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S P A C E Y 2.0 Cognitive Design

S P A C E Y is based on the research and development of the notion of Cognitive Design, movement that acknowledges the cognitive spectrum in the design process, and that aims to demonstrate that it is possible to rearrange the patterns in our heads for positive changes, using frontier technologies of communication, such as Virtual Reality (V.R.) or psychological artificial intelligence programs.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to detonate development and Inclusive growth, however, nations are failing to exploit the potential of ICTs to drive social and economic transformations. (The Global Information Technology Report, 2015) in simpler terms, there is a lot of technological developments helping just a minority of the world. So much is created to consume, but not to be useful.

In view of the realisation that we cannot change the rhythm of development, this project emerged with the aim to prove that we can cut the forces that drive underdevelopment, through the design of solutions centred in creating healthier mental environments.

This project is a provocation and a statement, to start using the new technological tools we have developed in a better way, and start applying our large body of knowledge into the consecution of a future free of ignorance and intolerance.

We are what we do to change what we are– wrote Eduardo Galeano (1989) proposing a way of being to become on the basis of change and the elections we do. To that end, this project has become a process that gave life to change, being the result of an active research that centred its attention in the analysis of a dichotomy of destruction of the space and construction of cultural identities. A journey of design-interventions, that has provoked disruptions in places where innovation is needed, and where little has been done.

This paper presents the current stage of an on-going active-research with people who have perceived needs, especially with children from displaced communities. This work is not focused on telling their stories, but on showing how they will start creating new narratives for their futures.


There has been a greater emphasis on wellbeing and human centeredness in product and services design, encouraging interaction, co-creation and emotive connections, but not much has been done to make this greatness accessible and functional to everyone. We still immersed in a world in which economic values are increasingly more appreciated than the actions of individuals.

There is enough evidence of what have we done wrong with our societies, by marginalizing their members and creating contexts in which individuals have to suffer from the indifference of a (socio economic) system that does not account for their human needs.

It is incoherent, to have in one hand the most developed tools, and on the other the most precarious social fabric. Aren’t we all equal and therefore should have access to the same opportunities for development?


This research operates at the intersection of three branches of knowledge: future studies, frontier technologies of communication and cognitive dissociative disorders.

The present study is contextualised by the impact that certain socio-economic movements, political ideologies and the constant flow of technological developments have had on the social fabric.

It examines a critical moment of our time in which nations are failing to exploit the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) to drive social and economic transformations (WEF, 2015); and in which globally economic concerns, security fears and growing inequalities occurring in different regions of the planet have contributed to develop a complex mental environment (McKibben, 2013).


This research started in June 2015 working in displaced communities in Uganda, and includes fieldwork with children form displaced communities at psychosocial centres, refugee camps and streets in Lebanon, Greece and France; volunteer work with Homeless people in London and most recently work in East African communities.

During this time, Creative workshops and Virtual Reality experiences have been used as a tool to help alleviate the suffering of people, especially children, who are suffering cognitive dissociative disorders, with the aim of provoke conversations with them.

So far, based on the impact made in people’s lives, it has been evident that through the design and use of brain-based tools and creative activities, people’s cognitive limitations can be overcome by enhancing intellectual capacities through messages and exercises sent using emerging technologies. These facts suggest, that this techniques and technological tools can effectively modify our brain architecture, and with this, effect changes in our behaviours and attitudes.

First Results

With the approval of different authorities, I volunteered to work with children in refugee camps and psychosocial centres in Greece and Lebanon. To effectively work with them I developed a methodology of interaction based on the use of neurodidactics (brain-based learning principles) to change and stimulate their mental and learning environments.

At these places I observed that people are suffering from different neurobiological effects. I detected hyper-alert behaviours and a large number of kids with evident signs of anxiety; also noticed lots of empathic behaviours, evident in patterns of sharing and willingness to build resilience.

Over the course of six weeks, I worked with more than 120 kids from different backgrounds and ages ranging from 6-13 years young. Among the most incredible things that happened there, was the fact that I was able to stimulate these kids cognitive perception. I measured this through a simple test that I ran before and after every intervention with them, noticing also the effects when they opened themselves to talk with me, and in this way share their desires for the future.

Alongside this process I noticed the importance and concurrent need for developing safe spaces for them, so they could freely express their identities and acquire the cognitive connections to successfully be integrated into new communities, without fear of discrimination or prejudice and without developing a learned-helplessness mind-set.

Those children have given me the keys to change my approach and understanding towards their needs, their situation and the configuration of the world nowadays.

In a way, together we developed the ‘Sessions of Imagination’, an iteration of my methodology that became a proposal for an educational initiative for change, which aims to promote empathic behaviours, by the means of immersive virtual reality experiences, which can promote theory of mind tasks, and give way to the construction of safe spaces for freedom of expression, and encouragement of cultural-identity respect and tolerance.


The social constructs, which constitute the mental environment, have been formed by symbolically established ideas, stories, events and beliefs that influence the culture and individuals actions.

Everyday we are bombarded by messages sent through objects or people that modify our brain architecture, deriving in different ways of perceiving the reality, resulting in an unnoticed affection of our patterns of behave.

One of these affections caused to the brain is known as Cognitive Dissonance, resulting from the stress created by holding two opposing believes. As an example, in marketing Communications, this is used as a tool to manipulate audiences, taking people to make decisions that they wouldn’t normally make.

How is this achieved? Simple. First they make people answer affirmatively to some innocuous statement, to then introduce a second idea (or image) getting people to agree to the message stated in it, making it harder to denied or refuse it.

Having this as a frame of work, the notion of cognitive design is focused on studying how does the space and its objects affect the mental environment of individuals, seeking to recover the role of the individual over the systems and structures, in order to work on the design of tools and processes that can help develop actions for change aimed at the transformation of society.

The future of this Investigation

At this instant, the project is at the stage where it could transform into a platform to promote creative placemaking and become more useful in people’s lives. But before anything else, in order to take this step, it is important to take into consideration the implications of using frontier technologies of communication by considering the effects it could have on children’s (an society) mental environment.

As has been noted, throughout this journey where I have witnessed the effects of social disparities, I have came to the realisation, that it is relevant to add a cognitive dimension when it comes to the design practice. Especially, with regard to testing of services and products, intended to provide communal connections for the wellbeing.

Our cognitive limitations can be overcome by enhancing our intellectual capacities through emerging technologies, that can modify our brain architecture, and with this, effect changes in our behaviours and attitudes. Therefore, we need to focus on using them to promote the best values and ideas we have to offer as humanity.

Under those circumstances, we need to consider how our lives are shaped by the presence of technology. Having in mind also, the way in which it influences our perceptions of the reality, both in terms of moral values but also in terms of general knowledge.

As many futurists predict, technology will become more pervasive in our lives, creating a tremendous impact on society. In either case, we need to keep wondering: how can we make ethical interventions?

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