Abi: Great.So yeah I guess to reiterate some of the conversations that we had previously last week i'll sort of introduce a little bit about me, about what we're doing and then we'll launch into questions and and talk about you. Which is why we've organised this! So yeah, firstly, i'm Abi. I work for New Practice. my involvement with New Practice and my role is predominantly around community engagement but my personal interests and my personal focuses are around accessibility for a variety of reasons. One of which including my younger sister being deaf, so, I have a very personal relationship with the theme hence why I try and include that in my personal practice, which leads quite quickly and smoothly into Potluck. Which is the project through which we're having this conversation. generally, it's about having these conversations and this particular one being around the theme of accessibility. and the reason it's called 'Potluck' is because we're talking to different people and bringing everything together and hopefully this gives sort of a full meal of conversations that hopefully people can can enjoy. Okay. So, we have invited yourself, Thea, from Chambers McMillan to chat with us today.one of the reasons that we had invited you particularly was your projects but particularly the ramp projects that we found obviously very directly relates to the theme of accessibility, a wealth of experience that it looks as if you you have and I hopefully will get you to talk a bit more about it later on. Yeah, we thought it would be a very interesting conversation to start off with. so with that long context and introduction, if I could just get you to introduce yourself a little bit what your background is and how accessibility is woven into your practice?
Thea: So again, Thea McMillan as you know, and i'm the Design Director at Chambers McMillan Architects. i'm sitting in the studio now and there are actually just two of us although, our 19 year old is also sometimes part of the practice! she helps! the studio is right next to the house which has been really brilliant during lockdown obviously with new flexible working from home ways and really the practice came about because we built our own accessible house and halfway through we looked around the building site standing halfway up the ramp and thought 'We could do this for other people. Other people must need this.' so that was how we we set up practice. I suppose the context of building our own house is that our daughter who is now 16, Greta, she's a wheelchair user and uses a communication device to communicate as well. Those are probably two quite key things to know about her from an accessible point of view. and so we needed somewhere to to live that was going to work for the whole family and it was absolutely about inclusion so it wasn't about designing specifically for Greta and then everyone else fitting in or wasn't designing differently for her. and for us it was about us as a family being able to use spaces in an equal and inclusive way. I suppose that also is kind of the the basis of our practice in chambers McMillan as well, whatever project we're doing is that we always look at all the clients who are going to use it. a lot of our works domestic currently and it always is about looking at the family story and how they would use spaces and making sure that it works for everyone kind of regardless of what what support needs they might have but it's specific to those sport needs, obviously, so yeah. Don't think if there's anything else for the introductory bit you need to know about...
Abi: No that's a perfect introduction! Thank you! going directly into your engagement side i've seen a bunch of projects that are engaging with young people. how do you approach taking maybe relatively complex briefs and and essentially kind of whittling it down into something that young people are able to grasp?
