New context

January 20, 2009 — 16 Comments

So much of what we are able to do with design is dependent on the context in which we ask our questions. It may be that a definition of an innovator is someone who is able to ask a question that noone else has thought to ask. It seems to me that today the context in which we get to ask our questions has changed. Barak Obama’s inauguration speech layed out an agenda for innovation and design thinking that should keep us busy for quite some while.

We were certainly asking some of these questions before but now those around us will better understand what we were saying and perhaps be more open to the solutions that we propose. This is a good time to be a designer.

The question is, how do we best exploit it?

Tim Brown


16 responses to New context

  1. Its a great time to be an innovator too, and your comment about the significance of asking the important questions can transform the way we all approach change. There is a new openness that is available, and it will be exciting to see the conversation progress.

  2. I too, as an aspiring designer, hope that this new time of “change” can create an even greater opportunity for designers and their ideas/questions.

  3. The question will be forever how. To exploit you have to prove worthiness in the right direction. Direction right now could be a “green” and/or “cost” advantage. Or as it always seems to be communication and/or organization.

  4. Is it a good time to be a designer? I don’t know. We talk a lot about innovation, but our innovations are limited by the ability of our audience to understand and implement them: this is innovation on a short leash. Now we are asked to immagine what will happen even before we have an audience. This is an entirely different kind of design, perhaps requiring a different mindset.

  5. As I saw it, the real design implication was Obama’s message design. Even the most honest of people need to think about how to frame their message for it to be understood by the “user” of their sentences. His speech targeted numerous different groups of people (including americans, the third world, terrorists and the starving) to let them know what HE’s trying to design.

    Good marketing, and a good way to inspire co-operation. Exploiting the design climate comes down to inspiring co-operation in your own world.

  6. I have been asking this question on linked in among database designers and IT professionals. They are all thinking convergently. I think this is a mistake because it eliminates choices.

    Right now what we have to do is think bottom up taking the data we have and using inductive reasoning to generate new actions–measures and units, new decisions–forms and functions, new orientations–engineering and design, and new observations–sciences and arts.

    The United States is where it is because Americans and the Western World took uncalculated risks. We have to come to our senses and learn again that there is a way to approach risk in a calculated manner. Barack said that science has to make a come back. He is right. Risk too, is a science. And we require more reason and less religion.

  7. In an economy that has contracted I feel that innovation can be the answer for those companies/organizations that are looking to improve what they do. It can also be placed as a secondary focus if companies/organizations want to be prudent and conservative in order to wait out the recession.

    Those that are cash rich (or with good access to capital) will come out the strongest if they innovate correctly, and those that need help (new credit lines, or simply “bail out” funds) will need to innovate to renew their business models, practices, etc., or to keep up with the companies/organizations that are currently sound within their respective sectors.

    I think the desire for companies/organizations to seek the kind of guidance that professional design thinkers can provide will exist in all times, but if there is a significant and very well administered economic stimulus initiative that is about to be unveiled – by all means – design thinkers – both internal and external will likely be able to make new inroads and improve their own bottom lines (while improving the collective offerings of many companies/organizations that seek their services).

    And that brings me back to how do design thinkers exploit the new national sentiment and potential influx of significant stimulus funds – – look no further than the new administration’s Agenda:

    If the new group holds true to and can accomplish their new goals, especially as it relates to the economy, the following sectors should see new growth and opportunity:

    * Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
    * Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
    * Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
    * Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
    * Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
    * Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

    I am not saying that these are all the “right” areas for focus – – but if these are the areas that will receive funds and favorable support . . . there will certainly be plenty of areas to exploit.

  8. One more quick item to add . . . I think the ability for the design thinkers to make inroads will be based on their ability to sell companies/organizations on the benefits of interaction design – however it needs to be applied to a specific company/organization’s needs.

    It will really come down to aggressively targeting the right sectors, properly explaining and showcasing design success stories, and obviously proposing new solutions.

  9. Between Hope and Progress is Action.
    Here we go.

  10. I think one way to get started is “Education in Design Thinking”. Socialize this process and educate government executives on what human centered design can do by agency one step at a time. President Obama can help foster and develop platforms, plant seeds for innovation, inject design thinkers in different areas so agencies can work on the platforms to solve challenges based on systematic & empathetic approach through observation, idea generation and rapid prototyping.

    Large private enterprises have done it. They have re-invented themselves through education, learning, implementing ideas and changing the culture in organizations. I do not see any reason why this will not work in government.

    Starting point is a strong belief that change is necessary, and now it is time for Education and this need to happen fast.

    Sarji Ramanathan

  11. The audience is hungry and ready. Why not take it to the next level of “experience design”? Designing around an experience, feeling, or memorable happening. As a student of business design, it’s my pleasure to push and explore all new possibilities of where design will take business and vice versa.

    Tonzi Canestaro

  12. I think one of the problems we have is that we keep trying to put design under someone else’s umbrella. That maybe design should be living under the domain of science, or perhaps it is in art (or business). What if we decided that design was a category unto itself, as big as science or art? Stanford’s has started down that road, I’m excited to see where it leads.

    I think we can encourage this type of thinking by starting our own pet design initiatives. Pick something you are passionate about but is often neglected by design. Be the boss and the client. But your blood, sweat and tears into it. Hold it up as an example of not a great product or service, but a great example of design’s influence. We need more examples of our profession besides the Nike Swoosh and the iPod (that easily come to mind). Now is the perfect time for that. Pull back the curtain and show design pulling the levers.

  13. Thank you for the question. I agree that we are currently entering into a “brief” watershed moment when it will be a true joy to be a designer. I think for all of us questioners out here in the world, the best tactic we can use to best capitalize on our opportunity is to reach out to others and to collaborate. Thanks to the web, I think this will be the first time in our history when one segment of our society can truly communicate with another segment.

    I look forward to your future conversations.

  14. 12 years ago somebody got already elected on the basis of CHANGE. Everybody was full of HOPE and a new agenda was set for the country – with the help of the creative industries. That election was in the UK and his name was Tony Blair. We all know what happened later… so don’t get over excited.

  15. double-loop learning will be critical if designers are to lead innovation, operate in uncertain contexts and stay relevant at the forefront of change. Acting our way into learning will be step 2.

  16. I love Corrine’s comment. It’s my own personal action plan.

    While I’m a Chemical Engineer I’ve been exposed to Design Thinking and the potential of the Design Industry and it’s best practices to transform processes across multiple functions and industries. Now that I’ve become internally aware and see the connections that should be made – I am getting my Master’s in Industrial Design to broaden my scope within Product Development, my current area of expertise.

    The best way to drive my point about the need for Design to be woven into every detail of R&D (not just the finishing touches) is to let it play out in my own work. It starts there – individually. Someone else’s plan will look different but it’s about making the connection. The 2 “worlds” must meet, be able to communicate, and have credibility with each other!

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