Visual log

This week I started an Instagram page for documenting my research journey for my thesis project. It was difficult coming up with a nomenclature for the page as it still dwells in different aspects that I haven’t completely chalked out yet.

I decided on the name Feeling (s) (are) Analogue as my project aims to toy with the hypothesis that digital apps might not be the solution for wellbeing. My first two posts are based on my thoughts on Sherry Turkle’s reflection on Thoreau’s chairs.

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Branding and visual language for the Instagram page ‘Feelings are Analogue’

Preparing for the journey: Thoughts and Notions

July started with an allotment of supervisors and the Lego building class with Naomi, in order to break down and demystify our research process leading to the culmination of the thesis project.

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Mapping our hopes, fears and motivations for put research journeys in the Lego Workshop 

I’m also beginning to think of how my thesis project can build into the brand that I want to create for myself as a design strategist/ researcher. I attended a couple of talks for Graduate Futures Week including Career Advice and CV checks. I was able to interact with the speakers and employers from IBM and the response was very positive in terms of how my career trajectory is one that could fit into larger co operations like IBM where the work culture is collaborative in nature, and interdisciplinary skills are encouraged.

The career advice session was helpful where a one to one session with one of the professionals helped me understand the need of tweaking my website in order to communicate to employers what my strengths are, by using language/ words that highlighted the strategy part of my process rather than just the design bit.

The session with Laura was also motivating as we spent some time just talking about the concept of the project and reiterating the aims of the proposal rather than just diving into the research plan. Time is definitely a factor, but I want to hold back from compromising and narrowing down on the larger intent of my project.

 

 

Impact and Influence Workshop

The impact and influence workshop helped us gain valuable insights as we move forward in defining our final major project. The disruptive approach to the workshop helped in defying pre conceived notions and alluded aspects of our project that we might have not given importance to before this workshop.

The ‘priority assessment chart’ helped in mapping my insight decisions in order to visually and cognitively register where I stand in terms of making these approaches/methodologies a reality. Two out of the three insights I gained were in the aspirational sector; this reiterated the face that I need to narrow down my topic which is primarily knowledge based to a more practice based outcome.

The exercise helped me question my assumptions and ensure that the terminologies and concepts that I might be using in my research question are not too subjective and biased. The particular exercise where we listed down all the things that go into making a single object that we need to complete our thesis project was eye opening as I realized the magnitude of the project I might be undertaking; and as a result occupying a certain stance as a designers and researcher. By the end of the day I had rephrased the word ‘technology’ in my research question to ‘digital applications.’ The step by step approach made the task of filtering easier as a constant external opinion allowed me to tackle bias in my approach to the project.

Initial project overview:

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An empathy manual for technology driven products and applications dealing with human problems.

Overview after workshop:

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An empathy manual for digital application companies that cater to social and psychological well being for millennials.

The practice of thinking, writing, exchanging and reviewing are all great exercises when done individually; and more so when done one after the other. The workshop fuelled my thought process by disrupting, dissecting and discarding broader themes around my final major project thesis.

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Global Design History

The concept of ‘glocal’ has been pervading through media, the food we eat, the shows we watch, our education system and so on. As an Indian living in a bustling metropolitan city like Bangalore I had the choice of eating in a Japanese/ Vietnamese / Italian restaurant, have my fill of British/American television shows on Netflix and closely engage with the United States’ Presidential election. As a designer, the soft wares I used for my work, the people I whose work I drew inspiration from on Instagram were not restricted to my country or my ethnic background. Even before I was physically in a different continent I felt like I was a global citizen – simply because of the exposure I was privileged to have in my lifetime, through the rise of technology and the phenomenon of globalization.

In the article ‘what is global history now?’ the author Jeremy Adelman talks about the concept of Westerners and Resterners. His point of view is that the progress or decline of the West is closely linked to the economic/political/social changes happening in the rest of the world. This is interesting as we see the West as almost a yardstick for the rest of the ‘Rest’. Who has created this subtle yet poignant yardstick that pervades most of our decisions, lifestyle choices today?

