“Climate change and population growth are going to put a huge amount of pressure on this part of the world. It’s fantastic that those who will have to deal with the long-term impact of these pressures are being given the chance to shape discussions about them.” Rachel Dyson from Anglian Water
“This is another kind of shared text; instead of passively receiving plans you are engaging with the real trade offs. This is a different frame to receive scientific information in.”
John Grant writing about Creative Data in his book Co-opportunity, published by Wiley
We create communication strategies that explore global themes for local audiences. Our engaging narrative structures shape bespoke events that bubble with energy and imagination. Combining expertise and creativity we generate maximum impact for clients and participants.
We design exhibitions and installations to communicate the human experience behind complex contemporary issues. Our mission is to connect people emotionally with social, cultural and environmental challenges. Each project aims for increased personal understanding and agency.
We provide space for sharing and reflection in lively workshop environments. Through playful, creative activities we promote participation and connection. Using embodied learning and rigorous analysis we invite people to express themselves in new ways.
Lucy and I were talking about our process the other day and how we usually present our work in our portfolio when it’s all shiny and polished. We thought it would be interesting to share the ‘behind the scenes’ story of each project. Every project is so unique, with it’s own challenges, discoveries and triumphs, it only seems right to shed light on how we got to the finished result.
So we start here with our first project of the year. Well, 2016 certainly got off to a speedy start for Creative Data. Having been commissioned by Bristol Health Partners just before Christmas to create a public engagement exhibition for them by the 18th of January, we had to get ourselves off the starting blocks pretty smartish.
The Design Brief
Bristol Health Partners is a strategic collaboration between the city’s three NHS trusts, three clinical commissioning groups, two universities and its local authority. They describe their mission as improving “the health of those who live in and around Bristol and to improve the delivery of the services on which they rely, and to act as a mechanism for change in our health and care community and our city region.”
They have identified ‘using data better’ as one of their priorities and wanted to create a public conversation about the topic. That’s where Creative Data came in. We designed a participatory exhibition that encourages people to share their everyday experiences and by doing so reveal new challenges and opportunities that can help improve quality of life in Bristol.
This was a fast and furious project – we had two weeks to design and produce the materials for the exhibition, £1000 to spend on materials, and just one day to install it. Well, it ended up being about 3 days in the end, but more on that later.
Firstly though, it’s always great to have creative constraints on a project, whether it’s time, budget, space or, in this case, all three. These boundaries force you to focus and make design decisions in the knowledge that there are limitations. The downside of course is that there is no time to test or prototype, which can lead to difficulties when doing something new.
Our venue for this exhibition is the Engine Shed near Bristol’s Temple Meads station. Situated in Brunel‘s original station building this amazing space is now home to innovative enterprise in the city, with a co-working space for start-up businesses. They say their mission is “to stimulate long term economic growth by supporting business, inspiring young people to get involved and to showcase to the public and potential inward investors the exciting opportunities that exist here.”
It’s a great space to work in, with its historical stone facade contrasting with the newly refurbished, sleek, contemporary interiors. The first challenge the site presented was that it’s not a public thoroughfare, which means we needed tempt people passing by in the street. We decided that we had to start the exhibition outside the building to grab attention. We wanted to take people on a journey both through the narrative of the subject and through the space.
Lucy and I knew that we wanted to play around with the idea of a ‘data trail’ as a way to connect people with the invisible stream of data we’re creating all day everyday with our smart phones and digital devices.
We came up with the idea of creating a physical trail that people could interact with, adding their own stories and experiences. While data can often seem rather black and white, it is the small actions of everyday life that add colour and meaning. With that idea in mind, we decided to invite visitors to share their data/experiences to ‘colour’ a monochrome trail.
We decided to divide the trail into different thematic sections each reflecting on an area of everyday life that connected to an aspect of health and wellbeing. We designed a series of colourful icons that could be used to answer questions about experiences associated with each of the themes.
In each sections visitors would be able to contribute by hanging a colourful icon, from boxes around the skeleton structure, to the data line. They would also be able to add more detail by writing on the icons before they hung them on the line.
After getting the go-ahead on the designs we moved into full production mode.
First thing’s first though. To create this journey through data and healthcare, with only one day for installation, we needed help. Thankfully we got it in the form of three amazing local volunteers – Eduardo (above), Lucy and Chloe. We couldn’t have asked for more enthusiastic people.
They showed up with big smiles and were ready to do what was needed. There is not enough gratitude in the world for people who just get stuck in to help on a very tight deadline. Lucy and I could not have done it without them. John Kellas was also very generous with his time, helping out whenever he could.
Above, you can see Eduardo getting the frames for the exhibition text ready. One of the things about doing an installation in two weeks is that you need to use ‘ready mades’ wherever possible. That’s where Ikea comes in handy, a lot of the time.
