1.1. Target audience
My initial envision of the product was something that can educate people on environmental problems happening in the Mekong. All of my stylistic references educate about something in some way. It can be abstract like courage, curiousity; about new points of view; or a tutorial to make something. Regardless of the topic, the way of conveying deep messages to young adults and adults, apparently, was much easier with a more varied style than to children, which requires more simple and detailed ways of explaining. (1)
In order to achieve success, my project should reach an audience that is, as my supervisor suggested, numerous enough, and are capable of making changes to the problem (2). As it’s proven that adult audience are less susceptible to education, the opportunity for education are more open only when they are intrigued by, ready for, and foreign to the knowledge. (3) The important of being foreign to the knowledge was confirmed from studies.
Familiarity with, for example, a type of animal or group of people, while aiding recognition, can actually impede communication if generality is the aim.
The Psychology of Illustration by Harvey A. Houghton, Dale M. Willows
Faculty feedback I received during the First Review strongly suggested communal participation and engaging their thoughts (4), which in turn reminds me of the attributes listed above. From my previous conceptualisation process, audience B and C (General Young Adults) clearly isn’t easy to have their minds open, while audience A (Children in Vietnam) are limited in capabilities.
Still, a highlight from the feedback was a suggestion to direct the project toward foreigner tourist trails in the Mekong, which satisfies all (1)(2)(3) and (4). Although most of them are adults, they are considerably, if not totally, new to the culture and nature of the destination; and it was their intention to get to know the area through their trip. Besides, they only stay for a short period of time, so it’s important to give them a memento to create a long lasting effect that reminds them what they’ve learnt. Moreover, the audience always gets refreshed, which enforces the longevity of the product.
As requirements for project is now satisfied, it’s safe to conclude that tourists will be the final audience for the project, and the discussion will move on with the methodology and content.
As the target audience is tourists, the final product should be closely tied with tourism as well. There is a very good oportunity left open in the current tourism scene. Most Mekong river tours in Vietnam focus on the presence, sight, and what the tourists can experience at the moment. However, there is a lack of depth into it. Tourists don’t know how the river came about, how important it is to the people here and that what they were looking at at the moment might vanish in the next ten years. Besides, a search using the keyword “Mekong tourism” returned mostly images from Vietnam, which means there is a lack of such tours in other Mekong countries. Therefore, an illustration project that support educative tourism in Mekong will be able to fill the need and answer the promt from the faculty feedback, which made clear that I should identify a gap then no one has touch among a topic that has been so well-research like Mekong.
My intention is to design design an imaginary travel book series that can target either people who actually travel to the areas and people who want a trip sitting at home. The specific directions, however, need to answer there three questions:
How can it relate to tourism?
How can it emphasise environmental problems?
How can it engage audience’s thoughts?
Talking about a tour, the first thing that I would refer to, again, is Mekong Discovery by TFS, which also is my greatest inspiration for the project. Going from the river’s beginning — the permanent snow mountains in Tibet — to the nine outlets in Vietnam, the documentary depicts Mekong from top to toe in such a level of detail that makes it last 32 hours. Based on this, the first option is to divide the narrative into 6 books for 6 countries.
However, I have a serious lack of knowledge for the countries except Vietnam, which might result in imbalance between the length of the books. A more viable option would be grouping the narrative into topics, such as nature, culture, environment etc. and distribute the amount of knowledge of each topic into countries, which will be easier to manage the length and keep them balance.
The problem left with this option is the connection with tourism might be loosen. Moreover, only one book to specifically talk about environmental problem will get the whole point of this project segregated.
Meanwhile, I was suddenly reminded of a forecast — which pretty much is the motivation for this project — that the Mekong Delta might vanish in the next 100 years due to current change and erosion caused by damming. An excerpt about Can Tho in Requiem For a River strongly reinforce this alarming prediction. And needless to say, Can Tho is my beloved hometown.
Can Tho has the feel of a minor boomtown: scooters still outnumber motorcycles which still outnumber cars; there is plenty of commerce but few chain stores; tourists remain rare enough that a wedding party will invite a passing foreigner to eat, drink and toast with them. It is a gentler, friendlier place than Phnom Penh, but with an underlying sadness that one does not feel further upstream: Phnom Penh will grow more crowded and unmanageable in the coming decades; Can Tho may vanish.
The idea of how much time can change things suggests another direction. As this is an imaginary trip anyway, there is no reason not to make it a trip across time and space, a trip that is covered with how-it-was and how-it-will-be.
The main intention of this direction is to make a comparison between the past, present and future; and from there, divide the series into multiple parts, with different emphasis for each. Aiming to convey messages about (1) nature, (2) culture, (3) the dams and (4) the future of Mekong, I have decided to split it into four parts with the same name of “Mekong” with year number suffix. The initial year number was 2000, 2010, 2020 and 2030 for ease of remembering. However, there is no meaning associated with them, and a better, more meaningful numbering system is a must-have.
After deliberating, the first book will be Mekong, 1995, as this is the year the Mekong River Commission was founded (and also my birthyear, how coincident). The next one needs to link to the dams; and as 1970 — the year the first dam was built — is out of question due to its mixing up the timeline, and being so far back anyway, 2030 — the year the last dam is expected to be completed — will be the chosen one. Coming before 2030 will be, of course, this year 2018; and the final one in the series will be 2100, the projected scenario where all the consequences of the dams are permanent.
Each book will emphasise on a different topic. Mekong, 1995 will be about the river’s history and nature in its early days, Mekong, 2018 will be about the cultures and societies, Mekong, 2030 will be about the dams and climate change, and Mekong, 2100 will be a dark finale about a dystopia, which used to be Mekong delta. The narrative, however, will be relatively consistent, with the dam and will-be-dam sites as landmarks.
As the target audience are mostly adults and foreign to South East Asian culture, the best way to visually provoke their engagement is to feature the most prominent assets of the art: folk painting. Besides, as a more mature audience is capable to receive a more mature solution, the material and colour will not be so saturated but quite earthy and organic.
Likewise, typography and layout will also have to reflect the same idea. A real handwriting typeface will look more natural. As most folk paintings are wide, the layout will be panoramic, in order to reflect the scenery better, and it’s also easier to create interesting layout.
2. Final Brief
Project name: Mekong, 2100
2.1. Target audience
Audience: Foreigner tourist trails in Mekong (main) and young adults (expanded).
Attributes: Age 19 – 35. Totally or mostly foreign to the Mekong and Mekong delta.
2.2. Genre and Content
Genre: Fictional, Picture Book
Content: An adventure through the Mekong across space and time.
Drawing Style: TBC
Typography: Real handwriting
Layout: 2-up panoramic
2.4. Physical Manifestation
Paper: Matte white with texture/fine texture
Finish: Hard cover, textured, cut-out, thread-sewn perfect bound