Research Through Design #RTD2015 reflected in LEGO

Last week I had the great pleasure of being at the Research Through Design conference (#RTD2015), which was hosted at Microsoft Research’s new European lab in Cambridge.

Research through Design is about design and making, and – as the name suggests – doing research through design and making. It has an interesting focus on things and objects, and having conversations around the things and objects. As it says on its website, it is “a new conference that supports the dissemination of practice-based design research through a novel and experimental conference format, comprising a curated exhibition accompanied by round-table discussions in ‘Rooms of Interest’”.

It also has a few ‘provocations‘, which are plenary sessions but meant to be more interactive than a standard ‘keynote lecture’. I did one of these with Amy Twigger Holroyd, called ‘Making, and Making a Difference’. We explored research through making – in particular, making with others; and amateur making or everyday making; and making a difference in the world; and we gave the audience a series of three tasks along the way. By the end of it they had each made a nice little booklet about their own making practices and the difference that they sought to make in the world.

On the final day of the conference, at lunchtime, I ran a table where people were invited to build reflections on the conference, in LEGO. Regular viewers may know that I’ve done this kind of thing many times before. In this case, though, I was seeing if it could be done with a smallish number of LEGO Mixels bags. This is part of my ongoing mission to try out portable and quick versions of the LEGO Serious Play process (see in particular my previous blog post, ‘Micro LEGO Serious Play: How small can a useful tool for thinking be?‘).

LEGO Mixels are nice little £3 sets which are very good for prompting creative tinkering with LEGO. Here they are the nine bags I used at the conference:


And this is what people were asked to do:


Here were the first visitors, digging right in:


This was an early thoughtful one, made by Jeroen Peeters from Sweden:


This one is, I think, about combining diverse ideas and materials:


Things got busier:


A LEGO wearable!:


A nice green tree:


Interesting idea about how design is made up of the people who make:


This one shows the journey of people into Research Through Design, “from disparate individuals to a friendly sense of community – finding and forging connections”:


This one captures the importance of conversations:


This has a nice supported-climbing-upwards metaphor:


Again here we have diverse ideas coming together:


Here I like the sense of togetherness and people really seeing what others have made:


The unexpected:


And by the end we have a lovely overview of different responses to Research Through Design:


It was an excellent conference, different to other conferences I’ve been to, and I will definitely go to the next one.

They were very good at capturing and documenting things that happened, so check out the Research Through Design website for lots of different fascinating things to look at and think about.

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