• DesignInquiry: Montréal – Day 6: That’s Where I Fell Down

    Community, Communication Design


    It’s the last day of DesignInquiry Montreal. I’m speed walking down rue Ste-Catherine to look at the handmade signs I surreptitiously glued to BIXI docking stations last night.

    They are all there. People stop to read the excerpts from stories of first time bike rides. I snap photographs of the sign with a clipped version of Alice Jarry’s bike story:

    “I had made this new friend her name was Catherine she was my neighbour from two houses down in the suburbs of Montreal. My goal was to go to her place with my new bike with the wheels on the side. I remember the bike was red. I rode my bike past the two houses and we met on the corner of the street...she’s still my friend.”

    I hustle back to my room to insert the images into a slideshow and bring the file down to the screening room. It’s time to present our results from the week of inquiry. I am first.

    I show a couple of videos from the biketarian project filmed by Hyuma Frankowski. I talk about how I see the BIXI scheme as a successful design of a sustainable transportation system then explain my mini intervention of personalized advertising posters for BIXI docking stations.. I’m back sitting on the couch before I know it - pleased that I’ve finally contributed something.

    After me, each DI-er stands up and presents their observations of the City of Design. There were too many results to describe here. So I’ve written a free-word-association summary of the 24 participants’ work:

    framing baseline patterns in the City of Design industrial neighbourhood comparing wastelands consumer icons of architecture metro mapping local vernacular sporting sites food landscape button keyboard water passages design writing neural responses curating the impossible participatory design flat hierarchy staircase social active transportation eco-system city, ad hoc intervention

    The actual results will be posted in the eclectic DesignInquiry journal.

    When the review of the week is complete I corner people in the hallway. I ask them to draw out the route they took the first time they rode a bike with a thick black Sharpie. One-by-one the designers close their eyes, think for a moment and carefully trace the memory. They layer the drawings over each others’ on a large, single sheet of paper. More than one person points out gaps in their otherwise fluid line and say, “That’s where I fell down.”

    I notice that the scribbles start to resemble a collaborative automatiste-style drawing. I am already thinking how to use the illustration in the Portes Ouvertes exhibition that we will all contribute to in the coming weeks. Once the sheet of paper is full I roll it up, and also take down the nearly-empty sheet of paper titled ‘Group Doodle’ that I pinned to the wall at the beginning of the week. I’ve got my group illustration – just not where I expected.

    It’s a wrap. People are departing en masse, suitcases in hand, dutifully bidding adieu. I leave tomorrow. Today, I plan to go to a Concordia lecture on the Korsakow System organised by Associate Professor Matt Soar and see more of the city.

    In search of coffee I run into Dutch DesignInquiry Co-Director Melle Hammer. He compliments me on my sign project. Then asks me why I didn’t present the idea to the group earlier on, “everyone would have contributed…we would have figured out how to put them inside the sign, we would have solved the problem.” Hammer has a point. Here I was trying to show how great designing across disciplines can be, yet failed to collaborate on the project itself! I had a chance to co-design* and missed the mark.

    After the walk and talk I head to Cinq un Quatre. Cinq un Quatre is Alice Jarry’s printmaking studio. Jarry is one of a handful of local Montréal residents that participated in DesignInquiry, and is the author of the bike story described in this blog post. Her studio is in Mile End in an old textile factory. There are families in the parks I pass on the way and people enjoying the early Friday evening on their row house patios.

    Once inside the massive space Jarry walks me around describing what’s what. It’s bursting with equipment, supplies and art. There are two lengthy walls of windows overlooking the city. She tells me about building her studio and about life in Montréal. Based on my research interests she suggests I check out Roadsworth the Montréal artist who stencils art seamlessly into the paint used on street intersections. His art questions car culture. She flips through a stack of her own completed prints. They vibrate with energetic dot matrices splashed with sophisticated colour choices and layered silhouettes of people, skewed cityscapes, horses, parachutes.

    She hands me an expertly rendered series of a retro bike bearing an old Montréal license plate, signs it and insists I take it. “You’ll like this one” she says. Walking me outside she says, “It’s been so nice to see Montréal from the groups’ eyes.” Then points me towards shops and cafes in Mile End.

    I walk along St-Viateur buying bagels and linger in a second hand clothes stop. I try to speak French badly. I realize there was no French in my BIXI signs and I feel a twang of shame. It wouldn’t conform to language laws. I am also feeling relieved and rejuvenated. I’ve fulfilled my goal to discover some of what makes a sustainable design city.

    Insights didn’t come from the online survey I posted asking Montreal designers about the cultural landscape that fuels them and what kind of local materials they’ve tried to use. I had a total of seven responses. The epiphanies happened during the in-between times; talking on the Métro, during BIXI bike rides and while sharing food. This is when I learned about communication challenges with storing nuclear waste, the link between acrobatics and green building and why you don’t have to own a car in Montréal.

    My biggest lesson this week? We are all students in one form or another.

    *Co design, described in “Co-creation and the new landscapes of design” is a powerful agent of change. Used with reverence by innovative design studios like IDEO and sustainable design conference Compostmodern.

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