Inside the head of a designer

Getgo wins Audi competition

Getgo Probe Tools

Well what an exciting week!

Getgoglasgow, which is the design collective of the two Masters courses at the Glasgow school of art (Design Innovation and European design) won the Audi Sustain our Nation competition and £10000 for the community we worked with.

We’ve been working with an area in Maryhill Glasgow called Wyndford to develop a sustainable social enterprise for their community.  The project has been tough, with some great highs, and almighty lows.

For the group, it was a challenging project.  This demanded a new role of the designer away from the solo author to the co-creator.  We made it really clear at the beginning of the project to work with people rather than for them.

View this document on Scribd

The winning project was Green Gorillaz, a way to bring back community spirit and the community voice, using offline and online message boards, linked up  by residents.  We created some seed groups which will house events and see knowledge transferred across generations.  It stems from the closure of their primary schools last year, and a real loss of community.  They had come together to fight the decision, so we knew there were passionate local champs.  We wanted to harness this and turn that energy into something positive.

But credit should go to everyone involved in the project, there were three projects developed from the same process. We held co-creation workshops with residents and stakeholders to generate ideas to take forward, but made sure at all points we were transparent and open about our process, returning to the community regularly to work with them again and develop proposals.

If design education should learn anything from this, is that building relationships takes time, and if projects like this are to be handed to students, proper training in community work, sustainable thinking and an understanding of ethics should be taught.  We’ve struggled with the competition and institute deadlines.  For example, after handing in the first three projects, we had to wait to see whether any had made it through to the regional finals.  At this point, we decided as a collective to carry all of them on anyway, even though none might be taken forward.

Anyway, we’re down at the RSA on the 17th February to represent a ‘developed’ concept (we’re working to make it real and it starts tomorrow with a football pitch party at 10am where we’ll be feeding back to the community), and hopefully we can win another £10000 for Wyndford.

In the words of John Gray yesterday,

“bloody good for u……bunnets in the air !……mon the weegies :-)”

Designing Dublin

Designing for Dublin

This project, Design for Dublin, only came to my attention yesterday through the ‘Designing for the public sector’ group on Wenovski.

Brian Gough, a member of the team says,

“Designing Dublin was a pilot project that ran in conjunction with Dublin City council. For three very intense months, a team of 17 of us worked on a project called finding the hidden potential of place.

The focus of this project was Clongriffin, an unfinished building development in Dublin north. Leading the team was Vannesa Ahuactzin, whose background includes working with Bruce Mau on the project Massive Change. Through her, we were exposed to various tools normally associated with Design Thinking.”

Engaging Individuals in a design process

It’s worth having a good look through their project blog from start to finish to see how the project progressed.  The idea was to grow a culture of learning, that could help ‘ provide a new generation of entrepreneurs with the tools to design inventive solutions to the new global challenges and encourage people to understand how they can contribute purposefully to the future of their country and to the world in the 21st Century.

Their website says,

“We believe that there is no perfect answer when defining this new learning system. We have decided to begin anywhere by running the Designing Dublin: Learning to Learn pilot. Our intention is to test Design Thinking as a tool to empower learning that generates solutions through proposals, ideation, prototyping, testing and iteration.”

The Irish times wrote an interesting take on it, and it’s probably what I find most interesting about the project is that the team was made up of half council members and half citizens,

“The outcome was Designing Dublin: learning to learn , a pilot project to show how it’s possible to bring together people from different backgrounds to work together intensively for three months – an experience that would be transformational for them and “could transform this country in the next five years”

It links up with some of the work I’ve been doing with getgoglasgow.  We’ve been working in a community for the last couple of months to create sustainable solutions which allow people to grow and develop ideas themselves, meaning our solutions will last long into the future.  In this way, we have become the designers of tools.  One of the groups work is a project called listen up (2.36 into video) which is to create a set of tools allowing residents to have a better say in how funds are spent on new developments for their area;

“This specific Wyndford project will be used to prototype tools that involve the community in the co-creation process for the old school-site regeneration, to which a possible £3 million development fund will be allocated in April 2010. Following on from Wyndford, the tools will be reviewed and made available on an online platform that facilitates collaboration in further community consultation schemes, empowering communities to have a say in how their taxes are spent.”

You can find out more about the work we’ve been doing from our blog or follow us on twitter

Co-design isn’t really that new

Co-Design: Stanley King

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a good couple of months, a diamond find in my library at the Glasgow School of Art.  The book Co-design: A process of Design Participation discusses the early work of Stanley King and the Co-design group providing an in depth and concise description to the work of community architects and the workshops they facilitated from the 1970s.

