The Comuzi Journal
Published in

The Comuzi Journal

COMUZI: Radical Creativity

Written by: James Egbuonu, Akil Benjamin

What my desk looks like

At Comuzi we operate under a philosophy of radicalism; an orientation proposing alternative, progressive choices that deviate from current tradition, not to be mistaken as a proposition for anarchy.

These 4 points of radical creativity are essential to our alternative design practice:

  • Playfulness
  • Rigorousness
  • Experimentalism
  • Tech forward thinking

Playfulness: the quality of being light hearted or full of fun.

Playfulness brings an element of fluidity, opening up the doors to a world of possibilities.

Antonym: Rigidity in how we design and who we design for binds us and limits us to only that which has been done before.

Key component: Self awareness. (having a clear perception of self, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and emotions / allows understanding of others, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in moments — allows outward perception of self). Awareness of limitations (realistic) while creating a space to be able to aspire, dream and explore ambition. The aim is not to be right or wrong but to discover what works.

  1. We can wander into unknown territories because we are playful, it allows us to face our fears. If a safe space is created, whatever happens in that territory is not judged or ridiculed but explored and celebrated.
  2. As humans when working on the edge of innovation, it is only natural to feel fear as it’s a part of the unknown. Playfulness gives the ability to embrace that fear and stops it from influencing and controlling the decisions made in the process.
  3. Playfulness in spite of fear creates an ideal space to identify opportunities, explore what works and what doesn’t as well as the pros and cons within, creating a constant state of learning and development & creative solutions.

Explore the antonym: Operating rigidly, without playfulness, creates a state of tension. This can lead to decision paralysis or leaves groups looking for comfort in safety, hindering innovation, change and progression.

Failure and success are all a part of the process; not an attack on or validation of ego but an outcome i.e. it should be learned from.

Examples of our playfulness in action include an ideation session done with M&C Saatchi & an amazing commission with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

We created A.D.A. the Algorithms, Data and AI bot with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Experimentation: the action or process of trying out new ideas, methods, or activities..

Key components: Sharing ideas. Possibility. Freedom. Removing all requirements to be right. Documenting the process. Interpreting results and making decisions based on observation.

N.B. Truth is not the same as fact, but personal truth can be objective motivators in design.

  • When ideas are created, and possibilities are conceived of, they remain in the realm of the unknown until we try them out. How we try out these ideas and explore these possibilities is through experimentation.
  • Sometimes we are scared to learn, in the same way we fear change at times. It upsets our current state, which can lead us to manipulate these results to fall in line with what is predictable and the perceived norm. We may have an idea of the result we might land on, but this is not certain and sometimes we have no idea at all. Through experimentation, we can empirically answer questions previously unexplored and arrive at a truth we can work with.
  • Experimentation allows us to appropriately interact our ideas with reality in a safe environment in addition to seeing things as they really are, how they should be and how they could be.

In 2018, we experimented with feminist conversation design, working with UAL’s Creative Computing Institute and Feminist Internet on the design and delivery of a ‘Designing a Feminist Alexa’ programme.

What is a feminist response to “Hey, Alexa — what is the weather?”

Tech forward thinking: proactively look toward the future to identify opportunities through tech.

Points of contention: It is not about using the latest technology; if we keep making new things we are constantly making things obsolete. This is unsustainable. It’s about the meaningful use of technology + the consideration of it’s intended and unintended consequences.

Example Assessment Questions: what might this technology face in the future? What tools do you really need to evaluate yourself and your decisions? Have you unintended consequences, and to what extent are these reversible?

  • Forward thinking tech means creating and utilising tech through a sustainable framework, placing technology on the right side of history used for the betterment of the world & maintaining a progressive, purposeful version of tech as ethical by nature.
  • We believe the purpose of tech is to improve the quality of human life, however tech often does the opposite, improving the lives of the few, at the expense of a majority. This is neither reasonable, sensible or practical & does not fulfil a forward thinking view of technology.
  • Partnering the use of tech with ethics gives designers an opportunity to create radically different pieces of work compared to what is usually produced.
  • We believe a failure to assess the impact of the technology developed is in and of itself negligent. Implementing techforward thinking gives us the ability to address the unintended problems and amplify the positive outcomes, enabling an opportunity to take technology into a space where it hasn’t been implemented before.

