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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Conversation With Mariana Amatullo

The Los Angeles Earthquake: Get Ready
project met with great success. In all there were over 5.4 million participants prepared to drop, cover, and hold on during this unprecedented effort. The Get Ready Rally was organized by Designmatters at Art Center along with government, private and public sector agencies to inspire Southern Californians to get ready for “The Big One.”

Designmatters co-founder Mariana Amatullo shared her unique perspective of this ambitious 3 year project and gave valuable insight into some of the challenging, yet inspiring experiences she gained in the process.

VC: Tell us a little about the energy at the L.A. Earthquake: Get Ready Rally.

MA: We designed “The Get Ready Rally“ as a high octane and immersive multimedia environment that was visually stunning and conveyed upbeat energy. Choosing a public space that could support our intent for a very impactful experience was key. Again, thanks to our partnerships with the City of Los Angeles, we were able to secure the LA LIVE Nokia Plaza, which was perfect. Its built in “plug and play” large screens, lighting and sound systems enabled us to have a program that rotated through the evening the media Art Center students and alumni had designed (public service announcements and the short film “Preparedness Now”.

The objective, was to create a “Times Square for Public Education,” as opposed to an earthquake fair environment. There were select vendors with information (from Ready America’s “Shake Truck,” to a communication’s command center from Verizon and booths with information from entities such as Red Cross); state and city officials as well as experts were on the program with short speeches, but there was also food and music.

VC: What was the extent of preparation in terms of working with city, state governments and school districts? Was it a logistical nightmare?

The range of partnerships we structured for “The Los Angeles Earthquake: Get Ready” project was indeed on a very large-scale with federal, state, city agencies as well with other academic institutions and private sector groups. Managing partners expectations and this complexity was undoubtedly one of the great challenges the project presented, but I have to say that it never became a logistical nightmare, and I attribute a lot of the success of the project outcomes, as well as the media visibility it secured to this framework of partners. We put our design agenda front and center in terms of serving this cause of earthquake preparedness, but without the expertise, credibility, and networks of our partners within the project, our impact would have been much lesser. The ability to embrace partners and work with them is by the way an approach we firmly advocate for within every project we take on through Designmatters at Art Center. This was no different. The scale and time commitment simply on a higher level (this was a 3 year project).

During the first year of our research for the project, one of our partners in the state of California, and someone well versed in balancing political agendas gave me a piece of advice I went back to many times. He said,” Mariana, make sure you remain firmly at the driver’s seat. The project has a strong vision, keep it intact and do not allow different parties to side-track you.”

VC: Where were you at 10 am when the earthquake hit?

I was participating in the ShakeOut Drill with my colleagues at Art Center in one of the studios in the Graphic Design Department that is running a project facilitated by Designmatters on a campaign around violence against women issues for the UN. We all ducked, covered and held on under the drafting tables and played the ShakeOut drill soundtrack on the radio.

VC: There was mention in many news outlets that the participation in the ShakeOut Drill was in the millions. Was that an accurate number?

This was indeed true, with more than 5.4 million folks that registered from businesses, schools and agencies of many kinds to participate. Thousands of pictures of people doing the simulation were sent to the ShakeOut site.
It has been a very impressive accomplishment and thrilling to see the participation mount in the last few weeks of the push for this simulation. It is important to note that the figures were sometimes reflective of an entire business signing up and not necessarily individual signatures in that business. Still, completely unprecedented.

VC: In addition to the ShakeOut, the Art Center along with a number of other partners developed an online interactive program called Aftershock. Can you explain this online format in more detail?

After Shock is a collaboration with The Institute for the Future that took the ShakeOut scientific scenario researched and developed by USGS, as the basis of the narrative for this online collaborative forecasting simulation that immerses players in the alternative reality of the Los Angeles region after this massive earthquake.

The Interface/Interaction program of our Graphic Design Department was in charge of designing the initial platform for After Shock, and the Institute masterminded the storytelling. Designmatters then facilitated the implementation of the project with a small team that included Ryan D’Orazi as the lead designer; Daniel Frydman as the Programmer and Jason Tester from the Institute as the Lead Storyteller. The simulation began on November 13, 2008 immediately following the ShakeOut drill. Over the course of three weeks and until December 4th, participants in the simulation receive daily missions that provoke them to think about how they would respond to effects of a major earthquake and to submit original media—emails, blog posts, photos, text messages, videos—documenting their responses.

It is our hope that After Shock will empower Southern Californians of all ages and backgrounds to internalize their overall preparedness by developing and practicing their response strategies today, before these skills are needed.

The fact that players tell their stories and impact the master narrative of the game—so to speak—is very exciting in terms of insight we may gain down the line from a social science perspective. The Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication has designed a survey for After Shock and will be measuring its impact. After Shock is the first experiment we know of that applies the social media phenomenon of “alternate reality experiences” to the pressing problem of local community disaster preparedness.

VC: Coming away from this, do you feel there is a higher level of awareness amongst the citizens of Southern California.

I do, at least definitely for those who participated in the drill or actively paid attention to the very wide exposure the effort received in the media. My kids are a good barometer for me. They had to prepare for the drill at school and for roughly a week prior were having conversations about the logistics around it and what it would be like if the real quake hit. Experts tell us that the ability to stir up conversation among the public, provoke “the water cooler effect,” getting people to feel that they own the issue and want to comment about it with their co-workers and peers, is the first step towards activating them to take steps to prepare. Making the message resonate as one of individual responsibility is paramount to counteract a feeling of denial or hopelessness, which can so often set in.

VC: Design Matters and the Art Center are leaders in terms of embarking on social/environmental initiatives. How do you and the participating students feel about the project after many months of work and preparation? What have you learned? What are you most proud of?

Thanks for that statement about Designmatters. I am absolutely thrilled with the outcomes of “The Los Angeles Earthquake: Get Ready” project; it was undoubtedly one of the most complex initiatives within the program we undertook and over the span of its three years required the participation of students, faculty and alumni in many disciplines at Art Center, from Illustration (a studio we structured contributed to the visuals of the Sourcebook designed by Sagmeister), to Graphic Design (After Shock); Film (Psas); Graduate Media Design (a research studio contributed to the book and public awareness messaging); Environmental Design (aspects of the Rally).

It was difficult at times from a conceptual standpoint to weave all of the components of the project into a solid, interrelated communication strategy and do this while also keeping our vision aligned with that of our partners. But is all came together quite strongly last week. I am very proud of a certain amount of nimbleness and resourcefulness that we have as an institution at Art Center. It allowed me to come to my colleagues and department chairs of the disciplines I mention above and say: this is important, how do we get it done this term and make it a great enriching experience in the curriculum? The latter is always our number one priority; and balancing this with “real-world” expectations and timelines in a project of this scale was particularly challenging. It kept all of us in the Designmatters team going full speed.

posted by Oberholtzer Creative Staff at 7:22 am  


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