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How to improve the image of refugees in the media?

Does the mainstream media reliably inform us about everything that we should know about refugees? Or maybe media shows these people only in a bad light because sad news is more catchy? It’s time to look at refugees through their eyes, to understand who they are and how their lives really look like.

How refugees can build their better image in the media, and how they can improve their self-esteem at the same time? To find answers to these questions I talked to Marie-Louise Diekema and Tim Olland, designers of “Reframe Refugees” digital platform. The Dutch duo was one of five winning teams of WDCD Refugee Challenge, a contest that was a part of What Design Can Do international conference devoted to social aspects of design. The event run at the turn of June and July in Amsterdam.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity. To listen to the original conversation conducted just after the announcement of the winners of WDCD Refugee Challenge, press play on the video embedded below. If you find this material interesting, you can, literally, buy me a coffee, wherever you are. You can find all details about the donation at the bottom of this page.


TrendNomad.comWhat problem do you try to solve?
Marie-Louise Diekema: During our research, we noticed that in media refugees are pictured the same. They are all hopeless and victimised. Photographers are being sent to the camps with professional gear and they take photos that all look the same.
Tim Olland: Refugees are not portrayed as people. They are shown more like objects and numbers invading our countries. We want to try to reframe that image.

Sad news dominates the headlines, because bad news sells very well.
M.-L.D.: It’s true. Sad news sells.
T.O.: I always prefer good news.
M.-L.D.: Finally good news are just around the corner. They are really easily accessible for news agencies, or people like you and me.

Have you found a solution?
T.O.: I wish we had a complete solution. Media show only one side of the problem. They are not lying, but they don’t show everything. We want to show the other side as well. Refugees are people. They have human connections and families in camps.

Good things are happening as well in refugees camps. These side is not shown in the media at all.

M.-L.D.: We want to show ambitions of these people and inventive ways the refugees live in camps, despite the fact that they live in horrible conditions. As Tim said, they are people, they have feelings, they are just like you and me. So why not let them show us that?

What is “Reframe Refugees”?
T.O.: “Reframe Refugees” is a stock-based photo website with pictures taken and uploaded by refugees, accompanied by their stories. Refugees can show their side of the problem. We sell their photos to different media and blogs.

How to convince refugees to use this platform? Is it only about the money?
M.-L.D.: It is not about the money. The sad thing is that as long as they don’t have asylum, they are not allowed to earn any money. They don’t have anything to do over there. We wanted to give them an opportunity to get some sort of self-appreciation. If their photo was used in media, they would get a notification. They would have a sense of: „WOW! My photo is in a big newspaper!”.
T.O.: Social media shows us that everybody likes to share his or her photos and stories. People want to tell the world how they are doing, and how their life is looking. You want to do it anyway, and now you can do something good with it as well.

Reframe Refugees platform

What does happen with the money you collect online?
M.-L.D.: It’s a form of a donation that helps refugees. Money goes to charities that give aid to refugees. Media companies can choose where they want to send the money. We make sure if the money goes to the charities helping refugees.

What kind of devices refugees must have to be able to use this platform?
T.O.: 90 percent of refugees have a smartphone. What’s the better way to reframe their image than reframing themselves with photos taken with their smartphones?

Is the quality of a picture taken with a phone good enough to be published in a printed magazine?
T.O.: It’s not about the quality of a photo. It is about the story the picture is telling. It doesn’t have to be HD, crispy and sharp. It’s about the subject of the photo and what the author is trying to tell by it. A photo taken with a new smartphone can be easily used for print.

It has more to do with the skills of the photographer. The National Geographic has photography schools in camps across Europe. We want to connect with them and make people living in camps enthusiastic about taking photos and reframing their own image.

Is it useful only for new refugees? Can people who came here ten years ago also use it?
T.O.: People who came here ten years ago could also share their stories.
M.-L.D.: Maybe they don’t feel as comfortable as they should. They can take their image into their own hands as well.

Who will have an access to the photo library and be allowed to buy pictures?
M.-L.D.: Everyone will be able to see the photos, buy and download them. The main audience is the media companies, but everyone can purchase a photo if it is to his or her liking.

WDCD Refugee Challenge credits TrendNomad
Marie-Louise Diekema and Tim Olland personally collected the award at the stage of What Design Can Do conference in Amsterdam. Photography by TrendNomad.com

What will you do with the money you have just won in the WDCD Refugee Challenge?
M.-L.D.: The funding we have just received, 10,000 euros, will help us to start. Experts will help us to make a business plan, and to contact with new partners. We can really make this work.
T.O.: We will be working on a prototype. We must find a way to reach out to refugees and make them aware of our idea. It also takes some money.
M.-L.D.: We need to build the platform. We need a help from many people. If anyone has an idea or can offer any form of help, reach out to us.

