Participatory Painting: A Design Research Method?

The MEDIATIONS Conference took place at the RCA in London, marking the close of the TRADERS project (short for ‘Training Art and Design Researchers for Participation in Public Space’). TRADERS focused on “enabling an exchange of experiences and knowledge in the field of participation in art and design – particularly within the context of public space.” The conference focused on the role artists and designers can play in empowering the public in the decision making for and co-creation of public spaces.

At STBY, our design research projects don’t always focus on the design of or in public spaces, but our concern is often with empowering the public in co-creation – whether it’s for a future bicycle parking service or wearable device. During the paper presentations on ‘Multivocality, Design & Public Space’ one presentation in particular got me thinking about our own approaches to co-creation in design research.

An artist, researcher and facilitator, Agnieszka Mlicka’s PhD research focuses on what she calls ‘participatory painting’ – a co-creation method for spatial negotiation in particular in relation to the processes of architectural design. Through her creative start up Visual Agency she uses participatory painting in workshop settings to bring people together to imagine architectural futures, and has held 26 workshops to see how this method can be used in various contexts.

In spatial design and planning, architectural drawings can exclude people from the process who don’t have this particular skill; ‘participatory painting’ opens up the process to include all those with a brush, paint and paper. For Agnieszka, ‘multivocality’ isn’t just about including multiple viewpoints in the design process, but multiple modes of expression as well – both talking, a mode of expression perhaps more suited for extroverts, and painting, a mode of expression more suited for introverts. This is a learning we can put into practice as design researchers, as we often capture thoughts and experiences in written notes, audio recordings, and visual documentation (e.g. photographs or films). How might we capture experiences or thoughts through a mode of expression like painting or drawing?

Participatory painting could be used as a design research method in the field during interviews for example, to capture one’s impressions, feelings or thoughts around a particular experience or topic. It could also be used by a research or design team during analysis as a form of ‘visual brainstorming’ as Agnieszka calls it; perhaps a welcome relief from the more standard post-it notes. Looking at more participatory methods and modes of expression opens up new possibilities for us to look at how we capture participants’ stories during fieldwork as well as analyse and generate design-related insights afterwards.

See the official publication of the MEDIATIONS Conference proceedings here.
See how Veerle van der Sluys Storified it here.

Photos courtesy of Visual Agency.