Circular Podcast with Daniel Charny - Katie Treggiden Skip to content

Circular Podcast with Daniel Charny

In this episode, we’re talking to Daniel Charny, a creative director, curator and educator with an inquiring mind and an entrepreneurial streak. Alongside Dee Halligan, he is co-founder and director of Forth, a creative studio, where he works with clients from Google to the Design Museum. Describing themselves as ‘part R&D Lab and part consultancy, small, connected and serious about finding better responses to our changing world,’ their most recent initiative is a large scale European research project exploring the potential of ‘Open Schooling’ to enrich childrens’ creative engagement with science curriculum. Daniel is perhaps best known as the curator of the influential exhibition Power of Making at the V&A, which drove him to establish the award-winning learning programme Fixperts, now taught in universities and schools worldwide. Other projects include the Aram Gallery, the British Council’s Maker Library Network, the open-source exhibition Future of Fixing and the Design Museum’s permanent exhibition Designer Maker User. And, as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Daniel is also Professor of Design at Kingston University and guest lecturer on the Master in Design for Emergent Futures at IAAC, Barcelona. He lives and works in London.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Daniel Charny 

When you think about the challenges we’re facing with the environment, how are we going to, so it’s not just about coming up with how to clean the ocean or how to reduce carbon footprints, you need a major cultural shift to support young people to even learn to think like that. So while I really I’m, you know, I follow as much as I can about all these different agendas, that’s why I can think we’d have to engage much earlier with younger people at the stage when they are thinking about what their values are, how they kind of understand themselves and creativity and you know, so it becomes a different kind of premise for me then teaching design.

Katie Treggiden 

Daniel Charny is a creative director, curator and educator with an enquiring mind and an entrepreneurial streak. Alongside Dee Halligan, he is the co founder and director of Fourth, a creative studio, where he works with clients from Google to the Design Museum, describing themselves as part R&D lab and part consultancy, small, connected and serious about finding better responses to our changing world their most recent initiative is a large scale European Research Project, exploring the potential of open schooling to enrich children’s creative engagement with the science curriculum. Daniel is perhaps best known as the curator of influential exhibition, Power of Making at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which drove him to establish the award winning learning programme Fixperts now taught in universities and schools worldwide. Other projects include the Aram Gallery, the British Councils Maker Library network, the open source exhibition; Future of Fixing, and the design Museum’s permanent exhibition Designer, Maker, User. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy Daniel is also Professor of Design at Kingston University and guest lecturer on the Master In Design for  Emergent Futures at IAAC Barcelona. He lives and works in London. Now, a couple of days before we recorded this episode of the podcast, Zeev Aram sadly passed away, and I know that Zeev was a mentor and a friend to Daniel so I would like to dedicate this episode to him.

Katie Treggiden 

Thank you so much for joining me, Daniel. It’s a pleasure to have you as part of this series.  I’d like to start at the beginning, if I may, and ask you a little bit about your childhood and how mending and repair showed up in your early life.

Daniel Charny 

Oh, childhood that it was just making was kind of part of the daily life anyway, my mum is very kind of a hands on artist. So things were made, costumes were made. As I grew up, I made my own furniture, learned to weld, things like that were not, didn’t seem like, you know, my brother was an amazing tinkerer. So anything around got taken apart and put together so it was very much, my dad’s tube radio I took apart too many times. And it was something he brought, one of the few things he brought from his earlier life. And that was a drama as the some of the tubes didn’t fit quite right at some point. Wasn’t working anyway, but no, but fixing and repairing and improvising is also I think, was more of the early 70s culture in Israel anyway, in terms of materiality, I guess both culturally in our family, but also in terms of the environment. There was quite a lot of maintenance, fixing repair was not, then I realised much later that a lot of kids didn’t grow up with it.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, so it’s sort of very much part of just the fabric of your life growing up and yeah, did you start as the Aram Gallery the first thing you did?

