Nominated by Caroline Hummels:


for Hidden Design

I nominate Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken for its Hidden Design method, which takes the field in a new direction by allowing innovative technological systems to arise in everyday living environments.

Hidden Design constitutes the heart and identity of this young agency. The method centres on an invisible design process – that is, users of the agency’s prototypes are unaware that they are involved in a design process, believing merely that they are using a new system. This allows the agency to obtain candid behaviours and opinions from stakeholders concerning the system being developed.

This approach frees the agency up to focus on the nuances of people’s interaction with the system. To observe it, they spend days immersed in the relevant environment. This practice departs radically from the usual design process, in which the design team’s presence is obvious and users often feel scrutinised while it carries out its evaluations.

One system developed by Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken according to the Hidden Design method is the ‘Connecting Local Retailers’ service, including the Box Management System, created for the Riantis company. The seven designers spent a week living in the village of Wieze, Belgium, labouring behind the scenes to develop a new working prototype of a service platform. It enabled local residents to use a tablet to order various services, such as groceries and laundry, from local businesses for home delivery in a personal lockbox.

The agency’s method enables it to develop new technologies on a human scale. The designers concentrate on small communities, assigning central importance to people and their everyday environments. They allow themselves to be emotionally affected by human behaviour and decline to cloak the raw and unfinished sides of life.

They rely on existing infrastructure in the design process to ensure they come up with solutions that are accessible for residents. In Wieze, they used shopkeepers’ till receipt printers to create slips for opening the delivery boxes. Hidden Design makes use of rapid iteration and quick anticipation of human behaviour, taking optimum advantage of current technological tools.

Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken demonstrates that digital technology can be deployed in small communities with great success and that the two can strengthen each other. Even an initial fear of technology, such as one elderly gentleman displayed when confronted with the iPad, is easily conquered when people are able to experience a design and make it their own.

As systems and services become increasingly important, new design methods are sorely needed. Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken possesses a fresh viewpoint and approach, deploys a combination of skills, links practice to research, and in my view sets a shining example for other design agencies. Marvellous work, all in all.

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