Introduction to the event
In collaboration with RSA, The Glass-House ran an interactive workshop to introduce students to elements of action research and participatory design, applicable to all SDA briefs.
The interactive online workshop also explored the value and methods of participatory design, essential to shaping informed and inclusive design proposals built on solid research. Through real-life examples, discussion and co-design tasks, we explored the role that effective engagement can play in: better understanding the context and brief; exploring need and opportunity; unleashing assets and creativity; and building interest, collaboration and investment.
Sophia, in conversation with co-presenters Grace and Deborah from The Glass-House and Jillian and Gabi from the RSA, presented the students with a plethora of thought-provoking points in regards to design research including;
- The value of engaging users in design
- The basics of mapping and its role in a design journey
- Using what you learn through engagement to inform a design process
- Methodologies and the advantages of using a mix of them during research
- Bringing together user engagement, desk-based research, product/place design and business planning to achieve viability and sustainability where possible.
- Touching on GDPR, anonymity and confidentiality, making the participants feel safe and comfortable.
I think the different ways of mapping and engaging with people keeping their privacy in mind. I think I have learnt a lot of new mapping methods and look forward to implementing them in my design process.Workshop participant
Why students wanted to join
We were thrilled to have students from all over the globe take part in our session with The RSA. Many of the students shared their thoughts with us, such as what they hoped to gain from the session, and information on any of their ongoing projects.
We were joined by students from a wide range of fields, from Architecture and other built environment disciplines to Graphic, Product and Service Design, who wanted to incorporate more participatory design methods into their work, while learning how to interpret the user’s needs and feedback, how to make the engage pool more inclusive, developing accessible activities and overall making their outcomes more successful.
Task and outcomes
A collaborative task was then set for the attendees, to envision how they would engage people in designing a new object or building for a local park. While designing their engagement activities, students had to contemplate, who their project was targeting, how they would reach these groups, which groups they would try to bring together and which specific engagement tasks they would develop.
Each group came up with vastly different ideas, however, some of the target groups overlapped;
- One group decided to focus on creating a new building for the park, such as a kiosk, bench or community hub, but the final product would be voted for by the public. By using a number of methodologies they hoped to get a diverse range of people take part in the engagement process.
- Creative interactivity was a key focus for another group too, though their approach differed. Taking inspiration from installations at ‘Museum of Us’ and ‘MoMA’ in New York, the group wanted to create fun spaces where the users of the park could have their say, whether they jot their thoughts in chalk or place a sticker on a voting wall.
- Exercise and accessible equipment for all drove one project, as especially during the pandemic, access to places for exercise has been restricted. To make engagement more enticing, a socially distanced treasure hunt would be planned to research what equipment would be appreciated the most.
- Pets, especially dogs, and their owners were chosen as a target group by one group. Discussing ways of bringing non-dog owners and dog-owners together was a major focus, and in the end, the participants decided on using art as a way to bring the two demographics together, by leading paw print games and creating a play area or play day for animals.
- Intergenerational play was touched upon by a few of the groups, activities would focus on using mood-boards in the park to help highlight the public’s favourite areas in the park and what changes they would like to see. Older and younger participants would be sent packs with disposable cameras, stickers and other crafts, and could take part at different times of the day to adhere to social distancing guidelines. It’s a fun take on traditional mapping.
- The final group decided to make a play/sitting area that uses sustainable materials and featured colourful pieces of furniture. The area would focus on a mix of games including board games and how they could be adapted as elements of the park. A lot of the background research would be on what games the target groups enjoy, especially when it comes to age and background, while also taking into consideration how games could be adapted to work for a wide range of users in a park setting.
Trends in Discussion
After hearing from each group a number of trends developed, such as;
- Intergenerational play and bringing different groups together
- How research can be made fun and playful
A LOT of design goes into creating research tasks which appeal to the target demographic(s)! I never realised how fun research activities could be made.Workshop participant
- Using incentives while respecting the participants’ time, ideas and energy by giving them something in return, which can be as simple as a voucher or tea and cake, or about introducing people to new skills and relationships .
- Thinking about the longevity of projects, for example, the team behind a new community hub may look into developing a renting model to help with various costs.
- Sustainability, in relation to material used and how to maintain a structure over time.
- Not only thinking of how a project may develop and change but also taking into account what barriers you may come across.
- Where possible, reaching out to more than one target group, and making sure your pool of participants is diverse.
- When focusing on a space, such as a park, your target groups may include people who visit from outside the area, so how do you contact these people?
It was lovely to see and hear about design from a place perspective, where it’s not a product or service, but a process of bringing together many perspectives to inform an idea that serves the collective…the “how” of making this happen was my biggest learning.Workshop participant
The session dismantled the research process in regards to learning from your research target group and how to make engagement fun and successful. There was also discussion on the methods that can be utilised in a socially distanced way and how mapping tools such as Miro and QR codes can be adapted and used within research. The successful event resonated with the students and will help guide them when involving and engaging with individuals and communities within their in their personal projects.
We’d like to thank Gabi and Jillian from RSA and all the attendees!
A recording of this session is available through the RSA video archive.