, that we could learn from or relate to, create an accessible, collective archive of online voices.
My hope for the audience is that this is a safe space to discuss topics relating to complex online dynamics of communication, and that they can relate to some experiences or learn from new perspectives. Taking part in this collective archive hopefully leaves you with more questions to ask, more reflexions, and a growing consideration for complexity and vulnerability in how we communicate online, applied to our your voice as well as others.
Ultimately, this is an experimental project, it offers me an opportunity to create a participative, audience-activated experience, and put my modular, generative visual designs to the service of a personally meaningful, human-centric subject. It is a starting point for me to further explore these themes, and develop new evolutions and design solutions.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and participate in this project.