Chris Hayward – design anthropology, people, airports and toilets

Chris Hayward – design anthropology, people, airports and toilets

My guest this episode is my friend, ex-colleague and coffee chat buddy, Chris Hayward. We’ve often had long, fascinating conversations that I wish we had recorded afterwards, so that’s exactly what this is. Chris talks about his work and training as a design anthropologist, what designers can learn from theory and literature, telling the stories of research. And we talk a lot about airports and toilets.


N.B. This transcript is mostly AI-generated. There may be a few errors.

Andy: [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels, zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organizational transformation and on to changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine, I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer, and writer.

My guest today is my friend, ex-colleague and coffee chat buddy, Chris Hayward. We’ve often had long, fascinating conversations that I really wish we’d recorded afterwards. So that’s exactly what this is. I’m not going to do any more intro than that. I’ll let Chris introduce himself.

Chris, welcome to Power of Ten,

Chris: [00:00:40] Good to be with you again, Andy, it’s so wonderful to be able to do this.

Andy: [00:00:44] It is nice. I really.. We have had so many conversations where I thought, Oh, I should have recorded that. That was really fascinating. Cause they sort of go on these long winding paths. So first of all, who is Chris Hayward? Maybe you can introduce yourself.

Chris: [00:00:57] Oh, gosh, what a, what a question.

Andy: [00:00:59] It is a question

Chris: [00:01:01] It’s a really big question.

You know, I often think I’m almost a perhaps a little bit of the poster child of that quote that says, you know, the, you know, the most interesting people, never knew who they wanted to be when they grew up. And I feel like I’ve often joked to people that I’m a collector of jobs. Like, you know, I don’t collect, you know, things, but I seem to have collected jobs.

And, so you know my history is like, you know, I did the usual thing, you know, went to school, went to uni and. You know, dropped out of university and sort of wandered around for many years until I think the reality of life sort of hit. And it was like, you know, at some point you need to, you got to figure out how you’re going to live your life. Ended up going back to uni. And that’s when I actually discovered anthropology. So it’s always been, I guess, this thing of my life, that I’ve always had this interest around people and the culture and anthropology and studying that was like, for me, just this, this thing that I was fascinated by, that’s really become very core to who I am and what I do.

And I guess, you know, how we met, you know doing design research. so yeah, it’s, it’s a bit of a roundabout way of saying it, you know, I’ve had a lot of jobs and ended up going back to what I originally loved, which was anthropology

Andy: [00:02:17] So one of the things I’ve always really valued about what you bring to design research is a sense of kind of structure and rigor, which I I’m guessing it comes from your actual, proper anthropology training rather than the kind of, you know, how us designers usually steal those methodologies. but also a deeply empathetic, a very kind of human view of lots of people, but particularly people who might be left out of the construct or whatever the research we’re doing. So a lot of people with, I remember a piece we were doing for our, we were doing for, a company that owned a lot of shopping centers. And, maybe you can tell the story about the, the woman you encountered, who was plugged in.

Chris: [00:02:56] That was amazing. That was amazing. So we’re in, we’re in Western Sydney and we were doing, you know, I shop alongs and you know following shadowing people around the shopping center. And it was, there was this one really poignant moment where I was, we were just standing at the top of a, of some escalators to go down.

And then there was a lady, in, in a wheelchair and it was a motorized wheelchair. She was, obviously, you know, this is her usual form of transport and getting around. And it was just, I was just struck by how sad it was that here was this lady, this, this lovely lady had parked in her wheelchair at the top of a set of escalators with her wheelchair plugged into a power point because there was nothing way better to go.

And I was just so struck by just. How ridiculous that was because to try to find some way better to make a space available, that would be, you know, like in a cafe or something like that, that would be so ridiculously easy. But this was the, this was the choice of the lady had. I was just really moved by that.

