How can designers bring people to collaborate for the improvement of their
community and society?
Goldsmiths, University of London
Metadesign and Futures of Sociability (co-authors)
Clara Verbaeys, Product designer, Metadesigner
Perus Saranurak, Product designer, Metadesigner
Designer for Education System
School director, minister of education, other institutions
Printed on the 19
1- Sociability .............................................................................................................. 2
2-Creativity ................................................................................................................ 3
3-Tools for the community........................................................................................ 5
4-Learning from a Community .................................................................................. 8
5-Dream Together Board Report ............................................................................ 10
Conclusion ............................................................................................................... 11
Image Appendix:...................................................................................................... 12
How can people understand the importance of sociability?
How to create the platform where everybody can get involved?
Activity facilitators/ social interaction promoters
School director, minister of education, other institutions
Lack of social interaction in a community
Create a tool that generates playful activities or situations where people get to
collaborate to resolve problems in their community or rural area.
Today, social interaction within a community has become something rare.
Technologies promote interactions via the internet, and individualism keeps being
proned by capitalism and the Western lifestyle. Unfortunately, we forgot the
benefits of sociability and of “direct” contact with another being. We forgot that it
makes us stronger, and enables us to achieve more than alone. That social
intergration affects our health, and that collaboration often leads to more creative
and more durable ideas and solutions.
Because we believe in the importance of collaboration and the benefits of learning
from each other, we as young metadesigners would like to facilitate social
interaction. In order to do that, we propose a tool and a platform that will
encourage creative activities within a community, and enhance the quality of life
in the area. Moreover, we believe that the tool will help the inhabitants to let their
creativity come out (without being afraid of making mistakes). In fact, the
diversity, the different perspectives and creative minds are fundamental and lead
to better solutions for the future. As a starting point, we would like to propose this
tool to schools. Since all children are born creative, we believe that the creativity
should be maintained all their life, through educational methods that recommend
it. Even though based in schools, the tool also requires the participation of
teachers, parents, and the community’s inhabitants. The school is thus the ground
from which collaboration extends throughout the whole area.
In this essay, we will talk about the importance of sociability and creativity, and
how educational methods can encourage it. One of these being metadesign, that
we will then introduce. How metadesign tools help in the project and benefit to a
community. We will define the tool we created, explain how it works and how the
people of the community get involved through the students. Finally, we will
analyse the results from an experimental test-run we did in Goldsmiths University.
Together is better
Sociability is the ability to live in a society. A society is « a whole made of
individuals that have determined relationships and are unified by reciprocal
services. » (Russ, 2001, 269) Any individual living in a society is consequently a
member of a group. The relationships he/she decides to build with the other
members of the society depends on how much he/she believes in the importance
of the community. Unfortunately, the sense of community is slowly disappearing,
especially in big cities, where life has become very impersonal and individualistic.
We have grown to believe (and we have been taught since we the early age) that
the best way to success is by putting trust only on our own self, and by not relying
on the help of others. A community is composed of « social groups whose
members have common interests and form a unity. » (Russ, 2001, 124) If we
concentrate on people's common interests, we can organise collective actions,
where individuals are grouped to achieve a common goal. As metadesigners, we
want to make people realise the importance for an individual to be part of a
community. By promoting collaborative exercises at school, people could be
educated to understand the benefits of cooperation and sociability.
Health and Sociability
Firstly, being alienated from society has been medically proved to have an impact
on health. In his book The Science Delusion, Sheldrake mentions that « evidence
shows that health is influenced by social, spiritual and emotional factors. For
example, in studies in the United States, men who had suffered a heart attack
were four times more likely to die in the next three years if they were socially
isolated. » (Sheldrake, 2012, 278) It is not a coincidence if the World Health
Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of physical, mental and social well-
being. The human being is one of the most developed eusocial species on earth.
To be part of a society is one of our most basic and essential need. So why are we
trying to deny this fact and to become anti-social?
