Reconciliation: Emotionally Durable Unboxing Design


Project Overview

Problem

The Chinese civil war worsened relationships between people in Taiwan and China and has created frequent threats of armed conflict that endanger ordinary people’s lives.

Solution

An interactive unboxing experience that allows receivers to reconcile the history and support/create peaceful relationships between Taiwan and China by teaching the stories of soldiers in the Chinese civil war and experience “reconciliation“ by physically acting out the concept themselves.

It is a passion project mentored by Graham Plumb.

Methodology: Qualitative research, Ideation, Physical prototyping

Demo Video

User Flow

Unboxing User Flow

Process Overview


Research

I was closed with my grandpa when I was a little child and he often brought me snacks and toys whenever we met. But one day, he gave me a stopwatch that looked very precious and valuable. I was surprised because it was so different from things he had sent me. He told me it was a tool he used while he was in the Chinese Nationalist’s navy and he continued his story. Obviously, I was too young to be able to understand. However, I remembered his speaking tone was shaking and his facial expression was dramatic.

The stopwatch is the tool that my grandpa used, along with a sextant, for navigating on the battleship.

After that, he hadn’t shared his story again to me ever since. As I grow up, even though I am interested in hearing more about his past, I didn’t open this topic again since I was afraid that I would uncover his wounds. Everything I knew about him was from my mother, who also knew very little of his story.

However, two years ago, out of curiosity, I finally decided to ask my grandpa his story. Surprisingly, It turned out that he was very willing to share it with me.

After knowing his story, I realized how much I missed, which made me want to do a design project for the stopwatch he gave me. At first, I didn’t know how to deal with this heavy and sensitive historical topic. However, after I met Yang, a friend of mine who is from Shenzhen, Mainland China, I suddenly found the message that I wanted to deliver.

The current national flags of Taiwan and China represent different political powers.

Nearly 80 years ago, in 1945, the Chinese civil war broke out. My grandpa joined the Chinese Nationalist party to support his family, while the brother of Yang’s grandpa was killed by it. In 1950, as the Communist party ended up winning the war, my grandpa left China for Taiwan with the entire nationalist army while his family remained in China. At the same time, martial law was established in Taiwan to forbid people’s connection across the Strait. As a result, my grandpa never got to see his parents again before they have passed away.


Opportunities

Nowadays, even though the war has ended, the hostile relationship between Taiwan and China remains. The history of Chinese civil war worsen people’s relationships between Taiwan and China and create frequent arm threats that endanger ordinary people’s lives. As a consequence, people from both sides often don’t talk about their history and political relationships to avoid further conflicts.

While most people don’t talk about the history, Yang and I are totally different cases. We are close because we actually both are very interested in the history and dare to discuss it with each other. Her grandpa hated my grandpa for being a nationalist who killed his brother, while my grandpa hated hers’ for being a communist, who forbade him from seeing his family. However, rather than continuing the hostility from our previous generations, we choose to recognize the suffering in both parties and understand each other’s viewpoints.

Left to right: My brother, me, and Yang. Shoot in summer 2017, when Yang came to Taiwan to visit me.

The friendship between me and Yang made me think that our generation can make a change. I believe what we can do for our previous generation is to reconcile the history as the way to honor our grandparents’ sacrifices. Hence, I would like to deliver the message of reconciliation to advocate for peaceful relationships between Taiwan and China.

To deliver the message, I wanted to give Yang my grandpa’s stopwatch as well as create an interactive unboxing experience that summarizes the stories.

So, the challenge is:

How might we help people reconcile the history and support peaceful relationships between Taiwan and China through an unboxing experience?

Design

Ideation

How can I convey the message of “reconciliation” in this unboxing experience?

I brainstormed a lot of ideas, but they were only reflecting the story of my grandpa and failing to emphasize the message of reconciliation itself. I was stuck until my mentor told me to take advantages of the “act” of unboxing, meaning that I should not only focus on the appearance of the packaging, but also the gestures and movements that the receiver were required to unbox the packaging. His words inspired me to dig into the language structures of “reconciliation” further.

