Reframing freedom: a reciprocal visual-narrative approach

Samira Shiridevich, University of Florida

My name is Samira, meaning a gift from the sea in Farsi. As a designer, I was not allowed to express this oppression in my work or use my design skills as a tool to fight for my freedom, so I immigrated seeking freedom. Now, as a graduate student studying in the US, I have found many misconceptions about how people view Iran with stereotypes, judgments, and cultural difficulties. Freedom is an aspiration tied to human rights. In the west, this is understood to be a person's universal right to freedom and generally each person's innate right of choice to pursue their goals (Valentini 2012). I chose to leave my country and my beloved family to seek more freedom. Though I'm already an accomplished designer, studying in the US gave me a new hope of fulfilling my personal goals and future pursuits of social impact. By personally enacting liberalism, which promotes the idea that human beings are self-directed individuals capable of acting in pursuit towards an end goal they have set for themselves (Valentini 2012). The process of coming from Iran to study in the US was not an easy one, and there are practically no good resources to help smooth out the strenuous process. 
Framing an issue
I have been living in the US for almost two years. During this time, many fellow Iranians have contacted me to ask questions about the process of how I arrived here. Sometimes, I am unable to answer their questions or give them any advice but refer them to someone else better equipped to help. I feel strongly committed to helping fellow Iranians change their lives and live their dreams because I know personally how living in oppression can extinguish desires.
Figure 1. Screenshots from some of the author's conversations with people who wanted to leave the country. These images show they ask about the process, resources, and information. (Source: the author)
Reframing Options
As a visual designer who wants to be an activist and advocate for others, I seek to foster the power of a living collective memory to aid others. While Leitão, and Roth (2020) argue that "A living collective memory is directly connected to the ability to envision different futures. From this perspective, culture is not a group's static starting point, nor is it a monolithic viewpoint; it is a trajectory that links a dynamic sense of memory to the ongoing formation of its members' diverse, and at times divergent, aspirational projects." (4)
To do this, I sought to design a system that can make the process of finding guidance, resources, and information about pursuing freedom simple. One way I set out to do this was by designing Visualizing Paths to Freedom, a reciprocal map-based platform. The project intends to serve as a tool and digital platform for those with experience and knowledge of creating a new life for themselves to share with others, especially people who might be interested in following a similar path but lack guidance, knowledge, information, and inspiration. This project is initially designed in English to connect people from different places worldwide, although I began with Iranian stories, first articulating my journey. 
Figure 2. The first page of Visualizing Paths to Freedom introduces the objective and offers navigation instruction. (Source: the author)
Figure 3. An infographic designed by the author visualizes her journey from Iran to the US, including mistakes, links, and details about each step. Rings around each step indicate the amount of stress, time, money, and effort to set expectations in each step of the way. (source: the author)
In a collaborative team setting, it could be argued that the ability to be vulnerable is a much-needed component of building trust. This trust and emotional safety gained from one's vulnerability extends itself to more easily receive help from others in a group style collaborative situation (Eteläpelto and Lahti 2008). By sharing my journey with all its complexity, I began a reciprocal trust-building process to obtain data. In sharing my vulnerabilities and truths with other participants, I intended to both model this complexity and encourage openly sharing with others. 
As a designer, creating my example first led to obtaining more information from others, including, a long-time friend. He recounted more details of his story, including those previously hidden from me during our friendship. He noted that sharing my own experience and vulnerability as the first story helped him trust me and share more of his story. Without this personal vulnerability and openness, important details might have been left out. More importantly, the project's goal and hearing more of my story were interesting to him and motivated him to collaborate and share more detailed information, all of which could help other people who are considering similar paths.
Having a vision of what will happen and what one should expect can help people create more informed plans. These stories can help people learn from other's experiences, making the process easier and safer. To do this, the stories must be honest and share the essential parts of the journey. Sharing this project in progress has prompted many friends in different parts of the world, to share their stories, particularly after learning of the project's goals. The framing of an issue is about understanding and making informed decisions about what it is, brought forth by understanding its perspective in the foreground, background, and any additional shadings or complexities that the framing may possess (Smith 2013). ​​​​​​​
Figure 4. An infographic designed by the author visualizes the first participant's journey from Iran to Australia so he could safely practice his chosen religion. This includes mistakes, links, and information in each step. Rings around each step indicate the amount of stress, time, money, danger, and effort to set expectations. (source: the author)
We know our problems, and we can draw from our experiences instead of being victims of limitations to accomplish our dreams. We are reframing this issue by making trust, collaboration, storytelling, and sharing. My goal is to expand it to an online and accessible platform for everyone. By sharing more stories, more hidden knowledge from these communities gets shared and used. This is how design can address social problems, and this is the designers' responsibility to find design solutions for these issues. 

Reference list
Eteläpelto, Anneli, and Jaana Lahti. "The resources and obstacles of creative collaboration in a long-term      learning community." Thinking skills and creativity 3, no. 3 (2008): 226-240.
Leitão, Renata M., and Solen Roth. "Understanding culture as a project: Designing for the future of an Indigenous community in Québec." FormAkademisk-forskningstidsskrift for design og designdidaktikk 13, no. 5 (2020).
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd., 2013.
Valentini, Laura. "Human rights, freedom, and political authority." Political Theory 40, no. 5 (2012): 573-601.
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