Notes from our Design Workshop 15/09/2018

We worked collaboratively to come up with ideas for the look and feel of the Commons Platform. Starting from the core values of the platform, we developed presentations around potential design principles for the site.


On day one, we worked collaboratively to come up with ideas for the look and feel of the Commons Platform, including considering themes, colours, legibility and accessibility. Starting from the core values of the platform, we initially developed presentations around potential design principles for the site, captured on A3 sheets of paper for use in day two.

We then co-developed ideas for a logo, considering ideas which surrounded organic and natural imagery such as trees, roots, water, rivers and mycelium, constellations and astronomical images, circular, multi-dimensional and geometric patterns, distributed networks. Favoured colours for the site were green and black followed by white, orange, brown, blue, as well as muted and pale hues. Consideration was also given to accessibility and environmentally friendly design. Typefaces were also considered, including eco-friendly, web-safe typefaces, fonts which operate in multiple languages and are open source, ideally not produced by monopolistic corporations such as Google. Overall, ease, simplicity and accessibility were considered to be essential principles for the design of the site, as well as the capacity to cater for multiple stakeholders. On day two, we will aim to explore and co-develop the possible functionality of the site.

Workshop notes:

On arrival, self-organisation of setting up the room and introductions around the room as people arrived.

A resource that works in practice can work in theory (Ostrom).

What works in community can work in tech (Commons Platform).

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities (Mandela).

You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model Obsolete’ (Buckminster Fuller).

The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the New’ (Socrates).

Today (1968) functional problems are becoming less simple all the time. But designers rarely confess their inability to solve them. Instead, when a designer does not understand a problem clearly enough to find the order he really calls for, he falls back on some arbitrarily chosen formal order. The problem, because of its complexity, remains unsolved’ (Christopher Alexander).

I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear’ (Simone).

  • Tech Mantra ‘move fast and break things’. Commons Platform mantra ‘move slowly and fix things’: the process must embody the outcome.
  • What I need is a life that is gentle. A world that is kind and people that are soft. A mind that is safe from violence: both social and internal

There is no reason to believe that bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how well meaning, are better at solving problems than the people on the spot, who have the strongest incentive to get the solution right (Ostrom)



  • Nick
  • M
  • A
  • Sophie
  • N
  • S
  • A
  • D
  • M
  • F
  • R
  • A(?) & M
  • A
  • J
  • 3 other people in person
  • 3 participants via Skype

Notes from the day:

