Dresses to tell the stories: Prompting sensitive conservations in Tanzania

Tanzania, Oct 29th 2018

Storytelling has taken a central role in Core’s design research. In the Discover 2 phase in Tanzania, the research team will use white canvas dresses as an aid to prompt sharing and discussion.


The dress tool

The dresses were created for Discover 2 phase 

Nail polish, sunglasses and jewellery. Small toy cars, scarves…

Core project’s design research team had an interesting shopping list for items to pick up in early October. The items were set to play a key role in design research.

As part of the Core project’s Discover phase, the team had arranged group sessions with Tanzanian women in order to discuss sexual and reproductive health, especially to learn more about adolescents and their lives.  

So, what was the plan?

“We wanted to pick everyday items from the context to build imaginary personas for our research,” explains Design research lead Priyam Sharda.

The items collected would be used as props to decorate simple white dresses that would serve as a blank canvas to create the personas.

“Discussing the issues in the third person instead of talking about one’s own life has proven easier than getting people to discuss something personal and sensitive from their own point of view,” Sharda explains.  

The dress as a blank canvas

The dresses were made from simple, white fabric, so that they would leave room for imagination and creativity.

“In the sessions, the participants are asked to pick a dress of their choice, hang it up and and decorate it. The shape of the dress and the items attached to it help them to tell a story: what that person is doing, what she is like and what her dreams for the future are. Through the physical material we get to the immaterial: experiences, situations, and opinions,” tells senior service designer Sandra Viña.

“Usually in design research, so-called generative design research tools, such as images and photographs act as triggers for discovering more about real life situations, dreams and aspirations of people. We might use images of people with a certain profession to trigger aspirations, or to find out about role models in communities. Images of objects such as airplanes or bikes might also tell a story: where is the person going to, what does she wish for herself. A single image can trigger several other lines of thought.”

Read more about how the dresses worked in the design research workshops here.

Core in Tanzania