Daniel Charny 

I was teaching the Royal College of Art and designed products, and I started being interested in putting together exhibitions not so much as a curator but more as a tutor. Thinking about different things, issues, I had been asked to write a kind of master plan for a new design museum in Israel, and through those conversations Zeev Aram invited me to start the Aram Gallery with him to pick up on his, I guess pioneering work of identifying graduates and giving them a kind of push towards industry and bringing industry towards them. I think he was the first to do that. By the time he invited me to do the Aram Gallery, there were quite a lot of graduate shows, designers blog, the Design Museum and so we kind of thought it would be good to, I suggested moving a bit one step after see recent work, but also to visit revisit experimental work by really established people and it’s a focus not so much on the time in their career, but this idea of the importance of experimenting. And that became the format experiment, you know, experiments and prototypes became the kind of format of shows. And he was, I think he took quite the risk and the financial costs of giving a whole floor in central London to these experiments showing process. That’s how I discovered that people love seeing process, not just finished things, and it was very much about that. And that generosity of cultural curiosity and support and really wanting to know what people are doing as their first step into a creative career, I think very much, for him, it was very much about showing that there is a career path to a creative life. And we did I think, close to 30 shows in the eight years, many of them he didn’t want to do and he still let me do them. So he was up for an argument and guess, what did you say before a stubborn, hopefully stubborn?

Katie Treggiden 

stubborn optimism?

Daniel Charny 

Yeah, amazing to work with and learn, you know, everyone learned a lot. And he was into the detail which font, was chosen and which position and the lighting everything interested in him. And so it was, for me it was like the lab to experiment curating from there I moved on to the Design Museum, super contemporary and then to power of making, so I don’t think it would have happened without Zeev’s stewardship, I’d say.

Katie Treggiden 

His legacy lives on in your work

Daniel Charny 

well. In many people. Yeah,

Katie Treggiden 

Do you think that making and mending are, obviously they’re connected, but are there makers who don’t mend and menders who don’t make. Do you need to be able to make to mend and vice versa? How closely connected to those two things?

Daniel Charny 

Well, I think they’re completely connected, but there are different values, sometimes behind them. Different reasons for doing them. Menders have intelligence, material intelligence, they have acquired skills, some of them really know, you know, when we go up to the level of visible menders or invisible menders, people that use it, in a cultural sense as well. So it’s, that’s already another art practice even so, but they are making so making is  I think completely integral to mending. I don’t think it works the other way round. Okay. I think a lot of makers, they can mend, but it’s not necessarily their driver. There are, as you know, lots of tribes of makers, and some of them are interested in innovation and so improving is more of their kind of state of making. Yes, they are mending something, but not in order to mend it back to what it was. So I think there’s, we tend to think about it as a kind of axis of care. And you think about conservation, you think about maintenance, you think about care in the daily life and repair and then hacking and then adapting and so on. So there’s a kind of and a lot of these people share a relationship with making that was kind of at the heart or the backbone of Power of Making is finding that thing they all share.

Katie Treggiden 

Which brings me really nicely on to my next question. Thank you for that. You’ve curated the Power of Making for the V and A and the Crafts Council, which I think’s possibly the first time I became aware of your work, I certainly saw that exhibition. Tell me about the word power, what does  power mean in the Power of Making.

Daniel Charny 

So it really is about empowerment, and the power of making to change things and to, it’s not about who has the power, but the fact that making is a powerful thing. And it was also very much connected to a film that I’ve a piece of work by the Eames Power of Ten, which I’ve always loved.  It really does make for a really articulate explanation of the connection between detail and the bigger picture. And Power of Making was all about that. So it was relationship with details and the bigger picture or the bigger knowledge of making and how we kind of move from one detail in one discipline, back to the knowledge and out to a different detail in a different discipline. So that movement of knowledge through from detail to bigger picture, and back is exactly what Power of Ten was, you know, that amazing film. So that power was very much about the ability to create knowledge, the ability to change things, and that’s kind of also what went into the whole ideas that then fueled Fixperts and Fixcamp, it’s like at the back of that is this empowerment in relation to enabling?

Katie Treggiden 

So tell us about? You mentioned Fixperts and Fixcamp and I think the Maker Library Network also came out of that exhibition. Tell us about those kind of initiatives. What are they?

