seattle design festival: mobile PARTICIPATORY DESIGN SPACE

Having a voice in a cities growth should be an easy process accessible to all in a true democracy. Instead, it can be a confusing and discouraging process, not often resulting in success. Tellous sponsors and leads interdisciplinary teams of students from the University of Washington to use design thinking to boost civic engagement.


Tellous organized and sponsored a multidisciplinary group of students across UW’s arts, design, psychology, and engineering majors to look at the challenge of displacement within vulnerable populations as a result of Seattle’s housing shortage. I lead the students on a 2 month exploration of participatory design and we conducted user research with both the neighborhood dwellers and those experiencing homelessness across Seattle.



The current civic climate overlooks the voices of many community members. The need to interact directly with city hall can present logistical and other barrier issues for many people—the homeless, elderly, non-native speakers, renters, artists, or really anyone who doesn’t feel welcome or included. Our team wanted to go to the people to engage them directly in the city design process. Continued work in this area is important, before Seattle loses the things that have made it special.


The team began developing a toolkit to facilitate a better flow of communication between policy makers and community members. Our result is a concept for a mobile design research space—a participation-based movable space that encourages individuals to contribute opinions and have discussions with their neighbors in via their local communities.

The students and I spent summer quarter researching the practice of participatory design, speaking with experts on displacement and its effects on the homeless population and also the effect it has on the availability of creative workspaces. We engaged the people of Seattle’s Occidental Park directly, inviting them individually to the design festival and undertaking some initial design exercises together.