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How would you feel about two days of highly immersive creativity, fun and problem-solving in a cosy villa with a fireplace and a sauna? Welcome to our latest Design Camp, where 35+ Reaktorians set out to design meaningful and impactful solutions to difficult social problems.
Inspirational meetups and co-creation concepts are widely popular and often go by many different names. At Reaktor, we’ve been running our own annual meetup for years, and we call it Design Camp.
The power of such gatherings is that they foster collaboration and teamwork, and inspire us all to look at common issues in a new light. The tools, processes and mentors have varied from year to year as they’re always chosen to fit the particular topics and time. However, the essence stays the same: Design Camp is about meeting the limitations you set for yourself while harnessing the full potential of a group of creative brains.
I’d wager that most if not all of our designers consider the camp to play an important part in our design community, professional development and culture. But why? And what makes it so special?
Doing our part to have a positive impact on the world
This year our designers, strategists and developers all came together to solve daunting problems with a real-world social impact. Within this theme, we identified key areas that were important to us. We asked ourselves questions like:
- How can we make sure that our kids will feel motivated at school and get a chance to pursue the hobbies they want?
- What will the future be like for us once we grow old?
- What happens to our society and planet if we keep consuming irresponsibly and indulging in planned obsolescence?
These kinds of questions are a part of our everyday life; they’re questions we all have to deal with. And having a chance to dig into these gives us undoubtedly an opportunity to make an impact; to start changing things and eventually get a bit closer towards improving the world.
To get the wheels turning and provide structure, we used some familiar Design Thinking tools and practices.
Harnessing the power of teamwork
Seeing final outcomes is exciting: It’s magical how amazingly well thought-through concepts multifunctional teams can come up with in such a short time. The tasks we were set weren’t easy. How can one possibly change the fact that people grow old? Or fix issues arising out of experiences of inequality in childhood? When the question is put like that, it may feel like there’s no way to change them.
The power of Design Camps is that they put the negative scenario to the team, and together, the team can find its way through and begin to solve the problem.
Let’s be honest: these problems are hard and there’s no real way to solve them in two days – and the realization can turn your insides into a knot. This is especially true if you’re facing the challenge alone, lost and searching for an answer that never seems to come. I bet we’ve all been in such a situation, and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Design Camp provides a healthy environment in which to tackle such problems without making you feel despondent. Instead, you feel strong and empowered in your shared mission. Working in a team gives you a burst of energy, letting you see things in a new light, and frankly have more empathy not just for your teammates, but your end-users as well. Being able to separate the superficial from what’s meaningful.
By shifting their thinking towards a more empathic direction, several teams came up with solutions that aimed at prevention rather than trying to solve negative situations that can quickly become unsolvable. For example, one of the teams came up with a service idea to prevent the sense of loneliness that elderly people often face after retirement. Another potential example was a solution preventing the consequences of social inequality by empowering youngsters to chase their dreams by the means of crowdsourcing, charity and social media.
Takeaways from our Design Camp – and how you can get started with your own
Every year we run Design Camps, we find more and more things to consider for the future. If you’re looking to start your own co-creation camp, or have already run a few but want to up your game, these are some of the key takeaways from this year for making a Design Camp memorable and useful:
- Pick a single larger topic and limit your time to a day or two to provide focus. Around 36 hours is what we like – it’s a little bit tight, but still efficient.
- Traveling to a different location brings a sense of full immersion and focus, and makes it feel a little bit special. Bonus points for a sauna and a fireplace.
- Time flies, keep it on the clock: Set time limits to tasks and enforce them. Having dedicated facilitators helps with this.
- Make room for breaks – whether that’s a two-minute stretching session or a cheeky run to get some pullas from the kitchen. Encourage teams to take breaks as they see fit; after all, we’re humans and not machines (yet).
- Lighten up the mood. Something silly or on the edge of being off-topic may spark a bit of creativity among your teammates. The best moments we had were the ones where we gave up being too serious.
- Prepare some frameworks and canvases, and print them out in advance. Coming up with the tools on the spot can sometimes be helpful, but it can lead to lost time and improvisation. Having some general printouts on hand helps to maintain focus.
- Make outcomes concrete. It’s easy to get lost in the high level, so keep asking practical questions and thinking about the real impact.
- Don’t miss the bus back.
Paving the way for our own future
Looking back at this year’s Design Camp, it wasn’t just a chance to have fun, meet colleagues and bond. It also acts as preparing the ground for new ways of thinking, for personal and professional development, and for identifying new areas to explore.
Being part of an impactful project is a dream come true for any designer: You have the chance to design something that improves someone’s situation, makes people happier and safer, and does good in the world. This naturally brings a sense of purpose to your work.
At their best, Design Camps provide a way for us to explore how we can improve our societies and really do our part. They’re also a chance to remind ourselves of our ability to understand people’s problems and empathize with their needs. Bringing these lessons back to our everyday work helps each one of us contribute towards a more meaningful, more responsible design future.