Collaboration - off the page and into reality

Manchester Interantion Festival

Collaboration is talked about in Design Councils recent news & opinion article: ‘Designers of the future: Seven ways to make the best even better’, as one of the seven key skills required for the designers of our future. Wayne Hemingway is quoted as stating: “designers, like sports people, need to be competitive as well as team players.” (Reed, 2015)
In reference to Hemingway’s quote, I feel the unity of skill sets can be both a fantastic opportunity yet at times a challenge. My pervious blog posts document the enjoyment and learning’s I have taken personally from a recent collaborative design brief. This post will document my thoughts and ponderings in response to our successful, winning group been crashed together with another, new and entirely different group.

 Combining our group (Ben, Oli and I) with Daecan and Kasia had initially made me feel frustrated and disappointed. I felt the judges, had moved the goal posts by giving a joint win and further asking for the design to be developed, only undermined our efforts.
What have we won? Every designer who has entered a design gets a ticket regardless of the outcome. It is apparent that MIF and Whitworth see MMU collectively as the designer, rather than our individual groups as different designers.

When at M&S a range of cards and products were presented to the buyer, each designed by individual designers yet presented as one, the buyers would sometimes pick out elements from a few to be combined together to create their desired outcome. Why was this any different then - because we were getting paid? All changes then, were made to reach an end goal beneficial to all parties. The changes requested in this instance, were - keep our design with minor tweets then add D&K's rope stitch as a surface detail. Taking the practical, functional and achievable outcome of our design and adding the theoretical, conceptual and handmade elements of D&K's design.

 The unfortunate reality was a group feeling rather despondent. Who's design is it now!? Who will reference this in their portfolio? Kasia commented that she was initially unsure about accepting the grouping as it was so much of our design, and they were being brought in to add surface pattern!?
In the design Councils article, collaboration is discussed in regard to designers having a sympathy and understanding for areas such as psychology, science and economics. Hemmingway’s quote hits on the problem for me – competitive. We all want to win, and neither team need the others skills sets -we had them covered.
The addition of hand stitch to our design changed it from a time & material efficient mass producible product, into something much more bespoke, original and handcrafted. As Daecan commented, our pairing is the fusion of machine and handmade. For us, ensuring that the hand-embellished design detail became worthy of the time about to be invested was crucial.
The elements added must be reflective of the textile era in Manchester, reflective of the Whitworth Art Gallery and above all obvious to the viewer.

Oli and Ben have put a lot of time into the project while Daexan, Kasia and I have been in Milan. Arriving on Tuesday together for the first time, with the presentation on Thursday looming over the pressure was on.

I have to say this is how I like to work, the group took a while to gel, and there were a few awkward moments when discussing 'your element' 'our design' (still not really able to see it as the groups design yet.) but we did eventually become a unit, after lunch, when we had a plan and each knew what we were doing/ contributing.

 The key learning’s for me from this collaborative approach to work have been:

- I have gained an understanding of furniture design, needed a focus on ergonomics and function as well as form.

- An introduction to new materials and their properties, Stock board, plywood and laminate wood are all very different to paper.

- Initially I'd learnt that not everyone is concerned with surface and aesthetic details and to embrace the new point of view, however, now on reflection that is the element that was missing from our design, so maybe I should have pushed this point.

- Learnt a new aspect of working in a team, having to compromise on our final finished outcome.

I feel our design is like the ‘white blank’ cards I would create M&S. (Creating a innovative white 3D card would enable all greeting card seasons to see potential in the design) Our Bench is a white blank for design agencies; we’ve created a fantastic furniture 'white blank' that each customer could personalize with a wrap over graphic? The next steps for our bench design upon completion of the completion, is opendesk. Stay tuned for developments.

Final presentation day:

Today I realised just how much being around people can lift me and inspire my work. Creating the stitch ideas with Ben, sat on the table while talking and discussing how we should develop the design, together, was fun.
Also, laughter really is a wonderful thing, we have laughed a lot today! Laughter brought a sense of unity to the group and I feel 'we' have created a fantastic final design TOGETHER.

 Ben is so level headed and understanding, I have found his mellow nature and fantastic ability to calm any concerns invaluable. "Yes dear", "breath through your noise dear", "well if you look at it like this instead" - its all fabulous! I want to be more like Ben, and will aspire to become more calm and level headed as I develop into teaching.
Oli is wonderfully observant, noticing when you have put in extra effort and thanking you. Such an appreciative and honest nature you know he is going to tell you his opinion - no bull shit. Happy to disagree when he feels it is for a worthy reason. I hope I am as complementary and appreciative as Oli, it is such a wonderful motivation, you feel good, you want to feel good again, and you work harder next time!
Daecan is keen, very intelligent and super knowledgeable, his approach to design is educated, through and informed. I respect his opinion and point of view often. Daecan is respected within the group and when in Milan his itinerary was as influential as Dave’s to us all.

