A few weeks ago I helped facilitate my first Fixperts workshop: a two hour Masterclass for the National Saturday Club in York. The National Saturday Club run sessions for 13-16 year olds to give them a taste of what it’s like to study subjects such as Art and Design after school.
Fixperts (created by Dee Halligan and Daniel Charny at From Now On) have taken the design process that product designers are taught at university and turned it into a series of workshops accessible to young people. In these workshops the positive outcomes of thinking like a designer (such as empathy towards people in different situations; and a sense that you can tackle and solve problems you see around you) are available to everyday people. Fixperts workshops can last from a few hours to a few weeks and have been run in schools and universities around the world.
The workshop was led by Lea Jagendorf, a long term Fixpert and master facilitator. Lea set the scene by showing the group some funny and odd photographs of “fixes” you wouldn’t usually think of as design solutions. She asked lots of photos, really getting the group involved in understanding why each image was relevant.
Usually in a Fixperts workshop, a group of young people, the “fixperts” are paired with a “fixpartner”, someone who has a problem to be solved. The fixperts ask lots of questions and really empathise with their fixpartner to get to the bottom of their problem. Because this workshop was so short, the participants were challenged to empathise with people with disabilities through experience instead of speaking to them. They had to simulate disabilities on their own bodies using restricted gloves, cardboard and tape, and then carry out everyday tasks.
Their challenge was to develop some quick prototype solutions to make the lives of these imaginary people easier.
It wasn’t long before the participants began to come up with some ingenious solutions: wire hooks that help you button up a shirt with reduced hand mobility; a system for holding a bagel onto a chopping board if you only have one arm; a glove onto which different types of tools can be attached for people without fingers.
Each time a team developed a design solution we would prompt them to develop the idea further. What other requirements must the design meet: how is it stored? who might it appeal to in terms of style? brand? The group who’d created the glove took their design further, making it from a nice fabric and adorning it with a pink ribbon. This was really effective because, as Lea pointed out, many medical objects are sterile in style and don’t reflect individual personailty.
I really enjoyed watching how the prototyping materials available influenced the final designs. I’ve learned over the years that there’s no such thing as “pure” design, the final object is always limited by your skillset, influences and the materials that you’re using to prototype with. Part of being a designer isn’t merely making do with what you have in front of you but actually embracing the qualities of those objects and materials and allowing them to give your design process a unique style. I’d love to run a Fixperts workshop someday in which participants had to prototype using only discarded waste objects – maybe they could weave the story of an objects previous life into its new life?
A key element of the Fixperts process is sharing your design through a “fix film”. Though we didn’t have enough time to make our own, Lea and I showed the participants a film of a way to help someone hold a pen and write for the first time in fifteen years. We wanted to share that, though the morning had been quite lighthearted and fun, there is real opportunity to make a difference to peoples’ lives thorough using the skills they’d learned.
Thanks for having me Fixperts and National Saturday Club. Until next time!