Andy: [00:04:01] And, and, we’ve also talked quite a lot about, toilets. So maybe you could just talk about what you’re doing at the moment and we’ll segue back to why toilets became kind of important

Chris: [00:04:10] Toilets. So currently I work for a global architecture firm called Populous, and I’m the resident design anthropologist, which is an absolutely brilliant position to have, and very much, I guess, coming from an experience design perspective. But my, my first, my first gig, with the, with these fantastic people was traveling to the Philippines to actually study an airport and then going on to Europe to study other airports. And the thing that struck me the most, one of the many things that struck me the most were toilets.

And I was just fascinated by the fact that I was predominantly with men, male architects, and thinking why toilets designed the way they are, why are there always these massive queues out the front of the women’s bathroom, but never against the men’s. And it was just this thing that I kept coming across in all these airports around the world that really made me stop and think about, I think, designed the way they are?

Andy: [00:05:13] And did you pose that question?

Chris: [00:05:15] I did. I did. I, well, you know, I’m not one to hold back and I kept asking around how does it happen that, you know, we, the same amount of space is allocated to male toilets and female toilets. And as I dug into it I understood more around the planning process and the way that architecture and buildings get designed, and this, you know, this lovely euphemism of, you know, “designing out” or “value engineering” out costs, which is

Andy: [00:05:44] Value engineering out. That’s an interesting euphemism.

Chris: [00:05:49] Yes. I keep stumbling across these things. And so of course, I’m sort of wandering around this airport and going, I don’t understand why this is happening. This is insane. Like this doesn’t make any sense to me. And I started talking to more people about it and there was this really basic misunderstanding of women and women’s needs and how people use bathrooms for a whole range of different reasons and how men use bathrooms. And it was just started to really, I guess, make me think about this incredibly fundamental human need. And how we just don’t do it well.

Andy: [00:06:23] Yeah. Particularly for people who aren’t like us.

Chris: [00:06:27] Well, absolutely for people who aren’t like us and particularly, you know, travel, traveling through…

Andy: [00:06:31] As in us, us, the group of people who are in charge of the project.

Chris: [00:06:35] The, you know, the us. Yeah. I mean, I guess this is probably one of my, you know, my things you were saying earlier about having that deep empathy, really reflexively looking at who are the designers and what are the values of the designers and the business that they operate in and the industry.

And you start to be able to plot and understand how the core values end up being translated into bathrooms and lots of things in public places. Yeah. More about the business or the, or the designer, then they are about the actual person who’s going to use that space or that facility.

Andy: [00:07:13] Yeah, airports are interesting spaces I always think because they are, they have sort of multiple levels of customers. If you like for the airport, the customers are the airlines. right. And, and then you’ve got all, you know, security. You’ve got all these multiple services that are kind of interoperating and, and competing quite often.

And it usually feels like it’s all about kind of keeping separated groups of people shuffling around the place, hopefully in front of shops. And yet they’re often, you know, locations of extreme emotional peaks. You know, people were saying goodbye and saying hello to people that haven’t seen for ages.

You know, plus there’s all the kind of business stuff, but it always feels to me when you go through an airport and you and I have traveled a lot for work, been a lot of, airports seen a lot of, cryptic and really ridiculous business ads. I nearly started a Tumbler blog of rubbish kind of business ads that just kind of said things like “Agile power now to win.” And I just think, I don’t know, I don’t even know this company’s name and I don’t know who this is marketed to.

Chris: [00:08:11] It’s a lorem ipsum. It’s like somebody literally had sort of advertising slogan creator.

Andy: [00:08:18] It’s corporate lorem ipsum actually isn’t it? Yea h no, the point being that in a lot of that market seems to be sort of oriented towards, you know, businessmen, basically, and I really mean business men mostly and yet, and yet, you know, airports are so full of so much more. So what have you done? What else have you discovered in your airport travels?

