From a young age I recall my father telling us: don’t do upon others what’s done upon you. We were raised in a humanistic way with a big sense of responsibility and awareness of society. Together with my education at the Design Academy Eindhoven and several international internships and travels, this has made me the Empathic Designer I am today with a specialty in Cultural Diversity.
Due to my empathic ability, my broad interest and the curiosity I have for others, I always try to look at issues from a different perspective. This inspires me as a designer and helps me in finding new solutions to existing challenges. Integrity and sincerity are the key factors in my work and projects. Before I ‘design’ in the broadest sense of the word, I dive into the subject, area and/or community to know and understand what is happening, what people think and feel, before determining what is needed. This research and analyzing is a big part of my work, during this period the first idea’s and connections start developing, and during this process the goal reveals itself and unravels over time.
It is not always easy for assigners to see the opportunities that lay in working bottom-up. It is a different approach and seems like a process that is out of their control and without a predetermined outcome. Indeed there is quite some risk in working this way: you never know what you will reveal or trigger. But once the assigner gains the guts and the trust to follow this trail of uncertainty, the outcome can be very surprising and beneficial for all parties involved.
By getting to know the different stakeholders, and therefore the different stories and perspectives to a certain issue, I try to understand the worries, wishes and demands of the people involved. As a creative I try to make a concrete translation to ideas and proposals that are applicable, deployable and sustainable. With the information and contacts, together with the people involved, I try to shape the project. The benefit of participation or co-creation in my eyes, is addressing the intrinsic motivation: it is not determined top-down, you start with what emerges float. Because you involve the people throughout the process and address their problems, wishes or demands there is a better change of support from them in carrying out the project. They feel acknowledged and they can help shape the project.
Meanwhile I have over 13 years of experience in participative projects and if one aspect is of utmost importance, it is your visibility. People need to know who you are, what you do, they need to gain trust and you will have to proof you are fully aware of their situation and where the sensitivity comes in.
Even though this way of working is very labor-intensive, it is very rewarding at the same time. Of course during some projects you might get frustrated, emotional and feel insecurity. But due to determination and the direct contact with the people involved, you see the project evolving in front of your eyes and you see the progress that can be made within individuals themselves and the effect that has on the community. You can see change happening. My biggest accomplishment in the end is when I can leave, knowing the project does not collapse like a house of cards. But that the change you’ve worked towards and contributed to, remains and sustains, even when you leave. Then my job is done, and it is time for the next challenge!