Emma M Weiss
Emma M Weiss
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border refugee series

For a semester-long series of projects in fall 2018, we were tasked with identifying a marginalized and vulnerable population facing a specific challenge or problem. We then dove into research about this population, conducted interviews about the problem, and executed a series of three projects for the purpose of information design and visual storytelling. These included an infographic poster, a time-based educational display, and a design response to the problem.

I chose to tell the story of immigrants and refugees at the United States-Mexico border. Ever since the inception of barrier construction, this group has been more affected than anyone else, and have been demonized and criminalized for years.

 In my research, I found that the makeup of the immigrant population at the southern border has gradually changed over the past decade. Increasing numbers of refugees of Central American origin are fleeing their home countries and seeking a life free of intense gang violence, political oppression, and poverty.  Fearing for their own and their family’s lives, these Central American refugees make the dangerous journey through Mexico, facing deadly risks of dehydration, heat exposure, starvation, extortion, assault, and rape.  As border barriers are constructed, they are increasingly pushed into more dangerous areas as they try to cross, resulting in a skyrocketing percentage of deaths per crossing. This is a strategy that was codified by Border Patrol in 1994 — termed “Prevention Through Deterrence” — and has done nothing to stop the flood of refugees, many of who try to cross in illegal areas due to slowdowns at legal ports of entry that lead to months and even years of waiting to be processed, or even worse, being sent back to the very country from which they fled.

In my research, I found that the makeup of the immigrant population at the southern border has gradually changed over the past decade. Increasing numbers of refugees of Central American origin are fleeing their home countries and seeking a life free of intense gang violence, political oppression, and poverty.

Fearing for their own and their family’s lives, these Central American refugees make the dangerous journey through Mexico, facing deadly risks of dehydration, heat exposure, starvation, extortion, assault, and rape.

As border barriers are constructed, they are increasingly pushed into more dangerous areas as they try to cross, resulting in a skyrocketing percentage of deaths per crossing. This is a strategy that was codified by Border Patrol in 1994 — termed “Prevention Through Deterrence” — and has done nothing to stop the flood of refugees, many of who try to cross in illegal areas due to slowdowns at legal ports of entry that lead to months and even years of waiting to be processed, or even worse, being sent back to the very country from which they fled.

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  Artifact 1 : infographic poster (24”x36”), outlining how past border legislation has impacted refugees, how a full border wall would impact them, and the dangerous journey they face on the trek through Mexico.

Artifact 1: infographic poster (24”x36”), outlining how past border legislation has impacted refugees, how a full border wall would impact them, and the dangerous journey they face on the trek through Mexico.

  Artifact 2:  animated timeline, presenting a short history of southern border legislation in the United States juxtaposed with published research and studies that have continued to prove the inefficacy of that legislation.

Artifact 2: animated timeline, presenting a short history of southern border legislation in the United States juxtaposed with published research and studies that have continued to prove the inefficacy of that legislation.

In spring 2019, I turned this into a gallery installation as part of the Graphic Design Capstone Show at University of Maryland.

 As it can be hard to truly understand the weight of text-heavy content as a viewer if it is simply displayed on a wall — reading takes time, and attention spans are short, especially in a crowded gallery with other artworks to see and conversations to have — I wanted to ensure an meaningful and digestible experience for visitors who have little to no prior knowledge on the subject of border legislation.

As it can be hard to truly understand the weight of text-heavy content as a viewer if it is simply displayed on a wall — reading takes time, and attention spans are short, especially in a crowded gallery with other artworks to see and conversations to have — I wanted to ensure an meaningful and digestible experience for visitors who have little to no prior knowledge on the subject of border legislation.

 Thus I designed my installation to present the juxtaposing, hypocritical history of border legislation in a series of interactive wall panels. As I found the legislation to effectively hide or discount the juxtaposing studies and actual statistics at the border, I chose to display that legislation information on top so that the underlying study appears “redacted” from history.