Chris: [00:08:38] Oh, so, I mean, gosh, it’s such an amazing rich place. let me tell you, let me tell you a story about, an Australian airport. And I was given, the name of somebody to go and talk to in the airport and it was actually the airport chaplain. And the airport made this really fundamental statement, they just said, “you never know why somebody is at the airport”, and you kind of go, so of course you don’t know why somebody is at the airport, but what he was getting to, you know, you could have somebody there who’s seeing their loved one for the last time. They might be there to collect a body. They, they, you know, they were telling me stories about young people who were victims of assault or domestic violence, leaving their home and turning up at an airport, and not knowing where to go, what to do completely, you know, feeling so sort of alone and abandoned.

And it just really made me stop and think about airports as, you know, you hear airports as these third places. And I dunno, I, I guess I was just really moved by the humanity. Yeah. It actually uses these places and how it’s part of their lives expected or unexpected. And I started doing this, having this conversation with people about, private moments in public places. And how would we redesign an airport given the fact that no, we don’t know why somebody’s there, but we’ve probably got a pretty good idea of the diversity of things that are happening and how would you redesign an airport taking into account? The fact that we do know there’s this hugely personal, emotional moments, and it’s not just saying goodbye to somebody who’s going on a, on a long holiday, you know, they’re far more intimate and personal than that.

Andy: [00:10:28] It’s interesting. I mean, the, the lady in the wheelchair and is also having a kind of private moment, very much in public. Right. And, and I guess, you know, it’s the same with you were talking about the, I remember when we talked about this last time, when I didn’t record it, you were saying, you know, the architects were well, you know, but you know, there’s, there’s there are more important things for people in airports than going to the toilet. And you said, no, if you’re a woman and you’re desperate to go to toilet, maybe you’ve been on a journey already to get to the airport in the first place. You know, your huge cavernous kind of space that you’ve created with these big archways or whatever it is, architecturally, pales into significance for someone who’s actually just desperate to go to the toilet and it’s really inconvenient.

And there may be a kind of have to walk a long way or wait, and they’re going to miss their flight and stuff. and it feels like we regularly kind of miss those, those kinds of private moments. You know, we’re in a well we’re in, as we speak. Now, we’re in about that probably the second week of in Germany, of Germany being locked down, you’re in Brisbane.

I dunno. What’s that the first week of Australians realizing it’s not an opportunity to go to the beach?

Chris: [00:11:37] yes, that that message has been sent very loud and clear.

Andy: [00:11:40] So airports are going to change, right?

Chris: [00:11:42] Absolutely.

Andy: [00:11:43] Probably forever. I mean, you know, there’s going to be less airlines for starters. I expect.

Chris: [00:11:47] Well in Australia. I mean, we’ve got out two major airlines have pretty much cut. Over 90% of their, their flight schedules. you know, and of that, they are deserted, you know, you hearing every day, another 20,000 people stood down or laid off. you know, and it’s not just the airline industry, but, how they recover from this I don’t know.

Andy: [00:12:09] It seems to me, I mean, you know, I’m going to put my sort of sustainability hat on at the moment, but there is an opportunity to help those businesses. Well, there is, there are questions to be asked about while in what under what conditions do we kind of bail out those businesses? Because there are, you know, they are one of the kind of major polluters obviously, but they’re also a necessary evil to a certain degree.

You know, people are still going to travel and particularly in Australia with the distances, you know, and I certainly don’t want to never go to Australia again. But yeah, you know, there are, I think there are some rural kind of questions to be asked. One of the things that I’ve noticed. And I don’t know if you have is how much, The current sort of crisis has revealed the, the values of, cultural values of both, countries and cities, but also, you know, companies.

Chris: [00:12:54] Oh yeah. I’m kind of struggling to, to, I don’t know. I’m not sure how I could quite answer that at the moment. There was there’s something just happened on the, on the other news just before they were interviewing one of the Olympians and. She’s also a nurse and she, you know, she came out and she had this really, what I thought was a really good statement.

