Creating future books to communicate today’s changing environment

Thesis Introduction

The Anthropocene is our current epoch in which the Earth’s environment and residents are heavily impacted by human influence. While many people recognize the possible future effects of Anthropogenic change, such as rising water levels, loss of biodiversity, and severe temperatures, it can be difficult to imagine how the world might actually alter.

2020 MDes Poster Show showing thesis research. Read more about the research process here.

Research Process

My research in the autumn included several processes: I explored secondary research to better grasp the meaning we impose on designed objects, present and future Anthropogenic impacts, historical implications for the book, and how to design with future societies in mind. I conducted expert interviews with a climate researcher, a human-centered designer, a small publisher, a special collections curator, and a graphic designer focused in sustainable methods. I practiced rapid design sketching, using two science fiction films to design books that could exist in their worlds. A survey was administered to infer how people personally view present and future Anthropogenic change and how they learn about it. Finally, I organized a bookmaking activity with a small group to better grasp the broad definition of a book and how others may define it.

My Design Question:

How might the book’s form effectively communicate the future impacts of the Anthropocene to a present-day audience?

Ideation

Throughout ideation, I knew that I would eventually design three books that focused on separate Anthropogenic projections. Which impacts I would settle on were initially unclear.

Combining physical and digital ideation spaces in Figma.
Mood boards for the three books.
Animated book sketches on a grainy image of a lake and clouds.
Initial sketches for a book with seed storage and a book with loose pages to be continuously built.

Design Direction

I decided to move forward with three books: a cookbook to emphasize biodiversity loss and the great effect pollinators have on the foods we eat; a nature poetry anthology to juxtapose the lifestyles of those living on artificial islands due to mass amounts of waste; and a field guide to show a community depending on dense, forested areas to survive in a world with dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.

A brussels sprout recipe placed on top of an image of orange flowers.

Future 1: Biodiversity Loss

2133
Jonesboro, Arkansas

Bee Population Declines, University of Vermont
  • Many foods would struggle to survive without pollinators, like apples,
    strawberries, lemons, onions, kidney beans, and cucumbers (National Pollinator Week)
  • Habitat loss from intensive agriculture is the main driver of
    the pollinator decline, along with climate change, pesticides, and invasive species (Sánchez-Bayo + Wyckhuys)
  • Central United States is seeing some of the most drastic
    declines in wild bees along with Germany, the United Kingdom,
    and Australia (University of Vermont; Woodward)

Future 2: Extensive Waste

2105
Artificial Island, New York

Umi no Mori, Japan Times
  • Umi no Mori is an island made of trash in Japan right off of
    Tokyo that started around 1986 (Japan Times)
  • In 2016, the average American produced 286 pounds of plastic
    waste, the highest rate per capita of any country on Earth (Law et al.)
  • Around 1992, Congress voted to ban the dumping of waste into the
    ocean. New York City was the last to integrate this policy—the day of the deadline (New York Times)

Future 3: High Carbon Levels

2251
Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Risk levels reflect climate impacts from today to 2040, New York Times
  • In the last 60 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased about 100 times faster than in previous fluctuations (Climate.gov)
  • Climate change will vary by area. While some locations in the United States will experience extreme heat, places like the Olympic Peninsula will see an increase in heavy rainfall between 2020–2040 (New York Times)
  • Higher rates of photosynthesis cause plants to contribute less to evaporative cooling and cloud formation through the process of transpiration, resulting in higher temperatures connected to carbon dioxide (NASA)

Process

While writing and compiling the content for the three books (~15,000 words overall!), I began planning the pages. This page map started generally at first, including the world overview, user journal entry, specific content like recipes, poetry, and guide facts, as well as ephemeral pieces like newspaper clippings, photographs, notes, and advertisements slipped between the pages. As I made decisions about the contents and forms of the three books, I planned more intricate maps. These are always adjusting, but they provide solid foundations for content organization.

Foundational page map for cookbook.

Book 1: Handed-Down Cookbook

I felt that a cookbook would best communicate how much the foods we eat could be affected by the loss of pollinators. I wanted to explore what happens to the books that are handed down through generations — not just establishing how brand new books could be created during these impacted futures, but how we adapt the ones we cherish throughout the years.

Foundational page map for poetry anthology.

Book 2: Nature Poetry Anthology

To contrast living on an artificial island, I decided that having a book full of nature poems would be effective. The book itself will be made from collected and recycled materials (or made with sustainable alternative solutions, when necessary). With excessive waste, utilizing what is already available rather than producing more is crucial to the book’s form.

Found materials were shredded by hand, blended with water, molded, pressed, and dried to make paper.
Typesetting experiments.
Foundational page map for field guide.

Book 3: Bioluminescent Field Guide

If communities take refuge from dangerous levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in dense forests, they would be forced to adapt alongside nature. Increased photosynthesis would provide a safe oxygen zone, but it would also cause plant growth to increase in both quantity and thickness in leaves. Those living in these forests would be safe from carbon dioxide, but they would also be shrouded in darkness with little sunlight.

Omphalotus olearius, New York Times.
Paper-based carbon dioxide sensor, Al Meldrum.
Binding shows these smaller, folded spreads between larger pages.

Continuing Design

Now that the content, form, and materials have all been decided for these books, the next step is to complete the layouts and production.

  • Give myself time to experiment. There are so many possible directions with layouts, typesetting, and image manipulation. Although I only have a few months left of my thesis process, giving myself a few hours each week to explore visual possibilities will make a significant difference.

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