  • Starting with an exercise in self-organising – have to put selves in a circle by name. Outside and then moved inside because of tech links.
  • A range of participants who spoke in turn, from fine art, TV, tech, graphic design backgrounds, but also with links to mental health, centre for healthy aging, counselling. Systems thinking, living in cooperative housing near Lancaster. Gender inclusion specialist from Nigeria.
  • 2 people joining from Jitsi. Deal with digital inclusion in Nigeria. M trying to find another more stable way of doing things. Sending a link through.
    Then will be explaining the values and overview of platform, so these can be turned into design principles, interested in building peer to peer systems.
    In the afternoon, can use mood-board to create the look and feel of the platform and a logo
  • A dynamic fluid community so not going to be too fixed. Logo will be changeable like Google?
  • Decentralisation and self-organising
  • Question: Can we talk about the commons and what this is? Everything which is independent of corporations and governments. The space between, and unpaid forms of labour, around caring, having kids, looking after older people. Things which are not counted as being productive. Loads of groups around the world looking at the commons, but not many looking to create a platform which joins things up
  • Finding groups of 5/6 people with different skills, including someone to look after people on the virtual link
  • Tech – struggling to make it work. When you are trying to be inclusive – actually tech is not designed for this. Means that people in remote rural spaces cannot get involved. The flipside is that groups like FB do encourage this, but then sell data. There are people in the world who think that FB is the internet. FB has something in its coding which tracks how long you’ve been off for. Larger monolithic platforms which carrel you. – which has free conference calls and infrastructure. Developed out of Occupy.
  • Nick to explain the values of the commons platform using infographic. A distillation of what they are doing
  • Safety – creating a space where people feel confident and feel they can be open. There are people like me in there, and therefore I feel safe. Aim to have a mixture of academic, activist, professional as well as more members of the public – less so in this workshop.
  • Ease – so many websites are difficult to join and use. Process of joining can be very difficult. Want to challenge this. Welcoming and fun come into this too – Sophie.
  • Commons Ownership – started from the point of not selling data – would never be sold for commercial gain. This relates outwards too. Governance and statutory requirements around this. About the sense that anybody who comes has a stake in the platform.
  • All people and contributions valued – an extension of this
    Trust – also about belonging. Make people feel they are part of something which is going somewhere.
  • Collaboration – the above lead to this. A lot of organisations talk about collaboration but don’t actually do it.
  • Letting go of Western idea that you have to move fast to get ahead of the market. Want to move slowly to build trust. Move slowly and fix things – Sophie. Whatever can be made in practice also works in theory.
  • Commitment to positive social change. Don’t want to get attached to particular strategies. Concentrating more on needs than strategies. Not solving one specific thing but a general sense of fixing. One might call what we are doing as feminist, or non-patriarchal, or activist. But not calling it one thing or another. Being led by needs and conversations, rather than strategy and debate.
  • Sophie – there is a really good way to understand what we are doing: the values of safety and ease that can bring people into a space. A space which is based on community and can hold the 800 people around the world who are involved in some way in this community. Need a space where we can all hang out and speak with each other. At the moment it is centralised through Nick and Sophie, but need decentralised space where everyone can hang out and find one another/ events.
  • Nick – looked up different kinds of groups and different people in groups. Looking through database of people involved in the site, and looking at range of skills and interests. Lots of people involved in inclusion and diversity, lots of artists and people who combine this with digital cultural space and activism, lots of co-ops, lots of environmental issues, accountants, environmental science. Quite surprising how many journalists, economics, alternative economics, block-chain and cryptocurrency, indigenous groups, community groups. Quite heartening the range of skills available. Will put up a list of all the connections involved with.
  • So actually need to build something which is For Everyone. The difference here today is that everyone is actually designing their own space.
  • Head of Mozilla, cleaners, homeless people all in the network
  • Dispute keeps people online for longer, and want to create a different way to keep people online for more positive reasons
  • 56.9% women in FB group. 6.3% custom gender. 36.8% men. Range of ages.
  • Countries – 225 people from London, Germany, Nigeria, Belgium, Canada, Jordan, US, France, Netherlands, Germany…
  • Building a space where everyone can come together. Called Commons Platform, but this could change. Friendliness, sharing, care, understanding, a space where all valued. This creates the conditions for creativity, collaboration. People create when they feel safe and having fun. Design an online space where people can feel creative and start innovating together.
  • This enables people to create solutions within wider community. Aims are for people to connect and collaborate, to create a world of positive social change.
    In the values workshop, questions were: ‘what sort of world would you want to live in?’ ‘What change would you like to make?’ A place where people can come together so that people can create tech and interoperability in the future
  • Question – you talk about it as a platform. Will it replace the internet? You need to be careful how you use language – can’t replace the physical internet, but this is a paradigm shift in terms of the way that
  • Tim Berners-Lee has been looking at similar ideas, in terms of how to re-think ways the web could work. Discussions going on about how to rethink the paradigm. Internet comes out of the psyche of the people who think about it…
  • D – rolling it back – technology -but actually the point is inclusion in general – tech can assist in some ways. What works in practice/community can work in theory – Sophie.
  • Nick – what would happen if the needs of the most marginal were centred? Using a small space. Trying to take this into account. Tech as enabler.
  • Everyone for everyone – people are concerned about polarisation and bubbles. What happens when someone comes up and is terrified about immigration/ job. Has difficult views. ‘Everyone’ – how do we think of this?
  • Platform could be used to help people understand language around these difficult topics. Language – what will this be? Needs to be neutral/ not excluding/ inclusive. How do we create a space which handles this?
  • In activist spaces, there are certain values which still need to be upheld. Is there an idea for a value statement which users will need to agree with? The idea of neutrality can be frightening for people who are marginalised.
  • Have seen studies where negative comments lead to more negative comments and vice-versa
  • Need a better standard of discussion and debate.
  • Sophie: reassuring people that there is conflict resolution, peace-building –this is why there are so many people from Jordan – drawing in multiple skills
  • S: bringing in recent experience from – a federated Twitter alternative. Set up own server, and then regulate own community. It is tricky to get everyone feeling safe. If some people insist on feeling safe, then others cannot act freely. Almost becomes a persecution of the majority by the minority. S’s intention is not at all to minimise the experiences of marginalised groups. Vegans feeling safe around meat. The other thing feeling uncomfortable digital life collective funds tech we trust. He has been in conversation with them. How do you position yourself organisationally – if everyone tries to do everything does not work. How to you position yourself in relation to others.
  • Commons platform does not want to DO everything, but brings other organisations in. Not everybody needs to build the tech.
  • Sophie – not about re-inventing. Having a workshop on successful community engagement. Aiming to bring together wisdom from around the world. R – Boomtown – needs a short set of values that people can use.
  • Activity before lunch: writing down design principles. Out of values. For each value, write comments.
  • Nick to explain the longer term picture. All building right now is something which replaces FB group. Early next year there will be more complex prototype. End of day 1 – functions 8-10. Drilled down to 3/4.
  • Nick – needs not strategies – this is how we are trying to create inclusivity.
  • M – if it is going to be the first version of the platform, if people want safety measures like not being too visible, how would that be put in place.
  • Sophie – control, privacy should be built in as part of the consent process.
  • Nick: it has been called a lot of things – FB but for community organising/ Alternative to Eventbrite
  • Sophie – aiming to enable life being easier. Interoperable systems for a Smart Planet – this is a non-extractive version of this.
  • Operating costs – at the moment, everything is crowdsourced.
  • Discussion on whether it should be focussed or general
  • Celebrating the positive things
  • Burning Man – allows for people to join and volunteer if they cannot afford to pay
  • Need to offer possibilities for change

