Professor Des Laubscher, CEO of the Greenside Design Center has his say.
It is said that a recession is good for design because it stimulates true originality and innovation. How can design be leveraged to help overcome the current economic crisis?
I don’t think we realise as designers the power of design thinking and how it can impact on the world, especially with the present global economic crisis. We are our worst enemy, usually only being able to talk to ourselves and unable to understand the power of marketing universally when you have a product to sell – and we do have a product to sell in the present climate! By nature we are problem solvers. We understand a problem, are able to go through a process or processes to analyse, debate, reject, reinvent and then communicate solid solutions to a myriad of problems. I would go so far as to say given the opportunity, designers would find solutions to the current economic crisis. This in essence means design is no longer discipline specific and designers have moved far beyond just being designers of design.
The strange thing about design is that when you try to look up a definition you find hundreds of different interpretations and not one is the same as the other. We can take this one step further and ask fellow designers what their definition is and the answers will be just as diverse and in some cases totally contradictory. Now we talk about innovation and design in the same sentence and we open a whole new world of debate, discussion, frowning, scratching and contradiction.
So what is innovation and what is design and how are they connected? Innovation in terms of meaning, too easily slips into novelty when newness is appreciated for its own sake and issues of function, communication and cultural significance are ignored. Design, however, can refer back to the past as well as anticipating the future because its primary goal is to improve the quality of human experience. The central cue to successful design lies in interpreting the current situation from artistic and sociological perspectives because the artist and the sociologist concentrate their efforts on analysing human existence in the present day context.
From this perspective design removes itself from trendsetting, from predicting the latest fashion. Essentially trend forecasters predict styles for the near future without taking into consideration changing patterns of human social interrelationship. For example, museum display is not governed by style, but rather by a changing awareness of what the visitor wants. Museums used to be places where anthropologists, geologists and their like made available some portion of their research to the public. Having discovered that visiting museums is essentially a leisure activity, designers have changed the format, design and presentation of the exhibits to make them more interactive and immersive, and thereby more appealing to the visitor. This is only one of thousands of design interventions that are happening daily and it is therefore true to say design initiates change in all our lives, sometimes positively and other times less so, depending on the context and solution.
It is precisely because designers make themselves aware of current sociological contexts aided by artistic explorations of the tensions within society that they are able to put their problem solving skills to use in other disciplines. It is now becoming widely recognised that designers form an integral role in the knowledge based economies of the twenty first century. Designers’ abilities to take an innovative idea and transform it through a process of test and re-evaluation to a final solution makes them champions within the full spectrum of highly competitive fields, from biotechnology to aerospace, to information communication technology and beyond. I mention these three areas specifically because they are the areas targeted by the Innovation Hub as growth points for our economy. No design? We are making a big mistake here. The major economies of Asia and Europe have long seen the benefits of promoting design, and in most instances, their economies are driven by design because they use the knowledge and expertise of designers, not only to design products, but to design systems to improve anything from production lines to making businesses more efficient through smart thinking.
Because of the economic meltdown the way the world does business has changed. Consumerism and impulse buying has virtually ground to a halt. In the USA alone in the past year 1 400 shopping centres have closed. These spaces are now empty and through entrepreneurial interventions are being converted into libraries, sporting facilities and many other community based uses. This situation can only be good for communities and is a dramatic change from the resent past.
As I have already stated it is the designers’ awareness of sociological, visual cultural and problem solving skills which allow for the reinterpretation of previous commercial environments into spaces and places that are effective for community use. Designers need not be chained to capitalism. What an opportunity for us!
In conclusion, I would like to leave you with the definition of design as used by BNO, the Dutch Design Association, which is a multi disciplinary design organisation. It reads as follows: Design is a creative management consultancy service in order to realise pre- agreed objectives in terms of:
Money – reduction of production costs.
Time – reduction of time to market, first to market.
Identity – improvement reputation of company brand, product brand or organisation brand .
Social relevance – susainability , community, inclusive design.
These four pillars are essential to sustaining the design profession, however, as is evident from my article, design that is socially and culturally relevant has the best chance of success in changing times.
SOURCES FONT: Des Laubscher is a ‘Thought Leader’ on www.desigmind.co.za.