The Proprium Method: Process

The process of creating a method to focus on the important things in your life that scare you.

Created for the Boston University College of Fine Arts BFA Senior Thesis for graphic design, Spring 2018. May 4, 6–8pm.

First thing’s first:

Definition of proprium

plural propria \-ēə\

1: property, attribute; especially : an attribute belonging inseparably to every member of a species

2: the principle of individuation in personality : selfhood

Now onto the thesis…

Phase 1: Conception

A thesis born from important humble beginnings.

What is something that’s important to you that scares you to think and/or talk about?

I presented this question as the the main thesis statement that would drive the entire project forward. So now you may be asking, “what’s the point of all of this anyway?” and to that I say, “TO SAVE THE WORLD” of course.

Well, not quite, but in a certain sense, yes.

The goal is to provide a method for people to use to overcome their personal struggles that they deem to be meaningful to themselves. It’s all about each person being able to do something worthwhile for themselves. By doing so, I believe that people become more confident, stable, and sane. They then project that outward to the other people in their lives, which builds better communities and lives for everyone involved.

It’s basically a win win win for everyone. You do something good for yourself, you benefit, and everyone else you interact with after benefits as well!

So moving forward into the process, let’s start with where the it all began: with an aggressive typographic poster series.

Talk to Me About — Poster Series

It all began with this project in my Fall semester of my senior year studying design at Boston University.

It was a tongue-in-cheek commentary on those things that make people uncomfortable, but on that basis served a deeper purpose of pointing to the stuff we tend to care about the most, but know the least about.

This project was inspired and based off of a This American Life podcast called “Birds & Bees” as an assignment. The episode was all about how it was to talk about important, yet touchy subjects with children, how children talk about them to other children, and the ways that our society influences what is acceptable and not to talk about.

Phase 2: Research

I had a starting point, but now I was getting serious. I wanted to expand on what I knew by asking around my class as well as my own experiences and intuition.

I created a TypeForm and sent it out across my social media platforms to try and get some results directly from a variety of people. I was curious to see if there were any patterns among people of similar demographics and locations. The topics and reasons they brought up in their answers helped to influence where I shaped the content and viability of interaction moving forward.

Phase 3: Sketching

Getting initial ideas down on paper is the next step in my process. Sketching allows me to focus on the important parts of what I’m doing instead of getting tied up in the small technicalities of a tool. I’m also able to better explain and show others what I’m considering visually and get constructive feedback before actually making anything.

I started big. I wanted to shoot for something that would be 50 feet long and involved a lot of mirrors, body-sized boxes to walk through, and huge curtained areas.

Now, that’s absolutely nothing wrong with big dreams and shooting high, but then there’s the cost of production, time, and actual skill. I had never built anything like what I was proposing. I had no idea if any of it would even work the way I wanted it to or feel like I envisioned. But in my head I was thinking I would figure it out when I got to it.

My professor, James Grady, as well as some other colleagues were there to give feedback on the actual viability of building these things and if they sounded like they would even work.

It helped a lot to have someone tell me to scale it down and reconsider how much I would reasonably be able to achieve as well as test in the semester I was given to complete this project.

This sketching allowed me to develop my ideas more clearly and focus on the important parts of what I was trying to convey while also receiving good feedback before actually investing any money into building and prototyping.

Phase 4: Prototyping

Now we move onto the best and also the worst part of the process: prototyping and testing.

I enjoy making things, don’t get me wrong, but separating the time and money to invest into potential failures can be draining. It is 100% worth it every time, though.

Here I was playing around with projection mapping and how it would work reflected off of different materials such a mirrors and aluminum foil.

I began the process with projection mapping. I thought it was a cool and interesting concept to play with light, layers, reflections and etc.

Here you can see this sketch brought to life in a very messy, cheap version sans-curtains.
Two days later.

I moved on to building one of the body-sized boxes that I had previously sketched out and was semi-successful with that production.

With this plan of action obviously not working out how I had expected, I moved on to reducing the scale and focusing in on getting someone into the right head space (literally).

Moving from a full-body sized box to head-size boxes = much more realistic implementation.
Plus you look really dumb when you’re in it from the outside.
But it’s dope when you’re inside!

The plan was to mount it on the wall with shelving racks. It would be movable for people of different heights. When put into practice, however, it was less than ideal. People were too scared to move the boxes for fear of breaking something and at the end of it all, they were a bit too cumbersome for easy handling. In a perfect world, I would have had special vertical rails built with a friction-based suspension, but you know, you work with whatcha got: cardboard, gaffer tape, and the closest Home Depot to Boston.

A beautiful demo of the hanging head box.
A few early versions of the front and back of the guide.

I designed a guide that someone going through The Proprium Method would have to use to understand and navigate it. I wanted to design something visually enticing as well as useful. I also wanted to include my contact information on the bottom so it served as a multi-purpose artifact from the show.

Evolved version of the guide.

When testing and creating the guides, I was able to eventually bring down the amount of text and make it more user-friendly. I got consistent feedback on early versions of the guide that it was too wordy, no one would read it, and that it was intimidating. This was incredibly useful to create the final version of the guide which focuses much more on supplementing the experience you have, rather than making you feel like it’s weighing you down, tedious to read, and a requirement.

I moved on to figuring out Part 2 of my project and did some tests with people in class and got their feedback while watching them interact with the sticker board demo. People responded well to placing stickers on the boards. It was a form of live-data collection that added to the overall empathy of the experience.

I learn so much from actually testing and creating the things that I envision in my head and sketch out on paper. Things that I would have never considered to go wrong do and other things that I think would have worked flawlessly aren’t so flawless when put into practice.

Phase 5: Building & Implementation

The final installation of this thesis is to be on a 16 foot-long wall at the gallery at 808 Commonwealth Ave in Boston. The guide will be supplementary and provide further detail and depth as you move through The Proprium Method. The materials used will include wood, spray paint, vinyl, stickers, and paper for the guide.

Final sketch of gallery layout.
Digital to-scale final layout plan.

The boxes have been built, painted, and tested as well as the other boards for parts 2 and 3. A live demo of the entire installation has been tested and critical feedback has been given to influence the final building for the show.

Live demo for semi-final testing.

Phase 6: Reflection

Having gone through this process of research, planning, prototyping and creating final assets, I have learned a lot. Being invested in a project of this scale for this amount of time is something I hadn’t done as a designer and I am glad that I was able to focus on making this thesis the best I could.

I learned a lot about trusting the process of it all as well as planning out ample time for experimentation and allowing myself to naturally shift from one direction to another without much anxiety. I let myself grow as the piece did and that lead to better and better versions. By not worrying and limiting myself I have come up with something that I can truly be proud of.