Plot Party – De Gezonde Stad

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

During the event Jij Maakt de Stad! (You Make the City) organised on April 6th, 2017 by De Gezonde Stad and various collaborating parties, my Citizen Data Lab colleagues and I held a plot party at the Student Hotel. A plot party is one or a series of visual interventions that can be used to elicit responses about certain problem areas, to formulate (better) research questions, gather opinions and start a discussion, or identify priorities around a topic. Plot parties hold an informal middle ground between a questionnaire, an infographic and a discussion starter. What I like about it is that it immediately shows respondents how their responses are correlated to paint a certain picture (showing the intention of the researcher to an extent). The result is that participants also critique the correlation assumed. For this event we designed and created a total of 8 plot party installations and posters to be used in and around the workshops held during the event.

GezStad_LB (51 of 52)

Credit: Ruurd Priester

The topics and questions ranged from: what do plants and flowers do for a neighbourhood? To who is responsible for sustainable food chain?. The main installation explored visitors’ willingness to make a contribution to a greener city tomorrow and was also the place around which we had more qualitative interviews and conversations with visitors. The information and insights gathered were used to formulate and refine questions for further applied research to help citizens and professionals make the city greener and healthier.

The design of all plot parties are available here, and can be fabricated using a combination of hand tools, print technique of choice and digital fabrication tools (vinylcutter & laser cutter, which are included in the inventories of most makerspaces).

The plot party interventions were presented at a conference for science communication (Vakconferentie Wetenschapscommunicatie) on April 10th 2017 in the Hague.

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Credit: Carly Wollaert

Visual Questionnaires


Research objects made by participants Mackenzie Orr & Kazuhide Shibata

I’ve explored idea of visual questionnaires in some of my workshops recently because they seem to hold a nice middle ground between qualitative and quantitative research and are also a powerful avenue for dissemination of knowledge through interacting with publics, and discussing early ideas and assumptions. When you are still exploring your subject, sometimes you want to go for the open questions to get access to all the between-the-lines information. You want to find out what’s at stake below the surface, rather than assume. A great benefit is that these visual questionnaires also immediately show some results and provide a quick way to make a first interpretation. The fact that they look appealing helps as well. These could be very handy tools for conferences as well: to measure the impact an event is having on an audience and how ideas are shaping in their head for example.

Below are a few discussion starters/visual questionnaire objects I’ve developed or students have designed in my classes.

This visual questionnaire below lets people self-assess their drawing along two axes: how well they draw and how often they do it. Immediately patterns arise pointing at correlations between practice and perfection ;)



Below is visual questionnaire to help people discuss which type of tasks they think robots could and should do in the context of collaboration apps. These workshop participants from MediaLAB Amsterdam picked up on the visual questionnaire idea and executed a very nice example of it!  The visualization starts with all human (yellow boxes), and people can replace a human with a bot (grey box). Researchers will discuss their answer with them on the spot and capture relevant soft and hard data.



Questionnaire developed by participants Lynn Ika & Inge van Ee in one of my workshops

This colorful example is connected to research tools as they are used in for example play therapy and psychotherapy (references needed). Research objects can be used for research, and creative processes as well. We can note similarities with the visual ideation kits as developed by Smit et. al. (2016 & 2016), see also the example on Doenja Oogjes’ webpage. Embodied sensemaking is well-researched by Hummels & Van Dijk (2015) and is worth looking at. Also Lego Serious Play methodology is strongly related: in with this method, facilitators scaffold discussion, problem-solving and leveraging expertise n organisations by letting participants imagine and build with Lego bricks.

The students in this workshop wanted to interview KLM (Dutch Royal Airlines) employees to find out how they see their organisation, how they structure their thinking about the organisations, what they make important or not important, and what emotions and values are underlying that perception. They created a toolkit with abstract shapes in several colors and sizes and asked participants to use the objects to describe their organisation (or an aspect of it, depending on the questions asked, they may vary). The results were very rich organisations, where properties of the objects came to symbolize judgements and emotions regarding the organization that could be explored in the conversation.


Research tool made by participants Mackenzie Orr & Kazuhide Shibata


A more ‘closed’ approach to questionnaires within that same KLM project is this weaving board, inspired by Domestic Data Streamers‘ yarn boards. In this example the students predefined certain categories to ask interviewees about their emotions regarding the aspect of the company. The example below can be re-used in many different ways whereas this design is more limited and focused. In terms of using and wasting materials it might be useful to think about thinking objects that can be repurposed for different questions and contexts.


