Speculative Design Brief Response #4

A film created during the early research phase of Co-creating CARE: Community Learning Through Collaborative Making, which also resulted in several other short films. Film proposed by Fiona Hackney, Associate Professor Design Cultures & Community Engagement, Falmouth University

CARE, which stands for ‘community asset-based research and enterprise,’ is a research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme. It brings together an interdisciplinary team of academics, practitioners and community researchers to work collaboratively with hobbycraft groups. The aim is to test and develop a methodology for co-produced community learning through creative practice, skill-sharing and storytelling that builds confidence and promotes self-reflection and reflexivity.

Millions engage in creative hobbies such as knitting, crochet, embroidery, woodworking, metalwork, photography, quilting, lace-making, basket making, tatting, beadwork, model making and weaving, that are undertaken voluntarily for pleasure and involve high levels of ingenuity, competence and creativity. Hobbies represent an important area of community assets and strengths: skills, knowledge, expertise and capabilities that are often devalued or dismissed and which, if recognised, might be developed and applied more widely through volunteering, training, community activism, small business or social enterprise.

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Speculative Design Brief Response #3

Video response to speculative social design brief by Heidi Dolven, Ted Matthews and Adrian Paulsen.

As a way to respond to the statement ‘I can’t get out of the house to get what I need’ we ask some fundamental questions relating to whole of patient​ need. We imagine a reality where the health sector considers how their services might be more efficacious if the service delivered support through communities of shared value rather than shared illness.

Heidi Dolven is an advisor at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture. Her work for the last 7 years has had the specific focus on designs role as a driver of innovation in the public sector on all levels; from service delivery to policy design and the channels between national to local.

Ted Matthews is a service design and PhD fellow at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. He has many years experience of working with co-design towards social engagement and the co-development of public sector services. His Phd focuses on how theory from social anthropology relating to the sacred experienced through community, myth and ritual might be operationalized for the design of extraordinary experiences.

Adrian Paulsen is a designer, lecturer and visual thinker. In his work at Halogen, a digital design agency based in Oslo, his work merges system-style thinking with design-style thinking to improve process ability and manage organisational complexities. Paulsen is adjunct faculty at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design where he teaches on the Service Design masters.


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Speculative Design Brief Response #2

A1141 a human being in control of an artificial person domiciled flow chart of integrated logic.

Screenshot from flowchart by Heath Bunting

Screenshot from flowchart by Heath Bunting

By Heath Bunting, irational.org

Recommended print size: A0
Click on image to launch external webpage

DESCRIPTION: A flow chart of how to build an domestic artificial person
(corporation) without a invoking a natural person (anonymous).

KEYWORDS: Account, address, agreement, bottled, carbon, card, company,
council, cultivated, customer, date, debit, dioxide, dispose, domiciled,
ecotricity, edf, electricity, email, energy, faeces, fire, food, fuel, gas,
green, household, issuer, landlord, language, located, mastercard, meter,
money, name, nationality, number, owner, oxygen, payer, person, piped,
postal, potable, power, pre-paid, provide, resident, residential,
sainsbury’s, services, sewerage, solid, speak, staples, tax, telephone,
tenancy, tesco, urine, user, vanilla, visa, waste, water, website, wessex,
wild, wood, write.

A natural-person-free artificial person (corporation) domiciled consists of
only non-natural person members: eg: human being, artificial person

By definition, a natural person can never be a member of an anonymous

A natural-person-free artificial person (corporation) domestic is a refined
version of the natural-person-free artificial person (corporation) normal,
specifically designed for domestic use. It allows people to live in their
homes anonymously.

Hierarchy is only possible through horizontal separation and vertical

Unlawful hierarchies, such as the united states empire or other organised
crime networks, attempt this covertly through the co-option of lawful
organisations (government departments) and the creation of unlawful
organisations (mafia).

Horizontal linking and vertical compartmentalisation is effective resistance
against unlawful intrusion of vertical hierarchies.

The natural-person-free artificial person (corporation) domestic is an
important layer of vertical compartmentalisation and is especially effective
when combined with other layers such as the anonymous natural person
and anonymous human being.

