In April 2020, writer and activist Arundhati Roy wrote, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

In this thesis project, we were asked to reimagine a future where connection to each other, and to the world at large, can continue to fuel our humanity. The overall theme of the thesis was titled The Futures of Nearness: Reconnecting in a New World Order.

The COVID pandemic has profoundly affected the social, political, and economic fabric of our society, one where nearness has been irrevocably ruptured. We are standing at a crossroads of our culture, facing a crisis of connection. But there isn’t one single solution for one exclusive future. We are facing multiple futures, and we must be prepared to simultaneously create our potential futures together.


Investigating the topic of Intimacy, define compelling, real, and actionable solutions to the many futures that are to come post-COVID-19 pandemic, and the role of brands within those futures.


Through extensive research that included a historical and cultural audit and interviews covering all aspects of the topic, we came to understand intimacy as consisting of three elements, Space, Time, and Exchange. Special attention was paid to Exchange as the defining factor in our social relationships.


Although our capitalist culture increasingly promotes parasocial relationships, particularly between brands and consumers, in today’s society all types of healthy relationships require give and take – which we have defined as mutual exchange. This mutual exchange must be real and perceivable, so we created a series of guidelines to help brands navigate relationships and develop intimacy with audiences and stakeholders. These guidelines include recent and relevant case studies of brands that have successfully leveraged mutual exchange, as well as brands that have struggled to accept the vulnerability necessary to form intimate connections.


Roxanne Benefiel
Stefan P. Berg
Michelle Huang
Maureen Martinez
Arnold Pradhan
Treeva Royes


Narrative & Storytelling
Copy Editing

Undivisive is available for download and the entire Masters in Branding 2020 Thesis presentation is availble on YouTube and Vimeo.

The Writers Lab