Thus I designed my installation to present the juxtaposing, hypocritical history of border legislation in a series of interactive wall panels. As I found the legislation to effectively hide or discount the juxtaposing studies and actual statistics at the border, I chose to display that legislation information on top so that the underlying study appears “redacted” from history.

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 Visitors were able to peel back the plastic mylar that the legislation panels were printed on to uncover the true effects of that legislation beneath. By introducing this intrigue and curiosity through interactivity, I aimed to capture attention and an educational and powerful experience, instead of just a series of panels to simply stand in front of and read.

Visitors were able to peel back the plastic mylar that the legislation panels were printed on to uncover the true effects of that legislation beneath. By introducing this intrigue and curiosity through interactivity, I aimed to capture attention and an educational and powerful experience, instead of just a series of panels to simply stand in front of and read.

 Artifact 3:  Onda,  an Instagram account with a mission to create a social ripple effect of change at the southern border.

Artifact 3: Onda, an Instagram account with a mission to create a social ripple effect of change at the southern border.

 Coinciding with the final project in this series ­— a design response — was a mass exodus of Central American refugees in October 2018, making their way towards the US border as a caravan.  The caravan gained momentum and numbers as it was shared with neighbors and posted about on social media. It connected smaller groups of Central Americans with a larger community, sparking a movement — ideological and literal — of thousands of people who sought change. And the same power of social media could be leveraged to help those members of the caravan — and other migrants — currently in waiting in Mexico to request asylum.  Translating to “ripple” in Spanish,  Onda  is an Instagram account with a mission to create a social ripple effect. Short, powerful, informative graphics summarize the most recent news at the border, so that people can digest the scope of a specific problem with a few swipes of their finger.

Coinciding with the final project in this series ­— a design response — was a mass exodus of Central American refugees in October 2018, making their way towards the US border as a caravan.

The caravan gained momentum and numbers as it was shared with neighbors and posted about on social media. It connected smaller groups of Central Americans with a larger community, sparking a movement — ideological and literal — of thousands of people who sought change. And the same power of social media could be leveraged to help those members of the caravan — and other migrants — currently in waiting in Mexico to request asylum.

Translating to “ripple” in Spanish, Onda is an Instagram account with a mission to create a social ripple effect. Short, powerful, informative graphics summarize the most recent news at the border, so that people can digest the scope of a specific problem with a few swipes of their finger.

 At the end of each brief slideshow of gallery posts or stories is a specific call to action, such as nonprofits to donate to and quick ways to influence legislation.  I believe that many people can feel daunted, helpless and paralyzed by the scope and gravity of current events. But not everything needs a Kickstarter or a new nonprofit to create change.

At the end of each brief slideshow of gallery posts or stories is a specific call to action, such as nonprofits to donate to and quick ways to influence legislation.

I believe that many people can feel daunted, helpless and paralyzed by the scope and gravity of current events. But not everything needs a Kickstarter or a new nonprofit to create change.

 By using a medium that people already utilize, through strong, concise and memorable graphics that share real stories and digestible facts, Onda’s mission is to show people that small contributions by individuals can turn into a major movement that, in a ripple effect, leads to real, concrete change.

By using a medium that people already utilize, through strong, concise and memorable graphics that share real stories and digestible facts, Onda’s mission is to show people that small contributions by individuals can turn into a major movement that, in a ripple effect, leads to real, concrete change.

 Of course, these issues are deeper than mere donations can fix. But while policy change is the end goal, it does not provide immediate relief to those who are struggling at the border. The resources at the end of each Onda   graphic set are aimed at showing users distinct ways their actions will help — ways that will provide a platform for policy change.

Of course, these issues are deeper than mere donations can fix. But while policy change is the end goal, it does not provide immediate relief to those who are struggling at the border. The resources at the end of each Onda graphic set are aimed at showing users distinct ways their actions will help — ways that will provide a platform for policy change.