Created with Graphviz

The Status Project.


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Speculative Design Brief Response #1

Response to brief by Andrea Botero, Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Mariana Salgado and Sanna Marttila, Aalto University, Helsinki

Andrea Botero is an interaction designer with a Doctors of Arts Degree on New Media (COL-FIN).

Joanna Saad-Sulonen is an architect and new media designer finishing her Doctor of Arts degree in New Media (LE-FIN).

Mariana Salgado is an interaction designer with Doctor of Arts degree in New Media (ARG-FIN).

Sanna Marttila is a media designer pursuing a Doctors of Arts degree in New Media (FIN). They have worked together and independently in numerous research and development projects and share an interested in participatory and open approaches to the design and development of technologies, services and media that weave new technologies and the practices of everyday life in meaningful ways.

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Speculative research about social designing

As part of this study into research and practice in the field of social design, we decided to experiment with using an approach associated with design practice. We have commissioned a small number of people/organizations to respond to a brief, in (audio)visual and/or textual form suitable for publication on this blog.

In our original scoping document from last November, we defined social design as “a diffused set of practices across many fields of application including local and central government, policy areas such as healthcare and international development, as well as something promoted by some funders, activists and non-profit and commercial providers. Not all of it is done by people who think of themselves as designers or who think of their work as designing.” We hope to receive and publish speculations and provocations to help us as researchers, and the project’s wider audiences, think differently about what social design is or could be.

Like social design, speculative design research is a term that has emerged over the past decade. Its antecedents include everything from Surrealism and Dada, to design games in the tradition of Scandinavian Participatory Design, to artefacts created by designers for gallery contexts, as well as inventive methods used in social and cultural research.

The researchers/practitioners we approached are people working in design in the expanded field or in closely-related fields such as art. (Not all of them were available to help us in the time available and/or for the modest fee we could offer.) We hope that their provocations, and any resulting comments and twitter activity, will provide us with a source of data that helps us go beyond the frames of reference and findings that have emerged in the project so far. For this reason we invited people who are not necessarily closely linked to or active in social design, but whose work, we think, proceeds in relation to it.

The brief we gave them was this:

“I can’t get out of the house to get what I need.”

What can we/you do?

Respond with a provocation or speculation that could take the form of a new mode of practice, a scenario, a policy, a service, a social enterprise, business process, model or something else.

Over the next few weeks, we will publish participants’ contributions on this blog and look forward to seeing if and how the responses that unfold can help us think differently about what social design is concerned with.


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Measuring the value of design. That old chestnut.


In February the Glasgow School of Art opened the doors of its new building for a day-long conference on ‘The Value of Design’, as part of the AHRC’s Cultural Value project. This was an expert workshop aiming to aggregate knowledge on how design generates and delivers value, and what kind of value is generated and delivered through design; and to identify methodologies and approaches for capturing the value of design. The ultimate aim was to somehow articulate design’s value, and therefore refine the scope for measuring the impact of design. As participants, we were set two questions for the day’s debate:

  1. What are the portfolio of benefits generated by design?
  2. What are the new measures that evidence the contribution of design?

This topic seems to be rather in vogue: another AHRC project at Northumbria University is also right now looking at ‘Identifying and Mapping Design Impact and Value’. In fact, discussion about how to measure and quantify the impact of design runs through design history. Some conversations at GSA felt timeworn, with questions like, ‘how do we know what is good and bad design?’ echoing back to the Council of Industrial Design’s ‘Good design means good business’ mantra of the post-war era. There was a distinct sense that this was well-trod ground – and perhaps a hint of reluctance or weariness on the part of some participants to be going over it again.

Interestingly, we emphatically stayed away from design-as-object-producing, and talked mainly about the implementation of design in other contexts. In their introductions, the convenors outlined various projects Glasgow School of Art has been working on, most of which were not traditional subjects for design. Examples included Scott and Fyfe (innovation platform at the textiles company which uses a ‘design of the slice’ management structure), CHIASMA (AHRC knowledge exchange hub investigating health and well-being), Fujitsu (social housing project) and research with the Scottish government into changing behaviours around physical activity. As one participant observed, this positions design in an ‘interpreting role’. Quantifying and measuring this role was presented as a challenge.