Research tool made by participants James Joyce, Suzanne Klooster, Sebastian Langer


In this example students created a set of discussion objects to support interviews regarding the travel experiences of people flying from Schiphol and the emotions attached. They also wanted to use these objects to map out the perception of time in the different stages of the airport experience. They created six pies that each represent an emotion, and would ask interviewees to make an emotional pie chart for each stage of the journey and their experience at the airport (security, check-in, waiting in the terminal etc). The also created objects for interviewees to visualize their perception of time for each stage. The student-researchers assumed that traveler’s perception of time would deviate from the actual time spent in each stage. These participants were clever in that they created separate ‘legend’ objects, describing what each pie stands for. In that way they can refine the design of their discussion object at a later stage: all they have to do is change the labels, to optimize their research tool or re-use it for other questions or contexts.


Research object made by participants Johanna Cubillos & Loraine Hoogendoorn



Hummels, C., & van Dijk, J. (2015, January). Seven principles to design for embodied sensemaking. In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (pp. 21-28). ACM.

Smit, D., Oogjes, D., De Rocha, B. G., Trotto, A., Hur, Y., & Hummels, C. (2016, February). Ideating in Skills: Developing Tools for Embodied Co-Design. In Proceedings of the TEI’16: Tenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (pp. 78-85). ACM.

Lego© Serious Play. Retrieved March 3rd 2017:

Smit, D., Oogjes, D. J., Rocha, D., Goveia, B., Trotto, A., Hur, Y., & Hummels, C. C. M. (2016). Ideating in skills.

Problem Prototyping at Butterfly Works


Recently I was invited by Butterfly Works to come speak at an inspiration day about Prototyping. It make me think: what makes me such an authority on prototyping? I sure know how to make and fake things (the Wizard of Oz is my absolute favourite method in the design book) and to ask questions and observe what happens. Actually, when I teach about prototyping this is my favourite video to make the point that you can fake an entire system whilst still getting a full emotional response:

The benefits of making problems tangible, and not restricting to prototyping possible solutions

Anyway. So prototyping. Well actually I reminded myself to look at my coaching activities and workshops and youtube channel (and the other one): I make and build a lot, including prototypes (but not necessarily). I guess what I’d have to say about prototyping if anything, is that it’s such a shame it doesn’t happen earlier on more often. What I see in my design coaching work is that design teams have a really hard trouble prototyping rough ideas and concepts because they’re not defined enough to be built. They postpone building anything, and thereby missing valuable opportunities of putting ideas out there in the world in a tangible form. Hence I would often say: build them (or parts) because it will help you define the idea. The chicken or the egg story.

The most important point of prototyping is that all this magic bubbles up when you make your ideas tangible: the process of doing it helps you think through things, so they get more defined. And being able to expose people to your idea (rather than exposing them to words about your idea) allows all these interesting observations, conversations and insights to come to the surface. In my experience in working with interdisciplinary project teams, this magic tends to happen more at the end than at the beginning.  And is probably partly a result of different backgrounds and ways of working.

From discussion starters to problem prototypes

I’ve been working on these things a lot, and previously I’ve talked about “discussion starters” to make sense of it. When I got the invitation from butterfly works I realized: what if I tried understanding discussion-starting-making activities as a form of prototyping? Can we use these hands-on makerly methods that we employ to test our solutions also be used to test our assumptions? To test our ways of approaching a problem, and to figure out whether we – and our assigners – are asking the right questions in the first place? I decided to go with it and prepared a talk on Problem Prototyping to figure out what that could mean. The ways of working proposed are the same as those discussed under “discussion starters”. Below are the slides, and here’s a recap of the inspiration session by Butterfly Works. These are the main points roughly:


Problem Prototyping from Loes Bogers

Main points (roughly)

  • everyone is biased in some way, and that’s ok. But we need to continuously improve our strategies to avoid them ending up in ‘solutions’ we propose. Perhaps our biases they can even be used as a productive force? In design thinking you are encouraged to fail after all.
  • making your ideas concrete enables real emotional and affective response, potentially resulting in in-depth feedback because the idea becomes something you can experience. Talking about ideas in your head is limited because you cannot be sure you are actually talking about the same ’thing’. At least not until mind readers really work reliably. Read up on the embodied cognition thesis, it’s interesting stuff (eg. Hummels & Van Dijk).
  • be aware that modern western science constructed and upholds a system and hierarchy of knowledges that historically favors (masculine) analytical rationality, detached/objective and systematic approaches and rigour as virtues. Other ways of knowing are much older. The idea of prototyping is one of many ways in which ‘modern’ western science started to include other, less rigid ways of producing knowledge since the 1960s. Huge body of work that deserves its own blogpost: bottomline being that academic knowledge-making is just one of the many (Guggenheim 2010).
  • in my limited and personal experience as design research coach at a university of applied sciences, making occurs mostly at the end of design processes in interdisciplinary teams where iterative approaches and designerly ways of knowing and doing aren’t necessarily commonplace for all involved. There’s a lot of researching and discussing going in before anything is tried out in a concrete sense. That’s a bit waterfall, and privileges thinking over other ways of knowing. I don’t like privileging thinking over other ways of knowing, other ways of knowing are awesome and democratic and inclusive. They might also be less academic, and I think that’s ok (this statement deserves its own post and references).
  • if you didn’t ask the right question or formulate the right problem, can you ever find a good solution?
  • solutionism (Morozov 2011) is a real technocratic threat: could it be the case that not all difficulties have benign technocratic nature? And: are we aware than any solution probably generates as many new problems as it solves?
  • what can we do? We better fall in love with the problem, not the solution (said everyone in startups ever, and I think they probably have a point!)
  • some examples of ways I’ve been trying to put this into practice with students I work with.


