1-5 November 2010, Royal College of Art
Part of AcrossRCA interdisciplinary collaboration week at the RCA
This five-day version of the Methods Lab involved 36 students from nine Royal College of Art departments and visitors from the Media, Art & Design Faculty (MAD) in Genk, Belgium. The students worked together in teams with 'creative partners' - local residents from Age Concern, Kensington.
The aim was to rethink the design implications of an ageing population. Kensington was chosen not only for its proximity to the RCA but because it has one of the highest life expectancies in the UK. Participating students were guided through a five-step inclusive design process to develop a proposal that introduced social change through design.
Learning from experts
The workshop began with a briefing session by project leader Dr Yanki Leem who explained key current debates in design and social development. At the end of each day (except the last day) there were seminars and discussions with experts on inclusive design, social innovation and sustainability.
Working with creative partners
Each team worked with an older resident from the local area who was their creative partner, and investigated their lifestyle. By working together, the interdisciplinary teams and their creative partners co-designed a proposal to enable a sustainable lifestyle for a growing ageing population.
The brief was to present a design proposal that improves the local area and enables people to attain a more sustainable lifestyle in Kensington (a balance between social, economic and ecological issues).
The five-step process
Step 1: Inspiration
Four members from Age Concern, Kensington & Chelsea, the local branch of the national organisation, were invited to come to the Royal College of Art and meet the students. They were asked to create a journey to show the students 'their' Kensington and share with them their experience as an older person as well as a resident in the local area. At the end of the first day design strategist Emils Rode from Rigas (Latvia) gave an inspiring talk about his Aesthetics of Ageing project, using fashion photography to explore the clothing of Latvian pensioners, Design lecturer Liesbeth Huybrechts from the Media, Art & Design Faculty (MAD), Genk, Belgium, also spoke about a long-term project with care homes in Belgium to develop future care-free social spaces.
Step 2: Direction
The students were asked to analyse the experience that they had with their creative partner on the first day. The teams documented the journeys and developed a visual way to present the experience and establish design directions. At the end of the second day, Dr Katy Stevens from Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology Research Centre, University of Wales, Newport, emphasised the importance of user involvement and having mutual respect between researchers and people; she showed work carried out on Smart Clothing - Design for Ageing Well, one of the New Dynamics of Ageing projects. Professor Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre then a gave a presentation called 'Old & Young' and explained eight challenges for our future selves: definition; transition; new technology (digital exclusion); cognitive decline; public space; economic independence; hospital care and the the challenge of the unprecedented in ageing.
Step 3: Ideation
The teams were asked to develop creative ideas based on the directions they had identified on the second day and question, compare, contrast and develop the ideas within the framework of policy development in the local area and existing social innovations. During the third day two Helen Hamlyn Research Associates, Gregor Timlin and Gail Knight presented their recent design research on dementia and public toilets as examples of ideation with user input.
Step 4: Integration
The students refined their ideas during the fourth day. It was essential for them to think about disability and diversity in order to develop designs. In the afternoon the students attended an inspirational lecture at the RSA by David Constantine of Motivation, an RCA graduate and designer of wheelchairs.
Step 5: Presentations
Mentors from the Helen Hamlyn Centre talked to students and encouraged them to think about their project in a critical way. At the end of the fifth and final day each team presented a six-minute film of their ideas. Emily Campbell, Director of Design at the RSA, was invited to comment on the projects and this provoked discussions on social inclusion and creativity.