Extra/ordinary Design Workshop and Exhibition, Zagreb, 28 March - 1 April 2011, organised by the School of Design, University of Zagreb, Croatian Designers Association in partnership with URIHO and the Association for Promoting Inclusion (UPI), funded by The British Council, Croatia
UPI, the Association for Promoting Inclusion provides work centres for people with learning difficulties that also offer a sense of community. At the UPI centre in Zagreb, they produce textile-based goods for the home and a range of souvenir items, mostly with embroidered designs. The work centre has a permanent staff led by Marijana Janković and dedicated volunteers like Dolores Škorlić, many with years of experience in working with people with disabilities.
The volunteers prepare fabric with drawn designs which the members embroider and then colour in with fabric and batik paints. Ratko Koletic, an autistic work centre member, visits UPI to draw and paint very quirky images of flora and fauna but does not partake in other activities. Their existing design work was very formulaic but there was an air of excitement about the design thinking. UPI staff and members clearly felt at home and asked questions freely. One question was how much was achievable in one week and whether the changes would be sustainable.
Our brief tasked us with the creation of 'a new portfolio of graphic and textile products that actively exploited the skills of UPI's members whilst understanding their technical and other limitations.' Secondly, we were to create a stand-alone, flat-pack display kit that could be used for different retail environments to ensure that UPI's goods stand out irrespective of their display environment. Thirdly, to create a new visual identity and finally to create a web-based marketing plan and a set of design guidelines for UPI to follow.Design Challenges
The challenges in the brief related to the capabilities of the UPI work centre users and its social function. The makers of UPI have developed skills, from sewing and embroidery to drawing and painting.
Overall, we had to think in design parameters that were based on the skills currently available as well as on broadening skills. The outcomes should enable UPI to initiate collaborations with other centres, manufacturers, market products to a wider range of wholesale and retail customers, whilst maintaining the positive atmosphere of the work centre.
We were introduced to the UPI work centre, its members and the items they produce. The team asked questions freely and built a good rapport with staff and makers. We planned the week ahead, splitting it into research, design, prototyping and presentation phases. Everyone was asked to document their research findings and visualise initial ideas
Tuesday was a concept development day which we began by grouping the ideas according to the tasks set out in the brief. This showed the team which areas needed more work. Some of the designers to worked on design development of specific products and briefed the marketing students on ways to developing marketing approaches and strategy.
Wednesday was a design day and the teams focused on developing the products, the display system, a website with an image bank to download licensed images of UPI artwork and an online shop, as well as the marketing strategy.
A New Process
One new process consisted of providing the UPI makers with a regular grid of dots or pinholes to use as the basis of their embroidery instead of the existing method. The results were amazing. UPI staff said they had not seen their clients as happy, engaged and excited in a long time. Gogga, one of the clients/makers asked to have her photograph taken with her design and exclaimed: "Look! Look! The ship just appeared - without a drawing!" Experiences moved and motivated the team.
On Thursday we realised many of the concepts for the different categories of the brief. We created a storyboard for the presentation. Thursday also saw the completion of the project branding, with its Jupi by/za Upi typographic/calligraphic logo based on the handwriting of Ratko Koletic. We had digitised his letterforms in preparation for converting them into a digital font that UPI could market. Next, we applied it to the website designs and a redesign of the UPI work centre shop front and product showcase.
Friday saw the last products being prototyped, as well as the display system, which is based on a system of ropes and poles. The day ended with the public presentation of Team 'Jupi by/za Upi'.In Conclusion
Extra / Ordinary Design Zagreb is one of the most productive workshops I have contributed to. Shared team experiences ensured good team bonding and communication from the start, assessing the existing skills and product portfolio and co-designing with UPI staff and clients helped us understand the centre's potential as well as its limitations. A structured approach to allocating tasks, time management and art direction allowed us to complete the tasks set by the brief on time. All the members were very motivated from the word 'go.' My co-leaders Natasa and Mirna with their excellent people, design and art direction skills, and their knowledge of local culture and language, made us a very effective team leader troika.