The Ocean Starts Here
Designing a tangible toolkit with modifiable storytelling activities for educating on ocean literacy
Marine Education Center, Malmö
10 Weeks (2021)
Visuals and illustration
Juliana Hernandez Baez
Motivation and Challenge
The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected. Yet not everyone knows of this tight bond and how central it is for life on Earth. The Marine Education Center in Malmö strives to spread ocean literacy, educating people on caring for the wonders and importance of the sea. During our collaboration with the Marine Center, our aim was to identify and develop design opportunities for supporting them in their mission.
The project deliverable is a generative, playful toolkit for storytelling. Diving deep into ocean literacy, users are challenged to uncover stories of the sea. Or they can choose to create narratives on their own. By combining knowledge and creativity, users can look beneath the surface, learning about the importance of the ocean and how we affect it.
Phase 1: Discover
Literature Reviews & Design Examples
To first get an overview of the problem domain, we investigated related work and relevant design examples. Here, storytelling and personification emerged as design openings.
We interviewed 10 people in different public spaces in Malmö, inquiring about their associations with the Marine Center. For probing personification as a method, we further asked them to describe the ocean as a person in written form and drawings. Most interviewees have not previously visited the Marine Center. They were quick to personify the ocean as someone important to them, yet mysterious and someone they want to know more about.
We also visited the Marine Center. We talked to the staff and observed how visitors interacted with their current exhibitions, which are playful and contain storytelling elements. However, due to the remote location by the beach, the Marine Center wants to engage more people in the city center.
Phase 2: Define
To explore different methods and activities for storytelling, we conducted a series of four design experiments at Malmö university. Based on these experiments, we identified variables for storytelling, such as synchronous or asynchronous collaboration or at which point the whole story is revealed.
Touchpoint canal: The ocean starts here
To extend the reach of the Marine Center, we scouted for potential touchpoints in the city center. Here, the canals of Malmö were especially interesting, as they are a part of the ocean that people encounter in their everyday life.
Following up on the touchpoint idea, we consulted two marine experts working as educators at the Marine Center about the canals and their potential for educative activities. They were enthusiastic about the proposal, as the canals provide multiple examples of the direct impact humans have on the ocean.
Phase 3: Develop
As a team, we conducted multiple ideation sessions, sketching various design ideas, and using creative methods such as brainwriting. We presented various ideas in a stakeholder meeting, deciding on a portable tool for storytelling activities in smaller groups.
Workshop for collaborative storytelling
For prototyping collaborative storytelling activities, we held a participatory design workshop. Six participants joined two alternative activities revolving around the canals.
Activity-A focused on discovering a story by answering ocean literacy related questions, puzzling together parts of a given narrative. Activity-B challenged participants to create their own story by drawing cards with context-specific locations and prompts. Both activities were perceived as engaging intellectually and emotionally. Participants voiced having learned about issues they were unaware of before, seeing the canals differently now.
Probing asynchronous storytelling
Simultaneously, we conducted a method inspired by cultural probes with six other participants. They were prompted to write an original story by building on each other's narratives. Participants were less engaged than the workshop group and while they enjoyed getting creative, they voiced not having learned much.
Phase 4: Deliver
Assembling the toolkit
We decided on combining both successful workshop activities into a toolkit with modifiable content. We created a flow and rules for the activities while providing the Marine Center with templates for addressing different issues related to the canals or the ocean in general.
We tested the toolkit by going through the activities with the experts we previously interviewed, as they would be the ones conducting the activities. They found both activities as a highly engaging approach for teaching about specific ocean-related issues. They further voiced some points for improvement, such as a simpler set-up and shorter duration.
Final Design: The Toolkit
The final design comes in form of a treasure chest. Inside of it, there are two boxes, each containing material for a different storytelling activity. Given the context of on-site group activities, we decided for a non-digital design, giving it a ‘board game feel’ that was positively commented on during the workshop and user test.
Create your own story
Information is made sense of by making it personal and understandable in your own words while allowing you to speak about it to and with others.
Discover the story
Accessing information through a playful activity by collaboratively trying to unlock the full story.
Ocean Literacy Action Conference 2022
Based on the fruitful collaboration during the project, the Marine Center invited us to join forces again with the aim of planning and conducting a co-design workshop as part of the Ocean Literacy Action Conference in May 2022. The workshop literally brought ocean experts and the youth (students from Malmö Latin School) to the same table for discussing and ideating on necessary changes for ocean sustainability.