A Journey Towards Freedom

A spatial experience design raises the awareness of intimate partner emotional abuse by uncovering victim's mental journey. The project was undertaken as a capstone project at UNSW.

Project Period
9 weeks, August 2021

Adobe Illustrator, Mindnode, SketchUp, Enscape, Premiere Pro

Project Overview
01. Problem

Domestic violence is a major national health and welfare issue that can have a lifelong impact on victims. When people think about domestic violence occurring within couple relationships, they often think about physical or sexual abuse, but rarely the emotional one. Emotional abuse is anon-physical form of violence that can have a devastating and long-lasting effect on those who have experienced it. In Australia, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15. The misunderstandings from families/friends and lack of awareness cause psychological barriers for victims to seek help and leave the relationship.

02. Outcome

People are not much foreign to anti-domestic violence campaigns in the forms of TV commercials, social media posts or print media, which are mostly associated with pictures of body injuries and dogmatic slogans. As emotional abuse is intangible and harder for people without such experience to resonate with the victim, I decided to go with a disruptive form to present the theme and give people a profound understanding of the issue. 

I design ‘A Journey Towards Freedom’ that aims to raise awareness of intimate partner emotional abuse. ‘A Journey Towards Freedom’ is a spatial experience design that put the audience in the victim’s shoes by visualising the victim’s mental change from the beginning to the end of a toxic relationship.

The design is inspired by the Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Victim 5-stage Change Model (image 1), which is a medical guide for counselling victims. Victims who successfully make changes in their lives progress along a continuum of predictable stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance. The design reconceptualises the IPV Victim 5-stage Change Model and represents the characteristics of each stage by mobilising space, symbolism, colour theory, and sound effect.

The experience is a set story of a virtual victim character named Bianca. Following the guidance from Bianca, the audience explores 6 spaces (could be physical or VR) and throughout this journey, the audience can experience the ups and downs of the victim’s inner world.

(Image 1: IPV Victim 5 Stages Change Model)

Stakeholders Map

Target Audience Personas


(Please enable the sound for better watching experience)

Stage 1 - Precontemplation

At stage 1, the victims are not aware that a problem exists. The victims suffer mental illness symptoms but have no intention to change their relationship.

To simulate this passive scenario, I designed a sloping funnel space covered with metal sticks. It represents the worsening emotional abuse and its increasing impact on the victim's inner world.

Stage 2 - Contemplation

At stage 2, the victims are aware of the problem but struggle with the situation. I designed a zigzagged and lengthy corridor with masks on the ceiling to illustrate how victims try to make sense of the problem and weigh the benefits and consequences of change. The mask signifies the social pressure and factors that influence the victims on decision making.

Stage 3 - Preparation

At stage 3, the victims are consciously aware of the problem and start preparing a plan for change. The blue colour in the space reflects the rational thinking of the victims when planning to leave the relationship. Instructed by the virtual character, the audiences are required to collect all the keys before leaving the room, just as victims sourcing solutions before making change.

Stage 4 - Action

Stage 4 is the climax of the whole journey. At this stage, the victims make changes for which they have prepared, however, they face a high risk of danger from their abusers. I designed a long red corridor blocked by 6 doors to visualise the intense scene with a mix of action, conflicts and danger. The door here symbolises the obstacles of leaving an abusive relationship and can only be opened by the keys from stage 3.

Return Tunnel
Victims normally return to previous stages on an average of 7-8 times before they are fully ready to leave for good. Therefore, I set a return tunnel in the middle of the corridor which leads audiences back to stage 3. To make a contrast to the intense corridor, the return tunnel is refreshing and puts people at ease.

Stage 5 - Maintanance

Victims at stage 5 face many adversities and struggle to avoid returning to the problem behaviour.

The space of stage 5 is a kaleidoscope-like polygon box with 12 doors on the side. The psychedelic space simulates the instability and unreal feeling after leaving the relationship that has been bothering them for a long time.

Among the 12 similar doors, only two can be opened, one leading to the exit and the other leading to the return tunnel.

Stage 6 - Freedom

The termination of the relationship and the problem is no longer present to the victims. They are embracing the new life of freedom.This scene symbolises the first day of spring, filled with bright colours, fresh flowers and new beginnings.