Living in a VUCA World – The Importance of Co-Design! Guest: Pinar Guvenc, SOUR Studio (Season 4, Episode 3)

Inclusive Designers Podcast
Inclusive Designers Podcast
Living in a VUCA World - The Importance of Co-Design! Guest: Pinar Guvenc, SOUR Studio (Season 4, Episode 3)

By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins

  • Hosted By: Janet Roche
  • Edited by: Andrew Parrella
  • Guest: Pinar Guvenc, SOUR Studio
  • Photo Credit: SOUR Studio

This in-depth interview with Pinar Guvenc of SOUR Studio explores the importance of co-design in a ‘VUCA’ (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, and why language matters when designing.  Inclusive Designers Podcast gets Pinars’ honest opinions from whether bad design is just an ego thing, to why seemingly reasonable approaches (like active listening) are the key to GREAT design. We also learn a bit about how Janet’s bathroom reno for her father is going and the challenges she is facing to re-fit a beautiful, but not necessarily functional, space.

Guest: Pinar Guvenc-  is a design strategy expert, co-design advocate & practitioner, educator, mother, frequent actionist, and forever student.

“With a co-design process, you’re 50-percent ahead of the game because the insights you’re generating are so much more meaningful and accurate for the project that you’re potentially eliminating so much cost that will come up in the back end if you don’t do it.”

Pinar Guvenc– contact:

– References: 


Co-design– is an approach in which all stakeholders, consumers and users of products or services are involved in the design process as design partners.

VUCA WORLD (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous)-  “We are in need of emergent practices and innovations that can address the problems of the VUCA world that we live in today. We can only achieve this by creating together with people with diverse lived experiences and professional backgrounds.” SOUR Studio.


Living in a ‘VUCA’ World – The Importance of Co-Design!
Guest: Pinar Guvenc, Partner, SOUR Studio

(Music / Open)

Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.

Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community the more effective and respectful the design will be.

(Music / Intro)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I am your host, Janet Roche…

Carolyn: and I am your moderator, Carolyn Robbins…

Janet: Carolyn, we have a great show to share with everyone today! But first, I’m happy to say that ‘Feedspot’ still has us as one of the “Best Design Podcasts on the Internet”

Carolyn: … and a big ‘thank you’ to you our listeners for that!

Janet: Exactly

Carolyn: And I think this episode should continue to keep us on that list too.

Janet: Definitely, and especially because our guest today is Pinar Guvenc… a partner at SOUR Studio, where they understand the importance of co-design, and also what it means for inclusive designers.

Carolyn: Fun fact, not only is their name ‘SOUR’ a play on the words ‘Social’ and ‘Urban’ but it also describes their “we’re not going to sugar-coat it” attitude.

Janet: And that attitude helps her, and her team, tackle global design challenges, using collaborative research to find the best solutions. She has some great examples that she will share.

Carolyn: But first, let me tell you a little more about Pinar Guvenc… She is a partner at SOUR, an international, award-winning hybrid design studio with the mission of addressing social and urban problems. At SOUR, Pinar leads their business and design strategy. Their work includes projects from architecture to urban design to product design.

As they describe themselves, quote, “we don’t shy away from challenges. We embrace the discomfort. We take our time— to research, synthesize, and ideate — in order to generate data-inspired and purposeful design solutions,” end quote.

Janet: Pinar will also explain what it means to live in a VUCA world, and the difference between complex and complicated systems.

Carolyn: If like me, you’ve never heard the term ‘VUCA world’ before, stay tuned, Pinar will explain it…

Janet: Yes she will, and we don’t want to keep anyone in suspense for too long, so let’s get to it!

Carolyn: Absolutely. And with that, here is our interview with Pinar Guvenc… Design strategy expert, co-design advocate & practitioner, educator, and forever student…

(Music / Interview)

Janet: Hello and thank you Pinar so much for joining us today on Inclusive Designers Podcast. How are you doing?

Pinar: Good, Janet. Thank you for having me. How are you?

Janet: I’m doing great. I know we just did a little overview about you, but I would love to hear in your own words who you are and what is SOUR and what do you guys do?

Pinar: Of course. Well, I’m Pinar, I’m partner at SOUR. We are a hybrid design studio with the mission of addressing social and urban problems. So as a mission list studio, we get to work on very diverse typology of work, whether that’s from architecture to urban design to product design. And our mission also really calls for us to have ongoing collaborative research.

So it’s very much in our DNA to practice co-design because that’s the only way we could actually serve our mission. It would be very naive for us to believe we can tackle global challenges on our own. I think we’re globally getting to that realization as well. And so that’s what we’re practicing.

And I guess the SOUR is a play on the words social and urban, but we also believe it represents our attitude. (laughs). We don’t shy away from discomfort. We embrace being in the gray. And when we first launched, we said there’s enough sugar coating in the world, so it’s time to get real and be SOUR. So that’s it.

Janet: Interesting. I love that, I really do. It’s, you know, like something like a lemon, right? It’s sour, but there’s something really great and refreshing about it.

Pinar: Yeah, It’s an acquired taste (Janet: Right). And it suits well with us because sometimes people don’t understand us, ‘What do you do exactly?’ Like you get to need to know us. You know? So I think in that sense it represents us. I remember this, this was actually like fun fact when we were first incorporating, I remember our attorney being, like noticing the foreigner names, right? And like maybe, (Janet: Uh, oh), “You do know what ‘sour’ means, right?” (Janet: No!). (laughs). And I’m like, yes.

Janet: Oh my goodness.

Pinar: He was very judgmental.

Janet: He was very judgmental. Oh my goodness, right, oh, I hope you fired him.

Pinar: Yeah. That might be the last time we chatted.

Janet: Oh, that’s wild. Well, let’s kind of hop into like what this means about co-design. I find this topic interesting and especially when we talk about being inclusive designers, right? I mean, it kind of goes hand in hand, but it also, I think it makes us better designers. Do you want to talk a little bit about your theories and your ideas about co-design?

Pinar: Of course. So, you know, obviously when we talk about like the definitions of co-design or parts of story design practices or inclusive design, it feels like a no-brainer and very common sense. But then just because it is common sense doesn’t mean it is common practice. (Janet: Right).