She’s saying, look, we’ve got to stop worrying about the Olympics. What we should be talking and worrying about are the 500 people who just died in Spain yesterday. and, and I think, you know, Australia being, you know, it’s very sports are oriented and, you know, I understand the desire to want to keep as much operating as possible, but I think the public narrative for me anyway, I, you know, I, wasn’t hearing a lot of concern around the health issues. It was very much the economic impact. And, you know, I know it’s far more complicated than that, but, Yeah. you do sort of start to see these fault lines of what really matters to people, a bubbling up more and more.

And I think we’re just starting to see the beginning of that.

Andy: [00:14:02] Yeah, it’s interesting. There was a thing I read where someone said, you know, how is it during the bushfires, everyone kind of pitched in to help. And yet, you know, now we’re fighting over toilet paper. What’s going on there. It’s a kind of real shift.

Talking of values though , you know, you’ve, part of your job is to try and understand what people’s values are, what their behaviors and motivations are. and you know, you’re also someone who’s keen to have some kind of framework for that.

Maybe you could talk about how you, you go about it in your work.

Chris: [00:14:36] Yeah. It’s I guess my, my take home. Design anthropology is very much around values and how we translate values into products, services, experiences, and you know, they’re slippery and they’re intangible. So part of what I try to do is particularly when I’m doing in my research planning and the research itself is how do I actually figure out what people’s values are and in particular situations and contexts, and how successful can I actually be at doing that, given that they can be they’re so nuanced and so fine tuned? So you know it’s no small small feet to do that, but it is something particularly the more time I spent particularly working in architecture and within a particular topic, you know, for example, airports and airlines, the values start to become repeated.

I’m, you know, I’m getting better at predicting how, what position people are going to take. And I think part of it is that familiarity. and, and seeing that pattern. I’ve been fortunate enough now to work, you know, do work in Europe, South and East Asia, Australia and you know, you actually stopped to say these patents have common values within industries, which is not at all surprising , but it is, yeah, it’s actually easier. It gets getting easier now to kind of see what those value sets are and how they actually play out, particularly through decision making and that lovely euphemism of value engineering.

Andy: [00:16:06] Yeah. So having, you know, I got that kind of practice and that, that sort of understand if I’m seeing things that I’ve seen before and I’m getting better at predict predicting.

There’s obviously another side to that, which is how do you keep your kind of your naive city intact so that you’re not just jumping to “Oh, yes. I can see what I can see what their values are. I know that one I’ve seen it already”? Cause that’s obviously one of the kinds of things that you’re trained to avoid doing, right?

Chris: [00:16:30] No, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, which is you, you are trained to do it and you, you, you need to reflect a lot on, you need to, you have to let the data speak. and I’m constantly reminding myself, you know, where’s that, where’s the data for that. Where’s the evidence for that? What’s the critique of, of the position? Is it strong enough? Is it valid enough?

And so, you know, I guess I go back to my, my research training and my, you know, first principles of research, you know, understanding fundamentals of causality, you know, can I truly say that A caused B. Or is it a much more complex story? So, so for me, I’m often going back and checking myself and making sure that there’s rigor in my thinking and rigor in my work, because I think, you know, that for me is where design research really needs to be going more.

Andy: [00:17:18] I was about to say, you’ve worked with lots of other designers and we were both at Fjord and, and one of the things we did at Fjord is all of the designers working on a project, almost all of them also do research, led by someone like yourself. So you know, what bad habits do we need to get out of

Chris: [00:17:34] What bad habits… look, I think some are, some are one of, one of the ones that I used to kind of really rail against the statements of “people do X”.

And it’s like, “well which people do X. And why do they do X? And under what circumstances do they do X and what if, what if those circumstances changed?” So I think partly is specificity, and knowing when it’s, when it’s appropriate to make generalizations, but still being able to back up. Why is it appropriate to make that generalization? Because if there’s one thing we know about people is that, you know, people are, are diverse and the reasons why we do the things we do in one situation can be wildly different in another.