20 mins workshop??

Then I was asked to facilitate a 20 minute workshop to demonstrate the process. Incredibly short time! So with that limitation in mind I was super happy. Lots of people showed up to my workshop session after hearing my talk. Man I was so pleased with that, and incredibly flattered! We used the “what if your problem ecology were a game?” prompt to explore one of two problem ecologies: the gender wage gap, or Trump being elected president. The exercise resulted in 4 different discussion games each highlighting this ‘problem’ in a very particular way, and making it experiential while sparking discussion about the points of departure the games embodied. We briefly discussed but time didn’t allow us to go into full discussion to hash out what the games said about peoples approach, assumptions and perspectives on that problem and where they came from. I will forgive myself for that (see above: 20 mins workshop??)


lovely place, the Butterfly Works studio

Is there a philosopher in the design studio?

After the conversations I’ve had with the audience and my workshop participants, I realized that there might be something in this idea for everyone who’s interested in having more of a critical design practice. It’s also still quite rough and I feel shaky about making these statements, so it definitely needs a lot of backing up. A few weeks later I met up with Judith van Werkhoven, who is a creative consultant with a background in philosophy and graphic design. She uses Socratic conversational methods in her practice and apparently what I’d said resonated with her. Very interesting conversation.


Having chatted with her I started to see that perhaps I’m trying to bring a philosopher into the room, forging these connections in design practice and pedagogy. Somehow Problem Prototyping processes (I know that there’s loads of practices and method in this vain, I’m not pretending there aren’t and they also deserve their own blogpost) shares a trait with philosophy in that it is more interested in questions than in answers. I’m quite happy with that preliminary conclusion! And also feel like my next step would be to link deeply to practices all this is related to. To give it some academic weight (and see how that feels). I also became very curious what design practices are out there that engage philosophical approaches into design.

References and further reading

Guggenheim, M. (2010) “The Long History of Prototypes” in: LIMN, issue 0: Prototyping prototyping.

Hummels, C & Van Dijk, J. (2015, January). “Seven Principles to Design for Embodied Sensemaking.” in: Proceedings of the ninth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. ACM, 21-28.

Morozov, E (2013). To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism and the urge to fix problems that don’t exist. Penguin, UK.

discussion starters: making as research


A thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how to make the benefits of hands-on making more available in a way that fits the MediaLAB Amsterdam design process where I coached a lot of design teams in recent years. I noticed recently that there’s a powerful semantic pull when models of design processes present making/creating as the opposite of “research” activities (I will write more about this in a later post). Opposing the two is not always productive when trying to understand in what ways making and creating can in fact be a research activity in itself.  Now that I’m developing activities for Makers Lab: the makerspace of the University of Applied Sciences, I got a chance to dive deep and develop a new workshop for the kick0ff week of the design teams that start every semester. In this post I will summarize the conceptual work behind the development of this activity. I facilitated this 3-day makersprint in September 2016 together with Tamara Pinos.

MediaLAB Amsterdam does research and design projects for NGO’s and small to big businesses (from IKEA and Cisco to local partners such as Cinekid or the municipality of Amsterdam). What I noticed in my coaching years was that the teams would show and discuss their design artifacts mainly as they started to move towards developing a specific solution for a problem. I’ve come to believe however that design artifacts can be of great significance earlier on in the project. However, they are often treated as semi-final results or deliverables that need to be ‘approved’ by partners and aren’t evaluated on the amount of insights they produce (Budd 2008; Frens & Hengeveld 2013). This is something I have also experienced in the design research projects I’ve led. I had a hunch that maybe, if done well and with a certain attitude and goal in mind, even “naive” design artifacts could be valuable as early as the first week. How can creating artifacts in the early stages of a project help designers/researchers map out the problem ecology they are investigating?