Daniel Charny 

They are kind of almost applied versions of the discussion of the exhibition? And it’s a good exhibition as to your question and helps you reach some ideas through it. And there was excitement, and it was really overwhelming.  In terms of the response. I think we thought we’d be happy with 45/ 60,000 people, there were 320,000 people and that was kind of really needed understanding afterwards. So there was a timing issue, but also a response to I think digitization, branding, a lot of backlash for consumption beginning,  this is a decade ago, the word making was very hard to get by the steering committee, the expert committee kind of went wait a second, but making but we asked you to look at craft and contemporary issues of craft and making is not exactly enough, because it doesn’t have that weight and gravitas and the community might reject it. Three months it took, luckily, I have very good people to talk to there and champion, including Glenn Adamson from the Craft Council. The group was enthusiastic because actually, in both the V andAs and Crafts Council, early documents, there is this idea of inspiring future makers. And once I got that, you could say okay, let’s do that. And so that kind drove the whole idea of waking people up to remember that we have making, and there was a kind of like, okay, let’s open that cupboard and remember, we have it, you know, we don’t have to invent it, it’s there. We just forgot about it too many people forget about it. And Fixperts, Maker Library Network, and they really are kind of the taking that notion with the social agenda together. There was an area and the power of making that was very much about communities making together so it wasn’t so much DIY culture, it was MIY culture and it was very much those early 3D printers that were you know, the idea was that it could make the next rip wrap or materials, like Sugru are about fixing but also inventing and doing maybe repair for someone else. And there was this whole notion of the social communities doing things for themselves and for others that these two became very much what Maker Library Network was about because it was a network of like minded, or at least people that wanted to engage in like minded conversations. But the brief there was very different. It was the British Council, and they asked to connect young makers between South Africa and the UK. After a year and a half, it was seen as successful and so it extended into other countries Mexico and Turkey  and also Nigeria. And it was a peer to peer creative network, you know, like a decentralised MA almost things that I think the education, the art and design education organisations are looking at very closely now.

Katie Treggiden 

There were physical spaces with stuff in them weren’t they as part of that,

Daniel Charny 

Yeah, they were. Each studio agreed to do three things which was to share their books about making with the nearest environment, to show someone else’s work so that brought in a curatorial mindset and to teach some skill, any skill. So in a way, as these were, all three of them were outgoing. So it took an inward looking studio and turn them out to be active locally. But then they were also connected to others like them around the world. And so they exchange knowledge about making some of the projects dealt with repair and mending and waste streams. And that was kind of integral to all these people’s interests, but not only. So it was a layer within and it’s always been, for me, in that sense, repair and mending I have never been the driver or the focus, they’ve always it’s always been a layer or a mode of engagement.

Katie Treggiden 

Right, with what aim?.

Daniel Charny 

So, fixing in Fixperts is really very much about kind of the mindset of fixing it’s not so much about repair or mending. It can have that interpretation or that mode of expression, but it’s very much about the mindset of improving a situation and because Fixpertsis about improving something for someone else, it brings in a social process co design, but it can be that fixing something is the way to solve the problem. And so we kind of understood that I think, I might be jumping ahead, but after two years of Fixperts, which grew way faster than we expected, in all kinds of directions, it was mainly universities and by now there are I think 45 universities across 25 countries running Fixperts producing these films and these films then go or to be used in schools for teaching.

Katie Treggiden 

So just for anyone who’s not familiar with Fixperts, can you just give us a quick overview of what that is?

Daniel Charny 

And then I’ll go back to the fixing thing. Fixperts is a simple framework for teaching human centred design and it was adapted to a quite a wide range of learning settings, and different age groups. So in a Fixpert project, the participants team up with a fixed partner, that’s an insight provider, it’s not a client. It’s a  different, let’s say contract, social contract, actually, the fixed partner is helping them do the project. And in that process, they identify a daily issue in the fixed partners life  that becomes the focus of their project and following process of empathic modelling since, you know, simulating the situation, if they can, rapid prototyping, making a lot of different options, and getting real feedback from a real person. They then reach the kind of final prototype, which they are asked to give to the fixed partner. And then together, they celebrate it, and they edit it into a one to three minute film that tells the story of the people, the problem and the fix. And that’s a Fixperts framework and it’s been adapted to groups, and it’s been adapted to communities and we’ve seen it appear in all kinds of different environments in Mexico or in groups that go out into the city and I think it was one of the first ones in Cape Town group called Thinking, they open their studio, and people brought things in, which doesn’t sound like in regular Fixperts project, but then they fixed the things with them and it became a regular fixture in their studio, weekly event where they open the studio.  So what they were fixing is their relationship with the neighbourhood because previously they’d been broken into and it changed the whole dynamics. The point being that when you’re fixing a thing, you’re also fixing a lot of other things around it. You’re also dealing with the really the thing is that it’s cultural and it’s social. It’s not just a material it’s not just about skills.

Katie Treggiden 

From my perspective, it’s also environmental, right? So the more we fix, the less virgin resources we have to take from the earth, the less carbon we’re producing, and the less waste we’re creating.

