Never design for yourself: Ken Kirton on how to co-design with a community

20 April 2016

Ken Kirton, co-founder of Hato Press, thinks community is power when it comes to design. For Liverpool Biennial the agency will run workshops with secondary school children to design a public bus, and at this week’s Pick Me Up graphic arts festival — for which it co-designed the identity with members of the public — Ken will talk about the importance of community values in the creative world.

As a designer you never design something for yourself, you do it for a wider group. So to involve people in the process ultimately makes for a more engaging project. Our Pick Me Up identity says a lot about our approach, as the concept is all about co-design. It’s a digital tool that allows the creative community but also the wider community to engage with it. They might not be graphic designers themselves but they have an interest in the arts, and they can have a play with the type tool and design their own letterforms, which are used in the exhibition identity and displayed at the show. The font is co-designed, and that’s why it’s so dynamic.

We do a lot of co-design and community projects, doing workshops with schools and higher education, but we also do events and exhibitions, which are all about the public audience. It’s great to fuse the two, but that’s not to say it’s easy, nor do we leave the participants to their own devices. It’s about balance. The audience isn’t doing all the work for you by any means — you’re establishing a set of rules that makes sense, so the makers have context, and they can have contribution. We create a toolkit, which can be a hands-on workshop or digital framework, so people can have a sense of ownership and autonomy over the final thing. With the Pick Me Up identity, this means the letterforms change but in actual fact they all came from the same set of rules that we built. It’s one of those things, as a designer, that the more restraints you have, the more creative it is.

Hato is one of the artists for the Liverpool Biennial this year, and we’ve been doing workshops with a local secondary school up there called Childwall Sports and Science Academy. One of these workshops is culminating in a co-designed bus, which will be used as a public serving bus, which really rings true with our community spirit. Obviously we’ll have to help out with the final layout and design —that’s where we really come in, at the end — but at the beginning it’s about us setting up and letting the students be free. We build the tools for the process, then ensure that process comes to a unified result so it sits as a family, and no one project is completely unrelated to another.

So that’s what I’m going to be talking about at Pick Me Up’s Community Talks evening: the importance of pooling from all sorts of places and people in the creative process. And the festival is part of that. It’s one of the few moments in time that the creative community comes together and we get a chance to talk to the public. And these workshops and talks become connecting pieces between us and them.

Liverpool Biennial takes place from 9 July – 16 October.
Pick Me Up opens 21 April-2 May. Community Talks is on 7pm – 8:30pm on Thursday 21 April.


Hato Press: Pick Me Up exhibition identity

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Ken Kirton

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