So we like to go back and kind of support it also by just like our current status quo in the world and system theory to really like go into the roots of why it also actually is a survival strategy. It’s not even a nice to have anymore. So, we live in a VUCA world today for people who know that, or don’t know that?

Janet: Yeah, I was going to say, explain to our listeners what VUCA World is, (Pinar: Yeah), and I find this fascinating too.

Pinar: Yeah, so VUCA stands for ‘Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous’. And it is basically used to define the world that we live in today. And if the pandemic, the war, and all sorts of crazy things happening in the world aren’t, is not enough proof, I don’t know what is. (Janet: Right).

So because we’re in a such complex domain and it’s only getting more complex, when we look into like systems theory, how we address a complex system is very, very different than a complicated system.

Where in a complicated system, you go in and you analyze, you call in experts. There’s some like good practice recommendations. You pick one, you go with it, right? It’s the world of, ‘you know what you don’t know’. So you need to learn what you don’t know, and you figure it out.

But complex systems are the world of unknowns. You don’t even know what you don’t know, right? And that’s the world we live in today. (Janet: Right). So we can’t have an analysis engineering approach. And if we do, we’re always either missing stuff or not testing assumptions, right? Like, there’s a great chance that we’re leaving so much behind that we’re not even aware that’s there.

So a complex system actually calls for probing the system and seeing reaction and therefore really adapting to that, and then finally coming up with an emergent practice. So basically, it calls for innovation, (Janet: Right), right? It calls for rapid prototyping, it calls for rapid experimentation and especially safe to fail experimentation to be able to implement within.

So because having innovation, like design innovation process is necessary for the world that we live in today, the only way we can really innovate in the most proper way is through collaboration. (Janet: Right). Right.

And you know, I think we love to read success stories on like this, you know, big tech person just came out with this… it’s, it’s never that, right? There’s a huge army of people creating things. (Janet: Right). It’s always Interdisciplinary collaboration. (Janet: Yeah),

And it has to be embedded in our DNA, in our practice and how design precedes really in projects and product development processes. So with that, I think just collaboration basically is the only way we could really address where, like, our world today…

Janet: some real problems, right? (Pinar: Yeah). The VUCA World.

Pinar: The VUCA World, and that’s why we have to co-design because collaboration is a very loosely used term. Like even a vendor relationship is called a collaboration, where collaboration is really not that, Right? Collaboration is, parties are involved, but they also have shared goals.

There’s like a partnership involved and co-design enables that partnership. Co-design treats all stakeholders as equal. It values lived experiences as much as professional experiences. And it doesn’t mean, and I’m highlighting this because sometimes I get like a knee jerk reaction from the design community to the concept of co-design where like, but we’re the designers, you know, we can’t design together.

Janet: Right. We’ve had this conversation offline (Pinar: Yeah), is the idea that everybody thinks that they know everything or that they can get it. We do a lot with trauma informed design, and I’m always surprised on how many people think, well, an hour ‘lunch and learn’ ought to do it, right? It kind of floors me. I’ve spent probably just this last year alone, about 1200 hours looking at it, studying it. But yeah, if you feel like you’ve got it over lunch, you know, it’s, it’s good for you. Right.

Pinar: Yeah. And also, it’s such a narrow view, right? Like, to me, when a reaction comes like that, I am realizing how we’re looking at this design process through such a narrow lens, because by co-design we don’t mean people going on Rhino together and trying to 3D model together, right? Like what we mean is authentic partnership in the process.

So, engaging stakeholders from beginning and not necessarily like, sharing ideas and prototypes with almost ready to launch or close to finish. Right? (Janet: Right), which has been the more traditional ways of this working. Like really engaging in exploration, synthesizing the data together, co-ideating, (Janet: Right), And then giving prototype and idea feedback.

This partnership is the process, and it does need to be adapted based on the industry you’re in, the geography you’re in, all the stakeholders involved, like all those are determining factors on how a co-design process could happen in a project.

But the principles are the same, right? (Janet: Right). People are treated as partners, power is shared, and there’s an authentic engagement from commencement to completion. (Janet: Right). So yeah. So because of VUCA, it’s the only way we can survive the world today.

Janet: Right. I do find this, it’s so interesting and just even in my own travels, I’m always surprised on… it’s, I feel like it’s the proper way to think. I feel like it’s something that we, in order to survive in this VUCA world, as you said, I think that that’s the only way to do it. (Pinar: Yeah). And again, and I’m so surprised when people are so unwilling. Do you think it’s just— I don’t want to sound flip about this— do you think it’s sort of like old-fashioned thinking or is it a control thing? Or what exactly do you think, like what drives people to say: ‘No, no, I got this’.

Pinar: Yeah. I mean, I think there are two factors. One being like, we’re creatures of habits, (Janet: Sure). If we’ve been used to doing one thing one way, we want to do that. So that resistance to change might be in place. (Janet: Right). But I think there’s also the myth around co-creation or co-design, like it would take more time, it would be more costly, right? (Janet: Right). So those two, uh, biases towards the process could be a turnoff, I think. (Janet: Sure).

Again man, it’s so wrong, right? Like those who practice know that with a co-design process, you’re like 50-percent ahead of the game because the insights you’re generating are so much more meaningful and accurate for the project that you’re potentially eliminating so much cost that will come up in the back-end or even like mid-project if you don’t do it.

And also that speeds you up in the design process. All designers would agree that if we have a brilliant design brief, that helps in the design process, right? So how we re-frame the problem, how we identify the problem and create a framework for designers through co-design process, I think that really also speeds up and informs the design so accurately.

So I think we need to really change our mindset about what we don’t know, the fear, right? (Janet: Right). So the fear of like trying something new, it might cost more, it might take more, and really, just prove ourselves that we’re wrong, right? (Janet: Right). Like, it’s not necessarily the case.

