Category Archives: Social and community

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 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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Sydney Design Festival 2011 event review

The Sydney Design Festival 2011 came to a close over the weekend and the general feeling is that it has been a really successful two weeks. The festival has brought together many in the design community of interest, showcased local creative talent and also hosted a number of discussions around the state of design in Australia now and for the future. I’ve attended a few of events and short synopses of my key take-aways from them are below (and don’t forget the previous post on the film NOW and WHEN on ‘Speculative scenarios for Australia’s urban future.’)

Australian Design for the Next Decade
Thursday 4 August 5:45pm, UTS Architecture Kensington Street
Speakers: Greg More (OOM Creative), Susan Dimasi (MATERIALBYPRODUCT ), Dave Pigram (supermanoeuvre ) and glass artist Richard Whiteley . Facilitated by Anthony Burke, Head of School of Architecture, UTS.

On a balmy (yes in the middle of winter) night at the UTS Architecture warehouse, four Australian designers discussed their practices and the transformation of their practices over time. The panel session saw an architect who’s now a data visualiser, a glass sculptor who now solves sustainability issues and a fashion designer who initially rejected the fashion industry but now runs her own fashion house where design thinking is applied across the business. Susan Dimasi (MATERIALBYPRODUCT) used an interesting analogy for how she sometimes feels as a designer saying it is like ‘a dog on a chain’- sometimes close to the source (the core of the discipline) but at other times pulling away (stretching the limits). I thought this was quite a neat way to convey how the practices of designers are continually transforming. It reminds me of John Heskett’s description of the history and evolution of design of which he says can be seen as a process of layering “in which new developments are added over time to what already exists. This layer, moreover, is not just a process of accumulation or aggregation, but a dynamic interaction in which each new innovative stage changes the role, significance, and function of what survives.” (Heskett, 2002)

Design-led solutions to wicked problems
Tuesday 9 August 5:30pm, Powerhouse Museum

Speakers: Paul Pholeros (Health Habitat), Lauren Tan and Marie O’Mahony

Organised by the Australian Design Alliance (AdA) this event looked at how design was making a practical difference around the world from New York City to regional UK to right here in Australia in our urban to rural communities. Of particular interest was the organisation Health Habitat that has been working with communities to improve living environments and consequently community health. Health Habitat’s work has grown since 1985 to become a national Australian program which has also been scaled and used in New Zealand, the USA and Nepal.

Data Poetry
Wednesday 10 August 6:30pm, UTS Design, Architecture and Building campus
Speakers: Elisa Lee, Ben Hosken (Flink Labs), Kate Sweetapple, Mitchell Whitelaw

On a much cooler winter evening, my old design school UTS was host to four designers discussing unconventional data visualisation practices that ranged from the poetic (see ‘Map of Sydney’ below) to the more prosaic. Conversations swirled with ideas such as seeing the data as material and data visualisation as exploratory, engaging and transforming. These thought provoking and intimate talks finished off with a tour of the Incidental Data exhibition making for a very pleasant and enjoyable evening.

‘Map of Sydney: Avian Surnames’ by Kate Sweetapple
Image from ‘visual writing: experiments with word & image’

What is the Object of Australia?
Friday 12 August 9:00am, Billy Blue College of Design
Speakers: Hannah Cutts (Cutts Creative), Lauren Tan, Kimberley Crofts (Meld Studios), Patrick Clair (Hungry Beast), Ruben Ocampo (Second Road) and Chris Maclean (Interbrand)

Friday’s all-day symposium heard from a wide array of designers discussing service design, user experience, social design, innovation systems, visual communication, design as a business, making motion graphics and branding. The day ended with a panel session of 7 Australian designers sharing their thoughts on design in Australia.

There was quite a lot to take in but here are some key themes I heard throughout the day:

  • Questioning and critiquing innovation in Australia: Reflecting and asking are we innovative. We explored the small things we can do, to the much bigger things, such as looking at what kind of enabling conditions would make Australia more innovative
  • The transformation of design practice: Like the Australian Design for the Next Decade event many of us shared personal stories and observations of the changing nature and transformation of design practice
  • Design in Australia: What is Australian design? Many countries have their own distinct style eg. there is a German design style which is functional, rationalist, engineered and there is a Japanese style which incorporates the ideas of zen, but is there an Australian design style? Is Australia still too young? Are we that ‘young child’ still growing up, lacking confidence and still looking to our parent countries (mostly Britain) for guidance?
  • Australian clients: The barriers and tensions between designers and clients is an old story- the lack of understanding, the unwillingness to take risks but when taken there are huge rewards. If clients still don’t ‘get’ design then shouldn’t designers be doing more to bridge that gap?

