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


Commencement date: 2014
Project status: Ongoing
Partners: Oxfam Australia, RMIT University

This is a communication design 3rd year studio offered at RMIT University. It enabled students to have the unique opportunity to work with Oxfam Australia to explore complex, systemic issues on climate change and food security through designing and research. Throughout the 13 week semester, the students undertook intensive design research, ethnography and fieldwork, which was synthesised and analysed through critical mapping. The students were required to design an innovative strategy that enables young people in Australia to see, feel and think about their enduring connection to the global communities who are affected by climate change, and help young people in Australia to take action.

The insights and strategy were presented to Oxfam on two occasions, one at mid-semester presentation and the end of semester presentation. These presentations were attended by Oxfam representatives who gave the students input, critique and advice appropriate to the assessment criteria.

If the strategies proposed by the students show potential, Oxfam representatives will discuss their choice with the lecturers and may invite those students to develop their strategies further, after the semester has ended. These students will be consulted and involved in further developing their strategy for Oxfam’s GROW / Climate Change and Food Security campaigns and be part of influencing their strategy.

The slides below were the presentations that were made to Oxfam Australia in June 2014.

Jennifer Smit: A treasure hunt

Jared Ow: #changechallenge

Celeste Galtry: A new donation platform

Jennifer Thy: One mother, one dollar campaign

Marina Sellstad: Gamification Earth

Alexandra Kimpton: Flourish

Eliza Lambert: The Social Green Pop-up Bar

Ally Parker: Brand zero

Gabby Lovell: Queen Vic Market cooking school

Luna Hao: The vegan day planner

Rachel Gan: Hello Fresh activity pack + grocery delivery service

Rainie Nguyen: The 30 Day Challenge App

Hanxun Chen: The disappearing island public installation

Diamy Pham: Packaging tips for a busy lifestyle

Yi Cheng: Pop-up disaster showroom

Francesca Carey: Oxfam Tap

Mathias Kasambalis: Connecting people through public art installations

Monica Sutrisna: Craft food template for healthy eating

Pei Seen Chew: University organic market co-ops

Bo Young Lee: Plant Me

Patrick Lavery: UGLI pop-up stores

The Journal of Design Strategies published by Parsons The New School for Design
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