Janet: Well, I mean, at the end of the day, you come out with a better product, right? (Pinar: Yeah). That’s the sort of the ultimate goal here, that makes so much sense to me, you know. And especially with the human experience within the built environment, (Pinar: 100-Percent). It just, right, makes us happier and healthier and wiser and smarter and, (Pinar: 100-Percent), and likely even, even more wealthy, you know? (Pinar: Yeah!). So, it comes down to, even though it might be more money up front, is it one of those things, right?

Pinar: Yeah, and it’s not even that much more money, right? (Janet: Right). I think like compared to what the end result could actually be to correct it or to do another round of prototyping. Like all those costs are higher than engaging diverse participant and compensating people for their time. Right?

So I think we need to really understand that. And it’s interesting because if you go to a person and say, would you do something very risky or with high budget without validating your assumptions, they would say ‘no’.

But not doing co-design is basically that, because there is no way as humans and in our own teams, and no matter how big of a company you are, you won’t all have the representation that diverse representation needed for projects. (Janet: Right). Like never in your team only can you represent that. (Janet: Yeah).

So we’re already going in with assumptions, our biases, prejudices, we’re human, all of us have it. (Janet: Right), conscious, unconscious… (Janet: Well that’s just it, yeah), yeah. So I think when a person would say like, ‘no, of course I would validate assumptions,’ but then could follow that process, forgetting that that’s what we’re doing when we’re not doing co-design. We just like move on to design with our own assumptions and biases and not even realizing that potentially, because it’s not like designers are malicious people. Like, let’s exclude others.

Janet: I don’t know, I’ve met a few Pinar. I’m just going to throw that out there. (laughs). So, alright, but you know actually, (Pinar: that’s a whole other episode), it’s a whole other episode. Exactly. Malicious designers and, (P: laughs), well, but this brings up a couple of different points. One is this new program that, or program, or what did we decide to call it?

Pinar: You can call it the framework if you want.

Janet: Framework. Okay.

Pinar: Yeah.

Janet: You have this framework and it’s called, Why Language Matters, right? (Pinar: hmm). And when we talk about DEI— and I think DEI should also add an A on there for Accessibility— but, you know, we’re, we’re getting there. But I would love for you to talk to our listeners a little bit about this, because I think it’s so important.

Let me just give you a brief example as to, like you said, we have our own biases and our own things that we’re taught that maybe are just wrong. For example, when Russia invaded Ukraine, I was under the impression we were calling it ‘The Ukraine’. And I was told, ‘no, no’ pretty quickly on that you don’t say ‘The Ukraine’ and, and how it’s demeaning. And it was part of this thing that was, if I understand it correctly, you know, it was sort of to degrade Ukrainians.

And, I had no idea, right, like that that was something that for me was such an eye-opener. But you have this beautiful, well displayed framework about why language matters and, and talking about it in terms of equality. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Pinar: Yeah, we recently published that just because in the end, all the processes that we’re involved in, it doesn’t matter if you’re in design, r-and-d, supply chain, they’re very human processes because they’re driven by humans. Even AI is driven by humans, (Janet: Right). AI has the exact biases that its creators carry.

Which is funny because we, actually went with this, like, I just want to like quick caveat, when this like mid journey visual explorations started to happen and we would just dump in bunch of different words to see what visual is going to come up. We put in ‘people and architecture’ in, the words, and nothing. AI wasn’t able to bring up anything. Isn’t that depressing? (laughs). It was just like, there was an astronaut and a weird like architecture, but like what, we were like, ‘what?’ like there’s nothing that AI could come up in ‘people and architect, architecture’ – very insightful for our industry.

Janet: … that’s really insightful, right?

Pinar: Yeah! Because AI is basically scanning anything out there on that and then like comes up with a visual and it wasn’t able to find much, which is sad but true, but also a very sheer realization that we need to do something about it. (Janet: Right).

So basically, I think because everything that is out there is driven or led, or managed by humans, we in the end have to properly communicate with each other, Right?

So, when we did a publication on co-design frameworks too, like one thing we did mention is understanding positionality. Where are we all coming from? What is our own biases? Again, prejudices, experiences that might have impact, positive or negative in the process. Just being aware of that, right? Like going into any process. And then, how do we distribute power also, like maybe there’s a very strong dominant figure in the team, how do we make sure they’re not leading the entire conversation and people feel intimidated and not speak up and all of that, right? (Janet: Right, yeah).

So the initial step is really just like recognizing the positionality of the team and also who’s not here, (Janet: Right), who’s missing, (Janet: Right), why are they missing? So like really just doing a quick reflection on the team and status before going in. And you can do this like throughout the project too.

And then, the next step is the communication, right? Like once the team is there, how do you communicate with each other? Many people, if you’re working on an international project, language is a huge barrier, right? (Janet: right). Trying to understand each other. It’s like…

Janet: …what is sour? (laughs). (Pinar: Yeah, exactly!). What is, do you know what sour means? Right. (Pinar: Yeah).

Pinar: Exactly. (Janet: Right). And you know, one like simple phrase in your culture might be totally offensive in another. (Janet: Correct). So there’s cultural differences, experiential differences, things that we might just be more sensitive to, like certain trigger words based on our own experience, ability, whatever that is, right? (Janet: Right).

So, once we understand people better, that also helps us to think about how we communicate with one another. And it’s just something that we need to exercise on. And just be mindful of the principles, like on an ongoing basis, both for our internal processes first, and then on how we’re communicating things out to the world.

I think what fascinates me, with all this like creative agency capabilities and like powerhouse creative agencies out there, brands follow universal messaging in so many things, which is sometimes fine. Like in a brand identity, you want universal messaging, right? (Janet: Sure).

Like you want to keep things consistent, but then when you launch products, we don’t recognize that we need to adapt language and communication based on both the geography that we’re in, but also the generation that we’re like appealing to, or speaking to, or just different personalities and characteristics, that “intersectionalities” that people might have. (Janet: Right). How do we appeal to that? How do we make sure things resonate with people?

A great example is, we’ve been doing this project that we started mid-year on exploring how people adopt sustainable practices, right? And this is for a consumer goods company that launches a lot of products with more environmental-friendly packaging or formula and things like that. And yet, they don’t see quick interest or adoption of these products and eventually they get discontinued. Right? (Janet: Right).