Daniel Charny 

So actually the idea of Fixperts models of behaviour, that leads to these things that you describe as leads to an environmental, let’s say, a different shift in the paradigm, hopefully, socially, environmentally and in the early days of Fixperts, we suddenly realised that we had really different interest groups writing about us. Age Concern, Green Lobby, Innovation, Eco all kinds, and I was, with my background in industrial design or technology design, I’m very product focused in the way I prototype things. But other people took it in other directions and we realised it’s not about these various issues. It’s not about fixing and repairing. It’s not about ecology and environments. And it’s not about innovation, it’s about the problem solving process. And so when we understood that we changed quite a lot about Fixperts and we kind of moved slightly away from the focus on making to problem solving. And down the line, we realised that also there are people who don’t feel comfortable or not interested in making at all, and how do we connect with them? And that’s when we started thinking about applying your creativity.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, and I’ve heard you use this phrase, and you talk about the importance of applied creativity, in education, particularly, I’d love you to expand on that, and why that is so important.

Daniel Charny 

I think, you know, craft design innovation are they all have their baggage, and making comes with a lot of other things as well. And so different people have a different relationship to it. Initially, and actually, during power of making, the two criteria that were central to the selection were imagination and skill, and particularly imaginative use of skill. As time went by, I found I was using the word design less or craft less more about imagination and skill. But still, it was very making focused and fixing was still very much a central kind of agenda. And we were talking, we started working with schools and parents and we realise that there is a barrier also, the term craft has got one political orientation, design has another, how can we find some banner that a lot of people can feel comfortable with, and will help engage young people in creativity, and using their creativity for change or responding to change. And we looked at applied creativity as this banner, we think that, you know, when we were, we’ve recently been doing and fascinating project around science, maker education, citizen science for open schooling, we’re working with science teachers. And we’ve been working with STEM teachers, mathematics, you know, little mathematicians that not necessarily comfortable with making, but they’re super creative, so they can apply their creativity. And I think parents might respond to this and hopefully, government and white papers can start thinking about using this term, to encourage seeing creativity as a main resource for our future. So it was really about that, it’s a kind of reading of how different groups relate to the idea of making and fixing and repair, how it’s hijacked, these terms are sometimes hijacked for different agendas. We’ve recently seen a kind of Maker Movement, we’ll go in all kinds of directions, on banjo playing nationalists to all kinds. And the craft movement has its debate in relation to makers and art has its relationship to craft, and designers and all that we thought, but again, like in power of making, what is the thing we all share? What is the thing we all can benefit from? And that’s the thinking behind it?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really interesting, because I think because you say creativity is really important in science and maths and engineering and all sorts of things besides the traditional, “creative subjects”.

Daniel Charny 

Yeah and also, when you think about the challenges we’re facing with the environment, how are we going to, so it’s not just about coming up with how to clean the ocean or how to reduce carbon footprints you need a major cultural shift to support young people to even learn to think like that. So while I really I’m, you know, I follow as much as I can about all these different agendas, that’s why I can think we’d have to engage much earlier with younger people at the stage when they are thinking about what their values are, how they kind of understand themselves and creativity and you know, so it becomes a different kind of premise for me than teaching design.  Which I did for a  very, very long time.

Katie Treggiden 

And as you said, it’s that that empowerment piece, which I think is so important for young people, as well, to give them that sense of agency, and so fixed,

Daniel Charny 

I would add, it’s not just the sense of the mindset, it’s the actual, the enabling, you know, when you think about the kind of ideas behind rights, you have a right to vote, Matteo Sandi was talking about this and micro economics and all that, you know, if you can’t actually exercise that vote, you can’t physically get to the polling station, then what’s that right worth in that sense? And the same with this, the ideas are not enough, they have to have also the skills. Do it’s the imagination and the skills together in order to achieve these shifts.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. This series of the podcast I’m experimenting, you might have noticed that some of the episodes carry paid for ads, and some I’ve donated to charity. In this one, I’m asking you to buy me a coffee. Not literally, I’ve signed up to something called ko-fi, a model that allows listeners to thank podcasters by buying them a virtual coffee. And the best bit instead of me ending up overly caffeinated. All your donations get reinvested into making more great content like this more podcast episodes, the links in the show notes or you can find me at ko.fi.com/Katietreggiden mines a  decaf oak cappuccino. Thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

So Fixperts became Fixed, which you described as not a think tank, but a think and do tank?  I think you’ve just touched on why, but a lot of,

