Thursday, September 16, 2010

Humility in design

The DMI conference, 'Transforming Design' held in London on the 7th and 8th of September brought a number of very insightful presentations to a large audience of over 200 in central London.

Here are a few comments and observations. More later.

Geoff Mulgan from The Young Foundation spoke of the need for design to recognise, in moving into design for social needs (social innovation), that there are already a number of powerful players operating in that space. These include user groups, NGOs, politicians, policy makers, social entrepreneurs and public sector managers to name but a few. In this space, design value in use is more meaningful for users than monetary value and outcomes should bve designed to create important new relationships.

Geoff spoke eloquently on the need to master the 5-step process for systemic change that they have developed. Starting with 'prompts' and moving through 'proposals', 'prototypes', 'sustaining' to 'scaling'. The Young Foundation's empiric experience has also enabled them to arrive at 8 creative social design tools for partners and collaborators. These are inversion, addition, integration, subtraction, extension, translation, differentiation and grafting.

What design has does not exist in hospitals and government. It is very valuable, though Geoff was careful to advise designers to 'discomfort yourselves and be humble to what you can learn from them [the players already in the field]'.

The design directors of both LEGO and GE Healthcare gave insightful presentations from two very different contexts. Mike Ganderton, Creative Senior Director, LEGO Group told us that LEGO was only a few years ago, a company that was in a rapid downward spiral. It needed to urgently and dramatically reorganise itself in order to get back to the fundamental and core values of what LEGO stands for in the mind of the consumer. They had to make LEGO that consumers wanted, not LEGO that the design department thought consumers should have. Business leaders were assigned to head up design and design management consultants PARK were brought in. They set up the Design for Business (DforB) programme.

The learnings in failures have led them to distribute design in equal status with marketing, production and sales in project teams. This came with the painful recognition that incremental innovation was the key to survival and growth, and not radical innovation. Further down the line, a defining moment came when the Design for Business programme was embraced by other parts of the business. Design managers now based decisions on fact and insight and not emotion. Design directors have equal impact on the business to marketing directors.

In effect, Lego designed what it meant by innovation within the company -'a one innovation language'. The designers became grounded in the business answerable to business KPIs. Design is now integrated within and closely linked to projects in a high speed business with multiple stakeholders.

François Lenfant, Manager, Global Product Design, Developed Markets, GE Healthcare told a different story of GE Healthcare ($157bn with 304,000 people in 160 countries and a $5.2Bn spend on R&D). The company is asking itself how it might create global platforms and yet at the same time create personalised healthcare. It is moving from management of disease to management of health. With a design team of 37 operating on a huge global portfolio of products, (which are low in volume and high in embedded technology), François spoke tellingly of design's need to be humble. 'It is not design alone, but it is also design'. Design is needed to interpret the hidden expectations of customers as, based on the voice of the customer, GE Healthcare knows well what customers want now, but they do not know what they want tomorrow.

François is growing the design capacity and has moved the design team to a new 'destination' for design within the corporate culture. He is centralising the function and building its influence. Driven by the proposition to 'express the magic of science and empathy', design is transforming how GE develops healthcare and design is transforming the business.

Lego disperses its design function across projects; connects it to business goals and metrics and integrates it on an equal footing with other functions of the business in order to be closer to corporate strategy. GE Healthcare is building a centralised design function in a new space as a separate 'destination' in order to maintain and grow design's influence to transform the business. Two different contexts with two very different approaches emerging out of those realities. The Young Foundation designs social innovations in a collaborative and user-centred approach that integrates a diverse population of stakeholders in projects that must be designed from the outset to move from seed to scaled success.

At the opening of his presentation, Mike Ganderton asked the question, 'Is there anyone in the audience who was NOT a child once?' Each presenter, in their own way, expressed the need for design to be a humble participant open to learning from others in the cycle of creation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thoughts from Helsinki Design Lab 2010

How can we, the insanely successful, truly find ways to develop new constructs of meaning, purpose and action through strategic design to build prosperity of mind and behaviour that could unlock transformation for the millions of individuals in our societies across the globe that we currently fail?

A well facilitated conversation with a wide range of participants from around the world, sitting in a double-ringed circle the size of a mini ballroom, can create a crucible within which some serious thinking can take place.

The third and final day of Marco Steinberg’s inspired and inspiring Helsinki Design Lab on Friday 3rd September 2010 was just that.

In ‘A Changing World’, the first of two facilitated sessions, Alan Webber, (editor, reporter, speaker, writer and co-founder of Fast Company magazine), asked the panel comprising Mikael Jungner (General Secretary of the Finnish Social Democratic party), John Kornbum (distinguished American Diplomat and former US Ambassador to Germany), Ramchandra Kulkami (CEO of Cybernetic Research Labs, India) and Tuomas Toivonen (an independent architect, musician and thinker), ‘Where do you look to see the future?’.

