Research Spatial Interventions

Upcoming Uptown Greenville Design Intervention project at 423 Evans: Design in Review

Over the last year, I’ve worked with partner, Pitt County Arts Council (PCAC) to plan and design an arts-based community project for the community of Uptown Greenville. The project is my first large-scale design intervention / installation project since starting at ECU and moving to Eastern North Carolina and was made possible by the Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy (EOSA) at ECU.

The purpose of the project is to attempt to improve and expand on the economic, cultural, and community development of Uptown Greenville by contributing to the community’s sense of place through activity-programming, cultural-historical context, and social-spatial interactions, with a specific focus on contributing to the community narrative.

The project employs a citizen-inclusive model, which emphasizes participation of community stakeholders throughout the process. This particular model emphasizes the community’s ability/responsibility to actively participate in the making (implementation phase) of the design intervention.

Stakeholders included a diverse group of Uptown Greenville community members, “a reflection of the community,” including local residents, ECU students, business owners, employers/employees, district city partners, and nearby friends and visitors of Uptown.

In November, we conducted a focus group with the participants where design concepts were shared to gauge interest and initiate feedback for the new design intervention project for Uptown.

My research team and I reviewed the data from the focus group and wrote a full report with insights and recommendations, which was presented to PCAC in February. 

Some major themes that emerged from the focus group analysis included:

Long lasting impact:
The design intervention should evolve with the community. 

Keep it Interactive:
The design intervention should encourage participation among visitors. 

Fun for all ages and focus on our city.

The main recommendations for moving forward with the design direction included: 

  • create the interactive mural. #hashtag-able. Fun. Playful. Youthful. 
  • keep the physical, tactile components. interactive components / photo opportunities. Swings.  
  • ensure community content creation. Avoid a one-time experience.
  • focus on the city narrative. 
  • participatory experience. paint by number approach, on-site – movable mural panels (all components will be movable).

The final design direction is in review and participants are standing by for more details on when implementation can begin.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing precautions, the project implementation has been delayed. We are hoping the project will be able to continue this fall with a tentative implementation plan scheduled to coincide with the “First Friday” event in September.

September 4, 5-8pm (First Friday event)
September 5, 9-4pm
September 6, 9-4pm

More details about this project will be posted as further developments are made.

This research considers and addresses how a design intervention (arts-based community project) can improve and/or expand on the economic, cultural, and community development of Uptown Greenville by contributing to the community’s sense of place through the addition of activity-programming, cultural-historical context, social-spatial interactions, etc. with a specific focus on contributing to the community narrative.


Art, Technology, and Collaboration: A Robot Drawing Workshop with the Pitt Pirates Robotics Team

The Pitt Pirates Robotics Team (PPR) participated in a two-day workshop to learn about and build drawing robots. The drawing robots are tools with basic moving capabilities (forward, backward, right, and left) that draw on a large canvas via a web browser interface. The students from PPR were highly engaged with the technology and system of tools under investigation in this workshop. They represented middle school and high school students from Pitt County schools, North Carolina who are specifically interested in robotics, programming, and technology.

The workshop activities included building a drawing robot, which was programmed using a raspberry pi. The pi was flashed with our drawbots software package which is available via github. The students built the robots and then used terminal to access their robot via its IP address, which was assigned by our access point/network. 

For the remaining duration, participants worked with the tools to explore, experiment, and play with the different digital and analog making activities to understand the technologies in use. Through this process, they were encouraged to build beyond the steps provided to construct and contribute their own ideas. 

The workshop was designed and implemented to address the socio-technical systems that emerge when people work collaboratively ‘through and with’ augmented technical tools in a design making process. The workshop attempted to (1) foster new ways of thinking and making through play and experimentation (2) affect social interactions and empower people to become producers (3) affect relationships between collaborators and the technologies in use through transparent processes.

The results of this investigation were submitted as part of a new publication called “Critical and Collaborative Making with Augmented Tools” in the conference proceedings of DRS 2020 (Design Research Society) Conference that will be held next August in Brisbane, Australia.

For additional information about this research, see a previous investigation with the robots in a museum setting and a previously published paper. This research is completed in collaboration with Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Associate Professor in Graphic Design at Michigan State University.


