Innovation School MDes in Design Innovation & Collaborative Creativity

Haotian Zheng (He/him)

A Product manager, Activist, Troubadour, Gatekeeper, Planet Observer.

Emphasis on Human-centered approach, Human well-being, Asset-based approach, Decolonial approaches, Bottom-up innovation, Design for the Real World.

I focus more on practice rather than methodology itself. The power of one person is tiny. No matter how perfect the methodology and method is, there are limitations but the practice can truly find the most suitable method.

In my opinion, every project should not start from zero, but an iteration of the life project with all of knowledge. In my life project, everyone can be my tutors and teammates. Also, everyone can be a designer because everyone have “a pair of ‘eyes’ that can discover” and unique advantages, but most of the time they don’t know how to use this ability well.  To promote the development of the world, we need to bring into play the strengths and contributions of each person.

Collective intelligence and Weak ties strength are a valuable spiritual power of human beings and can promote innovation. Innovation does not necessarily come from rigorous logic, projects and work, it can come from anywhere in life.

“The wind begins as a ruffle in the grass. ”
“If I can not be a poet, I can be a poem, and let everyone be poets.”
“Do what you want to do. Different routes, same goals.”
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Grassroots Innovation in British Railway
“Why are we so similar?”
Weaving Futures
By-product world
Ethnography and Ethics
Re-Re Bin

Grassroots Innovation in British Railway

Stage 3: Master’s Project (Self-Directed)

For Design Innovation: “Does the Deficit-Based Approach always find a solution when faced with complex and wicked problems? ” “As an international student who only lives in the UK for half a year and do only three months project, What I can do for the real world?”

For Collaborative Creativity: “Can co-creation jump out of the framework of workshops and long-term trust building to achieve spontaneous bottom-up innovation? If so, what is the role of the designer in it?”

Facing methodologies and methods, learning them, practicing them, and transcend them”, in this project, I designed a new methodology by combining “Grassroots innovation” and “Weak Ties Creativity” . Grassroots Innovation means internal spontaneous bottom-up innovation within groups. Weak ties creativity means external weak ties innovation between groups. I combine them and give it a new name:  “Connecting Grassroots Wisdom” and try to practice it in the wicked context of British railways.

British railways have a long and complex history including nationalization and privatization, Richard Beeching plan, Great British Railway strategy, etc. It is now facing an unstable external environment, including COVID-19, 2021–present cost-of-living crisis, frequent changes in the government, etc. It is facing direct conflicts of interest of stakeholders including workers, managers, passengers, etc, especially 2022–2023 railway strikes. The implementation of the internal strategies of the various railways was difficult. People seem to lose trust and confidernce about  railways.

As a designer, what I can do is to find a stable strategies and methods for driving development by internal forces, Build Empathy between different stakeholders, Find people who care about railways and pass on their caring to regain hope and trust, and increase internal and external cooperation efficiency.

“Who are caring about Railway? What they can do for railway development to alleviate wicked problems?”
Among the Stakeholders of the Railway system, people with multiple identities are often overlooked. They regard a certain part of the railway as a hobby, including the railway community, railway photographers, model enthusiasts, line planners, train simulation enthusiasts, etc. Some of them have become mature grassroots organizations and movements, some are active on social media, and some participate in offline activities. I regard them as “Railway Grassroots Groups”.

I roughly divide grassroots groups into three archtypes, mature grassroots organizations, immature virtual grassroots groups, and ungrouped individuals. Although their hobbies, abilities, and groups are different. But they all care about railways, have enthusiasm and knowledge for railways.

Among the mature grassroots groups, Community Rail Partnerships (CRP) has established collaborations between railway companies, local communities, and government councilors. They have a regular meeting every month to discuss cooperative projects such as station murals, barrier-free facilities etc. There are 9 CRPs in the Scottish region. However, many mature grassroots movements and virtual grassroots groups are still isolated, they have enthusiasm and knowledge but they did not know each others and only in hobbies rather than practice to real world.

In face-to-face Co-design, I regard myself as an Activist rather than a researcher. We learn from each other, introduce different grassroots groups we don’t know before, discuss how we can cooperate with other grassroots groups, and share our vision of the present, near future, and future communities of railways. I use ppt, google, and white paper as engagement tools to introduce different grassroots groups, show how what they did by their hobbies and break the knowledge barriers. In the Co-design of the virtual community, I just sent 2 posts in 5 Facebook Groups to discuss the price of Caledonian Sleepers. These two posts received heated discussions and spontaneously discussed the past, present, and future of Caledonian Sleeper from different perspectives of stakeholders. We don’t build any trust and hold workshops before but we have put our collective intelligence and passion to practice in the real world and use hobby as ties to build our sense of belonging, empathy, kinship. I was also invited to CRP meeting from different stakeholders to discuss the collaboration with different grassroots groups. Although it is new for Building Railway as a Subculture, we started to try it.

