Graduate Thesis

Prescription Placebo


The role of hope in the medical context through a series of explorations using different types of media.




Placebo effect as a critical lens to explore the social and cultural processes that create therapeutic hope.


The project is my MFA thesis at Media Design Practices, ArtCenter College of Design.

In this thesis project, I argue for models of medical treatment that include space for hope, and that do not privilege biomedical knowledge as the most important kind of knowledge for patients to have, through three narrative-based speculations: The Hospital; The Church; Home.

︎︎︎ Full Project Introduction:
https://medium.com/@maviscaodesign/prescription-placebo-exploring-therapeutic-hope-6240ae6a60fd

︎︎︎ This project is awarded with Student Runner Up in 2022 Core77 Design Award.






Project Gallery






Learnings



Look for signals


Future as a design constraint.


Gathering evidence of what’s happening in the world we are living in is critical for understanding the future. This evidence often comes in the form of “signals” — clues and hints that indicate events are occurring that may not yet be obvious.


During the concept development phase, I conducted interviews and took into account the spectrum of the parcipants’ own observations — their own beliefs and hunches about the future; what they’d heard from the news; what their friends, family members were saying; their loves and fears.

In other words, I looked at signals of possible futures through different lenses. I also employed techniques to help navigate through the chaos  while analyzing the interview results — assumption examination (look into the existing beliefs), more than one perspective (look at it from another angle), asking why 5 times (push myself to understand how something works).



Future Storytelling



Understand the future in terms of values and feelings, not just technology.


Gathering evidence of what’s happening in the world we are living in is critical for understanding the future. This evidence often comes in the form of “signals” — clues and hints that indicate events are occurring that may not yet be obvious.

During the concept development phase, I took into account the spectrum of their own observations — their own beliefs and hunches about the future; what they’d heard from industry leaders; what their friends, family members, and social media feeds were communicating. In other words, I looked at signals of possible futures through different lenses. I also employed techniques to help navigate through the chaos — assumption falsification (set up your belief on its head), more than one perspective (look at it from another angle), asking why 5 times (push yourself to understand how something works).
Prototyping 




Start early and make it easy.


The most important thing to do when you're just starting out is to prototype as much as possible, so that you can learn as much as possible.

During my exploration, I prototyped different iterations of both the machine and amulets. In each iteration, I gave importance to a different aspect of treatment: "healing", "protecting" or "enhancing" as well as “spiritual”, “neutral” or “scientific.” The testing generated useful insights that helped me craft the final outcome:



Besides, in order to be most effective, prototyping should be done with methodologies that can be shared and built upon, especially when we are in collaborative contexts like co-design.
The following are some methods that you can use in your prototyping process while testing remotely:
  • Graphic templates
  • Mockups
  • Printable files
  • Presentations
  • Instructions

For example, this is a Google Slides prototype that I created to invite remote participants to join in the co-creation process:


Relevance is a design material.

Something to note about design fictions is that the fictions lack meaning without an understanding of the reason they exist: Stories do not exist in a vacuum.

For example, my thesis considers the healthcare system as an institution of hope. I intend to explore how this institution is full of potential and hope for patients, but it is also limited in terms of its symptom and disease oriented approach to the patient's health. Without this context, the project would be a farfetched concept and does not make sense.

The context reveals the project’s exploratory missions: It provides an opportunity to discover new knowledge and create a new awareness about an important aspect of life that most people have never considered before. It also gives me an opportunity to challenge conventional wisdom about healthcare and suggest ways for improvement. How do we expect a future that does not yet exist? What happens next, once we can grasp what we think is "possible"?

In my final presentation, our guest Stuart Candy shared this insightful comment in responding to my project:

Relevance is a design material.

This comment struck a chord with me. It’s all about the context. If something feels relevant, it will connect with its audience naturally—it's been built within their framework of understanding and thus is easier to revel in and appreciate.

Impact


In April 2022, I shared my research at Index Space.
In the same month, I exhibited my design at ArtCenter Grad Show at Pasadena Convention Center:
(Photography: Boaz Aquino)

Mavis Cao 2022, Pasadena, CA