PennPraxis

Posted October 25, 2016
  • BLOSSOM Interactive was installed on Penn campus from September 16 to October 1, 2016 to raise hunger awareness with local philanthropies

  • BLOSSOM Interactive was bed by Penn graduate students (from left) Sarai Williams, Jono Saunders, and Phillip Chang

  • BLOSSOM opened and closed based on social media posts and was illuminated at night

  • Student Jono Saunders constructs the sculpture, which included a mechanism to make automate responses and connect to the internet

BLOSSOM: The Epilogue

Blog post written by Phillip Chang (IPD '17), a graduate student studying Integrated Product Design at PennDesign.  This Social Impact Project, BLOSSOM Interactive, was installed on Penn campus from September 16 to October 1, 2016 to raise awareness of hunger and food access in Philadelphia.  The team included Chang, Jono Sanders (MSE/IPD '17), and Sarai Williams (MCP/MLA '17), who worked to construct the sculpture and develop partnerships with local philanthropies to help further their reach via social media during Hunger Awareness Month in September.  

 

After countless hours in the shop, seemingly endless number of meetings, many changes leading up to the installation, and much sleep lost over whether or not the sculpture would survive the elements during the installation, BLOSSOM persevered through it all. It survived rainstorms, squirrels, footsteps, and even some guy trying to steal it. Though we had our fears and worries about the installation, those feelings went away once we realized that people actually liked the sculpture and were willing to interact with it in person and through social media. BLOSSOM was tweeted and Instagrammed over 200 times with hundreds more people stopping by to check it out and read the plaques. Whether we were sitting next to the sculpture or just passing by on Locust Walk, it was rewarding to see people stop and interact with it. However, Blossom was also a learning experience for all of us. When Jono and I first got together, we thought we would combine our past experiences and skills to create something extraordinary but well within our immediate capabilities. When Sarai joined us a bit later, we were sure that we had all our bases covered. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Reality proved to be very different.

Sarai, who was in charge of reaching out to community partners, found one of the biggest struggles to be coordinating different components and at different levels. As the project advanced, and as more people got involved, managing the different pieces became more complicated. Also, we had originally wanted to set up some sort of donation component whether it was reaching out to a sponsoring partner or setting up a crowdfunding page. We found out navigating the fundraising realm was tough. It taught us to set up realistic goals. Though we had set ambitious goals, we could have focused on what was most important: raising awareness for food issues. Our success was seen as thousands of students walked by the sculpture during the two week installation.

Jono found that maintaining focus on that message to be the biggest struggle. Being the engineering lead, it was natural for him to want to fix every little problem that came up. Eventually, these things added up and, at times, became a distraction from the big picture of raising awareness for hunger issues. No one complained if a petal blinked in the wrong pattern or took a little longer to respond to tweet. Despite this, we learned that there is value in bringing this issue in a very public way. Hunger is one of those issues that people can turn a blind eye, so making this issue public and in a digestible was a valuable takeaway.

I found that finding the right balance between how people interacted with the sculpture and what the sculpture did to be very difficult. On one hand, we wanted the engagement to be simple but also meaningful enough to send the message across. Social media seemed like the perfect vehicle as we thought this could give this platform the largest audience. We learned that people gravitated towards this, and that we might have touched on something significant. In the end, we wanted to have your social media activity affect the real world in some way, and it did.

After the installation, we were able to get together with our non-profit partners to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and how things could be done better in the future. Coalition Against Hunger noticed that many of the posts were about trying to get the sculpture to work, but it put hunger at the forefront for many people. Though the organizations were generally positive about splitting up the social media takeover times, Philabundance thought there be better inter-organization messaging because hunger is a complex issue. Broad Street Ministry thought the messaging itself was fine, but the question they posed was: how can the engagement be more thorough so the message sticks. Though overall there was no immediate uptick in social media following, the non-profits appreciated that this put their company names out there.

Going forward, we are certainly open to the possibility of displaying the sculpture in a different capacity as it currently lies dormant at the Pennovation Works Campus in South Philly. We want to thank our non-profit partners: Coalition Against Hunger, Broad Street Ministry, Philabundance, and The Food Trust for their support. We want to thank PennDesign for supplying resources and a workspace to construct the sculpture. And finally, we want to thank PennPraxis for giving us the opportunity to pursue this project.