This era of globalization has also ushered in a new but confusing question of the changing face of individual identity and how the labels we often impose on people based on their race, nation state might be misconstrued. The country I come from, definitely helps someone gauge and demographically understand my physical appearance but does it really define me? The cross cultural identities that are now present around the world represent the current state of moving away from rigid boxed cultural narratives. As easily we accept technological advances originating in the ‘West’ we are still generations behind on accepting and exploring the complexities of cultural histories and identities. Hi tech products developed in a software company in the West might be the brainchild of an émigré designer -the novelty of a new innovation could be rooted in the cultural view point of an individual. I am not completely opposed to the idea of a singular global design history. However, I feel like it must be layered, with metaphorical chapters that show how with design, the ideas, expression, values of people have evolved; try to build a framework for a complex cultural design history to prevent the rise of monoculture.

Citations:

https://aeon.co/essays/is-global-history-still-possible-or-has-it-had-its-moment

Fry, T., 1989. A Geography of Power: Design History and Marginality. Design Issues,

6(1), pp.15–30.

 

Understanding Identity and Childhood through Tactile Objects

The exhibit at V&A Museum of Childhood, Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to today, is a fascinating overview of the evolution of Nordic artefacts centered around the needs and wants of a child over the 1900s to the present day. Children are pivotal to the growth and development of society and its cultural fabric. The wellbeing of children is a direct reflection of the values harnessed by family, schools and other branches of a community.

Of all the sections in the exhibit I found the one about ‘Design for Living’ most interesting and relatable. This aspect of creating an amiable, comfortable environment that allows them to play and learn at home has a direct co relation to the mental health and well being of a growing infant. I found the whole aspect of the consumer products that were developed for the children – being ‘designed to aid the child’s development, encouraging them to create, construct and play’ – close to home.

Growing up in the 90s I had a lot of physical artefacts and toys that I would engage with as a child. Tactile objects always allow a child or even human beings for that matter, to explore, create and construct. The feeling of flipping through a pages of a book or putting the pieces of paper together are quite different from scrolling through YouTube videos or dragging and dropping pieces of a jigsaw on a tablet. The fact these products have a tangible value to them gives them an emotional appeal as well; the artefacts become a source of semiotic and emotional association with people, memories and values.

One such product on display that was similar to an artefact I had a child was – the ‘boo boo patterned duvet cover’ which was reminiscent of the patchwork quilt that was common in Indian households in West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh also called ‘Kantha’. Identical to the colour palette found in the duvet cover, the patchwork quilt had often had visual stories depicted in bright colours embroidered on them. Kantha in Sanskrit means ‘rags’, as a lot of the Kantha patchwork was created from discarded but vibrant cloth from traditional Indian garments. These Kantha stitch quilts often became heirlooms for generations due to their soft texture and delicate craftwork. The quilts often had embroidered narratives that depict stories of popular folklore. The Kantha quilt is an artefact that is indigenous, imaginative and tactile. We must re imagine these products, in the future while deconstructing our technological worlds to build a more memorable childhood for future generations.

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Traditional kantha stitch fabric

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The duvet at the mueseum

Citations:

http://thekanthaproject.siterubix.com/the-history-of-kantha-stitch

http://www.home-soul.co.uk/Blog.aspx

Somewhere in Between: The other side of empathy

The exhibition at the Welcome Collection is about the intersection of science and art and one being used with another in order to portray diverse concepts like –genetics in contemporary cattle farming, the extended possibilities of touch, sexual health and virus transmission and the human capacity to hold one’s breath.

I found all the topics really interesting but the one that stood out for me and is closely linked to my project was the one about synesthesia by Daria Martin. The outcome of this project was two films screened in the exhibition space, adjacent to one another. Daria Martin explains synesthesia in the catalogue for the exhibition, “synesthesia is an experience in which a stimulus in one sense provokes a subjectively experienced stimulus in another.” The concept of synesthesia explores the ability to move beyond the individual senses of sound, smell, sight, taste and touch. It dwells into the possibility of a human being’s ability to feel when someone else experiences a sensation, for example; if I were to feel the sensation of touch on my shoulder even if I wasn’t exposed to it.

