Monthly Archives: October 2011

Cape Town appointed World Design Capital 2014

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) founded in 1957 is “an international non-governmental organisation that aims to protect and promote the profession of industrial design.” Every four years (since 2008) Icsid designates, or will designate, a world city under the status of World Design Capital (WDC). The WDC initiative aims:

“… to promote and encourage the use of design to further the social, economic and cultural development of the world’s cities… The designation provides a distinctive opportunity for cities to showcase their accomplishments in attracting and promoting innovative design, as well as highlight successes in urban revitalisation strategies.”

This year was a bidding year for 2014 WDC status. The three cities of Cape Town, Bilbao and Dublin were shortlisted and as part of the selection process they submitted short films that give fascinating insight into each city, their challenges, strengths, and how design will help them. Each of the films are very different from the other, as Core 77 discuss on their post A Look at the World Design Capital Bid Videos. Below I’ve also posted the three city films so you can stay on this page to view them. Otherwise the films feature on Core 77 and the World Design Capital websites.

‘Live Design. Transform Life’ by Cape Town largely discusses a whole range of challenges faced by the city and how Cape Town designers understand design and its relevance to their local context.

‘The design of cities’ by Bilbao celebrates the numerous design aspects of their city and what it has brought to the city eg. tourism, technology etc.

‘Pivot’ by Dublin follows the conversations between a number of citizens for how Dublin can prosper through design.

Hearing of the WDC and watching the films makes me wonder if Sydney would ever consider running for the designation. How fantastic would it be to be involved in this global design platform which, as Icsid state:

“… would provide governments with a platform not only to raise the global awareness of design, but more importantly, to showcase the importance of design as an actor to enhance social, cultural, economic and environmental quality of life.”

Where would Sydney focus its attention for uses of design? What are our challenges that design can help improve (I blogged a few here in my ‘Signs of Sydney post but these are subjective and I am sure there are more)? How would we used design to benefit and improve our quality of life and well-being? A WDC bid process throws up many questions and I wonder if the process of a WDC bid would in itself be beneficial for some reflection on where we live, where we’ve come from, who we are and how we understand and use design to improve Sydney.


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Design Thinking in school education

Earlier this year a short film ‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’ was produced and published online by Seymourpowell, the Design & Technology Association and the James Dyson Foundation. It promotes the importance of design and technology in education providing commentary by ‘UK Design Heavyweights on the Need for British Design Education.’ I found the film on Core 77 who write:

“The points in the video are all well-made, perfectly articulated and obviously sensible. So why do they have such an uphill battle to fight? Because while they are arguing for the education of children in the video, the video itself is designed to educate a far more difficult creature: The British politicians responsible for education policies.”

Here’s the film below.

‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’

In this month’s Object: Australian Centre for Design iPad magazine on ‘Design Thinking / Design Action’ I write about this topic area in an article ‘Design Thinking in education.’

Object recently launched the magazine on their website, so if you’re interested in this article please visit Object: Australian Centre for Design otherwise see a summary below.

In the article I profile design for school education programs, initiatives and projects happening around the world such as:

From these projects I summarise that Design Thinking brings to education:

  • Project-based, experiential learning approaches;
  • Personalised learning;
  • A mindset that promotes human-centeredness and collaboration; and
  • A process that guides the exploration and development of solutions to real-life challenges.

The ‘Creative Britain in Reverse?’ film is a great big picture perspective from design heavyweights on the importance of design and technology to the UK. My article goes into a bit more detail because as stated in my previous post, the concept of Design Thinking for local, national and world issues is easy to understand but the execution is the most challenging. Especially systemically scaling Design Thinking.

The projects I profile in my article are great exemplars of the different things designers and design can do for school education. There are many different ways to bring Design Thinking into the classroom to equip students with creativity¹ and tools² to prepare them for tomorrow’s world.

¹ Sir Ken Robinson advocates for more creativity in school education saying that currently “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued.”

² Ivan Illich (1973) critiqued the mass production model used in our education system saying it has inhibited “the contribution of autonomous individuals.” Illich offers ‘convivial tools’ as the antidote, that is tools that give people the capacity “to guarantee their right to independent efficiency.”


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How design thinking can be applied to business organisations

Here in Australia businesses and government are really starting to take notice of design thinking. In the early 2000s IDEO began popularising the idea of ‘design thinking.’ This wasn’t the first time the phrase was known among design communities (a book on ‘design thinking’ was first published in 1991 by Peter Rowe). But it was IDEO who used the phrase to shift the perception of design as product to emphasis the ingenuity of design for its process and its principles.

My mind map from 2002 on ‘The application of Design Thinking to business organisations
.’ This map helped shape my university dissertation: ‘The business of design: how the application of design thinking can impact on business organisations.’

The process, principles and attitudes of designers are what constitute ‘design thinking’ and while many other professionals and disciplines share similar processes (eg. crafting strategy, facilitation), principles (eg. anthropology, social sciences) and attitudes (eg. artists, musicians) it is this gestalt of attributes (Banerjee, 2008 calls this the ‘design complex’)¹ where the organised whole is more than the sum of its parts.