Thea: It's probably best to actually talk about it from a different point of view which would be how I got into doing doing creative engagement with young people and obviously part of the reason was designing the ramp house because we were designing it for ourselves. So the girls were 9 and 12, I think, or maybe 8 and 11 when we started and so it just made lots of sense to have them really included in the whole design process. We were lucky because we were the designers but we were also the client so we could spend Sunday afternoons sitting around the kitchen table making models talking about how things could be in this imaginary place we're creating, that is now our home, that we now live in every day which is... I find, I still find that there's something quite magical about that. That's what we do as designers and architects so there was there was that that part of it, but actually it probably went back to before then because I used to teach and run first year at Edinburgh Uni architecture and I mean, you know, actually your students there are 17, 18 sometimes 19. Just left home and actually still very much thinking like young people just coming out of in High School and and maybe starting to think more creatively... but I really enjoyed thinking about work shops that would help them to think more creatively. So I did a lot of that because we were rewriting the course anyway so I did a lot of that with sort of slightly older young people. but also during that time and after that time i was actually only working part-time because Greta was little and so I ended up doing quite a lot of voluntary workshops with with children and that mainly came about because we were in woodcraft folk.where basically the parents come along and they do something they can do well every week or that's something that they they have knowledge of. and they work with the kids and it's it's very kind of child-led anyway that approach. So I did load sof really great exciting evening workshops around, you know, there was a local playpark needed design and we kind of did a really enjoyable thing around that... but I kind of tried stuff out with them. as well, I think because it was voluntary it was quite easy to try things out with them. so I already had lots of that experience of working with children and young people in a non-pressured situatio nwhere there wasn't a specific client with the money. Where it wasn't going to be an actual building so it could be very much about observing their creativity and what we were doing in the workshops, how that could encourage them to... I mean they're actually pretty good at communicating creatively at that age but also just just ensuring that they carried on doing that through through their their life. I suppose because I do think we need to well... you you'd agree with this... We just need to engage creatively with everyone far more than we do!we'll get much better buildings and built environments if we do that. so, i'd already done quite a lot of that, so when it came to having projects in the office where we were looking at how we would actually understand what it was that the clients and the users need, and when I say clients - for example with The Yard, Dundee project which is an inclusive play space that we're designing for an organisation that's already very established in Edinburgh. they have, they need a new space in Dundee, really, and and I think it was... I suppose the the tricky bit is looking at what we might do creatively with the children who are already attending in their temporary building in Dundee and how that then feeds into what the building becomes and working with the client and the decision makers in the organisation to to make sure that the two work together. because that's quite a different thing, from doing an enjoyable woodcraft workshop or even doing a first-year architecture workshop so that's been the bit that i've actually found most interesting about being in in our own practice... because it's really it comes with quite a lot of complexities but it's really rewarding when you actually... when it feels like you're actually starting to produce spaces that people have wanted and asked for but ask for in a kind of very understanding way so thatwe would always do a series of workshops anyway so it would never just be one but it's always about looking at what happens in one workshop talking then maybe to the to to some of the the the design team, as in 'the client' and and some of the staff that that are very involved in the process. Seeing what what the situations might be and then the next workshops would go on to develop those really
Abi: Sure. Yeah, there's certainly a particular skill that i've been learning kind of recently in my own practice, where it's kind of, you know, you're obviously talking to young people and you come like 'Great! So we've got this space. How can we design this together?' and and it's great that the kind of ideas that they come up with is you know... can sometimes be a little bit wacky and it's kind of about taking these wackier ideas that may not necessarily be feasible from a client's perspective but taking out, or picking out the needs that lie under-with these suggestions.
Thea: Yeah, absolutely and I think one of the ways... that just reminds me that one of the ways that we would always try and have quite a kind of free workshop initially even though there would always be a theme so that there'd always be something that we were thinking of, depending on the design stage. but we would always have a part of it... and this went back to working with woodcraft as well but also you know working now with with clients and stakeholders and users...where there was quite a lot of kind of freedom whether it was like a movement part of the workshop or them imagining there were different characters and I mean one that I did where I took along a load of kind of wind-up toys and little jumpy springy toys and that sort of thing which then became the characters that were then actually making the space using materials but initially I got the kids to imagine they were these characters and they moved around the space and actually Greta was nearly always with us for those because she just... well sometimes it was her group we were working with... but sometimes it was the older kids and so they had a real awareness actually that yeah if you move around using a wheelchair you're moving differently as well and if you're dependent on someone as well to to support you with that movement... so I think it made them think quite outside the box so we never had a situation... well we always had a situation where they say 'Could we have a swimming pool in that place?'
Abi: Yeah! exactly! We've always got the gumball machines...
Thea: Yeah, but i think you're absolutely right it's looking at what is the underlying need or desire absolutely from these people who will be using the building that will get built and how we as architects can translate what they're telling us in engagement into something spatial.
