all images courtesy of Ahsan Iqbal, 2010
SVA student Erin Moore is working towards an MFA in Interaction Design and asks an important question about the world of possibilities when designers become explorers. She's launched a Kickstarter campaign to return to the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan to document the lifestyle and stories from the people she meets from the region. Moore shares her perspectives with Core77 below.
What if designers were better explorers?
It is hard to say when I first decided that I wanted to go to Pakistan but I can tell you with certainty that several years ago, if you had asked me to pick Pakistan out on a map, I would have swirled my finger around in general circles somewhere north of India and east of Saudi Arabia where most of the "stan's" live and said, "over there somewhere." I only had a vague idea who it shared and fought for borders with and what it's national flag looked like. I didn't really know what languages Pakistani's spoke, what they ate for breakfast, what their homes looked like or what a common surname was. But for some reason, I have always been intrigued by this nation I know so little about.
I believe it is this kind of curiosity that has always propelled people to explore. And I have seen that for westerners, the cultures of the near east, far east, middle east -- are often uncharted territory. Like 16th century explorers did when confronted with the vast expanse of sea, we use our imaginations and stories from others to try to explain what we don't have access to or don't understand.
There is still a huge disparity between what we think and what we know, and it doesn't surprise me that I learned the most when I put down my books, shut off my internet, got out into the world and listened to the stories and experiences of the people who live in it.
Not long ago, I was invited to join a group of close family and friends, American and Pakistani, on a trek to the base camp of K2. The summit of K2 reaches 8,611 meters and is the second highest peak in the world. It sits at the confluence of the Godwin-Austen and Upper Baltoro Glaciers in the Karakoram Range which spans the borders between Pakistan, India and China. K2 is surrounded by ten of the 30 highest peaks in the world, which amounts to the greatest concentration of mountains over five miles high on Earth.
Throughout our trek to K2, the dangers that geography revealed were ever-present and I couldn't help but wake up every morning and think about risk. Not just the risk of going someplace that most people consider to be "the most dangerous place on the planet" or the risks in literally walking a road less traveled, along the scorching banks of the Indus river and across glacial crevasses, but I also started to think about the chances you take when you decide to explore, learn from and connect with people and places that are foreign to you.
And so, I begin to think more about exploration. Not just about traversing unknown geographies, and pitching a tent in places with unfamiliar names, but more about negotiating foreign cultures. Cultural exploration and understanding is arguably as important to us now as as geographical exploration and understanding was to the civilizations of Magellan or Lewis and Clark. Our approach should not be driven by a desire for answers, but rather be motivated by an inquisitiveness and willingness to learn and keep asking questions even when answers aren't immediately forthcoming.
When people ask me about the things I saw and experienced in Pakistan, I mostly talk about the people I met and the lives they lead. Their stories are some of the best and bravest I have to tell. They talk about kingdoms and adventures and folklore. They told me about their goals and dreams and let me see their struggles and hardships - how their lives have been affected by war and natural disaster. They are some of the most authentic and elegant people I have ever met.
My trek through Pakistan reminded me that designers need to become better explorers.
More than anything, this means asking better questions in order to discover new perspectives. Our 21st century Western lives have given us so many ways to connect through technological networks, shared information and experiences, and we can't just disengage from a world that is becoming smaller and smaller on a daily basis. With a click of a button, any one of us can be in contact with people from places we have never been or are ever likely to go. We need to figure out how to move between people, information and environments so that we can better understand their experiences and tell the stories that will create new ways for people to interact with their world.
Support Erin Moore's forthcoming trip to Pakistan and research by clicking here !