Objects as Design Artifacts as Research

I’ve been reading Martinez & Stager’s Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom (2013), as a starting point for coming to terms with contemporary making and tinkering activities in educational contexts. Considered “Fablab teaching 101” in many makerspaces. The work holds many pedagogical and didactical handles for teachers and facilitators in primary and secondary education, but is lacking a specific outlook on the significance of making in higher design education.  So I started looking into design processes at other institutes more similar to ours. At TU Eindhoven’s Industrial Design department a lot of importance is put on making in two ways: to explore (get a grip on a problem) and to validate results, eg. prototyping for testing (Frens & Hengeveld 2013). Secondly, at Design Academy in Eindhoven design artifacts are understood in the broadest sense of the word, they can be drawings, notes, prototypes, maps, scenarios, identities, events, spaces, objects and films or other forms. This institute also sees potential value for arts methodologies as a part of research, placing importance on values such as ambiguity, intuition and serendipity alongside more formal research values like rigour, systematic way of working, analysis and referencing (Lexicon of Design Research 2015). Especially in early stages of the project – the divergent stages – room for arts methodologies can be valuable, because it expands areas of the thinkable, acting as a creative catalyst. The creation of design artifacts is placed at the center of the design research process (it is a form of thinking in its own right) and of disseminating knowledge (Thinking Through Making 2015).  These other models suggest that design artifacts can be part of the research because they make implicit information, values and thinking explicit. Once thinking is explicit, thoughts-as-artifacts can be circulated and discussed, contested, responded to, reflected on and improved: they can act in a real-world context from day one.


Boundary Objects

A useful concept to understand this is what sociologists Star & Griesemer called “boundary objects” (1989). Object act as markers of communities of practice when there is a shared understanding of the object and their use, such as certain maps or instruments. Conversely, if the understanding and use of an object is paradoxical or contested, this marks the boundaries between groups. When objects are not fully “naturalized” by one community, and classification systems collide, boundary objects can negotiate areas of overlap between social worlds (Bowker & Star 2000). So the idea emerged: what if we could design boundary objects in the early stages of a research project, to spark discussion and understand the problem area as a very diverse and not-so-unified social arena?


I took this as the starting point for developing a 3-day workshop with a few different goals, keeping in focus that design objects can act as ‘discussion starters’ that may lay bare the different interpretations, values, fears and emotional responses of people when confronted with such artifacts. It’s a mixed exercise in: making objects (not necessarily a common skill for digital designers), presenting a problem area as an – ideally ambiguous – experience (confronting people with the problem rather than a ‘solution’), and finally presenting these artifacts in a very serious way to start discussions with various people, which may lead to new sources of information, contesting of hidden assumptions, unforeseen angles to look at the problem, etcetera. (On a sidenote, thinking in terms of tech solutions might be a dangerous track to go on altogether for a medialab…Evgeny Morozov’s writings on solutionism are still on my to-read list, but here’s a short intro by Ethan Zuckerman (2016).


I’ve started to develop a number of ‘recipes’ to ease participants into this way of thinking, in which paradoxes, ambiguities, humor and assumptions are welcome. This is a radically different attitude to presenting design research work, which normally in the case of these students involves a lot of simplifying information in order to be able to present – or “pitch” – a convincing story. In this case, we aren’t looking for convincing arguments, we’re out to tease people to tell us their very own view on things. This slideshare gives an overview of the process, steps and examples we gave the students.



The final results ranged from dataphysicalizations to design fiction to board games and every team made 2 objects or more, so their work also acted as a non-unified variety of perspectives in itself (no singular “Truths” there). Not only were they really impressive to see, the following expo – small but vibrant – lead to a lot of interesting discussions for the students. They were exposed to a multitude of views, questions, critiques and suggestions only four days into their projects. Because it was an experiment for us af facilitators, we make plans to bring any of the results to the project partners. So we were happily surprised to see and hear that many teams did show their partners (some even made a new iteration for it), and another team showed their physical questionnaire/tangible infographic at a public event this Friday to discuss some more. For a generation that thinks “desktop research” is an actual research methodology, that’s a pretty impressive feat. All results (in pictures) can be viewed here.




Budd, A. (2008). “Design Artefacts Part 1: an Introduction”. Blogography. February 21st. Retrieved here 12 April 2016.

Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (2000). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. MIT press.

Frens, J., & Hengeveld, B. (2013). To make is to grasp. Proceedings of IASDR, 13, 1-8. Retrieved here 11 April 2016.

Lexicon of Design Research (2015) Design Academy Eindhoven. Retrieved 10 April 2016: 

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing modern knowledge press.

Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology,translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social studies of science, 19(3), 387-420.

Raijmakers, B., Aerts, D. (2015) Thinking Through Making – Strategic Creativity Series. Eindhoven: Publicatie van Lectoraat Strategic Creativity Design Academy Eindhoven. Retrieved here

Zuckerman, E. (2016) “The worst thing I read this year and what it taught me….or Can we design sociotechnical systems that don’t suck? Ethan Zuckerman. Retrieved Jun 25th 2016 at:….