It wasn’t clear by the end of the day how far this challenge had been addressed. We had certainly come up with a long list of wonderful things that design might be able to do – with one or two dissenting voices arguing that most of the attributes identified were not unique to design. (Having a few other disciplines/ expert groups in the mix might have restrained the tendency to design evangelism.)

However the stumbling block was possibly something more fundamental about the way the question had been posed. The AHRC in this context are trying to quantify the value of ‘design’ alongside other cultural products like ‘art’, ‘theatre’, etc. Unless they meant design as a noun (and this group certainly didn’t interpret it as such), this is a category error. Design doesn’t have an intrinsic measurable ‘value’ in the way that art might – but generates value in the context it’s working in, according to that context. Design can make concentration camps, propaganda, sleeker mobile phones, better prosthetic limbs or more user-friendly public services – in all cases we can measure the value and impact of the end result, and by relation the value of the process (of design). But in the abstract it loses all sense, like asking ‘what is the value of a change process’? Value here is something that’s impossible to measure in the absence of content.

So the answer to question 1, ‘what are the portfolio of benefits generated by design?’ is probably: ‘there are as many benefits as contexts’.

But what about question 2: ‘what are the new measures that evidence the contribution of design?’

One answer might be: measuring the value generated by design (impact) doesn’t necessarily have to be special or different to measuring the impact of anything else. There are plenty of established ways of measuring outcomes, and impact, which don’t need reinventing. Admittedly, it can be difficult to separate out the specific contribution of design in a change process, an interesting challenge which would benefit from some research, grounded in practice. But if designers are seeking to demonstrate the value they achieve through their work, they just need to get a lot more comfortable with the rigour of evaluation. This means, from the outset, having a theory of change: knowing what resources you have, deciding what you will do with them, predicting what that will produce in terms of products and resulting outcomes, and what wider impact you hope will be achieved. Then, at key stages in a change process, or at the end, one can measure progress against that theory of change. If you refuse to articulate this at the outset of a project, measuring the value generated at the end will of course be difficult.

To come back to the question of why we keep having these conversations about value and design – it’s possible that, culturally, design has a problem with committing in this way. Establishing such groundwork for evaluation, articulating a theory of change, might seem to close down the exploratory nature of (at least the initial stages of) a design process, and therefore be either simply unpalatable to designers, or even obstructive to the nature of their work.

Indeed there is quite a lot of literature/ design research/ history that has already sought to establish why design appears to be so resistant to value-based assessments, including our very own Guy Julier’s book ‘Design and Creativity: Policy, Management and Practice’ (written with Liz Moor, 2009), which addressed this question in a number of chapters. And there are lots of studies (in sociology, geography etc) that have looked at the value of design from a specific angle and thrown up some interesting answers. The Cultural Value Project should build on these foundations, digging further into particular contexts, rather than hoping for one abstract formula to cover all eventualities.

A joint post by Leah Armstrong and Jocelyn Bailey

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The Politics in Social Design

Recent years have seen something of a proliferation of social design work (see here for our working definition of social design). Some of this has been about making objects that ‘solve’ social problems: for example the One Laptop per Child project. But there has also been an expansion of non-object-centric projects, of design methods being applied to social challenges that would normally be tackled in other ways. Much of this kind of social design practice has involved either:

  • designers working with, or within, governments, or
  • governments themselves explicitly adopting design methodologies as part of their own toolkit, or
  • designers working with social groups to develop new offerings that replace eroded public services (the space formerly known as Big Society).

This new context for design has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the idea of design stepping into an overtly political space tends to cause a fair bit of consternation: is it fully equipped for the challenge?

Under New Labour (when it all began in earnest in the UK), designers were liable to be written off as complicit in – and significantly benefitting from – the marketisation of public services, and the move to turn ‘citizens’ into ‘consumers’ (a new identity that not all ‘citizens’ readily recognised).  Under the Coalition, there is a tendency for the (predominantly left-leaning) majority of the design community to be suspicious of any designer willing to fraternise with a Conservative agenda, and to read a malevolent undertone into attempts by a right-of-centre government to make use of design.

