Cumulus Center

2016 - 2017

As a designer, I am interested in finding ways to use design to encourage people to think critically about social issues. Instead of redesigning existing products or developing new products to solve problems, I want to use design to comment on contemporary issues. The issue I want to draw attention to through my thesis project is the objectification of women by men.

I designed the sperm bank Cumulus Center to comment on this issue. By employing humor and satire, I intend to redirect the objectification of women as reproductive tools by highlighting the notion that women should have full reproductive freedom.

In Cumulus Center, all male donors are objectified as virtual objects which look like cute human-like characters called Flakes. Women pick and purchase Flakes from the Cumulus Center's website. The website has a gamified interface where people can both interact with Flakes and purchase Flakes based on a series of diverse preferences. Not limited to an online service, Cumulus Center also provides offline resale vending machines. Like Gashapon machines, the offline resale vending machines allow women to purchase random capsules, which include a Flake toy and, of course, a sperm sample.

Animation by Nestor Pestana

Photographs by Jonathan Allen and myself

The starting point was a post I saw on Weibo. Weibo is a social media in China, which is like Twitter. The post was submitted by a middle-aged man who is, according to his profile, an editor of a magazine, and the little V next to his name means that his identity is certified by Weibo staff. He posted this Weibo in which he blames women who have a higher education for not getting marriage and not taking responsibility for reproduction. He said these women should take the reproduction responsibility and be an elite mother group. He regards women’s personal choice as “not taking responsibility” and hedonism which is harmful to the development of society. And he used the word “sheng nv” to describe these women, “Sheng nv” means “left-behind” women. He ties women’s value to both marriage and reproduction, and he is objectifying women as a reproductive tool, trying to use so-called mainstream values to put pressure on women to force them to accept this objectification as women’s reality.

The upper part is a response from a young girl. She is trying to argue for women’s value and rights by providing this link to a sperm bank. She also gives choice to women who are disturbed by the so-called mainstream value in the patriarchal society.

Then I did more research about the objectification of women. I did not limit my research only to China, because it is a global issue. Even though the ways, influences, and phenomenon might be different in each country, the causes are the same. 

Here is a quote from the book: Self-Objectification in Women: Causes, Consequence, and Counteractions. 

The result of objectification of women by men has caused many women to have a misunderstanding of their own value. This results in self-objectification. This makes the objectification of women spread more in both our society and our daily life, but some people just regard that as a normal and proper fact without any doubt.

When talking about objectification, we usually think about reduction people in their appearance. But actually regarding people as functions is also objectification. In this case, women are objectified as a reproduction tool. Many women regarding this, as a value of themselves.

I decided to use design to point out and make commentary on this issue. By employing humor and satire, I intend to redirect the objectification of women as reproductive tools by highlighting the notion that women should have full reproductive freedom.

This video shows a gameplay process of selecting and purchasing Flakes from Cumulus Center’s shopping website. The experience consists of selecting favorite characters based on the information players receive through their interaction with each character. This mimics social interactions like conversation and the observation of characters’ behaviors. People can interact with Flakes by asking questions or asking Flakes to demonstrate their “fighting abilities”, which lists out their strengths, and compares them with each other. There are also filters that are based on players’ preferences, which help to take away the Flakes that do not match. It works as choice questions, the questions ranges from people’s RH factors to their preference of appearance to some preferences of lifestyle. There are beakers on the lower left corner with which to keep the Flake that people are happy. Finally, people can purchase the Flake with whom they are most happy.

As is shown in the Video, there are currently only 5 different types of Flakes that have been launched. They are Socialite, the pink one, Artist, the blue one, Poetic, the green one, Sporty, the yellow one, and Intellectual, the orange one. Each Flake will have actions that reflect their characteristics. The design of the Flake types and characteristics reflect the criteria that women set for men. Men need to fulfill the criteria if they want to be a sperm donor. This process reflects the self-objectification of men. There will be many donors under one Flake type. Their price ranges according to the scores of the donors, which were evaluated before each donation.

After purchasing Flakes online, Cumulus Center will send the sperm sample through the mail. The Flakes people receive take the form of toys. The head part is the container for the sperm, and the body part is a sealed plug. I intentionally made the Flakes look very cute, with bright colors. I did this to reference the collectible garage kit toys, which are a product of both game and anime industries. The design of the packaging is also referencing the packaging design of garage toy kits. Because buying a garage kit from a game is such a fun, happy and easy experience. I want to mimic this in Cumulus Center. With this design, I want to say that making this decision should be a woman’s own decision without pressure from other’s. The Flake toys need to be stored in a refrigerator to keep fresh, as there will be an expiration time. Women can decide whether they want to use it or not before the expiration time. 

Not limited to online services, Cumulus Center also provides offline resale vending machines. These function as Gashapon machines with which women can obtain random capsules containing Flake toys and sperm samples.

The differences between the online and offline purchasing are the price and expiration time. Flakes from the vending machines have shorter expiration times, which is 3 month, while Flakes from online shopping have 6 months. This is because the vending machines are less efficient at keeping the Flakes fresh when compared to the storage for Flakes from online shopping. The price of the Flakes online will range from $30 - $200, while the Flakes from the vending machines have a fixed price, which is $20. But there are chances to get a $200 Flake from the vending machine.

When people purchase a Flake, they can decide whether they want to use it or not before the expiration time. If they decide to use it, there are many ways to do so. If they decide not to use it, the Flake can be kept as a toy.