So, the product is not the problem. It could be, it might have lousy packaging or labeling, whatever. That’s like one other design problem. But also when these things come out, how do we launch it? How do we communicate to people is so, so, so important. (Janet: Right). And so, in understanding that we did really in-depth interviews, like one-on-one interviews and dyads in 11 markets, from Columbia to France to Canada, and in Lebanon, US, let me see, Mexico, Greece, there are a few more. And interview, like talking to people about sustainability in general, right.

And the people you assume that might care, leaves are like composting. They’re like way advanced than I am. And like I consider myself a responsible consumer. (Janet: laughs), I’m like, ‘wow, I don’t do that’. Yeah, and then why do I even have that perception that she might not care, or he might not care, right, like that, like I’m calling out on my own bias. (Janet: Right).

And that was like a very sheer visualization also to the client too because we would compile those and basically create a short documentary. (Janet: Right). But what we also did, we interviewed people from their offices in the same markets too. Because if we really want to achieve a human-centered design, we have to interview both the people who are going to use it and the people who are going to create it. Right?

Because you can’t necessarily dump all the responsibility on the consumer and you can’t necessarily just have this very high level, sophisticated, all like insider knowledge infused, messaging to put it out into the world and expect people to adopt it. Right? (Janet: Right). So it really had to become this common understanding. So that common understanding can only be studied if we basically co-create with everybody involved, the client itself and the consumers.

Janet: Right. Yeah, I was going to say, back to the whole idea co-design. (Pinar: Exactly). I just want to, give our listeners, make sure everybody knows that we’ll have all of the information for Pinar and all the stuff that we’re talking about on our That’s first things first.

And I actually have a background in marketing, and I want to tell our listeners a real quick, kind of cute story, and maybe at some point, Carolyn, we’ll actually just cut it out of the program, (Pinar: laughs), but here we go.

So the, the funniest thing that I ever heard of was, I guess in one particular country, you put the picture of what is in the product, right? So whatever is the products on the inside of the jar or can or whatever, you put the picture on the front. And I think it was like “Gerbers,” I mean, did not understand this, and had the picture of the baby on the jar. So, (Pinar: Oh), right. So the thought. (Pinar: Oh), Right. And, you know, obviously people did not do their homework right. So that’s a notorious, (Pinar: Yeah), example.

And then the other one was, it was a car in Spain, and it kind of dates me, like maybe early or mid-80s or so, and it was the Nova car, (Pinar: Okay), and in Spanish, I believe that means ‘no go’ (Pinar: laughs). Right? So, you know, again, simple kind of like, oops, right.

Pinar: Oh man, I have a recent one I saw, the like, surface cleaner out in like the market and then it said like, ‘ocean bound plastic’, and I was like, so when I use this, this goes to ocean, (Janet: laughs), like that’s what’s happening? Oh, it’s a good way to like de-motivate me from buying, that’s what they’re trying to do. Honestly that’s what I thought.

Janet: They’re clever. I think they really hit the nail on the head with that one. Well that’s just it, you know, like, yeah. Well, you know, again, co-design people, Pinar is telling us, telling the world this is why this is stuff is so important. So anyways, I’m sorry I interrupted you about why language matters and this framework that you put together.

Pinar: No, it’s basically like this type of practice really helps feed understanding of that. Because, in one dyad we saw and we were doing on purpose different generations abilities, experiences, like when we’re like recruiting all these people. And there’s this like example where one millennial, living with his parents was saying, ‘oh, like my mom doesn’t care about like sustainability’. I think this is in like Mexico. And yet he is describing his mother, like consumer behaviors.

She’s definitely more sustainable than I am, whatever we call sustainable. She repurposes what she’s using. She isn’t consuming as much. She is very good at like upcycling things. She’s such a like environmentally friendly consumer. But when you tell her sustainability, she’s like, ‘I don’t use those products, like, what are those’? Right, because the word doesn’t resonate with her. Right? (Janet: Interesting, yeah), it’s just that, what is this, like new word that came out.

But if you tell her this is less waste, she understands that and she totally respects that. (Janet: Right). But when you feel like be more sustainable, she was like, “I don’t, like, I don’t, this is like a new thing. This is like your generation”

Janet: That seems like a lot of work, right?

Pinar: Yes, it’s the same thing, I’m like, you’re more sustainable than any of us here…

Janet: …than most people I know, but okay, yeah, exactly. That’s interesting, right? And so the language really does play a large part of all of this. (Pinar: 100-Percent). And so, yeah, so again, just, you know, for our listeners, it’s all on the website. Please go take a look.

And then, you know, you and I have had, like I said, a little side conversation about when we’re talking about co-design and the importance of designers to listen, not just to their clients, but to the people around them, (Pinar: Yeah). Right? (Pinar: Yeah). Otherwise it’s being designed in a vacuum. Correct? (Pinar: Yeah). I mean, so, (Pinar: Yeah). Right.

Pinar: Active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced, polished, developed. (Janet: Yes). It’s like exercising. Like you don’t become a good listener, and like, “oh yeah, I listened.” Like, no.

I’ve been to like so many workshops and like corporations, where we’re doing like a design innovation workshop or like a co-ideation workshop, and I would witness, it sometimes feels like, “oh, like they need hearing aids and they’re not wearing them.” (Janet: laughs).

Like they would speak over each other, (Janet: Right), or they’re just like waiting for their turn to speak and really did not listen to you. They were just being polite and being quiet, right? Like it feels like that so many times and I’m kind of like, wow, how do we get stuff done in the world?

Janet: Well this is, and also, this is why we have a lot of problems, and I can only hope that I’m doing an okay job listening to you today. That’s my, my hope.

Pinar: (laughs) Oh yeah, totally. But this is active listening. You’re like reacting to what I’m saying too, like, you know, and I think it’s important to, like, understand that we are all responsible of that whatever we do in life. Designers, not designers, right. (Janet: Right). And it’s a practice. Like I don’t think anybody is like born like a great listener. Like we’re as kids, terrible listeners, right? (Janet: laughs). Like it’s just skill we acquired later in life. So we need to like polish and practice and improve it, right? So I think there’s like number one that.