So final outcome! - More changes! The design is evolving, through trials, and new opinions from lots of people, who all have the ability to sway the final decision. I am not unfamiliar with this level of redesign and amendments; it is the reality of being a designer. Taking suggestions and tweaks from higher management is all part of the process. These changes can happen due to lack of communication, If a brief is too vague, if the client is unable to visualize the outcome and often if the client has a particular idea - quite right yet.

Being able to go over and above and push yourself when you can’t see the end goal yourselves is good preparing for the industry. It is a process.


Reed, B. (2015) Designers of the future: Seven ways to make the best even better. Available at: (Accessed: 10 May 2015)

I got a Merit!

Having received my first grade … I got a merit! I can honestly say I am chuffed! A lot of people have said an MA may be too much for me. Going back to education after industry has been a challenge to say the least. So, Merit! (Beaming from ear to ear) Writing and reading are by no means my strengths, however I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge!

I have been told from a young age by my wise mother ‘the way you look at something and approach it with effect the outcome”. So rather than this being something I cant do, something a dyslexic creative shouldn’t do, it is something I will do. Something I will success in.

So what stopped me from getting a distinction!?

Mostly – my industry experience! Not that Dave said exactly that – but, it is, what is holding me back from ‘thinking’ freely, letting go and not worrying about the end outcome. “Enjoy exploring” was one small comment. Dave is right. And ironically this is in complete contrast to the annual feedback I received as a professional designer “just do it, Emma, stop thinking and just do it”.

This for me is a concern – warning, I will be going off topic here – I want to go into FE lecturing, yet having the industry experience still ringing in my ears I am concerned about the sort of ‘design education’ we are giving our next generation. Are we preparing them correctly for industry? If that is the end goal…?

This is worth a read: design education is tragic says Jonathan ive

For students – yes,
for their parents – yes,
for the league table score - yes, maybe,
for the tutors – no.

In my discussions with Manchester University Lecturers it is more, for them, about opening a students mind. If a graduate learns to question, learns to ask why and to have an understanding of their own creativity then they have succeed.

Upon reaching a graduate designing job (if that is even what you would like to do) you then must cut your teeth on the harsh reality of short deadlines, picky clients and colleagues who ask you if they can remove your perfectly designed ‘element’ to get it to - cost in!

Dave’s main advice was around my need to establish what it is that is 'me'. What makes sense to me, rather than just everything that gets me excited (which has a broad scope) I need to be more selective around what I say inspires me or at least what I let inspire me.

Trying to refine and really understand what the difference between:
'that's exciting, oh I love that'

'that's exciting, oh I would love to work that way'.

It's less about 'I want to make that object / work with that material' and more about 'I want to work that way' I think that is a fantastic approach to problem solving'. Design thinking, approaching design with a route or set of steps that feel natural and comfortable to me. Taking time to research and understand how I like to work. Dave believes true innovation comes from a design thinking approach, rather than mass-produced ripping off. Having self-assurance, knowing your reasons, justifying why you have reached your end goal.

I still have a long way to go, I am aware that a lot more reading, thinking and ‘pondering’ is required and I am willing to put the thinking time in, however I do still just want to get messy and crafty asap!

I hope to move to a place where I have established my step by step approach to getting messy, so I can go ahead and get messy and then reflect upon it :)

Best of both worlds maybe!?

This week I have started on a series of courses, wokring towards becoming a mentor :) this has given me some reasurance that my end goal may still be achieveable.

Design Agenda Analysis

A series of group projects were delivered. Upon completion of the projects a short presentation was delivered to all other groups and the head lecturer. Introducing an element of completion and pride and ensuring a conclusive presentation was delivered summarising the work undergone. Each presentation was both beneficial to the other groups and gave a sense of unity and finality to the module.

Through out this post, I will comment on each of the fellow MA- groups; design agendas, the different collaboration styles and I will also reflect on if ‘in my opinion’ it was successful.
The pairing of each group had been pre-determined by our Head Tutor; Dave. We had been encouraged to pursue a design agenda from the list laid out below

There was however, no end design brief or product spec to meet. This implied the task was focussed on how we collaborated and responded to a set design agenda rather than the product outcome.

Group 1 | Josh and Jim | materiality agenda.

- Step one for them was to determine the end product (a Bag)
- They both chose 3 products they had a ‘deep connection’ with and interrogated why.
- They then explored materials, and created a pallet of materials that were of interest to them both.
- Research into the use and tradition of these materials provided new inspiration.
- They then looked into textile innovation.
- Meshing the two (history and innovation) became the new direction

The stand out part for me was the ‘three products you love’ this is a lovely ‘ice breaking’ activity and could really help designers get under the skin of why.
Working in a new group always has challenges and I feel James and Jim’s pairing gave them both new insights and learning’s.
Early into the course and both from differing commercial backgrounds I feel their individual design styles may have clashed rather than harmonising though no fault of their own.
I asked Jim how he had enjoyed working with a materialist design agenda. He replyed “I enjoyed it as I am trying not to be influenced by what I already know”.

