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Early Lab approach summary

Early Lab: what is it, what do we do, how do we do it, how does it help, what is the benefit and what have we learnt in the process?

A summary of what Early Lab is about.

What is it?
Early Lab is an early-stage design practice (a team of design students and academics) working to support social innovation.
What do we do?
We aim to help people create opportunities in which to deploy their own personal capacities in addressing the issues that affect them.
How do we do that?
In response to an issue, we visit people and invite groups of them to make things together with us (in workshops like this).
Like what?
So far we have created narratives through mapping, making storyboards, animations and acting out scenarios using small characters we have made. The physical objects externalized we call empathy tools – their impact is their tangibility, compared to words.
How does this help?
We find that collaborative encounters of making like this, in those that participate, can contribute to an increased sense of their ownership of the ideas and build agency.
What is the benefit of that?
It can contribute to the formation of new social ties that can strengthen communities-in-place and produce improved wellbeing.
What do we do with everybody's ideas?
We take them away, reflect on them, clarify for the sake of legibility and organize it all into an interim presentation that we share with the workshop participants. We then respond to their feedback before making the next presentation to them in the presence of those in their community who are in a position to help the participants address the issue that is affecting them.
Can you give an example?
In 2015 we presented to the senior managers and budget holders of a regional public UK health authority on behalf of workshop participants who were the service users and providers of the health authority’s mental health service for children and young people.
Can you describe your team?
Its worth pointing out that so far, the Early Lab team has consisted of design students plus myself [Nick Bell] and fellow co-founder Fabiane Lee-Perrella. Students from a range of disciplines: interior/spatial; service design; product design; fashion; graphic; illustration. We want the team to be as multi-disciplinary as possible.
What have you learnt?
From a design education perspective, we question the logic of design courses, particularly at postgraduate level, that huddle students into cliques of discipline irrespective of critical interest, mistaking a discipline for a subject. What we do with Early Lab is connect design students to communities of critical interest (social issues, themes) irrespective of discipline.

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