Studio Unbound

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When the history of social media is written, many years from now, a chapter may well be dedicated to Studio Unbound – a project by Lauren Currie, one of the founding partners of Snook. Launched in 2009 (when Twitter was barely out of nappies and Facebook had yet to master joined up writing) the vision was this:

Studio Unbound is an initiative aiming to introduce students, graduates and educators to the creative power of social media.

We explore the power of digital networking, demonstrating tools that students can use to move ideas forward, form networks with practitioners around the world, and build a reputation before and after graduation.

In highlighting creative people all over the world using social networking to their advantage, Studio Unbound discuss the dynamic, conversational value of new communication technologies and illustrate how ideas of teaching and learning need to move away from the confines of the classroom or studio towards other, often ad-hoc and virtual venues.

Focusing on the ever growing possibilities and opportunities that the digital world presents, Studio Unbound demonstrate that during a time of mass communication change, design courses must change with it if they are to stay relevant.

As a graduate of DJCAD, Lauren’s ideas had a profound impact and were embraced enthusiastically by Jonathan Baldwin, Hazel White, myself and others. I remember attending an early Studio Unbound session run jointly by Lauren and Kate Andrews. It was hugely inspiring. Social media soon became embedded in our curriculum and methods. While other projects have eclipsed Studio Unbound over the last three years, it is perhaps time for Studio Unbound to ride out again into the new landscapes of social media and labour markets. Lauren and I have begun to discuss some ideas, so let’s see how they develop. Snook’s excellent Nightriders programme certainly applies much of the Studio Unbound thinking and focusses it on enterprise development.

In the meantime how can this year’s design graduates make best use of social media to make their futures? My page above focuses on some of the key strategic issues for planning social media and applying it. In addition, I have been pulling together research, advice, examples and ideas around four key themes that are central to applying social media and other digital tools to career and self development. These are currently existing as four Pinterest boards:

  • Career planning – this covers job hunting, online CVs and use of LinkedIn, using social media to develop career relationships, networking, using social media to gain internships, etc.
  • Design enterprise – business startup tools, projects and networks to support new creative enterprises, online business toolkits and resources.
  • Personal branding and social media – developing a social media strategy, tools and further advice, basics of self-branding and marketing and online tools to support it.
  • Self-help and organisation – time management tools, creative support, mental health issues and support, GTD tools and writing support.

So current and graduating students may find this a useful starting point.

Back in 2009 Lauren and the equally engaging advocate of social media – Kate Pickering – gave a great talk to students at DJCAD, which beamed in Sarah Drummond via Skype. In the five years since then, these three women have made a significant and lasting impact on Scotland’s design culture and enterprise. And social media has been one vital and distinctive method in their collective arsenal. Watch their talk below.

 

Finally – Lauren and I are looking at running Studio Unbound masterclass weekends. Would you be interested? Leave a comment below if it’s an idea you’d like to know more about. Or tweet me at @mikepress

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What is the value of service design?

 

Nile is an experience and service design company based in Edinburgh. Our Master of Design for Services students produced this short film for them. As Nile says: “this video was created for everyone in the (Service Design) community to share and use. It details some great work from service design companies working in the UK and abroad, and aims to help to communicate the value of a service design approach to business audiences.”

Understanding this value is a key objective of this year’s Service Design Global Conference that is taking place in Cardiff during 18-20 November. Organised by the Service Design Network, the conference is exploring the issue of transformation: “understanding how service design connects with all areas of an organisation service design can support transformation on a much larger scale and achieve greater impact”.

Alongside a great programme of speakers, there is a workshop programme that includes a RIP+MIX session facilitated by Hazel White and myself of Open Change and University of Dundee. Our workshop was the first to sell out, but you can find further details on RIP+MIX from our website.

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Transframers – a research tool prototype

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Transframers is a tool to support the design research process. It helps you to understand your changing role as a design researcher. It is applicable from research students to large research teams. It helps you position yourself and your practice.