Daniel Charny 

You know, I work a lot, everything that in this every now I work with Dee Halligan and  she comes from a much wider kind of knowledge and engagement and strategy. And so when you think about what think tanks are, and how they work, we had to find something that defines our contribution to that environment. It’s not the first time someone who’s grown a think and do tank but we are prototypers. So when we gathered around 20 people at the end of 2019 to talk about designing and the future of designing and making in school. And so yes, you can debate something, but we also said you, we have two hours with the most amazing group of people you know. We had Helen Sharman from the V and A, and we had Andrew Burton from Plymouth, and we had a Makerspace. graduate, Josie and we had people that run science labs and technology, a real mix and we chose to advise people who are yes, some of them are in big organisations where we asked them to step out. And we look for the angrier people who want to see change and that because Fixeds or we’re hosting it, it’s an environment where they can say what they think, you know, it’s like their Twitter accounts, their opinions, it’s not the Institute. And it was fascinating, but we also produce a series of seven short films that so it’s a productive mode as well. And that’s the do side that’s always trying to prototype how the change might look like. And, yeah, so that and the think tank evolved and grew and brought us to kind of reach out to a more engagement with the research. Rather than learning, delivering learning formats, except kind of expanded to become a research team and an interest. And we’re now working on this research I mentioned it’s the Horizon. 2020 Make It Open. It’s an open schooling, finds learning, maker citizen science, and it’s fascinating and we’re working with two schools  in Brixton area and one in Manchester area to prototype these lessons, and there’s groups in Poland and  Israel and we’re suddenly in a very different environment, talking about applying creativity to learning science. And one of the big subjects is waste, and air pollution and mending and repair become really significant tracks within it. You know, so if you’re thinking about that, modelling or what they care about, how they care about and how they respond to change, then suddenly we’re finding that this little entity is able to contribute in bigger environments. And that’s why we move to that kind of more research environments  after our adventure in schools, we had at three level stem award for Fixperts, but all of those came to a kind of screeching stop a few years ago. So the government here sees it differently and so we have to connect to people and organisations that are interested in this new ways of learning and modelling that behaviour that responds to change.

Katie Treggiden 

So a lot of your work is with young people and you know, that makes a lot of sense when we’re looking towards the future. But what do us grownups have to learn from these young people and what you’re learning from them?

Daniel Charny 

I think the major thing is to be doing things together and not to kind of have a separation between the young people and the older people or, you know, it’s this process of being part of something is the key. So I think we need to learn to be part of something. Many of us need to learn also not to be the centre of attention, because that doesn’t help. We won’t go into that, but I think that’s one of the things that needs fixing, very quickly and very dramatically in terms of equity and gender, especially in our professions of design. We’ve seen that debate it’s not within our kind of, I guess, remit of this, but it is to some extent, because it’s thought leadership is forming what and how people respond. So I think as grownups we need to learn to take part more we need to learn to listen, but we also need to differentiate between creating opportunities and stepping back because there is a need for creating opportunities, there is a need to spend time together, while younger people learn things. Some of our  skills can only be learned through seeing and experiencing,  the hands on learning, embodied learning, is something that we can learn to bring in more and more. We’re seeing, I guess, you’ve probably talked about YouTube too much already, but I’m saying amazing things. You know, the YouTube is replacing a lot of apprenticeship moments. We’re seeing hands, smart, knowledgeable hands of different people making things different materials, even those little moments of some material combusting or being squashed. This is my inexperience. You know, I’m saying that being this non formal education is something we need to learn a lot about as grown ups or adults. And we need to understand the difference between formal, informal and non formal better,

Katie Treggiden 

okay? Pick that difference apart from me then because I’m not sure I understand.

Daniel Charny 

You know, you run, you run a school lesson tahts formal education, but if you run a club, you’re in afternoon or a Fixperts club or repair club or whatever, that’s informal, but it’s still within a learning environment and it’s still the agenda is to learn. Non formal is accidental. it’s random, it’s designed to teach or learn, it’s happening, but enabling that to take place can be curated, can be encouraged.   And so you can create environments for non formal learning, because things are happening and you know, someone goes to a Maker Fair, you get both and sometimes you get all three. If someone goes to, you know, maker space, or a library or a museum that also has making as part of their programme, not in some corner in a room, but it’s integral to their approach. I think, Museum of Making is the greatest example now, but also V and A East are thinking about making as a central element in their programme. So that means they really, as grown ups, we need to think about younger people engaging and having those experiences. Directly, what we can learn is that getting into the zone, you know, it’s like that falling into the situation and a lot of times when you are making and fixing and repairing, you’re in such a focused state, that you are thinking about your hungry and your laundry, and the history of making the future of life when you’re thinking about everything while you’re making because there’s such a tactile, experiential moment. And if you’re skilled, you can really kind of almost do it without thinking about what you’re doing and sometimes when something goes wrong, you’re actually inventing a response, which is good, and you’ve created new knowledge and you can’t learn that confidence without making and it boils down to that, and connects that confidence connects to empowerment agency, all those elements.  Learning about that engagement, being engaged, taking part not standing aside, I think for parents, that’s a really big ask, but it’s really worth it to be involved in the making and the fixing  not to stand aside and look at it as a moment for a pre second to breathe, although you might need it are, you know, are for teachers that you know, learn to engage the whole family and the community and therefore open schooling is something that we’re very much advocating in that sense of it builds a much more sustainable place for the school. It builds a much more sustainable relationship with the community and that goes also for waste and circular economy. And circular thinking and circular attention to kind of what goes what, where does something come from and where does it go? It’s not just I’m using it, I need it, I use it. And that kind of thinking, I think menders repairers. conservationists grow up with that, they have it and you have to learn from that as well.

