University of Michigan School of Information
Tea as a medium for understanding social change
What is your relationship with tea?
UMSI students explored this question – and exercised some of their user experience and coding skills – through an interactive art exhibit on the worldwide culture and traditions of tea, from cultivation to consumption.
Seventy-two clay tea cups sat on boxes in a grid pattern across the floor in the Duderstadt Center Gallery, inviting people passing by to interact with them. Some contained a gift of a box of tea, others triggered a video to play on a nearby wall.
Videos displayed around the room explored connections, memories, rituals, history and cultural and social movements through the lens of tea. Illustrations of the Boston Tea Party contrasted with internet memes from the Milk Tea Alliance, a growing online democracy and human rights movement across Southeast Asia. The sounds of pouring hot water and chants of crowds echoed through the gallery.
UMSI lecturer Vadim Besprozvany led the project with support from lecturer Elena Godin. The project is part of the UARTS Faculty Engineering/Arts Student Team (FEAST), an interdisciplinary initiative of the U-M North Campus schools and colleges.
Meet the students behind the World Wide Tea exhibit:
Master of Science in Information student focusing on UX research and design.
Favorite tea: Black tea, with milk.
Tea has always been an intimate and important part of my life – at home, at gatherings, to share stories and laughter. My dad’s first job actually was selling tea, so I always got to taste many different kinds of tea at home. As an international appreciation, tea should never lose its identity or authenticity as it tells the story of historical moments and completes our social lives in a meaningful and joyful way. I believe in the power of tea as a global product to enjoy and as a medium for us to witness and understand social changes.
Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Industrial and Operations Engineering.
Favorite tea: Longjing
I came up with the idea of turning over the tea cup as an interaction for visitors, and I worked on the sensors built into the boxes. In my hometown we treat turning the cup from upside-down to right side-up as the mark of the beginning of a tea party. I was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, which is the place of origin for a famous green tea called longjing. My family treats longjing tea as the most exceptional gift you could give.
Master of Science in Information and Master of Social Work ‘22
Favorite tea: Roasted green tea
My background at UMSI was user experience design and research, which often involved user interviews and surveys. We interviewed people on the street to see how they feel about tea, their perception of tea, and if it is part of their daily routine or their culture. The answers helped influence how we visualized peoples’ connections to tea in the video content in the gallery. I am from China and I was surrounded by tea drinking growing up. Gatherings, having conversations, making connections, all had a close relationship with tea.
Master of Science in Information focusing on UX research and design.
Favorite tea: Chai, but if I’m being honest, it’s bubble tea: Peach tea, less ice, 30% sugar, with tapioca pearls.
I grew up in India and my parents would drink tea like five times per day. As I was growing up, my parents didn’t let me drink tea a lot; it was an adult drink. But when I came to the states, there’s a lot of boba places and it’s a lot more casual, so I like that. I hope that those who visited the exhibit are more cognizant about the class divide between those who actually grow and harvest tea and those who consume it. India is one of the biggest tea producers, and farmers are not as taken care of as the upper class and the rich, who readily consume and easily afford tea.
Master of Science in Information focusing on user-centered agile development.
Favorite tea: Black tea
I helped to create some of the video content and did some Python coding that was required for the sensors in the exhibit to work. We were experimenting with ways to encourage people to interact with the artwork, to make them feel like they were at the center of the exhibit, and not necessarily the art itself. I thought this would be an interesting way to explore the intersection of art and technology. It was very rewarding.
Learn more about the University of Michigan School of Information Master of Science in Information degree program.
Learn more about lecturers Vadim Besprozvany and Elena Godin.