Citizen Makers Workshop at the 20th Anniversary National Gathering of Imagining America

I presented and ran a new engagement workshop with conference attendees titled Citizen Makers in Community Design Intervention + Action at the Imagining America 20th Anniversary National Conference this fall in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 18-20, 2019.

This collaborative and interactive workshop introduces participants to a citizen-inclusive design process that applies an open, participatory model for community engagement in design intervention and action projects. The workshop is based on a framework from my research and practice, called the Blended Perspective (see Figure 1 below), that merges social impact assessment (SIA) guidelines from the social sciences with a human-centered design approach to improve methods for assessing social impact as a major outcome of design work. [1]

Figure 1. The Blended Perspective. Copyright, Normoyle, C., 2019.

[1] Read my most recent publication in the FOURTH issue of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) DEC (Design Educators Community) open-access scholarly journal, Dialectic Volume 2, Issue 02 (V2, I2) called A Blended Perspective: Social Impact Assessment in Graphic Design. To view the entire publication, click here:

The Citizen Makers Workshop is a tool for teaching this method of community engagement in design intervention and action projects to a wide range of audience types in an interactive and experiential way. The workshop explains how designers can work with (not for) communities through all the phases of a project. This particular strategy emphasizes the community’s ability and responsibility to actively contribute to the implementation and monitoring phases of a design intervention and action projects. This central idea, inspired by the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement, enables citizens to become producers versus consumers of their communities. Designers serve as researchers, systems thinkers, and activists for change, while community members find ownership and authorship in the work they produce. 

The workshop can be used in the classroom to teach students or in the field to teach community and city members, professionals, and others. It is an active approach to learning that provides opportunities for participants to co-create hypothetical design intervention and action projects, based on unique issues that are relevant and unique to them.

At the conference, eight participants completed the workshop. They worked through a series of activities to learn about this method of community engagement in design intervention and action projects. An overview of the workshop activities is listed below.

  1. Identify an issue of concern based on experiences and/or interests relevant to you and your community.
  2. Identify characteristics of your communities.
  3. Brainstorm design intervention and action projects for your community.
  4. Identify community members for participation.
  5. Identify community member interests, skills and knowledge for integration.
  6. Integrate community participation into design intervention and action projects and refine solutions.

The workshop lasted about an hour and a half. Feedback from participants has been reviewed in order to refine the workshop further, and I plan to run this workshop with students at ECU this spring to test and develop the workshop curriculum further.

Some other highlights from the conference included the film screening of From Here by film maker, Christina Antonakos-Wallace (Check out as well for more details about her work). The film shared the stories of four protagonists from different parts of the world who struggle to find a sense of belonging and self in the places that they call home. We screened the film at the Imagining America conference, but the film will go on tour across the states in 2020. I am working with another colleague to setup a screening at ECU for next fall. We hope to invite Antonakos-Wallace and one of the protagonists to ECU to screen the film and run a workshop with the School of Art + Design students (perhaps other ECU organizations who may be interested as well). We plan to run additional programming next fall that will align with the concepts and concerns that the film brings to light.

Another highlight of the experience with Imagining America was the opportunity to represent ECU (and Eastern Carolina in general) with my colleagues while at the conference. Angela Wells, Associate Professor of Photography in the School of Art and Design and Mark Rasdorf, Senior Associate Director for the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center also presented work at the conference about their collaborative and on-going project, the True Colors Exhibition, a photography exhibit in celebration of LGBTQ History Month. The two have worked together for the past three years planning and implementing this show with students at ECU.


Design Inquiry’s Futurespective Exhibition Opens October 4 at MECA Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, Maine

The Futurespective Exhibition is “a series of installations that rethink the past in the present to point to the future.” The exhibition shows current work of those that have participated in Design Inquiry gatherings and have made work in responses to those experiences.

I had two projects featured in the show: The Experimentations of a Drawing Robot and Wind Drawing Transformations (see video montage below). The exhibition opened on October 4 at MECA Institute of Contemporary Art. The show is open through December 13, 2019.

Some background on the work:
In 2016, Rebecca Tegtmeyer and I presented our research of collaborative drawing robots that foster remote making in the physical space at Design Inquiry, Wildness Weirdness, August 7-13, Bamfield, British Columbia, Canada. During this gathering, Rebecca and I were interested in exploring how nature could act as a mediator in making.