For example, see this comment from Jeremy Till on gov.uk (the new single platform government website) winning the Designs of the Year Award 2013. Till suggests that gov.uk’s design principle of ‘do less’ (in their own account, a response to previous government websites that handed out unnecessary pieces of advice like ‘put a jumper on if cold’, and ‘how to recognise a wave’) is in fact the embodiment of the Coalition government’s determination to ‘do less’ for everyone. Justin McGuirk says a similar thing in a piece entitled ‘Design and the Right’, and, following Morozov, points to the use of utopian design terminology to support a ‘hard core right wing agenda’ (participation becomes DIY public services, open source becomes open government, customisation becomes localism).*

The problem here is design’s slightly chameleonic ability to slot itself into any system as a catalytic element – and indeed to actively seek opportunities to do so for commercial reasons. This means that it’s liable to find itself with a range of bedfellows. However in government there is a difference between politics and administration. Most designers working with or alongside the current government, and particularly those working with local authorities – a level removed from national politics – would clearly distinguish between aligning themselves with the wider political agenda, and helping administrations work better for the benefit of the communities they govern. Often that means helping organisations adapt to changes instigated by political decisions (such as funding cuts). Most designers would say they have little power over the political decisions, but can make a big positive difference to the front line, so why shouldn’t they help where they can? They would favour pragmatic action over conscientious objection.

But should they be ‘pushing back’ on some of this, in the case where they don’t agree with the politics? Perhaps a better understanding of systems and theories of power would allow them to tackle problems at that level, rather than just focusing on helping people deal with the systems. At the very least, perhaps they do need a better framework for understanding whatever political context they are launching themselves into.

A similar criticism might be levelled at those designers working with communities on social innovation-type projects, facilitating the development of some kind of new service or system in the absence of state-funded services. Even though many might see such work as ethically and socially motivated, and apolitical, in fact this too can be read as compliance with a neoliberal agenda to dismantle the state – a way of making sustainable a particular political project. Cameron Tonkinwise discussed this very question in an article for Core 77 a couple of years ago, and commented:

‘being ethical, in order to avoid politics, is a political position, most definitely if you are trying to design (or redesign existing innovations in) non-government-based social services… it does put you on the ‘make-government-smaller’ side of the neoliberal-liberal spectrum’.

In the UK this is further complicated by the toxicity of the ‘Big Society’ brand. This has now been fully written off by the left as ‘Cameron’s sleight of hand for scaling down of government in accord with neo-liberal and libertarian ideologies’. And it’s been written off by everyone else as a lot of hot air that didn’t really deliver.

But whilst ‘Big Society’ was undoubtedly a Tory project, actually there is more than one way, in terms of ideologies, to read attempts to rekindle the strata of civil society that has been undermined by globalisation and the natural break-up of closely-knit communities. It’s not necessarily an evil neoliberal plot – and designers choosing to work in this space might be doing something different – even inventing new kinds of ideologies and politics.

The question underlying all of these things is whether we expect designers, as a professional group, to take political and ethical stances on things? Historically – with the exception of activist designers – they have mostly taken the money and done the work. It hasn’t been their job to consider the wider context. If they’re now engaging in big public issues, and social contexts, ought there to be a rethinking of the professional framework? Should there be a Hippocratic oath for designers? In all of the design community it’s only the architects who have institutional structures guaranteeing a certain level of professional ethics. (In theory. Certain people obviously missed that memo.)

So: how do we know, essentially, that whenever designers are peddling their wares to governments and communities-in-need, they aren’t just following the money? And how could those designers who are motivated by a social change agenda do their work whilst taking a stance on the political context?


*What’s being elided in both these examples is administration and politics: the Civil Service’s attempts to improve its own systems of working (and thereby spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently), and the wider agenda of a section of the political class. Of course those two things aren’t entirely separate – but neither are they, as any Minister would affirm, seamlessly joined up. Gov.uk and the move to ‘open policymaking’ are not, in themselves, especially political projects, neither of them are about shrinking or expanding the state, and it’s important to distinguish between what they’re actually about, and what politicians happen to say about them to align with their own messaging.

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