The project source

Jo Bailey
January 2014

Section summary

  • Making Good uses LAWA (Land Air Water Aotearoa) as a case study to consider credibility and transparency in design.
  • The LAWA project was a brief given to Open Lab, a design studio within Massey University.
  • LAWA was an intriguing proposition as the clients specified certain levels of transparency.
  • LAWA became the focus of both design output and reflective analysis on my own practice.

A major design output of this project is LAWA (Land Air Water Aotearoa) – a website enabling public access to water quality data.

Introducing Lawa

LAWA grew out of a large and complex brief given to Open Lab, where I am a Senior Designer.

In 2012, Open Lab had a meeting with a consortium called LAWNZ (Land and Water New Zealand). LAWNZ were interested in Open Lab designing for them a mechanism (probably a mobile application) for sharing water quality data with the public, building on an existing website for council scientists and freshwater policy staff.

At that first meeting, I recall two things stood out. Firstly, based on my experience of working on a similar project, the immense scale of the task was immediately apparent. Secondly, the LAWNZ representatives specified something that intrigued me. They said they wanted the solution to be robust and transparent.

One of the partners (alongside regional councils) was the Cawthron Institute, an independent research agency. Cawthron had a specific role in the project to verify the quantitative trustworthiness of the data and analysis methodology. The information was to be collected and analysed in a standardised way so that comparisons could be made between sites or regions (even if this did not give a favourable impression of certain regional councils). Seemingly, the clients wanted the application and its contents to be open and credible.

both focus and output

When the LAWA project began, a specific ethical lens was not being applied. Whilst considering ways to  marry the stated intention of LAWNZ to be transparent, with the visual appeal of the site, the question of ethics persisted. Were there dilemmas associated with making ‘credible design’? Were the clients really prepared to present data even if it made councils appear unfavourably? Was this project contributing unwittingly to greenwash?

Consequently, LAWA became both a case study and a design output of this Masters project; a vehicle through which to reflect on clarity, truth, credibility and ethics in web design whilst exploring my own design practice and ethos.


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