Animation Vegetation @ Design and Emotion conference

From the 12th to the 14th of September I (Ben Hagenaars) attended the 8th international conference on Design & Emotion in London. The central theme of the conference was ‘Design Out of Control’. The topic focussed on the challenges and opportunities design is faced with today. On the first day off the conference I presented my case study Animation Vegetation. I am proud to say that my project received the ‘Best Case Study Award’. You can find the presentation below.

Animation Vegetation is a design project to generate more green places in public spaces. As cities are growing everyday, due to the increasing number of people that are living in it, simultaneously accessibility to green spaces is decreasing. Which has a negative effect on the quality of life in build environments. The general idea of the project was to create something that engaged and enabled peoples to ‘green-up’ their local city area. The method deployed to trigger this kind of engagement was the design of a public intervention toolkit. Inspired by bottom-up movements like graffiti artists and guerilla gardeners, a doll out of a biodegradable textile was created. The doll grows in volume by filling it with seeds and soil. Steady watering and sunshine allow the seeds to hatch and find their way trough the mazes of the textile. When fully grown, the idea is to drop the green doll into an urban setting that could use a bit more green. Different weather conditions cause the textile of the doll to degrade and become a part of the city. The doll acts as a graffiti tag on a city wall, making a critical statement about it’s public surrounding.

I tried to encourage people to adopt a doll by handing out toolkits for making one of their own. If they agreed they received an empty doll plus a step by step scenario to communicate the idea of the project. The scenario explained that they had to finish the doll themselves and nourish it until it turned into a green character. When fully grown they had to pick a nice spot for it in the city. The public reaction to the project was amazing; in one-day time all of the 500 unfinished toolkits were handed out. 300 extra toolkits were created so that people on the waiting list could join the project. From that moment on people started making the dolls their own. Some participants started to experiment with different types of vegetation to grow in their character. Some of the characters that were placed in the city were vandalized. And some local elementary schools adopted several characters and used it in their educational programs.

During my presentation I reflected upon the fact that involving various participants in a design project can result in unexpected ways. These kinds of adaptations were out of my control after the project was opened-up to the public. These actions can be seen as informal design interventions executed by the participants. Embracing the idea of being out of control is a relative new concept in the field of product design. In design educational contexts designer are thought to develop finished products or artefacts. In the animation vegetation project I deliberately created an unfinished toolkit to encourage the local community to adopt and adapt this tool.

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