Three Principles for Community Engagement

Dazzle Island, Liverpool

The following article is a synopsis by Eliza Williams from Creative Review, on a keynote I delivered at this years D&AD festival, titled ‘Community Engagement Through Co-Creation’.

Formed in 2009, design studio Hato works across a broad range of projects, including branding, exhibition design and website design. Over the past eight years, as creative director and co-founder Ken Kirton explained at the D&AD Festival in London yesterday, collaboration and co-creation has become increasingly important in their approach.

This might be through Hato Press, the risograph printing press the company runs as a side project, or the series of workshops Hato runs, though increasingly collaboration is informing their commercial projects too. From these experiences, Kirton has established a set of three ‘Principles of Community Engagement’, which we will delve into below:

1. Have Fun

The Facebook Cookbook with Hato

To illustrate this point, Kirton showed the D&AD crowd the Facebook Cookbook, a project created for Facebook’s Europe HQ to help encourage creative thinking and a sense of community among the staff. As Kirton explained, the project involved design, but not designers or people who would call themselves ‘creative’.

“What was really nice about this experience was that we weren’t working with designers or creatives, but with salespeople, administration … essentially people who have this ethos of ‘I can’t draw, I can’t create anything, I’m not a creative’. So empowering them to change that perspective.”
Facebook Artist in Resident interacting with app

Facebook employees were invited to submit their favourite recipes to the project and Hato then created an online tool which allowed them to draw “in crude but fun ways” the products featured in the recipes. The drawings were gathered in a clip art library which employees could use to create their unique cookbooks.

2. An exchange

Pick Me Up reception desk and wallpaper of letters

As an example to this second principle, Kirton explained how Hato had created the identity for last year’s graphic design and illustration event Pick Me Up, held at Somerset House in London. This used a microsite which “allowed people to design letterforms and allowed them to learn about typography,” said Kirton. “We collected around 3,000 letters over the space of two weeks and used them to actually design the space.”

Digital type-tool interaction

Hato used the typography designed by the public in everything from the entrance sign, wayfinding, and marketing of Pick Me Up.

Pick Me Up marketing materials

3. Make tools

Space Bus, in collaboration with Childwall Acadamy

Kirton’s final point was an illustration of how designers can facilitate others to become artists and designers by providing them with the right tools. For a project that was part of the Liverpool Biennial in 2016, Hato worked with a group of schoolchildren from Childwall Sports & Science Academy in the city to create the ‘Space Bus’, an artwork which encouraged the kids to imagine what Liverpool may be like in the future.

Digital tool and workshop excersises

Hato created a two-day lessson plan which culminated in the children designing what the bus would look like using iPads. “The students were very much the artists, we’re the facilitators and we’ve designed these tools to be useful,” said Kirton.

Kirton is keen to do larger projects using the collaborative principles that Hato has defined, and sees this kind of community approach as more valuable and important than ever. “Since we started we’ve been testing and experimenting with co-creation interactions with various communities, markets and consumers and we’ve now found a very strong methodology for doing so,” says Kirton.

Digital Education Resource for Liverpool Biennial, developed by Hato
“What we’re looking to do is to work with larger brands and larger organisations, essentially to inspire wider communities,” he continues. “In doing so, we really need companies and brands and galleries and organisations to become educators.”

Kirton points out the effects that government austerity and cuts are having on communities, and how brands and other organisations have the potential to help. “This is a huge opportunity for companies, museums and galleries to engage with their customers and have a longer term approach,” he says. “Plus it’s a lot of fun.”

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