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s really interesting because I had a very academic education. I went to grammar school, I went to university and I tend to over research and overthink things. And I was having a conversation on WhatsApp with a friend who’s a designer maker, and we were talking about marmalade. And I said, Dude, I’ve got loads of rosemary, do you think Rosemary would work well in marmalade, maybe I’ll research it and try it next year. Meanwhile, he snuck some rosemary in his marmalade sent me a photo and gone let’s find out. Right, I didn’t get to find that out because I was too busy researching it. A year later, he’s already eating the rosemary marmalade, and it’s great.

Daniel Charny 

I think it’s this relationship with risk and failure, catching on. And that’s something we could definitely learn. On the other hand, we don’t want kids to be doing things that are, that we need them to learn to research just as much to do something, you want them to learn how to find out as much about this.

Katie Treggiden 

But I think there’s a thing particularly within mending where often I went to attempt to mend something, because I’ll break it and it’s already broken, that’s why I’m mending it

Daniel Charny 

It’s so fascinating, isn’t it? There’s such a big industry, which I think is called the after market, which the value of companies lives on the fact that you’re not going to mend things, or the fact that only they mend things, or the fact that they can get the components, no one else and so on the after market is huge and that’s something I definitely didn’t learn about when I was studying industrial design. However, you do kind of get designers and you’ve looked at this very closely that are thinking about repairable, or are thinking about waste streams and how to bring them back into use, or are thinking about making things last forever, if they can. And all these strategies are really unique to understand what drives them. And that’s the point where you kind of want to get to someone early on. So they have a relationship with materiality and with even with immaterial production, in terms of their understanding of what it’s part of. And repair gives you that moment to talk about that piece of learning can happen when you’re talking about fixing. It’s much easier to engage someone with fixing and if you can’t fix it, what could you make with it? Or if you can’t, you make it into something else what of it what component can you use so you start looking at the world as components or materials. That’s a massive, brilliant shift, you know, Marco Dominici talks about this thing, you know, then set off on a whole repair, research domestic appliances, why people don’t do it, why they do it. If you start thinking about the world, like Tim Hunkin, where everything is a part of something else, then you’ve made a big contribution to, you know, how kids and young people might see things and own things and it’s not the I’m not saying it’s the only way, but it’s a good way to learn that.

Katie Treggiden 

It is a mindset shift, but as you say, I think that mindset comes with the the doing of it with your hands, doesn’t it, you’ve got to have sort of taken things apart and put them back together to sort of start to see things

Daniel Charny 

Yeah, I think also, I often think about the breaking point of things is a very interesting experience. You know, you can do it with a piece of paper, or a red or green pepper or whatever, that moment where you’re like, will it break, won’t it break? And that breaking point is a really interesting, and I think not enough time is spent breaking things carefully. With thought. And you learn so much, because then the next time, you know, and what how do you push? I mean, putting rosemary in, should I not? What could go wrong? However, if you put that jam and the rosemary in your car and drive off for two hours to heat it up, and the ruins your car, because it’s gone all over because you didn’t seal it and so on a high price for that experiment, relatively, but it’s this nature, I guess, character of experimentation. How do you bring that back in? And how do you bring that in also on a thought level? So I think the point being that these things are physical and mental, there cultural and there social at the same time. And that’s why fixing is so brilliant in terms of access to making.

Katie Treggiden 

So can we talk about Fab Cities, which sounds a little bit like a sort of diversion but I saw you speak at Crafts Council Conference in Manchester?  I can’t remember what year it was, but I was fascinated by this concept of Fab Cities. And I wondered if you could explain what a Fab City is for people, and then talk a little bit about the role that repair plays in those sort of ecosystems.