Saint Simon states that « Society is not a simple agglomeration of human beings,
where independent actions have no other reason than the arbitrary of individual
desires [...] ; in contrary, society is a truly organised machine where each part
contributes in a different way to the operating of the whole. » (cited by Russ,
2001, 269) This statement takes us to the concept of « Synergy » but in a synergy,
the whole is superior to the sum of the parts. The concept of synergy is that
abundance (usually of quality, not quantity) does not come from individual
resources, but from their combination. Thus the collaboration of individuals
resolves challenges that would be too big for an individual. This abundance, the
solutions that the combination of resources come up with are often superior
because it preaches diversity and enhances personal and social creativity. As
Fischer states, « Complex design problems require more knowledge than any
single person can possess. » (Fischer, 2003) This knowledge is distributed among
each and every stakeholder, since they have different perspectives and
backgrounds. This mix of perspectives and backgrounds is the foundation for
Everyone is creative.
The general definition of creativity could be a skill for producing both new and
appropriate solutions. Also, many people think that creativity is rare, which could
be found only in genius, but this is wrong. This definition focuses creativity only in
term of problem-solving tools, but, creativity has been used in other areas too.
This chapter will prove that, actually, everyone can be creative. First of all, we
have to understand clearly about:
“What is Creativity?”
In the wider views, creativity is a fundamental part of art, science and humour,
where is broader than problem-solving area. According to Arthur Koestler (1964
cited by Sanders, 2012, 38), “creative act involves bisociation, a process that
brings together and combines previously unrelated ideas”, which could cover all
types of creativity. This could help us to reframe the creativity definition, and it
will lead to the answer of why/how everyone could be creative.
Creativity in everyone
Margaret Boden (1990 cited by Sanders, 2012, 38), the research professor of
cognitive science, distinguishes creative in two types; ‘H-Creative’ and ‘P-Creative’.
The historically creative, which is called H-creativity, is understood as the ability in
the imagination of an absolutely new idea. However, the psychologically creative,
P-creative, could be a daily skill which is the process of transformative one idea
into another area. We always use it unconsciously, while we are discussing,
learning and playing. So P-creative is the skill which everyone has already had it
and Sanders also shows that it has levels of developing creativity; In short, she
calls doing, adapting, making and creating. For example, in cooking activity, firstly
we have to learn how to use the kitchen and preparation, then we can use
creativity in adapting ingredients and if we have enough cooking experiences, we
could create own recipes. All these processes are based on transformative idea in
On the one hand, everyone has a creative ability and it relates with individual
passionate in any daily activities. On the other hands, many people still cannot
think creatively because they have some feeling obstructing them.
Fear in Creativity
According to Tim Brown (2008), CEO of IDEO, he shows the difference in creative
thinking between adults and kids. By the experiment, when asking adults to draw
the face of next people, this will end with a laugh and a lot of sorry, but for kids,
they happy to show their work as a masterpiece. So what happens with the
process to become adults?
The process of learning to become adult, we become more sensitive to the
opinion of others; we fear of the judgement of our peer and we are embarrassed
about showing our ideas to people. And this fear is what causes us to be
conservative in our thinking and it restricts and degenerates our creativity.
Educating system could be the most influencing with adult’s thinking. Ken
Robinson notices the education system reduces student’s creativity. The
education’s models tend to support an economic system by producing the
workers to fit into each one specific discipline. Robinson (2010) says “we are
shutting children’s senses off instead of waking them up.” This education model
leds students to narrow their mind, and afraid of thinking differently or trying
something new, unfamiliar with, because it probably become mistakes in other’s
“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist
once he grows up.” – Picasso
How to reduce the fear of judgement? Back to why kids are more creative than
adults, Tim Brown (2008) shows the concept of playfulness, it is important for
creativity where an environment opens for any ideas without judgement.
The project of ‘busy mockingbird’, Mica Angela Hendricks, could be the great
example of playfulness. She collaborates with her daughter in the drawing. She
starts with drawing a face and let her daughter draw the body and create the
story. Later, she paints the drawing to complete the collaborative art piece.
Creativity in consumption
Even in terms of consumption, where could reflect to the creativity of everyone.
The ownership had been seen as only the status after consuming. However, in
these days consumers need more opportunities to engage in creative activities.
