Designing mascots to make climate change feel personal.
Design a solution that inspires a new, large audience to become climate change activists.
Adobe XD, Photoshop, Illustrator
Sketching, storyboarding, secondary research, personas, journey maps, UI design, design for behavior change, storytelling, illustration, photo editing, graphic design, mock-ups, augmented reality, web design
Climate Designers, Marc O'Brien
7 weeks, Fall 2020
Watch a video of my presentation on Bedrock here.
This project left me a lot of room to pursue my own interests. I started to wonder how climate change could become extremely known and relevant. Two things occurred to me:
1. Everywhere that I see climate change mentioned, the context is overtly political (specifically, left-wing).
2. How do you gain supporters for a cause that you can't see? Human "mascots" (like Greta Thunberg) seem to rally dissenters equally as much as they rally supporters.
I started to think about how other abstract and intangible concepts are represented. I came up with a couple of key examples that informed the direction of my design: Smokey Bear (an actual bear, and more commonly today, a well-known character) who promoted fire safety, and Darrel the Barrel (an oil barrel that promoted keeping Texas litter-free). Both campaigns were wildly successful by putting a face and a name to a boring concept. With that, I formulated a HMW... question.
How might we make the issue of climate change feel personal and apolitical?
It’s no secret that the negative impacts of climate change are severe and imminent – every day that we don’t take action is affecting our future. To quote the United Nations: "Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment … Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly."
It’s a global problem that will affect everyone, everywhere, on some level. We all have a stake in the well being of our planet and all of the beings that live on it. Likewise, we needs all hands on deck to adequately address climate change. So if we realize that one of the keys to mitigating the effects of climate change is getting more people on board to solve it, why is so much of the messaging seen from climate change activist circles so divisive, exclusionary, and biased?
A cursory glance at climate-related postings on social media show that climate change has become a politicized issue, and it should come as no surprise that this is one of the root causes of climate change denial.
Quotes showing the perception of some climate change activists on social media.
It is clear that people have certain assumptions about who does and doesn't support climate change. I feel that many environmentally friendly products are designed for people who are already supportive of climate action. I wanted to know what Americans' attitudes toward climate change actually were. What I found was surprising – in almost every state, the majority of respondents to a survey conducted by Yale felt that global warming would not personally affect them, despite many people professing belief in global warming. Largely, people think of global warming or climate change as problems, but problems that affect someone else in some faraway and un-relatable land. How do we change that?
Stats on Americans' beliefs relating to global warming.
We’re going to create climate activists and mitigate the effects of climate change... by not talking about climate change. Why? Because political discourse has turned these two words into buzzwords that can immediately shut down a conversation once they’re spoken.
How to create more climate change activists? Stop talking about "climate change."
From a guest lecturer from Rare.org, I learned about behavioral levers that can be used to encourage people to adopt new behaviors. I identified three levers that would be of particular importance in my project:
Behavioral levers that I used in my project.
ROUND 1 SKETCHES
Initially, I tried to think of unique ways to use mascots. You see them on signs and in ads, but what else could they do? I created a series of storyboards with potential concepts.
Initial concept sketches for the project.
ROUND 2 SKETCHES
I had the chance to go to an event for sharing work and getting feedback from other design students, so I showed my concepts and learned what people thought of all of them. I tested my concepts with two college students who have an interest in climate change. Based on their feedback, and critique from my professor, I modified concepts for a second round of storyboards.
Iteration of concepts for the project.
Bedrock is a television channel that uses a set of mascots to deliver climate-related content in a de-policitized form to help more people who aren’t currently represented in climate activist circles realize their own personal stake in it. Whether it’s about the effects on weather patterns, agriculture, energy, or oceans, Bedrock is trying to reach the people who have been given up on by others.
The final concept illustrated in a storyboard.
I then conducted some interviews with people outside of CCA. I wanted to understand how people outside of a big, liberal city feel about climate change – and does it affect them personally? I did interviews in person (when safe, due to COVID-19) and through text to talk to people in other parts of the country. I found contacts by posting on social media, reaching out to my network, and asking my connections to recommend people. I ended up speaking with people of varying age groups and locations around the US. The provisional personas represent people who, for one reason or another, don't feel connected to issues around climate change.
Some things I learned in my research for the personas were:
1. "Climate change" is a term that feels too political; it's hard to get past the fact that it's directly connected to being liberal.
2. Distrust in media sources gets in the way of education on climate change.
3. Life – work, money, family, health, etc. – are stressful enough; you don't want to spend your leisure time reading depressing news articles about the future.
4. Younger people and people with children / grandchildren want the world to be better in the future than it is now.
5. Even people who are open to or accepting of the notion of climate change don't see real-world effects of it around them; it's just a concept.
Provisional personas for this project.
With the personas completed, the next step was journey maps. I chose to work on these at this point to have a better idea of what touchpoints could be incorporated into this project and what deliverables I would need to express my concept. The journey maps show the stages before, during, and after interaction with Bedrock products.
Journey maps for each persona.
With a better understanding of who this product would be targeted at, I set to work at creating a line of mascots. The mascots were created in Adobe Illustrator and they are represented as 2D drawings throughout the project, but in a real world setting, they would be full-body suits like the mascots for sports teams wear. They are animals that represent different effects of climate change. They are:
Landon – a longhorn who advocates for agricultural issues.
Tessa – a tortoise who advocates for renewable energy.
Mason – a manatee who advocates for ocean health.
Maverick – a moose who advocates about changing weather patterns.
Each mascot was designed to be an innocent representation of a range of issues that affect specific areas of the country. The goal is that people see the mascot and feel a connection to what they're advocating for.
Bedrock is a television channel that has a range of news and lifestyle-oriented programming hosted by the mascots. On the website, a user can learn about the different mascots, view the different shows offered by Bedrock, learn about the Bedrock AR app, and more. This is the first version of the site.
The first version of the website.
For the website, I needed to design posters for various TV shows offered by the network. I wanted to mimic current popular trends in television, so I covered a range of genres and categories, from food to travel to home improvement and more.
The first version of the TV show posters.
One key goal of Bedrock was providing climate change-related news and information in a totally non-political format. The news show updates viewers on local news in their region – maybe that homes using solar power is at an all time high, or updates on the well-being of an at-risk species. Climate change tends to be represented by "doom and gloom," but Bedrock wants to highlight the good, too, not just create a vision of an apocalyptic future.
First version of the Bedrock news show, hosted by Landon the Longhorn.
In order to personify the mascots and give them personalities to be appealing to the public, they needed a platform for direct interaction with fans. Each Bedrock mascot has their own social media accounts, including YouTube and Instagram. They can create content and promote their TV shows, as well as communicate with fans and share climate news.
First version of social media mock-ups for Bedrock mascots.
An idea from my professor was to use AR to allow people to feel as if they were interacting with the mascots in person. The idea was for it to be educational – to feel as if the mascot was teaching you. We came up with the idea of tailoring content to specific locations by partnering with businesses and organizations. For example, a farmer who uses regenerative agricultural practices on his farm allows guests to come tour it with the Bedrock AR app to see firsthand what it looks like.