Julia Lindpaintner

MFA Thesis

A blog documenting my journey creating a Master's thesis towards an MFA from the School of Visual Arts' Products of Design program.

Goals & Objectives

Today we discussed what the intention of our thesis work is. By setting an intention, we can choose a direction and find meaning. While some of us may see our theses as personal projects, others may be positioning their work to lead into a certain industry post-graduation. Asking myself what a "good thesis" would look like for me began to help me narrow down the kind of work I want to be doing. The hope is that "a clearly stated intent leads to a more well thought out scope," according to our instructor Abby Covert. So we created a number of continua on which to place our work so far and our ultimate goal. 

Now, I have no trouble seeing my work on a spectrum. In fact, the closing slide of my Thesis Defense laid out a number of spectra I saw my work as laying along. However, choosing which direction to push it has been a real challenge. That's because choosing one direction means letting go of another, and I tend to like to keep my options open. My indecision also reflects a real struggle with the pros and cons of different approaches. For example, if I choose to focus on interventions outside the justice system, my theory of change becomes far more tenuous. 

I want to discuss the biggest things that came out of my conversation before addressing the three continua I chose to focus on. 

  • I don't want to appear naive. Whatever I do, my greatest fear is that people will look at it and say, "Oh, nice idea, but it's completely unrealistic..." or worse yet, "This girl clearly doesn't have a clue how change actually occurs." This concern informs my struggle between actionable solutions that meet the current system where it's at (implementable, but less disruptive; burdened by approval processes) vs. speculative interventions intended to provoke a conversation and draw attention to new paths to reform.
  •  I don't want my work to be dull. I worry that interventions that work closely within the constraints of the current system, while more realistic, seem too restrictive and limit my creativity. I am interested in working in design for the social sector and government in the future, so getting this balance right is important to me. 
  • I don't have a clear picture of the change I want to create. I realized this last week in the context of our futuring class. I have a hypothesis that if we can create opportunities for civic engagement around the judicial system, this will lead to fairer outcomes and bolster reform efforts, but I don't feel confident that I can interest a new audience in this kind of civic engagement. That's why I keep coming back to jury duty. 

Focusing in on the directions I put on my continua, I'll discuss the language I chose, where I see my work to date, and where I want my work to fall in the future.

Continuum 1: From SUBTLE to OVERT

This continuum tries to capture the sensibility and obtrusiveness of my design interventions. By 'subtle,' I mean the kind of design that disappears, where you only notice the impact, not the intervention itself. I love this kind of design. My experience working with applied behavioral scientists definitely made me more interested in this kind of work that would change behavior without an individual needing to make a conscious decision. 'Overt,' on the other hand, represents work that makes a statement. It is deliberate, with part of the power of the work being its ability to get attention and reach a wider audience and demonstrate specific intent.

Where my work falls to date
My grand juror voting application is the most 'subtle' intervention; the PROTEST ≠ ARREST temporary tattoo pack was the most overt. My work has fallen on the spectrum. 

Where I want my work to go
In class, I indicated that I wanted to go all the way overt. In retrospect, I think perhaps what I'm really getting at is that I want my work to take a stand. I don't want to be ambivalent or agnostic to the state of the criminal justice system. 


I've had trouble with the language for this spectrum. I changed the right end of the continuum from 'provocative' to 'speculative' after some comments from my classmates. I think they are right that actionable and provocative are not mutually exclusive. What I mean by 'actionable' is a design intervention that somebody could implement within the current system. By 'speculative' I mean design interventions that are purely for sparking discussion and are not imagined as existing in the real world. Where it gets tricky is when I consider the bureaucracy involved with implementing new products or processes within the current system...

Where my work falls to date
I think my PROTEST ≠ ARREST temporary tattoo pack was the most actionable, precisely because it didn't rely on any infrastructure to be created nor approvals to be gotten. Many of my other design suggestions either use imaginary technology or are ways of asking questions about how things should work, rather than suggesting solutions. I think my work to date lays further to the right than I thought.

Where I want my work to go
I really want my work to be actionable and realistic. That said, I think I need to leave the door open for some provocative work that thinks outside the box. For example, I have been thinking about how uniforms for public defenders could change the way they feel and are perceived by their clients. While it seems unlikely at first glance that public defenders would really adopt this, it is implementable now; it doesn't rely on any speculative technology.


Here my language is not precise enough; perhaps a better set of directions would be "optimize existing infrastructure" vs. "innovate new means." Interventions that deliver 'impact from within' would specifically target existing processes and try to make them more efficient, more fair, more standardized. Interventions that create 'impact from the outside,' would rely on involving individuals and organizations outside the current system and designing new paths to engagement and reform. 'From outside' means 

Where my work falls to date
My work to date falls all along this spectrum, but only the PROTEST ≠ ARREST project really created a new connection by using the actions of protesters to impact the number of arrests being processed and thereby minimize the load on the system.

Where I want my work to go
I'm torn. I like the idea of creating a new way to think about reform. But I'm not sure I'll find it, and I think it will be much harder to prove that it would have an impact. On the other hand, I like the idea of demonstrating that I really understand what's going on now, enough that I could figure out how to rework incentive structures. Seems like I might be able to get more concrete feedback on that kind of proposal. Maybe this isn't the right continuum? I think I could create interventions that act on the existing system without being sanctioned by the existing system (like my Court Monitoring app). I'm drawn to the area of alternative justice. Perhaps the continuum should be from 'citizen-centered' to 'professional-centered.' I would have an easier time saying that I would like to create work that is citizen-centered.


Abby suggested I add this continuum. During the first semester, I really considered all kinds of interventions: In the grand jury, petit jury, arraignment, trial, arrests, etc. As I move forward, I do want to narrow my focus. BUT I'm scared to narrow it too much. I keep thinking about jurors and I'm worried that I'm getting stuck on it and that there isn't enough to work with there. Thoughts?

Julia LindpaintnerComment