Elizabeth Gin does Design as Research in the Toy District

Below is just a small sample of artist Elizabeth Gin’s work on the Toy District of downtown Los Angeles. To see more, visit her website:



Fueling my obsession with the Toy District as a result of my Media Study of Place, I redesigned the disposable camera to create a prototype for conversation. I gave a redesigned camera to ten individuals connected to the Toy District, either though business or home. I picked up the cameras from the participants after 72 hours, developed two copies of the photos, and returned to the Toy District with a photo album of every participants’ photographs.

The cameras provided a way for these ten individuals to participate in my project through self-documentation. I requested that they take photographs of the layers of the Toy District, or anything they find interesting, controversial, or unique about the area. As an outsider, I can only know the Toy District through my limited, weekly visits, so I encouraged participants to photograph aspects of the area that they may have normalized, but that would be new and revealing to me.

After developing the photos, I revisited each participant to give them a copy of the photos and engage in conversation about both their own photographs and the entire collection. The photographs served as a probe, allowing the participants to externalize their thoughts both visually and through conversation afterwards.


Drawing from our research, we discovered a vibrant alternative community that values bonding, conversating, and collective sharing. However, there lacked connection and acknowledgement between this alternative community and mainstream society.

In addition, despite increasing access to the Internet through mobile phones, shelters, and libraries, we identified a need for unmediated access and authorship online. As a result, we drafted a Letter of Intent directed towards the Knight Foundation for Street to Voice, a new SMS, voice, and web platform that aims to increase accessibility to information and sharing of experience among homeless youth. The network will self moderate, and through a system of up votes and community managers, key issues of need will be aggregated and broadcasted to mass media, social media, and public policy communication outlets.

During the LOI drafting process, we attended a webinar hosted by Foundation Center. The webinar emphasized that foundations currently value quantitative outcome measurements and demonstration of data collection and analysis in the grants. If we were to move forward with Street to Voice, we would need to conduct intensive testing and quantitative evaluation of our projected goals and outcomes.


Continuing to alter my morphology to increase my understanding of the space, I approached the Toy District by bus (Phase 1: walked / Phase 2: biked). I sampled the site by talking to the food vendors who line Los Angeles Street, attempting to model my morphology off of photographer August Sander by approaching each vendor as a number, a trade, specimen after specimen. By becoming the impassive census-taker, I augmented my understanding of the history and infrastructure of the Toy District economy.

In an animated series created in AfterEffects, I transition through various methods of representing the food vendors of the Toy District. First, I model August Sander’s method of representation, mapping the vendors.



I am currently a graduate student at Art Center College of Design in the Media Design Practices MFA program. My studies focus on using design as a research tool and methodology in the field to create an inclusive and transformative dialogue. I hope to facilitate the collision of opposing systems. I’m interested in making space for the alternative.

Email / elizabethmgin@gmail.com
Twitter / @elizabethgin
Tumblr / elizabethmgin.tumblr.com

“You can tell a neighborhood’s turning when you see them out at night walking their dogs.”
– John Buntin, “Land Rush: Gentrification in Houston”
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