Group 2 | Alex and Ezgi | Inclusive design agenda

-       Survey and questionnaire
-       Summary of points of interest and issues
-       Brainstorm ideas and solutions
-       New technology – any relevance?

Working with a new team member, with a new agenda is hard enough. To then add outsiders as the main driver for design considerations is a challenge.
I feel Alex and Ezgi presented a fantastic range of outcomes with some interesting solutions. Due to the nature of their project (designing seating for a bus) no product was taken to realisation.
For me, their use of a questionnaire instantly reminded me of my A level Product design and having a structured market research approach. Due to their design agenda they had to know their audience and a questionnaire gave them a broad understanding of many views. Having good, focused questions and a friendly approach helped; Alex and Ezgi ride the bus daily so knew some of the main concerns themselves, they also had a lot of friends who ride with then and then took the questionnaire.
Similar to the of Jane Fulton Suri 'IDEO' Jane "pioneered human-centered approaches… She evolved techniques for empathic observation and experience prototyping.” (Navigate, 2015)  getting into the environment of the customer, living out the rituals surrounding your intended product will help you ‘the designer’ to fully understanding them ‘the customer’ giving relatable experiences to fall back on throughout the design process. Also experiencing the problems yourself first hand helps to truly understand what your need to design.

Group 3 | Pippi and Daecan | ‘Super Normal’ & ‘ Function & Interaction'

-       They determined the product area – Sandwich box
-       However they concluded this easily and quickly
-       They then explored the subject ‘food pawn’
-       Introduced the obscure to the ordinary

The work complied here was excellent and a really thorough and well-investigated project. By reaching an end point mid way through the project they were forced to redefine their design parameters. Having a basic topic, they then subversifed it and found the most taboo element of this area. Lunch boxes = food pawn.

They then researched the activities and rituals surrounding each. Then investigated further more into the emotion and feelings towards these rituals. Their product range was based around the combination of a taboo activity or ritual with an everyday ordinary activity or ritual.

Group 4 | James, Kasia and ME! |  Biomimicry and Digital Craft

-       introduction to the design agendas and how they influence product outcomes.
-       research current designers using these design agendas
-       create a process by which the design could be created though no influence of our own ‘the designer’.
-       Design something using this process.

Our design agenda was concerned with creating a process that enabled the customer to have an influence on the product outcome through their personal statitics and data. Eg date of birth, height, or favourite music.
If you are interested in my thoughts on how we worked as a group please see this blog post Click here
This was a new Design approach for me and I am keen to investigate it further, as I am very interested in personalisation and customisable design.
In the current market for product design, I can see two main routes for innovation; invent something with new technology that helps the customer in a way they didn’t already know about. Or personalise a product that is used daily and relied upon. Giving that treasured product a feel of individuality and uniqueness that is often only achieved through hand made pieces.

Going forward as a product designer, I will investigate this method as an option for customisation as I feel the ability to change the product outcome with the data you provide as a customer has a fantastic gravity, especially if you are looking at key life events and celebrations.
For example, having a poster for your new-born baby with: weight, date, name and star sign on. Transforming that into a night-light where the shape, colour and potential design detail is determined by these key information’s?

Comparing the group approaches and Design agendas, I feel that those with a structured and focussed design agenda could explain their success and direction as stemming from their focussed design agenda. Where those with less focus and more meandering could attribute the lack of outcome to not truly understanding their agenda. It would appear that ones approach to design can really instigate ingenuity. With Daecan and Pippi’s product range that was based around the combination of a taboo ritual and an everyday ritual, I can see how the process and the Design Agenda really influenced the diversity and originality of the outcomes.

I can see now how the process, and journey can really affect the outcome. After all, our own individuality and personality creates our own personal approach to design. Reflecting on James and Jim’s ‘three products you love’ activity highlights how ‘why’ can be such a personal thing. The reasons for loving a product can often be quite individual. Again thinking of Alex and Exgi’s product design for their own problem, and how experiencing the problems first hand helped them to truly understand what was needed highlights how having an understanding of how YOU design, what makes you tick creativity will help immensely when faced with – a design brief.

I guess the aim is to understand your design process so what ever you are faced with personal or professional, you know how best to approach and tackle the problem. Having a formula, or a step by step plan, will help on the journey through designing a product. Not truly understanding the map, or maybe not even having a map can of course lead to getting lost.

But understanding other design agendas from the offset is where I personally found the challenge, because there are few commercial designers who write down (and share) their step by step approach to design it is more of a backwards unpicking of their process through observations and analysis.

I will see. Yet to be completely convinced and yet to fully understand my design agenda!