“They need to be able to choose for themselves when to be consumers and when
to be creators” (Sanders, 2012, 16). Many products allow consumers to customize
into their unique need. It could be seen as consumers do not buy only product or
service but, they tend to buy the open areas for using their creativity in
customizing, adapting or organizing without others’ judgement. This situation
could be the new generation of ownership meaning. Likewise, it can be seen that
the segment of DIY market has been rapidly growing for these few decades.
“Creativity does not happen inside a person’s head but in the interaction between
a person’s thoughts and a socio-cultural context.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996 cited by
Sanders, 2012, 58)
In 1950s, psychologist researched on creativity by focusing on the individual skill.
Since 1990s creativity could be seen in the area of collaboration. Nowadays, Keith
Sawyer claims that collaborative working can produce innovative solution more
than a genius individual working (cited by Sanders, 2012, 58).
Moreover, the previous chapter shows that sociability is the fundamental of
creativity and to fix the complex problem, it requires collaborative creativity,
which could be a tool for gathering community together. Creative activity could be
used to develop the community’s common. As in IDEO project improving health
care experience, Kaiser Permanente (cited by Brown, 2009, 291) shows that by
working in an interdisciplinary team, which create a collaborative workshop with
doctors, nurses and patients, can get a better result for design than hiring many
Even collaborative working has high potential, though it is also difficult. In reality,
when many people work together it usually has problems because different
perspectives could lead to disagreement. In the next chapter this essay will
introduce some tools for facilitating in collaborative working, in the next chapter.
Celebrate the diversity. Develop living and relationship
We would like to propose an educational alternative that uses metadesign
methods. Metadesign supports social creativity, diverse ways of thinking and
collaboration through workshops, but also provide tools to facilitate it. A
metadesigner creates the conditions for participatory activities and celebrates the
differences in a group to come up with more sustainable solutions to social needs.
« To successfully cope with informed participation requires social changes as well
as new interactive systems that provide the opportunity and resources for social
debate and discussion rather than merely delivering predigested information to
users. » (Fischer, 2003) In fact, we (metadesigners) engage with the user to
facilitate a process rather than providing a finished solution. Our role is to seed a
process and to leave empty spaces for the user to fill, generating alternatives and
allowing solutions to emerge directly from the people the problem affects. The
stakeholders become co-designers. The stakeholders (or participants) in the case
of our project would mainly be students, teachers and the inhabitants of the
community. They define a problem, investigate, express themselves and engage in
personally meaningful activities from the beginning until the end of the process.
This is what we intend to do by proposing tools for a community, that will enhance
the quality of the area they live in and their social relationships.
We will now introduce a few examples of Metadesigner's tools:
1) The Cultural prop:
With the cultural prop tool, participants are asked to bring an object that
represent an experience in their personal life. This is done in order to motivate
storytelling on a certain theme. Then the participant is asked to write a few
keywords related to the object he/she brought, and these keywords will be shared
with the other participants. The keywords are grouped in « islands » that are
named to find common values and establish the group's identity. This tool draws
from the group's diversity and is used throughout the process as a reference for
the group's knowledge, values and interests. Here is a picture of islands we
produced during a Metadesign workshop.
2) The Bisociation:
As the fundamental definition of creativity (explained in the previous chapter), the
bisociation tool also works with keywords related to a specific theme. Based on
the concept of synergy (see “sociability” chapter), these keywords are shared
between the participants and, usually two by two, are put together in order to find
either a common theme, or more interestingly to find differences that will enable
a new, unexpected theme to emerge. This tool helps to learn to embrace
uncertainty whilst encouraging creativity and emerging ideas.
3) The Tetrahedron:
The tetrahedron form is the simplest geometrical representation of a cell.