Andy: [00:18:20] And very contradictory sometimes, right?

Chris: [00:18:22] Oh completely contradictory. And so I think, you know, having that basic research training and understanding those core principles kind of perhaps help temper some of the claims that we make.

Andy: [00:18:34] I know something you used to kind of, complain about quite often with was this idea of people saying, you know, “no, I don’t think they’ll do that. I don’t think we should do that, ‘cause my interviewee said this one thing.” You know, and that was kind of generalized out to, to, to, to everyone always used as the kind of definitive argument.

Chris: [00:18:50] Yeah, latching onto that one really fantastic special moment or quote or something like that. And, and look, it goes back to your earlier question around to say, look that may well elicit a whole new avenue of thinking. If I think back to a project I did when I was still working in academia, it was around, online support in rural and remote communities in Australia. And it was around this, project that actually grew into a suicide prevention project. And we had one data point. Somebody had mentioned suicide and it was a project with rural women. And normally, you know, it’s very easy to miss that data point, but it was like, we just, that’s really interesting what’s that about?

So we actually went and investigated it further and that actually became an enormous project and uncovered this swathe of, you know, mental health issues in rural and remote communities. That was one data point in a previous project.

Andy: [00:19:49] But it was something interesting enough to kind of think, Oh, there’s, there’s something I want to tag on here and kind of see where this goes.

Chris: [00:19:56] Absolutely. And you know, so being good, curious people, you know, we dug further and, yes, we found this deep well of, of need in the community. And so I think, you know, I guess the message from, from my perspective is those points are great though, that those stories are really interesting. Use them to spur your creativity, but be careful how much weight you give them.

Andy: [00:20:21] Yeah. Everyone biases towards the interviews that they did themselves.

Chris: [00:20:24] Of course, of course. Because it’s the data you’re most familiar with and you’ve got all the other information that sits around that that’s often very hard to share with the rest of your team. So, so again…

Andy: [00:20:35] The sort of human connection stuff.

Chris: [00:20:37] Yeah. So, so I think about, I think about interviews I’ve done with, other people in high stress work environments. And you know, I just, I’m always struck by the willingness of people to share deeply personal moments and experiences in their lives. And I think the challenge when you’re looking at large groups of people is to not get too swayed by those deeply emotional moments, but to also not be inhuman to what they are.

Andy: [00:21:13] Yeah, but there’s definitely a kind of aggregate temperature that you can take, I think, of those emotions. And the project that I think you’re referring to, that we can’t actually talk about, had an awful lot of high emotions of people and very kind of higher stress jobs doing, a job of kind of real service as well. and them and their spouses and their families actually also took quite a lot of brunt of things. And I think over the course of that other each story, I mean, there were some really kind of, emotional stories, but you got a sense of the temp, the emotional temperature is kind of at this level if you aggregate across. It’s not just kind of one or two people getting upset about this, there’s a kind of a whole level of stress and anxiety.

Chris: [00:21:56] One of the things that helped us do was to understand how normalized that had become within that group of people and actually revealing back to them to say, actually, do you understand how stressful this situation is?

Because it has become so normalized. And also because of the nature of the, the industry to, to, to react to that, to show any emotional response as a sign of weakness.

Andy: [00:22:22] That’s right. A lot of them were sort of, this is what, this is what the job’s about and it, but it didn’t, in this particular case, it didn’t actually have to be. I wish we could reveal what it is.

Chris: [00:22:31] Absolutely. And it was, I think the thing that really annoys me about so many things in life is the absolute, unnecessary things we do or create, you know, these, these rules that are completely arbitrary. That are no longer useful or relevant and that we become slaves to.