The two films also highlight the possibility of the phenomena being detrimental to the emotional state of a person, is it pleasing to experience the sensations of a different individual constantly? Is there such a thing as too much empathy? This extreme viewpoint on this regard challenges the inherent knowledge of empathy being a detrimental catalyst rather than a driver – “it often causes synaesthetes (people who can experience the phenomenon) to withdraw socially, because our world is not built for such empathy.” The visual language of the films explores this notion as well as ‘At the Threshold’ explores the dynamic of a mother son relationship who are both synaesthetes. The son is anxious to leave home while the mother is hesitant on the same. This analogue film styled in an overtly dramatic way, in terms of direction and set is inspired from the 1950s. It almost adds another layer to the already volatile relationship of parent and child. What would happen if a parent was not just perceptive but could actually physically feel and experience their child’s bodily experiences and vice versa?

The characters in these films experience a kind of synesthesia known as ‘mirror touch synesthesia’,  “which can be conceptualised as a heightened form of physical, and to a degree emotional empathy.” The terminology of this phenomenon could be linked to the concept of ‘mirror neurons’, which are a set of cells in the in the human brain stimulated to perform a certain action when we see another person performing the same action (laughing, reaching for a cup). Mirror neurons help humans and animals navigate and grow in social situations. Mirror touch synesthesia could be seen as a heightened form of this function, where one is not able to see, perceive and subconsciously register but also physically experience the actions of others.

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Sensorium Tests/At the threshold (Image Source: Wellcome Collection)

Citation:

Catalogue for Somewhere in Between by Wellcome Collection

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-mirror-neuron-revolut/

 

A manifesto for our generation: Let us not be a generation consumed by ourselves.

A perpetual whiff of dissatisfaction flows through our generation.

The world is moving forward but we are losing touch with ourselves.

 

Our lives are dictated by technology.

 

Technology that is supposed to make our lives easier.

Technology that can perform the simplest of tasks.

Technology that shows us what we want to see.

Technology that tells us what we want to hear.

Technology that lets us not be responsible for our own actions.

Technology that lets us modify ourselves to please others.

Technology that hoards us with information we do not need to know.

Technology that fuels the fire for self obsession.

Technology that consumes us.

Technology that allows us to be consumed by ourselves.

 

Let us not be a generation consumed by ourselves.

 

Let us live for now.

Let us live for the present.

Let us live for what is real, not hidden behind layers of filters.

 

Let us live for others.

Let us live for the joy of giving.

Let us live for the smiles that we see on the faces of our loved ones.

 

Let us live for experiences.

Let us live through all our senses.

Let us live for the moments which are greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Let us live to grow.

Let us live to learn.

Let us live to never stop becoming a better version of ourselves.

 

Let us live for love.

Let us live for authenticity.

Let us live for the feelings that are a large part of who we are.

 

Let us put the phone down.

Let us put the tablet away.

Let us look up.

Let us step out for a walk.

Let us have a conversation.

Let us let others in.

Let us not be consumed by technology

Let us not be a generation consumed by ourselves.

 

 

Politics of participation in Art : Evoking awareness through art in the Age of Capitalist Monopoly and Technology.

In Bishop’s book Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, we are exposed to the idea of art standing for something more than just an image for visually aesthetic purposes. Even though this cultural shift first happened in Europe during the historic Avant Garde movement in Europe in 1917, art as agency has grown to become more eminent as a social catalyst that invites discourse and dialogue.

