Leyla Acaroglu founder of the Un-School of Disruptive Design

Day 3

Knowledge Gathering

Day 3 is our final day at the beautiful Donkey Wheel House where we started off with the sun shining and a warm group following the fellows peer-to-peer dinners last night (groups of four at four awesome Melbourne Restaurants). We got right into it with a ‘tasting plate’ of presentations from three different social enterprises.

David from Children’s Ground was first up, sharing with us the idea that problems within the indigenous sector are largely systems and to do with governance. He explained, Children’s Ground had developed its own model of integrated, locally-led leadership and programming to enable excellence in learning, wellbeing and development in indigenous communities around Australia. Children’s Ground harnesses all the abilities and knowledge of the people and communities in which they work.

Hannah, the founder of SCARF --- we at the Un-School LOVE what SCARF is doing in the training and hospitality space in Melbourne. You have all probably heard of SCARF already, but if not, look them up, and if you can support them either by attending events or partnering with them on a project. SCARF is a social enterprise (and charity) that provides 10 weeks training, mentorship, and assistance with work placement to refugees. They work in close association with some of Melbourne’s best restaurants and hospitality professionals. Hannah was open and honest about some of the ups and downs she faced in starting the social enterprise, how her amazing team works, and how it might not work without volunteers.

The main take-away from Hannah’s talk was her advice to have faith in your idea and then run with it. "I would’ve been more ballsy in the beginning to allow more impact sooner". If you know your idea is good, get going! Make sure you start with a clear mission and a positive culture. Partnerships are key—work and collaborate with others in your space, not against them as rivals, network and work together to support and grow together.

And lastly, in our quick blast round of Donkey Wheel House tenants and friends, came Ishani from The Difference Incubator. Ishani had the room do a quick survey of what keeps us up at night, and found out that we, like the rest of the world adhered to the universal fact that ‘self belief’ is most people’s number one worry, with funding/money coming in at only number 3 following co-founders/collaborators/team at number 2. The Difference Incubator works with social entrepreneurs to take their businesses “feasibility, desirability, viability” to grow an investable Social Enterprise.

"Think of investors like a marriage, you need to want each other equally"

After a very brief stretch, networking and caffeine break, our Mentor Trent Jansen took to the floor to run our morning workshop on creative approaches. Trent describes himself as a furniture and object designer “I’m the guy who makes stuff” and a Design Anthropologist. From a background in sustainability, he now sees himself as a proponent of longevity and re-use. Trent explained how this gave him insight into the fact that people react to objects differently—some discard and some hold on.

Trent explained to the fellows that he believes that social change, creative thinking and sustainability are the crossover links between practices, with the last two being the main motivators for his practice. Design Anthropology, as described by Trent, involves the study of human behaviour to reflect that behaviour back, and Trent sees himself as a pseudo-mythologist utilising objects as the physical manifestation of behaviour. Trent sees throwaway society and consumer culture as irksome yet potentially reversible -- the worst thing for us as humans about the quick/cheap/discard culture we live in is that we end up with objects and artefacts that reflect our culture back to us -- and what does all of this say, what legacy are we leaving?

Trent then contextualised his theory of making, saying it must involve poetry, an expression of emotion and desire. Trent uses traditional poetic or literary devices across disciplines (metaphor, narrative, irony etc) to imbue objects with stories. Design Anthropology is the distillation of the use of these devices in object creation. Metaphor is important across all narrative-based design to express the representation of one thing (or idea) with another—all designed outcomes must be decipherable, otherwise they are not fulfilling their purpose. WOW.

After delving into this is in practice with his incredible Briggs Colonial Tea Service project, the fellows dove into an exercise devised around strategies for designing with narrative.

We then moved on to the “Glitch” and glitches in the normal system of things as well as the poetry behind these glitches and how they can exist in two dimensions in objects. If you are aware or look for them, you will notice the glitches all around us, such as diversions from built pathways—user created glitches. Broken or repaired objects and their  solutions can often be more interesting than the original object or idea. Countries with a less disposable culture are more open to using less ‘pretty’ solutions to repair and reimagine spaces and objects to suit their lifestyle (and budget) and end up with some beautifully poetic and useable solutions. Fellows were then challenges to go about their next few days collecting glitches.

“Repair is often the catalyst of the greatest glitches" - Trent Jansen

JESS MILLER. YIPPEE!! The room erupts. We are so excited to have managed to get jess down to Melbourne to join us for the day (just quickly, she rocks!).

So much good advice, so many funny anecdotes, and so much applicable theory was imparted throughout this presentation-slash-mentoring-session that we can’t fit it all (or give it away for free) here. You should probably just hire Jess if you ever need anything done, really, anything, she’s your girl. Here is just a fraction of the take-aways from her chat with us today:


Jess started talking about community and engagement and how communities are fluid and therefore can’t be predicted, then segued into the importance of the lesson and knowledge that comes from creating a project that flops... She discussed how the most important thing you can do when planning a communication strategy, event, or project is to remember to to ask why—why would I care (or share) this message and why will others.

Jess waxed lyrical on her agenda to motivate people to talk to each other in an effort to combat loneliness—how she is using the internet to get people off the internet and back into real life human to human contact situations by creating and curating events. She discussed her project ‘Grow it Local’—an aspirational city council (food production) project, and then moved on to her biggest, most magnificent and simultaneously terrifying project—TEDx Sydney Crowd Sourced Food—and her idea to use local Sydney residents and producers as community farmers to crowd-source all the food for the event.