To create our physical ‘data trail’ we used Ikea coat stands, paving stones as weights, an awful lot of rope and Lucy’s amazing structural engineering talents. The trail starts outside the building, miraculously passes through a window, winds up the stairs and ends up zig zagging through the building’s foyer.
The laser cutting
To symbolise the themes of everyday life we wanted visitors to consider we chose visual icons that represented each theme – Mobility, Work, Food, Leisure, Sleep. Again, to save time we used ready-mades – buying vector drawn symbols from Shutterstock. My idea was to have these icons laser cut in card so we could hang them on our data trail.
Pre-bought icons and outsourcing the laser cutting seemed like the way forward. And it was, mostly. I just hadn’t factored in quite how long it would take to layout 120 icons on five different sheets and draw cutting lines around them all. Well, now I know. It takes a long time!
The best thing about this part of the story is that we met Neil from Bristol Design Forge. Laser cutting isn’t the cheapest production technique, and we needed 600 icons cutting in 5 different colours. Thankfully, in return for featuring the Forge within the exhibition, Neil agreed to sponsor some of the cost of the laser cutting.
This really saved the day and we are so so happy with the final results. Above, you can see John and Lucy sorting out the icons into their themes before they go up on the line. Below, you can see what they had to sort through and the gorgeous work that Neil did on the different colours.
Thankfully, due to our simple design structure and to our brilliant volunteers, we did get the main structure up in the space in one day. However there were a few crucial details that needed more time. Laying out text for an exhibition is a time consuming business and, in fact, oddly enough it takes even longer to write something as concisely as possible.
One of my criticisms of our work in this exhibition is that there’s probably too much text, which can be off putting to visitors wanting to participate. On this point I refer you to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who once wrote, wittily and accurately, at the end of a letter “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
We put up the exhibition on Friday 15th, the text posters were printed by the very helpful Hobs Reprographics on Monday 18th and put up in the space the same day. The weekend in between was spent madly typing and editing.
At the end of the day on Friday 15th, Lucy and I decided that our genius plan of weighting down the coat stands with round paving stones was only partially working. We realised that if by chance someone stumbled and fell on the line, the whole thing might come tumbling down. Not good!
Lorraine from Engine Shed very kindly offered up her Saturday morning to allow us to come back into the space and create a reinforcing superstructure that attached the whole ‘data trail’ to the building’s interior structure. After that we felt much happier with our creation.
Here’s Lucy, very elegantly hanging up some of the icons on the line outside. This was before the wind and the rain got to them. Yes, in our rush to get it all done on time, it can definitely be said that we hadn’t fully considered the effects of the winter weather on the outside section of the installation.
I had a plan, which, of course, I thought rather ingenious. I would waterproof all the icons outside with a clear spray lacquer. This, ingenious plan, I can tell you hear and now was not a success. Not at all. Not only was the spray lacquer extremely toxic, but it also didn’t do much waterproofing I’m afraid to say.
After the first weekend we could already see the cardboard suffering from exposure to wind and rain and the structure was being battered. So we resorted to plastic laminating. This was a previously abandoned solution, for aesthetic reasons, but needs must and thankfully the Engine Shed was able to lend us their laminator. John Kellas bravely accepted the challenge of laminating all 120 icons for the Mobility section, and we are enomously grateful to him for doing that.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like before the lamination process begun. I love this pic of the train icon hanging outside Brunel’s original railway station. Very poetic. I love it even more now because the train was lost to the wind after the first weekend. Sadness.
Printing on Tyvek
After another week in the elements, it was clear that the outside structure needed further TLC. Lucy and I popped down to Bristol earlier this week to make some crucial amendments. We secured the stands to the fence so they wouldn’t be blown over by the winds and we swapped the outdoor paper posters for new ones printed on Tyvek, which was suggested by Hobs Reprographics and suitable waterproof solution. We currently wait with baited breath to see if it works.
Another benefit of our return to Bristol this week was seeing how the participatory elements of our design are working. It was wonderful to see how the postcard had turned out. They are there so that visitors can make their recommendations to Bristol Health Partners about how to ‘use data better’ in Bristol healthcare. It was also a delight to see the colourful icons gradually going up on the line.
Each time someone adds an icon to the trail, they are contributing a piece of data to the overall story of health in this city. By sharing our everyday experiences we will reveal new challenges and opportunities that can help improve quality of life in Bristol.
I will leave you with this very cheerful yellow tree icon, which was put up by someone in the sleep & rest section of the trail. The exhibition continues in the Engine Shed until February 26th. Bristol Health Partners are hosting an event on February 22nd called: Health, data and the public good: Practical examples and planning for the future .
We encourage you to get involved!