Andy: [00:22:48] Yeah. Yeah. That was a lot of that stress was driven by and fairly, it wasn’t even an arbitrary, bureaucracy, it was kind of reinterpreted multiple times bureaucracy. So the original intent of it with loft, a couple more questions. One of the things that you, put me on to was the, the book from notes to narrative by Kristen Ghodsee. Part of the work you do, and the job you do is to gather these stories, but also then to tell them back in a convincing way. What would you say are sort of some of the most important aspects of that and, you know, maybe referring back to Ghodsee’s book?

Chris: [00:23:21] Oh, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting for me at the moment, because I I’m, I’m not doing quite as much of the really, I guess the rich ethnographic work as much as I used to do it for yours, but I think one of the things.

You know, I feel we actually had a lot of, we had a, such a diversity of projects, you know, from very, you know, grassroots, you know, sporting projects through to very corporate ones and retelling those stories. I think that my, my job was to help people. Have a genuine appreciation and understanding for somebody else’s way of life.

And, yeah, but you know, the word empathy it’s great, but I guess I probably try to take a little more of perhaps an academic approach to that, which is my job is to faithfully translate and share somebody else’s worldview and how they see the world. And I think the storytelling part is really critical to that.

You know, I feel like I’m just sort of saying all the usual stuff, but I, you know, I think that story of the lady in the wheelchair, one photo, one photo, and the context around that, you know, you could see the client’s face, everybody in the room is like going that’s so unacceptable. That’s so unacceptable. In fact, it was just the simplicity of that that was so powerful.

Andy: [00:24:49] Yeah, I think it’s often the case that the, you need to find the kind of one thing that becomes an avatar for everything else. As long as that, it doesn’t just become about fixing that one thing as long as you can keep it as a, as this is, this is the signifier for all the rest, this kind of system that’s gone out of whack.

But we have

Chris: [00:25:05] to go back and understand so why was that ever acceptable and what situations or decisions happened that that was ever considered a suitable solution? And so, you know, I think again, for me I keep coming back to understanding the values of the decision makers, the, you know, the people involved, because if our rule of thumb is values drive behavior, then if I don’t understand those values, how are we going to shift those to perhaps make a different decision in the future?

Andy: [00:25:36] Yeah, I just interviewed Jeff Sussna and he has this whole thing about services being a chain of promises. And it’s a really, really interesting kind of way of thinking about it, of different people, promising different people stuff but he talked about, you know, how we will promise each other stuff, like your teenager says, I’m going to tidy my room and then, and then doesn’t. Sort of implicit in the way he was describing it was this idea that promises quite often get broken. So, you know, sort of unpacking where the chain kind of breaks down and why it was kind of interesting, but when you then reveal that story back to say to the client, you definitely probably have that moment of “well, that’s not what we ever intended”, but their value system or they were kind of looking in the other direction at something else. And so it becomes an unintended consequence.

Chris: [00:26:21] Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, I try to go into all of these situations that everybody has, has the best interest of people at heart.

You know, I, I generally don’t believe that the, these things are deliberately done. And I think that is the job of the, of the design researcher, the design anthropologists, the human centered designer is to continually help people reflect and reveal that human scale of how people actually, whether they they’re experiencing a digital service or a physical place and, you know, when you, when you walk through an airport and you think about what are the things that people remember? You know, it’s, it’s the little things, right? It’s a little things. Could I find the toilet? Was the toilet clean?. Could I buy a meal that I’m not being price gouged? You know, the architect is wonderful, but it’s also the, the very human scale at the little things that’s what people will remember.

Andy: [00:27:19] Yeah. Yeah. No one really goes through an airport and kind of afterwards, goes “I just, I just loved the architecture and I, it made me ignore all the rest of the other stuff.”

Chris: [00:27:29] Well I’m yet to hear it. I’m yet to hear it.

