Open Design…. Now!

Everyone’s heard of Open Source Software, but not everyone has heard of Open Design. It is exactly as it sounds… open source design. Encouraging people to share ideas and develop things together.

(Side note > Here’s a really great project being run in the Netherlands which has a whole host of excellent propaganda to help get the point across… Open Design Now!)

This is something that’s being talked about a lot by policy makers and the like as a means of engaging directly with both users and stakeholders during product or service development. There are hopes that strategies such as Open Design might help speed up more meaningful innovation and growth, and thanks to smart phones and other emerging types of ubiquitous computing (ubicomp), people are more and more interested to get involved and have their say.

Just as open source software and ubicomp are helping in the transition towards a more connected, engaged and agile society, hopefully in the not so distant future we can use the same principles to promote ubiquitious sustainability in design and move towards lower consumption and environmental impact. Hopefully. Lets’ see…


Wartime motivation and innovation

By now, almost everyone in the world has seen the infamous “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. First created as part of the huge wave of motivational and informational poster campaigns carried out in the UK during the second world war, this poster has seen a meteoric resurgence in recent years.

In these times of austerity, our modern society is finding a strange affinity with these posters of old. I think it’s actually one of the most pleasant surprises that have come from the recent economic problems. People are once again thinking about how they can do more with less, and these old war time poster offer some sage and pragmatic advice on everything from keeping your spirits up and working hard, to using less fuel, or eating less meat. This shared interest is beginning to slowly seep into the cultural fabric once more, and we’re seeing people (here in the UK at least) become a little more united with TV shows emerging urging the public to think about what they eat, get crafty in their homes, grow their own vegetables, or to ‘make do and mend’.

Having seen many of these old posters before, I was really interested to come across this article today which showcases some of the American counterparts. As well as touching on similar themes as the British posters, the Americans seemed to have a range of posters encouraging people to share their ideas and inventions.

I think this is amazing. It really shows the power, and need to generate new ideas from new places in order to truly innovate. I guess it worked in the end too, as our technological abilities accelerated dramatically during the wartime effort. Just goes to show that perhaps we’re at our best when the pressure’s on.

Design in the EU – ubiquitising and strategising

Things here have gone crazy. In the coming two months I will produce a conference paper, a funding proposal, and the first year report of my PhD – all things which only really became set in motion less than a week ago! If you’re an academic you’ll understand, but needless to say it’s going to be insane.

So, as a sneaky hidden bonus of this increased output, I’m hoping that I will be able to add more to here as things move forwards. So here I go…

Today I was looking through the latest EU and EC policies on design as part of the Europe 2020 strategies and was excited to come across a report released a few weeks ago by the European Design Leadership Board entitled: Design for Growth and Prosperity.

This report highlights ‘the importance of design as a driver of user-centered innovation across Europe‘ and details the critical challenges for design, as well as the EU’s vision for the future (including details of strategic actions and proposals). I am sure I will offer a more complete review of the whole thing at some point in the near future, but for now I just wanted to share a couple of interesting observations on my first glance.

Ubiquitising Action Steps

In the report (page 11), there is a wonderful paragraph which they have named ‘Ensuring success‘ and it highlights the three major proposals put forwards to the EC at the end of this report as a call to action. These three key areas align perfectly with three of my own action steps so I wanted to share them with you:

  • Proposal A = Awareness / The EU’s plan to deliver a targeted communication and advocacy programme highlights the need to simply make people aware of what’s going on.
  • Proposal B = Communication /  Plans to ‘establish a permanent dialogue on design’ using a networked organisation across Europe demonstrate the need to open lines of communication across all countries and sectors.
  • Proposal C = A Yardstick / As with any governmental endeavor, the report highlighted that the need for monitoring is key to show progress, and a focus will be placed on establishing mechanisms to do just this.

Throughout the report there are a number of places where very similar themes are discussed and the need for multidisciplinary collaboration and better education is widely noted, but another interesting passage caught my eye on page 25. This section discusses the impact of digitalisation on design:

“the conventional borders between product design, production and the user are beginning to merge. The internet and the active use of social media not only enable the dissemination of digital works, but also the co-creation of products or services that can engage users from the outset.”

