Colourful StoriesExploring transformative potential of colourin a Northumbrian former mining townHEI: Northumbria UniversityCourse: MA/MSc Multidisciplinary Design InnovationMain Partners: AkzoNobel, Northumberland County CouncilFunders: AkzoNobelPlace: Ashington, NorthumberlandKeywords: Cultural activities, Public spaces, Neighbourhoods, Regeneration
Regenerating AshingtonSince Woodhorn Colliery was closed in 1988, Ashington has struggled with highunemployment, a fragmenting community, and economic decline.To mark the opening of their £100m paint factory in 2014 in Ashington, AkzoNobelasked Northumbria University staff and MDI Masters students to find innovative waysto engage the local community in a transformative application of colour to the builtenvironment with lasting social impact.
Project ResponseAkzoNobel’s own research and experience was combined with that of NorthumbriaUniversity faculty staff to provide a theoretical background of colour science anddemographic, social and economic data for the region, with past examples ofcommunity arts and colour projects. This set the context for a catalyst project,carried out by 23 Masters students of Multidisciplinary Design Innovation. Studentsengaged in a rapid ideation phase followed by deep-dive research includingobservational and experiential fieldwork, with the aim of understanding the hopesand fears of the community, and translating these into viable enhancementopportunities.Key insights and outcomes focused on:•enterprise (drop-in centres, market revival, mentors, makers’ sales)•education (scholarships, prizes & mentoring)•pride and identity (‘Made in Ashington’; red squirrel ‘Grey to Red’ campaign)•community collaborations (film-making, theatre, annual events)•town landmarking (paths, signage and public art).
Actor Profile:AkzoNobel, Project client & sponsors, including Head of Colour Marketing, GlobalColor Knowledge Manager.Agenda: to bring positive change to the town through regenerative initiatives alonga colour theme, in line with their mission ‘adding colour to people’s lives’.Assets: Past experience with ‘Let’s Color’ global projects. Funding for this two-phase student project, and for one or several of the chosen concepts to beimplemented in 2013-14.Outcomes: Strengthened links with local authority and Northumbria University.Sponsors were impressed by the depth of research undertaken and importantinsights arising, by the originality and boldness of proposals, and by the highstandards of presentation and communication.
Actor Profile:Northumberland County CouncilAgenda: to support and facilitate a regeneration initiative with long-lasting impactwhich is relevant and appropriate to the Ashington community.Assets: Deep knowledge of and access to key community stakeholders and groups(e.g. schools, young mothers, arts groups, church); expert insights into mainchallenges and past projects.Outcomes: Strengthened links with AkzoNobel and Northumbria University.
Actor Profile:Masters Students in MA/MSc Multidisciplinary Design Innovation, NorthumbriaUniversityAgenda: Course credits; Desire to make positive impact; for several students, alocal connection and resonance with the project.Assets: Multidisciplinary mix from design, business/marketing and technicalbackgrounds, with diverse skills and methods to apply; bold and radical outlook;visualisation skills.Outcomes: Experience of multi-disciplinary team working, ‘live’ project with high-level commercial involvement and potential for realisation in next phase;experience of collaborative public engagement and consultation.
Process, Tools and Methods1.Problem Area Mapping – group exercise of rapid sharing of observations, ideas andpossible themes to explore before division into teams.2.Fieldwork – observation, conversations, interviews and surveys around Ashington,complemented with secondary research to explore local culture and geography, and exemplarregenerations and interventions worldwide.3.Key insights – shared and explored for potential development.4.Ideation – key insights used as stimuli for generating new ideas.5.Verification – selected ideas are sense-checked through discussion with stakeholders6.Refinement – concepts are refined based on feedback to final proposals.7.Visualisation – sketches, photomontage, CAD renderings and short films brought to life theinsights and concepts developed by the teams, who then formally presented to sponsors.
Design RoleDesign methods were introduced by the one or two design graduates in each team(around half the total group). Other team members soon followed their lead, embracingideation techniques such as concept mapping, visualisations (sketches and models) fordiscussion with stakeholders, and enacting concepts for short videos.Design outputs served as provocative propositional stimuli for the sponsors,challenging them to take bold actions. Several concepts have been identified for furtherdevelopment in a second 10-week phase with two student teams.
Project outcomesOutcomes were presented as videos, sketches and renderings, representing valuableinsights and design proposals, including: identification of a large, iconic and much-loved building, available for renovation for use in the project; recognising theimportance of gardening allotments to the community, hence potential for a tie-withCuprinol brand; the use of the red squirrel as a symbol for the area or for the project.ImpactAt this stage, impact on the community is minimal but concepts have been well-received by the sponsor organisation, and the work has been praised for its greatpotential for development and realisation in the next phase.Project outcomes have been shared within Northumbria University’s Research andBusiness Services, Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences (including AssociateDean, Business and Engagement and Head of External Engagement)An outline of the project and its outcomes will be presented at the 12th InternationalAIC Colour Congress Bringing Colour to Life (The Sage, Gateshead, 8 – 12 July 2013)
Learning outcomes:StudentsValuable experience of multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary engagement, includingthe public; working with an industry client, and presenting formally to a professionalaudience; application of design methods to a real social challenge, complementingtheir taught modules.Northumbria UniversityNew and valuable relationships established with the local authority and with thisregional industry.AkzoNobel:The value of even a short project with a small cohort of students: deep insights andradical but achievable proposals, the best of which are being pursued in a secondlonger phase (10 weeks).
SuccessesStudents made valuable insights in just a couple of weeks, through immersivefieldwork and intensive ideation phases. Sponsors and students alike were surprised athow much was achieved in the time. Several of the proposals are likely to be takenforward.Limitations & BarriersHard-to-reach community members were under-represented, partly due to the shorttime frame. Phase 2 will attempt deeper reach, through closer engagement withcommunity groups, and more time to build relationships.