Abi: Yeah it's kind of interesting you talking about bringing these kind of... these sort of springy mechanisms and I think it was really really clever. that's quite a fun way of... a very tangible way of making young people think 'Oh, these different sort of small toys move about a different way this kind of makes a bit more sense and bringing, I think, the element of play and bringing that right into connecting all of these wider issue dots or wider theme dots is, yeah, a super clever way to approach it. so, I guess we'll go into the ramp project that you referenced earlier and the project that weighed in into your practice, i have come across this potentially general phrase where it's like 'Good design that doesn't consider inclusivity is design for the few but when you consider inclusivity you're designing for everyone.' There's different iterations, and I couldn't find a succinct version but that's that's generally the the vibe... So thinking about your experience in the ramp house, I wonder if you had any anecdotes that you've witnessed people using your layout in unexpected ways or have had different benefits that you've been like 'you know what? I didn't design it for this but I can see clearly that you're having fun here or this has benefited you this way...'
Thea: Oh definitely, and I think again that's one of the real the kind of... what's the right word for it..? is kind of a delight or it's the you know we've been very lucky... it's the privilege! of being client and designer because you do get to see that follow on which you don't as much when you're designing for other people. Yeah, i've actually written, me and Katie Lloyd Thomas have written a whole chapter on this. i probably should have sent you the link before that it's in Joss Boyce's, 'Doing Disability differently.' I'm just looking because it's upon the bookshelf and it's it's actually there's a really... i loved writing it. So, Katie's a friend who is a tutor. I think now professor actually, at Newcastle and we studied together but she was coming up a lot because, you know, we're friends and she would stay in the ramp house and then we would start talking about the difference it had made to other people because there's always a big emphasis when you're doing accessible design and because a lot of people know us... 'oh! It's made a big difference to Greta!' and actually, in kind of late evening conversations, Katie and I were actually thinking...yeah, it's actually made a big difference to lots of people and actually very lucky our community, we have a fabulous community that's around us, and we did have a time although obviously it's not happening at the moment when there were lots of people in the house and so we got to, firstly, i suppose we got to observe them using the spaces differently. There's a... i've got a lovely series of photos that my friend Vicki Watson is a photographer and takes photos particularly of people children young people. really beautiful kind of... I can't think what the word is in photography but it's kind of... unobserved photos so that the people aren't aware that they're being... and she's just done a lovely series of spaces around the house. We had a... i think it was a fundraiser, so there were lots of younger kids here. So maybe the youngest was maybe one and and then there was a load round about eight to 12 year olds. I think at the time Greta was probably about 12 or 13 and just seeing how playfully people... you know... I mean, if anyone doesn't know the house: So the the premise is we all move around in the same way we all move around equally. so what we did, we found the site. very lucky, the neighbouring garage, Arthur, lovely man, started chatting to me one day as I was wandering up this lane and I said 'i'm looking for a site' and he said 'I might sell you this' and I mean he was fabulous support for us. So we had this site which is very... it's kind of very tight kind of urban... middle of an urban block but we look at... because we're in the middle, we look on to lots of people's gardens so it doesn't feel as urban as as it might but it's a tight site and the very first thing we did was we designed the ramp to make sure that the ramp would fit because, I mean, actually I was doing research myself at the time that was looking at how children both use and perceive space and spaces differently so I was really interested in that whole idea. I was also seeing things where for example, you know, in a school Greta would, or in a hospital Greta would go into or any building with a visitor into a lift be taken to a floor come out of a lift and have no real perception of how the building worked whereas we were running up the... you know if it's a particularly nice architectural building that we're visiting, we'd be running up the stairs and and you know, Bee who's three years older than Greta would be getting to see all these connections between the spaces and and actually the experience for Greta was really different... and that really bothered me. And I thought: okay, we don't have to do that in our house so we designed a ramp that means that you can move from the ground level up to the first level where the bedrooms are but there's levels in between. So basically, we designed spaces off.we kind of thought about what activities do we want to do in our house, in our home as a family. We thought about that and then we had spaces where we could do these activities. So it's very open plan but it's very articulated as well so you can sit and read a book in a quiet corner or you can be at the