Putting Work to the Test (Literally!)
RISD Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design
Follow The Fellows Blog Post 3
July 24th, 2019
Developing projects within a context of participatory planning and co-design requires frequent moments of testing and reflection, and, over the past couple weeks in ABCittà I have been able to fully embrace this work methodology which I am starting to appreciate more and more as a way of practicing in the world of design that I feel comfortable using in a range of different scenarios and projects.
Within the area of Urban Regeneration, I have been completing the production of presentation and project proposal materials for the BinG – Binari Greco neighborhood renewal project and the Dairago green space renovation that is being articulated as a co-design process between ABCittà, students from Dairago’s Elementary School and the Urban Planning and Land Management office of City Hall. Articulating project proposals that not only cater to different professional settings (that range from Urban Planning offices to informal meetings to discuss the development of ideas and project stages,) but also take into account the intergenerational makeup of the audience interacting with the material is not an easy task, and I have been thoroughly putting on the table –and reassessing– both the visual design skills I have acquired thus far at RISD and the new notions I am learning through the collaborations I am involved in within ABCittà.
Developing a full project proposal for a series of BinG archways became a simultaneously challenging and rewarding visual communication methodology conversation. The intergenerational nature of the project calls for different representational techniques –tested firsthand through interactions with stakeholders– to convey ideas and aspirations for the area.
One design experience in particular that was impactful for me was that of developing a visual system to articulate the idea that, within the BinG archway revitalization project, different age groups will interact with different proposed activities at different times, and will make use of multiple spaces during the course of one day. I was introduced during my time in ABCittà to the concept of generations and generation classifications (developed in Italy by GenerationMover) which became a pivotal aspect of this project, especially with regards to the attempt to overcome cross-generational stereotypes that often preclude access to resources and activities.
Cristian (one of the incredible people I had a chance to collaborate with this summer!) and I worked through a process of estimating numbers of people across 7 generation groups that would make use of the different archway renovation proposals (market, co-working space, greenhouse, playground and rock-climbing wall, bowls and basketball) at different times of day. After producing an Excel spreadsheet that examined the data and synthesized it using graphs, we came to the conclusion that the information developed would be accessible to some (but not all) people interacting with the project.
The design synthesis of this information took some time to develop, but was pushed forward greatly by the use of personas, a training tool often employed in participatory planning and co-design activities by ABCittà. Personas, which are small descriptions of a potential user of the area, are often used to assess a wide spectrum of issues related to accessibility, stereotyping and the unconscious imposition of prejudices on people. Combining this approach with the more “cut-throat” use of graphs and charts provided a holistic view of the area, that was positively received and commented upon by those who up to now have interacted with the full publication exploring avenues of development for this project.
The intergenerational component of the BinG project became a large component of the design of this project proposal. By achieving a deeper understanding of the GenerationMover generation breakdown scale and the social implications of intergenerational spaces, I was able –with the phenomenal help of Cristian– to graphically represent how different generations might use the spaces proposed, further emphasizing the importance of this project and appeal.
With regards to Dairago, which is a project that relies on the need for a more diplomatic and technical approach to visual facilitation and interpretation of ideas provided by children, issues of budgeting and availability of funds on behalf of City Hall have caused the work ABCittà has been doing to bounce back and forth, in order to make the drawings realistic and closer to what will actually be doable within the area as opposed to what is being imagined by the young residents of the area.
As someone who very much thinks as a designer, I found it initially rather challenging to deviate from my standard way of working, but I was able to understand through the feedback I was receiving from these meetings that the drawings required systematization, which, as Italian designer Bruno Munari famously states, is the process that takes abstract ideas to the applicable framework of the creative process.
A snippet of the in-progress drawings of the pockets of play-spaces designed in collaboration with the children of Dairago’s Elementary School. In this iteration, the drawings aim to fuse the ideas proposed during consultations and the budget restraints imposed on the project at the same time.
Whilst all this work was happening in the Urban Regeneration area, I also had the chance, with Anna and Chiara, who actively work in the Museums and Society area of ABCittà, to not only develop a prototype for a training tool addressing issues of stereotyping and prejudice articulation towards visitors on behalf of cultural institutions, but I was also given the chance to actively test this prototype by co-leading a series of free workshops which yielded extremely useful feedback for further development of this prototype.
The product we have been developing is a deck of cards called “Museum and Prejudice,” and it is thought of as a kit of parts that allows individuals from differing educational and cultural backgrounds to interact with issues of stereotyping within cultural institutions. Focusing on making the kit accessible to as many people as possible, we articulated a series of different activities that use the components of this deck of cards: 34 image cards, 24 question cards and a viewfinder card.
The first prototype of the training kit “Museum and Prejudice.” Developed to be a fully bilingual training tool, this iteration is the one that was tested during the free workshops hosted by ABCittà and Museums and Stereotypes International Training School. As of now, following the feedback received from these workshops, we are revising the kit to produce an updated version.
Leading a workshop was something that I had never experienced from start to finish, and I found it extremely valuable to learn not only how to plan activities, write instructions and communicate with participants, but also how to collect–and implement– feedback from those attending to make improvements in the project being developed. Something that really stuck with me from leading these workshops is how, despite the group dynamic being something that can make or break the effectiveness of the event, the way in which one poses questions and explains what is expected of the attendees is a crucial factor in ensuring that critical information is brought up and collected.
The workshop series "Museum and Prejudice" was a wonderful occasion to test the efficacy of the kit that Chiara, Anna and I have been working on. The willingness of those attending to take risks and interact with the proposed materials, as well as their feedback collected afterwards through a questionnaire, are becoming pivotal factors in the edits and additional iterations we are producing as of now.
An aspect of working with ABCittà which I have been appreciating enormously all summer long is the constant hybridization of rigorous activities and play, that makes interactive events much more pleasurable both for attendees and those leading the sessions. In the past I have struggled to find a balance between play and instruction/work, and being able to observe people like Anna, Cristian, Chiara and others work through events like these without even a hint of hesitation or worry has taught me plenty about how one can comfortably relate to their audience and make the event memorable for all. The more I move through this Fellowship, the more I realize that I could not have asked for better people to be collaborating with –and learning from!— this summer.
As an icebreaker –and a practical demonstration of how much information one actually retains after reading a large portion of text on a museum caption– we had our workshop attendees play a game of "Telephone," in which the whole group had to pass along the first three sentences of a museum caption for an Italian "Bialetti Moka" coffee pot. The results of this experiment were a great conversation starter (and also extremely fun to experience firsthand!)
The fact that my time in ABCittà is quickly coming to an end (August in Italy is a month where everything shuts down for summer holidays!) is not the easiest of news to swallow, but I am excited to be fully involved in projects such as BinG and Museums and Stereotypes until my very last day. When my first week in ABCittà was over, I remember telling everyone that I was waiting for the “honeymoon phase” of my Fellowship to soon end, but I am so incredibly relieved and excited to report that the dynamic within ABCittà and the projects I am following has changed only for the better. I truly believe I have been incredibly lucky to find such a wonderful organization and fantastic people to be working with this summer!
Bonus photo! Above are Anna, Chiara and I after the first “Museum and Prejudice” workshop on July 11th!