The tools of ZUP

When ZUP is executing a worshop, or ZUPlab, we use different tools that are efficient in getting people out of their usual way of thinking. You might have read about it in one of the articles published earlier on this blog.  Below a short introduction to some of these tools.

The food cards, small cards containing beautiful designs of different ingredients, have different functions. Sometimes we use them simply to create different groups: each of the participant gets a foodcard belonging to one of the tables. This allows for groups to be mixed and avoid that friends or colleagues stick together (ZUPlabs are also a good opportunity to get to know new people and see different points of views).

We sometimes also use them in a second phase, when people need to present themselves. Instead of the usual presentation (“Hi. I’am so old and do this job and in my free time I like too….”) we challenge the participants to choose an ingredient and present themselves explaining how they identify themselves with the ingredient.

A bit similar, but different, is the use of ingredients in writing the recipes (mostly recipes for change, as our pay-off says). After having individualized the key words that characterize the situation we are working in, participants translate this to ingredients. All the ingredients together become a recipe. Sometimes delightful, but even so often inedible. And that is where ZUP will work on in the following meetings.

In situations where we work on strategic innovation but also in case of urban regeneration, we often use picture cards, images of the situation we are working in but not only, printed on postcard size. The participants are invited to choose maximum two images that represent the situation we are talking about (a neighborhood, a company, ecc.) and then need to explain to the others in the group why they choose that particular image. This helps to start and stimulate the discussion on the topic they are dealing with. Besides that, the picture cards are a way to re-interpretate the territory which they think to know (see also below, mappa nera) but which will be subject to transformation. In almost all labs, the picture cards are the start of interesting discussions.

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The mappa nera, or black map is a relatively new tool, developed by our trainee and collaborator Arianna Innamorati which graduated in December last year as a product designer at the Politecnico di Milano.  One of the instruments developed by Arianna is the mappa nera, a map that is hidden by a layer of black paint. The map changes time in time, depending of the place we are working in. It is proven to be a very useful for urban explorations, as it proposes a new way in which one can relate itself and move through the territory.


At first the mappa nera presents itself as a disorientating instrument because it completely hides the places from the eye. In this way, the explorers, even those who already ‘know’ the territory, need to re-orientate themselves and look for their principal points of reference.

Once the black layer is scratched away (and hands got dirty), people look at the territory with a fresh look, as if it was the first time, to generate new visions useful to rethink the strategic and social development.