And number two, sometimes designers actually need to get out of the way. Sometimes we’re not the right people that should be listening because we don’t know what to do with that information. (Janet: Right). So, like for example, when we team up with people with disabilities on projects, like 90-percent of the time, an occupational therapist would be facilitating the conversations because how would I understand the implications of disabilities and how that is necessarily having the impact on that interaction, (Janet: Right). Right?  (Janet: Yeah).

I need the right person to be able to communicate to me in the way that I need to hear. (Janet: Right). And the other times that that person is not facilitating, sometimes, especially when there’s distrust in this communities (Janet: Sure), then you know, rightfully so, many overlooked or under-served communities have huge distrust towards institutions or corporations, for various reasons.

Janet: Or all of the above, right?

Pinar: All of the above. (Janet: Yeah). So in those cases, we would actually have trusted community-based organizations facilitate sessions, right? (Janet: Uh huh). Or like, sometimes they’re not intimidated by us or they’re okay to talk to us just because like, we’re at this like a much smaller boutique design studio that more like coming in, like almost like a mediator. So we would, they would be open to talking to us, but do they really trust us? Would they really share? Like, what’s the most meaningful, you know?

So like sometimes it’s just about knowing that should we be the ones listening, right? Like maybe we, we could definitely try to listen, we can be present, but we also need someone in the room who has practiced listening and hearing the community.

So I think depending on the circumstance is really about just like, how do we be better listeners, and should we be the one listening, or should we be the only one in the room listening? Also curating that process based on the audience you’re working with or in the project context you’re working in.

Janet: Hmm. Yeah. So true. Like, I was consulting in a design for a women’s shelter. And I found it interesting, one of the workers that was there, and she was in on this meeting, and I was hoping to go around the table in order to talk to them and hear their experiences so we can provide them with, you know, some really good design ideas and what have you. (Pinar: Yeah).

And, the woman sitting next to her, said to me, “oh, she’s only been here two weeks.” Like basically, and kind of like put her hand on her arm. Like it was almost like a do not speak, do not talk about it. And all I could think to myself was, is that, (Pinar: Hmmm), you know, yeah. Even in two weeks, I’m sure she has a lot to say. Right? I thought the other, you know, the woman that was telling her, and telling me that she doesn’t have any voice and she doesn’t have anything to say. (Pinar: Wow).

And all this other stuff wasn’t important because she’d only been there for two weeks. But it was also, I mean, it was quite the show. I mean, she put her arm on the other woman’s arm, like that was a ‘do not speak’. And this is a woman’s battered shelter. Like I thought to myself, (Pinar: Oh my god), what in the world did I just witness. And myself and, um, my colleague when we walked out of there, you know, we shared…

Pinar: like the observation to you,

Janet: the observations!

Pinar: I want to talk that person…

Janet: and now I want to talk to her more. (Pinar: Yeah). Like the fact that you told me I can’t, (Pinar: Exactly), uh yeah, I’m going to need to talk to her, right?

Pinar: Exactly. Yeah, I mean this is the importance of ethnographic research too, in general, right? Listening also is not enough sometimes, it’s very much observation and understanding context and like dynamics. (Janet: Right). That’s why we love dyads, right? (Janet: Yeah). Because how people talk next to each other sometimes is very different than how they speak one-on-one. (Janet: Right). And also, like, I remember this example like, sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off, but made me think of…

Janet: No, no, no, no, I can listen to you all day.

Pinar: Power of observation…

Janet: Yeah, active listening Pinar. (laughs). I am telling you right now, even if I was washing the dishes, I’d still be active listening to you. (Pinar: Aww), so go ahead…

Pinar: Yes, thank you. Like we were doing this workshop with MIT age lab and there’s like a room of 80-plus-year-old men, (Janet: hmm), which was a very fun group have (Janet: Uh huh). to like, have a design workshop with (Janet: Yeah), I mean, it was super fun.

Janet: Just to be clear, we love them, but yeah, yeah. It’s sort of standard, typical…

Pinar: I love like where elders and like kids in my experience are people who give it to you straight, (Janet: Right), like whatever they think. (Janet: Right). And I’m like, you’re a great co-creator. We need more of that. (Janet: Yeah, yeah). And not to like, you know, sugarcoat things. (Janet: laughs).

Anyway. So they’re like, they’re called, I think they’re lifestyle leaders, that’s what they’re called. (Janet: Interesting, yeah). And they consult and advise on various different projects. So I was asking them if they had any issue dressing up in the morning, like is dressing a problem for them? And, except for one person who clearly needs a caregiver’s help to be able to dress himself, (Janet: Sure), they were all like, “No. Got it.”

So I asked, it was winter, I asked like, can you then put on your jacket and take it off for me? So, you know, like imagine yourself going out of the house and you’re wearing your jacket on is more like, I don’t know, a 20-second act, at least for me, right, with my own understanding and bias, I would think like this is going to be quick for the entire room to do that, I think we like settled. It was definitely close to like six-minutes.

So to me that’s not okay. Right? Like as observing that was like, this is a design problem. It’s not your fault. Right? (Janet: Right). Like if you have, let’s say limited range of motion, and you’re not able to like put your arm through a jacket that easily and it takes you several times or you put one through, how do you get the other. If these are all hard challenges in like the dressing process, to me that is a design problem that needs to be addressed.

Whereas for them, they normalized it, right? (Janet: Right), like they were just like this part of aging. (Janet: Yeah). This is what happens when you’re older. (Janet: Yeah). Right? (Janet: Right). Which is totally human, right? We normalize things. (Janet: We get used to things, yeah). Even like really traumatic things, we normalize it, just for, as a coping mechanism, (Janet: Yeah, exactly, yeah).

So that’s also why it’s really important, and I know we talked about this before, to really observe, understand, be present, listen to the words, but also listen to the behaviors, like what you’re seeing, like what you saw as a very powerful example of how that power sharing is not happening in so many environments. (Janet: Right). Right. If you’re like with a gesture like being shushed. So I think we have to understand active listening is important but diversifying your means and how you’re listening is also very, very important.

