Innovation School MDes Design Innovation & Citizenship

Katie Upsdale (she / her)

Before starting my Masters at GSA I was working as an operational lead for a national children’s charity and have spent 12 years in the voluntary sector as a qualified social worker, specialising in asylum and immigration support for young people. As a mixed race Chinese-Malaysian and White-British person now living in Scotland, my experiences of difference linked to my ethnicity, nationality, privilege and familial experiences of diaspora and colonialism help to fuel my core interests in identity / subjectivity and belonging.

Over the past year I have explored issues such as meaningful engagement in community participation, rehabilitation within the Criminal Justice System and research ethics within design innovation.

The exploratory nature of design research has evolved my practice, building on my previous relational and trauma informed ways of working – enabling me to create a more expansive, systemic and speculative skill set. My practice aligns with Design Justice principles which are anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and trauma-informed. I now hope to bring my third sector background in practice and leadership to new social design roles, working with communities to help centre more marginalised voices and to advocate for meaningful change.

LinkedIn Katie Upsdale
Twitter @kt_ups
Walking With Care
Reimagining Rehabilitation for Post-Pandemic Prisons
Dancing with the Past

Walking With Care

“In pursuit of richer and more detailed insights we must not override an attention to care and respect for participants.”

How we meet people and what we do together in design research matters. We know that our roles and positionality create power dynamics that (often unknowingly) replicate structures of oppression. Seeking to decolonise and de-centre our practice in situations of complexity and uncertainty starts with how we meet people and how relationships are built.

This project explores how the traditional interview – a cornerstone of all forms of participation – might be expanded to support more relational engagement as well as what new challenges this might bring and how an ethical, safe practice can be evolved. What has emerged is a mobile ‘walking’ interview method inspired by psychogeography techniques that can be used within design research in order to support a more equitable, meaningful and relational practice.

My design process has been wide-ranging and has allowed me to connect my background in social work and therapeutic approaches, my personal interests in identity / belonging and my developing design and creative practice.

Key to my process has been the desk research, expert interviewing and action research phases of my project. These have helped to shape and change the course of my thinking and have allowed for reflexivity; leading to a series of reflections on the ‘messiness’ of design research and ethical practice in response to the mixed feelings created when sensitive information is shared and the ambiguity created when a traditional interview format is made less formal.

Outcomes from my reflections for design researchers include considerations regarding professional boundaries, the importance of critical reflexivity and potential opportunities for data collection, ownership and joint knowledge creation.


Walking as a collaborative and equitable act

Relationality, ethics and holding space

Psychogeography-inspired question cards for walkers

Benefits and limitations of the proposed method

Reimagining Rehabilitation for Post-Pandemic Prisons

Design innovation for citizenship challenges us to think about existing / emerging social contexts and behaviours in order to discover new scenarios or gaps in knowledge rather than necessarily seeking to solve problems.

Within our Stage 2 design brief we were asked to explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into flux and what impacts are emerging for human and non-human actors.

Grappling with this brief I knew that I wanted to explore the future ‘no normal’ for citizens on the margins of UK society, leading to the main focus for my project – the UK Criminal Justice System (CJS).

The pandemic regime within the CJS has impacted on rehabilitation by putting people’s lives, sentences, education and recovery on hold, discriminating against people within prisons and their families. Through a speculative design lens I examined notions of ‘rehabilitation’ within the current system to create a series of speculative vignettes to help prompt critique and reflection for a post-pandemic world.

During my fieldwork I interviewed seven contacts working in, or adjacent to the CJS in Scotland and England. I then used affinity mapping to draw out themes and review my interview insights to support my speculative making.

Speculative making is an intuitive process that visually and physically ‘makes real’ complex ideas and concepts. I created my vignettes by gathering objects together to create a scene and then inhabited the scene – imagining myself as the person in the space and allowing me to play with a number of ideas.

The audience for the vignettes could be members of the public, people within the CJS as well as policy makers as they help to encourage discussion about possible futures.

Citizenship or Bust! - Copy of Scenario 3 Inspiration

Dancing with the Past

This project involved working as a team to explore how we might encourage people and communities to think and act for the long term. Our approach applied a conventional design innovation process, encompassing: desk research, stakeholder mapping, interviews, affinity mapping, auto-ethnography, sketching, prototyping and other creative design methods to help support ideation.

Our research process highlighted insights for individuals and communities around: uncertainty / power; connection / disconnection and resilience / well-being. We were also inspired by indigenous thinking in relation to time, space and ritual and wanted to create an outcome that would joyfully engage participants.

Our final outcome and process is described in the slides below – thanks to Alessandra Pizzuti for her graphic design skills in creating the final document.