Three ways of making in interdisciplinary design processes

Discussion of two comparable frameworks and suggestions for a more makerly MediaLAB model

The MediaLAB way of working has been subject to a number of iterations in recent years. The formalising and finetuning of the program, process, ideology and culture of design at the studio has led to a fast paced, well-structured 20-week program for collaboration in design research in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural settings. It has led to the development of a well-documented and structured 20 week program, an agile approach based on a modified version of SCRUM, a design method toolkit (online and physical card set), and a mobile app to simplify collaboration and reduce design waste (Van Hout & Gootjes, 2015). The MediaLAB Amsterdam model, in short: is based on an iterative loop called the research/create loop that signifies the desired alternating rhythm between analysing information and insights, and creating solutions. To go from one to the other, you go through a process we call translate.


Recent developments in production techniques and design tools have sparked a lot of discussion on the role of making and creating in a design research context. The craftsmanship of the designer is gaining prominence and is seems to be crucial for coming up with well-made, well-researched and innovative solutions. There is a rapidly growing body of work dealing with the embodied aspects of design research work: such as the role of sketching in design (Cross, 2011), embodied sensemaking and ideating (Hummels & Van Dijk, 2015), the formative value of design artifacts rather than summative value of deliverables (Dudd, 2011) and maker methodologies (Silver, 2009). The accessibility and number of makerspaces have made advanced production techniques available to researchers and students alike: a good time to reassess and formalise how a research and design studio such as MediaLAB Amsterdam can review their practice and come to terms with the question why designers make? 

I was asked to look into this question and make a number of suggestions for the workshops program and the methodology used. Below is an outline of the models of two other design education & research institutions: Design Academy Eindhoven and the model of the industrial design department at the Technical University Eindhoven (TU/e). There’s a short summary of the key points and terminology surrounding these models, followed by two suggestions for an improved MediaLAB model that can streamline the way we think/create.


Model 1: A critique of the slick prototype, and a call for making at TU/e

In the educational context of the design department of Industral Design at TU/Eindhoven, the role of making is discussed explicitly within their design education framework. Designers in training work in the context of designing systems, services and interactive products. At the core of the design process is the reciprocity of making and thinking: a reflective transformative design process they call the RTD process (Frens & Hengeveld, 2013: 2). Frens & Hengeveld define the design process not as a deterministic process from A to be, but as a process of making continuous informed guesses to move from unspecified to specified, and making serves a very specific purposes in this model (not to be confused with ‘designing’ which is the overall process, the interplay between thinking and creating).

1.Making for exploration

1.1 Making for inspiration

Making with a searching nature, making for inspiration, ambiguity as productive force, lack of planning. This is making for ideation & conceptualization.  “[The designer] is in constant reflective dialogue with that what he makes, his insights form while making” (2)

1.2 Making for elaboration

Making for elaboration is making in search for detail. The designer is looking to refine his concept, and searching for ways to express his design intent (2).


2. Making for validation

This way of making is to confirm and check ideas, the validation that will provide solid insights and will give direction to the next phases in the design. Designers do not make aimlessly, but try to move from unspecified to specified: “[T]he hand knows what the head doesn’t but needs to be shown. Making thus acts as a catalyst of thought.”(3)

Special note regarding digital fabrication

New techniques such as the ones belonging to digital fabrication and advanced rapid prototyping risk blurring the boundaries between making and prototyping, between making for exploration and making for validation and between making and designing (5). The ability to create fullfledged hi-fi working prototypes lures designers into making things work early on, but in turn they are often mistakenly perceived as ‘product proposals’: “the model is judged as a finished product rather than as a creator of insights (5).” Frens & Hengeveld strongly argue for keeping the boundaries very clear and to consider and evaluate making – and the design artifacts that come out of it – in terms of the insights they can reveal, not the definitiveness they express (6).

With regards to the MediaLAB model, there’s the same goal of interrelation between thinking and creating. But it is made more specific what that making is, and what different purposes the different kinds of making serve. This provides a lot of clarity as to why it is a good decision to start making at any point in the design process. Making is not just making, you do it with a different aim every time. If you start making with the right intention, then it will provide new insights to help designers make decisions.


Model 2: Design research at Design Academy Eindhoven

At Design Academy Eindhoven: they define making in different terms. In their manifesto on design research, they argue for 4 pillars that are necessary to do design research that can produce knowledge.

1. Anchoring in knowledge

To be embedded in a context of knowledge institutes, as a collaborative practice between academia and industry.

2. Capturing knowledge

Is to collect, document, analyse, map, reflect, translate and conclude. In other words: it’s the thinking that enables new meaning, dialogues and exploring futures (Manifesto, 2015). It’s one half of the thinking-through-making process they advocate.