Janet: Right. Yeah. I’ll give you another example. I’m helping, my dad is 87, and in order for him to continue to live independently, we’re doing a whole bunch of stuff. We’re adding more grab bars. We’re adding more ways for him to get around. (Pinar: Yeah). And he would like some sort of little mirror, light source what-not next to the light source, next to the window when he’s shaving. (Pinar: Hmmm).

And I kind of don’t understand why between the window, it is morning, right, he’s going to be shaving, (Pinar: Huh), not at like six o’clock at night when it’s pitch black this time of year. (Pinar: Yeah). So there’s the light source from the window, big window. There’s the light source from the mirror, there’s the overhead light.

And so why does he, and I think, you know, again, I know our eyes yellow as we get older, and so I’m sure he is having issues seeing himself. I get that. (Pinar: Um hmm). But I want to know what his routine is. What, how does he go about this? Like is there something else that we can do?

And I have other people sort of like boots on the ground, sort of non-designers that are, well contractors, that are helping do this. And they’re just like, “well, have you found a little light yet?” And I’m like, “no, I want to be able enough to see what he’s doing to warrant this. Maybe there’s another way to go about this.”

And I think that they think I’m out of my mind (Pinar: laughs), like that, it’s sort of whatever Jack wants, Jack gets. I get that… that’s my father’s name. (Pinar: laughs).

You know, like, I feel like there’s maybe another way to approach it and maybe it is just a light, right? I don’t want to diminish his discussion in this or thoughts in this, (Pinar: Yeah, yeah, yeah), but I also want to see what he’s doing that makes him think that this is something that he needs. (Pinar: Yeah). Right, you know.

And again, it is probably right. Just so we’re clear in case dad, you’re listening, you’re always right. (Pinar: laughs), But like at the end of the day, like, I just want (Pinar: Jack, you deserve the best), Jack, you deserve all the best. Exactly. And so, but you know, and I think that that’s such an important piece.

And then the other one was, is that when we were trying to figure out how to put new grab bars in his already complicated shower, and it was interesting to me and they were, now you got to, sometimes you got to think these things through and like actually stand there and physically kind of go through the motions. (Pinar: Yeah).

And so they were going to take off one part of the shower, and I said, but the problem is, if he falls from that? Like, because the door is right there, then now he’s in front of the door. And so we can’t now open the door while he’s on the ground. (Pinar: Yeah). Right, so, and they were like, “oh, right.” You know. (Pinar: Yeah). So, you have to kind of get in there and get all dirty (Pinar: Yeah). And it goes back to I think designers not thinking that they have the time or the money to do that, I mean, but some of this stuff is so important for health and wellbeing. So…

Pinar: Yeah. And also if we don’t have these considerations, how are we going to grow in our profession? (Janet: Correct, yeah). You know, like, to me it’s just, I don’t want to say it’s lazy. Maybe sometimes it is lazy, but also, it’s just that…

Janet: I think it, I, well I don’t you think that there’s some laziness? I totally do…

Pinar: I think there has to be, there has to be. Like the budget, I feel like for a creative person, it’s an excuse sometimes where like some things, I mean, yeah, you didn’t have like written out, spelled out in your scope of work that you will sit in a shower for half an hour to like understand something.

But it is necessary like for you to really just do better design. And I don’t want this like also become an excuse for people. Yes, like inclusive design is not universal design. Inclusive design is one size fits one, right? So it’s really inclusive of the person’s needs. And the idea is that as you design for the edge case, you would actually include a broader audience.

But also it is very important to understand that— I mean we get excited about AI and technology, but like with growing technology— that’s going to help this also scale, right? So because the biggest criticism we get, well its such custom work. How are we going to scale this? (Janet: Right). Like, there’s no way we’re going to be inclusive, but that’s only because of our own limitation. Like how many factors (Janet: Right), or restrictions (Janet: Yeah), in the design brief. (Janet: Mm-hmm), our brains can manage on its own. (Janet: Uh-huh). Like if you have like 20 things we need to watch out for, we’re already like, ‘no way, let’s eliminate 10 of that’. (Janet: laughs).

But this is actually the excitement I have around AI where, well, a machine is going to do all those considerations for you now, right? There’s a lot of conversation around participatory design in order to create inclusive AI. But I think we also need to discuss more and more the reverse where like how AI will actually empower inclusive design. We’re actually working with Nvidia and WPP on a simulator…

Janet: Explain to our listeners what WPP is…

Pinar: Yeah, a creative agency, a global creative agency. (Janet: Um-huh). And Nvidia has this platform ‘Omniverse’ that really enables us to simulate things. So right now the simulator is just a hand where the ability of it we can alter. So, I have like full dexterity and fine motor skills. We can reduce that and see how that interaction changes with a 3D model. (Janet: Wow). So how I’m lifting up a glass now might look completely different then. Right? So not to replace co-creation, but to really be able to create rapid prototyping and understand what design futures we need to watch out for from the beginning.

The only reason why you’re having that challenge in that shower is that because everything else in that shower hasn’t been designed with the consideration of those accessibility needs (Janet: From the get get-go), from the get-go. Right. (Janet: Right, yeah). Exactly right.

So you’re adapting it. You’re trying to hack it to make it work, (Janet: Sure), and that’s challenging. (Janet: It is challenging. Yeah. Thank you. laughs). So, in that sense. Yeah, it’s super challenging… (Janet: Thank you for that. Right). Jack? If you heard us Jack, (Janet: Jack), Janet is trying (Janet: I’m trying).

Janet: (laughs). I know. Well, but there’s a lot to be said for that (Pinar: Yeah), and yeah, well, without going into that particular rabbit hole, I’m sorry I interrupted you…

Pinar: No, no, no, it’s basically like we need to go through that experience personally as designers ourselves, in order to understand “Well, okay, how do we scale this? How do we iterate this design process more frequently, so we include more and more,” right?

So unless we go through that, like suffering of like, I don’t want to say suffering, it could sometimes be fun, but also sitting in the shower for 30-minutes maybe is not fun. (Janet: Right). We need to go through that experience to generate the insights into like ‘how do we go, like evolve from here, like how do we grow’? (Janet: Right). So it is necessary for all designers to go through that.

