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MDes in Design Innovation and Citizenship

Every year we say ‘there’s never been a more important time to study Design Innovation’. This year, that’s especially true.

Watching the response of students to unfolding events has been humbling; even though we have all faced innumerable personal difficulties and frustrations, our students have shown a remarkable stoicism and camaraderie, keeping up a sense of community and mutual support that ensured everybody got through relatively unscathed.

Design Innovation has always been a programme focused on human-centred design – looking at the way the world works and identifying ways it might be better, either through big systemic changes or small interventions that help individuals. The topics we began the year talking about ended up being the ones that everybody was talking about: the future of work and education, the impact of social isolation, the need for better urban transport, attitudes to end of life care, the role of the city environment on mental health and physical wellbeing… and that’s just the start of the list.

These are just some of the topics that became Masters projects – 12-week independent explorations of the world at a human and individual scale. Unlike previous years, there could be no workshops with stakeholders, few face-to-face interviews. People who normally would be happy to participate now had other things to focus on, and even when participants were willing the technology often was not. But along the way, students became masters of Zoom and Miro, comfortable conducting conversations and co-designing at a distance, and making use of whatever space was available to them.

To some extent, the outcomes of these projects are irrelevant (though they really are excellent, as you’ll see). Being a designer and an innovator is not just a matter of a skillset but of a mindset – something very difficult to assess or to teach. And even though the projects developed by this year’s students are equal to those of past cohorts in terms of quality of thinking, insights, and ingenuity, the thing that makes this generation of graduates truly outstanding is the resilience, the mutual support, the empathy, and the good humour they have displayed throughout. It has been a pleasure to teach them, and to learn from them. We couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve achieved and to show it to the world via this digital showcase.

So yes, there has never been a more important time to study design innovation, and there’s never been a more important time to employ innovative designers of the sort you’ll see here in these five programmes. Where we see problems, they see possibilities. And that’s just what we need right now.

Jonathan Baldwin, Programme Leader MDes Design Innovation

Not Fit to Print: Exploring Democracy within Public Media Systems

This project looked at who owns the media, the issues with this and sought to address the problems with the current media model driven by capitalism. Alternatives do exist though and a citizen-owned media that is more reflective of their needs is certainly possible and attainable.

Citizen-owned media

Instead of a media that’s divisive it could create connections and foster a better sense of community. Instead of invoking outrage and pessimism it could promote and celebrate the everyday good whilst also being mindful of the importance of reporting the truth. Instead of voicing narrow-minded, singular views, it could be better at providing a platform for diverse voices more representative of the people it serves. Instead of an agenda set on pushing profits, it could put people first and offer more support for independent businesses to boost local economies.

Media Reform Proposals

Here I've highlighted some of the proposals put forward by the Media Reform Coalition and Caincross Review. Although there were some points I disagreed with, there were others that had credibility. For the ones highlighted here, there's a strong focus on the importance of public interest news, being independent of government and the need to redefine funding structures.

Article Review / Research Activity

In order to gain better insight into the current state of media I reviewed articles from the 'main' papers and highlighted uses of language, tone and the type of information being told/not told. I also opened up this activity to the general public to gain their thoughts and opinions too. Above, are a few of their responses. What I found was a media that's a mouthpiece for the elite, not for the people; a media that is singular and narrow-minded; and instead of holding those in power to account, they are instead given more space to voice their opinions.

Workshop / Imagining a Fairer Media in a 'Fictional' Town

I facilitated a workshop to collaborate on ideas for what a fairer media might look like. Above are some of the slides from the workshop (it had to be done virtually). To enable the discussion, I created a fictional town with characters that my particpants could discuss ideas through the lens of. I walked them through a number of different scenarios to come up with ideas on: how to fund a locally-owned media, how to report on stories, and how to publish these stories. We also discussed what some of the future impacts these decisions might have. The town, characters and scenarios were all created based on the research I'd done so far, so although fictional they're also probable. This workshop enabled me to include more voices than just my own and to come up with ideas outside of my own biases.

Above are some of the ideas that came out of the workshop. There was a lot of focus on being accessible, diverse and inclusive.

Future Work

The work I've been doing doesn't feel complete yet and there are many other avenues which I didn't get the chance to fully explore. Talk of media reform is an important one, we can't continue to accept the current system of profits of people and a media filled with lies and misinformation set only on pushing the agendas of the rich and powerful. We need better platforms to have a voice, be represented and be able to hold those in power to account. Concentrated media ownership has led to singular, narrow-minded views and will continue to do so as long as they can get away with it. It's time for a change and we should dare to imagine something different.

Works On Work [work in progress]

From The Multitude To The People

"Election Is Not Democracy"

From The Multitude To The People

"Election Is Not Democracy" — Master's Thesis

Research Process

Representation

Building A Research Framework

Representation In Principle And In Practice

"We Blame Democracy When We Should Be Blaming Representation"

I looked at representation in the lens of democracy and showed how and why the concept in practice was problematic and why representative democracy is not representative. I concluded that being represented as we are today is a loss of power for citizens as they have very little control over the actions of their representatives. More over being represented through the vote of the majority interpreted as the general will, is also problematic as it lacks actual representativeness. How majority is formed, calculated and how it operates influence the results of the process and potentially increases inequalities. We end up "blaming democracy when we should we blaming the instability of representation."* Jacques Rancière

From The System To The People

I looked at the French political system as a case study. I wanted to understand and analyse its philosophy, history, structure, interactions, practices and the roles played by experts and public institutions because the « problem » seemed to be structural. I was hoping this will enable me to define precisely fractures in the political system and identify entry points for small-short circuits or even restructurations.

The French Political System Of Representation

From The System To The People

Here I started building a visual language to define the political system and the different interactions between its elements without words.