Session 2: Working out Design Principles Add images from session here

  1. Design principles
  2. Aesthetics
  3. Create Mood Board
  4. Look for themes and pulling things together
  5. Apply this to what a website might look like – can describe it visually or in words
  6. Using the lists of 25, but also adding to this. Then placing these functions under the values categories
  7. In groups of 3, and aiming to have tech/ creative/ ethics and values

Feedback on exercise

  • Ease
    • Warm colour palette – so it was inviting
    • Avoiding auto-play video content
    • Intuitive design
    • Mobile friendly interface
    • Multi-lingual translations which need to be done through the platform
    • Navigability and minimum click through
    • Suggested homepage layout with boxes
    • Don’t want it to be off-putting
    • My Dashboard rather than your dashboard
  • Commons Ownership
    • Transparency – showing usage and allowing change to this
    • Shared decision making
    • Crowdfunding
    • Transparency about legal ownership
    • Governance processes must be explained, but not overloading people up front
    • Decision making – spoke about different experiences. How can there be a decision-making process
  • Trust
    • Safety
    • Consent
    • Commons Ownership
    • Solidarity
    • Accountability
    • Collaboration
    • Security
    • Openness – is good, but might be in conflict with big business who want to harvest data
    • Friendliness
    • Transparency
  • Collaboration
    • Ease – wide variety of devices
    • Inclusivity – multi-lingual
    • Accessibility
    • Non-extractive
    • Diversity
    • Transparency
    • Flexibility
    • Decentralisation
    • Empathy
  • Inclusivity
    • Inclusivity for all people
    • Stories – a shared experience
    • Representing universalities
    • People’s internet – platform allows for a virtual community
    • Different universals which could then be transformed – tree as a motif – universal symbol
    • How much would you impose on your value system?
    • Trees are often used in village as meeting points – going beyond language
    • Also spoke about fire and spirit. Non-western view – people gathering towards a fire – using this to pass on knowledge through storytelling
    • Celebrating what exists already and using these motifs of what is positive
    • Giving out positivity and getting this back
    • Permaculture thinking and translate this into a website
    • Commonality
  • Everything for Everyone
    • If we mean everyone, who do we actually mean?
    • Can there be a set of symbols where particular needs are written down?
    • Code it so that everyone behind on the
    • Simple design
    • Easy to use
    • Safe – not technical
    • Flexibility – customisable
    • Inclusivity
    • Diversity

Session 3

Add Images from session here?

