Radical Prototyping em Brasil

by Melissa

2014 took us to many amazing places, visiting project sites or giving talks and workshop in more than 29 cities over 4 continents. As the year came to a close, we headed to Brazil and amongst other things, had the chance to run a week-long workshop in Belo Horizonte.

We always work in collaboration with many – sometimes random – fields of disciplines, and as a result, it can be hard to claim an expertise. So instead, we say our expertise is prototyping: we prototype human-to-human interactions, and with time, we’ve become expert prototypers. Our latest experiments in Brazil proved that prototyping can in fact be quite extreme.

The context:

We were invited to host a 5 day workshop in Belo Horizonte to brainstorm ideas for their 2015 Noite Branca event – the local Nuit Blanche. The last edition had taken over the city’s Parke Municipal for a night in 2012, presenting the work of over 70 artists and attracting 100K visitors. In preparation for the event’s next edition, they invited Dtlj and 5 other studios from all over the world, and the creative fields, to run this massive ideation session. From the start, the distinctive nature of our respective approaches could be seen in the materials we each asked the workshop organizers to provide us:

  • Daily tous les jours, yours truly, asked for large sheets of papers and cardboard, color markers, knives, scissors, and some Post-its;
  • Iconoclasistas, graphic designers, asked for 2 computers with Adobe After Effects and large format printers;
  • Assemble, architects, asked for hammers, drills and saws;
  • PKMN Architectura, also architects, famous for their tape interventions in public spaces, asked for… a lot of tape;
  • Opavivarà!, relational artists, asked for a barbecue (next time we do a workshop, we will also ask for a barbecue).

Altogether, the 6 studios lead about 100 participants* to design new proposals for the next edition of Noite Branca. We were given the freedom to conduct the workshop as we pleased. It was a chance to expose our process, and to see it infused by the local culture of Belo Horizonte in return.

I have to confess that during the first days of the workshop, while fancy prints were setting up on the wall, beautiful tape interventions were made in the entrance hall, and barbecue parties were taking over parks and squares, I was a bit nervous with our team’s papers and Post-its. Trust the process, we reminded ourselves.


Belo Horizonte has a fascinating recent history with its public spaces. Like most of Brazil, it’s a city with huge economic and social gaps between classes, and recent urban transformations led to the displacement of a lot of its poorer population. Walls came up, parks closed and people lived in their distinct universes.

In the past few years however, many activists started reclaiming their public spaces as places for all. They self-programmed activities in locations forgotten by urban planners and flash mobbed small events where only big events were allowed. In one famous example, the city’s chic Praça Liberdade was transformed into a one day, open beach experiment: Praia Liberdade.

The workshop:

The objective was to ideate, prototype and design a proposal for a new participatory intervention for Noite Branca. We started by exposing our own process – working from context, spotting opportunities for engagement within a site, its public, and existing narratives.

Through research and observation, some participants identified connection opportunities between people waiting at different bus stops; some others were inspired by an abandoned site with exceptional architectural features and POVs on the city; others by the story of a park that saw a large portion of its space disappear for the sake of urban development; and others still by a public square with peculiar rumours about its monuments.

Next we invited them to do as we would: get prototyping! It didn’t have to be sophisticated. We love quick and dirty prototypes. At the studio, some of our most convincing exercises are made with Post-its (hence our material list) or collective battle sessions around a Google doc. In the end, we did not care about having a final proposal presentation, it was about working the best iteration of a prototype to prove that an idea worked and was, ultimately, irresistible.

The results:

The hard thing to teach about prototypes, is how to find insight through them.

What exactly did you learn? Where’s the grit? Where’s the fun? And, beyond fun, what is there? Through our work on good participation, we have developed a vocabulary to talk about engagement, but it’s still hard in the context of a project to effectively decipher successful interaction and the next steps forward.


The other thing is documentation. I did my best to invite everyone to document everything, the failures, the successes. It’s often when looking at the documentation afterwards that we get enough distance to really learn from an experiment.

Noite Branca Prototype


Noite Branca Prototypes

In the end, it was amazing to see the energy and fearlessness of our Brazilian participants when it came to prototyping. We saw walkie-talkie experiments to connect people from a bus stop to another, a post-it interface on a series of monuments inviting passers-by to share real and imaginary captions, a procession of plant backpacks congo-line and wearable picnic tables to reenact a forgotten park, a giant slide going down sets of stairs to bring attention and playfulness to a neglected space.

Another confession: we did not think the giant slide could actually happen. Not to mention that back home, we’ve become too conditioned to worry about liabilities and insurance and lawsuits… The slide was obviously extreme prototyping. But also extreme was the energy throughout all the projects, the relentless efforts that were given in trying stuff out, with whatever was available, and bringing people together in doing so.

Noite Branca Workshop Space – Chaos at night

Now I am writing this as we get ready to work on a new piece at the Autodesk Pier 9 facility, for the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Pier 9 is a wonderland type of facility with all you can dream 3D-printing-laser-cutting-CNC-machines. It’s quite a contrast with the giant slide built out of metal string and cardboard with local homeless kids. We know that prototyping interaction is not about the tools we use. But now that we’ll have the means… Noah Weinstein from Pier 9 described his expectations from us with the words ‘radical prototyping’. We are curious to see how the Autodesk tools will influence our process and what kind of project will come out of this radical prototyping exercise.

And I must not forget to ask for a barbecue.

Until then, happy new year everyone. May 2015 be a year filled with health, love and radical prototypes.

Noite Branca Prototype

* * *
Thank you prototyping wonders in Belo Horizonte:

Alexandre Guilherme Campos
Andre Veigas Pereira
Ayumi Takizawa
Carla Werkhaizer
Carlos Magno Pereira
Cristiane Ventura
Daniel Romeiro
Daniella Carneiro Rodrigues
Gustavo Maeus Gonijo
Hely Rodrigues Vieira de Souza
Herbert Rafael Freitas
Ines Mendes
José Álvaro Teixeira
Lorena Vaccarini Ávila
Lucas Henrique Valadares
Maíra de Castro Botelho
Maria Claudia Costa
Patricia Nardini
Paulo Marcelo Ferreira
Pedro Virgílio Ferreira Bruno
Rafael Prince
Rita Davis Cavalcanti
Rita de Castro Engler
+ + +
And to all those who volunteered in the experiments.