The French Political System Of Representation

In Principle

The French Political System Of Representation

In Principle

The French Political System Of Representation

In Practice

The French Political System Of Representation

In Practice

A Shift In My Research

From The System To The People /// From The People To The System

Citizen initiatives and experts kept coming up. This was forcing me to recognize that people were affecting the system themselves and were not waiting for things to change. I should have understood that from the beginning as The Yellow Vests crisis triggered this research by shaking traditional modes of political representation.

In Between The System And The People

Initiatives And Movements Happening At Different Levels

Moving Into Engagements

Exploring Different Arguments And Discourses Around Participation

I started to look at the problematics of current forms of citizen participations and by whom, when and how participation is fostered. Slowly my research moved into engagements as I was discovering different modalities, methods and level of engagement. I have chosen to engage with those experts specifically because they give me good overview of different discourses about participation but also about how this participation relates to the system and how it is initiated.

Levels Of Engagement

From Démocratie Ouverte Open Source Documents and Discussions with Experts

Entry points for civic engagement in the cycle of political life

From Démocratie Ouverte Open Source Documents and Discussions with Experts

Network Theories

Interactions, Assembling and co-existance Between Systems

Communities started to appear as potential counter-powers. As this topic is political I didn’t want my work to get resumed to political divides between left or right discourses. I tried to search for analogies to support my arguments. I decided to look at network theories and animal and vegetal philosophy. Our system is a constellation of networks and these philosophies have the benefit to replace us in a wider ecosystem which gives my research another legitimacy, beyond political ideology. They are incredible sources of inspiration and offer us spaces and perspective to dream. Ultimately putting in perspective experts‘ point of view with them allow me to compare current interactions and modes of assembling, of co existence, and see what can be improved or challenged.

Comparative: Similarities and Oppositions Between discourses, ideologies and network theories

Parasitic Relationships Ensuring Democracy and Democratisation

Our political systems need to be apprehended as unstable and flexible structures which is not comfortable. If the steps, processes and actions constituting a political cycle were open and receptive to interactions with elements from multiple sources then power would be circulating. But equally, we don’t want to institute all initiatives and movements. There will always be a need for positions challenging the system coming from spaces regulated by different times, (social) rules and hierarchies. This is not about standardising procedures but rather seeing conflict and parasitic relationships between parallel systems as necessary to ensure democracy and democratisation. Seeing communities as parallel networks would allow autonomy in doing and mutual inclusion. There is not a single answer to representation. It seems that we need several approaches, some coming from the system, other from the people, but also some sitting in between, some challenging the structure of the system and others playing by its rules. While animal philosophy and network theories legitimatise people’s claim to share power it also show that hierarchic structures can be necessary. Experts conversations confirm this as well.

What Can Be Challenged Or Improved

Shaping Common Cultures Of Democracy

The question of representation is a complex and subjective one. Improvements can come from both the system and the people. There is plenty of room for that. The problem was never really about representation itself, but about all that it presupposes. To me, what seems primordial is to create common cultures of democracy. Ones that (re)shape our relationships to ourselves and others, to public matters and to the public sphere. This exercise was held for centuries by the same people. Today it seems like we need to collectively (re)define.

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Dissent,too, is a way to engage with those in power.

Civic participation is what drive democracies. But our system of governance values quiet, dutiful civic actions such as voting, volunteering, lobbying much more than critical actions such as dissent or protest. The later are often met with ire and force while the other is hailed as a sacred duty. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens. That is the central theme of this project.

Expressions of Dissent

Dissent to me is the public manifestation & exhibition of collective distrust in traditional institutions.

Dissent can take on various forms. From trolling politicians on social media, boycotts & non cooperation with authorities to marches and hunger strikes in some cases.

Dissent as public claims-making

Dissent is a disruption to ‘life as normal’, It presents ‘an alternative to promised utopia’. Public dissent usually becomes a time when people take over the public policy debate.

The Taxonomy of Dissent

While no social movement is the same, I decided to classify them into these categories for easier understanding.

The anatomy of dissent

Through this project, I sought to create a taxonomy and anatomy of dissent. If the taxonomy familiarizes us to the different types of structures of a protest movement, the anatomy tells us about the people that populate it.

5

Even though social movements are more likely to be successful if they are nonviolent and engage more than 5.5% of the population, there is stark gap between how people think about social movements. When asked to say 5 words about protest, most people said the word violence and over tow-thirds of the people I interviewed said that they did not engage in causes either after or before attending a 'protest/ march'.

Values

Before I started working on proposing any kind of an idea, I thought about the values I wanted my proposal to reflect.

WE the People- The Museum of Dissent

WE the people, combines public pedagogy and participatory design to create a Museum of Dissent. It is a co-curated and co-created space where citizens can educate themselves about the various ways of critically participating in government. The basis of the idea is simple: it is by the people, for the people and of the people.

The Role of the museum

In order for the museum to be equitable & just, it had to serve a diverse and expanded audience and through this exercise, I tried to outline the exact roles I wanted the museum to fill as an institution in before, during and after times of civic crisis.

How the museum works

This is a step by step description of how the museum functions and how people can get involved in the working of this space.

Dear Democracy, Dear Protester

As part of my project, I asked people to fill in postcards marked Dear Democracy and Dear Protester. These are just a few examples of postcards I have received so far. This seeks to start conversations and promote solidarity among people.

Virtual Museum Tour

The citizens can also access all these exhibits virtually all around the world through the website and the online platform. They can also apply to have the museum travel to their city where pop-up exhibitions could be held or to arrange workshops in their schools, universities or community centers.

Brown crab, velvet crab and lobster landings in Scotland

Ocean farming