The book is so concise in it’s description it provides task by task instructions to organising, facilitating and disseminating workshops, I think this is a must read for designers who undertake design workshops.  I was listening to a podcast from the Emergence 07 conference, where Oliver King of Engine was holding an open discussion about the changing role of the designer, largely focusing on the concept of designer as facilitator.  Something that stood out for me was a participant’s opinion on design education;

“…facilitation is not taught in universities and not every designer is a good facilitator”

For me, design education needs to change to accomodate the changing role of the designer.  Texts like this clearly demonstrate the complex nature of this type of work, covering organisation, skills, mindset, generative tools and more that is needed to successfully conduct a workshop.  In context of the architects here, drawing people’s ideas in real time, there is a clear skill and process to doing this, covered in chapters like, ‘Anatomy of a Co-design drawing’.

Activity timeline (after Le Corbusier)

There is also a fantastic diagram and images from the 70s showing the co-design group using an Activity Time Line (after Le Cobusier) where the artists indicates the helix of a rising and setting sun and marks off the hours of the day and the night.  The participating audience then shout out tasks they would do during the time period, which is marked onto the diagram.  They then group off and choose an activity to work on with an artist, and start building ideas based around it.  Reminds me alot of journey mapping, just in a 24 hour community sense sort of way.

How to organise and facilitate a co-design workshop

Why do I think this book is so important?  It shows there is so much more to the co-design workshop than meets the eye, and whilst, we do only learn through practice, I think methods like this, which are so common in our current design practice should be taught in  a more in depth and pragmatic way, with a focus on the mindset ideally put on for this process.

Below are two excerpts from an initial think piece I’ve been working on about design education, the changing role of the designer and the challenges this poses to design students;

Texts like Co-design[1] are comprehensive in their descriptions of how to facilitate correctly in the context of workshops, and are incredibly detailed about the way a facilitator draws people’s ideas, how to deal with overpowering participants and how to correctly note take, to name but a few considerations.  These details are important and without proper training in this domain, results of a workshop can be tainted.

“The public needs a language that can give its creativity a focus and help individuals turn their intuition and knowledge into a workable idea.  That language must also be able to bridge the gap between the vision of the common resident and the technical thinking and jargon of the architects”[2]

This role of facilitation is about relinquishing control, and the tools of designer, namely their ability to give ideas form through drawing or model making must be carefully considered.  Designers can be incredibly influential in what they choose to make tangible, by making something real, it can sway the whole group’s opinion one way without considering other possibilities.  Therefore the designer must act impartial, and drive the group through the creative process rather than own it.

[1] King S, Conley M, Latimer B and Ferrari D, Co-design: A process of design to participation
[2] McDowell LN cited from King S, Conley M, Latimer B and Ferrari D, Co-design: A process of design to participation, p45

the above was in response to this;


“The move towards co-design, where the designer takes on the role of facilitator as well as form-giver, gives even greater weight to the significance of how user research and engagement is taught on design courses. Practising co-designers do not simply see people as research subjects, but as active participants in the design process, whose time and contributions need to be recognised and honoured.  Conducting this kind of participative user research and inquiry on social issues presented students with a new set of challenges, both practical and ethical.” [1]

In the last twenty years the role of the designer has changed from solo author to co-creator.  In a move away from the modernist conception of designer as individual expert, design thinkers have adopted a participatory approach, involving users directly in the development of new products/services/systems throughout the design process.

This can largely be seen in the emergence of the Service Design discipline throughout the last decade,[2] which has been highlighted and catapulted into the hands of students, business and governments worldwide by the internet’s coverage and sharing of methodologies[3].

Service design leans heavily on the principles and methods of participatory design, a practice with roots in the Scandinavian workplace and trade unions.  The discipline is predominately co-creative, user-centric and adopts a holistic approach to design, including insights from, and direct engagement throughout the design process with a range of stakeholders and user groups in the development of new service offerings.

