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BlackBerry Student Project 2013

Cultural Interfaces

Digital devices tend to have the same interfaces despite being used for distinct purposes in distinct cultural settings, and by diverse user groups. The project explored how cultural differences could be accounted for, asking the research question:

“How can digital technology address different cultural activities, aspirations and attitudes?”

Chris McGinley and Cristina Gorzanelli from the Age & Ability Research Lab at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design ran an eight-week project in collaboration with BlackBerry®, leading maker of smartphones, headquartered in Canada.

Twenty-five Masters students of the Royal College of Art from the three departments of Service Design, Visual Communication and Information Experience Design created five cross-disciplinary teams. Each self-formed team was paired with a different cultural group based in London at a launch event where a representative introduced their group and the challenges they face.

The process
Using the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s people-centred design approach, the students developed their projects using the ‘double-diamond’ design process model. This was developed by the Design Council in 2005 as a simple graphical way of describing the design process.

Divided into four phases, Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver, it maps the divergent and convergent stages of the design process, showing the different modes of thinking that designers use.

Diagram of the double diamond process showing four phases
Double Diamond model

Each phase took place over a two-week period, the full project running for eight weeks.

During the discover phase, teams were asked to observe, meet and hold conversations with their partner cultural group, and to explore their activities, aspiration and attitudes. In the second phase, define, students created and curated more in-depth insights based on the brief, selecting a leading concept area. The develop phase saw development and prototyping of this, and the exploration of creative propositions with the partner group. The last phase, deliver, involved testing, development and communication of the final proposal.

The project was developed around exploration, experimentation and co-creation with the groups and the way people engage with their local community. The design process was driven and concepts verified through research techniques including interviews, workshops and onsite group sessions involving community members, community leaders and gatekeepers.