Growing a design community in Vietnam

Community building was an important part of my work in Vietnam. For me, it was also the most rewarding part of the process. From 2011 to 2013, I designed, set-up, and ran a series of two 5 month design studios in Southern VN, that were replicated in Northern Vietnam and Cambodia by partners in our EU funded project [read more about Future Living Studio here].

Design events

Next to the day-to-day running of the studios we organized public events with the aim of connecting to the local design community. Our in studio work-in-progress was shared through open studio, design reviews, but we also hosted design related events separate from the daily workings of the studios.

Open studio, design reviews

In each studio, we organized several public design reviews to share our intermittent process and results, and to get feedback from the community. These reviews were great for networking and as user research and testing opportunities. Through these reviews, we had the opportunity to meet people that took part in the following studios as designers, partners, or volunteers.

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Fish Sauce Service Design Jam

In 2013, Vietnam participated for the first time in the Global Service Design Jam, both in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. As a part of kicking off the new studio in Hanoi, Jotte de Koning and I set-up the Fish Sauce Service Design Jam. With a rag-tag group of designers, we took to the streets, conducting guerilla interviews for our Vietnamese language learning app, Cai Nay (“How do you say…?”), a homophone in English for “Can I”.

We set up a partnership with the Brussels Service Design Jam, and triggered a healthy does of friendly competition; alumni Future Living Studio designers hosted their own Saigon Service Design Jam. These events drew attention to the emerging field of service design within Vietnam.

Lecture and networking series, Friday Open Tea

Friday Open Tea developed a rich and diverse network of professionals and students who were designers, artists, activists, etc. Partnering with ADS Vietnam Design Institute, 12 weekly editions of Friday Open Tea drew crowds of 30-50 people per event.

Each edition brought together 3+ speakers to give a Pecha Kucha like presentation on topics touching on design, business, and sustainability. Curated topics ranged from building sustainable communities, to bio-materials, to socially conscious filmmaking, to students sharing their UX designs projects. Each edition introduced us to audience and community members, who we would invite to speak at subsequent events. We roped friends and acquaintances visiting Vietnam to take speak.

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I found that the most valuable way to grow the design community was to invite community members from business, development, design, and the arts to share their thoughts, life and work experiences.

Our experiments revealed that exposing and connecting social capital from within the community was the most powerful form of community building.

The Friday Open Tea provided an inclusive platform for exchange on different topics. Community members developed longer term friendships, partnerships, and collaboration opportunities beyond the scope of the studios.