I’m thankful for the experiences and opportunities that have emerged because of my participation with Design Inquiry gatherings. I participated in two Design Inquiries: Stations 2013 and Wildness Weirdness 2016.

The work above (on view in Futurespective) was an evolution of the work completed during the Wildness Weirdness gathering in 2016 to explore nature as a mediator for making. I continued this investigation on the island of Horn Island, MS, May 17-23, 2018 and thereafter as a series of 3D and 4D transformations.

An article from Design Observer about Design Inquiry’s Futurespective:

To learn more about the Futurespective Exhibition, click here:

To learn more about Design Inquiry, visit their website here:

Research Teaching & Student Work

Design Activism and Impact in the Classroom: Presenting at CAA 2019 with Design Incubation Panel in New York

Last month, I presented work at the College Art Association (CAA) 2019 Conference in New York with the Design Incubation panel.

My presentation reviewed a methodology, based on my research and design practice, called the ‘blended perspective’, that merges rigorous social impact assessment (SIA) guidelines from the social sciences with a human-centered design approach to improve methods for assessing social impact as a major outcome of graphic communication design work. It is a model, or process for understanding and measuring social impact that incorporates phases such as identifying social impact objectives, conducting baseline studies, and measuring and monitoring impact.

This methodology in the classroom exposes students who are considering social, economic, political, and/or cultural design agendas in their practice how design activism and action for change can shift design futures in a measurable way.

This presentation also reported on student case studies where this methodology was integrated into the learning objectives of the classroom. In the example cases, students work across different contexts, but otherwise they share a similar goal, which is that they intend to build awareness around a particular issue and foster shifts in behaviors and attitudes. The main learning objective for students is to focus on how to measure “increased awareness and shifts in behaviors.” The learning process highlights theories of cause and effect as well as tools and tactics for measuring and monitoring change.

Photo notes
“Bees are in Danger” by Sydney Evans and Rachel Leslie
“Gender Equality” by Danika Scones

To view the full abstract submission, click here.

Interactive & Motion Research

Motion Design in the Context of Place, a new publication in the book, The Theory & Practice of Motion Design Critical Perspectives and Professional Practice

I am very excited to announce that the chapter, Motion Design in the Context of Place, was published in the book, The Theory and Practice of Motion Design: Critical Perspectives and Professional Practice, 1st Edition, edited by R. Brian Stone and Leah Wahlin, this past summer, July 2018. This chapter was completed in collaboration with colleague, Cotter Christian, Interior Design professor at Parsons, The New School. 

Click here for more details on the book.

The chapter addresses how motion design and place can reshape the way the other is perceived, generating meaning that creates more dynamic experiences between people and their environment.

When motion design is an integrated or applied part of a building, or another spatial environment—interior, exterior, or other, it becomes part of the built environment, adding meaning and potentially, creating a stronger sense of place. Simultaneously, the context of place—the environment, the activity, the interactions that take place within a space become part of the motion work itself. 

This chapter introduces a range of motion design projects to show the versatility of work and methods used in various contexts. Some of the examples discussed include the commercial branding applications of the Union Square Capital One Building in NY, the breath-taking artistic installation projections of URBANSCREEN’s Lighting the Sails on The Sydney Opera House, the dynamic information graphics of the LEED Dynamic Plaque Display, and the interactive generative data visualizations of ESI DESIGN’s Color Play in Terrell Place, DC.


A Presentation at the Digitally Engaged Learning Conference in Toronto: Experimental Practices with Creative Technologies, from the Analog to the Digital

I recently presented at the international design conference, Digitally Engaged Learning (DEL) at York University in Toronto. This year’s conference theme—the ecological concept of edge effects [1]—was particularly interesting to me because I often work in overlapping, disciplinary spaces and I encourage this methodology in the classroom as well. The full published abstract can be found here, on the conference website.

The work I presented discussed my thoughts on the edge effects of design and technology—a space that embraces concepts of open-source knowledge, accessibility of information, DIY and maker movements, critical making and experimentation, open design, and design for democracy. As a designer who is interested in tinkering with technology and tools as a major part of the design process, this space offers opportunities for learning, adopting, and working across technologies and technological systems. It also provides opportunities to work fluidly between digital and analog methods, across media, to experiment and create unexpected things. But, it also suggests that designers need to contribute back to open-source knowledge communities, sharing and distributing the things that we make and the processes we use to create them.

