Discovering community-led design in China

Read about our latest work in China on the British Council blog >>

Many sectors suffer from ‘jargon-overload’. The international development sector and emerging maker community are no different. Words can help us to be more precise, but they can also become a barrier to honest communication; too technical, too full of their own importance and arguably can discrimate against the poor.

Participatory design is not a new approach, but the buzz around these terms (co-, community-led, impact-driven, humanitarian, human-centred…) is hot. Should we agree on their definitions? Can they be overused? Do they mean the same thing in different places and to different groups?

In November, we set out as explorers. What does ‘community-led’ mean in China? We wanted to challenge our own assumptions, discover best practice and hear from makers. We connected with communities and designers in Beijing, Henan, Hong Kong, Hunan and Fujian, of Chinese, Taiwanese, English, Irish and French origin.

Fundraising for the right to play

Mother of two, Lynne Ashbridge is taking on the famous Great North Run this September, raising awareness of and fundraising for our work. Not a runner and, in her own words, partial to the 'occasional' chocolate brazil nut, this half marathon will be no mean feat. Hear from Lynne about why she's putting herself through it, her training journey so far and her fundraising goal.

My name is Lynne Ashbridge. I'm 62 years old and live in the North East of England with my husband Steve. We have two grown up daughters, Beth who is based in New York and Jo in London. I like to think that I'm fit for my age as I still play squash 2-3 times a week with Steve (and they are tough games not just a gentle jog around the court!)

I've always watched and supported the Great North Run - it's an institution born in the North East and is very dear to our Geordie hearts and minds.

This year Jo asked if I'd run the GNR with her for AzuKo. Beth soon joined us in solidarity, and is running a marathon distance over 6 races throughout New York City. Like us, she'll finish her running endeavours on Sunday 9 September. All three of us will cross the finish line together (hopefully).

  (Photo: J. Brown)

(Photo: J. Brown)

JAAGO playspace design
Although the thought of running a half marathon (13.1 miles) is a daunting task - I’m definitely not a runner and never have been - I wanted to support AzuKo and help the charity design and build a playground for an impoverished community in rural Bangladesh. It makes me very proud the see the great work Jo is doing through AzuKo.

... Back to the beginning of this journey, which will finish in about 3 weeks:

Steve took me out running and in truth I barely ran for more than 200m. My chest was burning; I could hardly breathe. But not to be defeated I continued to go for small runs, which were always difficult. Eventually I participated in a 5km parkrun. I remember thinking I would never make it to the finish line. I DID and that gave me encouragement to go along the next week and try again. 

I have been running now for 9 months and I don’t know how it has happened as it has crept up on me slowly but I am now running for 90 mins (who would have thought that possible in the early days?) I have lost about 2 stone in weight and I feel fit and healthy.

As a team my daughters and I are aiming to raise £3,000 of which every penny will most definitely be put to good use in the design and construction of JAAGO playspace. When children get a good start in life it can be truly life changing and the world will be a better place for it. 

Donating money or giving your time to raise money may seem like a small thing to do however if we all join together then collectively it can become much bigger, and we can eradicate inequality.

What is getting me through this gruelling training is remembering how blessed I am and have been throughout my life. If I can help AzuKo improve lives then running 13.1 miles is a small task to undertake.

Please sponsor us and spread the word amongst friends and family.

We assure you that every penny raised will be put to the very best of use. The playspace will improve learning, emotional development and wellbeing, and most of all the children will be given the opportunity to just have fun. What can be more important than that?

Wish me luck on 9 September. Hopefully I'm on track with my training - I'll certainly give it my best shot. If I can't run the entire route I will crawl across the finish line. That’s my promise to all our supporters!


Follow Lynne's training journey and cheer her on via Facebook >>

Lynne is currently at 60% of her fundraising goal. Show your support for her incredible effort.

Who are museums created with?

"I'm not sure if that's right..." He expanded,

the things I suggested - I’m not sure if they are the right design answers for those problems.

The gentleman had participated in a workshop with AzuKo at Tate Britain as part of the museum's Soapbox series, "for people near or beyond the age of 60 to meet up and share views on life and art through topical discussion and debate".

The Public Programmes team at Tate hired us to design and facilitate the July edition of Soapbox - Who are museums created with? (Though we were quickly informed by one of the participants that museums are where dead elephants and historical artefacts are housed and galleries are where art is presented. A common mistake, she reassured us.)

The man was unsure about the recommendations he had made about the signage design for one of the galleries. He suggested that the intention of the room should be communicated better and that the signage be designed in a way that was more welcoming and informative.

He was critical, he had a point of view and he was confident about the types of design changes that could make the space more user friendly. Nevertheless, he was uncertain about his voice as a designer.

We asked the group to explore and observe the galleries and speak with other visitors about the current experience at Tate Britain. We prompted them to challenge how participatory the spaces currently are, and why that was relevant.

When we spoke with the group about their observations and their conversations it was immediately apparent that the discussion was a voicing of design perspectives on how the museum could be more welcoming, more useful and how it could support a better experience.

We were inspired by the diversity of ideas they put forward, despite only having half an hour to complete their task. They touched on:

  • Particular aspects of the galleries that aren't culturally relevant for foreign visitors
  • Importance of communication and signage in the space and the ineffectiveness of some signage in the galleries and the Common Ground community garden. The size, messages, colours and coordination were all discussed.
  • Learning styles that should be considered which would affect the nature of the experience e.g. extroverted and introverted personalities will experience the space differently
  • Insights about the user experience - some staff have the opportunity to participate in the experience of the museum unlike roles such as Security, spatial curation could be better and certain rules in the space didn't work for their age group e.g. no sitting on the temporary exhibition which has several spaces to seemingly sit
  • Seasonality and planting in the Common Ground garden, and how it could have been more collaboratively created
  • Children offer their own perspective (a mindset and from the floor) on the art in the museum; a relevant perspective
  (Photo: N. Ardaiz)

(Photo: N. Ardaiz)

The man's comment after the workshop is telling. It highlights to us the hierarchy inherent in the world of design and, more importantly, the nature of education in our society. Of course he was correct - he was also incorrect - there is no right design for the museum which would meet the needs of all users at Tate Britain.

What was most impressive about the session, was that despite any doubt the group had about their age, their lack of training as designers or the subjectivity of the 'right' design, in just two hours the group united around a task and over-delivered an assembly of relevant design voices that Tate couldn't ignore.


Author: N. Ardaiz