Category Archives: Design thinking

Exploring the Outer Limits of Design (Sydney DMI Night Out event)

Last Thursday evening I attended Sydney’s DMI Night Out at the University of New South Wales COFA (College of Fine Arts) campus. DMI Night Out is a quarterly event that takes place not just in Sydney but around the world bringing together the DMI and broader design community to discuss critical issues in design locally and sharing that globally. This quarter’s DMI Night Out focuses on ‘The boundaries of design: Exploring the outer limits.’ In more detail DMI write:

The outer boundaries of design today may become the core competencies of tomorrow. In which directions must design firms grow to find value for clients, society, and themselves? How can clients and society inform these new directions? What is the “adjacent possible” of today, and the impossible but inevitable of tomorrow? Join us for a forward-looking and wide-ranging discussion of the evolving practice of design.

The night’s speakers included:

There was a noted fourth speaker, Tom Key, who was unable to make it. Each speaker presented for 10-20 minutes and there was a panel discussion at the end. In brief, Eric Folger spoke of his experiences to date, as the only designer in a huge financial services organisation, attempting to integrate strategic uses of design (commonly known as ‘design thinking’) from within. Steve Baty spoke of three key issues the design profession will have to contend with (if not already contending with them) and Bob Nation gave us insight into the plans for Barangaroo, the controversial $6 billion development on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour that will be completed in 2015.

DMI Night Out speakers L-R: Bob Nation, Steve Baty and Eric Folger

For me, the most interesting thing about the night was the critical questions the speakers made me think about for the design profession and discipline. Some of the questions were raised in the presentations, but most of them I noted down as I was listening. I believe these questions are important for the design community to address to move the profession forward into the ‘outer boundaries’. Here’s a list of questions I noted:

  • How do we create advocacy for design within business organisations, public sector and government
  • How do we integrate design into non-design organisations, that is scale this idea of ‘design thinking’ to all areas of the business, public sector and/or government so others can use this ‘toolkit’ to address their complexities and intractable problems
  • How do we empower and motivate others to use such a ‘toolkit’
  • How do we create the evidence base for design, how do we speak the vocabulary of business and government to help them understand the value design and designers can bring (not just a hypothetical process model and bunch of methods)
  • How do we educate business and government that good practice is the use of appropriate methodologies, not a set process model or set methods, because in this design space, nothing can be directly imported from one context into another and function the same
  • How do we educate young designers for the kinds of jobs that don’t exist yet
  • How do we move away from the craft of design (the chairs, posters and toasters) but still maintain and progress the craft of designing (the practice of what we do). This came up at the end of the night when a young student raised the issue that the current design education curriculum taught the craft of design (the chairs, posters and toasters) and not other skills that the panel had spoken about such as facilitation, mediation, co-design and championing design excellence. Personally, I think one needs to learn the craft of design to get really good at the craft of designing

So those were my take aways from the night’s event. It will be interesting to see what other DMI Night Out cities discuss under this this quarter’s theme. There are 6 more cities to go this month. My apologies if you visited this blog to find out content of what the speakers presented, but I think these questions are going to be important to address if we want to see design move progressively into the ‘outer boundaries’ and create a positive impact at scale.


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Human centred principles of design — Two case studies (and films)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about key principles of design. One of the most important and emphasised principle of design is how it’s human-centred (or people-centred, customer-centred, user-centred, about customer-centricity, customer experience, user experience, to use other similar phrases). Some of the best demonstrations of this can be seen in two product design companies whom I have been a big fan of for many years. Not just for their human-centred approach, but because I am also a customer and user of their products, and find them incredibly functional and desirable to use.

The first case study is on Smart Design, the designers behind the popular OXO Good Grips potato peeler (or Swivel Peeler). I know this case study has been around for a long time, but it’s still so inspiring and so relevant today having revolutionised kitchen tools in the 1990s by making utensils more user-friendly and enjoyable to use.

In 1990 Smart Design worked in collaboration with OXO to launch the Swivel Peeler. Designed from user insight and questions like Why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can’t there be wonderfully comfortable tools that are easy to use? hundreds of prototype models were created before the Swivel Peeler was born. The film below, recently published online by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, reveals the Smart Design mindset, where they believe that “design should be for everyone” and kitchen tools should be “enablers” for us to do things (in our industrialised society we often see tools and machines as doing things for us, rather than seeing them as enablers).

In their process, Smart Design observed how people were most drawn to a rubberised bike handle, among hundreds of other handle models they collected for research. It was this observation, of people constantly picking up and playing with the bike handle, that inspired the designers to develop a key feature of the Swivel Peeler. The peeler handle was designed with rubber and fins for comfort and grip, just like you’d find on a bicycle.

