Founded in 2006, Ghana Think Tank is a public art project and non profit organization responsible for using a worldwide network of think tanks to find solutions to “develop the first world.” For the Fusebox Festival 2015 in Austin, Texas, Ghana Think Tank aimed to delve into the conflicting views of gentrification within the East Austin area.
The tone of our work had to strike a balance in order to objectively represent the voices of a community. We wanted to use design to show the complexity and sensitivity of the matter. Terms such as change, empathy, authenticity, growth, and creativity mean different things to different people, and the design should leave no stone unturned.
Upon the initial client meeting, our team had several brainstorming sessions that ultimately offered a general direction for the design investigation. Ghana Think Tank provided us with quotes from the residents of Austin.
These were a good jumping off point toward learning about the inner workings of the mind of a community. At this point it was imperative to gain an insight of the visual, social, and economic culture of the area.
Our concepts revolved around printed collateral and web engagement. Buttons/Pins, stickers, tote bags, cup sleeves, taco holders, postcards, coasters, reverse graffiti, t-shirts, website, Instagram/Twitter and Motion Graphics would provide a variety of visuals to reflect the variety of views on the matter. With printed collateral, we could give festival goers a tangible piece of the culture they are currently experiencing. We chose quotes and presented them in a way that would make an impact. Some were used to present empathy, and some to bring a little discomfort. Complementing that, was the digital strategy. We wanted the project to last throughout the festival, but also to archive itself in order to leave a footprint past the conclusion of the Fusebox Festival. The curated Instagram and use of hashtags would drive both engagement and discussion in a way that provides views and opinions from all sides.
With the social media engagement, we created a website using Google Maps API that gave the voices of the people in the quotes a more tactile feeling. By placing the quotes on an interactive map, it was no longer a survey gathered by Ghana Think Tank, but now an interactive engagement with real people in real locations. Overall, our identity system was created to adapt to both print and web. The system was constructed of various shapes that could be combined into patterns and used across all media. The shapes were directly influenced by the patterning in Mexican art. They served as the building blocks to the patterns, as the people of Austin do to the community. The colors, influenced by the brilliance of Austin’s design aesthetic, served as the cherry on top to a confident but empathetic visual brand.
We met several challenges during the process of My Austin Is. With a short timeline (4 weeks), no direct access to users, interviewees or location, we had to come up with a solution that satisfied the user but also paid respect to the traditions of Austin.
Being that Ghana Think Tank’s project was growing while we developed the design, there was no surefire way for them to pinpoint exactly what they needed from us. This gave us a unique opportunity to solve problems the client did not yet know they had.
Since the launch of the materials at the Fusebox Festival, we’ve received feedback from Ghana Think Tank about how engaging the work was with the users. Although they had the mobile art piece to bring around to various sites, they found it very useful to have a number of ways to involve their audience, some of which initially thought that the topic of gentrification was taboo or too disruptive, and bring them into the conversation.
Meanwhile, the website was effective in creating a brand for the topic of discussion but also pulling out real-time information and archiving it for a hub of thoughts on Austin gentrification. Ghana Think Tank was able to serve the site as an education source for people who wanted to learn more about the problem and those who were disgruntled with the printed materials.