This section recognizes the impact of these technosocial changes on the shape of the value chain and not only how we deliver products from producer to consumer, but how we can design them. Or, perhaps more correctly, how we can co-design them.

The report goes on to say that the tradition of active citizenship within the EU will make the perfect environment for co-design of public services, and I can’t help but think they might be right. I hope that the EC hear their call for better tools to help facilitate co-design methods and engage the users directly.

Perhaps what we need to achieve this is ways for the public to access/share/edit all the knowledge that will be collected and disseminated through the three proposals above.

A quiet time.

I wanted to apologise (I guess mostly to myself) for neglecting this blog so very much over the past little while.

I’ve been busy reading lots of very Academic things, doing lots of very admin type things, and random stuff like giving my first lectures to real actual inquiring minds. Scary stuff.

As I head into a couple of very busy months of paper and report writing, I’m hoping to post a bit more on here as I begin to narrow the scope of my PhD and figure a few things out.

In the mean time, I wanted to recommend a book I just finished reading from the very fascinating Bruce Sterling. He’s a science fiction writer with a keen interest in technology and design who writes a really interesting blog for Wired called Beyond the Beyond.

The book is called ‘Shaping Things‘. On the front it states:

“This book is about created objects and the environment, which is to say it’s a book about everything… The ideal readers for this book are those ambitious young souls (of any age) who want to constructively intervene in the process of techno social transformation. That is to say, this book is for designers and thinkers, engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers, and anyone else who might care to understand why things were once as they were, why things are as they are, and what things seem to be becoming.”

Needless to say, it contains lots of interesting things to ponder and offers an interesting new perspective on our potential future. Worth a peek!

Best design institution in the world… FACT.

Remember I told you about the Umeå Institute of Design in my first post?

Well, they tend to win lots of recognition for their awesomness, but another big one was announced at this year’s Red Dot design awards where they topped the rankings:

Very proud of my fellow UID students today (and every day).

Embedding sustainability in all design by Chris Sherwin

I just came across a very interesting article in the Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog (one of my new favourite websites) as part of their new series on Design and Sustainability by Chris Sherwin from Seymourpowell.

It very eloquently and succinctly puts forward the main arguments which sparked my PhD topic:

Embedding sustainability in all design | Guardian Sustainable Business | Guardian Professional.

Hopefully there are many more people out there working to ubiquitise  sustainability. Now I just have to try and find them all…

Ubiquitous Corporate Sustainability

I came across an interesting article by the Guardian today on “Why Sky’s ‘shop ’til you drop’ advert damages its sustainability credentials

It made a very good point that the little things a company does can speak volumes to it’s core strategy.

The problem is that in big companies, different departments don’t really speak to each other and things slip through the nets.  I can completely understand how mishaps occur – the people in the marketing department aren’t too worried what the people in the CSR department are doing, they just want to sell more stuff!

It’s clear then that sustainability cannot be at the core of everything a company does if this isn’t something everyone in the company is aware of. If environmental issues were at the core of a company’s strategy then they would be embedded into it’s culture and ideals. It would be near impossible for anything contrary to this culture to even be suggested, let alone slip through the net and work it’s way through the corporate machine and out into the public domain.

It is often expected that this happens more in larger companies because there is no internal communication, but if anything, shouldn’t it happen less? In a larger business, even more people would have to see something before it was given the go ahead. Even more check points are included. Even more opportunities to spot a mistake.

— Bit of an edit. Here’s an example of a company doing this well: Patagonia —

In order for sustainability to be a ubiquitous part of product development, it needs to be embedded into the culture of a company. Everyone who is involved at every stage needs to be aware of it so it doesn’t slip through the net.

So, it is with this thought that I begin yet another page with yet another list. The key virtues needed to help make sustainability ubiquitous – the Ubiquitising Action Steps.