MSN and Tamagotchi-inspired, Seen is a soft digital space welcoming stories on Asian identity in design
“How do we make it cuter?”: Seen uses soft Y2K aesthetics to welcome users into an ongoing conversation about Asian identity in the creative industry.
- Liz Gorny
- 22 August 2022
Seen, a new online project, is welcoming you into its DMs. In fact, the familiar instant messaging format provides the genesis for the project. Through a collection of text conversations, the recently-launched online platform is exploring the interplay between race, ethnicity and creative careers. The creators behind the project are a group of designers and creatives at tech-driven design studio Bakken & Baeck (Listya Amelia, Ezekiel Aquino, My Kim Bui, Amelie Dinh, Nathalie De Vallière, Annabel Lake and Kalok Yeung). As East and South East Asians working in the European design industry, the founders initiated Seen “against a backdrop of pandemic-triggered racism”, aiming to reignite discourse.
The release from Seen explains that though discussion surrounding Asian identities peaked in the pandemic, it is a subject that “otherwise receives little attention”. Continuing the conversation, Seen shares personal experience-driven stories from creatives working today, as well as welcoming contributors to reach out and get involved digitally.
Of course, the landscape surrounding digital discourse is often linked to hateful rhetoric and, for many, is stress-inducing – something which Seen is subverting. “The project’s aesthetics are driven by our desire to give people a different way into a subject that is very weighty. Connecting with people around identity can be fraught,” the team surmises. Seen wanted to lend nuance to the conversation around identity, but also create something digitally welcoming. Thus: “the guiding principle for all of our aesthetic decisions was: how do we make it cuter? This cuteness plays out in every element of the project, from the nostalgic references to early messenger programmes, to the sound design, colour palette and devices themselves.”
The Seen platform can be described as its own private “universe” – a Y2K messenger board turned soft, glowing ecosystem. Messenger programmes like MSN and AOL were key reference points for the Seen team – chosen for their familiar and speculative nature – though the team was keen to leave behind “the cold and impersonal feel of our real phones, to free ourselves of the anxiety and weight that can come with them”, Seen explains.
With 3D modelling by Évoque lab, Seen uses clunky, plastic messaging devices to feature conversation quotes. These flower-shaped, multi-coloured devices draw directly from childhood; “we referenced Tamagotchis, and the types of handheld, magical devices that you so often see in anime”, Seen adds. Évoque lab’s sparkly 3D design situates these devices within a floating space. “It let us create an atmosphere we could welcome people into, giving readers the feeling of entering into a world that they can poke and navigate their way through.”
For Seen, using instant messaging was crucial to capturing “the ongoing process of navigating our identities in the industry – a process that often requires collective sense-making, and one that is forever in flux. Texts are not authoritative, nor are they static. They capture the perspective, mood or experience of a certain day, and are often where we reach out for and are provided with support.”
So far, Seen has launched its first set of conversations, held by Amelie Dinh, researcher at Bakken & Bæck, with more to follow. Each gives readers the opportunity “to see their experience, or the experiences of those around them, from a slightly different angle”, Seen reflects. Crucially, the DM format has set up the platform to continue deepening its discussions into the future, as a frame that can hold a “wide spectrum and multiplicity of experiences and perspectives”. Discover the first round of stories on the new platform here.
GalleryListya Amelia, Ezekiel Aquino, My Kim Bui, Amelie Dinh, Nathalie De Vallière, Annabel Lake and Kalok Yeung: Seen, as part of a Bakken & Baeck project (Copyright © Seen, 2022)
Listya Amelia, Ezekiel Aquino, My Kim Bui, Amelie Dinh, Nathalie De Vallière, Annabel Lake and Kalok Yeung: Seen, as part of a Bakken & Baeck project (Copyright © Seen, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.