kitchen table with several people.you know, there's lots of possibilities for that but the main thing is that because you, I suppose, because you move around the ramp but also because there's lots of... visual and oral connections between the spaces and I think the kids that that come here really love that because that's actually quite unusual as well. You know, certainly in houses. You tend to have quite... you might have a big open plan space but you tend to have quite enclosed spaces and it's something that in in our everyday practice we work a lot with people's houses that aren't working and we need to design to get them to work again properly so this is where their story as a family comes in, I suppose, listening to that seeing what they need to do about any opportunity we get where you can do some kind of clever connection of spaces. It could be sectional as well which it is in our house. all articulation of spaces, because it just gives people more opportunities to live different in different ways in those spaces. and I think the other thing that we talk about quite a lot in the chapter as well is actually about changing people's perception of what it is to be disabled, but how inclusion actually takes away a lot of those barriers. So if, for example, Greta's physio or O.T comes to the house or speech therapist or if a community nurse comes... lots of people that come... or social workers anyone that's that that their their job is actually to have more understanding of people's situations and to enable and support them in that, seeing Greta in this house, I think is really powerful because it does take away barriers. She's very much right at the centre of the house and everything she does... although now that she's 16 she's also choosing to be in the articulated places away from us, it's exactly how it should be! so I think i'm really delighted that it feels like it's changed perceptions as well and this is not, I mean, it's not a mean thing because i think these are people who are working with, you know, children, young people, with disabilities best interests at heart but sometimes you need to push a boundary a bit and say 'Well why isn't this possible?' or 'Why would she be excluded?' and it feels a bit like we've done that with the space of the house. So i'm really happy with that.
Abi: As you talk about that it reminds me of, and i'm sure you've seen this, this comic and it's the i can't remember the words that lie underneath it but I think it's something...
Thea: I know the one you mean!
Abi: ...it's the inclusion, equity yeah. that one where it's the difference between giving everyone the same treatment and that being accessible for only a few people and then building up the support needed for everyone to be included and able to access something to the same degree maybe not necessarily in the same way but to the same degree.
Thea: and I think actually even even going one step further than that is contributing back. so that actually, if you're changing people's ideas or opinions about what's possible then then that is actually taking the conversation a step further and that's something we like to do as much as we possibly can.
Abi: Yeah, absolutely.
Thea: I think because there was another thing, I suppose, from a very personal point of view about the house that... i mean, obviously we did design it with this in mind... but I am astonished at how well it works and that is going back to that idea of of connecting spaces visually and and orally that actually means... so Greta can't move around independently although she's a wheelchair user she needs someone to push her. She has her eye gaze communicator so she can tell us if she wants to move different places but... so I suppose she doesn't have that independence but what's really lovely is when you're in the house that you can if she's okay if she's in the sitting room, for example. Which is kind of the main living space, I suppose. There are seven other spaces where I can see her and hear her and she can see and hear me and so i think that connectivity, we did do it intentionally but I am really delighted at how well it works for family life and how much it makes us all actually happier that that's possible without um too much difficulty and I particularly notice it when other families come to the house either potential clients or on doors open day who have wheelchair user children and they comment on that as well because I think, you know, you can sometimes be very used to the difficulty of... there is a real difficulty of compartmentalised rooms and houses for for kids and young people who are wheelchair users or actually have have have any disabilities or any differences because um you're kind of narrowing down options and possibilities by doing that and as soon as you make the connection spatially that kind of opens things up much more and I think also is really helpful for parents particularly when kids are younger. I remember it was really difficult that whole thing over what space are we going to be and do we decide to be in this space or do we decide to be in that one and as Greta got heavier to lift, that was harder but also because she has a sister and then there's a lot of very complex considerations that families like ours go through in their everyday practice of life that if we can actually design things that make that much easier and much more flexible and fluid then that's immediately...well it's not just taking pressure off their everyday life... but it's also opening up potential for the children and young people.
