..inspired by more than 100 years of documentary films


Design documentaries

Design documentaries are a tool to create insights in people’s everyday life and provide inspiration to design and innovation teams. Film is a good medium because it allows to tell stories in a visual way and a language that everyone understands. Film language is also a really powerful tool to identify with others and step in their shoes. Designers and innovators benefit from taking the perspective of the people they are designing for because it helps to understand people’s behaviour and motives, and inpsires ideas for new or improved services and products.

Reality, language and conversations

Design documentaries appropriate three ideas from documentary film for people research. The idea that film is like reality focuses on embracing the diversity and ambiguity of everyday life in the research. Through film language and aesthetics these ambiguities, and the perspectives developed during the research, can be expressed. The idea that films are conversations between perspectives is used by design documentaries to create conversations in design processes. Together, these ideas empower people research to communicate stories in new ways, and also to tell new stories.

The films Drift and Swim were made to explore opportunities for smart textiles in two situations: wandering through a city and swimming lanes. Researchers, engineers, designers and artists collaborated in discovery research by making design documentaries, using the three documentary film ideas related to reality, language and conversation. Storage and Clutter in the Home uses these ideas as well, to investigate how people store things at home. All three films seek inspiration in everyday life and explore opportunities for computer technology disappearing into objects, clothing and architecture around us.

Observation, compilation, intervention and performance

Design documentaries adopt and adapt many techniques that documentary filmmakers have developed and explored. Observation, compilation, intervention and performance techniques provide an inspiring toolbox for researchers who make design documentaries. The films FredKent and Debra illustrate how these techniques can be used in various ways.

For Philips Medical Systems in Seattle, I made three design documentaries with heartpatients. The stories in the films are partly based on interviews Philips previously did in the USA. In response to these interviews, I did discovery research with heart patients in London. The design documentaries FredKent and Debra stimulated designers to speculate concretely about how their work might affect individual heart patients. The designers developed a fresh perspective, grounded in the everyday of the heart patients in the films.

About Bas Raijmakers


I graduated in 2007 as a PhD in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art and currently run my own user research company STBY with Geke van Dijk and two teams, in London and Amsterdam.

My work in the internet industry in the 1990s showed me that the erratic, elusive aspects of everyday life that make everyone a different individual have a strong influence on how people use technology but are hardly taken up in the research done to inform design processes. Nevertheless, these idiosyncratic details of everyday life are very inspiring to designers. These observations motivated me to do PhD research with the aim to develop a new research method that informs and inspires design processes by looking at the rich fabric of everyday life. Design documentaries is the method that results from this research.

For my research I co-operated with industry and academia, for instance Equator (UK), HP labs (UK), France Telecom/Orange (F), Goldsmiths College (UK), Intel (US), Intelligent Textiles (UK), The Open University (UK) and Philips Medical Systems (US).

My research was supervised by professor Bill Gaver at Goldsmiths College (Interaction Research),  professor Stella Bruzzi at Warwick University (Film and Television studies) and professor Tony Dunne at the RCA (Design Interactions).

The PhD research was partly funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) via Equator, a six-year Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration between more than 60 researchers that focuses on the integration of physical and digital interaction and how this may enhance the quality of everyday life. Additional funding was provided by Philips Medical Systems North America and STBY.

At STBY, we created design documentaries for, for instance, T-Mobile (Germany), Novo Nordisk (Denmark), Panasonic (USA), Southern Water (UK) and Nokia (UK).

This website is based on my PhD work but also the use of design documentaries in my work at STBY, which is ongoing. I am contacted regularly by people who have used some ideas behind design documentaries in their work and sometimes have made design documentaries themselves. This blog aims to create links to some of that work too, so please get in touch if youare interested in making those connections. You can contact me at bas@stby.eu.

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