Reconciliation in Chinese, 和解, is composed of two separate characters that have their own meaning. To me, making two individual characters come together to form a word reflects its meaning. Inspired by its language structure, I figured that designing an experience which requires the receivers to put two separate things together can emphasize the message of “reconciliation”.

While 和 means with and 解 means division, they come together to form the word “reconciliation”, which reflects its meaning — making two things that were once separated together.

What physical mechanism can echo the meaning of reconciliation by requiring the unboxer to perform the acts of putting two separate things together?

Brainstorming mechanisms that can represent reconciliation.

I thought the encrypted mechanism could be the best fit — the action of aligning separate codes during the cracking process echoed the meaning of reconciliation. Also, it added a sense of puzzle into the experience — the receiver wouldn’t be able to get the gift until she entered the code “reconciliation“. The receiver would first browse the codes(words) on the encrypted package. The words are the events that my grandpa had been through. Among all the codes, Yang had to find the words 和 and 解 and put them together to make the word 和解(reconciliation) to open it.

The receiver will first browse the codes(words) on the encrypted package. The words are the events that my grandpa had been through. Among all the codes(words), Yang will need to find the words 和 and 解 and put them together to make the word 和解(reconciliation) to open the cryptex.

How can I provide context for the unboxer to immerse her into my grandpa’s story and help her crack the code?

I thought that my grandpa’s wood box, which was given by the Chinese Nationalist Party to every soldier to place their belongings, could act as an invitation for Yang to uncover my grandpa’s story and his object. Therefore, I created a replica of my grandpa’s box along with a flip storybook that contains the encrypted package.

The Chinese Nationalist Party gave every soldier a wood box for them to place their belongings. The name of the soldier and his troop are written on the box with white ink. (photo credited by a touch of green, the television series that tell the stories of nationalist’s troops)
I summarized my grandpa’s stories and the message of reconciliation into 7 story chapters and turned them into a flip storybook, which my receiver Yang will read through as she is opening the package.

Also, to bring the receiver back to the past, I added historical elements and the sense of retro through my choices of fonts, colors, and background (it’s Taiwan newspaper during that period of time).

Prototypes

I created cardboard prototypes to make a couple adjustments and get feedback before making the final work.


Final Solution

The final package is created from wood and chipboard with laser cut. Since my grandpa’s box had sunk in the ocean during the war, I created the soaked effect by using acrylic paint and super glue.


Reflection

This project was a difficult, but amazing, journey of self healing and self growth for me both as a designer, and as a person. As a designer, it made me realize how powerful interaction could be, and how many forms it is able to take. Before this project, I mainly focused on the looks and structures of work that I created. But now, I know that physical interactive movements are also an important aspect to consider in addition the work itself. As a person, this project allowed me to discover myself more and tell my story in a way that I never had the chance before. In order to do more research, I interviewed my grandpa to know more about his story, which I never had a courage to ask for. I am glad that I asked because now I know more about my family origin, my grandpa, and my identity.

More importantly, it fulfilled my design goal — create interactive stories that show people new perspectives and inspire empathy. I always hope my work can help people understand and appreciate each others’ differences. For this project, my intention was to create a space for Taiwanese and Chinese to listen to each other. Growing up, I remember receiving constant political pressure that China put upon Taiwan which made me feel insecure, upset, and helpless. However, after I met my friend Yang, she gave me hope that maybe we, our generation, have the power to improve the relationship. Hopefully, we will all execute our power to create peaceful relationships between Taiwan and China.

P.S. Personally, I do have a political standpoint towards the relationships between Taiwan and China. However, this project is not about political standpoints, and reconciliation, in my definition, definitely doesn’t mean unification. My goal is that no matter what our standpoints are, unification or independence, we can all consider peace as our priority. I know that under current political climate, requiring government to approach this issue with peace is impossible. However, at least, as an individual, the first thing we can do is to reconcile the history with other individuals (stop spreading hateful comments whenever seeing news about Taiwan and China can be a good start). I believe by doing so, people can eventually change the government.