Vivian Lin is an industrial design student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, Canada), and is always inspired by her experience in her own skin.
While she doesn’t have dermatographia, she is still sensitive to the way people perceive others with a skin condition. She grew up with severe eczema and now has countless scars to show for it, “For years (and even now), I am still uncomfortable with my body and how people perceive it.” But, rather than let this get her down, she has turned it all around, designing things with an awareness of people’s self-consciousness.
I asked her some questions about skin, design, and how she seeks to make the world a better place.
Ariana Page Russell (APR): Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
Vivian Lin (VL): I am a third year industrial design student at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, from Vancouver, Canada. I define myself as not an industrial designer, but rather, a critical thinker, a design researcher, and a systems mapper; I am keen on helping people and cultivating community engagement within urban areas, through sustainable interventions that will help in changing perceptions about the city, the streets and the people themselves. My mission in life is to design for and contribute to a healthy, happy city through behaviour change and community engagement; I emphasize this through critical, conceptual and system design.
(APR): You are so right–you can change people’s perceptions with art and design! How exactly do you define yourself as a systems mapper? Can you please give me an example of a sustainable intervention that you have in mind? How does ‘critical, conceptual and system design’ contribute to a happy city? I’d like to know more!
(VL): I see products as more than just a physical object, but as part of a larger overarching system of where the materials came from, how it is manufactured and produced etc. I’m interested in mapping out the life cycle of whatever I design, but also interested in how people use it and interact with it, so I can design for maximum use and efficiency. I believe that knowing and understanding the system can really make or break a product – I don’t want to design something that will only contribute to the mass amounts of waste we in North America, are part of.
So sustainable interventions through community engagement really plays into that as I love designing/figuring out how even the simplest things, can transform a space and people’s perspective of it, while bringing awareness to the larger issues we face globally. Park[ing] Days is a great example of the community engagement/tactical urbanism ideas that I love to do; it is an annual worldwide event where people come together and transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. It brings people together, reduces the amount of people driving which in turn, helps reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the air. However, it is true that this event does work better in some cities than others.
Sustainable interventions in my mind then, is exactly that – implementing a small change into the everyday lives of the average citizen to raise awareness, by changing behaviours. “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck and “Happy City” by Charles Montgomery are great reads that have really inspired me to do the work that I do.
One quote that really stood out to me, as Charles Montgomery says, “As much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert. The more connected we are to family and the community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.” If connected people are happier, than collectively, it could mean a happy city in turn. I believe through the design work I do, I can contribute to a healthy, happy city; critical design in that it lies in the space between art and design, almost using taboo as a way to instigate conversation around the topic of how disconnected we are (especially on public transportation), conceptual in that it may not manifest as a physical thing but be a social experiment and systems design, as in looking at the collective instead of the individual. Through different aspects of design, I want to make people happy and aware.
Currently, I am part of a group of students working with the City of Vancouver in helping transform the public spaces around transit stations, to make the everyday commute fun, engaging and safe and possibly, encourage more people to use public transportation.
(APR): Community is huge for me too–that’s why I started Skintome ; ) How has your skin inspired you in design?
(VL): My skin has always been an insecurity of mine. Growing up with eczema has definitely influenced me as a person in how I perceived others and how others perceived me. Art became an escape for me and surprisingly, also my saviour in allowing others to see me for who I am. My skin became a source of inspiration for me to draw my creativity from – if I can change people’s perceptions of who I am through my artwork, then I can also change their perception of a wider range of people through design, by creating and facilitating solutions through products and systems.
(APR): I love what you say about your skin! Can you please talk more about how you draw creativity from your skin? What kind of artwork do you do that seeks to change people’s perceptions of who you are? And how?
(VL): It’s quite funny because I actually started out drawing onto my skin, even if I had an allergic reaction to it. There’s something so interesting and so fleeting about drawing onto your skin and watching it slowly rub off. It was because of that though, that it drew my peers’ attention away from my eczema and to my ‘skin art’ instead. I don’t necessarily have type of artwork that I would do, but more of little things that draw attention such as the doodling on my skin. I also realized though, my paintings (which were in no way related to skin), drew attention to who I was as a person…a creative person, instead of a person with rashes all over her body.
(APR): Does your skin influence the way you think about design?
(VL): Design wise, I think it has influenced me; people have always stared at my rashes and my scars which really lead me into the design research space of the social community and how people interact/perceive one another. When I design something, be it a product or a system, I always think about how people will perceive and the perception I want them to have. Take a chair for example; if I want the chair to be evoke a homey, rustic feel, I would make it out of wood (or even reclaimed wood) and fashion it with a sloping back and standard four legs with pegs at the bottom of each one. Even before that, I would survey people on what their idea of ‘homey’ and ‘rustic’ feels or looks like.
(APR): Please tell me more about your condition. What do you do to take care of your skin? Do you need special eczema treatments or anything?
(VL): I’ve always had sensitive skin and eczema. Any little thing can set off a rash so I try not to wear wool (but if I do, I wear an undershirt below) or use scented soaps (though I recently found a nice bar of almond scented soap from France that works really well). I am unable to use a majority of moisturizers or face cleansers so I usually stick with plain old water when I am in a rush!
My rashes usually itch for weeks and I always find myself scratching even if I try not to. I’ve been prescribed with many steroid creams and they do work, though I’ve realized I may be depending on them a little too much (every time I start scratching an infected area, I apply even more cream on there), so I’ve been mainly relying on Lush’s Dream Cream to soothe it. As of right now, my eczema has calmed down a little but I am left with a lot of scars from scratching and skin discolouration from the steroid creams.
(APR): Well, as people who read Skintome know, I always recommend coconut oil for itchy skin. Maybe that would help you too…. Thanks for the interview Vivian!
Images courtesy of Vivian Lin. The top image is her design on my photograph Net from the Blouse series.