The Students Behind the Project 2019

“It takes a special kind of person to do this kind of work”.

A beautifully insightful comment I received from my mother when expressing how exceptional the Costa Rica team was.

Once returning to Canada when reflecting on my experiences to friends and family I realized how difficult it was to truly express the essence of the time we spent a together as a group. I chose to create a documentary following people involved in with the project, diving deeper into who they are as designers and humanitarians. Once deciding to shift my focus on the more human aspect of this project I became innately interested in how people tell narratives. Not necessarily documenting in the sense of formally telling the viewer what we did, but how it felt and how it was all connected to one another. I was very inspired by the initial meeting of the students on the first night in San Hose. All of us had different interests, specialized in different disciplines yet we all ended up here. I found it to be quite captivating the quick dynamic we established with one another very early on.

My final project consists of 2 types of documentation, one being a full-length documentary following the progress of our project alongside interviews with the students. The second aspect of the project follows 2D documentation in the form of an accordion-fold photo book. Intended to be viewed together or separately as it tells the same story but conveys a slightly different tone. The documentary will tell the narrative of the student perspective starting from project presentation then working backwards to show how we got there. The book however will tell the story of our journey chronologically with short chapter breaks introducing each new step of the project.

The two-part documentation is intended to be both inspiring and educational to the viewers. I believe tapping into the human experience and impact of a project like this is so important to encourage more participatory design methods to be implemented into regular design practices, as well as inspire more people to get involved in work like this. Not only is it incredibly rewarding but also generates real world change.

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Interview Process – Survey / Sign Activity

Today our team was out in El Cocal trying to gain some insight into what made people happy their community. We created a survey-like activity that would allow the residents to have a say in the visual identity of the community. One of the projects we believe would be beneficial to developing a visual identity is creating a welcome sign that could be displayed at the boating dock. Upon arrival a welcome sign could evoke an artful connection to people’s sense of place when arriving at El Cocal.

The activities we conducted asked participants to choose preferred typefaces, colours and icons they felt best represented El Cocal. Imagery including palm trees, boats, fish, coconuts and other fun beach icons. Our survey was the mobile version of the key design activity we had the pleasure of conducting with the English class hosted in the GVI community centre.

Participants in this activity were asked to assemble a welcome design in a master-chef-like environment that they felt would best fit the entrance of El Cocal. Our team provided cut outs of a variety of typefaces, short greetings, icons and coloured paper for quick and easy assembly. We started the music and gave the class only 1 minute to design! Some even running over to the table to get first dibs colours and cut outs.

The activity was a huge success and most importantly the participants seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. From this we were able to get a sense of what the community may prefer when designing a sign El Cocal. In hopes to keep our designs as participatory as possible this insight was a great addition to our design process moving forward.

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Day 1: Introduction to El Cocal


After researching the island of El Cocal it was difficult to know exactly what to expect. Considering the poor reputation and lack of acknowledgement from the Costa Rican government my assumptions of the community were that it may not be inviting to foreigners. Thankfully I couldn’t have been more wrong, not only was the environment breathtaking but the locals were open and friendly. As we walked through El Cocal there was an astounding feeling as though we were truly welcomed from the people we experienced. Whether it was the school children engaging with us unprompted, waving, laughing, playing or the people walking past flashing a simple smile.

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With this said, although the locals seemed happy from first impressions the state of the community was worse than I expected. You didn’t need to look far to find wrappers, plastic, bottles, cans, clothing and organic waste such as palm leaves, wood scraps and coconut shells. The main road and fronts of houses seemed relatively maintained, although the mangroves and backs of houses were clearly neglected. Piles of previously burnt garbage were apparent every few houses or so. I noticed some houses bagging their garbage but it wasn’t as common. 


As discussed today there will need to be a drastic behaviour change amongst the community and their relationship to garbage/environment. For generations throwing waste on the ground has not been destructive as it was almost entirely biodegradable. This same practice continues but with most indestructible material known to man, plastic. Something as simple as a plastic bag can take as long as 1000 years to decompose. Although with education and time to implement a sustainable solution that is simple for locals I believe this could drastically improve the state of the environment.