Abi: You mentioned earlier that you were able to sit round with your family around a table and have these models and conversations and I can imagine you have access to your family. That's not necessarily something you always have with clients and other projects.what would you say that you learn from this initial experience where you've had lots of access and you've been able to potentially kind of trial and error things a lot quicker and and it's kind of fail fast/learn quick scenario what would you say that you've taken from that experience and that has been important influencing how you approach your new clients and the way that you can have these conversations with them and their families?
Thea: That's a really tough question actually...
Thea: Because, I suppose i mean, I suppose what we... it depends who the client is actually but I suppose what we try and do as much of that as is is possible. so we would, let's say, if we're working with someone who... and and actually it doesn't make any difference to us whether they need a conventionally need an accessible inclusive home or not because we really try to design all our homes like that because it seems to me... yeah I actually never know and actually it's that thing of if it works for all then then yeah it works for some as well. It wasn't exactly... that's bad paraphrasing! but you know what I mean. so I think we would always...we're always kind of...we were just looking at a small project that that is just about editing a house and changing the way the layout works and it's not for someone who's a wheelchair user but always in our conversations because... I think we're really lucky that we designed together I think that part of the the design process...well, all the design bits of the design process it's always Ian and I working together and I think that adds an extra layer of consideration and discussion that maybe isn't possible if you're working alone as a as a designer an architect or if you're working very specifically on one project although you have your office around you... i think it's just it's the way that we work because we both really enjoyed the design process but actually we found we're good at counterbalancing each other. I mean, I come, as you know, having been a tutor at Edinburgh... so i'm very good at asking questions but i'm also good at seeing seeing solutions that maybe we haven't looked at before and then Ian's very good at kind of working out how to get those ideas to work so we complement each other really well I would say on that. So that is always happening anyway which maybe takes it on another stage but that isn't strictly speaking engagement. I know it's not. But what it allows is for us through the, especially the initial bit of the design process, to go back to the client each time and and to have a conversation with them around that. i mean, i think also i'm probably from being a tutor and also just because of our very specialist situation i'm probably a good listener so I would try in the first meetings to really kind of listen and tune into what it is that people are saying saying they're... that they need or they desire in their design. so that would, I mean, I suppose that's on smaller projects. More domestic projects we would try and do as much each time going back and working with them... if we're designing for families the kids are often at some other design meetings anyway be great to have them at all but that normally doesn't work out um but we haven't done any kind of creative workshops with any of them yet but I think we should because it might actually get some of the adult clients to kind of think a bit more... but I suppose the two bigger examples that we're working on at the moment the Yard, Dundee which I spoke about before but there's another one which is for Glasgow Disabled Scouts. Fabulous organisation and I mean they go from tiny... we talked to I think that... I can't remember what the oldest is... but certainly they're young adults... Anyway, the oldest of the scouts, they've got a lodge, that doesn't work, that they stay in for weekends in the middle of beautiful nowhere north of Glasgow and really they need to have it redesigned so that it works. it's a lovely project but it's particularly lovely because it was complex for us to understand what their needs might be. so we could have said 'um, okay we'll make it all accessible.' I mean it's all pretty much all ground floor anyway but we could have just said 'okay we'll have a look at making it accessible.' We didn't, we actually went and did workshops with all of the different ages of scouts.probably the young adults were in lots of ways the most interesting. they've been going to disabled scouts since they were little as well and there's a real... it's a fabulous community where because they know each other really well it actually made it easier for us to come in and work with them and one of the workshops we did actually was very simple one which was working out because so some of the the young adults who wheelchair users have much bigger wheelchairs than the ones we might be used to, or the ones that building standards think is, you know, are the ones that are needed and so we did a workshop where they took measurements of each other. What sizes they needed for turning circles. how far they could reach up. Just everything that they might want to do in this lodge because by then we already knew the brief. Well we've been out to the lodge when they were there on a Saturday.we'd seen the kind of activities they were doing there anyway so we had an understanding of of what uses they might need in it but not necessarily how they might use it. So, the workshops... we did a series and the workshops really were looking at those and looking at how...but always actually getting them to really quite actively do the stuff. It was very little of us doing things and very much them doing things - me observing, certainly, and recording and because the the the scout leaders so a couple of them are on the the design team that meets to discuss the design... so I think I suppose that also means that there's a kind of continuity and a progression in the design process through that and I would... I mean, I think, you know, from my experience with with first year students where I could spot when there was a need to do a workshop on something because I could see how things were or weren't progressing. i can spot that in a project as well. I mean, it's been more difficult in the last few months but certainly we can see where where the there are there are parts of the design that maybe aren't yet working, how they're going to need them and and we can go back and do specific workshops on them. i don't know if that really answers your question which was very hard but I think..
