Cultural Crosspoint is a newspaper-based intervention intending to provide tools and strategies for older Chinese immigrants in New York City to cope with issues caused by cultural differences. This intervention also shows one possibility of promoting cultural change and respecting the agency of individuals in a community at the same time. This theme was revealed after the designer became aware of the older Chinese immigrants' diverse demands and social positions. The project was conducted during the designer's 3-month engagement in a Manhattan-based senior center.
The project began with the designer's pure curiosity towards older Chinese immigrants. She introduced herself to a Manhattan-based senior center and received a mission, assisting in the English class, as an exchange for doing research and design work with members in the senior center. She soon noticed that learning English is not an urgent need of older Chinese immigrants, this insight made her switch the research question from "how to teach them English" to "why they want to learn English". The designer conducted a series of design-led-research activities with older Chinese immigrants to learn their motivations for learning English, which proved to be related to the problems caused by cultural differences. These learnings further shaped the design challenge to "handling cultural differences" instead of "learning English". The long term participation also provided the researcher with a holistic view of the social practices of older Chinese immigrants.
The design intervention was informed by these two kinds of research. the designer delicately chose newspaper, the major media among older Chinese immigrants, to place interventions for tackling 5 cultural differences related problems. Given that individuals in this community vary hugely in terms of demands of learning cultural differences, this medium allows them to pick interventions that fit their needs (or not to use at all). The placement also aims to let interventions go beyond the scope of the senior center, to influence the larger community.
Design proposition map
Fake Newspaper Prototype
The senior center
the senior center
The overarching goal of this project is to investigate the problems that older Chinese immigrants face while they age in New York City and design for a better aging experience. After initial research, a specific area became the focus: issues related to cultural differences.
The project is also an exploration of how being a participant in a community might influence a designer's design practice, in terms of the process and decision making.
As a part of the inescapable aging trend in the US, New York City is facing unique challenges due to its population diversity. It is now the home for 463,000 older immigrant residents, who are extremely diverse in ethnicity, language, education level, reasons for immigration, etc. Although the city provides a variety of services to older people, compared with their American-born counterparts, fewer immigrants benefit from these services as the result of limited English proficiency and cultural barriers. Currently, the city majorly uses two approaches to conquer these challenges: making its older-adult related services inclusive and building collaboration with ethnic organizations, especially those focusing on serving older adults. Additionally, geographical areas dominated by one ethnic group, known as ethnic enclaves, contribute a lot to ensuring older immigrants' life quality.
The senior center I based my project in is exactly a part of this service delivery structure. This Manhattan-based senior center serves several hundreds of seniors (people older than 62) every day, most of them are Cantonese speakers. The services provided in the senior center include daily ethnic meals, educational and recreational programs. The micro context that became the foreground for this project was their daily English Class: there is a group of older Chinese immigrants learning English every day without an urgent need to use English in their daily life.
I perceived a mixture of two processes existing along the journey, manifested by the two different roles I was playing. Seen from a human-centered design view, this project mostly follows the inspiration-ideation-implementation process with an emphasis on the inspiration stage. However, to better illustrate my experience not only as a designer but as a participant in the senior center, the entire journey was broken down into 3 stages: entering, blending and intervening.
Entering:This stage comprises the journey from reaching out to the senior center, building trust with the management and finding my position. I received a "mission", assisting in the English class, from the management of the senior center after a lot of communications.
Blending: in this stage, I participated in everyday activities in the senior center focusing on attending the English class. The major goals of this stage were building trust with older Chinese immigrants and learning about their daily life. I had an unexpected insight: learning English is not an urgent need of older Chinese immigrants. This insight informed my decision to conduct research on understanding their motivations, which are the key to designing for English learning experience for this population.
Intervening: after building enough trust with English class attendants and several other members in the senior center, I became more comfortable inviting them to participate in my design-oriented activities, including design-led research, idea and prototyping testing.
Ethnographic research: I participated in everyday activities with members in the senior center for 3 months, aiming to learn the holistic view of the social practices of older Chinese immigrants and their interpretation of these practices.
Design-led research: Design-led research is a research method that involves the design process and practices in data collection and synthesis. In this project, I designed research-oriented activities to investigate "English learning and usage" this very specific aspect and what it represents, the desire of coping cultural differences related issues , of the older Chinese immigrant community. The following is the list of methods and corresponding research objectives:
4 skills worksheet: The worksheet has 4 areas showing speaking, listening, writing and reading, 4 types of English skills. It was designed to prompt older immigrants, both English learners, and non-learners, to think about the occasions where they need or want to use English. It was proved by participants' reaction that breaking down English, this abstract concept, into 4 specific aspects helped them recall their experience better.
