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Designing for the Apocalypse

Here at Design Concepts, you’ll sometimes hear the term “co-creation” used on a project. Typically it’s used to refer to a kind of brainstorming activity we undertake with design research participants where we brainstorm together with them, our “users,” to co-create solutions for their needs.

But in fact, we’re co-creating all the time, side by side with our clients. The names we give some of our milestone meetings —“Co-Analysis,” “Co-Synthesis”— attest to this co-creative process. While we are the consultants, our process typically and preferably involves our clients every step of the way.

A few months ago, I was able to experience co-creation from the client side of things. Along with my partner and two good friends, I signed up for a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE workshop offered by Ric Furrer at Door County Forgeworks. The idea of the workshop is for each participant to design something for the zombie apocalypse and to build it from scratch with Ric over the course of two days. The workshop is open to people with zero experience in a blacksmith’s forge. It’s pretty brilliant, really, because you can design the craziest thing, try to build it, and if it doesn’t quite look right in the end, well…you still have something that you made from scratch that could possibly one day save your life when the zombies come. So it’s guaranteed to be awesome. Plus Ric is a master at his craft. We all came out of two 12-hour days in the shop with our very own forged pieces, all with working (read: SHARP!) edges on them.

We started with rough designs, which we sent ahead to Ric so he could prep the materials we would need. I wavered between designing something that would actually be useful for dispatching zombies and something that might see more use. I opted for “practical” in the end and went with a hatchet:I tried to keep it simple, since I had no idea how or whether I was actually going to be able to make it.

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Left: initial sketch. Right: roughing out the handle
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Hammering, curving.
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Grinding, quenching the blade. Pattern and finished piece side by side.
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Waxing the handle.
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Finished product.

Upon arrival at Ric’s forge, I asked Ric if I could put a hammer head on the back of the hatchet. Of course, he said. And while we were at it…he suggested adding some curves to the handle to make it look a little sexier. And (more Ric suggestions), how about cutting some facets in the handle, to both lighten it up and give it some visual interest at the same time? From bandsaw work to forging hot metal, heat treating and tempering, and grinding for shape and edge, Ric was a perfect teacher. Always patient and encouraging, having us do as much as we were able to (or comfortable doing) and somehow always stepping in at just the right time to move the piece on to the next step in the process (and probably saving the piece as well!) Ric took over when necessary, but it never felt like a takeover. Instead it felt like exactly the right time to rely on his expertise.

The weekend was a complete success. We all went home with our zombie apocalypse implements in hand, feeling ready for anything. And I came away with a tactile reminder of how great and empowering the co-creation experience can be.

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