Prototyping Resilience: Using games to engage communities in disaster response

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD9) 2020 NID Ahmedabad, India Abstract: This paper uses a wildfire evacuation preparedness initiative in the community of Bolinas, California as a way to illustrate how serious games can be used as prototypes … Continue reading

More Galleries | Comments Off on Prototyping Resilience: Using games to engage communities in disaster response

Playing with Systems: Earth Systems and Modern Convenience

Playing with Systems: Earth Systems and Modern Convenience
Presented at the DESFORM 2019, MIT Design Lab

This game serves as a prototype for a hypothetical initiative intended to promote sustainable practices. It utilizes the relationship between gravity and distance from the floor to simulate the ways our planet’s natural and human-systems become more fragile as our population grows. The game, grows more challenging at the later phases. As a prototype, the game will be successful if it can help the designers gain greater confidence in a proposed the direction before committing any more time or money than is necessary.

The game has two key parts, a disc balancing on a thin column and a series of small wooden blocks. The 11” wooden disc represents the Earth. The height of the column on which it rests corresponds to the Earth’s historical (or projected) populations. The tiles each represent mundane elements of modern life such as owning a car, eating non-local food, or utilizing same-day delivery services. The object of the game is to place as many tiles onto the disc without causing it to topple. Through the course of the game, the players are forced to make difficult decisions which reveal a variety of strategies, connections and intentionality about choices that are often unnoticed in daily life. The tactile nature of the game leverages existing systems, (gravity, the player’s nervous system and the uncertainty of the immediate environments) which all become inputs for the game. As an example, a heavy footed pedestrian could throw off a precariously balanced disc.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Playing with Systems: Earth Systems and Modern Convenience


In the spring of 2017, an interdisciplinary team of undergraduates at UC Davis submitted a proposal to SOFA Chicago CONNECT, a national competition. The students’ proposal, Beneath, called attention to land subsidence, the phenomenon of land sinking (in some cases up to 30 feet) as a result of human activity and exacerbated by climate change. This installation by four undergraduate women, Victoria Chau, Sierra Kennedy, Jessica Jade Lam and Sandra Bae represents the thoughtful ways in which design can call attention to the complex challenges and model new ways forward. The team demonstrated incredible flexibility and resourcefulness. The 24′ x 24′ installation weighed approximately 70lbs and was able to be transported by plane.

Tom Maiorana and Jiayi Young acted as faculty advisors for the project.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on SOFA Chicago CONNECT

AIGA Converge 2017 – Long Paper

Title: Developing Complex Systems With Low-Fidelity Prototypes

Author: Thomas Maiorana, Assistant Professor of Design, University of California, Davis

Abstract: If design is to continue to make a credible claim that it can solve the world’s most pressing problems, our tools must evolve to address increasingly complex, dynamic and connected product systems. This paper explores the ways which low-resolution prototypes can be used to address complex challenges with minimal risk, investment and time.

The practice of rapid-prototyping has become central to product development, but changes in the ways that products and services are conceptualized, built, distributed, and used require a new way of thinking about this critical practice. Traditional prototypes focus the object or solution. But modern products are increasingly utilizing human interaction and social systems as a core part of the offering. Technology-driven prototyping tools can handle complexity, but fail to offer the flexibility and inclusive necessary for rapidly changing landscapes where a variety of contributors and approaches are necessary. Unfortunately, most low-resolution prototypes are ill-equipped to handle these complex environments. Designers will need tools that illuminate potential futures to their stakeholders, teams, and a growing list of collaborators. And they will need to do this in less time. This paper explores ways of reimagining prototypes so that they may be used to help understand complex systems in rapid, low-risk, ways. This paper will illustrate the ways which a variety of prototyping methods bridge the gap between analog, digital and social systems. Examples from software to festivals will yield insight and actionable frameworks for designers of complex product systems and services.

Keywords: Prototyping, Low-Resolution Prototyping, Prototyping Relationships, Uncertainty, Resilience, Complex Systems, Design Thinking, Empathy

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on AIGA Converge 2017 – Long Paper

Prototyping Climate Change Scenarios

This video captures the installation at the Exploratorium as part of the One Climate Event hosted by the John Muir Institute for the Environment at UC Davis. This installation was created by Tom Maiorana, Assistant Professor in the Design Department at UC Davis with two undergraduates, Suhaila Sikand and Sandra Bae.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Prototyping Climate Change Scenarios

Visualizing Connections to OneClimate

Visualizing Connections to OneClimate
One Climate Event (Partnership between UC Davis and the Exploratorium)
March 13, 2017
Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA

Tom Maiorana, Assistant Professor, Department of Design, UC Davis
Victoria Baird, MFA Candidate, Department of Design, UC Davis
Benjamin Houlton, Ph.D., Director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, Professor in Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
Vida Mia García, Ph.D., Principal, Red Cover Studios, Lecturer, UC Davis

Additional Support:
Sandra Bae, UC Davis
Suhaila Sikand, UC Davis

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Visualizing Connections to OneClimate

Lowering the Barrier to Making

In the fall of 2016 I created a short digital film, “Lowering the Barrier to Making: Lessons from the Rick and Susan Sontag Center”, to document several of the lessons that my design firm, Red Cover Studios, uncovered during the our conceptualization and launch of the Rick and Susan Sontag for Collaborative Creativity (the Hive). The work I did to create the Hive played an indispensable role in securing a record-breaking, $25 million endowed gift to the Claremont Colleges. In order to share the learning from this projects and the role prototyping played throughout, I wrote, shot and edited “Lowering the Barrier to Making: Lessons from the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity” in order to highlight the lessons I’d learned in creating the Hive. The film was shown at the International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces (ISAM), which was held on November 13-16, 2017 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Lowering the Barrier to Making