3. Creating knowledge

This is the other half: the making part of thinking-through-making. Creating knowledge are all the ‘vessels that can express knowledge through more than words alone’ (Manifesto, 2015). In other words: text and verbal communication is one, but not one more important than eg. making objects, organising activities, telling stories, designing experiences, maps, styles, identities, scenarios, films, drawings.

4. Disseminating

By disseminating, again new knowledge is produced, they are not just vehicles. Manifestions of design – or perhaps ‘design artifacts’ –  is what is being disseminated and can be films, texts, maps, objects, services, events, maps, styles, identities. Dissemination is an active component of knowledge production and integral part of design research. Dissemination can take a plethora of forms again, not only conference papers, but also spaces, exhibitions, interactions etc.  (Manifesto, 2015).

We see here that there’s no subcategories in making, but that again the interplay between making and thinking is at the core. The more often a designer oscillates between thinking and making, the better. Posing the dissemination of knowledge as design activitiy is also an interesting addition here.

Key words in the DAE Design Lexicon

Additionally, it is good to highlight a few key words in the design lexicon that also come back in other publications by the Strategic Creativity Readership. First is the word ambiguity, or the quality to be open to more than one interpretation, inexactness (Raijmakers & Aerts 2015: 22). Ambituity represents the push to constantly question ideas and facts. Especially in the context of wicked problems that require a systems approach, or ecological approach of innovation, to ‘look for ambiguity everywhere’ seems like a wise mantra to stick to.

Secondly, the word systematic is offered to clarify that designers don’t make aimlessly here either. They have the responsibility to work methodically, according to a fixed plan or a system. This can be a system of the maker’s own choosing but it has to be explicit and argumented. Lastly the main term map is emphasised to draw attention to the visual representation of complex information. It indicates that text might not be the tool of preference on its own. Mapping is explained as research tool to collect and order data, and simultaneously can be a tool for manifestation and dissemination (Raijmakers & Aerts 2015: 66).

The power of implied dichotomies in the MediaLAB model

Relating this model to the MediaLAB program, the three pillars are strongly represented in the triple helix collaborations within ACIN specifically. The capturing/creating twosome resembles MediaLAB’s research/create cycle. However, there’s some tension in the choice of words in this implied dichotomy. If thinking is the opposite of making, then is research the opposite of create in the MediaLAB model? The dichotomy might be implied but it could be a strong source of noise. If we look at the choice of words (semantics are a powerful thing), we would conclude that in the DAE and TU/e models (design) research is the interplay, the constant oscillating between thinking and creating. Research doesn’t equal thinking, it’s only half.

Model 3: Suggestion for an improved MediaLAB model

Building on these thoughts, two main suggestions can be made:

  • the research/create dichotomy could imply the undesirable statement that creating is not research
  • specifying how the act of making and creating can serve different purposes could help integrate them throughout all the stages of the design process.

A new dichotomy: collect/analyse & design/create

With regards to the former, I would suggest using the pair: collect & analyse on the one hand, and on the other hand design & create to signify that there is a time for acting (creating) and a time for analysing and gathering information. Prototyping for example is a design and create activity, but testing the prototype and analysing the test results is an activity that fits collect & analyse well. Moreover it becomes very clear how the two contribute to one another.

Why designers make: three ways of purposeful making at MediaLAB Amsterdam

The second suggestion is a way to specify the purposes of making. These could fall into three categories within the MediaLAB design process:

  • Create to diverge (freeform tinkering, bodystorming, experiments)
    • A workshop in tinkering was developed for this as a very early attempt to integrate makerly ways of working into the design process in collaboration with Tamara Pinos.
  • Create to question and discuss (probes, discussion starters, workshops, mappings, experiences, games)
    • The latest addition to the workshop program was a maker sprint called ‘Discussion Starters’ and was developed and tried in september 2016 at the Makers Lab, the university’s makerspace in collaboration with Tamara Pinos. A workshop format and materials (workbook) in “visual communication” (using simple drawing techniques to map discussions, brainstorms and other verbal exchanges and collaborative contexts)  were developed earlier and would also fit in this category.
  • Create to confirm (prototyping and iterating on prototypes to test and refine a concept)
    • This was already very present in the methodology in the form of differen prototyping and testing methods. Tamara Pinos developed a prototyping workshop for this third category.

Create to diverge and create to confirm are based on the TU/e model (making for inspiration and making for elaboration), and ‘create to discuss’ is added to incorporate a way of making and creating that is rooted in the activity of researching by disseminating as described in the DAE model. Creating in this strand is purposeful, not because it will lead to a good product proposal necessarily, but because it will spark a lot of discussion that can then provide insights about the user’s values, fears and desires. The term of ambiguity from the DAE lexicon is central here: ‘conversations starters’ that spark real discussions rather than compliant nodding can point out irregularities and tensions in the user group that need to be negotiated in order to come up with truly user centered designs.