“…there are professions more harmful than industrial design – but only a few” [4]

“The time has come to review Papanek… from a new perspective, which reduces the distance between market-based and socially oriented initiatives”. [5]

Victor Papanek in 1971, suggested that designers take stock of what they’re doing, suggesting that designers who engaged with the market should spend one tenth of their time or money towards socially responsible projects.  Nicola Morelli argued in 2007 that Papanek provides a ‘triple bottom line’ for considering new design proposals, merging towards a basic definition of sustainability and a new model for the design process that considers environmental, social and economic impact. (figure 1)

In recent developments, encouraged perhaps by some of these older texts asking us to take responsibility for what we design[6] and a recognition by the public sector and government in design thinking[7], several of the world’s leading design and service design consultancies have began to tackle complex social issues[8], moving away from the business and management foundations the discipline was built on. This area of work has been spearheaded by initiatives such as Dott 07[9] and Public services by design[10].  Publications like, Wouldn’t it be great if?[11], highlight design as being able to,

“…help us in the public services to be more innovative. We need to be conscious that today’s problems are just not going to be addressed by yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s solutions” [12]

It seems a natural progression for the design community and in particular the service design discipline to move into this territory due to its user-centred nature and holistic approach to problem solving.  In recent years, new branches of design thinking have stretched the field further, like transformation[13] and social design with supporting initiatives like red appearing[14].  This all comes at a particularly convenient time with a rising focus in the hyperlocal and community driven delivery of services by government and an emphasis on ‘citizen and community engagement.’[15]

“If thirty years in politics – as a local councillor, MP and cabinet minister – have taught me one thing, it is that government and public services depend on a partnership with citizens to make things work.”[16]

In light of this emerging domain and a steady influx of socially motivated projects being introduced into design courses at undergraduate level, [17] design educators must reflect on the changing role of the designer and the new landscapes they are operating in, developing new frameworks to accommodate the need for new mindsets and skills.

This initial think piece will reference throughout a recent project undertaken by the students of a new postgraduate Masters course, Design Innovation at the Glasgow School of Art. It will highlight issues that will need to be taken into consideration surrounding this type of participatory work, in particular the effect of designers engagement with people and a consideration of a new design philosophy that focuses on promoting a sustainable approach to community and participatory design work.

[1] The RSA Website, Six challenges for design education [04/01/10]
[2] The discipline has emerged in response to a global shift towards a service based economy
Vargo, S. L. and Lusch, R. F., Service-Dominant Logic: Continuing the Evolution: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 1-10
[3] Service Design Tools, Homepage, [04/01/10]
[4] Papanek V, Design for the real world, p14 cited from Thackara J, In the bubble: Designing in a complex world, p7
[5] Sustain our Nation Site, Approaches and exemplars, [04/01/10] citing Nicola Morelli (2007)
[6] “The context of industrial mechanisation has changed, but 100 years later and in our times, the sociologist Richard Sennett presses for debate about the consequences of what we make” Parker S, Social Animals: tomorrow’s designers in today’s world, p 21 citing R Sennet, The Craftsman
[7] Partners can be noted in the publication by the Design Council, Public Services by design, A new route to public sector innovation, p15
[8] Burns C, Cottam H, Vanstone C, Winhall J, RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
[9] Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007), a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England, explored what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design could help us get there.
Cited from Design of the times website, What was Dott07, [04/01/10]
[10]Public Services by Design is a new programme to inspire and enable design innovation in public services. It helps public sector managers build awareness and understanding of how design can help in the process of developing and delivering better public services.
Cited from Design Council Website, Public Services by Design page, [04/01/10]
[11] Design Council and Thackara J, Wouldn’t it be great if
[12] Birchard M (Sir), Public Services by Design, p5
[13] Burns C, Cottam H, Vanstone C, Winhall J, RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
[14] RED was set up in 2004 by the Design Council to tackle social and economic issues through design led innovation, RED website, homepage, [04/01/10]
[15] Blunkett D (MP), A People’s Police Force
[16] Blunkett D (MP), Touching the State
[17] The RSA Design Directions programme is a competition aimed at undergraduate and recent graduates from design courses around the UK cited from Campbell E, You know more than you think you do: design as resourcefulness & self reliance

Choruses from the rock

Ramsay as design thinker

Last night I realised the reason I don’t own a tv is the fact that I be likely to waste hours in a trance watching ‘rubbish’.  I also never really have time to, but in a rare ‘evening off’ I found myself plonked in front of the tv and accidentally happening upon Gordon Ramsay’s ‘F Word’.