  • Will turn phrases into something more cohesive
  • There are some visuals which represent themes
  • Tree, which pulls up nutrients from the ground and also grows into the forest.
  • If you don’t get the DNA right at the beginning, you can’t get the final product at the end. Need to get it baked in right at the start. Being aware of it right through the formative stage. Turned it into a forest. Baobab trees and bushes.
  • Mycelium, which grows under the forest floor, network of stuff which connects and sends nutrients. It takes a while – trees do things slowly, just as this platform does. Mycelium also breaks down existing structures. Nothing is set in stone however as needs to resonate with the community. If not comprehensible enough then no worries
  • Water does not use force, just slowly changes things and can carve whole valleys and change whole landscapes. Pacific Ocean. Daoist philosophy – the way of water and non-resistance
  • Jellyfish – a sense of expanding and filling up. It is like peristalsis – moving forward
  • Collective Intelligence – neural network – a large neural network – this is the way the internet has been painted. At the top of the jellyfish, there are values – then governance, stewardship, ways of working –sub groups-from tech, design, planning. Can find the group through the tendrils.
  • 12 different media organisations who all want to use the platform for their content. Then every group has embedded into it these different aspects. This creates a picture of an organisational structure. Creates a networked structure.
  • Each of the groups will have a jellyfish.
  • Quantum physics. An image which shows how everything is connected to everything else.
  • What do other people use as symbols of hope and transformation? Grass through concrete. Power to the tiniest blade of grass
  • Rojava colours as a sense of value alignment?
  • 5 images – 2/3 colours and a typeface. How do these things represent the values – gut feeling – accessibility – visual impairment

Group One

  • Images
  • Trees
  • Trees with roots
  • Colours / Design
  • Simple and clear
  • White and green (natural)
  • Darker colours for website
  • Without compromising legibility
  • Typeface
  • Eco-friendly
  • Translatable to other languages
  • Open Source font – Google – Noto – supports 800 languages – the most languages. Are there strings attached?
  • Other open source fonts?
  • Name
  • Either something which is describing functionality – like Commons Platform
  • Or non-descriptive like ‘Google’ where you recognise ‘brand’

Group 2

  • Constellations, networks, portal to area of interest and other similar platforms
  • Lyrics from a song which is about all life and ecosytems
  • Manuscript astronomical illustrations – faces blowing together – collective energy
  • Visual language which is reusable – old, traditional look – what is currently popular, which is flat rather than 3D
  • Colours and accessibility – issues of colour blindness.
  • Accessible design course October 11th – Sophie

Group 3

  • Trees and people to begin with
  • Snowflakes – everyone is unique – 2 people – simple exchange
  • Roots – mushrooms above and below ground
  • Work which is done underground – underground working – mycelium works
  • Unsung heros – someone who saved the world from nuclear war – making own tampons
  • Green, brown, orange
  • Black, green, orange

Is there a way to integrate some of these ideas?

  • Constellation/ decentralised network/ jellyfish from underneath/ 32 dimensions
  • Everyone to write up on the board 3 x themes for dynamic logos
  • The post-its are then connected by Sophie
  • Organic, geometric, constellations.
  • Type face needs to be websafe.
  • Problem is solved with Google fonts – inputs a typeface dynamically into the webpage.
  • Copyleft licenses used and then downloaded from server.
  • Accessibility, legibility, not cluttered – a sense of space
  • Ease, joyful and fluid
  • There are many templates which can be used as an idea
  • Starry skies, connectedness, circles, trees, roots, mycelium, water and rivers
  • Functionality of the tool must be related to who is there organisation wise
  • Start with value rather than function
  • Communicating general feel
  • Aiming to cater for multiple needs and wants

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