If you have any thoughts about “Reframe Refugees”, please email Marie-Louise Diekema and Tim Olland directly.


Do you find this interview interesting? Then buy me a coffee! Wherever you are, you can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will help me to finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my website. Just click the rectangular button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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Casual virtual reality

The most interesting novelties presented at CES in the field of virtual reality were neither long-awaited, final version of Oculus Rift goggles, nor the avalanche of cheap, made of cardboard or plastic VR headsets matching different models of smartphones. The biggest surprise for me as a media representative was the prototype of VR lenses that can be affixed to a tablet. Is it how the future of hybrid, online press will look like? 

As expected, virtual reality has been one of the main topics at CES 2016, the huge consumer electronics event that was held in Las Vegas in early January. Compared to the previous year, a much larger number of exhibitors related to the VR industry (goggles and 360 cameras producers, movies and animation makers, as well as 3D sound technicians etc.) testifies to the fact that in the coming months and years the market will be flooded with both professional and amateur VR content and headsets. We can be sure that the VR is entering the market for good, and it is just the beginning of the revolution.

So far, thousands of media outlets have released tons of information about the two segments of the VR goggles and its dedicated content. First, many of them relate to high-end devices, now assigned to companies such as HTC, Sony, and Oculus, that also offer (or will offer in the following months) sophisticated accessories that enable users to move smoothly through the virtual space. Second, many journalists report for the cheapest VR sets, made of cardboard or plastic, that requires a smartphone, and work with a very simplified user interface. In both categories, I haven’t found any spectacular, groundbreaking news (except the retail price of Oculus Rift, which is 599 dollars, twice as high as expected). Fortunately, at the end of the day, I discovered that the third category of VR readers exists. Despite it is a huge WOW, it was presented without any spectacular and noisy show, and therefore, it was unnoticed by mainstream medias.

inVRse zoom credits Trend Nomad
The inVRse immersive viewer transforms a tablet device into a stereoscopic 3D display with integrated inertial tracking and a multi-touch surface for interaction and control.

Hardly anyone associated with the virtual reality industry has taken into account displaying VR content on a tablet. Who would want to wear a large, heavy screen on his or her face? Although at the first glance a tablet seems to be useless in terms of attaching this device to a virtual reality headset, one prototype and his co-creator convinced me at CES that in some cases it can (surprise, surprise!) make a lot of sense. I felt that this is the beginning of a new era in the development of digital newspapers and e-books.

inVRse David Nelson credits Trend Nomad
David Nelson is the Special Project Manager of the MxR Lab (it is a part of the Institute for Creative Technologies, founded by US Army in 1999 at the University of Southern California), where techniques and technologies to improve the fluency of human-computer interactions are explored. He comes to VR from the world of entertainment as a Producer and Director, having created award-winning content in the areas of documentaries, feature films, music videos and commercials. He has studied the art of storytelling for more than 20 years.

Researchers from the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab showed at the IEEE organization booth their idea assuming that VR content does not have to be watched on more or less sophisticated headset, that usually cut-off a user from his environment. VR can be experienced in a subtly different way, in this case through the lens attached to the top of the tablet. Here a VR animation or 360-video is not the main point of a content, but it enriches the main message. A user who is reading a text on a tablet, from time to time can get closer his or her eyes to attached lenses to watch VR or 360 extras.

The project of goggles that are attachable to the upper part of a tablet is called “inVRse”, and the new, hybrid media format combining text, images and videos with VR animations, 360 videos and the touch interface is named “casual virtual reality”.

When a prototype of inVRse goggles attachable to the upper part of a tablet will be commercialized and enter the market, we will see a new, hybrid media format, that combines text, images, audio and 2D movies with VR content and 360 video.

If the idea presented by a MxR Lab team will find its place on the market, the VR animations and 360 videos will become integrated with a digital press, e-books and, among other online publications, tourist and hotel guides. Thus, the virtual reality experience will no longer be separated from other media, but it will go hand in hand with more traditional content displayed on tablets. This may be a good news for publishers, advertisers and an audience as well.


To learn more details about the in VRse project, I encourage you to watch the video interview recorded at CES with David Nelson, Special Project Manager at MxR Lab. He claimed that in the near future the virtual reality will become an important part of journalism, but at the same time he pointed out that only some of the content will be transferred to the VR format. Moreover, he said that the commercialization of the inVRse project should take place within a year.

If you have any questions regarding the inVRse project, you can send them directly to David Nelson at dnelson@ict.usc.edu.

All photos and the video by TrendNomad.com.


Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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