Moreover, the added category ‘create to discuss’ is in tune with the idea that design artifacts, or ‘deliverables’ should be evaluated for their formative value, rather than their summative one (Budd 2008). The deliverable’s value is not determined by getting (or not getting) an OK from a stakeholder or user; rather, its value correlates directly with the amount of new insights it provokes.

Specifying these three strands of making enables students and coaches to see how there’s purposeful making to be done at every stage of the project. From sprint 0 (user scenes and tinkering), to the final refining touches in production sprints; as long as analysing and creating alternate throughout you can allow for freedom and systematic research that is fundamentally intertwined throughout.


Budd, Andy. (2008). “Design Artefacts Part 1: Introduction.” Blogography. February 21st, 2008.

Cross, Nigel (2011). Design Thinking. Understanding How Designers Think and Work. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Frens, J., & Hengeveld, B. (2013). “To make is to grasp”. Proceedings of IASDR, 13, 1-8.

Hummels, C., & van Dijk, J. (2015, January). Seven Principles to Design for Embodied Sensemaking. In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. ACM: p. 21-28.

Manifesto (2015). Lexicon of Design Research. Design Academy Eindhoven.

Raijmakers, B., Aerts, D. (2015). Thinking Through Making – Strategic Creativity Series. Lectoraat Strategic Creativity. Eindhoven: Design Academy.

Silver, J. (2009, June). Awakening to maker methodology: the metamorphosis of a curious caterpillar. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, ACM, p. 242-245.

Van Hout, M. & Gootjes, G. (2015). “Scream! An Integrated Approach for Multidisciplinary Design Teams in Higher Education.” Edulearn15 Proceedings, 2157-2167.

Soft circuits: most basic of basics


Soft circuits for fashionistos/as

I ran I tiny taster in soft electronic circuits for fashion students today that was a part of the minor Textiles of fashion school AMFI. In a small hour (goes by so fast!) students were introduced to very basic concepts in electronics by making a super simple circuit consisting of a power supply and an LED (with on-board resistor) or piece of LED-strip. The minor Textiles has the goal to let students experiment thoroughly with the properties and possibilities of materials and machines, in order to generate new fashion concepts. What I loved about working with the AMFI teachers running this minor (Petra Vonk & Laura Duncker) was that they really seem to put great importance on starting the experiment from the material: make – look – feel – imagine – make again.

working out circuits with different types of LEDs

working out circuits with different types of LEDs

Electronics as part of the fashion curriculum

Electronics can integrate really nicely with textiles design and fashion. There’s a huge network of practitioners using it for fashion forward collections as well as wearables in medical/wellbeing applications, costume design, toys, and many other things. One of my favourite resources is Kobakant’s DIY section. This simple exercise allowed them to get some hands-on practice and understanding of how to connect up a circuit and avoid shorts using conductive thread, knits, textiles and steel wool. A couple of students even managed to add a switch or a sensor. After a short demo and making their first soft circuit they left with ideas of how to use the following materials and techniques in their own projects.

  • conductive threads, paints and textiles as well as materials with variable resistance
  • creating basic switches and soft sensors
  • silkscreening with thermochromatic paint
  • working with programmable AVR chips

It’s really great to see that the first students have started to come back in the months after to develop their own circuits and ideas. Even if you’re just beginning, there’s LOTS you can do with a bit of imagination!

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Untoolkit electronics


Why rebuilding an existing toolkit?

That looks like an Arduino Lilypad! Yes, it does because it is. Why would I rebuild and modify an existing toolkit? Because I needed a project to figure out our PCB milling machine, so as an exercise I set out to make our homemade version of the wearables Lilypad toolchain developed by Leah Buechley, who made all the design files open and available. I had to replace all the footprint with the ones matching the components in our inventory and went on to produce the electronics from scratch. Today I was finally able to hook it all up and program the chip with an IC test clip and a USBtinyISP AVR programmer. This could be a nice cheap way for fashion students to play around with such a toolchain, that is easy and well-documented, but potentially gives them an entry into the world of ‘real’ untoolkitted electronics. This is important because working with black boxes never allows you to get intimate knowledge of the material you are working with. And it will not allow you to hack the material to your needs and liking. I’ve made four versions with different functionality which can all be manufactured and programmed in less than a couple of hours.

Are you afraid of electronics? Making custom PCBs

My longer term goal is to work towards building confidence in students and teachers, so they’ll start adjusting board to their needs by designing their boards or modding them by replacing or adding components to the existing layouts. I’ve always found it easier to modify existing files and the sewing pad library that is available freely is quite useful for designing electronics for textiles. I think that it’s a valuable learning experience and professional development for design students to rely a bit less on toolkits step by step and start building confidence to embark on the real electronics learning curve.

