The “Warm Space” Approach

Erin Main

The greeting is the very first connection we use to communicate with others. In this research, the designer – who fears saying hello to people – will go on a journey to explore the elements that make up the act of saying hello, what this interaction needs to look like, and how this simple, subtle action can evolve into more meaningful social interactions.

When analyzed, greeting interactions have three basic phases involved: recognition, intention, and engagement. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, these three components were taken for granted due to the open access people had in greeting one another relatively freely in our North American greeting system. An open greeting system allows the greeter to give their receiver respect and establish trust. The designer terms these moments “warm spaces” because they provide a safe, intimate, and respectful space for personal interaction.

However, “warm spaces” have now been disrupted due to the unprecedented pandemic of 2020. A recent necessary accessory, the face mask, has changed the dynamic of greetings as it covers the dominant indicator of respect and safety; the smile. The mask wearer’s voice is also stifled, as the individual has to force amplification when talking.

Masks now play an important role in our everyday interactions, and learning how to communicate and greet with masks is now critical to society. However, because there is a sense of interpersonal mistrust because of masks like social distancing and fear, greeting styles are drastically changing. Despite this, people are still yearning for social connections and “warm spaces”.

In exploratory developments, the designer shifted from projects that were participatory into visual narrative work. The visual narrative inquiry approach allows the designer to understand the core of her investigation by putting her own personal story into her remaining set of projects.

The first few studio projects allowed the designer to understand the essence of what components made up a “warm space”, like vulnerability and spontaneity. When the pandemic struck, the designer realized she wanted to evoke the same elements of intentional vulnerability. Because of masks and social distancing, the designer created new dynamics to the exchange of sharing personal narratives, through the medium of painting on masks.

It is critical to form ways of building “warm spaces” during this period of social alienation. This will be an ongoing exploration as the author expands her current design project. If we can adapt and innovate the ways we greet one another, we may be able to overcome the social isolation many people are experiencing. It starts with “Hello”.

Erin Main

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Erin has a unique story to share. She was so excited to come into the world, she made her arrival three months early. She was brought up in a biracial household with a white father and black mother on the North East Coast of the States. Her ethnicity, abilities and medical experiences have given her a rich perspective of life in positive and negative ways. As someone who stutters, communicating with others has always been important, and the topic of communication plays a key role in her work. She is trained in graphic design and holds a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from Azusa Pacific University. She also has completed a Masters of Design at Emily Carr University, where she researched the topic of interpersonal communication and "warm spaces". With this research, she embraced the use of watercolour instead of traditional graphic design to have a warmer and more personable feel to her design work.
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