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What happens when you bring 30 students together, living 5,976 miles apart, and ask them to design ‘The Ideal City’ in just 5 days?

What happens when you bring 30 students together, living 5,976 miles apart, and ask them to design ‘The Ideal City’ in just 5 days?

22 August 2019 Written by By Jessie Johnson Lead Programme Manager

The word collaborate is thrown around all the time these days, especially when it comes to the world of design. I understand the word and I like to think I put it into practice daily. However, it wasn’t quite until last month that this word took on another meaning for me.

Where it all began…

Back in October 2018, Joe McCullagh, Head of Design and Associate Dean at the Manchester School of Art, reached out to Design Council with a bold vision: he wanted to bring students from across the world together to form a global design studio and support them to develop ‘glocal’ design skills. Timely for us as our Design Economy research (looking at the contribution that design makes to the UK) found that demand for these skills are growing – more than 50% of respondents identified an increasing need for these skills in their sector or industry.

Having worked with us for several years through our Design Academy programme, we were happy to help and excited to get started. The first step was turning the vision into a reality. We needed partners, the right expertise, a brief and most importantly students.

Finding our feet as a global programme team

The programme wouldn’t have existed without our pioneering partners Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI). Eager to get started, we faced our first challenges as a global programme team – what does collaboration look like with an 8-hour time difference, various technological hiccups and no possibility to workshop face-to-face? We easily got over the time difference and we (quickly) got over the technology challenges, through several rounds of trial and error. But, without being able to design the programme in person, I leant back on another one of our key design principles – communicating visually. At Design Council, we talk about four design principles that support the design process: Being people centred, collaborate and co-create, communicate (visually) and iterate. During this phase of the project I realised that these don’t necessarily always happen all at once but can be dialled up or dialled down at any given moment. We scribbled and sketched our visions, ambitions and ideas which formed the heart of our collaboration as a global programme team.

Collaborating with design experts

What next? Developing the programme content. The challenge: How do we bring 30 students together from opposite sides of the world and support them develop solutions for ‘The Ideal City’? in 5 days. This couldn’t be done in isolation. Drawing on the expertise of two of our Design Associates, Tom Bradley (a whiz in design sprints and all things digital) and Jonathan Ball (a trained product designer, guru of design strategy and an MMU graduate himself), we began designing the week in Manchester. We used our Framework for Innovation to inform the approach and a mashup of tools and methods from Tom and Jonathan’s collective experience in the field.  

Show time!

Fast forward 9 months and I was on my way to Manchester. Excited about what was to come, but quietly nervous about how far we might be pushing the students out of their comfort zones. Not only were we asking them to work with students they had never met before, from different countries and cultures, but to design solutions for ‘The Ideal City’ while working 7-hour days, 5 days in a row. A slightly different feel to their university courses so far.

Monday arrived. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw when I stepped into Benzie Building that morning. The buzz and energy were tangible. The MMU and HKDI students had already formed amazing relationships (thanks to a brilliant series of events the MMU team had hosted in the days leading up to Global Design Camp). It was truly awesome. Jonathan narrated and led the students through a journey over the 5 days. It was brilliant to see the students collaborating in various ways using presentations, sketches, notes, their crafts and technology to develop their concepts towards building ‘The Ideal City.’ Throughout the week I could clearly see the group dynamics shifting as they got more familiar and confident in themselves and one another. Teams self-organised so that people’s skills were called upon at various stages. Collaboration to one student was “[developing] a sense of belonging through the course.”

So, what’s next?

The next stage of the programme is going to be another leap – creating the digital design studio. Students are now tasked with taking their concepts from initial prototypes to further refined solutions while collaborating online rather than face-to-face. Their solutions will be displayed during Design Manchester in November and Business of Design Week in Hong Kong in December.

So far, the programme has made me consider whether collaboration can be designed into a programme, project or your daily work. Or whether it is a consequence of your individual actions. I think it is a combination of both, but one thing the Global Design Camp shows, is that it is always driven by a shared vision.

A snapshot of the final concepts

A “Lean Green Jelly Machine” that would support communities to design the spaces and places they want by reusing waste and turning this into mouldable building blocks.

The “City on Wheels” – built on the inspiration drawn from an ice-cream truck, the bus would move around cities and provide communities with a sharing and learning space to temporarily takeover.

“Time for Change” – a watch for the homeless that would provide individuals with access to shelter while enabling them to earn points by upskilling in key areas and put these points towards food, new clothes and other necessities.

YUMM Passport - A food passport aimed at children through which they could earn rewards upon completing different key skills, such as; food waste skills, cooking skills, food growing skills, planet knowledge etc.

Reimaging the future of work within which people, places and products would exist within a holographic world. Data would flow freely between these entities to support individuals either get back into work after a major life transition, find a job or upskill in key areas at any point in time.

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