From today’s conversations here’s what I think we could do next (these conversations should inspire us to do something next):

  • Celebrate Australian design: Other countries celebrate their design achievements so why don’t we? And I’m not talking about just celebrating design among the design industry but going out to the public and international arenas. I feel there’s a big piece around public engagement in design here
  • Create more design networks: Australian designers work too much in silos. If the experience of taught me anything it was not to underestimate the value of face to face interactions and informal gatherings of professional individuals
  • Think less about the disciplines of design: Let’s do a little experiment and break free from defining ourselves by a specific design discipline and what kind of object we want to design. Instead, let’s think about what kinds of issues we can design for. Then use what we know of design to help tackle them
  • Discover our own backyards: As mentioned in the points above one of the big themes was discussing how we can make Australia more innovative. From a design perspective let’s take inspiration from Dott 07 that created framework of thematically organising issues. If we apply this to our own context, this would mean discovering what kind of issues and themes we might address here in Australia. Some of these are going to be relevant at a global scale, but most would be specific to our local and national context. Let’s us our energies to create responses to country-specific issues, things like Australia’s prone-ness to natural disasters (drought, floods and fires) which no other country deals with such frequency. There are so many reoccurring problems out there. Can design offer an alternative approach to addressing them?

Finally, a little side note from the symposium. I had to show this because I think it’s quite neat. Hannah Cutts spoke of this witty packaging design by Adelaide design company Black Squid Design. Their brief was to help a client increase cauliflower sales and the design response was to change habitual purchasing through a cheeky packaging design. The packaging design names individual cauliflower, giving each a personality and also suggesting different ways to serve them. As a customer it would certainly make me curious about vegetables.

Bob, Shirl, Doris & Doug – Cauliflower packaging
Image from Black Squid Design


Filed under Design events, Design thinking, Social and community, Sydney and Australia

Critical voices and research into design for social good

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time revising the Introduction to my PhD thesis. To set the context of my thesis I’ve been re-reading papers on design for social good. Otherwise know as social design, design for social innovation, design for social impact, design for sustainability, transformation design, design for public service etc. etc. the use of these phrases are dependent on which country, which design thinker, which academic researcher, which design company you are looking into. I stated in my thesis that I’ll use the phrase ‘design for social good’ as an umbrella term to bring together all these different phrases and concepts where designers direct their design work first and foremost toward social causes.

In the last few years I have noticed many papers and writing that has surfaced on design for social good. And actually less advocating it and more critical voices that outline the weaknesses of design in this context (See Mulgan, 2009), its limitations (See Drenttel in Harrison, 2010; Emilson et al, 2011), the essential need for designers to work with other disciplines to better address social issues (See Schulman, 2010) and its politics, or lack thereof (Fast Company, 2010; Tonkinwise, 2010).

A photo I took of a poster from New Designers, London in 2009 asking exhibition guests ‘Is design political?’ I think the response is pretty interesting. My blog post of the New Designers 2009 exhibition here.

While I have no problem with critical thinking (in fact in a meeting I was in today creatives and designers from industry mentioned there was very little design criticism in Australia) what I have come to realise throughout my research is that we don’t fully understand, and are not clear yet, on what designers actually do contribute in the space of design for social good. One of the most authoritative voices in the area is design and innovation firm IDEO. They identify user research, synthesis and prototyping in design thinking for social innovation (See Brown and Wyatt, 2009). But I have actually found that the most insightful understanding of design for social good actually comes from people outside the design discipline (in literature such as previously referenced Mulgan, 2009 and Schulman, 2010 and also at roundtables and meetings I have attended). Geoff Mulgan who is not a designer, but Chief Executive of NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) provides his perspective on the strengths of design for social good. From his observations of working with designers he outlines the strengths as visualisation, novel insight, providing a user perspective and prototyping (Mulgan, 2009). The weaknesses, he says, are lack of economical and organisational skills, inability to drive implementation, the cost of design consultants, a lack of knowledge of evidence and field experiences.

