Seminar Discussion Group 2

Early Lab

The encounter

A team of eight UAL students, consisting of a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate designers from a range of disciplines travelled to Norfolk to collaborate for a week with six Youth Council members of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). The Youth Council is a group of users of NSFT’s mental health service for children and young people who are active contributors to service development. They are similar in age to the UAL students.

All actors in this encounter came together to see if using design in a workshop situation could help the Youth Council members to visually communicate their lived experience of the mental health service and in so doing gain a clearer understanding of what a better mental health service might look like.

The social ties generated by the encounter

The degree of involvement in the workshop from both sets of participants was equally active and this contributed to a degree of collaborative involvement that was intense. This was perhaps hardly surprising given how open the individuals involved were, which is possibly a consequence of one characteristic all participants had in common:

  • both groups consisted of individuals at a moment of transience: the Youth Council in their temporary roles they were maximising benefit from; and the design students similarly making the most of the opportunities their university could offer them during their short time as students.

The success of the encounter illustrates the potential of weak social ties. While strong ties existed amongst a few of the students and similarly amongst members of the Youth Council, that all participants were open to an activity outside their comfort zone and were consequently considering new ideas and new ways of doing things can be credited to the fact that weak ties were in action during the field trip. Whereas strong ties can isolate a group due to the inward focus they produce, weak ties tend to open groups up to outside influences.

By being so open, individuals of both groups were highly vulnerable in this situation yet this encounter proved to be a success for all but one of the participants. This success can be partly attributed to the safe, quiet, familiar and beautiful venue in which it happened, together with the support provided for both sets of participants (the caseworkers and clinicians for the Youth Council, and the two tutors for the students – all of whom were present the whole time). The Youth Council member for whom the encounter did not work became overawed right at the beginning during an oral session before he got a chance to participate in the making workshops.

The role of art and design

The very high level of collaborative intensity in the encounter was handled much better by all participants when the activity they were involved in was non-verbal – when they were physically making something together. When activity was dominated by verbal exchange – when Youth Council members were answering questions put to them by UAL students around a table – the directness of this exchange proved very tough for participants on both sides to cope with.

Youth Council members and UAL design students participated as co-actors in a co-design process to co-produce pieces of three dimensional information design over the first set of studio workshops and then made stop-motion animations over a second set of workshops. We found that in these making situations, though the level of collaboration was intense, they gave rise to a easier, looser, more informal kind of ‘conversational’ exchange that everyone was able to cope with comfortably. It has been said many times before, but this success can most probably be attributed to the way that design (and art) addresses subject matter obliquely. It also helped that the focus was on what was being made (being externalised) which meant that any verbal discussion was a by-product of that activity. The informalising of the verbal meant that a greater amount of emotional information was shared and without the psychological discomfort associated with more formal verbal discussion.

Having made objects to stand for thoughts reflecting on the local mental health service, the fact that these ideas were physical and visual (rather than verbal as is traditionally the case), made the issues at hand so much more tangible to grasp – real – and therefore, actions to alter particular aspects of the mental health service now felt more achievable – like they might happen sooner.

This was an empowering experience for those on both sides of the encounter that brought both parties very close together producing temporary strong ties between them for the four days they spent together. The students helped the Youth Council members to gain skills and confidence in making things through which to tell stories of their lived experience. At the same time, the students gained experience in cross-disciplinary collaboration and became more confident that they could manage this kind of design process: learning how to listen without having a ‘problem’ in mind, and learning how to design without a ‘solution’ in mind.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 12

The home community and library

The starting point is the implosion of ethical values in European society. Communities in place may be a possible solution. By creating rich encounters we can create a resilient society that is strong enough to resist dehumanising tendencies. The systemic context is government services that are based purely on technical and financial considerations.

In this project, the library service in the form of a home library became pragmatic and relational rather than just a system.

The home library service team is extremely committed to its readers, and their relational encounters. An example being that they have intimate knowledge of their readers living conditions, such as a knowledge of their taste and a sensitivity to their socio-economic situation. The home library staff and their encounters became meaningful services beyond simply the delivery of books.

Through design visualisations, the staff make their knowledge and experiences explicit for themselves and others at the policy level. The key message communicated to the policy makers is to understand government services or other social organisational structures to encompass adult social care. The other shifts that this project encouraged were to envision the role of technology, supporting volunteers and supporting interest-based communities. The home library, by stitching the homes together through their services, can be said to support a sense of the local.

We are left with a question from our discussions: what kind of government structures or organisational encounters can become meaningful services?

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 9


This project about empathy looked at splenic palpitation and a performative experience of hand cleansing as a way to open up an encounter via touch. It took place with the system of hospital as a space in which this type of encounter (comprised of Angela, members of staff, her touch and in the case of the performative hand washing, the bottle of lotion and the metaphor of drawing; telling a story with a simple tool in the palm of the hand) was in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the clinical activities that take place there.

It was possible because Angela was a physician and is an artist and so has connection to the actors involved. The encounters took place many times. It took place with the staff of the hospital as the actors and produced an open space for encounter for them, a space in which they were able to renegotiate meaning. This idea of creating a space of encounter through touch opens up possibilities for community building.

This project attempted to open up and focus on creating a space of encounter through touch and the metaphor of touch. The moment of encounter happens within a kind of ‘third space’ (Oldenburg): a space that is not work, not play but rather a particular kind of social space in which an encounter with meaning can happen and which requires a ‘different way of being’. It is constituted and catalyzed by art, weaving in and out of setting, actions, gestures and artifacts). This space is touch that is characterized by: authenticity; equality; intimacy; dialog; non-hierarchy that involves a dance in which leadership and followership are passed back and forth. It often happens at a time of crisis and/or after trust has been built over a period of time. It often requires patience to look for or recognize the moment of opportunity to apply ‘touch’ to open up the space of encounter and nurturing.

Ray Oldenburg (1991) suggests that bier gartens, main streets, pubs, cafes and other ‘third’ places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by levelling the status of guests, proving a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of association and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 8


Everyone is in a prison – separated from each other through various physical, cultural and emotional barriers. In collaborative design with inmates these barriers are more explicit at the outset. Here design is a process of trial and error. The process promotes and permits different ways of being. The process gives permission. Design opens up new possibilities, no right or wrong answers. Creating the conditions for learning new ways requires a safe space for failure and disappointment and support in achieving successful outcomes using different ways of learning – different materials, tools and methods.

Persona building requires empathic understanding. Working side by side over time builds empathy between the collaborators. Iteration brings us back, and back again to make things better. Inmate learners and student/researcher learners come closer over time. Collaborative design activities – listening to each others’ goals and means, helping each other to get a greater understanding of what will work – creates intimacy. Sharing our imaginings makes us vulnerable to each other and brings us closer. Working on the body, fitting and draping, demands close proximity, and permission. Sharing personal space in a place where it is uncommon to do so. Paying close attention and showing care.

Working in this way requires one to one, peer-to-peer learning. This collaboration requires many people – learning from each other and about each other and how to be with others. These one-to-one relationships need to be supported by institutional relationships – infrastructures that allow different people to come together. We are prototyping a volunteering scheme to sustain this activity. Design students volunteering to learn how to facilitate alongside inmates volunteering to learn how to design. Both are sharing the risk and rewards of trying something new, as are the prison managers and facilitators and the action research team creating and coordinating the project.

The process of collaborative design with its peer-to-peer approach can lead to a higher level of awareness, (of possessing unsuspected skills, of the existence of a more just way of learning and relating to each other), which in turn generates hope in social groups that are particularly vulnerable and at risk. In this way, collaborative design becomes a practice of resilience.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 5



Tokens to exchange in a market environment: people were encouraged to exchange these tokens for intangible things like time, well-being, knowledge, creativity. The encounter functioned by balancing experiences among a diverse and randomised crowd through subjective currency: destabilising and ambiguous for Chelsea standards. Unlike a normal transaction, which could be said to be void of meaning or even demeaning, this kind of transaction is loaded with meaning and therefore has an intrinsic value. The encounter prompts different kinds of conversations – like gossip.


Critical Practice research cluster: about ten people. They each found six stallholders, who were value-based practitioners: participants came from the networks of the cluster members, and from arts based networks like ArtRabbit, Arts Council. Each stallholder got an average of £100 to pay for materials etc. On the day there was a milling crowd, made up of people who were brought by participants – a community of communities: about 1200 people, an unusual mix for Chelsea.


Thousands of transactions on the day. But the market itself required a huge effort to organise, and it would take a huge effort to organise another one. Could this be self-organising? An open system, a means of transaction. A pulling apart of the values system, creating a new infrastructure completely different to our notion of currency. Faith aspects of the transaction massively increased. Profoundly humanising in a time of massive abstraction (e.g. buying on line). Possible negotiation about the value of what’s on offer. What if it is a cabbage? Usually low value but in this case maybe grown with love so does it have a different value? People buy the narratives of production. Links: capturing the stories and exchanges that came out through the event. Was there any follow-on?


Stallholders received instructions and tokens, distributing the tokens to the people visiting the market. Inverse system: like sampling when Starbucks give you a little treat. Some stalls had ‘stuff’ like information. Was a token needed? No, but the tokens add another layer of understanding about value.

Makes participants mindful of the values they have and the things they are lacking. Much more open ended and less prescriptive than a normal design transaction. No implicit value so everything needs to be discussed. Token is ambiguous about the value of the exchange – no specific value attached. A promise – not a material exchange. You can’t sell out of this stuff like you can in a shop. Financial transaction in a normal market is only a tiny part of the market – a lot of other things going on.


  • difficulty in recruiting stallholders
  • storage of materials
  • a lot of free labour involved in making it happen – maybe 4000 hours
  • difficulty in ensuring a mixed crowd.


  • design brings the imagination of a different system of transaction
  • design brings the physical means of allowing people to explore new forms of transaction
  • design brings the means to capture and share the experiences and the transactions that happened.


  • art brings the possibility of negotiating ambiguity and producing multidimensional meaning
  • art brings the invitation to learn and experience through sensuous experience that is often tacit
  • art brings a broader range of values into relation to each other in ways that problematise situations that cannot be anticipated in advance.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 4



In the first stage: me, two design researchers, MA students, school children, students and staff. A transformational process occurred. This led to me being receptive for the magic moment when it occurred: in the second stage an anthropologist joined the project. She brought the words to the pictures we were making.


To move from textile product to textile people as the focus of our research questions. We already have enough stuff. We need new ways to use it, beyond the industrial hierarchy. To create abundancy through systemic exchange, reuse, re-appropriation. For Lucy, as a materials anthropologist, it was to co-create the future, rather than analyse the past.


The Parade Ground was a really important space: the Market of Values; Collecting for Calais; first conversation with Lucy. It was a space that seemed to galvanize action, and indeed us as a community. In this outside space, we gained new levels of understanding; a vision of the potential to collaborate further.


The moments of volunteering. The Kleiderkammer community, the migrant community at Templehof, Berlin, who are growing their own food – in discarded shoes – on urban land that has been protected via a public vote.


The failures in the system are our opportunities for design – for us this was realised through the interface with the givers – collecting for Calais or working at the Kleiderkammer. We want to redesign the systems now – we actually feel qualified now. And we want those systems to be about mobility and elasticity.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 13



Millbank Stories creates a local ecosystem of momentary, serendipitous encounters through objects that broker relationships. Students collect stories from the college neighbourhood. Inspired by these stories they design objects and temporary spaces in Millbank. These mediating objects are used to physically connect people sharing common interests and values. They provoke dialogues, exchange, and interactions between students and people in the neighbourhood and between each other. The interactions are momentary but potentially repeating and long-lasting, and linked within the bigger, local creative ecosystem.


In this case, the role of art and design is not necessarily to solve a problem, but to make meanings, values and friendliness visible, through the use of tangible, mediating objects.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 11


This analysis focuses on the collaborative project between Camden Environmental Services and CSM’s BA Product Design course facilitated through the Public Collaboration Lab (PCL) to look at how product design can create behaviour change around waste to increase recycling rates on two council housing estates. The core actors were the students and the residents. A number of other stakeholders including Environmental Services officers, bin manufacturers Greenleaf and Taylors, and Veolia, Camden’s refuse contractors, as well as CSM teaching staff were also involved in provided input and feedback.


The true ‘heart’ of the collaboration was in the personal encounters that were created between students and residents. Considerable effort went into ‘opening the doors’ for these encounters to take place through the programme of events organized by the PCL with Camden and teaching staff. It is the relationship of trust that was created between students and residents during the more formal meetings on the Estates (co-discovery, co-creation) that led to the students being invited back into resident’s private spaces, their homes, and sharing with them their personal approaches and attitudes to waste. It is these more intimate encounters that sparked the ‘aha’ moments that most inspired and drove the student’s design process.

It should be said in this reflection that these encounters were not all positive. At the constructive end, residents actively participated in solving their problem with them. At the more negative end of the spectrum students were exposed to a ‘culture of blame’ and barriers by residents. They had to learn to navigate the boundary of empathy as a positive tool so as not to let themselves be overwhelmed by the negativity.

The immediate result for the community of people involved in these encounters was sensitization to the problem of cross contaminating waste and the importance of recycling – particularly residents and students. Finally, the extensive insights from the research and tangible design solutions developed by students represent a valuable reference source for future action by the council.


Design created the passport or the neutral ground for opening conversations around a very endemic problem – the lack of understanding and ownership of the waste we generate. The design process of co-discovery and co-design drew together residents and students leading to more personal encounters and the most transformative moments for all who chose to engage. From the point of view of design education, opening doors for students to have these more intimate conversations with other citizens (in this case residents) and other actors (in this case, Camden Council) ultimately gave them belief in their designs and the value they can create.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 6


In this project a jig – a simple tool for producing Enzo Mari inspired market stalls – represented a kind of interface, enabling different actors to come together into multiple and overlapping assemblies; into temporary communities. Those actors were represented both by individuals, materials, processes, resources and small creative communities, mostly coming from outside the neighbourhood of Pimlico in London where #TransActing; a market of values was to be held, and where the stalls were being assembled. Pimlico is a strange part of London, a rather difficult context, where interactions between local people are not always easy.

For a self-determined period of time (spanning a few hours or a maximum 10 days) individuals volunteered, they came together, some spontaneously, to assemble what they perceived as “something bigger than themselves”. The jig coordinated actions: it enabled actors to construct something together that would be impossible to build alone. Often they did not know exactly what their contribution was contributing too, but rather were moved by curiosity and perceived the whole experience as a positive one, feeling they could trust the jig, process, people and context around them. One of the things that they were sharing, is the positive feeling of doing things with others, learning from each other and daring to ask for help or guidance in understanding how to contribute, and construct the stalls to host #TransActing.

The jig facilitated and coordinated work amongst disparate people, and enabled powerful relational qualities to emerge. Volunteers also experienced the enormous satisfaction of making things together, of being productive. They experienced the satisfaction of working through ‘using their hands’, and to construct things well (see: quality of good work), by using manual skills, sometimes they never knew they had. People felt free to learn, to teach others in the use of the jig, and they in turn could instruct others; peer exchange at its best. Through using the jig with others, they also (re)discovered something about themselves.

To sum up, the jig was a medium – Neil would say a protocol – enabling values, meanings and desires to be articulated, represented, acknowledged and shared. Through the jig, individuals assembled into communities, worked together and, by doing so, experienced an intimate encounter. Communities were assembled, even fleeting ones, the jig articulated the possibility for the creation of new communities.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016

Seminar Discussion Group 3


For Cultures of Resilience I have described my work with different groups of people to explore ideas in action. Having helped persuade UAL to divest £3.9 million from fossil fuel, I am inviting staff and students to join me in building a working model of our university as a not-for-profit, co-operative social enterprise. The new social form I am aiming for is a university that infuses art and design with ecological thinking to become more democratic, resilient and sustainable.

As this project engages with an actual situation to make a concrete proposition, and as it has achieved quantifiable results, it could be framed in terms of an expanded conception of design. Yet its paradoxical combination of open-ended utopian impulse with an exploration of psychological and ideological denial is more closely aligned with the ambiguities and dialectical tendencies of fine art.

For me, this process has been punctuated by a series of surprising ‘moments’ and ‘encounters’. Having proposed that UAL should switch banks, I was called to explain myself in a closed meeting, which was concluded when a university director mused, “if we started to ask ethical questions, where would it lead?” Yet in a committee of readers and professors, my proposal to creatively address the university’s different values, and overcome the separation between academic and operational matters to take collective action on climate change was met with applause.

On a day of sunshine and creative public sociability, I staged a cathartic performance, caricaturing myself as a zombie academic. While reactions from colleagues and students ranged from studied indifference to thinly veiled disgust, children seemed delighted by the macabre spectacle (though whether they appreciated the morbid warning about the destruction of intergenerational equity was unclear).

Later, when the small group of students with whom I have been campaigning for UAL to divest from fossil fuels staged a ‘die-in’ on university premises, I was moved by their courage to be vulnerable in a context where strength is celebrated, and to touch on the fear of death in a place where positive thinking prevails.

Our institution and our practices of art and design education have a major part to play in the transition towards a more just and sustainable society. It may be possible to design ways to weave people and places together. But perhaps the bonds of community will be more resistant to neoliberalism if we can combine creativity with criticality, and acknowledge different interests between us, and conflicting impulses within us.

Weaving People and Places Seminar
Central Saint Martins, 1 July 2016