Karen Keung

Learning every day.

About

Four years ago, I applied to six different programs of study—YSDN being the only design program of them. I’m so thankful I made the right choice. Along the way, I’ve developed an appetite for systems-level projects, whether on screen or paper. Problems that challenge and change the relationship between humans and technology are most intriguing to me.

What is the most useful piece of design advice that you have received?

Thoughtfulness is free and burns on time and empathy.

What is your favourite typeface?

I try not to play favourites! Some perennial fixtures include Fakt from Ourtype, Canela from Commercial Type, the Founders Grotesk family, and Stanley and Theinhardt from Optimo.

Other than design, what creative fields interest you most?

Contemporary art, architecture, and culinary arts.

What do your parents think you do?

Probably this.

Design Interests

Web Design
UI/UX Design
Editorial and Book Design
Design Studies and Theory

Find me

Website
Email

Making Room

Making Room is a year-long project investigating the changing landscapes of domesticity.

Introduction

Faced with an impending trans-coastal move of my own, I was curious how technology is changing the way we use and occupy homes of today. The way we live and move, to the activities we conduct inside the home and who we live with, have all shifted rapidly since the tail end of the twentieth century; yet, the spatial organization of our homes has yet to catch up to new definitions and boundaries of home, privacy and domesticity.

Research

Throughout the research process, consulting sources like Harvard Design Magazine, I came to understand home from multiple perspectives: historical, philosophical, and architectural. One thing became clear: The home, in its ideals and implications as we have come to understand it throughout the 20th century, is disintegrating today.

Today, issues of gender, economy, and technology influence human relationships with and within domestic architecture, complicating our understanding of home and household. The image of the nuclear family has from postwar ideals has faded; the new modern family is far from the image of a heterosexual couple and their dependent children. Increasing feminine independence, a decline in marriage, and a subsequent radical shift in the structure of the traditional household means that the modern family can mean anything from multigenerational families to friends to strangers. In fact, roommates now make up almost half the adult population of some American metropolises.

The circumstances of our present mean a drastically different understanding of privacy within a home, yet the interior organization of rooms and spaces are the same. Compounded with a decreasing availability of urban real estate and increasing market prices, the twentieth century convention of home ownership is driven even further away.

Beyond providing basic human shelter, having a sense of home, a comfortable and intimate space, is a significant contribution to an individual’s well-being.

Does the ceaseless liminality that comes with moving house year after year have implications on our sense of self?

Room for Thought

My research led me to produce a visual compendium, Room for Thought, that documented and organized these themes.

One of the branches I explored was how contemporary art and architecture considered themes of home, particularly in land and environmental art. There is a particular poeticism and romanticism to land art, particularly in its ability to conjure contemplation of an individual’s place in relation to earth. From this perspective, while concerning itself with the terrestrial, land art is very much an anthropocentric practice. As occupants of this space on this planet, we measure our lives in our experiences with the land, space, and air that we occupy.

While it seems counterintuitive to explore the idea of domesticity outdoors, the approach really is quite appropriate to get to the roots of what domestic spaces mean. In his introduction to Land and Environmental Art, writer and critic Jeffrey Kastner quotes Wendell Berry, suggesting that to make sense of our place in nature is how we preserve our sense of self:

Making home for ourselves in nature is the forever unfinished lifework of our species. The only thing we have to preserve nature with is culture, the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity.

The series

Throughout the fall, I struggled with the direction with which to take my research. I conducted formal experiments in graphic and three-dimensional directions, but neither seemed to answer a question nor pose any new questions. Producing Room for Thought was hugely helpful in making the leap toward stepping outside my comfort zone.

The output of my research became a series of seven photographs using a mirror as a spatial intervention. You can view the series here.

The relationship between the self and space—as expansive or public as that space might be—is an intimate one. Isn’t it curious how we can’t see much of ourselves out of our own eyes? We can only see what surrounds us, and use that to make sense of ourselves and where we are. The mirror, perhaps unnaturally, is one of the only things that shows us how we insert ourselves into these landscapes. An inherently personal artifact, the mirror and its manipulation in a photograph generates commentary surrounding presence, omnipresence, private space, and public space.

The mirror is also an intrinsically predictable medium, for it reflects what is in front of
it. In this project, the mirror is compressed in space and acts as almost as a graphic interruption in the landscape.

Building an online exhibit

To present the work, I developed an online exhibit. The exhibit experience itself was very simple, including only a view timer and a view counter. I also built in a light/dark mode toggle so viewers could adjust the viewing environment to their preference.

Unlike a physical exhibit which is tied to a time and place, an online exhibit allows anyone to access it anywhere and share an experience together. What does an exhibit mean in the 21st century? What can I do that challenges the museum or gallery experience?

At the end of the exhibit, I invited viewers to talk with me in a joinable Messenger Room. A few hundred people had visited the exhibit over the course of opening night, and about thirty had come into the room and engaged in more intimate conversation.

The catalogue

To bring the project full circle, I created a catalogue for Making Room. Its proportions while closed are that of the mirror, folding out to 18″ x 12″. The catalogue, divided in two parts, outlines some of the research that instigated the project in Part I, while Part II connects the output of Making Room to some personal anecdotes. Every image in the series is presented at some point in the catalogue, on a double-fold-out page.

Reflection

Making Room really led me full circle. A project about spaces of home, fittingly, became about challenging my own comfort zone. While incredibly self-indulgent, its output let me revisit everything that I’ve loved doing in design, and taught me that the design process doesn’t have to end with a prescription.

As a designer with typical interest and experience with user-oriented digital work, Making Room asked me to get uncharacteristically personal, uncomfortable, and vulnerable with my audience, while also affording me the opportunity and challenge of synthesizing heavy research with output in diverse media. Special thanks to Jamie March for a year’s worth of guidance and support.

See more of my work at the graduate showcase