In grassroots innovation, I redefine the role of the designer in the project: “Glue”. This Glue guide different grassroots to practice their knowledge and passion within groups, and also guide others to become a glue between groups. And I have summarized a set of methods on how to achieve different types of grassroots innovation and manifesto to how to engage with different grassroots.

This is a self-reflection and critical project of the logic of user-centered design, role of researcher, traditional way of interviewing, flashy engagement tools & workshops and money as the single tie. Facing a wicked problem, a project designed for the real world need consider the potential and more stable way over in Internal system and funding. My exploration and innovation can also come from daily findings and reflections, or even hobbies. Design thinking can be applied everywhere rather than just a project and work.

In this project, you can see the continuation of my other projects before, including the spiritual connection to the by-products world (By-products world), how the project realizes connection as a non-human (Weaving futures), How virtual ethnography is applied to project (CRM), how people get rid of the information cocoon (Pop Culture), each project has been inherited with knowledge transfer as “Ties”.



1.Connecting Grassroots Wisdom

2. Issues-Empathy

3. What I can do - 1

4. What I can do - 2

5.Design opportunity

6. Who cares about railway






13. Data Analysis

14. Blueprint

15.Designer as glue

16. Method:glue for weak ties

17.Manifesto:How to do grassroots Innovation in Virtal community

18.Manifesto:How to engage with grassroots face to face

“Why are we so similar?”

Stage 2: Popular Culture and Creative Practice

“Why we are so similar?”

Internet & Conflict: between Gen X spirit and lives today

This zine is inspired by the style of the comic book of “Here” by Richard McGuire by placing people from different time periods in the same spatial location at different points in time. The zine tells the similarities and differences between the lifestyle of social media on the internet and the GENX spirit, as well as the conflicts faced by the internet in contemporary lives.

With the development and popularization of the Internet, people’s living environment is still lack of vitality. People are immersed in social media and short videos. This approach affects people of different age groups, especially GEN Z, and a new term has been derived: the Tiktok Generation.

In the era of social media and short videos, a sense of lethargy and passivity emerges as people immerse themselves in platforms like TikTok, characterized by a revival of ’90s themes and a lack of purposeful engagement. Contrary to Fukuyama’s idea of Western liberal democracy as the ultimate social system, economic recession accompanied technological advances, with the Internet and social media playing important roles. The TikTok generation echoes the GENX spirit, embracing uncertainty and non-mainstream subcultures. Modern movements, while advocating diversity, often lack clear targets and fail to anticipate potential disruptions.

Social media’s impact is twofold, facilitating global connections but also fostering detachment from real-life communities and curated portrayals of life. The “information cocoon” created by algorithms restricts diverse perspectives and undermines democracy, raising concerns about surveillance and manipulation.

Escaping this requires introspection about one’s internet and social media use, as my zine and article concludes by urging individuals to reclaim agency and take proactive steps.

1.Why are we so similar?

5.Everything people are doing could being watched.

2.From 1960s to 2022

6.Information Cocoon

3.Technology doesn't seem to be why people are lazy.

7.Is it necessary?

4.Isolated Island

8.Control the life

Weaving Futures

Stage 2: Studio 2: Collaborative Creativity

“How do creative collaborations look like from the lens of Pluriverse and a relational worldview?”

We answer with the questions of yarn connection, workshops and the theme of decolonizing museum.

Pluriverse means whe world is including many worlds fit, coexist of multiple worldviews and ways of being. Relational worldview means interconnectedness, interdependence, and significance of relationships between entities, considering them as central to understanding the world.

I use a common and easy-to-understand vocabulary to explain these two complex words: “Ties(纽带)”.  

This kind of “Ties” includes the ties between human, the ties between human and artifacts, the ties between artifacts and artifacts, and the ties between human, artifacts, and nature, etc. Everything in the world can be interconnected through ties.

We get inspiration from Indigenous worldviews, Animal values, Post-developmentalism, Self Narratives, Mutualism, Spiritual desire, Ancestral guidelines and ways of collaborative principles, and combine the Participatory Prototyping Cycling Model with the Sentir-pensar(Feel, think, enact) to discuss the theme of Decolonizing museums.

