Practitioner’s reflections (part 2)

As designers, it is part of our comfort zone to work with techniques like the Octopus clustering, used in our first session with the co-design crew. We know what comes after in the process, and what outcome to expect from such a technique.

Looking back, it is my perception that an unconscious bias of familiarity prevented us from anticipating the reactions of participants to such a technique. In our minds this was going to be fun, fast paced, and the outcome would easily surface from the collective mind of the co-design crew. 

What we didn’t anticipate was that this complexity-systems mindset was not yet consolidated in our participants. From my perspective, it seemed that the co-design crew was struggling to get familiar with the Double Diamond model, the whole process of the project because of its novelty (i.e. coming from a different field), and the dynamic of the Octopus technique. The lack of clarity regarding the process created apprehension in the participants. Nonetheless, they embarked on this activity and managed to produce a cohesive outcome. 

Although this activity was meant to work with the collective mind of the group, what I observed was a sense of overwhelm and a loss of agency in participants fuelled by a fast pace, pressure and limited knowledge about creative techniques. Adding to the pace of the activity that was fast by design, the participants’ spatial disposition in rows moving forward in rounds (like being pushed from behind towards an alien task) brought in an element of blindness and of loss of control for what was happening in front rows. This discomfort is common when new learning takes place. However, it was heightened by the sensitive nature of our project, the sensitive content that participants were/are exposed to, their personalities and life stories.

In future projects of this nature, it would be beneficial to have a slower starter-activity to review and cluster research findings, and a spatial choreography that allows the participants to see and process all that’s happening.

I also recognise that on a different day the same group would have reacted differently. So, I don’t think this is a matter of re-designing a technique, but rather recognising that we are all affected by our context, immediate circumstances and life events. We couldn’t have anticipated what happened, we couldn’t have changed our approach because we were completely focused on making sure that our first activity in this project was carefully designed. We were outsiders experiencing the normal anxiety of first-dates, wanting to gain our way in by bringing in something we thought to be exciting for the group.