Creative Hub: Co-Design and Collaboration

All throughout the year we’ve been running free Creative Hub events for our members. It’s simple really: we get some interesting speakers, invite our members along to hear them, and hopefully it all results in useful discussion and networking. Like our annual Forum, it’s a good chance for our members to get out of the studio, meet other designers, and hear some interesting ideas.

On July 20th we were lucky enough to have two great speakers talking about Co-Design and Collaboration. First up was Oliver Marlow of TILT, a space design agency which specialises in using co-design to create beautiful, functional spaces.

Oliver Marlow of TILT on Co-Design

Co-design is a term which simply means involving people in the design of the spaces they use. It reverses the usual hierarchy of architecture, which sends out consultation documents after the design work has been done, giving limited participation opportunities to those who actually use the space. With co-design the users of the space are involved from the beginning.

Oliver told us why it’s so important to involve the people who are actually going to use the space. Think about a space as a conversation, not a container –  a finished space is just a pause in the conversation, which will be continued by the people using it.

TILT working practices

One very interesting image we saw was that of a ‘table’ created by strips of tape on the ground, which starts to be used as a real piece of furniture. It shows how objects are used to translate relationships between people. Another co-design method TILT use is hanging photos and details of all the users of a space on a washing line, which will be kept there throughout the planning and construction stages. Another technique is to fill all the rooms with smoke, to totally change the perception of a space and get rid of the usual visual cues.

These planning workshops have a dual purpose: Firstly they engage the end users in the design process, and secondly they are the best way to glean valuable information relating to the building’s specific architectural planning requirements – ie. how users react to the space and how that affects health and safety issues, fire regulations, etc.

You can read more about TILT’s work on their website, including some of the projects they’ve worked on all over the world.

Alison Coward of Bracket Projects on Collaboration

Next we had Alison Coward of Bracket Projects, talking about the what, how and why of collaboration. What is it? Why should creative businesses be interested in it? How can you practice effective collaboration? And finally, why is the humble Post-It note your most effective collaboration tool? (also demonstrated in Oliver’s photo above!)

Alison’s new agency Bracket brings people together to work on interesting projects and commissions, and has a network of individual creatives to achieve this.  Alison told us how she set up the online presence for Bracket and demonstrated the collaboration method at the same time – she brought together a group of people for just two days, including a copywriter, a web designer and a film-maker, and they all worked together intensively to create the finished Bracket website.

Alison pointed out that people running creative businesses (like Hidden Art’s designers and designer-makers) often have portfolio careers, making up their income with lots of different streams like teaching, making products and running events. Collaboration can be a great way to grow different strands of your business and increase that portfolio.

Advantages of collaboration include:

  • Saving money and resources
  • Reducing the cost of materials and promotion
  • Access to more interesting and larger projects
  • Helping to build your business-
  • Earning you more money

One way for designer-makers to collaborate could be to share a retail space, filling an empty unit with a pop-up shop. That could extend into building a collective brand and pooling resources to get more visitors and attention. There are a few organisations that specialise in filling empty shops, like Meanwhile Space, and the Empty Shops Network.

Another good example of when smaller companies can effectively collaborate is pitching for public projects. Smaller Olympic tenders are starting to come out now, and they are encouraging collaborative partnerships to apply.

So if you do want to collaborate, where do you start?

  • Think about what you’re good at and let people know! Make yourself findable
  • Make sure you’re top-of-mind for whatever your specialism is: Twitter can help with this
  • Connect with people (again, Twitter helps)
  • Do some self-analysis of your strengths and weaknesses
  • Find people who are different to you: we tend to gravitate to those who are similar, but you need people who complement your strengths, not duplicate them
  • Make sure you are on the same page as the people you’re working with
  • Creative people want to rush into doing, but you need to go through the planning stage first
  • Talk about money and intellectual property, and how you’ll handle them
  •  Let go of your ego!
  • Get together to collaborate in person: this is where the Post-It notes come in! Use them to get your ideas down and stick them up all over the wall where you can evaluate them.

See all of Alison’s presentation:

Lastly, Alison and Oliver presented together on a joint proposal they worked on (along with others), for a project organised  by the Design Council and the NHS looking for design solutions to address violence in A+E departments.   Their team reached the final six in the £150k competition, using exactly the collaboration methods used by Bracket Projects.

Thanks very much to Alison and Oliver for speaking at this event. You can follow TILT on twitter @studiotilt, or Alison @alisonmarie.

If you are interested in collaboration issues or growing your business, these upcoming events for members might be of interest:

23rd August: Nicole Bachmann will be leading 1-2-1 sessions on how to market a small creative business and brand. 

– 1st September: UBS Business Seminar. This event is a chance to learn from business experts and get valuable advice on how to grow your company.

8th September Alison Coward will be holding 1-2-1 in-depth advice sessions on how to bring collaboration into your business, with a special focus on using social media to create partnerships.

And if you’re not a Hidden Art Member yet, you can sign up now at

We hope to see you there!

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