Metadesigners use it as a tool to map ideas and understand the four levels a
designer must operate on : the writer, the reader, the idea and the concept. These
four interdependent elements, when put on each node of the tetrahedron, are
directly connected and six reciprocal relationships are established. These
relationships must always be considered by the designer. As opposed to the
hierarchical pyramidal form, the tetrahedron is a democratic form that gives the
same importance to the four elements composing it. This form also triggers
empathy, since it constantly helps the designer to try to think in the perspective of
the different elements or “roles”. During a workshop we had with Mathias
Gmachl, the founder of Studio Loop.pH, we built 3D tetrahedrons the understand
the shape and the method previously explained.
A Curriculum of life
« A curriculum of life » is a school-based research project that was established in a
poor and problematic suburb of Canada. The project focuses on the dynamic
relationship between students, teachers, knowledge and contexts, and is based on
critical practice and education for democratic transformation. Inspired by the
“Critical Pedagogy” philosophy on education described by Paulo Freire in his book
Pedagogy of the Opressed (Freire, 1970), the “Curriculum of Life” centres on co-
construction and co-production of knowledge rather than the student's personal
interests. The school provides abundant space for creativity and playfulness whilst,
on more profound levels, raises the awareness and concerns of the school and the
community. There, they learn about fundamental values such as helpfulness,
friendship, caring and community. The school's activities are related to the
immediate daily worlds of the children, but also to larger social and political
contexts. For example, one time, some of the students stole glasses in a shop. As a
« punishment », they had to work there to repay for their actions. Through doing
this, the students learned that « shop lifting cost the drug store the equivalent of a
full-time clerk's salary per month. » (Portelli, 2002) In a city where unemployment
is high, this kind of « revelation » is gripping. The on going activities help to give an
identity to the community, for which students take proud responsibility. This
successful project gives us inspiration since it is a good example of people's
capacities in changing the community, using school as a platform. Through
collaboration and co-construction, many goals can be achieved, and more easily.
Moreover, experience-learning and co-activities are beneficial for both individual
and group intelligence.
In his book Tools for Conviviality, Illich talks about the need to develop new
instruments (« convivial tools ») for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the
average citizen. These tools would allow people to work with independent
efficiency. He states that « Convivial tools are those which give each person who
uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of
his or her vision » (Illich, 1973, 21) In this idea, tools are created, developed and
maintained by a community of users to suit their needs. Moreover, with these
tools, the user learns from self experience. They are created to « (...) set up
educational arrangements that favor self-initiated, self-chosen learning, and that
relegate programmed teaching to limited, clearly specified occasions. » (Illich,
1973, 61) In our experimental project for a future community, we propose a range
of tools that promote creativity, learning from experience and collaboration for
the people of the community to come up with long term solutions for their
We believe in the importance of metadesigners in this process since local
authorities are not always good at letting people know what kind services are
available to them. A direct contact between people of the community and the
service providers is needed. Thus the students would also be acting as agents for
change, as idea providers and generators. As facilitators, we would like to
enlighten the people on their power and capacity to change things by working
together, rather than relying on the authority. We want to let them know what
they can do to improve their life in the community and help them to participate.
The collaborative creativity in developing each others
In the previous chapter, this essay introduces some tools for encouraging
communities to be creative collaboration in developing their area. By tools for
community, they tend to allow people to discuss freely, without judgement. This
could raise community’s empathy and creativity, which are the fundamentals of
social designers, which everyone could be. In this chapter this essay will give a
suggestion to bring these tools to the community to enable the inhabitants to
develop their area together.
Alternative education model
The considering area is how to develop the contemporary education system.
According to Ken Robinson (2006), the traditional education model degenerates
student’s creativity. Also Jacques Attali suggests the future human requires
empathy. This essay tends to explore the opportunities in developing both
creativity and empathy in an alternative education model by using tools for
communities working collaboration. It could be seen as leaning from the
community, not the top-down system.
