Emergency Design: Designing as you go

A woman is sitting on the ground and is being helped by a person in protective clothing and a hi vis vest. The woman looks distressed.Designing FOR an emergency IN an emergency requires a different design approach to existing tried and true methods. When urgency is the driver of design, processes and methods need a re-think. COVID-19 is a clear case of designing for an emergency during the emergency. So how can “designing-as-you-go” be done?

Designs for emergencies, such as wars or an earthquake, are usually devised before the event. Or they are designed after the event in preparation for future events. The COVID pandemic arrived without notice and few countries were prepared. Hence the need to design for the emergency while it is happening.

A case study from Brazil shows how a totally different design approach was required. Rather than using standard methods the researchers took an organic approach to the problem. It was basically designing on the run. The process encouraged the inclusion of people who are often marginalised. While history tells us that Brazil is has not fared well during the pandemic, the study still has value for future situations.

Their approach is based on qualitative techniques. They relied on the knowledge of local people and processes of working together in a horizontal rather than hierarchical format. This approach also allowed participants to see how they could deal with the current situation as well as improvements for the longer term. 

“As a path, we point out the importance of identifying areas of convergence of interests, the creation of win-win policies and the daily encouragement of a culture of collaboration at the differing levels.”

The title of the paper is Design amid Emergency. It charts what they did, how they did it and what they learned from the process. Identifying areas of common interest and developing win-win policies to encourage a culture of collaboration was key. In summary, they found the co-creation design process the key to success. It can lead to improved quality of life in both the short and longer term. It also helps to embed resilience within the population. 

The government saw the value of co-design with citizens. It remains to be seen if they actually follow through on this networking approach to solving issues.

Abstract

This article presents the process for the “Design of services under the COVID19 emergency social protection plan”, drawn up by a team of researchers and designers from Porto Alegre in collaboration with the Porto Alegre City Government, and directed at the provision of essential benefits to homeless and other vulnerable people during the pandemic. The process was developed in an unprecedented way for the designers involved: without prior notice, within very short time frames and completely remotely, using only digital platforms. As such, the process was developed to respond to the emergency and amid the emergency. In this regard, the objective of the article is to discuss how to design amid emergency. The experience was guided by the methodological principles of action research and research through design. In addition to presenting the design results: these being solutions aimed at the short, medium and long term, this article highlights the need, even in these circumstances, to aim for the prizing of difference, the suggestion of alternative views, social innovation, the systemic transformation of society and sustainability.