Andy: [00:27:32] Okay. Yeah. I’m always a bit sad whenever I got to Stansted Airport in the UK, it’s the kind of London’s third airport, but it isn’t really, it’s like an hour away. Yeah. and it was, now can’t remember Richard Rogers on Norman Foster, one of the two, building. And when I first went there years and years ago, it was kind of this huge open space. And it’s got this kind of pillars holding up this kind of giant ceiling and actually kind of quite, quite pleasant. And then, now they’ve just filled it and filled it and filled it and filled it with shops mostly, but also just lanes and lanes and lanes of queueing it’s the most awful kind of nightmare.

Chris: [00:28:05] Well, you put me onto the book, How Buildings Learn.

Andy: [00:28:09] Yeah, that’s one of my favorites

Chris: [00:28:11] And I love that book because you know, obviously still being fairly new to the architecture industry. it’s really changed the way I look at places and how I try to understand why are people doing the things that they’re doing and how has the building actually changed over time? And particularly, you know when you look at some very old airports and they’ve obviously had to respond to different security threats and things like that. And, you know, you can see these amazing what were once these absolutely amazingly designed places that have been, so co-opted to serve the needs of, you know, of the security services or whoever, it’s interesting.

Andy: [00:28:52] One of my favorite ones is in Gothenburg airport in in Sweden. And if you go to through security, particularly in the States, some particularly in LAX or something, you know, or New York, you, It’s like going to penitentiary, right? It’s all sort of gray and you’ve got these kind of TSA offices sort of barking at you or kind of making these sort of stupid. They’ve all been taught, given assertiveness training or something, you know, “I need you to do this and I need you to do that”. And, you know, and all that stuff. And in Gothenburg, they clad all the machines and kind of wood and gave really nice sort of benches so you could sit down if you have to take off your shoes and stuff, and it’s the ceilings really kind of got this nice decoration to, just to soften the whole thing.

And they said, you know, you could still be secure without it sort of coming off, like you’re going to prison. And in fact, you know, it’s, it’s, it feels, it’s a bit of a cliche to say, a little bit bad saying about a Swedish airport, but it does feel like a kind of Ikea space where you can go through it and you feel like ““oh, this is actually quite nice. And of course everyone’s less stressed. It dials down on the kind of whole angstiness and stuff and the aggression. And everyone’s probably more cooperative I imagine, as a result.

And, you know, the, the mention of the couple of books we’ve talked about as your mind, give me of something, which is, you know, we talk about interviews so much in, In design research, but there’s a whole lot of other stuff you’ve already talked about observation, but one of the other things is the literature.

And I think, you know, you always talk about go back to the literature because there’s bound to have been someone who’s studied this whole area.

Chris: [00:30:18] Oh, completely, completely. I mean, there’s just so much has been written about. I mean, it feels like every, every topic under the sun, you know they may not be exactly about your particular place, but you know, quite often the topics that, you know, I’m engaged to go and research, have been researched and written about by many people from many different cultures and, and industry and disciplinary perspectives. And there is so much that you can learn before you go out into the field. But again, you do have to, we do need to practice holding that information lightly. You know, because again your job is to go out with an open mind, but it’s not to go out with an empty mind.

Andy: [00:31:03] But it can help you kind of give you some direction, right? The landscape.

Chris: [00:31:06] Oh absolutely. I’d never, I’d never done any, primary research in an airport before and so I, you know, obviously I needed to, I guess, arm myself intellectually, with, you know, what are these places and what have people written about them? And I, you know, I see a huge amount of parallels between, you know, design research and academic research, you know, I don’t necessarily see them as different.

And the same rigorous she going through. I think if we applied more of that, and you know, looking at the literature, I think we would actually progress our research a lot more quickly. One of the things I used to find really, you know, quite frustrating when I first got into design was in community development you know, there’s huge amounts of being written about co-design. You know, dating back to the sort of the fifties. And, and there’s this wealth of knowledge about co-design and participatory design and participatory action reaction research and you never hear the design industry really talking about that. And, you know, there is many how many years of experience and knowledge in how to apply that.