What caught my attention (apart from the fact I enjoy culinary topics) was some of Gordon Ramsay’s comments to restaurant owners during his visits to judge them for ‘local’ restaurant of the year.  Ramsay for me was just hitting the nail on the head.  He comments to staff,

“It’s not just the food, it’s the service”

Ramsay was talking about the service and the experience throughout, not just the ‘goods’, something that Pine and Gilmore discuss and separate in their book, The Experience Economy, which Jeff Howard articulately discusses here, (saving me repeating his thoughts, and a must read for service designers)

Recently inspired from a publication to search out T.S Eliot’s poem, Choruses from the Rock , the last line from this excerpt stood out for me.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?

Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”

What will you answer? “We all dwell together

To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.

Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

And so, in my mind, Ramsay was the stranger, and reflects elements of a design thinkist. He states to staff,

“I’ll be upstairs and downstairs”

This echoes the frontstage and backstage fundamentals of service design.  He interacts with everyone, frontline staff (waiters), backstage staff (chefs) and the customers, gaining opinions from all sides to build a holistic picture of the restaurant, focusing on the product, the service, the experience.

The comments that really stopped me were Ramsay erratically stating what the ordering system was and trying to comprehend why it was so difficult for an order to be passed from the waiters to the chefs,

“I can tell straight away the ordering system is far too complicated”

“If he’s entering the computer, and they’re entering the order, and he makes a mistakes…then it’s already going through two people…then it’s printed out downstairs…they take the order, then it is in another waiters hand…”

In an old post Lauren  Currie wrote,

“David described Jamie Oliver as a design thinkist…an opinion I completely agree with. The way he engages with people, integrates himself into their lifestyle etc. is admirable.”

And so I saw Ramsay as a bit of a design thinkist.  I sadly marvelled at his almost erratic behaviour trying to understand why no one was questioning  the ordering system of the restaurant or why the chefs weren’t questioning why the plates were coming back with half eaten food or sauce on the plates.

“Do the customers say anything when we clear this away.  Is anyone telling the chef?…does anyone give constructive feedback to the chef downstairs.  Why is this not eaten, and why is the sauce still there, surely you would want to know!”

As part of my Masters in Design Innovation I’ve been doing work in the public sector, looking at how design skills and ways of thinking can be transferred to front line staff to think about the user experience and innovate at a grassroots level.  I began with quite an open mind about this being possible, and I still believe it is, Ramsay has reignited my beliefs a little.  I do believe however that design is a vocational profession and I believe that the way Ramsay excelled at noticing details is because he was in environment he knows well, and is top of his game in.  In addition though he was taking on the role of investigator, and this is something to take stock of.  In the book Simplicity, Edward De Bono says,

“If you are too good at adjusting to the current system you may never realise the system needs changing.”

Staff learning how to Customer Journey Map

Staff learning to customer journey map

And so if we take the task of passing the skills and tools of service design to ‘non’ designers, perhaps to think of it like the role of investigator is the way forward.  By giving people new skills and tools to think in the ‘customer’s’ shoes and like a designer, they will be able to see ways the front line service can be changed.  This does however require a level of autonomy to be allowed to do this.  I will categorically say that currently in the public sector this is very difficult and comes down to many things like the risk averse mentality and management structures.

There is hope though.  And something I want to believe is discussed in Thackara’s opening to his book, In the Bubble: Designing for a complex world.

“Everyone designs,” wrote scientist Herb Simon, “who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations, into preferred ones.” For Victor Papanek, too, “design is basic to all human activities – the placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process.”  Designing is what human beings do.”

I am troubled that it takes a certain type of person and mindset to think and question scenarios like a designer and soon I hope to publish a recent piece of writing on this topic which elaborates on my thoughts.  In no way am I set in any way on my opinions, the next nine months or so I will be investigating this through practical work with frontline staff in the public sector with a clear goal on a sustainable implementation, so when designer’s are out the picture, staff have the relevant support and skills to use the designer’s toolkit and thinking.  In essence, it will have to be a transformative process, and if you haven’t already, pick up Tim Brown’s ‘Change by Design’ I suggest you do.

“The designer is no longer defining a finished result, but is creating the conditions for, or catalysing an emergent system that will change and re-configure after they have left the scene”

Those who know me personally may remind me that I did state not everyone can be a designer but at the very least I’d like to think that others can harness aspects of design thinking to start asking questions about the services they deliver and designers can start to work on ways of sustainably changing cultures in new domains.

My mind is entirely open again. Cheers Ramsay!

I would be interested to get thoughts on the subject of ‘Everyone as designer’ and from people who have worked on similar projects to hand over design skills.