We’ve had great fun designing our Christmas card this year and we hope you’ll enjoy making it just as much. As with all the things we create, it’s intended to be beautiful, playful and useful.
The card works as a 3D table-top festive decoration, using the smallest triangle as the base, but it also doubles as a handy phone stand (perfect for facetime) or card stand, using the longest triangle as the base.
Hopefully you will have already followed the 21 steps to creating your structure. We’re sure you got there on your own, but, just in case, here are some photos of what your finished article should look like.
Happy making and we look forward to seeing you for more playful creativity in 2016.
Leonora & Lucy
Credit: thanks to Snapguide for the inspiration.
The craziness of the London Design Festival is upon us once again. Each year it grows bigger and bigger, encompassing new parts of the city that have previously felt left out of late September’s creative buzz. Even to the hardened design festival goer London’s sheer scale can seem overwhelming. So, to help you with the impending FOMO, we’ve chosen 5 happenings that we think are must-sees.
I’ve chosen these, of course, through the Creative Data lens, which means I am interested in works that engage the public in a dynamic, interactive way, have an attention grabbing beauty, and will provoke conversations about some challenging social and or environmental themes.
Having been a judge at the first SustainRCA Awards in 2011, I am always excited by this show of new talent and their take on what it means to design a sustainable future. There are will be, inevitably, fascinating ideas in this show from across all RCA platforms. This is where the future is being created. The RCA says:
“This year, topics such as renewable, de-centralised energy and responses to London’s housing inequality, lack of connection with nature and the circular economy are most prominent. Notable work includes leather alternatives from jellyfish blooms and pineapple leaves, a controversial new way of mining precious metals and flexible wind harvesting structures.
This year’s theme is New Narratives – a nod to the need for new political and economic paradigms, and those willing to take a stand on environmental leadership. Expect ingenious products, materials innovation, solutions for society, and thought-provoking pieces that herald a bright new world.”
I think this installation by Austrian design duo mischer’traxler is vying for top spot at the festival in terms of beauty, drama, interaction and thought provoking content. This is what LDF say about it:
“The installation comprises 250 mouth-blown glass globes made by the Viennese glass company Lobmeyr. Each globe contains a single hand-fabricated insect and each insect has been printed onto foil, which has been laser cut and then hand embroidered to create the body. Capturing the full range of human engagement with this natural order, 25 insect species are represented, falling into three categories: extinct, common, and newly discovered.
From a distance, the insects are quiet and calm. A scattered few across the installation move, their vessels emitting a soft, glowing light. As visitors enter the darkened room and approach the installation, the insects come to life – moving more rapidly and emitting trilling noises as they collide with the glass in which they are encapsulated.
‘We have created a calm, yet alluring atmosphere, where people can engage with the installation and each other,’ say the designers. ‘It is a playful experience, but also a thoughtful project pointing at mankind’s relationship to nature. We want people to be surprised and delighted.'”
This year the festival has finally arrived on the south side of the River Thames with the Bankside Design District. The work that leapt out at me when scrolling through their listings was ‘Colourful Crossings’ – 3 installations by 3 different artists that encourage interaction with the neighbourhood. This is what LDF say:
“Avenue of Art will take art out of its traditional gallery contexts and transform public spaces with exciting and engaging experiences. The project aims to encourage greater footfall along the street, changing the way it is used and perceived by pedestrians and motorists. The artists commissioned include:
• EXYZT – a French collective of architects, artists and makers whose pieces are designed to encourage participation from the public. Their piece Crossing Stories will feature designs applied to the roadway and street furniture to draw visitors on a journey, and will build on their earlier work in the neighbourhood.
• Renowned photographer Morgan Silk, who will collaborate with a computer programmer to create a photographic image which uses anamorphosis and a new material to create an optical illusion.
• Adam Frank is an artist and designer from New York, who will bring his work ‘The Performer’ to the UK for the first time. The piece is a simple spotlight projected on to the ground, when a pedestrian walks into the light it triggers a spontaneous round of applause.
I’m intrigued to see the visions that several interesting designers have come up with in this exhibition about how we communicate climate change. This is what the Aram Gallery say:
“Devised by Disegno magazine, the exhibition has been designed by award-winning creative agency Universal Design Studio and curated by The Aram Gallery’s Riya Patel. The exhibition features original work by designers Dominic Wilcox, Ilona Gaynor, Maria Blaisse, Marjan van Aubel, Neri&Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth (see image above of Char-Dolly), PearsonLloyd, Ross Lovegrove, Sam Baron and Universal Design Studio.
2°C argues that design has a valuable contribution to make to the climate change debate. Presenting models, photography, graphics and objects, the exhibition will show provocative and thought-provoking proposals for how design could change public understanding of the issues surrounding global warming.”
