Sonia Kneepkens

Experience designer

What is your passion?

Improving people’s experience of daily life and empowering them to take control of their own life and health.

What is important for you?

Having a connection with the people I design for, is most important for me. I want to hear and tell their personal story in the truest way possible.

I know I can’t come up with something that will really make a difference if I work on my own. I need a multi-disciplinary team to work with that consists of for example service designers, researchers, sociologists or communication designers; in order to create a holistic design which will truly have an impact.

How do you Label yourself?

Labelling is difficult in my industry, as it a quite new and developing field I find myself in. I notice that I explain myself differently to different people that I meet. I’d probably say; I’m a user centered experience designer and researcher, working in social innovation.

Describe your work in one sentence without using the word ‘design’.

Creating new types of public services and daily experiences focused on community engagement, that make a real difference in people’s lives.

How do you relate to the field of well-being?

I look for ways to improve people’s wellbeing, focusing on the physical, psychological and social experience of a person.

What is well-being for you? How does it reflect in your work?

Well-being means living well to me; being mentally and physically healthy, in control of my life, connected to others and part of a caring community. 

The last few years I have been doing a lot of health related projects. Instead of focusing on just physical health, I am more concerned with a person’s psychological and spiritual wellbeing. My work is aimed to help people to find their strengths and realize their potential, by taking an active role in their life. This could be done by using visual storytelling to have them see their situation from a new, fresh perspective, or simply setting up a network to connect them with people that can give support and have been through similar experiences. 

Well-being is Human Centered. How to reach people and connect?

I make work in which the user is the most important element, and decides the outcome.

With use of in-depth ethnography, service user and provider workshops, and co-design sessions I collect personal narratives, experiences and ideas, that will all decide the end result.

What do you do for the world & what is your input?

By working with people on a personal level, listening to their stories and understanding their situation, I hope I can directly make a positive impact on their lives. If a product or service evolves from this, that will be implemented in the community and has an impact on the lives of others; it is the best possible outcome. 

How would your work influence the future?

I do social innovation projects, in which I rethink the way things are currently done and think how they could be done in a much more personal and effective way that has a greater impact in the end. They are always aimed to put the voice of the user central. This could for example be how to make health more personal and understandable, giving kids an active role in their own learning, or empowering people that have been homeless to tell their story to help themselves and inspire others. By taking the user’s hopes and needs as the most important elements of design, I can create services and environments that will be taken over by the public and be sustainable in the future. 

How do you explain to your family what your doing?

I feel I’m constantly re-inventing myself, and that means I’m adjusting the explanation of what I do quite frequently. I sometimes feel I’m making it up as I go along. At the moment I’d tell my parents that I use a creative thinking process to improve people’s experience of daily life.

It has been difficult sometimes to explain to my parents, who are doctors, that I have a very different interpretation of good health care than they do!

To whom do you feel connected and target your work?

Anyone who is not in the position to improve their lives. I like working with a different demographic I haven’t worked with before, in circumstances that are new to me. This helps me to keep an open mind and objective view in each new situation. I do want to focus more on education now and start working with children. A good education makes it hopefully less likely for people to end up in a bad situation. 

How do others benefit most from what you do?

A project is always directed to a specific group of people with a specific need.

The services I create are meant to be used, but also owned and run by the people I design them for. They grow and change, and are never completely finished. 

What is your way of working regarding the research you do & the strategy you have to reach your audience?

It is very important for me to do in depth research. This consists of ethnographic research (spending time with the audience in their own environment, using visual tools to understand their story, which is captured on photography and film), horizon scanning (understanding how my concept is different from anything else out there), prototyping (making some simple versions of my idea and have the audience use them to see what happens) workshops and co-design sessions with the audience and the client. By involving the audience from the beginning, they will feel involved and feel they have ownership of the design. 

How do you structure your life?

I like working at different projects at once, with different briefs and clients. I have been freelancing for a while, but found that I can have more impact if I collaborate with people that have different skills from me. That’s why I’m currently doing a traineeship at Innovation Unit, to learn about how to become an ethnographer and how to build and sustain a service. This is a full-time position, which gives me structure, but luckily still freedom to move around, as I’m traveling all over the U.K for the different projects.

When talking about design what do you want to be associated with.

Design means a strong thinking process for me. Design should change the way things are done for the better, and in order to do that you really need to understand what the current situation is. Design needs to include a deep understanding of who the user will be, but as well what the environment is where the product will be implemented. 

What kind of media are you working with? (skills & programs you use)

A lot of time is spent on communicating issues and ideas. I often do this with photography and film, but also like to use illustration because I feel it’s more personal.

Talking to and building trust with different people in different situations – from 5 year olds to lonely elderly, and from people who are homeless to people with severe depression – are skills that are essential. As ethnographer and service designer, I also need to have good observation skills and be able to spot the challenges and opportunities in each situation.

For many projects I need the Adobe programs like InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Pro. 

What type of assignment do you feel comfortable with?

Anything that is for the purpose of improving people’s lives, not to making a profit.

When I can work closely with the audience, have a clear location or situation, and when there is a clear and strong conflict present (an issue that needs to be solved), I have all the ingredients I need to start!


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