The concept of art and agency took on a new dimension with protest art. Protest art came about in the 1920s with the Dadaists (Zurich based European Absurdists). Protest art in terms of an agency can be found in various degrees in terms of the subtlety expressed through an image, or more performance based mediums like theatre or song writing. The painting/ depiction carries a certain ontological meaning that could state a larger phenomena and allows participation for the people who are exposed to, or express discontent on the same phenomena. The signified becomes an ideology, and the signifier or agency is the art form. The concept of transmission of affect also implies in this case where the subject of art intended to cause a certain physical reaction due to the emotion triggered by the image/art form.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ was one of the most iconic artworks of the Dada art movement.

I would like to mention two artists whose works have evoked notable ‘reaction’ in the age of capitalism, surveillance capitalism (which was caused by corporations gaining monopoly over the internet). One would be Banksy, who is probably the most controversial graffiti artist of the late twentieth century. Some of Banksy’s artworks have a clear undulated message, where the artwork is almost a direct satirical representation of the issue he tries to highlight (in case of the image below) – the Syrian refugee crisis. Banksy happened to speak about this particular work of art – “We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7bn (£4.6bn) a year in taxes – and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.” This work depicts Steve job, who was actually the son of a Syrian migrant who travelled to America after the Second World War.

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‘The Son of a Migrant from Syria’ 2015 (source: The Telegraph)

Another one of his famous works ‘Balloon Girl’ was chosen as Britain’s favourite art work in 2016 in a poll done by Samsung. This mural originally painted on to a wall in Shoreditch shows a young girl letting go of a heart shaped balloon. The nature of the mural which might appear dreamlike to some, depicts hope, in a world marked by atrocities like 9/11 and the refugee crisis. The fact that it was voted as Britain’s favourite painting conveys how his subject struck a chord with the audience and triggered some kind of an emotional reaction within them. This participation might be somewhat passive physically but created a larger emotional impact that resonated with people. The Steve Jobs mural was more direct and assertive in what it signified than the ‘Balloon Girl’ which was more of a subtle trigger.

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‘Balloon Girl’ 2002 (source: guyhepner.com)

Another artist whose work could fall under the bracket of protest art but in a different cultural space would be Simon Denny.  Denny’s work “addresses today’s major digital issues such as crypto-currency, big data and internet surveillance, along with the biggest players in this area such as Peter Thiel, Kim Dotcom and Jeff Bezos, as well as the founders and inventors of new digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.” (Hamish Coney, a conversation about Founder’s Paradox, Newsroom). This work of art is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland. The game is based on the popular board game ‘Life’ to highlight the evils of surveillance and the possible dangers of tech. It allows participants in the game to think of their own actions – while playing the game, and questionable values that underpin surveillance capitalism. Denny says “Presented in this alternate visual context, the very real concepts can instead be “posited as some kind of weird fantasy”—one that may actually help viewers better evaluate the legitimacy or absurdity of the underlying phenomena” (Denny, Artnet, 2018). ‘The Founder’s Paradox’ is a satirical modern take on the downside of the digital age where the medium and form can be instantly identified by the participant by means of popular culture and re designed to transfer greater meaning to the artefacts and the game itself.

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‘The Founder’s Paradise’ (source: Artnet)

I wrote about Banksy and Denny’s work because both these artists use art as an intended agency to spark a certain trail of thought or emotional response in the audience. They deal with similar concepts but are unique in their medium (Banksy in the late 1990s with the trademark stencil graffiti and Denny more recently with the oversaturated visual language of tech and data). It would be interesting to see the course of art and agency as artists pull away from traditional aesthetic to explore the cluttered semiotic sensibilities which prevail in our physical and mental spaces.

Citations:

Bishop, C. (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso Books

Brennan, Transmission of affect

https://www.format.com/magazine/features/art/brief-history-protest-art

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/simon-denny-board-games-1233644

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2018/02/05/81232/a-conversation-about-the-founders-paradox

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-40717821

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/dec/11/banksy-uses-steve-jobs-artwork-to-highlight-refugee-crisis

 

 

 

Research into, for and through design: Manifested in User Experience Design

The three types of Research that are associated with Design and its practice are Research into Design, Research through design and Research for Design. These different denotations fall under the larger umbrella of Research by Design; “Hauberg calls it strategy, is used to describe the various ways in which design and research are interconnected when new knowledge is produced about the world through the act of designing” (Roggema, 2016, p3). The same article discusses the different stages of research through design with analysis, projection and synthesis being the most ground level form of the research models that exist or can be conceived. Joanne Mendel’s journal article on ‘Taxonomy of Research Models’ brings a four stage model –Discover-Reframe-Envision-Create. The author also gives us methodologies used in each stage of the design process, where the latter stages are defined by the nature of the design outcome.