The methodology that I use in my practice as well as in the classroom is shown below. It begins with a prompt or question of “how.” By asking how, the development of a making experience is implied. The why and what questions are important and must be considered… but they could be defined how it best suits the designer, be it orientated towards social and cultural contexts, towards manufacturing and industry, or towards form and artistic practice. Experimentation is integrated into the process right way, and for a significant amount of time to adjust for researching, learning new tools, and learning by doing. Working with open-source knowledge is introduced to discover technologies, mediums, and tools for developing a making experience. The goal of this part of the process is to come to a unique and unexpected process for making something. After that process is defined, it is executed, documented, and shared with the larger public.

The last step in this method is to share and contribute back to the open-source knowledge community the new processes and artifacts that you have discovered. Inherent in the work is the social and technological impacts of sharing knowledge and making information accessible to others, without this contribution there is little impact beyond your own personal discovery.

[1] The conference website (2018) describes the edge effects as “an ecological concept that describes biological interactions happening on the boundaries of two overlapping ecosystems. Species from both ecosystems live alongside one another, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either. […] In art and design, working at the ‘edges’ of ideas or practices, often in spaces between disciplines, ways of knowing and bodies of knowledge, can be very fruitful. It can provide new insights, allow us to challenge conventions, and rethink our engagement with the world around us.”

Interactive & Motion Research Typography & Print

Nature as a Mediator for Making: Data Visualizations of the Wind Recordings of Horn Island, Transformed and Reinterpreted Across Media

The natural environment encompasses all living and nonliving parts and systems that occur naturally in the world around us. As an observer and participant of the natural environment, I wonder how I might observe, participate, and collaborate with the environment and the natural systems occurring around me.

Exploring nature as a sort of mediator for making, I consider how systems of the natural environment might interact, overlap, and contribute to designed processes, introducing a certain unfamiliar or unknown variable into the making experience. This variable captures moments of movement, gesture, and pattern in nature, from the tangible to the intangible systems working all around us.

The results of this collaboration with nature are process-driven recordings of the natural forms and systems occurring at defined locations and times.

I view my recordings of nature as data visualizations or graphical interpretations of the landscapes and ecosystems of diverse and distinct places; they are the recordings of the experiences that take place and the interactions and exchanges that happen in-between, curated in such a way that we are able to observe and discern these natural systems through different mediums. With the primary investigation to explore form and artistic practice as a means for making unexpected solutions, these data visualizations are recorded, transformed, and reinterpreted across media and processes.

This series visualizes the movements, gestures, and patterns of the wind on Horn Island, Mississippi. Thinking about how the wind can be recorded visually as data using analog methods, I designed a drawing tool that recorded the wind onto a drawing surface over a duration of five days. This making experience, a collaboration with the natural environment, resulted in a series of 2-dimensional data visualizations; the data being the recordings of the wind on the island of Horn Island. The artifacts are captured moments of wind across location and time. The wind represents a function of time, the longer the duration of time on the drawing surface, the darker, and more saturated the marks become.

The next inquiry considered how creative technologies could be used to reimagine these 2D abstract data visualizations in other formats. After experiments of trial and error, working through design processes to critique, refine, edit solutions, I created multiple digital processes that resulted in 3D and 4D formats to transform and reinterpret the wind recordings.

The 3D formats explored static, analog solutions to reimagine the wind’s movements, gestures, and patterns. Working with 3D modeling software and 3D printers, the result was a series of object visualizations that extruded points of the 2D drawings into a 3D topographical representation. The object visualizations were rendered with the highest points representing the darkest areas of the original drawings, while the lowest points represented the lightest areas.

The 4D formats explored time-based, digital solutions to reimagine the wind’s movements, gestures, and patterns. Working with the open-source coding language, processing, the result was a series of dynamic visualizations that animated the points of the 2D drawings into a 3D orbital sequence. The dynamic visualizations were rendered with the largest variation in the z-axis, using a range of noise/randomness, to represent the lightest areas of the original drawings, while the smallest variation in the z-axis represented the darkest areas.

final thoughts
This body of work explores how nature can be a collaborator and mediator in making processes and artifacts to visualize and record natural ecosystems of diverse and distinct places. Each recording, transformation, and reinterpretation offer a different visual perspective of what we see and comprehend of these natural systems that operate all around us.

