Project Zoo: Co-Designing Behavioural Enrichment Products and Activities for Orang-Utans

  • Daria Loi
Keywords: Participatory Design, industrial design, case study, zoo, behavioral enrichment, education


This exploratory paper examines the experiences of Project Zoo, a collaborative endeavour between the Industrial Design department at RMIT University and Melbourne Zoo. The project, adopting constructivist pedagogy and a participatory design approach, focussed on the development of behavioural enrichment products and scenarios for orang-utans in captivity. Through lengthy observations, by collecting data in multiple manners and undertaking a number of activities, students learned in action about the everydayness of the zoo, the needs and routines of its inhabitants and a number of related limitations and considerations for their designs, to then develop a series of concepts and scenarios for their unusual clients, with the iterative help of keepers at the primate department and, at times, volunteers and general staff. The project proved to be a successful experience for a number of reasons, particularly for (1) the participatory research students have engaged in and learned from over the course of a semester, (2) the success among zoo staff of the designed prototypes, some which are currently being developed and formally manufactured with the zoo and for its primate department, and (3) a partnership, originally developed as a pilot project, that is currently being renegotiated as a long-term relationship thanks to newly developed shared values and the acknowledgement of reciprocal interests and benefits.
Exploratory Papers - Session (2): The Place of Materials in PD