The writers try to create alternative learning activities which focus on the
collaboration of the school community which includes student, teacher, parent,
and the inhabitants living around. According to Tim Brown (2009, 51), he explains
in Change by Design that team working should be ‘interdisciplinary’, which is
collective ownership, not merely ‘multidisciplinary’. Some tools for the
community, in the previous chapter, can be used to facilitate in interdisciplinary
In this project, the writers decide criteria which should be concerned:
Flexible in time and place
Responding to the individual’s requirements
Include everybody (ethnic groups, people with disabilities…)
Adaptable to the different needs
Support and help social interaction
Participation in practice
Experiencing on location
DREAMs Project idea
In working together, the activity should have the clear and interesting objective
for the stakeholders. So objective of this project tends to support student’s dream
by organizing workshops run separate the school-time. The project could be based
on collective activity, such as a life-skill workshop, storytelling or community
survey. This should be run by the school staffs as facilitators, and the students,
parents and the inhabitants around the school can be the participants, or even the
leader of the some specific projects. The activity tends to develop the school
community in both physical and relationship, and also gives the different
experience in grouping student by their interests, activities and skills, from regular
education’s model, aged-divided.
1. Start with visualizing student’s idea by creating the ‘dream report’ where
student can write or draw their dream communities, including a request, a
problem and anything.
2. School staffs or teachers will organize student’s dreams and plan activity’s
schedule and place, possible during school break.
3. The school announces dream events (figure 11) to students, parents or local
communities around the school to be ‘a dream-developer volunteer’.
4. The staffs facilitate the workshop by using tools for the community
5. By the participation of their parents, the students can have a credit for
attending another workshop as the return of this system.
1. Students have experience in collaborative working, be more creative and
2. Increase the interaction in the community around the school, more safety.
3. The school’s area has been regenerated, (reduce awkward space.)
4. Everyone has confidence in DIY activities.
5. The communities can support themselves; don’t have to wait for the leader,
Actually, this idea could be applied to other institutions, such as company,
hospital, elderly house, homeless centre.
For another example, Emily Pilloton creates the program named Project H, which
creates design workshops for children for the community transformative in the
long-term (figure 11). http://www.projecthdesign.org/
Experiment in Goldsmiths, University
With the Dream Together Board tool we plan to create for the community, we are
asking the inhabitants of the area for feedback, requests and developing ideas.
This tool is the first step to the collaborative systems we wish to create, that
would encourage self-supportive community.
We decided to run an experiment of this tool in Goldsmiths University. We
created two Dream Together Boards that invited the students to write their ideas
for the development and the future of Goldsmiths. This tool proposed two
platforms for idea gathering: one is to write directly on the board, the other is via
email. We placed these two boards (figure 15) in two different strategic places:
one in front of the canteen (figure 13), and one up the stairs of the Student Union,
before the “Natura Cafe”(figure 14). The first place is widely open, with a high
number of students passing by at every hour of the day. The second place is
smaller and dim.
The experiment ran for ten days, but the boards were filled with a lot quicker than
expected. We received no email (yet).
Themes that came up the most:
- Strike issues
- Food (especially in front of the canteen)
- More free things
- Games such as pool table and ball pits (especially at student union)
- Love, relationships and sex (from “cuddle room” to “free sex”)
Some very interesting ideas, more related to the subject we explore also came up
such as an “Inter-year group project” and “More freedom for creativity &
greenness around campus”.
The board in Student Union, probably because less in sight, was full of less serious
even though playful and joking around comments (sometimes with added words
to comments previously written by others) But in front of the canteen, a fully open
space, we had to add a second board. A lot of the comments were written, and
some very interesting ones. Moreover, we were happy to see one comment
stating that the board was a “very good idea”. Furthermore, from the result, it
could be seen that the environment affects results. The ideas which relate to
community development are usually written in open space. And the students tend
to share ideas with others, in where could be seen, more than keep their ideas
private and contact in person.
The Dream Together Board tool experiment came out with really good outcomes
at Goldsmiths University, and we are looking forward to propose it for bigger
In collaborative creativity, nothing is impossible.
This essay tries to find the opportunities in making community more sustainable.