As an example to aptly describe and differentiate these terms I would like to look at the process of designing a user experience. User experience as a term has gained immense importance in the last decade with the growth of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in the Knowledge Age. The process or evolution of advancement in this field has come about by revisiting the ‘ontological aspects’ (Godin, Zahedi) of an ‘experience’. How can a physical act of accessing a service or product digitally, which might be linked to the consumer’s mind emotionally, be differentiated in the market space from other competitors?

In this case Research through design could be used to envision scenarios, create SWOT analysis, trend reports, customer journey maps and so on to find a golden link between the consumer and the emotional appeal of the brand. These action based frameworks and tools are often supported by theory grounded in research and creation of a new knowledge base – “In user experience model, the UX construct can be well-defined with a set of indicators. The first part is the user satisfaction towards the product..It is created when the user can easily and comfortably reach his or her usage goals with the product, when a smooth interaction is created by a seamless change of operation and system feedback, and when information is presented in an innovative, clever way” (Smith, 2017)

Thus we can pick out two to three points in the above statement that form a base for further research into design for the same context (brand landscape) with separate brands. For e.g. if Nike and Adidas were to launch a new store, their goals or ontological view of  what they want to achieve would be same. However, they would have different approaches based on their brand vision, their tools for insight generation and their outcome.

Research into design would be taking a deep dive into the epistemological and ontological aspects of user experience and looking at it from a socio cultural perspective. There are academic papers and journals articles that explore the underlying layers of user experience design and might have a more critical outlook towards the same. “Given experience’s psychological nature, a starting point for this research has been the question: What is user experience? The main approach of this work has been the development of empirical and analytic methods for evaluating qualitative representations of UXs” (Rousi, 2013, p 17) In her doctorate research paper titled ‘From Cute to Content – User Experience from a Cognitive Semiotic Perspective’ Rousi underpins the way users perceive experience, and critically examines research through design itself with a scenario that a certain experience could be shaped momentarily according to the user’s state of mind, having little to do with the physical experience he or she is meant to be encountering. Research through design, in a way, questions and provides new perspectives on the existing knowledge base.

Research for Design as pointed out by Frayling is constitutes research with a small r- “what Picasso considered was gathering of reference materials rather than the research proper” (Frayling, 93/94, p 5). Thus this would be research done while assimilating all the different visual or other sensory elements of the outcome of the user experience. In this case the research is projected in the outcome itself. In a way the weight of the term ‘design’ in this case has a lot more weightage. If a customer walks into a Nike store and successfully makes a purchase, then research for design could be proven insightful.

10b48dd33d67601a6e26e722b8607ed1A critically humorous take on user experience from Dilbert Comics

Citations:

Simon Grand, Wolfgang Jonas Mapping Design Research

D. Godin and M. Zahedi Aspects of Research through Design

R. Roggema Research by Design

Joanne Mendel – Taxonomy of research models

R Rousi From Cute to Content – User experience from a cognitive semiotic perspective

 

 

Workshop with Design Council

When I signed up for the Design Council ‘Aging Wall’ workshop I was really impressed from the first email that I was sent as to how professional and well organized the entire experience was. With visual and informative slides on Design Academy and what it stood for, a brief on each group and the kind of topic we would be working on; I knew it was going to be something that would make Wednesdays worthwhile. The Design Council workshop was held over a month spanning four Wednesdays (from 17th January to 7th February 2018).