Daniel Charny 

Okay, I guess, the Fab City global initiative is very much about I mean, the trap line is locally productive, globally connected cities. And  the vision is that by within 33 years where all cities will produce everything they consume, that’s the vision. And then that timeline was chosen because at that point, 70% of humanity will live in cities. And so in 2054 those cities that have signed up, will be producing everything locally, which means they have to have all kinds of infrastructure in order to do that. So it’s an environmental drive, but it has to come with political social change. It has to come with education change. That’s my connection, because when it started early on, with Thomas Diaz driving it today, there are a lot of other people involved,  Julia Hort and Liz Corbin and lots of other people are leading it. But there’s a kind of wide collective of people that support and take part, you know, not Hunter, Gareth, or Lloyd here, and Greenlab, and all kinds of people that are really trying to find applications to the actual locale, and what does that mean, how to drive a sustainable city, you know, it connects very strongly to the kind of thinking of the donor economy. Circular Economy, the great recovery project, or the RCA demonstrated some of that and knowing where something comes from and where it goes is the key to that. My interest in this is really every time we meet or every time there’s a you know, a collective writing of the Fab City manifesto a  few years ago, I’m looking to like put a filter for the cultural and the educational. And so, if something like that has any chance it can’t focus on the fab labs and the maker spaces, it has to have a much stronger relationship with kind of how people see making and producing and purchasing consumption, local collectives or local sharing, all these, the sharing economy is very much part of the collective organisation moving things around, we saw quite, I think, astounding initiatives during the last year, including technology wise, you know, we have a tech hub here that fixes laptops, and off they go to all kinds of other charities and schools, and things like that make a city work more locally, you know, they didn’t order another laptop, because a, they don’t have the money, but b, they had an option of reusing a laptop that was just sitting in someone’s cupboard. Someone had thought through that service model, on that layer, and another layer on food, and another layer of medicine and another layer on coats, and another, you know, and all these, and it’s not new, because, you know, in Victorian times, when they shifted to the bricks, they were contained in hay that said, the horses, you know, people have thought like that it’s good business, it’s good thinking. And it’s definitely very good for the environment to think like that. And so Fab City is helping, I guess, give tools to encourage that kind of thinking. A lot of it is very theoretical, and far away. And there are drivers and powers that this actually works against what they think is their model. So the Fab City shows a kind of advocacy role, the Fab City Foundation talks to a lot of deputy mayors, for instance, on purpose, because they’re thinking a bit ahead.  And they have this moment where a city joins, there are I think, 38 cities that have joined, you know, Paris, two years ago, there’s a moment with a red button, and they join the Fab City initiative. And then they have to start thinking, Okay, how can I fulfil it? How much of a subsidy am I and I’m always there when I can and have a chance to ask so what are you doing in terms of education? Or young people’s relationship with this vision, because it’s about their city as much as yours. And if you’re going to have this vision together, you need them on board that they need to have the skills and the understanding. And so it goes back to that cultural shift. And the mindset and we think that fixed bridge, like many other things, offers that engagement, that connection to this world to this approach, I guess. And we’ve also along the last 10 years been working as a commercial consultancy from now on trying to offer that kind of thinking into commercial development projects. And Google, Kings Cross or a new building tower in British land in Broadgate, and we’re looking at the kind of public realm and what can happen there in terms of engagement. And our focus has always been social benefit. And we realised that with Fixperts, that’s the agenda. And so recently, we’ve kind of understood that we really need to, in order to be more effective, we need to bring them together. And that’s the whole story of fourth, that’s going to be a community interest company. And it’s bringing all the kind of consultancy and research knowledge, engagement knowledge from one company, together with all the learning formats of the other. And again, it’s part of trying to simplify things so that we can engage with other people. And as you know, the communication of this agenda or this, I say, hopeful, rather than optimistic road, is that you need to really engage in as many conversations and create the formats for them.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I mean, that all sounds really exciting. And talking about sort of communicating this stuff and the cultural shifts we need to bring about you were awarded the Design Innovation Medal by the London Design festival in 2019 and in 2020, you and Dee were awarded the Sir Misha Black Award for Innovation Design Education.  What does it mean to be recognised by the industry in that way? How does that how is that helpful?

