John Tolley, May 23, 2018

Who can forget the scenes in Shawshank Redemption of Ellis ?Red? Redding, portrayed by the inimitable Morgan Freeman, grappling with his new-found freedom once released from prison. The pace of life beyond bars seems alien to him, even at his mundane job bagging groceries. He has gone from a regimented life, to one of crushing opportunity where he finds himself adrift.

It?s a scene that is all to real for many men and women released from prison after serving lengthy sentences. While inside, the world advances by leaps and bounds, and may well have become something that they are not ready to leap back into with both feet.

To combat this culture shock, graphic and industrial students from the University of Illinois have created virtual reality scenarios to help acclimate soon-to-be-released inmates to the realities of the world they will be entering. According to a recent article from the University of Illinois News Bureau, that could mean using public transit systems, ordering food from a self-serve kiosk or pumping gas at a modern fueling station.

In order to better understand the post-prison experience, the design students worked with Rebecca Ginsburg, a U. of I. professor of education policy, organization and leadership and of landscape architecture. As director of the UIUC Education Justice Project, Ginsburg has worked closely with former inmates, and was able to poll those who had been released after long sentences to find out what they wish they were better prepared for on the outside.

The students used this data to inform the overall user experience of their designs, which were the product of a class meant to ground their learning in real world impact.

?The goal is to teach students methods and processes necessary to create innovative products that are human-centered, working collaboratively with social impact research to create a space where graphic and industrial design students can apply their skills to a real problem, with real people,? said Lisa Mercer, a graphic design professor who co-taught the class with industrial design professor William Bullock.

Through VR goggles, the user is immersed in a scenario and given step-by-step instructions on how to achieve their goal. While many of the scenarios involve how to interface with modern technology, others may focus on social skills such as how to order a coffee at a Starbucks or how to deal with conflict in a reasonable way.

To learn more about the student designs, including how they inspired unexpected, but necessary, conversations and how Ginsburg sees products like these integrated into more robust release programs, please follow the link about the Illinois News Bureau?s full article.