This tool was the outcome of a two day DFG Roundtable on Design Research held in March 2013 at the Design Research Lab, University of Arts, Berlin. The organisers invited a combination of German and international design researchers to meet and explore four key themes that lie at the heart of design research.

I was part of team that included Cameron Tonkinwise, Rachel Cooper, Chris Rust, Klaus Krippendorff, Michael Hohl, Sabine Foraita, Tom Bieling, and others. We explored the relationship between design and other academic disciplines. Early on in our discussions we considered it important to focus on an ‘end product’ – a concrete outcome that we could adapt and explore further. In that sense we tried to incorporate the best elements of design jams into this academic discourse. One of the issues that emerged was that of the variety of roles that the design researcher (or indeed the design practioner) can take on during the research process. We wanted to develop a tool that helps define these roles, provide alternatives and act as a diagnostic.

Transframers was proposed as a highly rough prototype. In the spirit of prototypes we invite you to explore it and use it, and help us refine it. We are laying out the basic idea and some suggestion on how it can be used.

So, how did we get to this? Well, we comprised a group of around 12 people (the composition of which slightly shifted over the two days) looking at the theme of translation.  Our interest was how design research worked at the interface with other disciplines. Rachel Cooper and I joined the group after it had already met for an hour or so. To begin with we explored and tried to define the principles of knowledge translation. These were:

  • Find and work with the best
  • Respect their knowledge
  • Become informed (informed by their knowledge, but you will never be an expert in it)
  • Understand where knowledge comes from and goes to
  • Understand the system you’re working in (systems thinking)
  • Find the way to work at the nexus
  • Value the unique value of the design approach
  • Reframe questions
  • Champion the design lens

As for the value of the design approach we saw it as this:

  • An insatiable sense of curiosity
  • An ability to use prototyping as a means of framing problems and defining questions
  • Visualising
  • Analysis and synthesising
  • Being opportunistic (finding the design opportunity)

The initial ‘napkin’ version of this is below.

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At various points in the two days we would report back to the larger group of people. Below Cameron Tonkinwise is presenting our work. Clive Dilnot from Parsons in NYC looks on.

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Discussions over dinner and outside the formal sessions fired us up to accelerate our process of discussion and link it to REAL research, rather than discuss in the abstract. The Berlin PhD students shared their work with us and provided a great focus for exploring how design researchers applied the principles we had defined the previous day. We also began to define some personas (as we initially described them) of how researchers behave in a research context. This evolved into a set of roles. The idea is that the role taken on by a researcher (whether a PhD student or a project director at the head of a large team) constantly shifts. It is important to be aware of how these shifts occur as this reframes our relationships with others and determines how we see the subject of our research.

We decided to move towards creating a real tool, a concrete outcome of the two days that we and others could go off and use and adapt further. The tool is about translation, but it is also about framing questions, and framing our own practices in research (and creative practice), hence transframers. I took on the task of creating a website in the final hour of our discussion, leading up to a public presentation of all the deliberations coming out of the two day event. That accounts for its very rough character.

We presented Transframers to an audience of 150 or so people as a drama, with Cameron as the sagely professor and Rachel and I as two very difficult and problematic PhD students. And we are all rather hoping that evidence of this never finds its way onto YouTube.

The Jam Experience

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We had 48 hours to change the world. Seventy people in Dundee divided into seven project teams, working to a design brief set by the Global Service Jam. And from Kampala to Kathmandu, Beirut to Bogota, Los Angeles to Loughborough, Stockholm to Sydney, there were 2952 people in 122 cities jamming through the weekend to produce 500 projects. It was a remarkable experience that engaged and excited everyone involved.

The Dundee Jam was the 8th best attended in the world, with only two attendees fewer than the UK’s largest jam in London. This was a significant achievement, indicating the interest and passion in service design that has been developed in Dundee. It is also a consequence of having a highly committed and effective organising team.

I’m not sure we changed the world, but we changed something about ourselves, and that is what I will try to explore in this reflection on the Global Service Jam Dundee. The value of the Jam lies not in the outcomes, interesting and inventive though they are, but much more about the experience created and how it challenges and changes our preferred ways of working. And I say this as one of the organisers rather than a participant, but even in that capacity it changed me.

