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Vitality

Alura Sutherland

An interactive system facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and practices associate with traditional Inuit plant medicine.

Project Criteria

This project is a fourth year, capstone project that revolved around the principles of social design, which highlights how the design process can connect with culture and be used as a catalyst of change. This specific project focuses on challenges within remote Inuit communities. Our background research was used to guide us in the autonomous process of identifying a design opportunity. 

Context

Inuit communities have always predominantly relied on oral means to obtain and retain knowledge. Traditional knowledge is beginning to dissipate and disappear, along with the use of the Inuktitut language, including the teachings surrounding various plants and their medicinal properties. Because of the inherent link between linguistic, biological and cultural diversity, the loss of language is having detrimental impacts on Inuit practices and their relationship with the land. Although the growing season is limited, the plant life in the arctic remains a significant contributor to Inuit health and identity, and is an accessible leverage point to serve as a nidus towards cultural renewal.

Design Solution

Combining physical and digital resources to create an interdependent system, empowering its users to gain knowledge and skills that can improve their well-being through physical, cultural, and natural means. The virtual element consists of mapping technology that allows its users to input findings of various plant species and their location, creating an ever growing, live-updated database. This makes the locating and collecting of desired species more accessible, despite the barriers of arctic plants’ brief growing season and their unpredictability due to climate change. In addition, the platform has information about various plant species and their medicinal properties and ways you can use them for healing. This user interface is used in parallel to the physical tools that aid the process of collecting and preparing the plants that are used as culturally specific,medicinal remedies. This system honors and reflects Inuit values, such as sharing with your community and a holistic view on health and well-being, recognizing the interconnections of the body, mind and spirit.

Research

Research

My background research for this project was not a linear path. My preliminary findings are seemingly off topic, however, each of these areas of focus deepened my understanding and further directed my to insights that informed my final design. This journey has been summarized in the info-graphic below. 

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Traditional Medicine

Inuit take a holistic approach to health care, as in their culture the mind, body and spirit are seen as coexistent. A weakness in one will inevitably impact the well-being of the other aspects (Black, et. al,2008). If elders were to make a differentiation between the body and mind,they would be sure to emphasize their interrelationship as they recognize that many social determinants manifest themselves in physical ailments (Therrien, Laugrand, 2001).

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An Oral Culture

Inuit culture is built around oral traditions. All of their teachings and stories have been passed down many generations through speech. Because of this, traditional Inuit language (Inuktitut) is both a symbol of identity within itself, as well as a channel of knowledge (Oral Tradition, 2005).

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Ethnobotany

Plants play an important role in Inuit culture. Cuerrier (et. al, 2019) emphasizes the rising importance of ethnobotanical research with the decline of Inuktitut language skills. Arctic and Subarctic communities with few native speakers are at risk of becoming disconnected from traditional practices because of the inherent link between language, knowledge and landscape.

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Cultural Mapping

Cultural mapping is a participatory activity for people and organizations that are concerned about safeguarding cultural diversity. This practice is implemented in local landscapes around the world using various tools and techniques to “map” bath tangible and intangible cultural assets of distinct peoples’.Cultural mapping encompasses cultural resources beyond land. This may include; Anthropological, Sociological, Archaeological, Genealogical, Linguistic, Topographical, Musicological and Botanical

This research can be seen in more depth in the final report. 

Process

Process
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Preliminary Sketches

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Models

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The Kit

Kit
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Vitality

An interactive system facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and practices
associated with traditional Inuit plant medicine.

 


 

Vitality suits this product because the word is defined as “the state of being strong and active; energy” (Oxford dictionary), which describes the way this system empowers it’s users to actively engage in traditional practices, keeping their culture strong and alive. Alternatively, the word vitality is defined as “the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things” (Oxford Dictionary), which is fitting as this product provides users with the resources to take ownership over their health, and can thereby take concrete steps towards being well.

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Due to the pandemic, I did not have access to school facilities which affected the fidelity of these models. I plan to undergo more iterations once I have access to more resource. This model served as a proof of concept for the final review. 

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Magnetic silica gel packs for mason jar storage. Colour coded charms for labeling tea bags (compatible with organizational element on app).

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Stand alone, pop-up drying rack. Light, portable and collapses into a fraction of the size. Zipper screen door. Button up pouch for storage.

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Collapsible, silicone strainer and funnel. 

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Hand pump for reusable vacuum seal bags that are good for long term storage or sharing/distributing goods.

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App Design

App
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The app is designed to provide learning opportunities regarding plant medicine, and to strengthen community ties through the communal sharing of knowledge and resources.

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One of the primary functions is the use of mapping technologies that enable users to locate plant species and track seasonal growth patterns. It allows users to input their own findings of various plant species and their location, creating an ever-growing, live-updated database.

The app would consist of an arctic plant directory and identification function that uses photo recognition technology to help users ensure that they have located the species that they intended to.

This platform also offers a collection of remedies, recipes or traditional practices that promote health. This resource can be grown by contributions and updates from its users.

Education and learning are to be central to this app. This includes sustainable practices, how to promote plant health and growth, and how to best respect the land.

The app would encompass brief historical lessons, rich in cultural significance. These can be found, throughout the content, peppered in places that they are most relevant.

There is also a storytelling platform where users can share their knowledge, experience, or stories that have been passed down for generations. This can be done in a text-based, audio or visual format.

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The app functions are elaborated on in the report below, including an extensive map of the Appendix.

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Report
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