‘Service Design’ and ‘Design thinking’ have been terms that have gained a lot of traction in corporates and non corporates over the years. As the concept of design moved from aesthetic to function, centering more around human needs a number of design bodies have begun to really explore and create work based on design research, qualitative data and system and product based solutions. Design Council is one such company that is largely know in the UK for their stretch of work in this sphere.

The first day was about familiarising ourselves with Design Council and associations with value, product and design. We looked at possible definitions of design and how it has evolved over a period of time. Over the period of the day we were asked to get familiar with our respective group challenges by using the Opportunity Tool and Stakeholder Map. The engagement with these tools enabled us to realize we were inherently informed of our topics and had a certain degree of basic understanding.

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Stakeholder map

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Opportunity tool

The topic we were given was ‘Tackling Fear of Crime and preventing door step scams.’ It was  fairly challenging as the topic covered such large ground. We tried to build an ‘ecology’ of the ‘problem area’ and our facilitator Daniel Letts took us through design research methods like Interviews, Alternative Mapping, Journey Mapping and documentation through journals. We discussed our individual understanding of what the stakeholder ecosystem was like which also acted like an ice breaker for the group. Our personalities and our respective design backgrounds ranging from Graphic Branding and Identity, Service Design to Illustration, Interaction Design and Design Management brought a varied set of opinions and skills to the table. The classroom was set up in such a way facilitate feedback where after every exercise we were required to discuss our insights from the particular tool which created an active feedback loop.

The learning approach and curve was swift, enriching and motivated at every level. The next week we a really interesting session with Revealing Reality where we had one of their researchers come and talk to us about the importance of generating insights and how that can really determine the impact of the solutions of any particular design research question. This session gave us a break through in terms of direction as he asked us to look at the perceived fear of crime as opposed to the reality of ‘crime’ itself. What are the triggers? What causes it? It helped us map about our project canvas (another service design tool that broke down the different project aspects) and narrow down to what factors like – what kind of target audience were we looking at? Could we focus on one ‘section’ or group of the elderly, those whose movements were restricted and they were often confined to the space within their homes (extreme users)?

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Insights after a session with Revealing Reality

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Front cover mock up

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Project Canvas

By the end of the second day we had formed a more holistic picture of our team projects through the ‘How Might we’ questions (recommended by the Harvard Business Review), a front page newspaper mockup of what the possible solution could look like. These were all tools to enable us to populate our project canvas and move forward speculatively to the ideation stage of the project.

Daniel also placed emphasis on us understanding the importance of design research and how it was different from ‘classic’ or ‘market’ design research. There is always a need for both while developing product for a consumer group, Design research was more qualitative in nature, could be micro/macro and subjective to the user. Classic or market research, which comprises statistics and quantitative analysis of generic user groups is something that can be applied after insight generation and application of design research methods.

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How might we questions

The third and final day of the teaching and interaction bit of the workshop comprised further reframing and contextualisation of our challenges. We explored the colourful rose-bud-thorn method we clustered our insights into strength(pink), weakness(blue) and opportunity post its. These helped to form a roadway into the big ideas or solution areas we could possibly address. The tools we used in the session that followed was brainstorming and the difficulty matrix. Our ideas, insights and understanding of the project seemed to elevate with the help of these tools and by the end of the third day we had managed to successfully get a descriptive idea of multiple touch points that we wanted our service to access, frequently used by our target audience group.

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Rose-thorn-bud

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Brainstorming

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The Difficulty Matrix

Our presentation at the end was a definitive process and how we arrived at the product. We also showed a conceptual cycle of the various touch points the service intended to cover and a service blueprint of the service- covering the various stages of the B2B idea including tie ups, packaging, distribution and final outcome. Winning a commendation out of the 6 teams for our efforts was a cherry on the cake but the entire experience with Design Council was one of the best learning stints while doing my masters in UAL. It also gave me a taste of successful collaboration and how there was always a chance of creating something greater in a team when a set of dedicated individuals put their heads together.

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Prototype of our envisaged service

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The team with the commendations

Design Council Website: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/