36-hour Design Jam for the WDCD Climate Action Challenge

On May 23, What Design Can Do launched their Climate Action Challenge along with their partners the IKEA Foundation and the Autodesk Foundation. As research partner for the challenge, we conducted four months of research before crafting the briefs and background information package. We also helped run a live 36-hour Design Jam during What Design Can Do 2017 last week for students and young professionals.

The Climate Action Design Jam was a jam-packed, 36-hour bonanza of brainstorming, ideation, prototyping and pitching. The goal of the jam was to come up with ideas for designs that could be submitted to this year’s Climate Action Challenge. Over four workshops spread across two days, a total of 16 experts coached students and young professionals on: how to approach the problem of climate change adaptation; how to brainstorm effectively; why you should prototype; and how to pitch and present to an audience. The result was an array of ingenious solutions for our changing climate, from eating plankton to using children to generate energy.


Although most climate-themed competitions focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Challenge asks designers to instead think about how we can adapt to the consequences of climate change. Of course, the best ideas help to reduce carbon emissions too. But as climate change is already here, we thought it was high time we thought about how we can cope with the effects, rather than only its causes.

To help the jam participants understand this angle, Liz McKeon from the IKEA Foundation and Paige Rodgers from the Autodesk Foundation explained their foundation’s work and the kind of ideas they were looking for. Their presentations showed how many people around the world are already experiencing devastating disasters such as droughts and storms, causing hunger, health problems and worsening poverty. This was a helpful reminder for those of us from Western Europe: since our region hasn’t seen truly catastrophic consequences of climate change yet, it’s often easy to forget that climate change is already wreaking havoc.


Next up, Bas and I introduced our unique ‘briefing generator’. Participants can pick one of four design strategies (storytelling, products & spaces, services and systems), then one of five topics (food, water, housing, energy, health) and finally their region. These three variables generate a customised brief that allows any kind of designer to tackle problems close to them.


In the second workshop, IDEATE, we had a fascinating presentation from Jeroen van Erp, founding partner at design firm Fabrique and professor at TU Delft, on how to create a creative concept. “Creativity is a leap of faith,” he concluded, showing a clip of an action movie hero flying off a cliff in their car.

Anna Kinneir from Makerversity, a community of maker businesses, was also on hand with boxes of materials (everything from good ol’ tape, paper and scissors to glue guns and a 3D printer), and she encouraged participants to prototype their idea.

After that, teams got down to work. They had until 8pm that night to select one idea, refine the details, and check that it fulfilled all the criteria of the challenge: innovative, practical, scalable, feasible… and of course, exciting!


On the second day, participants regrouped to find out what the rest of their team had cooked up overnight — some looked a little underslept! We then held the MAKE workshop, where we had Pepijn Zurburg from De Designpolitie describe how to visually communicate an idea, using his past work. His advice? “Take away the clutter. Take away as much as you can so that you’re only left with the bare essentials.”

Our final speaker was Tara Philips of Cause and Affect Speeches, who gave some tips for public speaking: don’t look at the floor, speak super s-l-o-w-l-y, and do some embarrassing facial expression exercises in the toilet beforehand to stop your jaw clenching up!


In the end we had eight different teams pitching their prototypes. Some of the ideas presented were: rooftop gardening with a marketplace for surplus vegetables on every street; a trampoline that captures kinetic energy as children jump on it; houses with a detachable ‘core survival unit’ that floats off in a flood; an elevated platform in Dutch cities to remind residents that they live below sea level (and to provide refuge in the event of a deluge of seawater); and a campaign to encourage people to ‘grow up’ and wean themselves off eating meat just as they did with a pacifier as a toddler.

The winning team, Water Tank, came up with a rainwater storage tank for areas prone to drought. Although there are already many existing water tanks, the judges liked the fact that the design was open-source and could be built with local materials and no high-tech skills, which could be key to helping it spread.

The team — Aryan Javaherian, Pim van Baarsen and Vandana Bailur — won a year’s membership to the Makerversity co-working space and workshop to prototype before they submit it to the Challenge.

They — and you — only have until August 21st to enter, so get cracking!

This Thought was initially posted on What Design Can Do’s blog.

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