Design activist Priscilla Chueng-Nainby is fascinated by creativity. Specialising in cross-cultural design collaboration, she strives to gain a better understanding of the collective design process that results in social innovation. In particular, the academic explores how co-design tools and techniques can be used to design new products, services and user experiences. More importantly, Chueng-Nainby is interested in co-designing with marginalized communities on projects with meaningful causes.
Having obtained her Computing degree in Malaysia, Chueng-Nainby was thrown in the deep-end of the design profession during the 1990s, working as a design manager and multimedia producer on cross-digital and physical design projects. In her role, she routinely coped with the diverse creative processes of software engineers, media writers and interaction designers.
“I noticed that there was something different between the way people deal with the creative process,” Chueng-Nainby says. “Also, I was designing user experiences for the culturally diverse public in Malaysia. There were no guidelines for cross-cultural user experience design back then in 1990s.” This experience led her to pursue her doctoral research in the area of co-design in Edinburgh.
Co-design in practice
Based in the United Kingdom, Chueng-Nainby engages in various research and teaching activities on design and computing at leading design institutes such as the University of Edinburgh, London University of the Arts and The Glasgow School of Art. Her activism has brought her all over the world, notably to China where she is frequently invited to conduct fieldwork and to speak at conferences and workshops on the topic of “Co-design in the Wild”.
As a Design United Research Fellow at Delft University of Technology, Chueng-Nainby led a co-design workshop for the Princess Maxima Centre for Pediatric Oncology, guiding hospital administrators and design professors in kickstarting design collaboration. She is also working on a symposium that will bring theorists and design practitioners closer to marginalized communities.
“How do we research design as a practice? That is my main question,” Chueng-Nainby explains. “Design research is cross-disciplinary, which is a disadvantage, but also an advantage. When we seek to understand what ought to be instead of what is, we get to understand the theory-in-practice of these disciplines.”
Chueng-Nainby’s practice-based approach allows her to study co-design in its natural habitat. The design activist mediates the creative space with physical tools, which she observes and analyzes to depict its creative activities. Through her work, Chueng-Nainby has been fortunate enough to participate in social innovation projects that give a democratic voice to marginalized communities such as co-designing with the Edinburgh Citadel Youth Centre on the Scottish Referendum, habitat regeneration projects with villagers in Inner Mongolia and the redesign of elderly care services in China.
“Design is more than just an action, Chueng-Nainby says. “It’s a human intelligence that is fundamental to civilization. It belongs to everyone and anyone. Any good idea counts so we ought to get people connected to design collectively for a better future. I hope my research can enable marginalized communities to participate in this mass intelligence. I am the happiest when my work can bring smiles to these communities.”
Professional profile of Priscilla Chueng-Nainby
Research Fellow 2014
Design Activist and Academic