Design Jam Limerick: a Productive Platform for Gaining Insight into Public Engagement and Digital Cultural Heritage Design

On 17 April 2013, the Interaction Design Centre at the University of Limerick (UL) hosted the second Limerick based Design Jam. Design Jams are worldwide events whereby individuals are presented with a specific design challenge to tackle, the general aim being to share knowledge and to work collaboratively. As meSch is all about co-design and the broad participation of designers, developers and stakeholders into the process, this Design Jam provided a perfect opportunity for meSch-partner UL to brainstorm with a mix of people about designing experiences for cultural heritage.

Overview of the Design Jam

As a starting point for the workshop, the participants were introduced to the meSch project and its objectives, upon which the brief was based. The brief was divided into two sessions, firstly it asked participants to explore their personal perspectives on cultural heritage and secondly, to develop a design concept that could manifest the chosen aspect of cultural heritage, making digital content accessible through a physical artifact. Following introductions and a brief description, participants – composing of students, alumni and cultural heritage professionals – were divided into 4 work groups.

Group at work at Design Jam Limerick

Group at work at Design Jam Limerick

Session 1: What would you value as cultural heritage?

The aim of the first brainstorming session was to explore various definitions of cultural heritage. The groups were invited to reflect on questions such as ‘what is heritage for you?’, ‘what has been lost already that you would like to have back?’ and ‘what needs to be preserved for future generations?’. The theme of the discussion was deliberately broad so as to allow for multiple definitions and the groups were encouraged to explore novel ways to understand, talk and think of heritage. The ideas were primarily considered in the context of the Limerick area.

Following individual group discussions, each group summarized their findings with reference to definitions of cultural heritage that they believed to be relevant. One group focused on the distinction between oral and material aspects of cultural heritage, made reference to the sensory dimension of cultural heritage and inquired as to how culture could be distinguished through smell, taste, etc. Another group explored the relevance of telling the story of everyday lives in preserving cultural heritage and emphasized the importance of oral histories in contributing to an image of a specific cultural identity, conveying attitudes, accents, humour and localised traits. A number of different techniques were used to visually elicit the ideas including mind maps, storyboards and relational sketches.

Session 2: Concept development and prototyping

In the second session, each group was asked to focus on one interesting element that had emerged during the first session, and to develop a design concept connected to cultural heritage in Limerick.

The first group presented a network of city trails. They could be categorically themed, i.e. food, arts, buildings which would cause the trails to converge at certain points. They could also feature a reward system to encourage continued engagement.

The second group presented prototype augmented books, which were used to tell the story of a set of characters. The scenario presented was that of 3 characters of different social classes (upper, middle and lower) in the 19th century. Each digital book could be programmed so as to tell different stories. The narratives could include different smells, taste and touch sensations as well as an augmented visual layer that changed perception in accordance with the assumed character. For example, for a visitor with the book of an upper class person, a certain scene might show someone playing the lute while for a visitor with the assumed lower class persona, the same scene might show someone cleaning.

The third group demonstrated their concept – a graveyard GPS application with RFID – with the aid of a storyboard. Based on the real grave location GPS mapping project currently being realised at the Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, the group extended the idea by considering how the application could digitally link the stories of families and histories of the individual graves.

The final group suggested the development of an augmented application that would show forgotten architecture and associated histories. Considering the application would be driven by user content, the group was asked to consider how to motivate people to contribute to a collective project such as this.

Overall the varied backgrounds of participants provided us with diverse insight into personalised views of digital cultural heritage. The collaborative ethos of Design Jams proved to be a productive platform from which one could think differently about designing experiences for cultural heritage.

More on Design Jam Limerick

This was the second Design Jam in Limerick. More information and pictures of the event can be found on the weblog of the Interaction Design Centre and the Design Jam Limerick Facebook page.

More on Design Jams

Design Jams are non-profit, one-day design events where groups of people come together to engage in user experience challenges. Anyone can participate in a Design Jam. They are held in several locations internationally each year.

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