design for empowerment

Performing (un)Real Economies

The workshop was a part of the official program of Beirut Design Week, 2018. This is also a part of an ongoing exploration on the potential of LARP for facilitating new imagination toward future social systems.


My Roles
Participatory designWorkshop facilitator
Participatory skillWorkshop facilitation

Ming Unn Anderson and I designed and facilitated the workshop as part of the official program of Beirut Design Week, 2018. We gained rich and wonderful experience in facilitating participation and co-creation, which can be a powerful and constructive infrastructure for opening up the creativity exploring future possibilities.

Background: a participatory workshop exploring the future social system

How improvisation theatre and LARP (Live-Action Role-Play) can be utilised within the realm of design? How to facilitate the participants with the sensibility of a not-yet-existing society?

With the aims to explore the possibilities opened by the questions, on 25th of June, 2018, the workshop “Performing (un)Real Economies” was organised at Antwork as part of the official program of Beirut Design Week. There were 10 participants from the various different fields of design such as graphic design, service design, and business design. The workshop was funded by Aalto University and the Finnish Embassy in Beirut.

a screenshot of the landing page of the official website
The official webpage for the workshop. Design by Yentsen Liu and Ming Unn Anderson

Context and Theme: (un)Real Economies

The participants, through role-play, can escape from the original constraints given by their social roles while still holding a reflective perspective toward their own performance. They perform their embodied knowledge and actively reshape the world they create. The participants embody the imagination of their own and identify the relationship created during the process. Several questions were kept asking: How are these relationships possible? Are those relationships desirable? In our workshop, we aimed to explore the great potential hasn’t been clearly identified yet.

(un)Real Economies is the core theme explored in our workshop, which aims to facilitate the sensibility of diverse economies among the participants.

30–50 % of all economic activity in the world constitute non-capitalist economic activities (Gibson-Graham, 2008). Yet in the neoliberalist machine, we are living in today, monetized economies are by far the ones dominating not only the discourse but our sense of reality. By facilitating a LARP, we want to shift our sight to see the unseen, to the non-market transactions, unpaid household work, alternative currencies, co-op exchange, hunting and gathering. What are the diverse economies that exist today and what could they be in the future?

The Iceberg of diverse economies. Drawing by J.K. Gibson-Graham
The Iceberg of diverse economies. Drawing by J.K. Gibson-Graham

Facilitation of the workshop

The workshop lasted a full day from 10 to 17. We provided several pre-reading materials for our participants, which are the introduction of LARP and improvisation theatre and the introduction of the concept of diverse economies by Katherine Gibson.

During the workshop, all sessions were organised in the following order:

  1. introduction to the concept of diverse economies
  2. outline of the sessions of the workshop
  3. several improv exercises
  4. LARP design
  5. LARP and debrief session

We briefly introduced the concept of diverse economies, and then, while doing the improv exercises. The aim of the exercises is to encourage the participants to warm up prior to the stretching and more strenuous LARP. We would like to enable them to act out the alternative personalities different from their usual. Therefore, some of the small exercises look silly, but they worked in a natural and effective way.

a birthday gift-giving exercise

After several times of ideation and exercises, we made all the participants were working together to design an service that is an alternative to the current economies. The service that we ended up using for the larp was ‘Stoned’ a company dedicated to make people feel uncomfortable through the act of staring into your friend’s eyes. 

The Iceberg of diverse economies. Drawing by J.K. Gibson-Graham

Either taking the role as a client/customer (a specific one!) in order to take a look at the service through their eyes while not focusing on design details. Or, by seeing new connections and how they develop, when you just play along with the story. In the larp ‘the enemy’ of ‘Stoned’ together with her wife, came up with that she should target the ‘tired parent’ to steal customers away from the company. The room we facilitated the workshop was filled with their delightful hum of conversation and laugh.

Many of them said that the workshop was very interesting and fun. For all of them, it was the first experience of LARPing. One thing interesting was that the difference their originally normal characters could be seen. Although it sounded weird to provide a service that aims to make the customer feel uncomfortable, it was still effective to expand the imagination of value and investigate the new values.


Although improvisation has been widely used in designing for services, especially for the purpose of empathizing and sparking creativity, it seems to us that it can be pushed forward to seeing how to apply in speculative and empowering purposes. We would love to establish a more solid understanding for it on the development in design as well as the outcome of this method by conducting more case studies and LARP practices.


  1. The official webpage for the workshop (In English)