In listening to the panel’s responses and the conversation that these triggered, three thoughts came together in my mind, each of from different times in my life. Firstly, from five years hard yet deeply rewarding experience back in the Eighties teaching in a tough, local secondary school. Secondly, jumping forward nearly twenty years, being engaged in a national design strategy project for Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint-Nasser al Misned in Doha in 2007/8 and finally, rather bizarrely, on something glaringly obvious – but only once it is noticed – from that science fiction television series of the future – Star Trek.

In October 2007, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah was awarded the Chatham House Prize in London. At the award ceremony she gave a defining speech which included her vision for design.

Sixty years ago, the people of Qatar were largely dependent on pearl fishing - a poor society with no role on the global stage. Today, thanks to the discovery of high grade petroleum in two fields off the coast the Qatari nation is now extremely rich. If I remember the numbers correctly, there are only 171,000 indigenous Qataris in a population of 800,000 that is projected to grow to some 1.2 million by 2015.

The Chatham House speech was a powerful stimulus and guide to myself and John Geldart, then Director of VCUQ's* Design Research Lab in Education City, on our work for Her Highness in designing an International Design Zone for Qatar. Her Highness’s vision was that design thinking, as separate to the faculty of critical thought, could help to bring about “prosperity of mind and behaviour” in Qatari society.

I felt this to be a remarkable and challenging insight. Anywhere else I have worked in the world on design policy, in developed or developing economies and societies, the thrust for design (and its rationale to political systems), has always been for competitiveness and wealth creation.

In Qatar that was not the goal.

In a society that had become suddenly very, very rich and that had been subsequently propelled onto the global stage bringing with it the punishing realities of rapid expansion, Her Highness had recognised the urgent need to address future social coherence and cohesion. Considerable financial wealth could surely, over time, erode innovation and entrepreneurship in its most far-reaching sense.

‘What sort of society do we want to have and how do we, in the face of great wealth, (that is assured for at least the next one hundred years), preserve the self-actualising spirit that is necessary to keep an indigenous society alive, vibrant and innovating?’

In the spirit of the Helsinki Design Lab, I therefore firstly reflected that it could benefit all of us to consider how we might work towards eradicating poverty of mind and behaviour.

My second thought was about learning.

'Education’ seems to be a word more widely and easily used than ‘learning’. And yet, for me, education and the systems of education that we maintain, can be founded on the notion of what is in effect nothing more than a ‘postal delivery service’ - the 'posting' of content and knowledge from a sender to a receiver. Surely this can never reflect the multiple dimensions of human potential.

As a society, I believe we pay too little attention to the far richer concept of learning – where and how and in what ways it can really take place.

What systems, or better still, in the words of panellist Ramchandra Kulkami, what attitudes do we need to develop in order to create individual and personalised learning experiences tailored to our emerging understanding of multiple intelligence and diverse learning styles. What methods and experiences can we frame and inspire, (not curricula), that would seed a love of learning for a lifetime and improve access to opportunity?

Many in design have come to accept the benefits and principles of Design for All

Could we not then accept and explore the notion of ‘design learning for all’

This is not meant in the sense of a traditional design education, in order for everyone to be, or become, a designer. Marco Steinberg reflected on his view of design as pattern recognition. Others spoke about constructs of strategic design within a systemic view of the world. Our view of design and what it can be is maturing. How can we effectively introduce strategic design approaches into learning contexts in all levels of general education?

Design learning for all, from kindergarten upwards, would bring added value to millions of individual learners who would otherwise be schooled mostly in reductionist, linear thinking utilising principally word and number.

It would sensitise the next generation of politicians to strategic design long before they become politicians. They would see the value and have the tools and language to re-design political systems and discourse in order to discover better ways to confront complex challenges within long-term, rather than short-term, vote-driven, timescales.

Our economies would also benefit. All young people destined for a lifetime in business and industry, but who don’t even know it yet, would already be exposed to design-enriched attitudes, language, methods and approaches by the time they get there.

Design learning for all would be a useful first step in providing all sections of schooled society with a new set of personal skills, attitudes and capacities. These strategic design insights and know-how would help them to confront their future lives in the turbulent wake and uncertainties of the globally networked societies and economies.

And I should add, as a side effect, it would also lead to better, more strategic designers across the wole spectrum of design disciplines.

And so to my third thought.

Spurred on by facilitator Alan Webber’s question, ‘Where do I look to see the future?’, I found myself recognising one particularly surprising aspect about Star Trek that I hadn’t really thought about before.

In Star Trek, there is no money.

Looking perhaps a hundred years ahead, not twenty, could we not now at least be starting to create a tiny seed, or at least the ‘design specification’ for a seed to speculate upon and to visualise how we might go about designing out money?

Could we begin to envisage the architecture of that opportunity?

There is no doubt, as we kept reminding ourselves last week, that the Helsinki Design Lab was a group of the very privileged, educated few – the “insanely successful” as someone commented on Friday.

So what can happen now? Let me know what you think.

* Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar