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