Amazing to see another environment focused event happening this week. This panel discussion tomorrow evening looks promising. This is what Protein x Ma-tt-er say:
“Join us for a panel discussion with a new generation of designers, experimenting with innovative, sustainable production methods, for a look at how we’re heading for a zero waste future.”
Marjan Van Aubel (image above from The Energy Collection) — is a designer of materials and objects whose practice spans the fields of science and chemistry. Her work has been nominated at the Design of the Year Awards twice and is featured in MoMA as well as the Vitra Design Museum.
Shamees Aden — is a London-born researcher and a multidisciplinary designer exploring the potential of how new scientific practices could impact future designs. She has worked with the likes of Alexander McQueen as well as Nike.
Silo — is a zero waste restaurant in Brighton designed from back to front, with the bin always in mind. It’s eliminated the production of waste by simply choosing to trade directly with farmers, using re-usable delivery vessels and choosing local ingredients that themselves generated no waste.”
Protein x Ma-tt-er: Zero Waste Forum’ at One Good Deed Today, London, E2 8AG, 22 September: 19:00 – 20:00
“People live at the same time in a social space and a physical space; therefore their interactions also occur in both spaces. In the first they produce social forms, while in the second they produce places. All together they create society…
A place is a space endowed with sense. In other words, it is a space that is meaningful for someone. In view of this, and given that meaning emerges from conversations, it would appear that for a place to exist there must be a group of people who talk about it and act in it.
…the physical space that people occupy becomes a place when those sharing it decide to do something about it together… this means that they decide to start and manage a place-related collaborative organization; in so doing they become a special kind of intentional community… a place-making community.”
These three statements are taken from a new book by the great Italian design theorist Ezio Manzini. ‘Design, When Everybody Designs’ is an exploration of the area of design in which Creative Data is situated, that of co-creation between designers and communities.
I have to say this book is written in quite a dense academic style, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a light, easy read, but if you are passionate about social enterprise within the context of design, and ideas around co-creation and community organisation, then it has some excellent insights into where the industry is now.
Lucy and I went to see Manzini speak at the Royal Society of Arts back in June, where he was launching the book. In his talk he spoke about the overlapping fields of design, problem solving and sense making, which we felt dovetailed beautifully with our Creative Data mission.
Creative Data’s work revolves primarily around sense-making within physical spaces. By helping people explore how complex issues relate to their own lives, in familiar spaces, we are building capacity for understanding and action. In doing this we hope many people will be able find their own solutions or coping mechanisms that work well for them in their lives and wider communities. This co-creation approach is essentially what Manzini is talking about in this book.
Here’s an interesting statement about the role of designers from his RSA talk,
“Design should be able to criticise. We don’t want to be egoic designers, we are facilitators and we bring the ideas. We must dare to say something – we have to have ideas and it’s important to have different opinions.”
The notion of design as a a way to facilitate criticism of the current system and develop collaborative responses chimes usefully with the way that Lucy and I practice in Creative Data. We are interested in developing conversations to challenge preconceived notions, offering a critique of issues that develops interpretations of intuitive responses and new practical solutions, as opposed to identifying technical or theoretical challenges. This is why the phrase “…meaning emerges from conversations,” from the excerpt at the top, really jumped out at me.
In this book Manzini goes against current sustainability thinking by criticising what he called ‘Solutionism’. In our obsession with solving the world’s problems he believes we might be being a little short sighted.
“Not everything should be reduced to finding a solution, that’s not rich or deep enough.”
Certainly with the Creative Data mission of co-creation, conversation and exploration, rather than take the straight road, we are looking to go on a winding journey with people to develop deeper understanding. In a world that praises speed and efficiency, taking time to cultivate rich and deep meaning isn’t the norm, but we believe it creates more engagement and therefore more effective behaviour change in the end.
Manzini emphasises in this new book that designers have the capability of forging new social norms and that without community involvement, seemingly big and clever design ideas won’t last the course.
“If you can solve problems and build social links, then the solution will be sustainable.”
The book looks at how designers are the new connectors and bridge builders between an increasingly creative and connected world. He puts design into 3 categories:
Diffuse design – everybody and their broad creativity
Expert design – professionals and their specific skills
Co-design – the collaboration between community and professionals to create multidisciplinary projects
I think this is a helpful viewpoint for those professional creatives who are threatened by the idea that everyone is a designer now. I have always seen our job at Creative Data as a kind of translation service from theory and academia to life in the real world. We are the designers (expert) but we want to work with communities to tell their stories (diffuse) and in the process create a multi-disciplinary practice (co-design).
As Manzini suggests, there is really nothing to be afraid of when everyone designs. It only offers up more opportunities for us to build the bridges to a new vision of, what Manzini calls, SLOC – a slow, local open, connected world.