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Why People Need to Be Central to Design (Laka’s interview with Katie Crepeau)

Craig Zelizer

March 10, 2017

Change is driven by people with a clear vision for the world they want to live in and dedication to make it happen. We are happy to present Laka’s interview with Katie Crepeau – an architect, writer and business consultant – in which she reveals how important it is for architects and designers to reach out to people, because… design affects.

Laka: In what way can one switch from being an office-based designer to a practical designer working with people?
Katie Crepeau: The easy answer is: get out of the office, pick up the phone, or schedule a time to start talking with people! If you’re working for a company, ask to speak with or be included in meetings with end users, clients, or funders about their current situation, needs, and expectations.
If you have time to volunteer, incorporate speaking with people into your process early on–ideally, before you even write the brief for the project. The more that you can speak with people, listen to them, and incorporate their insight and feedback into the design process, the more connected and successful the project will be.

Laka: It seems like most architects choose this profession in order to work for other people, but then they don’t have much opportunity to actually do so in their professional life. What would you advise to architects who want to get their hands dirty?
Katie Crepeau: If you want to incorporate end users into your process, then see above. If you want to actually get your hands dirty making  and constructing, then there are a lot of options to do so. You can work on a construction site through a temporary installation (like Wikihouse), volunteer project (like EWB programmes), or a design/build firm (like Facit Homes). You can also initiate your own project, such as public art, garden or installation. Volunteering with a local charity or NGO on built work is another option.
To narrow down options, think about how much time you want to spend (in hours and longevity), which skills you want to focus on, and who you’d like to surround yourself with. Determine these criteria first so you can then make sure you’re doing what you are most interested in and the organization you’re working with gets the most out of you—it should be mutually beneficial!

Laka: What possible results can one achieve as a socially engaged designer?
Katie Crepeau: That’s hard to answer generally because results are a very personal measure. I won’t dare to tell people what they should expect to get out of being a socially engaged designer! With that said, I’m happy to share my personal results. I’ve achieved deeper connection with people; confidence and clarity in how I want to contribute to the world; and contentedness and choice in how I spend my time. This is what matters to me and what makes me continue being a socially engaged designer.

Laka: Apart from other fields of activity, you do a great job helping other designers. What components does a successful project consist of in your opinion?
Katie Crepeau: A successful project is co-created with the people who will engage, use and take ownership of it–and this should start early on. I also prioritize respect for those involved and those affected by the project. This is done through providing opportunities to contribute skills and expertise, grow and learn, and gain a sense of pride and dignity through the process and outcomes.
Lastly, a successful project should have reflection and feedback built into the process and outcomes. This helps all participants to check in on project goals, personal progress, and wider impact.

Laka: Would you say that competitions are an advantageous way of both – finding the best design and mastering the design skills of a participant by stressing project clarity and delivery?
Katie Crepeau: To be honest, I have mixed feelings on competitions. Competitions only find the best design from those who can afford to spend the time on that challenge. It naturally eliminates a lot of talent so the “best” is only from that pool of candidates.
Competitions can indeed help participants master design skills that they might not use otherwise; but there are other outlets that people can use to do this. The most impactful competitions that I have seen or been a part of are those that engage real clients, have monetary compensation, and continue after the competition ends. Without these three factors, it is a self-serving exercise that some might find rewarding but I’m hesitant of it’s impact on improving practical skills and on the general public.

Laka:  We love your articles and essays directed towards architects and designers. What do you think about the current condition of online communities for architects and possibilities of exchanging thoughts and sharing their know-how?
Katie Crepeau: This is a great question as it’s something I’m exploring right now! There are some really helpful online communities for architects and designers already, such as EntreArchitect, Archipreneur, Architizer, OpenIDEO, DesignKit, and Architecture in Development. With the rapidly growing interest in social impact design, I am looking at online learning experiences for those wanting to take action on their business and career ideas. A practical, action-based community is what I’m building right now–check out DesignAffects.com for more info on this!

Thank you for the interview!

Katie Crepeau is an architect, writer and business consultant working with individuals and organizations to create financially sustainable and creatively rewarding careers. Her previous experiences include project management and delivery of adaptive reuse projects; volunteering on urban renewal installations; co-starting a community garden; building a social impact design firm; and running two blogs dedicated to impact design. Katie currently shares her research and thinking on DesignAffects.com and serves on the board of the architecture charity AzuKo. http://www.designaffects.com/

Interview with Katie Crepeau has been conducted by Katarzyna Burzy?ska (Editor at Laka). More interviews and articles are available on Laka's website: https://lakareacts.com/

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