No scroll, no worries

In 2019 and again in 2020, Damien Bradfield (CEO of WeTransfer) reached out to myself and a collaborator to create a day of social media silence. He was motivated to create this project after observing how social media platforms had exacerbated mental health issues and reduced our daily face-to-face interactions.

Our goal was to design an identity, website, and PSA campaign that would help people understand the project and remind them to participate. What emerged was Empty Day. In choosing this name, we were interested in transforming the meaning of emptiness from vacancy or absence to a spaciousness that could be filled with meaning. We saw social media as the opposite of emptiness; it was full of things that didn't contribute to people's well-being and always required our attention. We pondered what it would be like if the streets (feeds) of social media were empty for just one day.

your name here day

We decided to approach the website's design using styles that could be easily printed on a home printer and shared as a poster. We also wanted to keep the website as accessible as possible and stylistically counter the pervasive Human Interface Guidelines that most social media apps are designed around.

Empty Day website's homepage in 2019 and 2020.

Our initial explorations led us to consider giving participants some form of ownership over Empty Day. We added a simple text field where anyone could type their name and personalize their version of the website.

Empty Day 2019's resources section.

We also saw Empty Day as an opportunity for teaching alternative ways of using social media. We began publishing assignments and readings that explored creative ways of thinking about and using social media.

Join the forest

As we iterated on an identity we gravitated towards images of nature because they visually captured the feeling of calm that we wanted to convey through Empty Day. We found ourselves mesmerized by the shapes of leaves and how each leaf is uniquely different. We wondered if a forest might be the perfect metaphor for social media where each user is a leaf. We asked people across social media to transform their avatars into a leaf to help spread the word about Empty Day. Soon our feeds became full of leaves, creating a unique forest of people pledging their participation in Empty Day.

Left: An page of participants’ names on leaves. Right: Leaf avatar tool.
People pledging their support by transforming their avatars into leaves with our Leaf Avatar tool.

We noticed how many people were using the leaf avatar tool we had built, so we designed an app that would take a photo in the shape of a leaf and post it to social media to pledge one’s participation in Empty Day.

PSLs (Public Service Leaves)

Over the course of the project we came up with several slogans to promote this new holiday:

These slogans made their way into several PSA campaigns. In 2019 we designed an "E key" to unlock your mind from social media and staged a photo shoot of a picnic in the park. Our goal with these photos was to show an example of something you could do on Empty Day and draw attention to the project through it's surreal imagery.

Empty Day PSAs in the wild. We were able to secure 50 different units in 18 markets.

We also worked with photographer Jason Fulford to gather archival images from the New York Public Library. These public domain images captured a time when people didn't have social media as a distracting force in their lives. We focused on images of people interacting with family, friends, and nature.

To remind people about Empty Day we sent out two emails. This slow push notification reached thousands awaiting our new holiday.

*bell rings*