Horn Island series
Monday, May 21, 2018 — Friday, May 25, 2018
36 recordings total, wind drawings, marker on canvas
72 transformation and reinterpretations total, topographical 3D prints and digital animations


Expanding the Robot Family: An update in collaborative drawing tools and speculating future design possibilities

This article is an update on my collaborative drawing robots: an ongoing research project that emerged around 2015 with colleague Rebecca Tegtmeyer, after a series of investigations exploring the role of technology in design collaborations.

To see a former post, click here: New Research in Development: Remote Drawing Robot

This past year, we were able to expand on our research and present our findings in multiple professional contexts. The first included a presentation in a small, intimate group setting at Design Inquiry.  This experience provided valuable insight that led to a more formal paper presentation at the 12th European Academy of Design (#EAD12) Conference, Design for Next, in Rome, Italy this past April. This paper, Speculating the Possibilities for Remote Collaborative Design Research. The Experimentations of a Drawing Robot, was published this fall by Taylor & Francis. The work has also been exhibited at the San Francisco State University Design Gallery. The exhibit, Inside/Outside: Working Our Way Out of the Damaged Now (Design as Dialectics), ran from Feb. 16 through March 30, 2017.

The work explores how the use of present technologies speculate future possibilities for remote design collaboration, where interactions and exchanges are limited to those mediated by technological devices. Specifically, we are interested in how the use of present technologies support remote-collaborative making that takes place off the screen, in non-digital formats, in the physical environment.


In this configuration, I am “Researcher A” (collaborating from Memphis) and my primary role is to drive the robot from the web interface; I am connected to the physical location (in Michigan) via WiFi in real-time to draw with the robot.


While, Rebecca, aka. “Researcher B” (collaborating from Michigan) acts as the facilitator by managing the collaborative-making experience in the physical space; she sets up the space and guides decisions on mark-making tools.

We have worked with this configuration in both Memphis and Michigan, exchanging roles of driver and facilitator, and working with two robots.

roverandel.jpgMemphis robot, Rover (left) and Michigan robot, El (right)

By drawing from existing technologies across multiple categories of tools including live video streaming, live editing tools, and drawing machines, these robots alter the experiences of remote collaborations. Through experimental making activities that prioritized a collaborative process over outcomes, we created numerous abstract artifacts.


The work above shows some of the pieces we have exhibited and published over the last year. This year, we have new goals for expanding this project on multiple fronts. We are currently working on building new robots to experiment with different features for movement and drawing.

The above two robots (left is named Sunny, right is named Hal) are currently being designed in Memphis. Sunny and Hal both have different driving capabilities, using multiple servo motors to control movement of the robot itself as well as additional arm attachments that can move peripherals like the camera and drawing tools. 

Our longer-term goals include creating a website that will run on a cloud network so that we can open access to other users, which would also include upgrading the drawing interface that runs in the browsers. We also want to package the robot with instructions for future collaborators. In order to do this, we are working on simplifying the process—robot assembly, pi set up, network set up, interface access, and studio set up—with the goal of expanding the project.

Research Travel

Exploring the Wild and Weird on Vancouver Island with Design Inquiry


Traveling to West Bamfield on Vancouver Island is no easy feat. The trip took two days, but well worth the journey. After flying into Vancouver on Friday evening, I met up with my robot-making design collaborator, Rebecca Tegtmeyer, and we took the Skytrain downtown to our hotel. Nick Liadis, a fellow Design Inquiry (DI)-er, met up with us Saturday afternoon (from Pittsburg), and the three of us caught the bus from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay to catch the BC Ferry to the island. We arrived on the east coast of the Island in Nanaimo. We were picked up at the port and driven to Port Alberni by our fellow DI hosts, Emily Luce and Rod Sayers who offered us a place to stay the night before we could make the last leg over to the west coast of the island. That evening, we were also joined by DI-ers, Dagmar Dahle, Hester Jiskoot, Lewis Nicholson, and Gwen MacGregor. The next morning, we all took the Frances Barkley from Port Alberni to West Bamfield.

We arrived in West Bamfield on Sunday afternoon.

We presented our research to DI-ers and shared the development of our collaborative drawing robot that fosters remote making in the physical space. We framed the work by thinking about how technology can act as a mediator between collaborators, and if we were completely limited to technical tools in remote collaborations, how could remote collaborators make physical artifacts together in real-time situations. Look for a future article post, where I will include some updated imagery, learnings, and outcomes of this research. 