Janet: It is necessary. Well, in a true way to be very transparent here, I actually have taken a shower in that bathroom, and it’s just, the design, it was kind of done sort of like in the late nineties, but like even that, it was just a poor design. I mean, they didn’t even have a place to put your towels. Like, ‘Why? What, what, what? Hello?’ I didn’t even realize that until like I’m standing there looking around and I’m like, ‘Why isn’t there, like a, like something’… (laughs)

Pinar: Exactly. Well, I feel like I see, would see that in 2022 in New York City. You know, I don’t think it’s like about the era, I think it’s the construction industry.

Janet: I think it was, right. They were like, “what evs” (Pinar: And our industry in general, yeah), what evs, not a big deal. (Pinar: “What evs, by code, we’re like complying with code”). By code, we don’t need a towel rack. Exactly. (Pinar: Exactly). We’re good. (Pinar: Base line). I mean, it’s, it’s a beautiful bathroom, but it’s just, I mean, it’s just really not very functional. (Pinar: Yeah).

So I know we’re kind of coming to the end of our time together. I think, I don’t want to say goodbye to you Pinar just yet. (Pinar: laughs). So I was hoping like, you know, do you want to talk a little bit about Open Style Lab? Is that something you guys want to talk about?

Pinar: Yeah, I mean, I personally, I serve on the board of Open Style Lab and leading strategic partnerships there. And Open Style Lab is a non-profit organization that was initiated at MIT and now is based in New York City with the mission to make style accessible for people of all abilities.

And, with that, it’s also a great case study. And I think in itself it has been an organization that really inspired the design industry on what co-creation can look like.

Because, even at its like origin at MIT when it started as a social service project, it brought together occupational or physical therapists, engineers, and designers with people with disabilities to co-create together throughout a course of a 10-week to find inclusive solutions. So that model, I think, became an example to so many industries in so many different ways that I’m very proud of the team there and just to be part of it.

And I personally learned from it so much. so, so much. (Janet: Wow). And I think even like at SOUR, we learned it’s more about how co-creation can be practiced than anything else. And yeah, for the listeners, if you want to check it out, our most recent summer program in 2022 was sponsored by Genentech, where it was all co-created with the SMA community.

And thanks to Genentech and, big pharma money, we had, (laughs), we actually was able to showcase that co-creation during fashion week in New York Fashion Week. (Janet: How cool). So, it was the first fashion show of the week two, (Janet: Yeah), which really anchored the conversation. (Janet: Wow), and if you Google it, you would be able to find information on that. (Janet: Yeah). And, the intelligence built in, in all the garments that you wouldn’t even know it unless you read about it. So yeah, I encourage everyone to check it out.

Janet: Yeah. Well, again, we’ll have the link on our website,, for sure, but I just thought I would ask you about it. Like that sounds just quite amazing. Pinar, is there anything that you want to add; is there anything else that you feel like we’re missing? Is there something that you’re like, ‘you know what, I really need to say this part’ about designers and co-designing and collaboration, and is there anything else, any kind of other notes you want to hit on?

Pinar: I guess quickly I can talk about a good to have attitude to practice co-design…

Janet: …like a bad attitude. I couldn’t help myself. I could not help myself. (Pinar: Just be sour). Sour, yes. There you go. That’s great.

Pinar: Key words, like really first, like, we talk about reflexivity, like reflecting on yourself and always, right, like to do a self-check. It’s good for your own personal mental health, but it’s also good for your practice. Also keeping an elastic attitude. And what I mean by that is like knowing that your teams might need to stretch based on the project you’re working on.

Sometimes we have project teams that are bigger than our own studio team just because we have to bring in the right people for a project. So practicing that elasticity for each project I think is important.

And a little bit of being agnostic. And I don’t mean it in a religious way, although that’s totally up to you if you want to do that. I mean it more like an outcome agnostic. Of course we have client briefs and commissions and sometimes very clear asks, but also, we need to understand that throughout co-creation, we might land on better ideas. We might need to reframe the problem, right? The discovery is so big in co-creation that being a little bit of outcome agnostic and being comfortable with that grayness is actually good for you. (Janet: Right, yeah).

So that’s just what I want to highlight. And yeah, we’re, we’ve considered ourselves forever students, forever learners. So we’re happy to like, collaborate and learn from everybody too. (Janet: Right, yeah, exactly). Yeah.

Janet: That’s so it’s such an important part too. And again, going back to that, you know, people with talking about trauma-informed design, they feel like they can figure it all out after a lunch and learn. But I said that 1200 hours, that was just me absorbing new information. (Pinar: Yeah). That’s not all the other hours I’ve worked on the actual projects for this, (Pinar: Exactly). So it’s so important to be, like you said, elastic, to be able enough to understand this and whatever this is, (Pinar: Yeah), and to really kind of make sure that you learn about it too.

Like even just for today, I thought, because you know, again, we had had this conversation prior and, and so I bought John Silber, who was the president of, Boston University when I was actually there. And he had put into BU something like 10 million square feet of new construction. (Pinar: Wow). Right, which is, for anybody, that’s a lot, right? (Pinar: Yeah). I mean, he oversaw it. He wasn’t wielding a hammer by any means of the imagination. (Pinar: laughs. Yeah, yeah).

But it was interesting because his father was a, um, architect. And so I think he had some interest in it. So he wrote this book, and I did read it in order to be more informed to interview you, because he talks about the absurdity of some of the architects that put these buildings together, won’t mention any names, but we’ve all seen it (Pinar: laughs). We’ve all seen these pieces of architecture, (Pinar: You know, you know). You know, you know. And you know, you know, when you see it. (Pinar: Oh yeah).

And that was an ego thing, right, that’s a, you know, look, you know, like this is… (Pinar: It’s a statement, I’m making a statement). It’s a statement piece, (Pinar: Yeah). Right. You know, and I guess there’s a place for that, but sometimes, you know, (Pinar: Maybe in arts, laughs). Yeah, maybe. Exactly.

