Methodologies to research a place

Public sketching workshops as a method for urban interventions and research. Insights from a personal project by our Designer Anja Popovic.
Society is facing «massive change» due to social and sustainability related challenges. Institutions such as the EU and the UN are searching for approaches that build on collaboration and the ability to deal with the complexity of social situations to address these challenges. In this situation artistic practices, including design, are increasingly called for to provide such approaches and methods, making new roles for artists and designers possible.
Involve people by organising public workshops

The reason why I am sharing this story with you is that I would like to illustrate how important it is to talk and listen to people in order to get quality insights. People-centered research can be a key factor in designing meaningful services, products or even (urban) environments.

This was a project named Ritakville, initiated by a group of students during my studies of design at HDK – The Academy of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden. We applied an interventionist method, researching a square called Kvilletorget in the northern part of Gothenburg/Sweden, which is also marked as a so called "problem area". During one month several public sketching events took place on the square, initiated and organized by seven students. Their purpose was to investigate the social life and the challenges of the place.

By inviting all people in the neighborhood to join we asked several question such as “How can we transform this place together?". The outcome is an abstract containing a rich scope of wishes, thoughts, recommendations, complaints and suggestions in the form of sketches, that serves as a foundation to uncover potential opportunity areas through design and co-creation for this specific place.

Stimulating dialogues

Reflections in the form of drawings, illustrations, written suggestions, requests and stories were collected and then shown in small exhibitions around the square in the evenings. This gave the residents an opportunity to share their views with each other, discuss aspects, reflect on opinions and see their thoughts in a larger context. The event received great response from the participants and many showed up to share their thoughts with each other and to look at the exhibition.

As a designer it was a challenge to literally face people and to be a kind of public mouthpiece. But I do think that this is maybe the only way to grow our understanding for people and their lives. By asking questions, questioning situations, listening, looking at the details, the inconspicuous and observing people. That's presumably how we are able to convert research material into a purposeful design later, I guess.

Sometimes rather "simple" methods like this can give considerable insights to translate them into a meaningful design language.

A summary of the gathered material can be found at: http://ritakville.tumblr.com/