As part of my (Ben Hagenaars) research project Cultivating Communities, I organised a workshop at the NME seminar (Natuur en Milieu educatie dag) in Brussels last week. 25 stakeholders within the field of environment and education participated in the workshop. The aim was to visualise a fictional map of a network between different schools. I used the MAP-it toolkit – developed by social spaces – which normally uses sticker icons to visualise a map. However, I made some alterations since I wanted to add some extra features like building blocks to make the map more tangible. This idea originates from a presentation I took part in during the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre last summer. For this presentation we didn’t want to use PowerPoint to visuals our concept – a food system for the city of Maastricht – but we built a miniature city out of materials we could scavenge in the surrounding area. This made it really easy to talk about the food systems with local famers, citizens and other stakeholders. It enabled us to work out a scenario of our concept, but more importantly it enabled other people to ad ideas of their own to the existing map. A fragment of the presentation can be found in this video by REcentre (starting from minute 7:41).
Making Things Visual
Last week I (Ben Hagenaars) followed a thought provoking lecture by Bas Raijmakers at the FAK in Brussels. He is the co-founder of design research agency STBY in Amsterdam & London. He explained his view on what it means to be doing design research. A very interesting topic considering I started my own PhD in design research this year. I have tried to capture his presentation in some sketch-notes.
Bas started by explaining his background. He did a master in Communication Sciences at the University of Amsterdam where he developed his fascination for how people use media & technology. During his Masters he learned about usability research but wanted to go step further. He wanted to experiment with involving the user in the design and research process. This was the starting point for his PhD at the Royal College of Art in London, where he developed his ‘Design Documentaries’ method. This method took the form of a visual storytelling format that brings the everyday life of people into the design process, allowing it to act as a source of inspiration for designers. This method is often used by his design research firm STBY. For example, in a project commissioned by Panasonic called Living Sustainably, STBY researched how people in the US can live a sustainable lifestyle. This isn’t a question they could answer right away. They first had to understand peoples lifestyles and needs. By creating a series of design documentaries, they were able to create videos that communicated a range of intimate insights into their lives and opinions, telling their stories in a way that could both inform and inspire. STBY helped Panasonic to incorporate these insights into their future concept developments and business model development.
Design documentaries start from the idea that understanding is the first step in creating meaningful solutions that could enrich peoples lifestyles. Also, they make things visual, which helps people to understand. Empathy is an important skill in this context, the ability to put yourself in someone else his or her shoes, which really helps to open up to personal experiences that help you understand that persons needs.
Bas focused on the importance of making things visual for designers and artists in a research context. It is a way to express and share their knowledge. It allows not only peers but also people in other disciplines to interpret this knowledge and create new insights. Making an original contribution to knowledge then creates an ongoing debate that pushes interdisciplinary development forward. Bas pointed out that working in between fields will become increasingly important. Several problems that our society is faced with today, are too complex to be solved within one disciplinary field.
Research through design is a way of creating new meaning by visual storytelling. This vision raises interesting questions about the role of the designer in society. Should designers limit themselves as the makers of objects, or can they also adopt a new role as the makers of meaning? I think, as Liesbeth Huybrechts pointed out in her Thesis, designers can become makers of hybrid things, creating both objects and meaning.
Methods Lab ‘Ageing in Kensington’
Two Social Spaces researchers and four Media, Arts and Design Faculty students are in London this week to participate in the Royal College of Art Methods Lab ‘Ageing in Kensington’. Tonight we will present our mapping and our Touch of Memory project. A report will follow soon!
First steps out of space
Every year the third bachelor and premaster students of the MAD-Faculty (Campus C-mine) work together in a cross-over research project. This year, 2010-2011, the students explore and design for public space. You can read about the project called out of space here.
We want to keep you updated on the process, so here’s where we are now:
The kick-off was on December third. Since the students come from different programs the first thing is for them to get to know their teammates. We asked them to explore our C-mine campus in a playful way. We got inspired by the work ‘Bodies in urban space’ of Willi Dorner. The results are pretty funny. You can see some of them here, here and here. This immediately set the tone for a playful and critical engagement which we believe is fruitful for design research.
We also invited two artists who critically explore people in relation to public space. Our colleague and photographer Kristof Vrancken discussed his work involving ‘Non places’ and the traces people leave behind. As he mentions himself, he researches the relationship between human and environment in the forgotten in between spaces behind the facade of society. Karl Philips‘ work concerns what we call the ‘outcasts’ of society. He puts phenomena and people that we mostly ignore on the foreground.
Then it was time for each student team to select a public space related to the C-mine site (this can be the cafeteria, the bus, etcetera). After a week of observation, the teams explored their selected space more in depth in a mapping session. Thomas Laureyssens introduced the map-it toolkit developed by our colleagues of the social spaces research group. This exploration through mapping can further feed the process of observation.
In the following weeks students continue observing their public space. At the end of January the teams will present their findings and will then be coached by artist Moritz Ebinger to develop concepts.
We will bring you more news in our next blogpost early February.
Design met Wortels
Next wednesday I participate in a conference that explores the relations between design, craft and society, called Design met Wortels. It is organised by a local heritage organisation Tapisplein. Curator is the talented social designer Laura Braspenning. The program can be found here. The description is in Dutch:
Heeft handwerk een toekomst? Ambacht klinkt stoffig in de oren, maar tegelijk is handwerk opnieuw hip! Tal van initiatieven zetten handgemaakt design in de picture, jong talent gaat opnieuw aan de slag met eeuwenoude technieken en tradities, de heropleving is een feit.
Maar hoe willen we in de 21ste toekomst verder werk maken van ambachtelijk design? Is handwerk een werkwoord? Hoe kan de erfgoedsector het kapitaal aan vaardigheden veilig stellen voor de toekomst? Hoe kunnen we inspelen op nieuwe technieken en ambachtelijke kennis inzetten in industriële productie? Wat is de taak van (kunst)onderwijsinstellingen? Waar zitten de noden en de potenties? Tijd voor debat en reflectie!
Deze trefdag wil inspireren door tal van boeiende cases en beleidsmakers, onderwijsinstellingen, organisaties en ontwerpers uit te nodigen het gesprek aan te gaan. In een cross-over tussen de sectoren cultureel erfgoed, design, onderwijs en creatieve economie starten we de praktijk- en beleidsdiscussie op.