It is the whole, not a single attribute, that leads design thinking to encourage new and different ways of looking at the world, new and different kinds of cultures in organisations, new and different ways of learning and of doing. It is perhaps why design thinking applied to only one part of a development process, say a piloting stage (designers would argue this should be prototyping) that design thinking doesn’t work to its full potential (and I’ve experienced a few of these types of projects before). If design thinking is brought into a process late, then all it’s going to do is expose the assumptions of which an idea was based. The idea of design thinking is to begin with understanding the human experience and human behaviour to create things (products, services, systems, spaces) that are useful, usable and desirable.

To get the ‘whole’ of design thinking we need designers. The designer is the agent of ‘design thinking’ and if an organisation is looking to spread design thinking systemically throughout, then designers need to be present.

I know of only a very few business organisations that commit to bringing designers on board to be custodians of design thinking from within. It is these organisations that are going to be the real innovators. This is because design thinking is not an applied theory. It is a vocational activity and its practice is learnt by doing. Learning the craft of design thinking is not done in one day, nor one week. Richard Sennett (2008) argues that to be a master of a craft takes 15,000 hours. My partner (an accountant) calculated this to be about 5 years full-time work doing that same craft. I’m not saying that business organisations need to go to this extent of having employees become masters of design thinking, but the point here is that design thinking is learnt by doing, by experiencing design and practicing its craft. It is quite different from the pedagogy of applied theory.

All this is not helped either by the prevailing model of the design ‘consultancy.’ Not all design companies call themselves a ‘consultancy.’ I have avoided calling design companies ‘consultancies’ firstly because many designers I know refer to their practices as ‘studios’ and secondly because I don’t believe that ‘consultancy’ is the best model for helping organisations do design thinking.

Fine if a business organisation wants to know about design thinking, but if they want to do it, both organisations and designers really need to think about models of engagement that will help them achieve what they want to do with design thinking. By this I mean how designers and business organisations work together to create a design thinking organisation. Some suggestions might be to:

  • Second designers into the organisation for a period of time. Management consultants do it, so why not designers?
  • Build an internal design team (this is already being done in a few, very few, Australian organisations and also in UK local councils);
  • Have designers develop with a core team from the business organisation design thinking capability and then, build a design thinking pedagogy that can be scaled and championed (by the core team) throughout the organisation (challenging but it has been done before too).

Maybe there are other models of engagement out there that I haven’t come across or thought of. Maybe you know of some, in which case I’d love to know.

So, how can design thinking be applied to business organisations? In summary my post has outlined that business organisations (and also designers but on the flip side) wanting to use design thinking need to:

  • Firstly understand design thinking. Understand that the organised whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Understand that design thinking is not an applied theory. To do design thinking it must be practiced, experienced
  • Understand that a designer is the agent of design thinking. That a designer encapsulates the gestalt of design thinking attributes and thus the presence of designers within an organisation is important in learning design thinking
  • Think intelligently about the kinds of engagement models there might be for designers and business organisations. Intelligent engagement models will to bring design thinking into the organsation in ways where the potential and value of design thinking will be realised.

Note: I have been sitting on this post as a draft for weeks (mostly because I’ve had a few other things to blog first) but what prompted me to post today was this article in The Guardian newspaper on the use of designers within government, such as in Finland. The article states:

“In the business world, plenty of design consultancies offer to redesign systems and improve customer experience – they call it “design thinking”. However, they are increasingly discredited for their vague promises to make executives “think like designers”. Strategic design, however, is not just about thinking, but about how to bring that thinking to an effective outcome. That doesn’t mean hiring in McKinsey or Ideo to do a bit of consulting, it means having a design professional embedded in the process.”

¹“What makes the designer a promising agent is not a single attribute, but the gestalt of the skills, cognitive processes, design methodologies, attitudes, and structural aspects. I will refer to this as the “design complex”. (Banerjee, 2008)


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How Steve Jobs changed the role of the designer and the CEO

There are thousands of posts going up right now on Steve Jobs who passed away today aged 56. My Facebook and twitter feeds are nothing but something about Jobs. This is a testament to how much Jobs changed our lives and for that, I feel that the world today has suffered a great loss. It kind of makes me wonder if the world will be different without Jobs and who might be that next visionary. Though Jobs is pretty hard to live up to.

Through my trawling online of the news and blogs I’ve found some pretty interesting reads. Such as this one by Yves Béhar who writes about how ‘Steve Jobs Changed My Life.’ I think Jobs changed the life of anyone who owns anything Apple, but Behar writes from the perspective of an industrial designer and I found it quite fascinating. Maybe mostly because I can relate.

Behar writes about how Jobs changed the role of the designer, explaining that:

“When I started working in Silicon Valley in the early 1990’s, a designer’s role was considered similar to a decorator’s: after engineers built a product’s features and configuration, we would be consulted on form and colors. Design was late in the process and superficial in nature. An afterthought.

