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Designing for Impact: Hana Tanimura

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Google Creative Lab’s Hana Tanimura is making an impact on the world through her impressive body of work. An interview that matters

Having a position or a platform that can change the world for the better might be considered a privilege, but for some designers, it’s a responsibility. Hana Tanimura, an award-winning designer based out of Google Creative Lab in New York and an advocate for design that makes an impact, was among the four creatives showing their work at Wix Playground Presents: It’s Nice That, a design event that was dedicated to the topic of creativity for good. Tanimura’s body of work is varied, and lead not by practice or aesthetics but by ideas and motivations. Her projects, both collaborative and independent, are strongly driven by the growing need for inclusivity and accessibility in our everyday lives. Accordingly, Tanimura’s projects, like the Refugee Info Hub, have the potential to inspire lasting change in these areas. . The project was designed to provide aid for NGOs working with refugees, enabling them to communicate reliable, up-to-date information in their native language. The design takes into consideration the immediate pain points of its users, such as inaccurate or missing information, access to WiFi or power, and the need for data storage. It is accessed by more than 1000 people per day, and has aided thousands so far.

Creating impactful projects comes from different motivations, as Tanimura explains. “Some designers are very intentional and directive about making ‘socially impactful’ work; others make things for the love of it, or with just themselves in mind, and are surprised if their work resonates with other people.” But regardless of the reasons behind a project, she continues,“The lesson is that anything you make and put out into the world has the potential to be impactful to someone.”


Rectifying a gender imbalance

Tanimura makes an effort to promote and empower women both as part of both her work and as part of her personal projects. Notable Women, for example, is an AR experiment that put 100 eminent women on U.S. currency. In addition to the project’s AR application, Tanimura and her team developed a resource for educators that utilizes the hype and interest surrounding technology to generate classroom discussions around these important female figures. Alongside her work, Tanimura is also an active mentor and speaker in initiatives like SheSays, a global creative network for women. “Many of my colleagues are tremendously talented women. So it’s painful, confounding, and frustrating to think about the fact that – in nine years – I’ve never once worked for a woman,” says Tanimura. “I’ve had plenty of wonderful bosses, but I’ve never worked for someone that I saw myself in or thought I could aspire to be like. The effects of this are really damaging; it reinforces a system which is already designed to support some people while excluding others. But now, as a woman who’s now in a position of security - high privilege - I can play a small role in rectifying that imbalance by making myself visible and available to people who are joining the creative industries.”



A sweet spot between art and design

In Passing Time, a personal project, Tanimura displays a collection of over 200 images. Immediately recognizable as Instagram posts that would not upload, these pictures are snaps she took during her daily subway commute. Through this collection of abstract colorfields, emblemed with the loading circle - a sort of international mark of expectation - the project discusses accessibility to information, gratification, and continuous efficiency. Passing Time expresses Tanimura’s ability to support ambiguity in her work, which she attributes to her fine arts education. Her development into design was directly in line with her interests, as she describes. “It was through painting that I first fell in love with making things. I’ve always enjoyed playing with different materials, discovering how they interact with one another — the experimental chemistry of it all.”


Sideways Dictionary, a collection of analogies that make sense of tech-related terms, grants access to a world of ideas mainly discussed in meeting-room talks. The playful solution has a timely quality to it, as in many of Tanimira’s projects, which is not coincidental. Her process places an emphasis on context, which she attributes to her Art History studies. “Everything anyone has ever made was shaped by the place they were working from – the physical place, but also the social, psychological, or emotional place.” This lesson of understanding context stayed with Tanimura as she transitioned from painting to design. “Just as with painting, everything a designer makes has its own context; with its own assumptions, experiences, and histories built-in,” she says. Thinking through context can serve as a reminder that designers, like all artists, are part of a long arm of history, Tanimura notes. “I’m grateful to my art history classes for helping me realize this. It reminds me to always try and make things that reflect or challenge the context from which I’m designing.”

Tanimura’s art background has also made an impact on her process. “Making art is a beautifully open-ended process,” Tanimura explains. “Later, in design school, I was taught to think of design as the delivery of complex ideas in reduced form. This of course is a very useful skill, and can have its own kind of beauty. But my art education and early love of exploring through making made me inclined towards a more open-ended flavor of design work. I’m comfortable with ambiguity and making things that propose multiple answers instead of just one. I’d say that’s the most important influence art has had on my design practice and in fact many of my peers who also come from a fine arts background share this same sensibility.”



Responsible design

Many projects Tanimura was involved in address ideas of accessibility and inclusivity. As part of the Internet Saathi initiative, women in rural india gain access to the internet and receive training on its benefits. Project Bloks, an open hardware platform, aims to help developers, designers and researchers to create the next generation of tangible programming experiences for kids. Whether it is through personal or professional projects, Tanimura’s body of work wonderfully expresses how interesting, creative and even fun the idea of inclusivity can be, if only addressed more often. Her work inspires a continuous exploration of ideas and issues we care about, and brings about new, challenging solutions. “I believe that design, like any other discipline that involves making some sort of cultural output, comes with a level of responsibility,” Tanimura states. “Many designers are aware of this and embrace it. I would love to see more and more designers realize they have the potential to create things that are socially impactful.”

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