The Art of Isolation

Undeniably, the global pandemic has caused an immense decrease in interpersonal activities, quickly driving humans into isolation. And while missing out on activities with your friends and family may seem like a weight too heavy to bear for some, it’s difficult to consider how the lives of those who were already struggling psychosocially have been affected even more. The pre-pandemic design industry has already seen an uptick in projects that address isolation and emotion in modern society. However, the rapidly evolving situation calls for more innovation in the products, services and experiences that address these topics in our physical and digital environments. The distinction between isolation and loneliness is that isolation accounts for the quantity of relationships, and loneliness accounts for the quality. If you were an elderly dementia patient living in a nursing home during this pandemic, you’re likely experiencing both. The care quality for dementia patients relies on the caregiver’s ability to communicate effectively. But caregivers are often trained to perform utilitarian tasks, like waking up patients or feeding them at a specific time. These interactions, having decreased as the pandemic worsens, are not enough to address the psychological effects of isolation on patients. To combat this, N.V.E.R.A. was born. It is a collective intelligence service system that enables caregivers to develop their soft communication skills with patients by tracking and observing micro-facial expressions and body language. By proactively deploying a patient-centered experience, N.V.E.R.A. empowers patients, caregivers and organisations to sustain a patient’s quality of life and care despite increasingly limited time and attention. In addition to the elderly, psychosocial distress among cancer patients is a significant concern for those who experience difficult social environments and face physical barriers in accessing in-person support groups. Patients who require long-term or chronic treatment already get less face time with clinical professionals and rely heavily on personally administered mental and physical care. As the chance to check in with their doctor diminishes during the pandemic, cancer patients can have the opportunity to lean on their fellow community members and survivors through services like Lighthouse, a tool to facilitate social support between cancer survivors through gratitude practices and playful interactions. Projects like this tap into the methodology behind in-person support groups and facilitate that experience conveniently through a digital platform. A hybrid support group is not only useful during this pandemic, but can increase accessibility to it in the future.

While some innovations bridge the gap between body and screen, others have translated full physical experiences into virtual
ones. As most museums remain closed, the Museum of Optimism addresses how to create a positive museum experience, digitally. This self-
initiated project, by the creative agency Nice and Serious, was inspired by the hand-drawn rainbows found in people’s windows in London,
and sets out to collect as many creative works of optimism displayed during the pandemic.
It has a floor plan that acts as a navigation system, guiding visitors to the different galleries. The artworks are found across five exhibits: Optimism Exhibit, Gratitude Room,
Joyful Gallery, Kindness Wing and Room of Resistance. In the present day, where anxiety about Covid-19 persists, the museum aims to offer inspiration, hope and light relief as a digital archive for the world to look back upon.

As we continue to face challenges with each new day in this pandemic, it is the responsibility of designers and researchers to iterate quickly and thoughtfully when it comes to addressing isolation and emotion. The effects of social distancing, especially in urban environments, can and should be remedied through creative innovation. Whether it is a product, a community or an experience, innovators have the ability to reconnect individuals with their surroundings and their peace of mind.

1. N.V.E.R.A. Michael Cheung Hong Kong, United Kingdom>2019

N.V.E.R.A includes an interactive mirror that caregivers are able to use to reflect the moods and needs of patients based on tracking their facial expressions
Additional info: https://www.rca.ac.uk/students/ michael-cheung/

Michael Cheung is a designer and engineer who studied at RCA in London and is currently based out of San Francisco and Hong Kong. He blends technology with human experiences to create a better world for those who need it most.

 2. Lighthouse Malvika Bhasin India, Singapore>2020

Research for Lighthouse was conducted with Tata Memorial Hospital (Mumbai), KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (Singapore) and National University Hospital (Singapore).

Additional info: http://www.malvikabhasin.com/ lighthouse

Malvika s work is nurtured by empathy, intentionality and mindfulness. Her approach is to focus broadly on cross-sector and multidisciplinary efforts to deliver meaningful solutions.

3. Museum of Optimism Nice and Serious United Kingdom>2020

The Museum of Optimism is an ever-growing collection and it continues to accept submissions. Anyone is welcome to submit original or spotted artwork. The team hopes to expand and grow its collection for the foreseeable future.

Additional info: optimism.museum

The museum is entirely crowdsourced and was launched with 64 artworks from over 335 contributors.