When a table rocks because it is on uneven
ground, we fold up a piece of paper and put it
under the leg that doesnt reach the floor.
Most of us have experienced something like this,
but we rarely stop to think that this piece of
paper is actually a tool. Using the paper to fill
the space between the leg and the floor is a design.
And stabilising the table in this way is a design
Many people tailor-make or alter tools to meet
specific needs in their homes or workplaces. We
call this practice "design by users"
or "users as designers". Most of these
designers are not professionals: they have limited
resources and their designs do not have a wide
reach. (Perhaps these tools are not
even considered "design", which raises
the question of whether our idea of design is
too confined by the existing discourse.) By conventional
standards, these tools are rough and carefree.
Nonetheless, they are all fresh and to-the-point,
and they reflect a great many design strategies.
They embody a form of colloquial wisdom that is
part of our cultural heritage.
The Community Museum Project embarked on this
research because we were drawn to the liveliness
of these tools. These creative works are frequently
overlooked: they go unrecorded, uncredited as
"design" (by their makers or by society),
and excluded from mainstream (design) history.
By conducting interviews and collecting objects,
we hope to bring their colloquial wisdom into
Design by Users: In Search of Indigenous Creativity
& Wisdom from Designing Tools is an exhibition
that highlights the results of a workshop co-organized
over the past few months by the Hong Kong Heritage
Museum and the Community Museum Project, in which
students from the participating schools engaged
enthusiastically in the research process. We hope
that the exhibition presents a new way of looking
at design and life.