In the early parts of this essay show the importance and the relation between
sociability and creativity which are relevant to how our lives. Moreover, they are
the fundamental abilities for future humanity. Conversely, the traditional
education model leads children to loss these abilities. Thus, this essay tries to
explore an alternative platform in learning with creativity and sociability. ‘Learning
from a community’ is our idea of an alternative education model. Besides, it would
develop that community in physical ways and relationship between them, and
raise an awareness of the community
By this model, the students have the chance to learn what they are exactly
interesting in without a hierarchy of subjects in education system or the
judgment. In other words, this could create a creative environment for children to
think creatively and develop it. In terms of facilitating, metadesign tools could be
the suitable tools to let diverse people work collaboratively, harmoniously and
Furthermore, the students, parents and the participators could have a conception
that learning never has a limit; everyone can learn from the surrounding people,
neighbour, community and also family all the time. And learning activity possible
be used to support the community we live in too.
Also, this collaborative model is wide-range concept, which can be developed into
other different contexts, such as in families, in university, in organization, social
designers and so on. Because ‘Learners’, instead of merely ‘students’, are in
everywhere and every activity. So different tools would to be created to support
‘Learners’ for both individual development and community development.
By opening for the diversity of views, we can use them to develop own creativity.
And in the collaborative creativity, nothing is impossible. Finally, the writers hope
this idea of creative learning model and the experiment of the writer could inspire
the reader some opportunities in the self - development community and other
further ideas. Thanks for reading.
Attali, J. (2011). Une brève histoire de l’avenir. Paris: Livre de Poche
Attali, J. (2013). Histoire de la Modernité. Paris: Robert Laffont
Brown, T. (2008) ‘Tales of Creativity and Play’. TED Global. Available from:
http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_on_creativity_and_play.html [Accessed 11
Brown, T. (2009) Change by Design. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Fischer, G. (2003). ‘Meta-Design: Beyond User-Centered and Participatory Design’.
Available from: http://l3d.cs.colorado.edu/~gerhard/papers/hci2003-meta-
design.pdf [Accessed 11 February 2014]
Illich, I. (1973). Tools for Conviviality. London: Calder & Boyars
Portelli, J. (2002). ‘A Curriculum of Life’. Available from:
https://www.academia.edu/398087/A_Curriculum_of_Life [Accessed 16 February
Robinson, K. (2006) ‘How Schools Kill Creativity.’ Monterey: TED Global. Available
[Accessed 13 January 2014]
Russ, J. (2001). Dictionnaire de la Philosophie. France: Bordas
Sanders, E. B.-N. and P. J. Stappers (2012) Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research
for the Front End of Design. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
Sheldrake, R. (2012). The Science Delusion: Freeing the spirit of enquiry. UK:
Figure 1: Saranurak, P. (2014) Tetrahedron mapping.
Figure 2 Health and sociability. At http://www.brightonimplantclinic.com/wp-
content/uploads/2012/06/oral-health-care-and-the-elderly.png [Accessed 19
Figure 3: Verbaeys, C. (2014) An example of synergy. Chlorine, once mixed with
sodium makes salt.
Figure 4: Saranurak, P. (2014) H-Creative & P-Creative
Figure 5: Busy Mockingbird (2014) Picasso. At:
http://busymockingbird.com/2014/01/21/picassoh/ [Accessed February 2014]
Figure 6: Verbaeys, C. (2014) Islands of keywords.
Figure 7: Saranurak, P. (2014) Bisociation in co-writing project, S.M.I.L.E.S
Figure 8: Design Futures Students (2013) Tetrahedron workshop.
Figure 9: Portelli, J. (2002) Children of curriculum of Life. At: https://www.
academia.edu/398087/A_Curriculum_of_Life [Accessed 16 February 2013]
Figure 10: Saranurak, P. (2014) Stakeholder mapping for creating new scenario.
Figure 11: Saranurak, P. (2014) DREAMs Project’s flow.
Figure 12: Saranurak, P. (2014) An idea for announcing.
Figure 13: Workshop H by Project-H Design. At: http://www.projecthdesign.org/
[Accessed 17 February 2014]
Figure 14: Saranurak, P. (2014) Widely open area.
Figure 15: Saranurak, P. (2014) Small and dim area.
Figure 16 Saranurak, P. (2014) Dream boards’ locations.
Figure 17: Collaborative community. At:
http://www.iiaweb.com/about/community [Accessed 16 February 2014]