Tech forward thinking is radical because with these values you may choose to use a technology non traditionally thought of for the intended project, but it should be a robust and well considered solution.

An example of a framework to do this is Doteveryone’s Consequence Scanning framework, taking the steps to ensure only positive human interactions are achieved. We also used this pillar in our work with Waltham Forest Council, where we conducted research and prototyped new technology to create a high impact service connecting disadvantaged young people to local opportunities.

An ideation workshop with Waltham Forest Council

Rigorousness: the process of being thorough and careful / done carefully and with a lot of attention to detail

Key components: Executing the process and not skipping steps. Building blocks. Creating a filing system improving accessibility to stored information. Testing and measuring, qualifying and quantifying. Building trust. Focusing not on perfection but effectiveness.

Being rigorous in your process creates efficiency and allows results to be recreated time and time again with an increasing level of confidence and trust. There are two types of rigour we focus on:

Rigour through testing: arriving at a result/decision, guided through an objective decision making process led by consumers. It is important to validate that a prototype or strategy route is the best idea to go with, so we place a heavy emphasis on concept testing — this involves gathering users from our target audience to create products/services which truly address human needs. Operating through customer-driven insights also eliminates ego & any assumptions from our decision making.

Rigour through practise & documentation; creating solid building blocks from which you can build other pieces of work. By creating an information storing and filing process, documented work can be accessed efficiently, raising client confidence in your delivery activity & enabling the sharing and revisiting of ideas at each stage of the process.

Skipping steps and doing things slap-dash weakens the process at large. Laying out the steps, layering and labelling them correctly as well as filing them appropriately allows for the sustainability and reusability of our work, attaching lifetime value to the work. Through the process of rigour, you have a greater control of the quality of a piece of work.

N.B. People are scared of change and radical processes because they feel that they lose control. With this being the case, when you share with them rigorous and robust work from a radical process there is less friction in the acceptance of the new things you are proposing. Rigour inspires confidence. As such, we can be the alternative to the non-progressive status quo, empowering ourselves and the world at large through our rigorous process.

During projects & client collaborations we use a living deck, a slide deck shared with all stakeholders that provides real time documentation on project progress. While working at Projects by If, our friend María Izquierdo Alfaro found out about our practise and wrote about it!

Thanks Maria for writing this!

Radical is close to home

The work produced using these principles are radical because it takes you so far from what you had previously known. Radical is close to home, and is the accumulation of consistently making alternative choices from the traditional ones we make.

Tradition strategies will lead to traditional outcomes and in a world where everything we said would never happen are happening, COMUZI believe being radical in our approach to work is more important than ever before.

Practising playfulness, experimentation, tech forward thinking and rigour can feel like alien concepts especially if you are used to following traditional design playbooks, but you can break yourself and your team into it. Play ideation games, invite & collaborate with people who wouldn’t usually be there, challenge a generally accepted assumption and verify it.

Radicalism isn’t anarchy, our approach to radicalism is our method to provide ourselves with a wealth of new options while creatively solving problems.

For COMUZI radicalism is reform. The frameworks we have developed based on these principles such as the Launchpad Programme give COMUZI a safe environment to creatively explore the chaos within a problem, and deliver solutions which connect with communities and deliver value.

Here’s some work we’ve created with our radical creativity philosophy in mind:

The Future of News with BBC R&D

Smarter Phones Concept with Morrama

A.D.A with Ada Lovelace Institute, Nuffield Trust

The Invisible Mask with Mozilla Foundation

Improving young people’s life chances with Waltham Forest Council:

Building Feminist Voice AI bots with the Feminist Internet

We are always open for work, so if you are looking to explore radical creative ideas. Get in touch at akil at comuzi dot xyz.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Akil Benjamin

Akil Benjamin

Head of Research + Founder Comuzi