Something interesting is happening in the field of design. A development we have not seen in years. While design thinking and design methods have always drawn on some form of co-creation, spanning various fields of knowledge, we are beginning to see new interactions between the work of designers and the fields they operate within.
As a leader of an independent, partly government-funded, organisation that works to transform companies through design, I am an eager observer of the design field as a whole, and I strive to contribute actively to its development and to maintaining its relevance in a fast-changing, turbulent, and complex reality. Arguably, I am biased in recognizing the benefits of design. But my point is not to say that design alone saves the world. Rather that design, when put into play with other methods and fields of knowledge, can be the catalyst for ensuring quality, ethics, humanity, and sustainability in new products and services. And yes, ultimately help solve some of the major challenges in the world.
Connecting to new methodologies
For years, design has had a cross-sector, people-first approach to creating value. Designers collaborate with technologists, anthropologists, business developers, and marketing professionals, to name a few. Including others in the process is an inherent part of the design tradition. But design is increasingly being coupled with different methodologies to achieve change – the equation being that design PLUS other methods lead to a desired transformation.
Design, when put into play with other methods and fields of knowledge, can be the catalyst for ensuring quality, ethics, humanity, and sustainability in new products and services.
The innovation board of Austria applies service design to its financial strategies and grants. In Norway, our sister organization DOGA connects design agencies with management consultants to create stronger innovation in the public sector. And in the US, Institute for the Future includes design thinking in its work with future cities.
This aligns entirely with our work in the Danish Design Centre. Practically all our efforts stem from design methods, but these methods are consistently put into play with other approaches and tools.
This summer, we taught a workshop as part of an executive training programme at Oxford Business School, in which we tested the intersection between design methods and the approach of positive deviance, which uses positively deviant consumer behaviour as a tool for change in organisations.
In our project on future health, Boxing Future Health, we connect design to future research and scenario building. A method, we want to scale and transfer to other sectors, as we have found scenario planning to be a highly efficient tool for handling unpredictable changes.
Towards a new discipline of change
Thus, the interaction between design and fields like technology, humanities and social sciences, is not new. What is new is the range and diversity of methods that design interacts with today. I believe that this trend can be ascribed to the fact that design enriches, strengthens and expands the value of all the fields it touches. There are three main reasons for this:
- Human senses as an activating force. The process and competencies of designers can make ideas and problems more concrete, sensible and human. In Boxing Future Health, we have created sensory spaces that appeal to hearing, sight and touch in an exploration of future health. This enriches the otherwise very analytical scenario method – participants can experience the future of health on their bodies. The participants – 3.000 and counting – all say that this concrete and human experience increases their motivation to tackle issues of the future.
- Visualisation for dialogue. Design methods add value to other fields by using visual tools to support a strategic dialogue. This could be in the form of sketches, templates or process diagrams that illustrate the user journey. It could be graphic tools for dialogue that are activated in workshops and interactive meeting formats. In our Executive Summer School in partnership with Copenhagen Business School, we use a visual diary for participants’ reflections.
- Shaping new futures Finally, a major challenge for most companies and organisations is taking the step from theoretical development and innovation processes to concrete implementation. In many cases, the desired transformation does not happen. This is the very essence of the design approach: Moving from problems to specific ideas which are then transformed into graphic, physical or digital solutions. Recently, I spoke with a global consulting firm that has acquired design advisors to help their clients move from abstract strategy to concrete implementation.
It is positive that so many fields – from futures research to organisational consultants – have discovered the power of designers. And we will, of course, continue this work in the Danish Design Centre. My only concern would be whether the designers themselves are aware of this golden opportunity to include other fields and disciplines in their work. Will they ultimately see it as a dilution of the design field? Or as a platform for adding even more value? I hope for the +.