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christian swafford

new york, ny, United States

Designer (Product Design)

Member since March 10, 2008

  • Partition: Fostering an open discussion about issues surrounding the US/Mexico border.

    Arts & Culture, Industrial Design


    The US/Mexico border is the most frequently crossed border in the world. There are currently 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and over 60% are from Mexico. Close to half of the undocumented Mexican population entered the country illegally either by trekking through the Arizona desert, wading across the Rio Grande or hiding in a cargo vehicle. Once in the US Undocumented Mexicans encounter low wages and poor/unsafe working conditions. The undocumented often find themselves struggling to survive in a country that needs them but has public disdain for them at the same time. The American media targets the “illegal alien” as the source of immigration problems and implies that the US alone needs to come up with a solution to combat this “invasion.” However, the problems are bilateral as they involve two separate nations. The building of an impenetrable wall is what many Americans view as the only solution. A wall is only impenetrable if the guards are prepared to shoot anyone who attempts to penetrate it. A wall also further divides The United States from its neighbors.

    Partition is a gallery installation of a dinner place setting that addresses the physical and mental borders that exists between the US and Mexico. The piece will consist of a table, two chairs, dinnerware and wallpaper. Partition uses the visual language and techniques of Product Design to spark conversation about a subject that so many Americans choose to ignore. Partition uses a dinner setting as a stage because many undocumented people who have crossed the border work in the service industry, particularly in the food industry.

    for more images of Partition check out the work samples section of my profile.

  • Christian,

    I've been invited to give feedback to all Parsons students, regarding your thesis projects.

    I think it's brave and commendable of you to raise the issues surrounding the US/Mexico border. On first look, however, it feels more like an art project than a design project. The distinction for me is that, although you are employing product design methods to visualize your thinking, you've opted to raise awareness by way of an installation rather than connect with an agency or community organization (or anything else that employs an ongoing outreach effort to the end users). I can see that the renderings are clever and fun, but I can't see how all of this, in the end, will provoke action or meaningful change.

    Could you perhaps also find a way to fold into your final thesis a PLAN to launch your project at a gallery or Hispanic community center or even government office (think outside the white cube!) and invite political figures who can actually be present to see the work and be inspired to change policy somehow?

    It's good to materialize a political issue but you also need to think about how to place the materialization in the political space. Put your product ideas in the context of long-term thinking too, and consider what needs to happen to not just raise awareness but to also bring about meaningful change.

    Thank you! J.

  • Jennifer,

    Thank you for taking the time to review my project. Your insights are helpful and give lots of food for thought.
    Through my research I have discovered that one of the main issues surrounding the US/Mexico border is a lack of communication between the US and Mexico and the rapid building of a border wall is making it worse. Physically, mentally and most of all symbolically. I choose a gallery setting for the simple reason of it being an even playing ground. The “white cube” acts as a cleansing of any preconceived notions of what the US/Mexico border is about and lets viewers experience it as a barrier and nothing else. Once experienced as a barrier then hopefully the user/viewer will be able to think more critically about the border wall and be able to express themselves to other viewer/users.

    I believe that starting a conversation about a topic, which is considered taboo in many social circles, is the first step to creating any meaningful change. Often times people (especially in design) think that all people that would visit a gallery would feel the same way about the US/Mexico border. Assumptions are dangerous with this issue and starting a conversation can help get some issues out on the table. The more I have researched the topic the more I have realized that all currently proposed solutions have serious problems. People are quick to side left or right on this issue and that is part of the problem. Once you go left or right the conversation turns into an argument and the wall continues to grow and get larger and more tangled.

    Thank you once again for your time.


  • To paraphrase John Heskett, writing in Toothpicks and Logos, a designer is merely someone who takes account of his skills and applies them to imagining and realizing objects and contexts that didn't exist before.

    A corollary of this line of thought might be that a designer is defined by means, rather than ends - by methods rather than products. There is art which is indubitably art, and design which unquestionably design, but in between there is a realm of grey: objects which are both art-like and design-like. And I, for one, don't think that this ambiguity is problematic.

    Art, or objects displayed in an art-like manner, is interesting, because it is an ephemeral experience; in this case, I wonder how the "white cube" would benefit from a more traditional "product." Christian has identified the ability of art to provoke conversation and thought - contexts that didn't exist before - in a way that consumable artifacts might fall short.

    There is something to be said for insular design (cf Boym partners) - it may not make it directly into the consumers' hands, but it provokes other creative types to think in new ways... Partition's message could have a viral impact.

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My Interests

  • Industrial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Communication Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Audio/Visual Design