I think Mulgan’s insight are great, but is this the best position for the design discipline to be in- to have others inform us of what we do well (and not so well)? Shouldn’t designers put their own voice to this? Shouldn’t we be confident in communicating the value we bring? Maybe it’s the case that objective voices are more credible because they balance the positive with the critical. But I think it’s because we, as designers, don’t really understand the value we bring when we design for social good.

Furthermore, many academics have sought to frame research agendas for design for social good, such as Margolin and Margolin (2002) and Manzini (2008). This shows that this area of design is still very young and very emergent.

I am often asked to provide a more critical voice to my research. But before I provide a critical voice, I think it’s really important to better understand the concept of design for social good and understand ourselves as designers. This means understanding what we’re doing in these contexts and identifying what value we bring. These, I believe, are just as important as recognising the weaknesses and limitations of design.

As designers, we need to better articulate what we do and our value instead of waiting for others speak for us. We also need to look at other disciplines, recognise what they are doing and identify what we actually contribute when we work and collaborate with them. Social issues are complex. Designers are not subject matter, policy, economic or cultural experts. We need to work with others to understand social issues, different contexts, and other discipline approaches so that we can use design to enhance, not replace or take over, how we help address and respond to complex social issues. We will be better at outlining our roles as part of these teams, if we know and articulate better what we do and the value we bring to the table.

Update (14 July 2011)

I should mention that in a few months time Object (Australian centre for craft and design) will be publishing their digital magazine and in this edition I profile ‘Design thinking for social innovation.’ I’ll update you here when it is published so I can actually begin to answer some of the questions I ask above! In the mean time check out Object’s current iPad magazine here. Or their past print editions (via Issuu) here. All the latest news from Object on Twitter is here.


Filed under PhD research, Social and community

Milson Community Garden

I’ve been doing a lot of walking around my local area of late and observing what kinds of things are going on in the neighbourhood. I have always been interested in the creativity of others, so every now and then I’ll post interesting encounters where I see the creativity of people make a positive contribution to their community. Such is what Ezio Manzini and Francios Jegou (2008) call ‘creative communities’ that is “groups of people who cooperatively invent, enhance and manage innovative solution for new ways of living.”

Just recently, I came across a community garden called Milson Community Garden. The garden is located within a wonderful park down the road from where I live called Milson Park. It’s actually quite a hidden park in the leafy harbourside suburb of Kirribilli. Kirribilli is one of the most densely populated suburbs of Sydney so the expanse of Milson Park is an appealing juxtaposition.

The park is quite long with the grass leading right down to the waters of Sydney Harbour. Tall palms rise high above the park, planted in a circular fashion marked by lush green hedges. I always see children play hide and seek among the hedges forgoing the playground jungle gym to the right of the palms. The park is really well maintained, with benches scattered around its perimeter and bathroom facilities discreetly hidden. There are private boat moors at the end of the park, and located between the bobbing boats and the children’s playground, is the Milson Community Garden.

The Garden’s origins formed in 2008 when a group of residents, who often walked their dogs in the park, and talked about the idea of a community garden. They began planting herbs in the park which were promptly removed by Council gardening staff. The residents phoned the local Mayor to discuss their idea and the Mayor thought a community garden was a great idea. Milsons Community Garden thus began its life.

Ever since encountering one of my Dott 07 case studies Urban Farming, which engaged local communities in a series of creative endeavours that included cultivating, cooking and celebrating locally grown food, I’ve always found the idea of community gardens and allotments really fascinating. And for so many reasons but first and foremost because of the varied and different outcomes community gardens produce, from encouraging social interactions, to being outdoors, to getting exercise, to cultivating skills, to environmental sustainability (such as reducing food miles) to self-sufficiency etc.

Here’s a wonderful clip I found on YouTube on Urban Food Growing in Havana. I just love the stories here.

Anyway, I think Milson Community Garden is a wonderful example of a ‘creative community’ and a community-led idea put into action. I won’t relay the whole story about how the garden came into being (it was not without its challenges) but if you are interested please view A Short History of Milson Community Garden.

I should also add that Milson Community Garden states “Only people who work in the garden can share in the harvest. The rule is that after you have worked for three successive Sundays in a month, you can share in the harvest.” For more FAQs click here.


Filed under Social and community