Saturday, February 16, 2013

Structuring Creative Collaboration

Crowd-share Innovation - Intensive Creative CollaborationsLast night I attended the launch of the book "Crowd-share Innovation - Intensive Creative Collaborations" (Schweitzer and Jakovich, 2012) at the OBJECT AUSTRALIAN DESIGN CENTRE, Surry Hills, Sydney. The book is the product of a design course at UTS u.lab called "Groudbreaker".

A group of masters students attended a series of workshops where the explored issues with designers. The students then undertook group exercises. Materials produced by the students, along with their teachers, were then collated into a book.

The idea of having a group of design students work intensively in a studio is not a new idea, the best know use being the Bauhaus studio teaching, developed in the 1920s. In the UTS case the Australian Design Centre at Surry Hills was used. This is essentially a gallery for displaying work and would not appear to be ideal as a studio workspace. There is an interesting circular display space with a conical wooden beam roof and ocular. While an inspiring space, the curved walls are painted flat white, whereas white-board paint suitable for writing on. Something like the Inspire Centre University of Canberra, with its white-board paint walls, flexible furniture and movable walls would be better.

Serve City : nteractive urbanismI took part in a similar exercise at University of Sydney architecture faculty in 2002, when I gave a talk on "The Smart Apartment" to a group of students from the New Bauhaus Dessau, who were conducting a planning exercise in Sydney. This was an "interdisciplinary and experimental investigation into the changes in working and living habits brought about by the new information and communication technologies" in Sydney's inner west. From this was produced the book " Serve City : Interactive urbanism" (Sonnabend, 2003).

Both the Bauhaus and UTS books are difficult to find and navigate. The work of the design and architecture disciplines can be hard to understand for outsiders. Architects and designers speak their own technical language, which uses common words with different meanings. Also designers tend to use cryptic diagramming styles without explanatory text.

In this case UTS have well written text, complemented with diagrams. But the font used for the text is small, making it difficult to read. Also the book lacks much in the way of structure, being essentially a series of independent essays. UTS have used the innovation of publishing their book under a open access license, allowing wide distribution, but do not have appear to have made it available in electronic format, thus severely limiting its impact.

Such collaborations could benefit from broadening the range of disciplines involved to improve communication. In particular those from the information disciplines could contribute a more systematic and structured communication style to the process (including accessible information design). This would greatly increase the impact of the work. Otherwise while creative designers may produce interesting work, their lack of ability to communicate that work clearly will impede its dissemination.

The idea of students and staff collaborating on a book to document the work of a class is a useful one. This is a technique which might be applied to the Australian National University's interdisciplinary "Vice-Chancellor's Courses". The ANU has its own ANU ePress, which could publish the books, print on demand, and more importantly in web and eBook formats for wide free on-line distribution.


Schweitzer, J., & Jakovich, J.  (2012). Crowd-share Innovation - Intensive Creative Collaborations (3 ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Freerange Press.

Sonnabend, R. (2003). Serve City : Interactive urbanism. Berlin: Jovis.

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