The penultimate stage of the V&A Dundee Scottish Design Relay took place in Glasgow at community wood workshop The Galgael Trust.
The Scottish Design Relay is one of V&A Museum of Design’s first nation-wide community engagement projects. The project travelled to six locations across Scotland carrying out a series of design workshops in each location inspired by the design heritage in that area. I was asked by V&A Dundee to facilitate and run the workshops alongside a local designer in each location.
The Galgael Trust teach carpentry skills to individuals with backgrounds of unemployment and potentially addiction. The Scottish Design Relay team in Govan were comprised of young Galgael volunteers and participants of the charity’s program. Together they set out to design something that could be made by participants at Galgael and sold to the public to create income for the charity and widen awareness of its work.
The design relay in Govan was a collaboration between myself and Will and Dougie from 4C Design.
After I’d done an introduction to design research techniques and the importance of understanding a user before you can design for them, the participants got to work getting to know Galgael through the lens of designers.
They gathered insights during a talk on the history of the charity; a tour of their workshop; and a session getting to know their “charter”. The participants then came together at the end of the day to discuss and compile their findings.
Day two was spent helping participants to understand issues that designers need to consider when designing products. We spent the morning taking apart waste electric products (a kettle, toaster and electric belt sander) and discussing why each product was designed in that way.
The electronics “teardown” proved to be a really interesting activity. It led to discussions on environmental pollution by design (based on how difficult it was to take apart many of the products for repair/recycling) and interestingly also why it is important for people to have a hands on approach to products. As a team the participants decided that taking products apart to repair them and similarly crafting new things, as they do in Galgael, gives people an unrivalled sense of achievement self worth.
Participants then spent the afternoon on a tour of Govan learning about the social impact of the loss of industry in the area.
On day three it was straight into making. Participants were given an introduction to rough prototyping encouraging them to experiment and play with materials and forms. They were given a series of quick challenges to make sculptural object, with many of the participants choosing to use not only wood but components taken out of the disassembled electronics.
In the afternoon the participants shared their designs and concepts with the rest of the group and questioned how they fitted into the context of Galgael. After developing “personas” of imaginary potential buyers and makers, the participants developed a detailed product design specification and brief.
Developing personas was a process that I felt worked really well within the group. Usually I wouldn’t ask a group to write personas without detailed research, but because the group were already so familiar with the participants of and visitors to Galgael we gave it a go. Though a little silly at points, the personas showed a real depth of thought into potential users of the product; not just considering the buyers but also the different people who’d be making them at Galgael.
Participants spent the day prototyping solutions to the product design specification ranging from sundials to wooden kid’s toys. They constantly evaluated whether their prototypes could be made using the tool and skills of participants at Galgael, but also whether it fitted into the Galgael story and the desires of their persona characters. At the end of the day the participants chose to develop the idea of custom handles for pens and tools made from wood.
On the final day the participants developed many different iterations of the pen design, imagining different ways that it could be made by participants by trying out different tools and techniques.
The Final Design
The team designed a wooden handle for a disposable ballpoint pen. The Galgael participant or volunteer making the pen would be shown how to drill the hole into which a pen would sit but would then be free to shape their piece of wood in any way they choose and using any tool or skill. This not only allows a huge amount of flexibility and room for creativity for the maker, but means that somebody buying a pen handle can choose their favourite design or that which best fits their hand from a wide variety.
Materials can be selected from a “rummage box” of wood offcuts (left over from the making of Galgael’s other products). This allows the makers to creatively select their material but also means the pens can be sold at a variety of price bands. These would range from hand carved Scottish hardwood (£50+) to quickly planed pine offcuts (~£5).
The pocket sized designs will hopefully travel far and wide sparking many conversations on where it came from and the work done at Galgael.
Key benefits of this design include
- People with arthritis or other health conditions that affect their ability to use their hands may hugely benefit from a custom made and easier to grip handle for a pen.
- Adding a handmade element to an object often seen as disposable will add value and may result in less pens being thrown away or lost and therefore less environmental waste.
- Wood as a material gains a patina of memories over time, accumulating value with age.
- There is the option for customers who are willing to pay more to have an consultation with a maker at Galgael who will then design and make them a custom handle, perhaps even using a plasticine mould of the shape of their hand as guidance.
The team’s work and story will be on display as part of the Scottish Design Relay exhibition in V&A Dundee when the museum opens in September 2018.