Abi: No, I think that does! I think you've kind of given a variety of different examples as to how you approach it and I think it's quite clear to see from how you've talked previously about how you approached it, what threads still remain in your practice so i think that's a perfectly round answer so thank you very much.
Abi: I guess we'll kind of just jump into more general accessibility questions and i've seen people define accessibility as, or ways to create accessibility by, making things 'perceivable, understandable, operable and robust' and from your experience do you think this covers all of the points?
Thea: actually I really like all all four of those because I think sometimes one of the difficulties we have when talking more generally about accessibility is well 'who's it accessible for?' because, we know everyone's different actually and so I think sometimes that that can be quite tricky. It tends to be easier when you're working with specific clients and specific stakeholders and users because you can, where you can, gain an idea of what might need to be offered to them to make it robust and you can also ask them what might need to be... and you can observe from situations that don't work well what's missing. So I think in specific projects I think that's much easier to do. I think the thing that occurs to me is one of our favourite words at the moment which is 'agency.' and we talk about that a lot for Greta. so we've been, obviously during lockdown, we've been doing lots more homeschooling and really enjoyed that but also we've been thinking about ways that she can connect while still being being at home and I think we've been working with quite a lot of people. So working creatively she she does certain various creative things using an eye gaze. She paints and she also makes music with Drake music Scotland and she's been involved in kind of collaborative exhibitions but she's also got one, potential one, coming up which is really exciting where she will actually be part of the process all the way through so actually she is there as one of the main... i can't remember what they called it but i think it was 'Core Researcher' so Greta would be the core researcher and and what that says to me is that she has agency in the situation. She is in on the situation she will find herself in and that is always something its just up most in my mind a lot is 'how she can have agency in all her situations and her changing situations as well and as she becomes a young adult and becomes more independent?' and so I would be looking for that as well in anyone involved in in our design that we're giving them agency. i think the tricky thing is that there you're talking about the process rather than the finished building and I think well the two are different but actually if you get the process right and if you ensure that people have agency so I would say the disabled scouts those kids and young people definitely had agency during that and I would hope that... I would ask them actually... I mean this is the other thing that we've learned a lot from supporting Greta is actually sometimes you actually just ask people whether it's working because you know sometimes we forget that that's actually quite a simple way of finding things out! so I would hope that in the process that we are giving people agency that would then translate into the design. Yeah, I mean I wonder if actually having a having a ramp in a building gives people agency..? gives everyone agency..? I think it probably does. We went to see... i'm terrible at remembering names. i can remember the building really well but it's the one that... it's the library that is basically ramped it's in Switzerland um Lausanne, it is, and it's Japanese architect... Japanese women architect I think... but that was really interesting because that, I mean, basically it's just the whole floor surface pretty much is round and I really loved it because it felt like we, walking with Greta, were just completely included in absolutely everything there was nowhere that we went, if she'd been an independent wheelchair user I think it would have absolutely given her agency so maybe... actually I never asked her she was quite young maybe it did give her agency by her knowing that she could go everywhere with us... sometimes there'll be times in buildings where Greta and I would wait the ground floor and then Bee and Ian would dash up the stairs whatever. So, I think probably that that might be an example of a building that that offers agency to lots of different people but of course you know I think it would depend because I would imagine if you're visually impaired that might be quite a tricky building and again it's so that's... it's that whole thing of accessible for who that becomes very difficult when we design for more than just one organisation or one family. Maybe i'm gonna have a think about this as well...perceivable, understandable, affordable robust. I like those.
