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.

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