We held two Co-design workshops and invited more than 20 participants to co-create. In the first workshop, we designed character cards and content cards for role-playing, discussing the collaboration of characters inside and outside the museum to explore ways to discuss from a multiple perspective and practice our knowledge of collaboration methodology.

In the second workshop, we used perspective of ties of human, ties of human and non-human, ties of non-human and non-human Kinship perspective and museum perspective to break people’s inherent impression of museums and explore what future museums will look like to break stereotypes of museums, co-design the future of museums and enable participants to tell their own stories in a pluriversal way.

This project is a try of jumping out of an anthropocentric perspective to encourage people to respect diverse worldviews, values, and think through the perspective of Pluriverse and a Relational Worldview. Throughout all process of the project, we use weaving yarns inspried by Buen Vivir, Cosmovisión and Jolobil of Mayan weavers as a carrier to visualize the “Ties” between people, objects, nature and the everything in the world.

We named it “Weaving Futures”.

Collaboration with Ruibo Xu


Research cards mapping

Interview mapping

First Workshop

Second Workshop

By-product world

Stage 1 : Design Innovation General: Nurturing nature

“Are humans part of nature?
“Why artifacts don’t look like other by-products?”
“Can humans really jump out of the perspective of anthropocentrism? “

In this group collaboration project, we explore the relationships between artifacts and by-products of other creatures to investigate why artifacts look so different. We attribute the reason to Dynamic Changes. This dynamic encompasses the rate of evolution and change.

We make prototypes through physics and visual deviations to test and analyze the speed at which people see the evolution of creations from different perspectives and through the establishment of Dilemma Game to encourage people to think about the relationships between human beings, man-made objects, nature, and other by-products.

A total of 15 participants shared their thoughts of the by-product world and data analyzed and , we summarized the Manifesto and Design Principle of speculative design.

Before you see the output, Please imagine, from your own perspective, in the long history from ancient times to the present, which one has the faster development speed of human shelters and bird nests? What about the perspective of the bird, and the perspective of the Creator? Will the result be the same? Why is this?”

“And then, welcome to see our answers.”

My teammate Harve also wrote a book to our project, you can see here:

Collaboration with: Harve Yang, Sia Huang, Qianqian Miao



"We are nature."

"Putting aside human arrogance."

"Equally respect for man-made & natural products."

"Human civilization is the resulf of nature evolution."

"Nature need death."


Ethnography and Ethics

Stage 1: Core Research Methods(CRM)

“How do war correspondents prove that they are really on the battlefield?”
“That requires someone to capture photographs of them on the battlefield.”

With the development of society, the acquisition and processing of images, videos, and audio have become easier, and ethnography also faces issues of trust from others and ethical concerns. Research demands a plethora of evidence to gain trust and convincingness.

People require you to provide visual materials such as photos, recordings, and more to authenticate your real engagement in this research. However, this also implies confronting moral and ethical dilemmas related to interviewees, especially concerning the privacy of those being researched.

“If they refuse you to take pictures, record audio, and only rely on simple paper records, can you gain convincing power?” This places ethnography in a dilemma without an easy solution.

Simultaneously, the emergence of virtual fieldwork gives rise to ethical and trust-related predicaments in virtual ethnography.

This critical article discusses the practices and challenges of ethnography in the context of societal development.

1. What is ethnography?

2. How is ethnography practiced today?

3. Ethnography's Ethical Issues Today

Re-Re Bin

Stage 1 : Design Innovation General (Sense-making Week)

“What happens to Engagement Tools, Mappings, Sticky notes and prototypes in Studio after a project is end?”
“It’s going to be trash.”

This one week team project explores building a sustainable culture at Studio, which includes “Recycle, Reuse, Reduce”.
We designed aims to cultivate students’ awareness of sustainability from obtaining materials, using materials, and processing materials so as to reduce material waste and realize multiple use of materials.

This includes two tools: a material scale and a multi-recycle bin. The material scale is to encourage students to consider the quantity of materials when obtaining materials to reduce waste; the recycling bin is to recycle reusable tools after the project is completed for continued use.

We named it “Re-Re Bin” .

Collaboration with: Harve Yang, Edward Zhang, Fanzu Gao, Yangzhenghao Zhang, Jiayi Cai, Zichun Du

1.Establishing Sustainable lifestyle in Studios

2. From raw data to insights

3. From insights to ideation