Abi: They're good. I guess it's um... i know i've been throwing maybe some some difficult questions at you today but I think I guess what you were talking about, obviously it is 'it's accessible for who?' and how it's incredibly individual and i think the difficulty with trying to boil down how to create accessible tools into four different phrases and even with the with the fifth of agency or insuring agency, which I think is incredibly valid to be adding to this list, it does... it will always be these kind of small holes which doesn't quite feel accessible for who? Accessible for all. so absolutely, I think that's a completely valid answer but if you want to mull over it more...
Thea: And what I also think it kind of highlights is that difference between process and built project, built environment and I think it's actually really important that as designers and as practitioners of engagement that we're always kind of reflecting... It's something we can do quite easily in our own house because we're here all the time but we're always kind of referring back between the two and that hopefully by kind of comparing back... I mean it's it's called 'post building occupancy' isn't it? or whatever it's called... it's got a silly phrase... that actually doesn't really sum up enough what it should be doing but I think again it's about observing how people use space and because of my research and interest in children using space differently I was always very... that was something I was doing consciously quite a lot from quite a long time ago and I think that still but it's taking that knowledge of how you see where the spaces are enabling. I mean we use the term 'enabling' a lot because I think that's actually... that can then cover any difference in lots of ways and seeing where the buildings are enabling and if not why not and taking that back to the practice of the design process is key...
Abi: So, to round off in a very general question... and I feel like there has been kind of advice or peppered throughout your your answers so far...what would you advise to people who are looking to create accessible engagements or accessible practice?
Thea: Listen! Lot lots and lots of listening and observing. sometimes going along with quite a loose idea is really good that happened a lot. I think I always knew what the purpose of the workshop was but not necessarily how it was going to happen. That happened a lot with the woodcraft kids obviously. It also happened when we went to a specialist school where I had actually a very well prepared workshop for kids that were using AAC so using communication devices and probably needed lots more time and lots more support for us to understand what their needs of the space and what their desires of the space were so I had a really lovely workshop prepared for all of this and they were I think they were going to be like... I thought they were going to be between 8 and 10 and I thought I had a real knowledge and I could bring quite a lot to that workshop and we would have a really amazing time and we turned up and it was the it was basically s5 and s6 all very very, because it was quite a mixed specialist school, very verbal. Very full of opinions. sometimes absolutely not wanting to do what these daft designers had brought along... but actually we had a really brilliant... we had a good toolkit. We'd taken along a big box of all the different materials we'd used in in our house which I got as a Christmas present from Ian one year. We just took that along and said right play with these. show us what materials you'd like to use and it was an incredibly free workshop, open workshop. not planned like that at all but actually the resources that we got out of it and also just by observing you know... so these kids who were very very honest and direct about how they felt about certain things. Whether they loved fur or hate it or you know all this kind of information that if i'd have planned a kind of 17, 18 year old workshop might have been very different. so yeah, go with a completely open mind but a purpose to do it and if there's possibility for for for repetition and revisiting things that is always brilliant because it also allows you as the designer to check whether your understanding of the original workshop is actually held up. It gives the agency back to the stakeholders and the users again. it's really good to take a big cardboard model of what we've come out of the thing, you know, that like a concept designed back and get the kids to cut it about and move things about and you know... and you can see the client with budget go '...!' but what it does is it makes us as the designers think more about 'why not?' and 'actually what does that do?' and 'what are the possibilities?' and and it pushes the... there's nothing better than the constraints or changes to push a design to be better and you can get you can actually get that quite a lot from engagement so rather than it being a limiting thing it actually just makes us work harder which always produces something better...
Abi: I think yeah absolutely of being flexible and being adaptable are massive, massive things...
Thea: It's learning isn't it? You learn so much from that..
Abi: Yeah absolutely! Well i'll just round off! Thank you so much Thea, that was really really interesting.
Thea: I thoroughly enjoyed it too.
Abi: Good! I'm really glad. So i'll just go ahead and stop recording....