by Laura Seppäla
I was a participant at the recent Clothing Hybrids workshop, run by Mode Uncut on 10-11 September 2014 as part of Helsinki Design Week. I created a concept for a rain-cape requiring an open co-design process to complete the final garment. I discuss the possibilities, as well as the challenges of this way of engaging users in design in this collaborative, democratic way.
My conceptual case study was created and made within 24 hours in the second day of the workshop. I decided to pilot a design process that could be organised like an open design platform. Since the platform does not exist yet, I piloted the design process in my own Facebook page. I posted a request to participate in English and Finnish.
Stage 1– Photo (participatory citizen design stage)
I decided to design a rain-cape that could delight fellow people in the dark Finnish autumn. There were few reasons for this decision. Firstly, I like the idea of design inspiring people and making them happy. Secondly, everybody has photos, which give them some happiness and mean something to them. Their use in an item of clothing could create feelings of participation and empowerment. The cape to protect from rain was chosen because of the wet autumn season and relatively easy pattern of construction. I thought that it would be fastest to sew a prototype of cape, because I was aware of the very limited time to produce a prototype in the workshop The first stage of participatory design was when I asked people to send me inspiring photos for the cape. I posted the design task request in the late afternoon of the first day then gave a deadline of 10 pm in the evening. Nobody answered my English version, but 15 people posted a photo for me in response to the Finnish version before the deadline. The photos were diverse: from portraits to personal travelling photos, to inspiring quotes and beautiful landscapes. I also got one poem to use in the print design.
Stage 2 – fabric print design (professional design stage)
During the following hours I sketched five different possible for the cape. I faced challenge of designing an aesthetically pleasing print in such a short time, because I wanted to use all the photos that have been kindly donated for my design project,. The limitations of my creativity and skills of using design software were the most challenging part for me, but this is clearly the stage where the designer’s decisions are crucial. Finally at 4 a.m., I had created three different alternatives. For two of them I gave colour option. Then I gave people until 9.00 a.m. later that morning to vote for the winner. I decided to publish all of the print alternatives, although I had clear favourite. Another alternative would have been to publish only the best in my mind and give only the colour options.
Stage 3 – voting for print and buttons (democratic open design stage)
The winner print got three votes and second place holder two votes. The new people participated in the voting and were not exactly same than those who donated their photos. My personal favourite lost the vote, but I absolutely wanted to respect the democratic process. In the end I decided to print the second place holder, as well, to see how bright colours get printed. It was very interesting to see the end result. The colours in the winner print looked similar than on screen, but the second print looked completely different. This is why it is important to make colour fidelity tests in digital printing process.
While the fabric was being digitally printed, I decided to do a button and piece of jewellery for the cape in the Aalto FabLab. People also submitted pictures with text, which gave me the idea to use the text in the button. I also gave the people opportunity to vote for the text for the button. The staff in Aalto FabLab assisted me to laser cut the buttons and jewellery.
Stage 4 – (completion of the professional design stage)
I should have decided maybe to make a smaller product, because the meter length of fabric that we were able to digital print for the prototype limited the actual cape shape.
I had also asked from the participants that how we would place the fabrics in the cape. Since there was not clear opinion, I decided to use only the winner print, placing half of it to front and half back. Because of the lack of time, I did not make a pattern for the cape. I sew the prototype from squares and did not make a hood as I had planned in the beginning.
Evaluation of the process
The open design process that was piloted was very fast and gave only the people who were present, on Facebook at the time, opportunity to join. If people were not frequent Facebook users or had the possibility to follow the process live, the votes went too fast. I also wanted to conduct the process by myself, but the outcome could have been more visually pleasing if I would have worked alongside a professional graphic or textile print designer. They would have had the skills to make a visually perfect print..
The participants were my personal friends and very kind to support my project through my personal Facebook page. Therefore they can be biased, because they like me, so this case study does not give a real indicator about the interest of the general public.
I asked participants to give critique or comment of the process. The people who answered told me that they felt empowered by being part of the social collaboration in design and thanked me for the opportunity to participate in the process. The challenge in evaluating real success of the design process and design itself was that I only got messages from people who joined the process and liked it. So, it remains unknown as to why somebody decided not to join. I also met my friend afterwards, who is professional clothing designer and we also discussed that the one way to test success of the product would be to make it to final product stage and sell it. If there is a real interest in buying a co-designed product like the rain-cape indicate that further tests in the market would be worth doing.
Further discussion is needed around the challenges of this kind of democratic and open co-design. A key challenge is who gets to decide what and when. Is the public right or should we trust the designers’ professional view. What is the main goal? Is it to create an empowering experience of participation for the people who will wear the clothing, or to create professional design or both. I have not created digital patterns or photomontages for textiles before, therefore my own skills were a limitation on the clothing design produced.
I personally loved the process and felt really empowered by people’s engagement and participation and therefore I would like to suggest the real success of co-design comes when users and designers can have possibility to create something together and feel empowered. I am really looking forward to explore more of possibilities of this democratic open co-design process. I would also like to thank warmly all my friends who participated and commented the experiment. All these comments were really valuable to help prototyping the first rain-cape and to enable new steps to be taken.
I would like to warmly thank everybody who participated in or commented this co-design project in Facebook.
Stina Maija Sateenkaarina Varkkola, Jussi Manni, Antti Rask, Anna-Kaisa Säämänen Elina Saarinen, Tuuli Pyykkönen, Aino Tabell, Riina Riihimäki, Sanna Nevala, Niina Louise, Jenni Viinikka, Johanna Ylinen, Maija Salokangas, Inari Laveri, Esa Korhonen, Kristina Öhrnberg, Heta Issakainen, Riku Toivola, Linda Majoinen, Minttu Kuuva