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Distance, Communication, and Design for One

Stamps School Professor Nick Tobier is interested in helping students in his remote Fall 2020 Change by Design course find creative focus in the constraints of the pandemic.

“This semester we are contending with distance and communication as a design problem and an opportunity,” Tobier said.

Tobier’s “Design for One” assignment encourages students to create a product with one specific individual in mind, exploring the ways that personal relationships change the design process and outcomes.

“As artists and designers, we are always working with someone in mind: an audience, a demographic, the public at large,” Tobier said. “The irony, of course, is that we rarely get close in this relationship. How often do we come face to face with the real users of our designs, learning what they think of our work, let alone learning their names?”

In this assignment, students are assigned to interview someone in their lives; create a problem statement based on the interview; and design a rough prototype to address the problem. The only constraint was that the project needed to fit in a flat rate priority mail envelope to get to its recipient.

Stamps student Nicole Kim (BFA ‘22) designed for a classmate who recounted a memory of her second birthday party.

“My classmate remembers being embarrassed being the center of everyone’s attention at this party,” Kim states. “This marked the beginning of her life as an introvert. Because introverts often grow overwhelmed with external stimuli, I wanted to create something that will limit the amount of sensory experiences she receives. She enjoys spending time alone away from everyone in a place where no one can see her, and this information inspired the object I wanted to make for her.”


As part of the assignment, Konrad Tenwolde (BFA '20) received a prototype from Eman Azrak (BFA ‘22): a custom, handmade puzzle featuring Tenwolde with his daughter Daphne.

“A puzzle is a simple object, but it is the perfect object to exemplify me becoming the best dad I can,” Tenwolde said. “A puzzle gives you time to spend alone or in this case with family and Daphne specifically. In this time there is the opportunity to focus on each other and make new connections and strengthen bonds. In this time I can teach and learn. In this time I will definitely have fun. When we received the puzzle we were all impressed and appreciative of the time and effort Eman put into the work. It’s really something we can keep and use and Daphne is very excited about it. Overall the idea and problem was solved very well the puzzle facilitates all the problems Eman identified in a meaningful way.


Azrak revealed to Tenwolde that her greatest challenge during the pandemic has been a longing to hug friends and family. In response, Tenwolde created a “Hug Parka” with the intentions of keeping her and the individual who receives her hug, safe and healthy.

"This Hug Parka was very thoughtful and exactly what I wanted. It was a great feeling to finally be able to hug my friends and family without the fear of contaminating them," Azrak said.


Erica Poon (BFA ‘21) created “focus goggles” for her classmate Claire Smith (BFA ‘21). “I have a tendency to get distracted very easily, especially when I’m doing homework,” Smith said. “As soon as it’s just me and an article to read or an essay to write, it’s like my brain feels all the stillness around me and needs something additional to fill that void. Sometimes listening to music helps, other times I really do need complete silence to concentrate on a complex task.”


In turn, Claire Smith created a personal sanctuary for Erica Poon to get a break from interpersonal communications and responsibilities.

“In interviewing Erica, I related a lot to her desire to be alone. As a fellow introvert, I’ve often wanted to just shut off everything happening around me for a while. Therefore, I created an object that entirely shuts her out from the world around her. It’s a large, bulky object, so if anyone tries to approach her while she wants to be alone, they will instantly know to come back later.”


Learn more about Change by Design at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.