Sadie Lewman
Shades on Shop Window.jpg


Shades on Shop Window.jpg

Protesting has consistently played a fundamental role in the influence of policy in the United States as citizens exercise their right to gather in demonstration or peaceful assembly granted to them by the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1789.


Public media holds a significant amount of power in deciding how protests are depicted and thus how effective they will be on a social and political stage. Media prefers to push a negative narrative of civil protests, creating bias among citizens and politicians to make the events more newsworthy and in the process hindering the efforts of activists.



While organized, activist-led protests rarely turn violent, many spontaneous demonstrations spring up each year as local citizens gather to express frustration at government officials or law enforcement, often in response to a recent injustice. At these emotionally-charged events, it only takes a momentary shift in the balance of power between law enforcement and disadvantaged citizenry to escalate from a peaceful demonstration to a violent riot.



There are many misconceptions about riots, including the assumption that they are premeditated and ineffective. However, as FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson famously said after the 1968 uprising in Washington:

“A riot is somebody talking. A riot is a man crying out: ‘Listen to me, Mister. There’s something I’ve been trying to tell you, and you are not listening.’ ”

There are many complex, interdependent variables at play in a mass rioting event, and none of them are easily explained. Thus, it is a tall order to design for rioting situations, because at its heart it is an issue of civil rights, human injustice, and American liberty.


In an effort to parse down the immense amount of information about mass protesting, both violent and nonviolent, and gain a sense of perspective, I sent a comprehensive survey to 32 people across the U.S., Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Ukraine and the U.K. who described their experiences with protesting and rioting situations. Most of the respondents were experienced activists throughout the 80s and 90s, and continue to participate in civil demonstrations today.


"The people who were there to actually protest the act were awesome. It was peaceful. We were there to make a statement."


Using anecdotal evidence from this survey, I developed five stakeholder personas to represent the major players involved in peaceful protests and riots.


Kali (activist)

This graduate student is a well-informed citizen who believes that one of the best ways for the American people to have their voices heard is via peaceful mass demonstration. She thinks there is no greater force than citizens coming together behind a single idea and presenting a unified front. She knows that as an activist, she feels more strongly about many issues than the average member of the public, but she knows that in the end, legislation and public opinion affects everyone. Lately, Kali has been very frustrated by the fact that the protests she attends do not seem to be making an impact where they should. Even when the attendance of peaceful protesters numbers in the tens of thousands, all it takes is a small faction causing property damage and violence to turn the media’s attention away from the cause.

Nicholas (law enforcement officer)

Nicholas is happy to serve the community he grew up in. He is very patriotic and believes in protecting the rights afforded to the citizens of the United States. Nicholas always hopes for the best but prepares for the worst; sometimes, factions of the protesters break off and attempt to damage property or become violent towards the enforcement personnel. In those cases, Nicholas and his team use whatever methods necessary to contain the situation. 


Sarah (observer)

She considers herself to be very well informed about current events, but is very busy with her schooling and job and rarely manages to find time to voice her opinion other than voting in elections. Occasionally, Sarah crosses through mass demonstrations on her way to work or class. While it annoys her that these protests sometimes delay her usual transportation, she is often intrigued by the topics they are demonstrating about. She uses her phone to record what she sees, and many times it does not seem to match what she reads on social media or sees on TV. It seems to Sarah that protests are generally more peaceful than the media would like her to believe. However, Sarah does know that with so many people in such close quarters, there is always the potential for the mood to shift, so she carries her personal pepper spray in hand just in case.

Ruth (shop owner)

After working in administration for most of her life, Ruth finally achieved her dream of opening a small boutique of handmade goods on a popular street in town. She has always been a happy person who prefers to keep to herself rather than become involved in other people's business. She attends presidential elections as she feels it is her duty as an American citizen, but rarely watched the news or follows politics. The street where her shop is located is centrally located in the city and has become a convenient site for local rallies and marches. Ruth has heard about violent riots happening all over the country from her friends, and worries what could happen to her storefront when she is not there, as she prefers to close down when the protesters are around. 


Gary (rioter)

Gary has a relatively negative outlooks on the way the government is run, and with the constant pressure to prove himself right or wrong, he tends to feel vulnerable position when people don’t see the world the way he sees it. He is frustrated because many bills that affect him have been passed or rejected based on small loopholes, and has reacted by joining in with protesters that have turned against the attending police force in an attempt to make a point. He isn’t looking to destroy his community or make a bad name for himself, but he is wearing thin and running out of options to voice his opinions.


My goal was to develop a system that avoids the common trap of assigning good and bad labels to any of the stakeholders involved in protest situations and instead serves to meet the needs of each group in the best way possible. I wanted to focus on ensuring the safety of humans, property, and rights while improving overall communication and understanding among parties. Additionally, I believe that we can successfully aid the management of demonstrations by encouraging positive facilitation, recognition, and empathy.



SAFE - Above all, the product should promote safety of people, property, and rights.

COMMUNICATIVE - Outside observers should perceive the meaning of the product.

FUNCTIONAL - The function of the product should come before the form.

INTUITIVE - The function should be obvious to the user with little instruction.

CONTEXTUAL - The product should adapt to the context in which it is used.

DISCRETE - The product should blend into its space and be unobtrusive.

QUALITY - Highest quality materials and processes should be used.

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I used several ideation methods including lotus blossoms and SCAMPER method to brainstorm ideas for all five stakeholders. A group of panelists consisting of a police officer, student, and business owner who were present during the violent Iowa State University VEISHEA riots in Ames, Iowa considered the proposals and their feedback encouraged me to move forward with an opportunity to protect storefronts during potentially violent events.



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Shades on Shop Window.jpg

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