Saturday, 18 October 2014

Hack the Home Halifax!

You can tell teaching has resumed - I'm pretty sure yesterday was late September, and yet here we are - a quarter of the way into term! The blog, as ever, goes to the bottom of the To Do List, despite a steady accumulation of things to add. But with new lectures all written, exam nearly ready, upcoming trip to Lithuania for the LUDI workshop sorted out, projects allocated, a PhD thesis examined, another reviewed - time has finally turned up when I can actually get down to some more Blogging.
What I wanted to reflect on today was the Hack the Home event that ran in Halifax with Calderdale Council, FutureGov and Enabled by Design last month. I've been following the Enabled by Design Designathons from their inception, so I jumped at the chance to get involved and provide technical support.
The event was taking place at the mighty Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. I have a soft spot for Halifax. Not least because you get some spectacular views, but also because Eureka,  the Children's Museum is there ( and very handy from the Station!), and one of my favourite  bands (not-so-popular beat combo and pioneers of Gothic Metal,  Paradise Lost) hail from the City.
If you're not familiar with the Designathon concept, it's this: you get a group of service users and staff from Calderdale Council, put them together with designers, and get them to brainstorm solutions to the service users' problems. Prototyping and testing is a huge part of this, since ideas that sound good on paper don't always work out in practice. Normally, the Designathon lasts two days, giving time to make higher fidelity prototypes to test out on the second day. In this case, only one day was available,  so low fidelity prototypes were the order of the day. But you learn a lot through lo-fi prototyping and testing, and part of the goal was to introduce the concepts of user-centred design, rapid prototyping and  bespoke manufacturing to Calderdale. Calderdale Council have a big push on digital innovation, and they're aware that they have a really strong manufacturing base that can provide these services. The big question for them is how they can bring together these businesses,  their clients and the R&D activities of nearby Universities, which was why they had brought Futuregov and Enabled by Design in.
It was a good day. We had five service users, and about forty-five participants from Calderdale Council and local creative (including my colleague Dan Trowsdale from the University of Leeds, and two of our students). This gave five teams of ten, to brainstorm around each user's problems (including the user themselves), each with a facilitator from FutureGov, plus technical support from Mike Willshaw from Radius Creatives (whose 3D printer was a huge hit), and my good self.  There was a lot of energy, and I was really pleased by the way everyone rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Everyone got into the swing of sketching and model making, which was a relief - there's always the worry that people will be too shy.
It's difficult to convey the whole thing in words. Suffice to say it was an exciting day, and a great opportunity to establish links with Calderdale Council on which we hope to build in the future - we're already looking at getting some projects together to address their needs, and hopefully this is the first step in an ongoing partnership. It was also great to meet the FutureGov chaps (particularly Marc Barto, with who had been tirelessly working to set the event up!), and Denise Stephens who set up Enabled by Design. I had some really good chats with service user David Jacques and dedicated biker Andrew Evans, who introduced me to the "Nippi". Both were really excited by the opportunities this opened up.
Also - and it's a big also - I was reminded that actually, designing is something that everyone can do. And I was also struck by something that Andrew said: that this wasn't just about design, or about providing a service, but about allowing disabled people to have an active role in designing their environment and future, and take their rightful place in society. Amen to that. I hope we can achieve it.

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