Image from OXO website

In the film, Smart Design also discuss how they prototyped early rather than using a lot of sketching. This is a nice lesson for how to move a process forward quickly, by making and testing things early.

CooperHewitt Visits Smart Design

The second case study is of another company that makes kitchenware called Joseph Joseph. I discovered them while I was living in the UK and I love their products because they are thoughtful, well designed, well made and fun. The two brothers that comprise Joseph Joseph discuss in another short film (I recently found on YouTube) how they strive for “functional innovation” and then use colour to make their kitchen tools attractive, desirable and an accessory in the home. In homes of today, it is common for people to entertain in their kitchen, especially with the popularity of open living spaces where kitchens and living spaces are combined. Joseph Joseph discuss how the colours of their products create an additional accessory for the home.

In one of their most innovative and popular products, the Nest, Joseph Joseph speak of the user insight that led them to the design. In their research, when they looked into people’s kitchen drawers, they found a range of utensils stored messily in a small space. So they designed the Nest to combine 9 different kitchen utensils that sit inside one another, taking up half the space. The designers designed white and multi-coloured versions of the Nest, relaying that the muli-coloured version sold 10 times more because people were attracted to its vibrancy. I am too because I have a Nest and it’s functional and fun for cooking with. Also in our apartment it doesn’t take up very much space.

Joseph Joseph’s Nest™ 9 Plus. Image from Joseph Joseph website

Joseph Joseph also discuss in the film “great design”, of which they say “great design” is when you take a product home and it’s better than what you expect. It should “put a smile on people’s faces.”

Colorizing the Kitchen

I really love these insights into the design practices of Smart Design and Joseph Joseph. Imagine if we could apply their principles and philosophies in the development and conception of all products and services. All products and services would be:

  • Great for almost everyone
  • Enable us to do what we want to do, and more
  • Exceed our expectations
  • Functional
  • Fit into our lifestyles
  • Attractive and desirable and
  • Put a smile on our face

Imagine if we always thought about people first, doing design research for user insight and attempting to create things that could “put a smile on people’s faces.” Imagine how wonderful the all products and services in our world could be.

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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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Design Thinking Drinks, 17 August 2011

Tomorrow night Design Thinking Drinks will be held in Sydney from 5.30pm at The Altitude Bar, Shelbourne Hotel 200 Sussex Street Sydney. Customer experience company Different will be speaking at the event about ‘Essentials of Customer Centric Business.’

The Shelbourne Hotel in Sydney from Wikipedia

I’m only getting to know Design Thinking Drinks after being away from Sydney since 2007. I have however learnt from host Deborah Kneeshaw that Design Thinking Drinks has been taking place for 2 years now and the community of interest has steadily grown. I just did a quick online search for reports and write-ups on previous events. Here’s what I found (if you’ve been to previous Drinks nights please excuse missing dates as I can’t seem to find them online):

Design Thinking Drinks, July 2010

This drinks event was hosted by BT Financial Group but I don’t think anyone captured the event.

Design Thinking Drinks, December 2010

December Drinks by Design Thinkers Sydney
A short note by Diana Adorno to commemorate the one year anniversary of Design Thinking Drinks in December 2010.

Design Thinking Drinks, February 2011

Service Design in Sydney, a healthy community of practice by Kimberley Crofts
Kimberley Crofts
of Meld Studios provides insight into February event hosted by Digital Eskimo. The night’s speaker was Penny Hagen, formerly of Digital Eskimo and PhD Candidate (at the time). Penny spoke about participatory design in social technologies which was followed by a discussion. Kimberley captured the key points of the discussion here.

Design Thinking Drinks at Digital Eskimo by Digital Eskimo
Hosts for the night Digital Eskimo also blogged the event reporting that the “Igloo was buzzing with design thinkers discovering their inner child and outer greenie.” Digital Eskimo also posted pictures of the event. Check it all out here.

Sketchnotes – Design Thinking Drinks 2011 by Ben Crothers
Rather than use words, designer Ben Crothers shares his sketches from Penny’s talk via the Behance Network here and on flicker here.

Design Thinking by Mal booth
Mal takes us on a photographic journey before and during the Design Thinking Drinks event on his FromMelbin blog here.

Design Thinking Drinks, April 2011

The April event was my first time at Design Thinking Drinks which took place at the Art House Hotel. I remember feeling pretty new being back in Sydney, so it was great to see loads of familiar faces on the night.

Having done some online sleuthing it seems I missed a really great Drinks night in February 2011. I was probably getting over jet lag then. From the snippets of insight Design Thinking Drinks have hosted some great events. I’ll certainly look forward to future events such as tomorrow night’s Design Thinking Drinks. Remember to RSVP!

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