There’s some politics there, because the argument to “untoolkit” electronics is one that serves democratic, open access to knowledge and techniques (see Mellis 2013). Working with small chips such as the ATMEL ATtiny’s, and off the shelf SMD components can be considered the hardware sister of open source software. Using as little proprietary means as possible in the electronics toolchain makes its production truly democratic and open. Chips and simple components are widely available and cheap(er) than one-size-fits-most toolkits. Most beginning and intermediate users don’t need nearly all the functionality that is put into toolkit boxes such as Arduino boards etcetera. After the initially steep learning curve, creators can eventually have more control, less unused functionality (smaller boards!), and in the long run it becomes cheaper and more scalable (electronics designs can be sent to manufacturers for production in bulk). Moreover, designs will become replicable across the globe because chips and components are standardised and widely available in almost every country.

Tools: Eagle, PCB milling machine (LPKF protomat here), Soldering tools, Arduino IDE with Attiny libraries installed, Crosspack AVR


Mellis, D. A., Jacoby, S., Buechley, L., Perner-Wilson, H., & Qi, J. (2013, February). Microcontrollers as material: crafting circuits with paper, conductive ink, electronic components, and an untoolkit. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (pp. 83-90). ACM.

Franz – a toy for wunderkammers

Magic toys for grown-ups: a personal and emotional learning process in making

Franz is a wall mounted bumblebee and my first design of making toys for grown-ups who dream of having ‘wunderkammers’, and my final project for Fabacademy 2015. For my final project I had to include a number of techniques into one integrated project.  I decided to indulge in my private obsession with movement machines (they range from dancing bodies, to augmented reality performances, to mechanical choreographies like Franz).

Techniques and Materials:

3D printed ABS (Rhino), Lasercut acrylic (lllustrator, Inkscape), Lasercut wood and acrylic. Electronics from scratch: Attiny84, unipolar  stepper motor, microphone, bulbs (Eagle, Arduino, Fabmodules).

Made at: Fablab Amsterdam

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Digital Fabrication & other making: FabAcademy 2015

FabAcademy15 graduate!

In 2015 I graduated from the 5 month FabAcademy program at Fablab Amsterdam at de Waag. A large part of the course is about programming and electronics (PCB production from scratch!) which I absolutely love and am so happy to advance my understanding of. Especially learning about the infrastructures of open source software and hardware. Other things on the program were: Computer Controlled Cutting, Machining, 3D printing, 2D and 3D milling, molding & casting, composites, machine building. It’s been an intense learning journey that I have documented here. Fabacademy doesn’t really facilitate any conceptual development during the course. It’s very high-speed, high-learning curve of technical & modelling skills requiring a get-shit-done-before-the-week-is-over-and-we-move-on attitude. I think this is a big miss but I accepted it for the duration of the course as I also had work to do next to the this course.

Tinkering vs. Prototyping workshop

Where tinkering meets prototyping

My HvA colleague Tamara Pinos and I tried out a different format to get the students to think about tinkering and prototyping. Usually we would run tinkering and prototyping workshops separately, but now we decided to put them in the same room and timeframe so that the processes could talk to one another. In prototyping you basically work from an idea that you’ve defined, and give it shape, make it work, so you can test it out to confirm it. Tinkering comes before that somehow, it is what you do before you have an idea, in order to come up with the ideas.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.58.39

The red button connected to the internet is always an answer to your problem

It’s really a matter of where you start: do you start from the material and let the material inform your ideas. Or do you start with a blank page and wreck your brain to pour out some thoughts onto your white canvas. Both are perfectly fine and viable but it’s good to know that there’s always at least two options to get from nothing to a tangible thing that you can then talk about and reflect on. It sure isn’t always easy to ideate for the big problem statements and wicked problems we work on at MediaLAB. There’s a great risk of generating ‘solutions’ that are as vague and abstract as the problem at that early stage. However, if you just start with whatever you’re given, and try to forge connections between your design problem and whatever it is you have in front of you, ideas start flowing as you work onto the material with your hands and brain in tandem. What we find in this workshop that the best prompt is to give people a big red button that is connected to the internet, and to ask students to make the thing work, understand it and then ask them: how can this connected button solve your problem?

Finding 100 ways that don’t work

Both have in common that they celebrate early failure as a way to learn quickly and deeply about your ideas and prototypes. We asked the students to create paper prototypes – always a big hit and a huge surprise – and to tinker for an hour with a prototyping tool they were unfamiliar with and report back what they learned and how this tool could be an answer to their design problem. The tools we use are for example (IFTT, BTTN, LittleBits, MakeyMakey and Vine kits (Internet of Things sensors). We wrap this workshop by discussing how the processes of tinkering and prototyping might relate to one another and what the similarities and differences are.