Steve Jobs at Apple changed that. Jobs drove a “holistic design vision across every aspect of the company [which] is the primary driver for Apple’s dominance in brand and valuation.” Behar continues straight up:

“Design does bring value to business… anyone out there want to take the counter argument?”

Behar not only speaks for designers but also explains how Jobs changed the role of the CEO:

“Steve Jobs changed the life of every CEO as well: They are now expected to lead their companies to victory not only in financial battles, but in cultural ones, with design at the center.”

But despite Apple as the demonstration of “design at the center” design and designers still find it challenging to break free from that old mould, to shake the popular perception of design and the designer as something and someone who enters “late in the process and superficial in nature. An afterthought.

I have known of the statement below for sometime now. I remember reading it years ago and thinking how much is captures the essence of the encounter that commonly occurs between design and business. Behar writes:

“When clients come to my design agency and say “I want to be the Apple of this or that” we say “OK, are you ready to be the Steve Jobs?” Few are up to the task.”

While Jobs is a tough person visionary to live up to, perhaps (and I sure do hope so) his design ethos will live on by making the world stop and really think about Apple. And hopefully really think about design and what is can do, what its potential can be, when we take it out of that old role of something that happens at the end of a process to decorate, instead placing it at the heart of an organisation. Just like what Steve Jobs did at Apple. And for the world.


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‘Design for social innovation’ in Object’s iPad magazine issue 61

Last week Object: Australian Centre for Design launched Object Magazine issue 61 focusing its interactive content on ‘Design thinking/Design action.’

Object Magazine, issue 61

Here’s a summary of the issue: With a focus on Design Thinking, Issue 61 is a combination of articles, videos, audio narrations and image galleries, exploring the somewhat intangible world of design thinking. Roy Green, dean of the UTS Business School, talks about the power design can have for the business community, while Lauren Tan delves into the power of design for education and social innovation.

We also have a look at the Massive Change Network Global Design Seminar that took place in February, we go to Cockatoo Island with students of the UTS Design School for a three day design thinking camp, as well as recap Now And When and Benja Harney’s The Paper Attic, preview touring exhibition Women With Clever Hands, and much more.

In the issue I have written two articles. One profiling ‘Design for social innovation’ and the other profiling ‘Design Thinking for education’. The articles are short introductions to the use of design in these contexts. A number of projects provide exemplars of how design has been used in each area.

Currently the magazine only exists in iPad format (the issue will be available on Android and on the Object website shortly) so those of you who don’t have an iPad, here’s a peek at my first article ‘Design for social innovation.’

Design for social innovation

In this article I start with Victor Papanek’s (1971) call for designers to take more moral and social responsibility in their work. Written over four decades ago, it has only been since the turn of the century that a movement around design for social good has taken hold (I wrote a bit about this ‘movement’ in my paper Perspectives on the changing role of the designer: Now and to the future).

The term ‘social innovation’ is a frequently evolving definition. For the article I use a definition from Murray et al (2010) who say that social innovation is “new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. In other words, they are innovations that are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.”

Some of the earliest and most high profile demonstrations of design for social innovation occurred in 2004 in Canada and the UK. In Canada, Bruce Mau’s Massive Change exhibition showcased the work of designers who addressed challenges in our social, political and economic systems. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Design Council’s RED Unit led a series of projects using design to improve issues in health, ageing, democracy, energy and citizenship.

In practice, design for social innovation draws on the process, methods and materials of designers, to design for social good. These practices include a human-centred mindset, systemic thinking, ideation, visualisation and prototyping skills.

But design alone is not enough to tackle complex social issues. Designers need to collaborate with other disciplines to increase the impact and sustainability of positive change. Here in the article I reference The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) whose model is to use a multidisciplinary approach to tackle social challenges in South Australia.

Design for social innovation is an emerging context in which designers are working. The best way to demonstrate design in this context is to look at projects and initiatives that have already occurred. In the article I reference the following projects, led by designers and design companies who have used design to tackle a wide range of social issues from unemployment to social isolation to public health care.

Family by Family by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation
Used design to help create a model that connects families to support each other through their challenges rather than relying on government services.

Live Local by Digital Eskimo
Uses the power of digital and online to engage location communities in sustainable living.

An online platform that facilitates the collaboration of people sharing ides to improve social situations.

Make it Work by Live|work
Designed a service to help address issues in unemployment in a UK District called Sunderland.

Southwark Circle by Participle
Created a network of members and helpers in the Southwark community to support each other.

Experience based design by thinkpublic
A toolkit of design approaches that helps a the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) place patient and staff experiences at the heart of developing public health services.

Social Innovation Lab for Kent (SILK) by Engine Service Design
Building design capacity within a local council to design, develop and improve local council services.

For the full article, links and references please visit the iTunes App Store to download for the iPad Issue 61 of Object Magazine for free. Otherwise check into Object: Australian Centre for Design’s website for online publication of the issue.

I’ll post some notes on my article ‘Design Thinking for education’ shortly.

Additional references

To find out more about design for social innovation, the following references may be of interest. There’s also an earlier list on my older blog, Letters to Australia in my post ‘Design and the social sector.’

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