Embodied Design Labs

giving form to systems, ENGAGEMENT models and designed artifacts through embodied experiences

Role: Lab Facilitator Project: TAE Foundation (Transforming Arts and Education), Mexico City.

Team: Carmen Serra, Claudia Madrazo, Jean Jack Remond, Ricardo Dutra. Co-creators: Alejandro, Ana, Dani, Emilio, Erandi, Maria Jose, Miguel,  Phanie, Regina, Rosi, Sarita and Tomas. Guest designers and artists: Uzyel Karp, Verónica Monsivais, Fernando Arpio, Claudia Fernández, Mauricio de la Puente, Rubén Gutierrez and Marek Wolfryd 


how this project came to be

The idea for creating this lab started when TAE (a foundation working for transforming arts and education in Mexico) decided to map their core processes and make visible the systems they are a part of (social, economic, cultural, environmental), particularly in the Yucatán region, around the Mayan heritage and culture – so they could engage more people as co-creators of a cultural movement in the region. TAE has done an incredible work around prototyping participatory research approaches, running art and culture-related workshops and co-creating art works among international or Mexican artists and Mayan communities. Their collaborations have included the development of site-specific art works (including artists such as James Turrell, Jorge Pardo, among others), as well as local art pieces, concerts and musical performances (including Laurie Anderson, Florence and The Machine, and others). For developing this Lab, TAE made it clear they were looking for a generative process for creating outputs. That meant we needed to generate visual experiments for their website, manual of processes and designed artifacts (which we called "products") through an embodied approach, that valued the collective contribution and emerged from the group's first-person experience. 

Participants build a collective skill map of what the group knows "how to do" as a collective

Participants build a collective skill map of what the group knows "how to do" as a collective


an embodied design lab

For running this experiment, we invited a transdisciplinary team of artists, writers, designers and content curators to prototype what we called a 1-week immersive "embodied design lab". "Embodied" because we valued the body knowing and the insights that come from first-person experience, through awareness and mindfulness. "Design" because it was centered around giving form to the emerging new and prototyping interfaces for a website, a print booklet and an artifact. "Lab" because all of this was primarily an experiment and we aimed to be comfortable with not knowing how it would unfold, and hence, embrace the possibility of failure. 

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4d map ~ embodied system

The Lab participants embodied various roles in the Yucatán cultural system. In this method, participants are asked not to mime, act or represent, but rather sense, notice and be aware of the group, noticing what shifts in body posture, movement, levels, proximity, etc. they are inclined to make. 

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4d map ~ system roles

As the embodied system moves from an initial position (sculpture one) to a second position (sculpture two), the group has a chance to gain insight into what shifts, blind spots and movements could be possible within this system. At the beginning and end, the system roles can speak up a sentence (which is recorded for sense-making).

Photos of the system map (4D mapping) are used to create a space of collective remembering. 

Photos of the system map (4D mapping) are used to create a space of collective remembering. 

I’m suprised by exploring the body knowing. I was afraid and skeptic, but I noticed the results are incredible and very clear. The team has worked much better. Paying attention to the wellbeing of the team is something I enjoyed practicing. I feel nurtured by the process.
— Regina, reflecting on the ‘body knowing'

product design

One of the groups re-imagined a research protocol that values local communities and researchers as equal parts in the investigation process. Their prototype (below) include the protocol and an artifact researchers and community can use to create a shared dialogue.



One of the groups transformed the collective mapped processes and systems into a set of manuals for TAE. These manuals include a. investigate, b. learn and create, and c. co-create. They are prototypes for how artists, community, and others may engage with TAE.


web design

Group uses insights, words and reflections drawn from the systems mapping activities to develop guiding concepts for the web design.

I can notice shifts in my mental models.
— Phanie, participant