On the island, and as a way to contribute to the discussions of the wild and weird, we thought it would be interesting to explore collaborative work mediated by nature. As it was the first time Rebecca and I actually met in person (we have been working remotely since 2013), we planned to work on site together and think about ways that nature might play a role in our collaborative design making activities. Our inquiries that led the making activities were: How can we speculate on ways to collaborate without technology? and How can nature be a mediator in our collaborations?

See also an article on Design Inquiry’s website.

We experimented with making our own ink and paper from found berries and pulp on the island. Rebecca explored photo manipulation from natural compositions found in the sand. I explored screen-printing by sewing natural found objects to paper.

For our main project, we created a (very lo-res) wind drawing machine that we set up on the shore of Brady Beach by the DI house. We hung mark-making tools from a tree above and allowed the wind to move the markers around on the fabric canvas that lay below. The wind drawing machine sat out at the beach for about 3 days.

During the week, we also participated in other DI-ers making activities.

And, we spent a lot of time on the shore. The landscape of the Pacific Northwest is stunning; we saw numerous orca whales, eagles, and wolves along the coast throughout the week.

Many thanks to my fellow DI’ers: Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Nick Liadis, Emily Luce, Rod Sayers, Dagmar Dahle, Hester Jiskoot, Lewis Nicholson, Gwen MacGregor, Anthony Hawley, and Tawney Lem. It was an incredibly memorable week; I feel so lucky to be part of the DI family and I hope to see you all soon.


Research Travel

Design, Dumplings, and Deities: A Week-long Voyage to Hong Kong

Last fall, I attended the Cumulus Conference in Hong Kong to present my work on an open model of community engagement in social design. The conference, hosted by HKDI (Hong Kong Design Institute) in Kowloon was five days long, including an opening exhibition and reception (on Monday), followed by three days of keynote speakers in the morning and paper presentations and workshops in the afternoons. During the evenings (and on Thursday and Friday), I also participated in a range of cultural tours and design activities. This article will touch on my experiences throughout the week—a really fascinating and unforgettable trip.

Side note: My final paper, “Design as Process, Artistic Interventions and Civic-minded Improvements as Artifacts: Applying an Open Model of Community Engagement in Social Contexts” was recently published in Cumulus Working Papers 33/16: Cumulus Hong Kong 2016 – Open Design for E-very-thing (pp. 304-311). Please check it out, if you get the chance. 

After registering for the conference on Monday, I visited the Open Design for E-very-thing Exhibition in the main conference room at HKDI. The exhibition, like the entire conference, featured design work across six tracks: education, empathy, ethnography, engagement, experiment, and environment.

The host institution, HKDI, provided a great venue space for the conference. The building is impressive in scale, form, and architectural surfaces. It was designed by French architects Coldefy & Associés, Architectes Urbanistes and “features a glazed box raised seven stories above the ground on four lattice-steel towers that rest on a sloping, grass-covered podium” (Amy Frearson, Dezeen, 2011). The large quad area in the center of the building provided a great space for networking, eating, and relaxing for a relatively large conference plus their regular occupancy. All of the presentations and workshops plus the main auditorium and exhibition space was well situated around this central area.

On Tuesday, the conference kicked off with opening remarks and two keynote speakers in the main auditorium—Hideshi Hamaguchi, an executive concept creator and strategist at Ziba Design (who spoke about processes of innovation and strategy in design), and Steve Leung founder and chairman of Steve Leung Designers Limited (who spoke about Eastern aesthetics). As I had never attended a Cumulus conference before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the quality of work that would be shared, but I was pleasantly surprised after listening to both of these talks. Hamaguchi (you should read his bio) is kind of a big deal.

My favorite keynotes from the conference included two of the final speakers on Thursday—Wang Min, professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China (who spoke about advancing technology and design education) and Patricia Moore, Industrial designer, gerontologist, author and president of Moore Design Associates (who spoke about design, empathy, and aging with a political twist and feminist perspective). Moore’s presentation may have been one of the best talks I have ever seen. I laughed, cried, and learned. She is an amazing speaker and storyteller with a lot of valuable knowledge to share.

