Northumbria University
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Student Brief Don't be a mug.pdf (2.92 MB)

Student Design Brief: Don't Be A Mug

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This brief is for a student project situated in the context of a multidisciplinary design innovation master’s programme which brought together students from different undergraduate disciplines. It took place at the end of the student’s first semester and sought to challenge them to think about how they can bring about changes which result in fairer and healthier ways of living in their local hyper-local context - their design studio space.

The brief was inspired by a collection of 21 mugs which had gradually accumulated as students, staff and visitors had brought, used and then left the crockery discarded in the small design studio kitchen. These mugs provided an entry point for a creative, critical enquiry into the systems and concerns that shape the world and future paradigms, and ways to address them through responsible innovation. The brief asked students to consider the mugs, the systems they represented and asked them: How did we get here? What does this situation represent? How can we deal with the situation? What can you do that can challenge or change the patterns that form this situation? 

The brief required the students to co-produce an exhibition at the end of the project, building it up over the duration of the project using their imagination, playfulness, and creative expression. They were encouraged to use a variety of creative practices and media to express their ideas and insights, such as sketches, collages, models, prototypes, poems and photographs. The exhibition was intended to be a low-fidelity, non-digital, engaging and thought-provoking showcase of the their exploration of the issues of justice, equity, dignity, freedom, and ecology as relevant for their place and community.  Students had full freedom on the project outputs and outcomes, as the research team did not pre-determine the avenues to deal with the mugs, nor used specific vocabulary such as ‘upcycling’ that could have directed students towards a specific output. 

The students were encouraged to work individually for the first 36 hours of the project, and then to form short-term creative collaborations with their peers. Supported by the course tutors and members of a responsible design innovation research group the students were encouraged to consider how their design studio system develops and can create conditions that damage the planet and make life difficult, unhealthy and unjust. Focused on designing ways to actively transition into fairer and healthier ways of living, the project gave the students permission to put things in place now for how people would live in the studio in the future.

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