The Capsule Guild

The purpose of design has shifted from market-oriented aesthetics to meaningful methodologies and ideas. And the environment we design for is increasingly complex. Yet there is hardly time to critically reflect in between deadlines. The Capsule Guild works to learn and does things differently by joining a collective reflective practice.

Valeska Noemi Mangel
Deepu James
Supported by members of the Design Council
Building a Reflective Practice in Design
Design as a discipline seems to be in a process of emancipation. As a designer and writer I seek opportunities to contribute and shape this movement. This project stems from my hypothesis that our design education has to evolve alongside our new identities, purposes and needs in design. We are no longer just practitioners, so what does it take to find our individual roles beyond that?
New Challenges for Design

The first time we are asked to reflect was probably in our childhood. After we painted the kitchen with chalk or scratched on our desk in school, a parent or teacher would send us out to reflect. An educational request with the hope to shape our morals and manners. The concept of reflecting has its history in all of us and usually contains a quiet moment. Triggered by a (painful) disruption like a question, doubt or surprise. It’s a thought that we explore consciously. We develop personal practices to encounter these thoughts in diaries, mantras or conversations. As designers we need this quiet moment to learn, reflect and share, when making important design-decisions for others. Under the pressure of productivity we need to respect that reflection is necessary to create the considerate designs we need. How can we adapt a reflective practice to the busy work environment of a creative?

The Craving to Reconnect

In this project, I myself, as a designer, am the target group. Working in the constraints of deadlines, briefings, clients and the subconscious feeling that “thinking” isn't productive. But it was important to test the hypothesis and understand not only what reflection and reflective practices really mean, but what it means for the work of a designer. I conducted a study with more than 50 designers from diverse backgrounds and had many conversations with mindfulness practitioners, designers and researchers on creative practices. Through the study, the collective meditations, experiments, debates and research I understood that the usual workflow in design is a disrupted brickwork of separate projects with different clients, users and briefings. A reflection however is a connected thread. And I felt the urge of creatives worldwide to connect and share their learnings beyond their institutions or organisations.

Not Just Another Task

Although reflection reduces stress and supports a healthy self-awareness, it just feels like another task. And the average team review is mostly perceived as not honest and considerate enough to produce real learnings. So I developed The Capsule Guild. A subscription service providing design institutions, studios or organisations with a reflective practice, inspired by Secret Santa and gumball machines. The idea is to print a reflective question and answer it as a team or alone in between projects. To then put it in a capsule and a sustainable dispenser in the workspace and receive a previous reflection out of it, literally tying together projects and designers while allowing the space to reflect in an intimate and joyful way. Members of the Guild also get access to reflective events to learn and mingle. To archive the learnings and make them accessible, one can submit the most fruitful reflections and receive an annual report.

The Power of Joy and Intimacy

I believe that the unsuspicious, tactile, maybe even inefficient bits of an interaction can have the biggest effects. Especially in a national lockdown it was important to me to test the concept physically. I gathered 6 designers from different backgrounds and experience levels and sent them each a capsule, pre-stamped envelopes and a snippet with two reflective questions, constructed according to review standards in reflective practices. They could respond to a question, fill the capsule and send it to the next person. It was perceived as a joyful disruption that promoted a craving to reflect more, forces one to detach and promotes self-awareness. I learned that the questions themselves needed to be tailored. So I developed an open source voting system for The Capsule Guild’s members to suggest the themes and questions they want to reflect on themselves and vote for them to become a printable snippet.

Redefining the Role of a Practitioner

The first capsules are in the prototype dispenser ready to kick off a chain reaction of critical thoughts, starting with the ones from my cohort. This is not just one interaction, it is an ongoing thread of doubts, epiphanies and writing by designers. I keep my capsule on my desk to remind me to take the moment to think about my role, impact and vision. I hope that the impulse travels, raising awareness that a good design is no longer just aesthetic or functional, it is considerate of its complex environment. And we can’t produce anything considerate by just being efficient—so time to reflect is never wasted. This doesn’t only count for designers: Maybe there will be Capsule Guilds for different disciplines, reflecting on how we teach, manage or maintain our world better. Coming together to an interdisciplinary summit, where practitioners not do but think and learn together.

special thanks

Thanks to everyone who supported this solo project and made it an exciting journey.
Jessie Johnson and Bernard Hay (Design Council)
Dr. Laura Ferrarello (RCA)
Ruben Ahlers (3D Designer)
Elena Mariani (Product Designer)
Rosa Viktoria Ahlers (Illustration)

students involved on the project

No items found.