Bas Raijmakers (NL)

A-Z lezing Bas Raijmakers 03.05.2011

Verslag: Liesbeth Huybrechts

Visual Storytelling for Design and Innovation

On the 3th of May the research group Social Spaces of the Media, Arts and Design Faculty (FAK) invited Bas Raijmakers as a speaker at the yearly lecture series around design and architecture 'A-Z Lezingen'. In his presentation he explored the use of the exciting method of visual storytelling in design and innovation processes. Raijmakers is convinced that design can play an important role in society and economy, but not via making more and more objects. Designers can engage in making visual scenarios of social situations instead. These can give an inspirational and clear insight in what is already present or missing in these situations. This still allows designers to make objects if they want to, but these artefacts will probably fit the situation better.

In several design fields visual storytelling plays a quite important role today. Within the field of sustainable design Raijmakers experimented with the project 'Low Water Living'. He and his colleagues developed visual personas[1] of customers for the Southern water company to be able to detect what their needs are. Personas describe types of persons in detail, based on observations of real people. In a social design project Raijmakers used visual scenarios to contribute to social improvements by working with the people in the context of the 'Heartlands Community Centre'. Here design was used to visualise how people, objects and infrastructures interact in the local community. Together with the community he and his design team created cardboard houses that communicated certain desires and needs of the community. Also, the designers - together with local visual impaired people - made maps of the area. The visual impaired participants used maps of fruit to indicate in a tangible way how they walked through the local area and where they discovered obstacles and opportunities for better design of the environment.

However, Raijmakers is best known for his approach to service design. “This emerging interdisciplinary field focuses on developing integrated networks of products and services”, he states. In this framework he experimented with the technique of design documentaries in a design project with T-Mobile. He allowed people to tell stories about their daily lives, using a Flip video camera. In the Philips project 'Design for Patient Dignity' he also used this documentary technique. Raijmakers asked patients with a heart disease to write and read a letter before the camera to talk about their experiences of living with this disease. In both cases the goal in the end was to inspire the development of new services, not new technology. In innovation, the main question today is how to combine existing technologies into meaningful services that add value to peoples lives.

Raijmakers thus experiments with telling stories in a visual way to inform research or service development. He uses three principles in his visual storytelling technique. First, he wants to include and embrace the diversity and complexity of everyday life in the stories in order to focus on the blurry area of experiences, rather than facts. This means that the research should not be too strictly directed, but remain open to the unexpected. He inserts uncertain elements in the research setup to allow unexpected things to happen. For the design documentaries for T-Mobile he sends text messages with concrete questions or assignments during the period that people are filming their home life, in order to shift their focus to new storylines. Second, his documentaries are focussed on exploring the aesthetics of daily life. They focus on how people interpret their lives, how they construct stories on a daily basis. Third, Raijmakers uses differences in interpretation between people watching the documentaries as a way to create conversations between them and the design team. These three factors and the inspiring cases by Raijmakers can allow designers to create visual stories that contribute to better and more innovative design projects. Designers can discover the cases and principles of visual story telling on, and by following Raijmakers' twitter @hellobas.


[1]              Personas describe types of persons in detail, based on observations of real people.