Regarding the paper presentations, including my own, I mostly attended the design engagement and empathy track presentations. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see them all, but everything I did hear, I enjoyed. The work was astutely relevant and pointed and I’m looking forward to reading all the papers, now that the publication has been released.

Tuesday evening, I participated in a dim sum workshop at the Chinese Culinary Institute (CCI). This was a lot of fun and I’d recommend trying something like this if you have the time and interest. It was also a great opportunity to meet some of my design colleagues at the conference in a casual, fun setting.

The head chef put on quite the show, doing a demonstration that showed the process of making the dumpling’s stuffing and skin, and piecing them together. He also, effortlessly I might add, showed us how to make Chinese noodles by throwing them up in the air. Some of us tried to replicate this technique, but with no such luck (or grace).

We broke up into teams to make our own dumplings with some of the students of the institute, and we also received recipe cards and a sweet certificate of attendance that has officially titled me, “Culinary Ambassador.”

On Thursday, I went on a city tour with fellow conference goers in Hong Kong Central. The tour started with a visit to Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and most revered temples in Hong Kong. Filled with burning incense, the temple honors two deities: Man, the God of literature who is dressed in red and holds a calligraphy brush, and Mo, the God of War (or Marshall Arts) who is dressed in a green robe and holds a sword.

After the temple, we walked about a block to the first built road of Hong Kong since British colonization, Hollywood Road, then Sheung Wan and the Central SOHO area. We rode up the world’s longest escalator in Mid-levels, and also visited Jamia Mosque, also known as the Lascar Temple, which is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. One of the highlights of the tour included a visit to the PMQ, formerly Police Married Quarters, which was renovated and revitalized as a hub for creative and design industries. There was a wonderful design exhibition on view.

We finished the tour with a dinner at a floating restaurant in Aberdeen harbor. To give you an idea of where I am in the week, it is now Thursday and it is Thanksgiving night. I celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with colleagues from Poland, Germany, Italy, China, and England, and drank my first Chinese beer. What a night.

On Friday, I hiked part of the MacLehose Trail with colleagues in a tour group. The hike included beautiful views of Hong Kong’s skyline, among the greenery and wildlife (monkeys and birds in particular). The monkeys are prolific in Hong Kong, and our tour guide shared that they are often so bold that they will steal your cell phones right out of your hands, if you get too close. There was no food on the hike either, obviously, as the monkeys would certainly mess with you if you had any goodies.

The MacLehose Trail was recently selected by the National Geographic Society as one of the world’s best hiking trails. The 4-hour tour, led by a professional hiker, took us to Section 6 of the trail, which cuts across the Kowloon and Shing Mun reservoirs.

After hiking, we visited Lei Yue Mun fishing village, best known as a seafood paradise. I wish I could remember the names of some of the things I ate, but I really can’t. I can tell you, that I tried some things that I did not like, and some that I liked a lot. Everything looked new to me, and I love seafood, so there’s that too.

After twenty hours of travel, I found myself half way around the world. It was now Saturday, and time to return home but it was such a pleasure to experience a new place and be with design colleagues from all over the world. I leave you with some pictures taken from my hotel room in Kowloon. What an amazing week, full of design and culture.


From Design as Artifact to Design as Process: Applying an Open Model to Community Engagement in Social Design

I recently attended Cumulus Hong Kong 2016 Conference, Open Design for E-very-thing and presented work about community engagement in the design process. The theme of the conference was openness and what that means in a field that has historically been conflicted between design that is inclusive versus exclusive. There were six tracks of exploration: education, empathy, ethnography, engagement, experiment, and environment. I presented in the engagement track, a design model that opens the design process to the community, expanding the role of the residents from participants to makers.

The model introduces the designer as strategist and systems thinker in the context of social design projects, while the community takes on the role of participant and maker. This central idea, inspired by the DIY (do-it-yourself) and open-source mentality of residents creates a workforce of critical makers, especially useful in locale endeavors with limited budgets. The model includes the roles and responsibilities for all phases of work—research, strategy, concept, artifact, and management—for both the designer and community member. Designers serve as strategists, systems thinkers, and activists for social change; community members serve as makers, which empowers them as they find ownership and authorship in the work they produce.

At the conference, I explained the model and how it worked through case studies that I led in Memphis, TN.

The paper will be published with the conference proceedings late spring.