Speculative Design Brief Response #9

A walk in the neighbourhood

I am a designer and researcher from Istanbul. It is hard to design anything detached from the city because the city has its own life. Composed of several layers from several cultures, it has its own choices.

Designed objects have only recently started to gain symbolic value in culture in Istanbul. I have always thought that the weather is too good and life is too fragile in this city to take anything too seriously, including design. Service design can be extra hard because services are provided by family and friends. Therefore the idea of the number of people who would help me get what I need when I can’t leave home made me smile. A deep feeling of security comes with the culture. Mind you, there might be a pay off at times!

As a response to the Speculative Design Brief, first, I will explain how services are intertwined with interpersonal relationships on a neighborhood scale with an example.

My colleague P’s mother had an operation from both of her knees in March 2014. She had knee replacement. Since she could not walk for a month after the operation she had to find ways to reach her needs.

Having heard the household stories of how my colleague helped her family in the past month I decided to report her experience. For this, first I told her about the Speculative Design Response Project. After that I reminded her bits of stories she told me before so that we could start a conversation about how her Mom reached her needs.

Mom is 68 years old and she was trained as an interior architect. P is a designer and design researcher who teaches full time at a university located in central European part of Istanbul. She lives a couple of streets away from her Mom’s in the Asian side of Istanbul which is known as a white collar middle class residential area.

While mom could not leave home, my impression was that P was the main caretaker. I remember her restricting hanging out hours to go shopping for her Mom’s needs. At times, I remember thinking that these needs were not really primary. Maybe Mom could postpone asking for these needs but maybe P liked helping a lot. In addition to the needs of Mom, Dad also had a set of needs. His dietary routine was disturbed.

P stayed at her Mom’s for a month. She prepared breakfast for her parents in the morning and left for work. After that a helper arrived who cooked for the couple and cleaned home. She left when P came back from work.

Some of the needs were met by people coming in to home for service. For example, the person who made medical dressing came home for the task once in every two days for two weeks. He also removed the stitches at the end of the month at home. This was an independent worker whose was recommended by the doctor. The doctor provided his the contact number as well as physiotherapist. The physiotherapist worked for a company and she made periodical visits to the home once in every 3 days for a month. The doctor was the connector in this case for complementary care.

Another striking point in P’s case was Mom’s friends who brought in large amount of nice food for the family everyday. When P told me Mom’s friends were the food providers I asked her whether they asked for it. She told me that they brought the food without being asked. My first guess was that these were snacks and I asked P what they brought. She said: “Steak, desert…” This indicated that P’s family belongs to a circle of good friends.

Another helper was the apartment manager who did groceries for the family during this time from a store nearby. In Turkey it is a common practice for an apartment manager to ask each apartment for their shopping needs on a daily basis. Therefore it is not surprising for the manager to adopt the shopping service while Mom could not leave home. This reminded me that the job description of our apartment manager in the US was limited and it did not include any service like doing groceries. In Turkey an apartment manager would typically help the residents with anything he can including carrying heavy items, shopping, finding a handyman, changing your light bulb or even a flat tire.

From what P told me, there was an informal infrastructure behind the care taking services after the operation. The staff of the hospital did not make home visits but the doctor knew people providing this service privately. When Mom needed medication she would call the pharmacy and the pharmacist would send the medication with the boy employed as a helper (named kalfa). Meanwhile, in Turkey it is not strange to call the convenient store across your street and ask for a box of cigarettes. They will deliver any item for free. It is nice to tip the delivery boy but not a requisite. When P told me that many people came home for different services, I thought this was specific to the medical situation. However, soon it became apparent that there is a big affordable informal service culture in Turkey on a neighborhood scale. Maybe because there are a lot of people who need a job.

A map showing the location the mentioned places

A map showing the location the mentioned places

P took me for a small walk in the neighbourhood so that I could take photos of the mentioned places. On our way to work we ran into a guy with a bunch of plastic grocery bags. I understood that the man was P’s apartment manager. They were happy to see each other and dived in to a dialogue. P asked him whether it was ok where she parked. Then he shows P an embroidered traditional vest, which he just picked up. The vest is black embroidered with gold thread. It has a small flag on the chest. He wears it and explains that the vest is not only a costume but it protects the players from the cold in the winter and hot in the summer. He says that weddings start outside in the garden of the bride’s house and lasts in the wedding hall until after midnight. He plays the drums and the violin. We chat a bit and we say goodbye. I am happy to find another evidence illuminating about how some of the services were provided through interpersonal relationships when Mom could not leave home.

Now what do I do when I can’t get out of my house and I need something?

I call P.

p2 pic3

A view from the neighbourhood. The pharmacy and the medical good supplier is located on this street.

pic5 pic6

Grocery stores are located across the street.

We ran into P’s apartment manager

We ran into P’s apartment manager


Cigdem Kaya
Born and raised in Istanbul Turkey, Cigdem Kaya is an Associate Professor of design and design research at Istanbul Technical University. She works on tacit knowledge, situated learning in communities of practice and practice-based research.


About Lucy Kimbell

Director, Innovation Insights Hub, University of the Arts London. AHRC research fellow, Policy Lab, Cabinet Office. Associate fellow, Said Business School, University of Oxford. Author of Service Innovation Handbook. @lixindex
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One Response to Speculative Design Brief Response #9

  1. jossbailey says:

    Interesting. Really highlights the extent to which our (we thought) fairly open brief/ problem statement is in fact deeply embedded in UK current narratives of what constitutes a social challenge. And therefore how the legitimate objects of social design change hugely between national contexts.

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