Design Documentaries

Nick Marsh writes about a filmmaking technique applied to service design called design documentaries, from a Ph.D thesis at the Royal College of Art in London.

Design documentaries are a new, visual method to discover what matters to people. They inform and inspire design processes at early stages. The method emerged from my exploratory filmmaking practice, influenced by documentary film ideas and techniques.

Birgit Mager stressed the power of video as a tool for communicating the service experience during her workshop at Emergence last year and Nick has written previously about Engine heading in that direction.

IDEO has also experimented with this technique, though I wouldn’t exactly call the results “documentaries.” They’re more like carefully contrived vignettes that hit you over the head with a specific problem. In Designing Interactions, Bill Moggridge describes a video they produced of a futile 35-minute encounter with a vending machine in Japan.

Design documentaries take a more neutral approach:

We can use film as a means to explore, understand and present the everyday, and benefit from film’s capabilities to preserve ambiguities and paradoxes instead of resolving them into univocal conclusions.

I’ve mainly used video as a tool for communicating design concepts, but it’s a perfectly tailored medium for exploration and inspiration. I’m excited to see where this goes.




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