Looking Forward: Shapiro Design Lab

Hello, arts, ink readers!

I know it’s been a stressful week for many of us, between election results and many people moving back home during the stay-at-home order. I hope that you are all able to find a way to relax this weekend and perform some rituals of self-care. Do a face mask, drink some tea, go on a run, or make a nice dinner for yourself. You deserve it. Beyond that, I hope that this article can provide a space for you to think about something else for a few minutes, easing your stress even just a little bit. So, without further ado, let’s get into this week’s conversation. 

Courtesy of the Design Lab website

I had the pleasure of speaking with Erica Ervin, Technology & Media Production Specialist at the Shapiro Design Lab. What is the Design Lab, you might ask? Erica describes it as “an engaged learning community focused on interdisciplinary collaboration and peer to peer learning and teaching that offers a variety of spaces and tools for everyone on campus.” It’s located on the first floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library (or the UGLi, as you may know it better) and houses a variety of tools like 3D printers, a letterpress, and equipment for recording and graphic or video editing. There is even a repurposed vending machine that distributes current student works, like poetry, small 3D prints, stickers, and more!

Courtesy of the Design Lab website


As someone who has used the Design Lab myself, I want to stress that the value of this resource is not just in the physical tools they provide, but in the incredibly knowledgeable and energetic staff as well. If you have a creative idea but you’re not sure where to start to make it a reality, chances are the Design Lab staff can help you. They can provide consultations for students, staff, faculty, and the community on projects ranging from community citizen science projects to converting physical media to be digitally accessible to storytelling, including podcasts. 

Courtesy of the Design Lab website

Given the changing nature of creativity and collaboration on campus, the staff at the Design Lab have been trying to gauge the needs of campus right now and how they can best provide assistance. Although their main workshop and PIE spaces (standing for prototype, invent, explore) are closed right now, they offer virtual consultations for many types of projects and can help direct you to where physical tools may be accessible right now. Additionally, their media production rooms are currently available to reserve for individual use, with the recording microphones being quarantined between users. The staff can also help you make the most of your own recording equipment, including best practices for conducting and recording interviews via video call. 

Erica also left me with a beautiful reminder when I asked her how her own experience with the arts on campus has changed this semester, saying,

“It’s a little bit trickier for me to consume the art that’s being created on campus. But I don’t think that means that art has stopped. I think that the current situation has brought even more creativity to the way that people are not only making art or making things in general, but also in the way that they’re putting it out to the world, putting it out for others to see. They’re finding these new solutions to get things out and that’s really exciting.”

And I think that is so true. Although we may not be able to view and share art together like we are used to, it’s important to remember that it has not disappeared. It is still here, pulsing through campus as powerfully – or even, maybe, more so – than ever before. 

If you want to get involved with the Shapiro Design Lab or use their resources, be sure to check out their website here or email them at shapirodesignlab@umich.edu. And if you’re interested in using their media production rooms, here is the Canvas training you’ll need to go through before you can reserve a time.

That’s all for now! Come back next week to hear about Creatives of Color and how they are adjusting to this semester on campus.

Stay safe,


*Please note, quotes have been edited minimally for clarity and reading purposes, with the intention to maintain all of the meaning and voice of the author*

Do Not Go Near The Dog Park

For many moons, I have wished to indulge myself in the realm of podcasts. For many moons, I have waited for the perfect podcast to jar my ears into listening. For many moons, I have looked up at the floating object in the sky and wondered what it thought about me. Up there, watching. Always watching.

Recently, my ears were robbed of their podcast virginity by the radio show of a fictional town–Night Vale. Welcome to Night Vale is a free podcast production by Commonplace Books. Narrated by Cecil Baldwin and written by Joseph Fink, it is an extremely strange but thought-provoking series of supernatural events occurring in the obscure desert town of Night Vale. The series features announcements about the local community, from weather reports to updates about the Sheriff’s Secret Police. It is saturated in dark humor and has a mysterious and haunting tone that continuously triggers the listener’s imagination. There are many tales of the “Hooded Figures” that lurk around town, participating in many unusual activities. The conversational voice of Cecil, the narrator, makes the absurd announcements of fantastical activities seem commonplace, just like one would report the score of a high school soccer game. What many would call conspiracies in this world are daily news announcements in Night Vale. The series is littered in stories of faceless old women in the corners of living rooms, glowing storm clouds that rain dead beavers, and floating cats in public restrooms. The surrealist nature of the show leads to a bottomless well of interesting tales that fails to disappoint.

When I first began listening, I was immediately told about the new dog park that was built in Night Vale and how it was a gathering place for Hooded Figures. Almost as instantly, I was told to not go near the dog park. While this peculiar statement was not only intriguing, as I wished to discover the dangers of going near the dog park and what was exactly going on there, but I was immensely drawn into the town, for I was addressed directly as one of the townspeople. This direct connection to listeners is a risky move, for it lends itself to vulnerability by making assumptions of the audience and setting up an expectation from then on. The expectation that Night Vale embraces is the acceptance of the unknown. It requires listeners to cope with the ridiculous and revel in that mystery. Like a conspiracy theory, the show lends itself to series of loose facts and speculations and then extrapolates upon them to illustrate the things we do not fully know or understand. In this sense, it encourages its audience to have an open mind and look forward to hearing about something new, regardless of its base in reality.

In a sense, the podcast is a petri dish of ideas. The story-lines, told almost like a series of Twitter updates, are incredibly unique, and they offer a novel insight into many facets of everyday life. For instance, the daily “weather report” is a great collection of music–of many different genres and independent artists–none of which I had listened to previously. This unlikely exposure allowed me to discover new interests in music and inspired me to explore more niche genres. Night Vale is a playground for the mind. It encourages an untamed imagination and willingness to not only accept, but embrace, the unknown.

If you wish to take a listen, beware.