2013 Projects
Common Grounds
Maggie Ollove & Diala Lteif

As designers, a problem we often face is how to enter communities where we are perceived as outsiders, with the goal of building trust. Trust becomes a crucial step within the design process. This is the area we would like to explore – what tools and methods can be developed to facilitate a period of trust-building. We are hoping to navigate this space, that we have named the ‘common ground’; a non-physical space where designers and communities overlap. Within this space, we see potential to find new solutions, opportunities, and resources that are untapped but have great promise.

A common observation within social contexts is that people tend to vocalize their issues without pausing to reflect, while drowning the issue within outdated semantics and jargon.

The issue we will address will be dependent upon the communities we interact with. We are placing our project within the problem area of education and learning. Our hope is to engage inter-community interactions to work with communities to identify their problems.

Our approach will address the specific issue of lack of understanding of the non-tangible space of common ground. Our methodology would be to explore the role of story telling and narratives as a tool to define problems while beginning to navigate this common ground. Drawing on a participatory method, we hope to work with communities to share and collect moments. These moments will build an accessible archive to begin the cross-community reflection and also allow them to exteriorize this problem space for inter-community reflection.

We would like to test out different story telling tools to have a thorough understanding of what could be the most successful when working with communities. Some examples we are exploring include: video podcasts, stop motion, graphic novels and still photography. We are approaching these tools with a poetic and experiential tone, and hoping to navigate metaphorical analogies that not only elegantly depict a story but also help the community see itself from a different perspective. We are interested in precedents such as Radiolab, 99% Invisible and This American Life as examples that share stories, but our aim is to involve communities in the process and to use the narratives as a means for reflection.

We are in the research and interview phase. We plan to follow a design process that moves between planning, acting, observing and reflecting. Therefore, we will begin capturing and sharing diverse stories with hyper-local communities before working with broader communities. By prototyping our first attempts, we can begin to understand the tools we have at hand.


  • http://www.facebook.com/bland.hoke Bland Hoke

    I am intrigued by this project because it is true – so often, individual designers and groups are faced with trying to be authentic and reflective of a community or region they are working with. Metaphorically, it feels like parachuting into foreign territory, and Common Ground sounds like a compass, map and foreign language dictionary.

    The question I have when reading about Common Ground concerns the intended users of the ‘tools’ and ‘methods’. Are these intended for 1. Other designers to employ in practice, similar to IDEO’s HCD toolkit, and other design research methods and frameworks, OR 2. Are the results of the project intended to demonstrate your capacity to tell stories in a new way with the cursory effect of inspiring others to do the same. The second example seems to align well with your precedents (Radiolab and This American Life).

    I am more interested as a practicing designer to use and put into practice your ‘tools’ and ‘methods’ because I am faced with the same challenges (the parachute metaphor). Maybe there is a balance between the 1, and 2, combining a poetic notion of creative research with the design as science approach that often pervades in academic design research.

    In conclusion – Stories are powerful. For a 70th birthday present to my father, my sisters and I gathered 70 stories from all his friends and family and delivered the resulting pile of letters in one bundle. The effect was priceless and tells 55 years of memories. He couldn’t be happier. I hope Common Ground can develop tools and methods that carry the deliver a similar level of impact through creative practice. Just remember how simple a story can be.


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