CityLab Studio: Designing participatory, human-centred methods for citizen engagement

What could citizen-centred governance look like to tackle issues on climate change?

This design studio was taught in the Communication Design Program, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, in partnership with CityLab (City of Melbourne) and Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (University of Melbourne) during July – October 2015. It aimed to introduce design students to consider new models of local governance in 2040 for a future that is hotter, more crowded but has adapted to climate change and its impacts. This studio, led by Dr Yoko Akama, Tania Ivanka and Dr Idil Gaziulusoy helped students learn about emerging movements like service design, speculative design and design ethnography to propose a citizen-centred future for the City of Melbourne.

The studio introduced students to the development and use of participatory, human centred design methods and how these can be used to engage citizens in dialogue about, and the design of, a low-carbon future. In order to deliver this learning, the studio structure included in-class exercises on participatory methods, guest lectures by the studio partners, interviews with local practitioners who are at the forefront of citizen engagement on these issues. The studio centred around several workshops with citizens where students could develop, iterate and test their participatory prototypes with the participants.

“The lecturer explained that we as designers have been educated to be problem solvers, fixated on delivering a solution. This studio however, was not aiming to design a solution, but to design the process. With this acknowledgement, all of my stars seemed to align and I felt I gained a whole new understanding. .. our main focus revolved around developing prototype’s to be tested in real life settings using all we had learned around human centred design so far. This process held the most intense and insightful experience within the studio. As we were to test these prototypes on industry professionals, only just having learnt half the concepts we were exploring with them a few months ago, it was definitely an exciting process. Being able to learn from the things that may have gone horribly wrong and even get feed-back from our participants held so much value in the development of my work and also myself as a designer. Real life interactions were incredibly valuable. Being able to reflect on the process to inform and iterate future work is such an essential element to design and this studio thoroughly underlined that notion.” Galen Strachan

The process and outcome of this studio are captured by a selection of outstanding student projects:

Repurposing Waste by Carlotta Solari

 

Public Transport mapping by Galen Strachan

 

Swapping waste and resources by Harry Jones

 

A city of windturbines by Robert Sorensen

 

Household Foodwaste prototype by Anita Shao

 

Green infrastructure by Mary Hoang

 

Power Up prototype by Maria Ferreira

 

Bus it by Michael Santos

 

Wasteful Packaging prototype by Sasha Taylor-Leech

 

The Human-Centered Design (HCD) Toolkit was designed specifically for NGOs and social enterprises that work with impoverished communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The free kit walks users through the human-centered design process and supports them in activities such as building listening skills, running workshops, and implementing ideas. The process has led to innovations such as the HeartStart defibrillator, CleanWell natural antibacterial products, and the Blood Donor System for the Red Cross—all of which have enhanced the lives of millions of people.

Download The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design.

Commencement date: 2014
Project status: Current
Partners: RMIT University, Oxfam Australia, Victoria Eco Innovation Lab, Swinburne University, Monash University, Victoria University, Melbourne University

This project builds on a course piloted with final year Communication Design students in 1st semester 2014 at RMIT University. Developed in partnership with Oxfam’s Design for Change program, students designed communication strategies to engage Australian youth on climate change and food security. The teaching was integrated with research expertise and introduced human-centred design methods to assist student’s learning of design’s role in addressing complex issues.

This project further consolidates the 1st semester fruitful outcome and Oxfam’s enthusiasm to continue the successful partnership. Several workshops are planned with various stakeholders to call upon a range of expertise in Oxfam, RMIT and beyond to ensure evaluation and critical input to deliver internationally relevant curricula that integrate social and sustainable principles into design curricula, has potential to transfer into other fields, and enable students to be work-ready in local and global industry.

Anyone interested in learning more about this project, or taking part, please contact Tania Ivanka (tania.ivanka@rmit.edu.au).

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