The latest Punkt. Challenge: Relational Design, Social Branding.

In May this year, Punkt. collaborated with Relational Design, an innovative and modular online and offline master’s programme in Italy, to present a course on Social Branding (the use of social media for marketing purposes). The course consisted of a two-week solo learning period that was immediately followed by a three day workshop in at the Abadir Accademia di Design e Arti visive in Catania, Sicily.

This time the Punkt. Challenge was to design an authentic, content-led communications project (blog and social media) which expressed the company’s view of a balanced attitude to technology. The students were asked to give up their smartphones for an MP 01 simple phone and write a diary about the difference it made to their lives. They had no restrictions on using desktop/laptop computers. Our input was to design two week-long assignments and lead an online discussion group (student participation: about an hour a day) before working with them in person for the closing weekend residential workshop. The course took place from the 3rd to the 27th of May, and had seventeen participants.

Punkt. is committed to working with young adults, partly as a way of contributing to a wider understanding of their relationship with technology and technology’s relationship with them. This project revealed many different viewpoints, with diary entries covering a variety of topics from productivity to addiction.

One story that particularly stood out was that of the student who actually took up smoking during her two weeks, as a result of sitting down on a park bench without her smartphone to be with and discovering a packet of cigarettes that nicely filled the gap. Another participant described the realisation that her friendships were essentially binary in nature: as she went off-grid her community simply vanished. Others gave examples of FOMO and memory loss, along with contemplations on how time changed: it grew bigger. A surprisingly common theme was people rediscovering their less-used senses, especially the sense of smell – who would have guessed?!

It was fascinating to watch the students’ attitudes changing during the workshop. During the initial (remote study) element of the course they generally declared themselves to be at odds with Punkt.’s philosophy as a company, considering us as having an anti-progress attitude. On the first day of the workshop each participant presented his or her opinions on the use of modern technology. It soon became clear that for young people it was no longer a question of being either online or offline but that it had all become one thing, because so many aspects of their everyday lives happen in both spaces simultaneously. The wide range of revelations made by the students triggered lively classroom debates, with questions bouncing around about what our real needs are and exactly what we are signing up for when we open our social media accounts, the value of what we are donating to the corporations.

After two days of discussion, everyone agreed that technological change has been arriving so quickly that education about technology and society has been left behind. The students believe that there is an urgent need for something to fill that gap, teaching us how to respond to problems that our relationship with social mechanisation is bringing, as they and other young people scrabble to make sense of it all. It’s worth remembering that social branding is all about changing consumers on the inside; a branding iron leaves a permanent mark.

The students’ work will soon be published on our website as the latest instalment in the Punkt. Challenges. Watch this space!

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