Participatory design mobile research space

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Human Centered Design & Engineering alumnus Justin Hamacher (MS, 2013) believes the key to today’s successful design problem-solving involves bringing together people with diverse aptitudes and backgrounds, empowering everyone in the community to have a voice in design, and leveraging each designer’s individual strengths.

Hamacher, past UX Director for Harman and current Lecturer in the UW’s Master of Human-Computer Interaction + Design (mHCI+D) program and owner of experience design firm Tellous Consulting, recently organized a multidisciplinary group of students across UW’s arts, design, psychology, and engineering majors to look at the challenge of displacement within vulnerable populations as a result of Seattle’s housing shortage. Their work will be showcased as part of the Block Party at the 2016 Seattle Design Festival.

Justin Hamacher & Ariel Duncan
HCDE alumnus Justin Hamacher and master's student Ariel Duncan

”We see the current civic climate overlooking the voices of many community members,” Hamacher describes. “Currently, the need to interact directly with city hall can present logistical and other barrier issues for many people—the homeless, elderly, non-native speakers, renters, artists, or really anyone who doesn’t feel welcome or included. We want to go to the people to engage them directly in the design process…we need to move fast, before Seattle loses the things that have made it special.”

Hamacher and the students spent summer quarter researching the practice of participatory design, speaking with experts on displacement and its effects on the homeless population and also the availability of creative workspaces. They engaged the people of Seattle’s Occidental Park directly, inviting them individually to the design festival and undertaking some initial design exercises together. The team began developing a toolkit to facilitate a better flow of communication between policy makers and community members. Their result is a mobile design research space—a participation-based mobile space that encourages individuals to contribute opinions and have discussions with their neighbors in via their local communities.


“The mobile space would be a way to encourage a wider population of voices to be a part of the future city by reaching out and engaging people in their actual neighborhood environments and facilitating co-design explorations and research,” Hamacher said. “It could also serve as an educational platform for sharing information directly with the local communities. This is currently not being done in Seattle.”

The University of Washington students involved in the project are Stephanie Yu, dual major in Human Centered Design & Engineering and Psychology; Ariel Duncan, HCDE master’s student; Nadine Emmons, undergraduate student in 3D4M: Ceramics, Glass & Sculpture; and Alexis Burke, Interdisciplinary Visual Arts undergraduate student.

Alexis Burke, Nadine Emmons, Stephanie Yu, Justin Hamacher
Alexis Burke, Nadine Emmons, Stephanie Yu, Justin Hamacher

“It is important to have cross disciplinary design teams working on complex societal issues,” Hamacher said. “Student designers are vocally interested in design for good, and design education and industry should shift to meet the community and world needs that design thinking can help service; designers want more than just to be doing flows and UI’s for e-commerce…we want to make a positive impact and to use our talents to truly better other people’s lives…people need our help and we can assist them in co-designing the things they need to live healthy lives. Everyone can design.

"The diversity of skill sets across the students was the key to making this a successful effort. I loved seeing the students from different disciplines come together, leverage their strengths, strengthen their weaknesses, and delegate in a generous way to help us conduct research and prepare our exhibit. We all learned so much. I hope we can do more of these outreach oriented design initiatives at UW.” 

The team will present concepts for the Mobile Participatory Design Research Space—and share results of their community findings—at the Seattle Design Festival Block Party, September 10–11, 2016, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park.

Find additional details about the Seattle Design Festival, here.