Salad bowl activity: in one English class, I invited students in the English class to write down one thing they wanted to learn the most on a post-it, put all post-its in a jar and took one out to teach in the class. The entertaining and beneficial features of this activity made the research method participatory and engaging.
Ideation and prototype:
Idea cards: after understanding older Chinese immigrants' major motivations for learning English, I brainstormed ideas corresponding to these motivations and presented them through a set of hand-drawn cards. This activity was designed to invite research participants to verify the insights and provide feedback on several early design directions. When having conversations with participants, I showed them the cards, described the problem I wanted to solve and what my idea/design is. I observed the reaction of the participants and asked them to share their thoughts.
Newspaper prototype: this method locates in the middle ground of research and prototype. Inspired by the fact that newspapers are the dominant media among older Chinese Immigrants, I came up with the idea of using newspapers as the place to put interventions thus it has the potential to impact a larger population, beyond this senior center. This prototype was designed to test older Chinese immigrants' attitudes towards this format and what content they would like to see.
This project had 4 major outcomes that might inspire future design practices:
Research findings: through participating in the English class and conducting research with the older Chinese immigrants, I identified 5 major motivations for older Chinese immigrants to learn and use English. They are:
1. Handle daily tasks: Participants want to handle tasks that they currently have problems with due to their limited English proficiency: ordering food in restaurants, reading letters and filling out forms, just to mention a few.
2. Conquer identity crisis: Many older immigrants, especially those who came to the US in their late life, experienced changes in power dynamics with their family members . This motivation sometimes underlies or overlaps with other motivations. For example, the desire of becoming a good grandparent might promote one building connections with one's grandkid; wishing to be more independent from one's kid might motivate one to handle daily tasks.
3. Connection building:
Learning English helps them better connect to English-speaking family members and it also reflects their wish to have a stronger connection with, and be more integrated in the larger society.
Some participants expressed a desire for traveling and to better experience American culture. An adventure can be as small as going to a McDonald's and ordering food.
5. Mental ability retaining:
Many older Chinese immigrants participate in activities that can help them resist aging-related cognitive capacities decline, etc. Learning English is one of these activities.
The 5 motivations of learning and using English reflect the deeper desires for handling cultural differences related issues facing this population, which inspired me to gear the focus of my design solutions on these desires and related issues instead of merely on English learning.
My proposed intervention is a new section in existing Chinese newspapers called: Cultural Crosspoint. It helps the readers, especially those not familiar with digital media platforms, to better understand the differences between American and Chinese culture and provides strategies to cope with issues caused by these differences. The aim of this intervention is to give immigrants tools to have more intercultural interactions if they desire while letting individuals make choices at their own time and pace. It consists of 4 parts, each related to one or multiple motivation(s):
Cultural Differences: Articles about different aspects of Chinese and American culture.
Comic series "a new immigrant family": a comic series that depicts stories that happen in a fictional new immigrant family with a focus on the intergenerational relationship.
Place, activity and food: introduction of places, activities, and food that readers can experience in New York City.
Daily English class: English games like crossword puzzles and Word Search that help readers build English proficiency.
One overarching insight from the research is that the older Chinese immigrants population has various demands and motivations in terms of how and how much they want to integrate into mainstream society. Defining a position for the design intervention that helps people who have these needs as well as not impose certain attitudes (one should integrate into the mainstream society) on the entire community is the biggest challenge.
The choice of using newspapers to locate design interventions is my answer to this challenge. It is an un-imposed approach and gives agency to each individual to decide how to use these tools and resources. Shaping the media environment also means that design intervention has the potential to impact the larger population.
The role of a "participant":
My role as a (new) participant in the senior center had a huge influence on my design practice, majorly on my perception of the process (explained earlier) and choice of methods. Due to a certain level of cultural barrier and age-related hierarchy, I often felt overwhelmed in the senior center, which made me develop methods that the format was more comfortable for me to conduct in the senior center. For example, organizing a workshop would be too emotionally challenging for me given the organizational culture so I did my activity during the English class as the alternative. I consciously or unconsciously took care of my emotional needs along the process.