Design. In the last 30 years there’s been a radical shift in how the discipline is understood.
I’m on an adventure – to explore the limits of Design’s ability to solve problems, big and small.
Each day I will be finding a problem and will attempt to solve it.
Alongside this I will be talking to design critics and practitioners across Europe – discovering their experiences of Design’s power to work for good and bad.
“Ultimately, I believe a good designer doesn’t see platform limitations across print, web, motion or other media. A good designer sees infinite possibilities—and creatively incorporates design into everything, literally. I believe this is vital to remember…good ideas have no boundaries.” Yolanda Santosa
While Rome burns, designers are obsesses with big ideas cribbed from scientific disciplines they can barely understand. The only apparent rationale behind these misguided obsessions is an attempt to drag design from its middlebrow status into a higher arena..If it always seems like design will be the bastard child of the art school, then a blind trek through the domain of science is at least an original, if failed, attempt to raise design’s status.“ Randy Nakamura
It is hoped that this investigation will be a novel and valuable contribution to critical debate concerning the social role of design. Tim Brown (2009, p.i) states “the myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. In reality most innovations are borne from rigor and discipline.[…] We don’t simply realise solutions; we design them.” This investigation, therefore, attempts to explore the limits of design’sability to “realise solutions” to social needs, both big and small. Terry Irwin (2003, p.179) in her essay “A Crisis of Perception” states that:
“I don’t think it will be the politicians or the economists or the businessmen who will solve the problems of pollution, loss of biodiversity and indigenous cultures, poverty or war and violence. The design of a new reality may be called for, which doesn’t mean creating a “fix” for our current structure.[…] The first step is to develop a vision that says design can make a divergence – perhaps the biggest divergence.”
In explicit opposition to Irwin’s sentiments, however, Randy Nakamura (2006, p.7) states:
“While Rome burns, designers are obsesses with big ideas cribbed from scientific disciplines they can barely understand. The only apparent rationale behind these misguided obsessions is an attempt to drag design from its middlebrow status into a higher arena.[...]If it always seems like design will be the bastard child of the art school, then a blind trek through the domain of science is at least an original, if failed, attempt to raise design’s status.“
This investigation therefore aims to explore this dichotomy in relation to the practical and theoretical limits of design’s ability to solve social problems. In in attempting to solve 50 problems in 50 days, it is hoped that the results will contribute new learning towards critical debate concerning design’s power to act positively and negatively.
Aims and Objectives
While conducting my study I aim to try and answer a number of key questions, including:
- What are the practical and theoretical limits of design’s ability to solve social problems?
- To what extent is design’s value found in the artefacts its produces rather than the problems it solves?
- Does design have social importance in its own right?
- Can Design Thinking be applied to areas outside the conventional bounds of the discipline?
- How is design innovation cultivated?
- What role does collaboration have in the shifting practice of design?
- What processes foster social innovation?
- What role should design and designers play in the twenty-first century?
- What role does narrative play in the communication of design for social need?
- Rapid and systematic design thinking.
- To celebrate a culture of risk-taking, failure and mistakes in order to foster creativity and innovative solutions.
- A firm grasp of the process of ideation.
- Rapid prototyping.
- Divergent thinking.
- Rigorous and varied research skills including interviews, vox-pops and observation.
- Valuable opportunities to enhance knowledge of User-Centered Design, Service Design, Co-Design and System Design.
- The craft and production skills required to produce a final outcome that visually communicates my theme to a high standard.
- Professional interview skills, preparation and documentation.
- Finally, heightened capacity for critical self-reflection brought about by autonomous learning in new and unusual circumstances.
Tim Brown (2009, p.16) states that when providing a methodology for design thinking “there is no ‘one best way’ to move through the process. There are helpful landmarks along the way, but the continuum of innovation is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps.” These landmarks are defined as below:
Therefore in providing a methodology it is recognised that these landmarks may be visited more than once during this process in an effort to produce results that best meet the needs of the users.
Furthermore, it is also worthy of note that the practical and analytical strands of this investigation (if they can be so simplistically separated) imply separate methodologies.
To further my practical understanding of how design thinking can be applied to solve social problems I have set myself a challenge. Inspired by a number of the spurs stated in Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” (Mau, 2011) I have set myself the challenge of solving 50 problems in 50 days using design. In order to do this I intend to place myself firmly outside of my comfort zone – travelling alone round Europe to heighten my awareness of the numerous social problems that surround me daily.
Whilst travelling, I also intend to further my critical understanding of this topic. To do this I plan to engage with a number of European design firms, from branding agencies to service design consortiums. This will help develop my understanding of the critical frameworks that surround my topic. Furthermore, this form of engagement will expose me to how this topic is demonstrated in industry and will allow me to explore the limits of design’s capabilities to solve social problems.
Therefore, I shall employ a mixed-methodological approach, as outlined below:
The entire process of problem solving from conceptualisation through to communication must take place within 24 hours.
Initially problems or fields of interest must be found organically through observation or experience rather than through secondary research
The proposed solution must feature some element of deliberate arrangement or intervention i.e. “design”
Solutions can be created using any tools I have at my disposal. Materials to do so may be begged, borrowed or stolen.
To further pursue my study, I will be discussing my investigation with a twelve of Europe’s top design teams.
This will allow me to gain valuable industry insight concerning design’s power to work for both good and bad.
Design Groups Include
- Designit – London - http://designit.com/
- STBY – London - http://www.stby.eu/
- Occupy Design – London – http://occupydesign.org.uk/
- Attoma – Paris - http://www.attoma-design.com/
- Kite Consultants – Antwerp - http://www.kiteconsultants.eu/
- MediaCatalyst – Amsterdam - http://www.mediacatalyst.com/
- STBY – Amsterdam - http://www.stby.eu/
- Edenspiekermann – Berlin - http://edenspiekermann.com/en
- FJORD – Berlin - http://www.fjordnet.com/
- Frog – Munich – http://www.frogdesign.com
- Experientia – Turin - http://experientia.com/