Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Challenges for design education

As I have been investigating new and different areas designers have been taking design, the issue of design education often comes up in conversation. Are design schools educating designers to meet tomorrow's challenges? This question has come up in both literature and in conversations.

I found an interesting article in 2007 by Adobe's Design Centre's Think Tank titled, Graduate Education: Preparing designers for jobs that don't exist (yet). Author, Anne Burdick is Chair of the graduate Media Design Program (MDP) at Art Center College of Design (in the USA) and she documents her observations of where designers have been taking design, from being researchers to entrepreneurs, to strategic thinkers, to knowledge producers. Burdick questions current models of teaching, "that rely exclusively on apprenticeship and/or technical mastery." Burdick says, "To prepare for a future in flux, students must learn to be adaptable, agile and strategic. Clearly this calls for a new kind of pedagogy."

But the real reason for this post is to provide a link to a pamphlet released by the RSA on Monday called, Social animals: tomorow's designers in today's world (thanks Mike for letting me know).

The pamphlet, authored by Sophia Parker, profiles the nature of design graduates today, reflecting on the world they have grown up in which has channeled their interests toward the environment, the public and the social sectors. But the pamphlets suggest these interests are a bit at odds with current models of design education. To illustrate, the pamphlet flags up six challenges for design educators in educating students in public service design. In short (ie. paraphrased here) it says education that needs to encourage students to learn more about:
  1. Turning insights into action;
  2. Co-design and the participation of people (also considering ethical codes of conduct);
  3. Prototyping services;
  4. Seeing the ‘bigger picture’ meaning taking into account the wider context projects operate in;
  5. Communicating well both visually and verbally, including the ability to pitch ideas for investment;
  6. Being not just problem solvers, but also ‘problem finders.'
I agree with all of the above. Many, if not all of them, I identified in my own research as important and also as a strength of the designers I interviewed and know. In the above six points, turning insights into action, prototyping and communication visually are strengths of design practice over many other disciplines. I discussed these points in an earlier post on design in the social sector.

As we continue our journey of watching design enter new frontiers, it's wonderful to see design practice applied in new contexts, develop and shape with a bit more clarity.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Design at the Health Innovation Expo, London 18-19 June 2009

The other week I attended the Department of Health's Health Innovation Expo. Among a sea of shiny hospital gizmos, five design companies exhibited at the NHS Institute's Design Zone and Workshop space, showcasing what design could do for service innovation and improvement in health.

Here's what the expo's website read:

Today’s designers are expanding their domain by using innovative design methodologies and techniques to redesign public services and address the social challenges imposed on society. We believe that building the knowledge and skills to use this type of design as a strategic stimulus to healthcare innovation will help the NHS tackle some of the challenges around our ageing population, chronic disease, health inequality and rising public expectations, especially in a time where the global economic downturn will aggravates [sic] existing pressures on our health system. At the NHS Institute we’ve worked and learned from this new breed of ‘designers’ translating their techniques to empower the NHS workforce create the high quality and personalised services.

The five design companies which exhibited were: Engine, thinkpublic, We are all designers.com, live|work and impact innovation. See some photos from the expo below.

Image from Thinkpublic website

Alongside the showcase, both days held 30 minute workshops by all the design companies so attendees of the expo could interact and experience design methodologies in action.

All the workshops were really different in delivery and lots of fun. There were interactive exercises to get us thinking about challenges and pitching ideas, models that helped explain clearly how design could be applied in a health context, experiencing the design process live and a focus on key design methods such as prototyping.

I got a really positive feeling from the workshop attendees who ranged from commissioners to doctors to trainers in health. The showcase and workshops demonstrated to them how design brings a different perspective (or a different way of seeing) of how health services can be developed, designed and improved. This different perspective is both people-centred and creative ie. services are developed putting the people, not a piece of technology, at the centre of its development. It's also a creative process which can bring loads of new and different ideas and also be fun.

Equally as important is prototyping. Before services go live, design gives a space for testing and developing the service before its launched. I met a few workshop attendees and one of them told me about how he developed a service, only to launch it and find no take up. He mentioned that this was the "hard way" of learning that the people who will use and interact with the service, need to be part of its development. We also talked about prototyping his services, and he was in attendance of all the workshops so I left most of the conversation on, 'what is prototyping' and some examples of its effectiveness up to the designers.

I know some of the design companies have been present at health expo before, but being able to see them at the Health Innovation Expo and hear the feedback they were getting, was incredible.

I think the feedback the designers got at the expo is something to really illuminate here. According to them, the interest and positive feedback, has been unlike anything they have experienced at previous expos. I asked one of the designers what had changed. They mentioned government policy. I also suspect that it is also the ever-growing evidence from projects that highlight the potential for design in new and different areas, such as health.

The expo was great insight into the efforts of both designers and their clients in bringing design into the third largest employer in the world. The designers have such an immense commitment to innovating design practice by applying it to a new and different area such as health. And the collaborators and/or clients, in this case the NHS Institute, really do support the fact that design has something valuable to offer beyond posters, chairs, fashion etc.

I think design and designers are at a timely opportunity to really demonstrate and show how design can offer something valuable, beyond just how things look, to many other disciplines. I believe there will be exciting times ahead, and that we really are working toward breaking down old perceptions of what design is and can be.

For other postings on the Health Innovation Expo see:

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Design Activism in Leeds

Next week I am off to the Leeds Festival of Design Activism. In 2007, the first workshop on Design Activism was held and was titled, Mapping Design Activism. Guy Julier of Leeds Metropolitan University described Design Activism as:

“... encompass[ing] a wide range of real-life processes from greening neighbourhoods to transforming communities through participatory design action.”

The workshop was a lively conversation of many different people and professions, and a report was produced post-workshop which you can download here.

At the Leeds Festival of Design Activism next week, I will be doing a presentation on my research. This will be on Thursday 2 July at the Postgraduate Research Student Colloquium, a student-led forum to discuss and explore our research topics and PhD experiences. Here's a short summary of the colloquium:

The Postgraduate Research Colloquium is intended for PhD students working in the field of Design Activism. It will provide an opportunity to explore critical issues in their doctoral studies and receive extensive feedback on their work from facilitators and fellow students.

Following this on Friday 3 July, is the Design Activism Practitioner Conference which:

... is devised to give voice to designers, artists, architects, students, performers, activists, observers and users of socially and/or environmentally committed creative practices.

Finally, on Saturday 4 July, the Gala Event will provide an opportunity for the delegates of the festival to get to know each better among music, events and great food!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Service / Design / Drinks / 4

We're doing it again! Same time (7pm) and same place (Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell) so join us for some design drinking on Friday 19th June.

Please let Nick know if you are coming along. Email him via drinks@servicedesigning.com

Look forward to seeing you there!