Information Experience Design – Experimental Design (MA)

Leah Mentzis

Leah is a design researcher with a background in art and photography. After graduating with a BA (Hons) in photography from the London College of Communication, she took her practice further exploring experience design and research at the Royal College of Art.

She has a dual nationality but she comes from three different countries and a mix of three cultures. She is used to traveling but always goes back to the same places. She pushes herself to meet people to make her work stronger and learn about things through qualitative research methods. Whatever she is working on, a design, photography or research project, she is always looking to tell a story. 

Contact

leah.mentzis@network.rca.ac.uk

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Degree Details

School of Communication

Leah is a multidisciplinary individual who uses a range of different media like photography, sketching, and sculpting to bring her ideas to life. Over the past two years, she has worked on many projects in collaboration with artists and designers. Working with people is what she loves doing. Her most recent work focuses on using qualitative research methods to learn about human-landscape interactions. Her work has been influenced by anthropologist Tim Ingold, particularly ‘The Temporality of the Landscape’ (1993).

Being unable to travel to conduct research due to the coronavirus pandemic, she spent the last months thinking about alternatives to 'face to face' qualitative research with specific groups. She has also used this time to collaborate with illustrators and writers in order to make research and findings visually engaging and interactive.

North Somerset Map by Juliette Coquet, 2020 — Illustration

The North Somerset Heirloom is a research project studying human-landscape interaction. This research focuses on the region’s coal-mining past and industrial landscape, using qualitative research methods.

The Old Mills Batch is a slag heap located in Paulton, North-East Somerset. A slag heap is a hill made of the byproducts of the mining industry, such as schist and coal.
Previous research about the reorganisation plans for industrial structures present in landscapes often misses the opinion of local communities. This has resulted in protests against the demolition of slag heaps across Europe. Working with the local community in Radstock, I set to find out what their feelings towards their industrial landscape are.
The aim is to inform regional decisions about the removal or repurposing of slag heaps and to engage the public in coal mining history and industrial heritage. Slag heaps hold a cultural significance and are able to renew and perpetuate collective memories, act as mnemonic devices.

The above map retraces my journey in North Somerset:
• on-site observation at the Old Mills Batch
• historical research at the local library in Midsomer Norton
• meeting and talking to the local community at the Coalfield Life Museum in Radstock

Reflecting on my research, I collaborated with artists to create unique pieces for this project and studied possible developments for a world post pandemic.

Medium:

Mixed media
Multidisciplinary designer
coal-mining
Collaboration
Cultural heritage
Design
Design research
Industrial landscape
Landscape
North Somerset
Participation
Qualitative research
Research
Slag heap

On-site observation, 2020 — Photographs, sketches

Desktop and historical research, 2019-2020 — Mixed media

Geological layers by Chenyue Yuan, 2020 — Illustration

My first trip to North Somerset involved preliminary desktop research, followed by on-site observation and historical research.
Observation is a qualitative research method that translates an experience into information and involves two states of mind: mindfulness and concentration. I chose a semi-structured observation, doing research ahead of time in order to have a set of questions at hand whilst still observing the environment with an open mind.

• Keeping a research diary with valuable information about the region, their history and practical travel routes made me feel more connected to the landscape I was about to investigate.
• When I arrived on site, I documented my observations through notes, sketches and photographs. I was surprised to discover several bumps on the heap and bike tire marks. It looked like someone had built a bike parkour.
• In what context has this slag heap come to exist? I also used this trip to visit the local library and do some historical research. Looking in books as a source of information is especially useful as the industrial landscapes I am investigating are the result of centuries of coal-mining. I learned that a tramway line connected the northern mines from Timsbury, High Littleton, Clutton ending South East of Paulton where the site of the slag heap is.

In order to make my research more visually engaging, I collaborated with Chenyue Yuan who illustrated the Old Mills Batch geological layers. The slag heap is a testimony of the past or, to borrow Tim Ingold’s words, a landscape that ‘is itself pregnant with the past’ (1993). Through these illustrations you can discover the slag heap as I did months before.

Medium:

Mixed Media
Illustrator

Photographs, postcards and initial analysis, 2020 — Mixed media

Analysis of a postcard using Crépieux Jamin's graphology method, 2020 — Postcard

The next step involved talking to the local community at a ‘Back in the day’ event at the Somerset Coalfield Life Museum in Radstock. I learned about their feelings towards their industrial landscape and was able to feel the influence that the coal mining past still has on their lives and memories.

I designed a cultural probe for them to complete. A cultural probe is a qualitative research method aimed at gaining insight into people’s thoughts and habits relevant to a particular design enquiry. The kit I made aimed to collect the community’s experience of their neighbourhood and feelings towards their coal-mining heritage using maps, diaries, postcards and clay.

Due to the pandemic the only elements I received are the postcards.
I analysed a postcard using Crépieux Jamin’s graphology method. I found themes and was able to conclude that the writer has a true connection to the slag heap and memories attached to it, a personal story to tell. The slag heap was a place for them as children to go fossil hunting and even sleepover during summer nights with friends. Yet, they no longer visit the Old Mills Batch.

Medium:

Mixed media

Coalfield Life Museum:

http://radstockmuseum.co.uk
With the support of the Radstock museum I was able to meet a group of participants engaged in keeping their cultural heritage alive.

The British Academy of Graphology:

https://www.graphology.co.uk/crepieuxjaminandpulver

'The Theme Park of Memories' by Eriko Jane Takeno, 2020 — Poem

Untitled by Jacob Courtney, 2020 — Illustration

How can I create an experience through research? Eriko Takeno wrote a poem based on the North Somerset Heirloom, Jacob Courtney then drew an illustration of the poem. Communicating research visually and poetically is a way of engaging people in local history. These collaborations have made the production of experiential elements possible. The poem can be recited by the local community and recorded, echoing the songs sung by miners centuries earlier.

Medium:

Mixed media

Eriko Jane Takeno :

https://www.erikojtakeno.com
Poet
Illustrator

Repurposing a slag heap, 2020 — Technical drawing

Creating a network for coal-mining communities across the UK, 2020 — Mixed media

It was made clear by my research that the slag heap is no longer visited by the older generations but used by the young generations as a playground. I made 3D renders to show how the Old Mills Batch could be repurposed. Adding elements like a slide or concrete climbing blocks can enhance the younger generation’s experience while educating them. With a viewing platform they are able to see the rest of Somerset’s industrial landscape and read about their local history.

How can research and communication with elder communities throughout the UK be maintained without being dependant on technology or the researcher having to travel?
Taking my project further in terms of geographic scalability, I will be conducting research in multiple mining towns using the methods I have developed. The above map illustrates a network of postcards in different coal-mining communities across the UK. Using royal mail as a communication tool seems to be the most adaptable when working with local communities, often 60+ years old.
The North Somerset Heirloom is the first case study to be a part of 'A Theme Park Of Memory'.

Medium:

Mixed media
Social
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