A good story about a random act of kindness can sometimes smack of urban legend. But simple gestures like helping someone lift a stroller down subway stairs or paying the toll for the car behind you at the tollbooth can put a smile on someone’s face and influence their outlook. Sometimes we can use design to orchestrate these kinds of gestures.
For example, in the Mailman, Route 16 project, Jeshurun Webb started sending appreciative postcards to her mailman. She was inspired by stories her mailman grandfather had told her about a time when people would leave all kinds of gifts in mailboxes during the holidays. Webb then decided to use the U.S. Postal Service and her own mailbox to do something nice for her mailman.
There’s no reason why letters, which can be so fun to get, need to be confined to mailboxes. The A Love Letter For You project by Steve Powers with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has murals painted all over the city with endearing and curious messages such as “open your eyes I see sunrise” and “miss you too often not to love you.” The murals are bright and cheery and the often quirky and whimsical notes make it almost impossible not to smile upon reading them.
Many artists take their art to the streets to brighten their communities, add a little color, make people think, or simply make them smile, whether they knit cozies for bike racks or create playful installations like The Shadow Project by Katie Sokoler. Katie posted paper-cut silhouettes around her Brooklyn neighborhood and took photos of people waking by.
Then there’s the unexpected luggage video by Spanair, above. On December 24, passengers flying from Barcelona to Las Palmas found beautifully wrapped gifts, with their names on them, coming through the luggage conveyor belt. It might have been just a marketing tactic, but it did make a lot of people smile. It’s not unlike the T-Mobile ads where passengers arriving at Heathrow were greeted with spontaneous singing by strangers in the waiting area.
There is something powerful and contagious in creating art (or designs) to make strangers smile, whether it’s a project like Fifty People One Question in which a series of strangers are asked a question and their answers are edited into charming short films, or Papergirl, in which 1,700 pieces of art were rolled up and gifted to strangers by a crew of bicycle riders.
Whether or not you’d ever consider making something for strangers just for fun and a smile, or taking part in a creative community project, it’s nice to be reminded that such things exist.