Designing for independence 

- Designing for a World in flux; Speculative design project in collaboration with Za'atari Refugee Camp and UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency.

In collaboration with Isabela Gygax and Wenqi Wang.

Duration: 1 month part time.


- Design research.

- Speculative and rapid prototyping.

- Communication of a sensitive subject through illustration and writing.


- UNHCR and Za'atari Refugee camp through professor Helen Storey, Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

- Font: Blue Mosque by Mahmud Sahan.

This project begins with the issues experienced by the people currently living at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, and is approached through the theory of speculative design.

In the face of war and despair, a girl’s life is filled with dependency, restrictions, and a lack of autonomy.

When addressing these restrictions, it is important to acknowledge cultural differences and our privileged perspectives, meaning that we should not design for a specific solution, but rather design the frames for a cultural discussion to occur. 

This project is not about politics or being provocative; it is about designing for independence in an absolutely dependent space. 


The project has two elements:

- An example of an interactive diary for child brides and other women, mentioning admirable women from across the World, in the context of Body, Art and Knowledge.

This book is built to inspire girls and women to either navigate or break down the restrictions they may face.

- 3 illustrated scenarios, created as tools for cultural discussion, to be discussed internally by the people of Za'atari, to determine culturally appropriate and helpful content of the diary.

The scenarios are the speculative element, and are essentially tools for design research.

(For logistical reasons, it was not possible to actually test the scenarios at Za'atari.)



The diary is aimed at child brides specifically for a simple reason; there seems to be a tendency to see married girls as ‘lost causes’, or the ones who couldn’t be saved. These girls are still going through the rest of their lives, hopefully dreaming of the things they will see, and the places they’ll go, while working hard to be wives, maybe even mothers, and hopefully students. 

In the context of Za’atari, we could never successfully apply the same feministic standpoints as we would in Europe.

A powerful woman is able to recognize the frame her life sits in, and either work to be content and happy within it, or to break out and change her life. A woman who can take control over her life and make the most of it, is inspired and empowered.

The diary deals with 3 subjects which can help women to gain control and independence; 

- Body (Reproductive health, sexual, physical and mental health, hygiene, sport)

- Knowledge (Career, School, Craftsmanship, achievements)
- Art (Literature, painting, sculpting, fashion, poetry, dance, music and other art forms) 

Each of the themes are represented by the inspirational story about an admirable women, and an invitation to personally engage with the subject through activities.


The scenarios picture people engaging with the diary, in states of shared laughter, anger and dreaming.

These scenarios are created as tools for a workshop setting, where potential readers and their community discuss the content of the book in context of Body, Art and Knowledge, to identify culturally appropriate or inappropriate outcomes. 

The question is;

"In the social and physical context of being a refugee in Za'atari, which type of content would be culturally suitable for a diary meant to empower girls and women to become independant?"