1. It’s about learning

Adam St John Lawrence makes the point that “It’s about learning by doing – and this does not only mean learning skills. I might learn more about how I work, who I work best with, who I might be friends with.” And it is. A jam is an intense learning activity. What you learn from it depends on how open and flexible you are prepared to be, and how far beyond your comfort zone you are prepared to step.

Some jams appeared to shoehorn in keynote speakers, reading lists and expose participants to a range of design tools and methods. We chose not to do this. The five talks we had at various points were each around 10 minutes long, and the methods and tools were very loosely defined. So the emphasis is on inspiration and encouragement, and participants learning from each other.

2. Leave status outside

We are all learners and teachers, and what we have to offer each other is equally valued. Despite doing this within a University, we succeeded largely to reject hierarchy and encourage team working that embraced diverse experience. We had highly experienced public sector professionals working alongside undergraduate design students – and learning from each other. We had marketing executives sharing ideas equally with sociology postgraduates. That ethos was also in the organising group, and is essential for the process to work. Indeed it was personally liberating and refreshing to work in equal partnership with my own students. I rather think that this is how Design Schools were meant to be.

Partnership underpins the whole idea. While Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee supported the venture by providing facilities and technical support, they fully agreed for the Jam to have its own autonomous identity. The Master of Design for Services course supported us with materials and expertise. We were also hugely fortunate in having Taylor Haig as our main sponsor. Their financial support was crucial for success, but the company’s senior partners also attended the Jam, became honorary Jam Doctors, and helped sustain energy and enthusiasm throughout. Partnership and commitment infused all aspects of the jam.

3. Doing not talking

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This is the Jam Mantra. Mind you, from the noise generated you wouldn’t really have known. But having spent considerable time in a past life trying to change the world politically through the time-worn method of sitting around tables or in meeting halls talking and getting nowhere, this was a highly productive contrast. Being practice-centred brings to the process all the advantages of practice-centredness generally, as in research. It also enabled teams to play with ideas, propositions and approaches in a flexible, responsive way. The physical crafting of problems and strategies, and in particular its use as a storytelling device to engage the public and the jam community, demonstrates a further characteristic of the jam….

4. Jamming is connecting

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Farrah Berrou was the blogger for the Beirut Service Jam. In her blog she wrote “Highlight of the Event: Skype call with fellow Jammers in Dundee, Scotland”. To be honest, it was our highlight too (although I really regret not actually talking to them myself). During the course of the Jam we skyped with Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm, Mumbai, Auburn Alabama and Melbourne. To begin with we did this from a large TV in the studio. This was fine and helped largely to enable some good conversations between organisers, but it set limits on engaging our participants. So the ever resourceful Ross Crawford (holding the laptop in the photo on the left above) became our SkypeMeister, carrying a laptop around the studio to introduce jammers across the world to each other. Above on the right we see Ross on the laptop in Beirut. This transformed the sense of internationalism in the jam. In future we should probably build on this further. All of our international Skype buddies brought a great sense of global connectedness to the occasion, but when we hooked up with Beirut, it was particularly magic.

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Stuff gets noticed. Stuff gets seen and engaged with, and so this helped the key objective of getting close to users by exploring ideas with them. Some teams rose to the challenge of connecting with people most effectively.

5. Jamming could be more inclusive

48 hours to change the world is a great opportunity. If you can take it. For single parents, seniors, people who have no choice but to work at times at the weekend, it is an opportunity denied to them. So, what do we do about that?

At the start of the jam we made the point to participants that creativity and inventiveness is a direct product of diversity – the more diverse the community, the more perspectives and cultures they bring, the more experiences they can draw on, the more creative and relevant the ideas they will generate. We brought together 56 people, some from very different backgrounds working in very different areas. But most were in their 20s, worked in creative disciplines and had the benefits of University education. Providing mini jams within the two days, or spin off satellite jams or other initiatives to broaden participation most be a priority next time.

In short, it was a wonderful liberating and creative experience.

Can’t wait till next time.