Daniel Charny 

It’s brilliant because you think you’re working on the sidelines, and then you get kind of recognition that the subject because it’s not about us as authors, it’s the you know, when even the Blueprint Award in 2016 went to Fixperts,  I think the first time and you know, didn’t go to the Brillig Brothers or to Zaha Hadid, they had already got it in the past but it went to Fixperts. It kind of went to us socially engaged learning programme, so it’s very exciting, it’s feels like big win behind your backs when you think you’re by yourself sometimes. So that side of it is great. The Misha Black Award is particularly my guess, special because of the legacy of bringing research into design, bringing internationalism, bringing the kind of social aspect into design. It’s the I guess, one of the reasons I came to study at the Royal College was because of the Misha Black Legacy and it’s about education and we’ve been focusing on that. So that was a that’s a very, I mean, it hasn’t been actually, the event hasn’t happened yet, this has been announced, but and also the fact that again, recognised the leadership of two people, not one that was important that they had seen, as very clearly the initiative, and what it stands for, rather than the career or whatever it is, it’s the change that’s being recognised. And that’s one thing.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, and that goes back to what you were saying earlier about this not being about egos, but being about bringing about change,

Daniel Charny 

Well you know, when you talk about waste, repair, mending fixing it’s a very different proposition or position for the people engaged with it. Usually, it comes from a more facilitating relationship with the world rather than the author genius. And that’s something I guess, teaching in the 80s and 90s, learning in the 80s and teaching in the 90s, I was really seeing all of that star architecture, or star designers being the driver for quite a lot of students. And as a young tutor, that was something that guess a lot of us were hoping to bring in the much more collaborative negotiative open and that has happened. In fact, it’s over happened because we see people hiding behind collaboration and language and not feeling like they could be authors as well. And that’s as important, you know, we need that creativity as well. So there’s a kind of adjustment, you know, co-design, co-curating  co, it’s become a real big buzzword, like design thinking. And whilst it’s, you know, doing some damage, it’s also doing a lot of good and my sense that is being recognised.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes,

Daniel Charny 

So we need to be a bit more sophisticated about how people understand these things, and use them and understand that these are tools and use them in the right place. But like collaboration, authorship is something that is valuable. But we saw this big shift, and I think, and it’s a very welcome shift in terms of the world, I think, in terms of sustainability. Or at least that kind of thinking because it’s it does rely on collaborative practice heavily. It’s this shift of what design and craft people are doing in the sense of what roles they’re taking. I think the craft world has had a much deeper relationship with facilitation and negotiation with the world and materials and design has to connect to that. But this idea of being part of negotiating or facilitating change rather than leading, being in the centre, that authorship model, that big issue, or I think big barrier for many places in the design world. However, with the caveat that  ingenuity is very much absolutely needed. So how can these two sides nurture each other is the key for the future. So when I think ahead, it’s how do we create the situations that nurture both the most professional, and the wider generalist knowledge. And I think if you look at fixing and repair, there’s been a real drive, especially also when you see the right to repair movement, and the changes in law, which were pushing, manufacturing, to respond to this. And that means that it also needs for people to be interested and be able to do this. And so how do you on the one hand, push the specialists to be better and push the general public to also be more knowledgeable because to some extent, the more the thing is resolved, the less the person that uses it needs to engage and loses there. Something has to change in the whole paradigm of the relationship between the maker, manufacturer and the user.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, that’s interesting.

Daniel Charny 

And so when you look at these after markets, or when you look at agendas around fixing and repair, you really have to kind of think what’s the driver for them. And if it is a sustainable agenda, then that means that you want to really be living with things that you can make, can repair and hack. But that means that the people need to want to do that so that’s the cultural shift, and be able to do that, that’s the skill shift.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah and I think I think to use your word hopeful, I think we can we can have a sort of hopeful vision of the future with that combination of imagination

Daniel Charny 

and without a delusion of optimism.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, absolutely although I like the word, there’s a book called The Future We Choose in which they use the term “stubborn optimism”, which I quote like

Daniel Charny 

I’ve been reading about perceptions of livelihood recently and I find that very interesting, because it’s not so much about that vision of the environment, or the economy or the society, it’s very much about how people live well, wherever they are. What are the tools? What’s the education, they need to live well enough? And so that goes back really strongly to that? And what are the systems that they are part of and how they feel about it? And that goes back to the confidence to take part and go back to feeling part of something. So these are really emotional aspects that have to go side by side with all the technology shifts.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really important. Brilliant. Thank you so much, Daniel. Some absolutely brilliant insights in there and lots that I haven’t covered with other people I’m speaking to.

Katie Treggiden  

If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how the algorithm works. But I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @KatieTreggiden.1, you can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer maker, you should really join my free Facebook group Making Design Circular see you there. Part of my commitment to 1% for the planet I’ve donated the ad spot in this episode to Surfers Against Sewage an organisation I’m really proud to support. The episode was produced by Sasha Huff so thank you to Sasha and to October Communications for marketing and moral support and to you for joining me. You’ve been listening to circular with Katie Treggiden