Pinar: I mean, if other people are going to use it, maybe not. (Janet: Well, that’s just it). I mean, unless you’re like designing a palace for a king, (laughs), maybe that’s like where you make it a person specific interest.

But I don’t understand how you can treat a building like a sculpture. If it’s like open to public, it’s going to be, you know, used by people, like how do you disregard that? That I don’t understand. (Janet: Right). I respect all the work that goes into that. (Janet: Of course). No disrespect to that (Janet: Of course).

Janet: I think the name of the book is like, ‘Absurdity of Architecture’ or something like that, you know. (Pinar: laughs). I’m not promoting his book, obviously. But it’s interesting.

There’s also, you know, designing for human health, we talk about some of these designs all the time. And we also did a podcast with, Don Ruggles, right? And he talks about the importance of beauty in architecture and how it makes us feel and makes us, you know, happy. But if you see this thing that’s just like, going every which way and sideways, it’s just probably, again, not mentioning any names, (Pinar: Yeah), but nope, nope, nope.

Pinar: We’re not bitter. We’re sour.

Janet: We’re sour. Yay. (Pinar: We’re not bitter). Nope. It was sour. (laughs). That’s great.

Pinar: …it’s like, 20 years from now we’re having another interview, Janet, that you’re interviewing me. I’m like completely bitter at that point. Like ‘those people’…

Janet: …’those people, you know who you are’. Right? Exactly. it’s going to be a whole thing. Oh my goodness.

Pinar: …is this going to bloopers. Like we should have an entire, like, bloopers show just like this.

Janet: I’ve always wanted a blooper reel.

Pinar: I would love that. I don’t take ourselves that seriously clearly. So I definitely encourage for the promotion of this episode…

Janet: Oh my goodness. That was brilliant. So, but anyways. (Pinar: Yeah). Pinar, thank you so much. I love the fact that I have an opportunity and a platform to talk to people like yourself and forward thinkers and people who have really, some really great, great ideas and are trying to change the course of how we design.

And so I just, I, again, I could just talk to you all day. Please, please, please think about coming back. Maybe we’ll do a Pinar two. (Pinar: Aww… laughs), Like, you know, we’ll do one of those. (Pinar: Ongoing talk shows), and I, and I’ll keep practicing my active listening in the meanwhile.

Pinar: Oh, well thank you so much, Janet. You were an incredible listener, and conversationalist, and it just felt like an organic conversation and not like a script interview, which I don’t do well in those anyway. I feel like I, (laughs) if it’s like very, you know, too rigid.

Janet: Well, you know, how many times did I have to figure out, it’s framework. You’re like, it’s just framework. Say framework. Use the word framework, right. So yes. There is that too. Right? Exactly.

Pinar: Oh, yeah, totally understand. It was such a treat as always. I feel like anytime we all connect, it’s just like this.

Janet: Pinar, before I let you go, is there anything that you want to add?

Pinar: Yeah. So I encourage everyone to just like reflect on your practice today, and if you have doubts or questions, just reach out to the people you think might have an answer there. Be very open to collaboration… and be sour.

Janet: Be sour. Perfect.

Pinar: There you go. (laughs). Like from now on I’m going to wear like a sweater that says, ‘be sour’ and tees…

Janet: Well you should get t-shirts that say, ‘Be SOUR.’ And mugs!

Pinar: I think it’s going to happen. Our team has been asking for it too, so I think we’re going to do it.

Janet: Be sour.

Pinar: I got over the trauma of the, like attorney. (laughs)

Janet: Well, I just want to throw it down before we leave that, are you guys still in Brooklyn?  (Pinar: Yes, yes, yes). Yes, right. I hail from Brooklyn. I lived in, on Garden Place and Sydney Place growing up as a kid. And yeah, so we’re doing a little shout out. We do occasional shout out because we did one with Judy Heumann, like, because she grew up in Brooklyn too, or, (Pinar: Aww), you know, born in Brooklyn I should say. (Pinar: Yeah). So we’re always like, I have a little posse of us from Brooklyn.

Pinar: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Representing Brooklyn, based in Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Janet: Representing). Yeah. (Janet: Exactly. Woot, woot, exactly). Yeah.

Janet: Pinar, thank you so much. This has been really terrific.

Pinar: Thank you. Thank you, Janet. Thank you, Carolyn. It was amazing. Thank you so much.

Janet: Thank you.

(Music / Outro)

Janet: I find what Pinar and her group are doing to be so fascinating! She is, well,…

Carolyn: Sour?

Janet: Yes, but in a great way.

Carolyn: You know I couldn’t resist… (laughs)…

Janet: I get it! Seriously though, Pinar and I really enjoyed discussing topics of great importance for inclusive designers. I love her ideas that we need to have attitude, elasticity, and agnostic approaches when we are co-designing! Our own biases and unconscious assumptions really do not help us when designing for the built environment. Or anywhere for that matter.

And that whole concept of ‘Why language matters?’ we need to keep Cultural, Situational and Ability differences in mind when we design… and when we talk to each other.

Carolyn:  I agree, and I think Pinar is right that… designers need to understand that through co-design, they might land on better ideas. They should be very open to collaboration, and if needed, to re-frame the problem to find the best solution. And I loved what she said: “we should all be forever students and forever learners.”

Janet: Exactly…. and we will share the link for how to contact Pinar, and of course, the links to all the innovative work she and her team at SOUR are doing. And also for many of the other things that were mentioned along the way during this discussion… all on our website at

Carolyn: That’s:…

Janet: A big thank you to Pinar. And ‘Thanks’ to all of you as well for listening.

Carolyn: Along with all the regular places you get your podcasts, you can also find us on YouTube as, you guessed it, Inclusive Designers Podcast. And of course, if you like what you hear, feel free to go to our website and hit that Patreon Button, or the link to our GoFundMe Page. And now you can also find us on the Feedspot List of Best Design Podcasts.

Janet: Yes you can! And as our motto says: ’Stay Well…and Stay Well Informed’. As always, thank you for stopping by. We’ll see you next time.

Carolyn: Yes, thanks again.

Music up



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