Moving on to slightly more theoretical ideas, Jess unwrapped the age-old dilemma of all communications professionals—reality versus ‘the story’, and how you need to find and keep to your narrative and also (always) stay authentic. Even though sometimes the story and reality might not match up entirely, not everyone needs to know what’s going on behind the scenes—it destroys the mystery AND the story. Your job as a creative producer is to push the boundaries—governments and institutions won’t always see the possibilities in front of them unless someone has the vision and the drive to get it done or show them the way. Think of your project as a gift. Leverage your story/s and push your messages.

“make sure you have a stick in one hand but a much tastier carrot in the other”. (Best quote ever according to Leyla)

That said, we also heard about how and why and when to “go gently” and the importance of building trust and relationships before pushing the envelope. If you push too far you might tip over the edge...

And a few random final Jess-isms to take with you:

  • Sometimes a compromise is worth the end result, as long as you retain your integrity.
  • Feedback and constructive criticism is always worthwhile.
  • Concept without execution is not worth the effort and can in fact be detrimental to the idea.
  • You don’t have to make your motivation obvious. If people are authentically engaged—you win either way.
  • Make sure to discuss legacy on collaborative projects, especially if you have been a “consultant” for someone else, IP is your livelihood.
  • Clarify expectations (both yours and your stakeholders).
  • Take risks
  • Experience and self-confidence breeds the ability to say no, to pull back
  • Value yourself and your time
  • Don’t be negative if you feel an idea won’t work, simply give the pros and cons and find a better alternative solution that fulfils the brief and tells the story.

Jess is one hell of a busy lady, check out a few of her projects here:

After a brief discussion of Jess’s 202020 Vision project and an explanation of collective impact the fellows broke into groups to do a short exercise based around collective impact and were given feedback on framing by Jess. This was followed by a much needed caffeine break. Jess was fondly farewelled by the entire fellowship who could all have happily picked her brain for the rest of the afternoon—but alas, we must move on!

“I’m just a bit of a hustler really, that’s the best way to describe it” (Jess—when asked what her actual job title is).

un-school of disruptive deisgn fellows working in groups

Following Jess’s departure, Fellows were asked to present their gamefied responses to last night’s peer-to-peer dinner challenge. Each of the groups had been asked to come up with an experiential intervention in response to a series of questions that were provided by the Un-School team to trigger connection and conversation and to challenge the fellows to come up with a response specific to them and their interests/needs.

Group problem solving at the un-school of disruptive design

The four responses were completely different and very personal. The first being a new take on the card game ‘Cards for Humanity’ re-branded as ‘Design for Humanity’ by the group. The second was almost a non-intervention with the group silently offering players no clue as to how the game worked or what the rules were and making the players interact with them and each other in an effort to understand what was happening—resulting in many puzzled looks and some weirdness over 10 minutes as a clock ticked down. The third group conducted a group unburdening of fears mirrored by an accepting of compliments all wrapped up in a string theory, and the final group finished our time at Donkey Wheel House with a laugh circle, guided meditation and group affirmation!


We then took off from our home for the last three days for the final time and headed to our secret dinner party...

Dinner popped up in a converted photographic studio/warehouse (that used to be a kickboxing studio) that our team set up beautifully just for us to enjoy delicious cocktails, mingle, eat some amazing vegetarian delights, and (of course) take part in a few challenges...

Mentor Jess Miller wowing our fellows at the Un-School Pop Up dinner

Three of our mentors attended (Trent, Jess and Adam) and we set up three tables for the Fellows. Each table had one mentor, and we designed three challenges to go with the three courses of food. Following each challenge, the mentors would rotate to the next table of Fellows so that all the fellows had a different mentor for each challenge. This was designed to get the creative juices flowing!

Pop-up dinner parties in secret locations at the Un-School

First up was “how can we make using condoms sexy”. This was won by Team V-Jay with their proposed ‘F**k-Bit’ a new take on the Fit-Bit which brings a level of challenge and pride to sex, with wearers having to wear the device to participate. The second challenge was “how can we make people pick up their dog poo”, which ended in a tie between teams 51 Shades Of Opaque Grey and The Constant Condoms, with two ideas based on reward, one saw councils installing poker machine-like poo bins that doled out random rewards to people depositing poo (such as a song or liver treat for your pooch). The second idea was creating a dog food that contained flower seeds that would encourage people to keep and use the poo. Our final, slightly controversial (and potentially alcohol/tiredness impaired) challenge was “how can we enable people to experience ‘the other’—specifically in a gender/sex sense”. According to judges, only one team successfully followed the brief on this one, so the V-Jays were declared the only possible winners with their reinvention of a tamagotchi-like e-pet device to enable people to experience life from the perspective of someone of a different sex.

Un-SChool Fellows collaborating for social change

This concluded proceeding on a very long day. Goodbyes were said, trains were caught, and heads hit pillows full of excitement for our big outdoor adventure day tomorrow!

Un-School of Disruptive Design Emerging Leaders Fellowship Program
Un-SChool Fellowship Mentor Trent Jansen