This weekend I took part in the London Design Festival’s Goldsmiths-spawned 24 hour Design Challenge, based in Deptford on the site of a new development beside the high street. Teams were originally allocated by discipline, but the thirty or so designers organically re-shuffled as new projects emerged. Interdisciplinarianism, eh?
It was an experiment to see what such an intensive experience could produce, with the aim of the exhibition being to showcase the pieces that emerge from it and also the process of designing itself. The site was open to visitors throughout, but a low level of awareness with the non-design industry public outside caused a number of us to seek out ways in which we could engage with the local community.
We were keen to avoid a behind-the-scenes ‘designers doing some wacky stuff then having an exclusive party that is an essentially intimidating environment for locals’ before leaving a mess behind and having kept the neighbours up all weekend.
Our first task was to use £10 in the local (excellent, amazing and project-saving on several occasions) flea market to bring back objects that interested us and then create devices that helped tell their story. Ours was a beautiful, hand-written title deed to a field in Kent from 1853. Over a couple of thousand words were used to explicitly explain the extent of the estate, without any diagrams, maps, co-ordinates or tables of measurements. It was almost indecipherable.
We did however try to re-interpret it and visualise it in our own ways, which led us to our first design – a table which people from the local community and visitors to the exhibition could use to map the are in their own way. The docking station consisted of a compass made from a clock with the minute hand saying ‘north’. This constantly changing north would give us a random sample and spread of the area, with participants heading in 100m (as they estimated) before recording what they could see, who they have spoken to there or are with, what they think of that place, what colours, textures they could see. These ‘x’ shaped pieces of paper would then be collated, computed and exhibited as a very human, abstract map of the area.
This initial design was a step in the right direction, but our group (installation) merged with product to see how we could develop something that asked less of the participants and offered more interaction and reward. What we came up with was two projects commencing around 10pm – ‘Polenta Politics’ – a sophisticated voting system involving a catapult, some issues on a board and some messy painted polenta balls and ‘Deptford Cares’ – some items made to help the community care for its public spaces and express what they like and dislike about them.
At the heart of these projects was the potential for a much larger project, should we choose to undertake it – how to engage a local community to communicate its feelings about where they live in innovative new ways and to provide the tools to co-design, improve and sustain public spaces. Hmmm.