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Last June 2-7, I participated in something called a “DIY + Design” workshop.
The first half was a design thinking workshop in which students collaborated with partners in the local community to create solutions for them and their businesses. The second half was a woodworking workshop that taught the students and community partners how to work with scarcity of materials – only three sizes of lumber (2x2’s, 2x4’s, and 2x6’s), screws, and nails were available.
What resulted was an experience I’ll never forget.
About the organizers
Ishinomaki Lab handled the woodworking workshop. It was spawned from the wreckage created during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's east coast. They began running workshops for the local community to restore businesses in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. They’ve since taken their workshops across the world.
Hub of Innovation For Inclusion, or HiFi, is a space for students of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde to capitalize on their ideas to create social good in their community. They helped connect us with the community partners.
The design thinking workshop was handled by Habi Education Lab. They exist to educate people, from students to professionals, about the design process, design thinking, and how design can benefit businesses and communities.
The first lesson I learned was one that was learned collectively. The community partners, most of them being street vendors, expected that we were going to be making food carts. Even I expected food carts – it wasn’t until we started woodworking, and finding that there were no wheels available, that we realized that wasn’t the case.
Thankfully, nothing spiraled out of control. Earlier in the workshop, we defined a design statement and design principles, which acted as a set of parameters that made sure that we were solving the right problems with our product, regardless of its form.
Our group aimed to create an environment that encouraged people to stick around rather than leave immediately after purchasing. The community partners we teamed with remarked that when there’s a place for them to stay, people become more attracted to buy their products. I liken it to the business model of coffeeshops.
Working within constraints
I mentioned already our constraints with materials, which was entirely the point of the workshop, but we were also pressed for time. We didn’t know that there was another batch of participants for the woodworking workshop, so that cut our total working time by about 4 hours. This is partly why making food carts became a blurry possibility.
On top of that, not all the community partners could be there for the whole duration of the workshop, and one of the later batches of lumber was significantly thicker than the previous ones.
Our team had to focus on what could be done, rather than overshooting expectations and ending up being constrained by insufficient resources, whether that be by a lack of materials or time. We settled on a design that was simple enough to exist within all our parameters.
We designed a bench and table that could be quickly taken apart and stored in a light, compact form.
They’re easy to repair. They each have a small number of parts that are easily replaceable.
Designing with purpose
To me, design without the end user in mind is vain and vacuous. I’ve always thought this, but it seems much truer having been a part of something like this.
Beyond the catharsis of coming up with an idea and seeing it through, or the enjoyment of working at wood with various tools, or even the excitement of working with people I’ve never met before, what I’m really glad about is that our product won’t be sticking around at some exhibit somewhere for the rest of its lifespan. It will be used and enjoyed by people.
It puts things into perspective. It makes an obvious notion like design itself – bringing about something new into the world to achieve a goal – a lot more real to me.