Andy: [00:32:09] Yeah, it’s one of the things that I think, design research with a capital D and R, you know, the academic design research, as in research about designing, has kind of failed at. I wrote an article about it a while ago about sort of failure of imagination of design research, which unlike the sciences, it’s done a terribly kind of bad job of kind of bridging into practice.

Whereas you speak to a scientist. And they don’t kind of go “I don’t have time for that kind of theory and research. I really needed to get on with my work” because their work is research. So that they just overlay. Whereas I think in, in design there’s been this kind of disconnect and it goes back a long way to the way it kind of design gets taught and so forth and design school. But it’s a, it’s a real shame to kind of see those theory and practice as two separate things when they’re in fact, you know, you make theory around practice.

Chris: [00:32:58] Well, I mean, I think your, you know, your PhD showed that absolutely. But I think one of the things that I would like to see taught more in design school actually is theory. Because when you’re interpreting the data, you know, there’s a lot of reporting that happens with design research. I saw this, I heard that. And a few people said this, or lots of people said that, and, and that, you know, that’s fantastic starting point, but I think to really get to the rich insights, you know, having, having a little toolkit of, of social theory, can I think help you dig into that data in a much richer way to really understand what’s going on and to help you see it in different ways. I mean, I’m constantly saying to people, look at your data from, from even very simple ways to think about it in terms of gender, think about in terms of age, think about in terms of advantage and power and control and which you see, see something different in your data to explain it?

Andy: [00:33:55] That’s very good advice. This may come up to time as you know, that it’s, the show is named after the Eames’ film of Powers of Ten, about the relative size of things in the universe. And, the final question is always what one small thing do you think either should be redesigned or is, is underestimated overlooked that has an outsized effect on the world.

Chris: [00:34:16] I’m not sure if it has an outsized effect on the world. It probably does, actually. It’s toilets. And it’s public toilets. It’s public toilets. It’s toilets in airports. It’s toilets. These places are so often disgusting. They smell. They’re just, I don’t remember why we still haven’t got our heads around how to design better public facilities, you know?

And you go to somewhere like Japan, it’s like, you know, I felt like an animal when I came back to Australia after being in Japan.

Andy: [00:34:48] No Australian toilets aren’t great

Chris: [00:34:50] Thye’re basic. They do the basic job. But no, I it’s public toilets and I was talking to a friend that UQ a couple of weeks ago, and we were having this conversation and she burst out laughing. She said, you know, since that conversation every time I go out and I take my kids out and we’re in a park and I look at the toilets and I just think about how absolutely utterly stupid they are for me as a, you know, as a single mom with a couple of kids, how they just don’t work for me.

They just don’t work. So, so that would be, I think it’s a small thing that a lot of people around the world would greatly appreciate some more thought put into toilets and more women designing places for women.

Andy: [00:35:34] Yes, absolutely. Well, that’s a very good place to end.

We’re going to get a reputation for being obsessed with toilets. There’s also a whole show that, John Curran did with, on decoding culture with Joanne Bichard, the anthropologist, about public toilets.

Chris: [00:35:52] It was, it was absolutely brilliant. I loved it.

Andy: [00:35:54] I think, so I live in Germany for a clean toilets and I live very close to the border in France, which has have a very different toilet culture and for me, I think it’s one of the fascinating… it reveals a lot about cultures, their toilets reveal a lot about cultures. And I think there’s something else there because this was about this sort of intimate, vulnerable space and stuff and how people kind of deal with it. But maybe there’s a whole, a whole other toilet podcast to be done.

Chris: [00:36:20] Absolutely. But it’s that whole thing of, you know, private moments in public places, right? Like a toilet in a park is a private moment in a public place. There’s so much that sits around that.

Andy: [00:36:32] There is indeed. Chris, thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

Chris: [00:36:36] No thank you, Andy. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Andy: [00:36:39] As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter or Where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter, Doctor’s Note. If you liked the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us and as always get in touch, if you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.