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A Lab of Labs: Methods and Approaches for a Human-Centered Design

In this book, Martijn de Waal and Gabriele Ferri report on the methods and approaches used by five leading living labs that attended the Design & The City event organized last year at the Knowledge Mile Amsterdam. Its key question is how can citizens be included as ‘˜actors’ when designing smart city technologies and services and what methods could designers use to conceptualize citizens not simply as ‘˜users’ but as ‘˜full human beings,’ with their personal histories, desires, emotions, and sometimes conflicting interests and complex needs.

In the field of design, ‘˜human-centered’ and ‘˜third-wave design’ approaches have been gaining traction. Design, according to these visions, should start from an empathic understanding of citizens and their needs.

With the rise of smart city technologies, this vision has become all the more urgent. How can citizens be included as ‘˜actors’ when designing for smart city technologies and services, rather than as mere ‘˜factors’ ? And what methods could designers use to come to conceptualize citizens not simply as ‘˜users’ but as ‘˜full human beings,’ with their personal histories, desires, emotions, and sometimes conflicting interests and complex needs?

During the Design & The City event, organized by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the spring of 2016, five leading design labs and centres from around the world were invited to showcase their ways of working in a series of hands-on design charrettes. These charettes explored a variety of approaches for living labs and design research practices, with high-profile international practitioners concretely demonstrating their own methodologies. Each lab conducted a two-day charrette, open to the active participation of Design & The City participants. They took place on the Knowledge Mile, a living lab in the center of Amsterdam, and practically teased out different styles, approaches and methodologies in design/co-design. Outcomes, insights and reflections were presented in a conclusive meeting and used as a starting point for a broader discussion about design methodologies, and their relationship with living labs and smart cities.

Participating labs:

This book documents these sessions and highlights a number of methods demonstrated. Together, they form a palette of possibilities to inspire designers, public administrators, businesses and citizens alike to explore a variety of human-centered design approaches. This book is not intended to provide an exhaustive overview of living lab approaches and methodologies, or a set of objective criteria with which to compare or choose between them. Rather, it is an impression of five labs whose approaches could help designers, researchers, educators and other living lab stakeholders to come to a better understanding of human-centered design and its various methods and approaches.

Lab of Labs and Knowledge Mile

The Lab of Labs took place at the Knowledge Mile, a field lab in Amsterdam that runs from the Amstelplein to the Mr. Visserplein. The Wibautstraat and Weesperstraat are the two main streets in the center of this area, and also constitute one of Amsterdam’ s central axes. Both are well known for the urban challenges they face, such as high traffic volumes, flooding, and air pollution.

The area is also known as a world-class knowledge cluster, as it hosts a campus of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, the University of Amsterdam’ s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and a number of faculties of the Amsterdam University of the Arts. With a community of 30,000 residents, 60,000 students and almost 200 organizations, hotels, museums, social and municipal institutions, The Knowledge Mile has the ambition to improve the quality of life in the area through applied research projects, knowledge sharing, and the facilitation of new connections at its regularly staged meet-ups.

The Knowledge Mile is also a business investment area where all organizations are joining forces to improve the work/life climate in the field of joint investments in communication/marketing, security, viability and physical movement.