Transframers is a tool to support the design research process. It helps you to understand your changing role as a design researcher. It is applicable from research students to large research teams. It helps you position yourself and your practice.
This tool was the outcome of a two day DFG Roundtable on Design Research held in March 2013 at the Design Research Lab, University of Arts, Berlin. The organisers invited a combination of German and international design researchers to meet and explore four key themes that lie at the heart of design research.
I was part of team that included Cameron Tonkinwise, Rachel Cooper, Chris Rust, Klaus Krippendorff, Michael Hohl, Sabine Foraita, Tom Bieling, and others. We explored the relationship between design and other academic disciplines. Early on in our discussions we considered it important to focus on an ‘end product’ – a concrete outcome that we could adapt and explore further. In that sense we tried to incorporate the best elements of design jams into this academic discourse. One of the issues that emerged was that of the variety of roles that the design researcher (or indeed the design practioner) can take on during the research process. We wanted to develop a tool that helps define these roles, provide alternatives and act as a diagnostic.
Transframers was proposed as a highly rough prototype. In the spirit of prototypes we invite you to explore it and use it, and help us refine it. We are laying out the basic idea and some suggestion on how it can be used.
So, how did we get to this? Well, we comprised a group of around 12 people (the composition of which slightly shifted over the two days) looking at the theme of translation. Our interest was how design research worked at the interface with other disciplines. Rachel Cooper and I joined the group after it had already met for an hour or so. To begin with we explored and tried to define the principles of knowledge translation. These were:
- Find and work with the best
- Respect their knowledge
- Become informed (informed by their knowledge, but you will never be an expert in it)
- Understand where knowledge comes from and goes to
- Understand the system you’re working in (systems thinking)
- Find the way to work at the nexus
- Value the unique value of the design approach
- Reframe questions
- Champion the design lens
As for the value of the design approach we saw it as this:
- An insatiable sense of curiosity
- An ability to use prototyping as a means of framing problems and defining questions
- Analysis and synthesising
- Being opportunistic (finding the design opportunity)
The initial ‘napkin’ version of this is below.
At various points in the two days we would report back to the larger group of people. Below Cameron Tonkinwise is presenting our work. Clive Dilnot from Parsons in NYC looks on.
Discussions over dinner and outside the formal sessions fired us up to accelerate our process of discussion and link it to REAL research, rather than discuss in the abstract. The Berlin PhD students shared their work with us and provided a great focus for exploring how design researchers applied the principles we had defined the previous day. We also began to define some personas (as we initially described them) of how researchers behave in a research context. This evolved into a set of roles. The idea is that the role taken on by a researcher (whether a PhD student or a project director at the head of a large team) constantly shifts. It is important to be aware of how these shifts occur as this reframes our relationships with others and determines how we see the subject of our research.
We decided to move towards creating a real tool, a concrete outcome of the two days that we and others could go off and use and adapt further. The tool is about translation, but it is also about framing questions, and framing our own practices in research (and creative practice), hence transframers. I took on the task of creating a website in the final hour of our discussion, leading up to a public presentation of all the deliberations coming out of the two day event. That accounts for its very rough character.
We presented Transframers to an audience of 150 or so people as a drama, with Cameron as the sagely professor and Rachel and I as two very difficult and problematic PhD students. And we are all rather hoping that evidence of this never finds its way onto YouTube.
Back in November when I was in Rotterdam running a Masterclass in Design Thinking for the European Institute for Brand Management (EURIB) I was interviewed by Pascal Kuipers, a Dutch business media journalist. I now find that the interview is the cover story for Tijdschrift voor Marketing – a leading marketing magazine in The Netherlands.
Of course, the five page feature is all in Dutch, but I have translated a small part of the interview. This magazine is not available online, although you can order a subscription. So here is an extremely bad translation which does no justice to the excellent journalism of Pascal.
Professor Mike Press: “We need a beautiful world to live in”
As a design professor, when Mike Press travels to give workshops on ‘Design Thinking’, he takes a large suitcase and a backpack. In the backpack are personal items. In the suitcase are craft materials that his students use to represent their ideas. Objects and images, not language, is the Esperanto of the international design community, he says.
Prototyping is an essential part of the creative design thinking process. “Actually, design thinking not a good name,” says Press. “It’s not about thinking but doing – making to think. Because it is about stimulating your creativity.” Therefore Press takes a mobile hobby shop to the locations where he gives workshops. Similarly in Rotterdam, where he is giving a Masterclass for the European Institute for Brand Management (EURIB). To managers of businesses, educational institutions and the public sector he is giving a brief introduction about design thinking, then getting participants to get to busy prototyping.
“Design thinking is not a solution but a method of creatively exploring the problems facing businesses and institutions to do,” says Press. Too often when we discuss such things, your fixed beliefs and assumptions are not challenged. In 99 percent of conversations we defend our position, and are not open to something new. Many managers simply express their fixed views with powerpoint presentations. This kills creativity stone dead.”
Want to read more? Then simply place a regular order for Tijdschrift voor Marketing with your newsagent. A fascinating journalist and real honour for my ideas to be featured in this way.
My Masterclass on Design Thinking for EURIB in Rotterdam in November 2012 is an opportunity to pull together some recent literature on this issue and provide a perspective on a concept that has sparked some spirited debate. A fresh new variable? A useful myth? Or opportunistic hype? My conclusion is that it’s a sign of the times, and has been useful as a focus for some new practices and methods. But for it to work we still need designers. They are experts in the aesthetics and craft of design, but define the value of these in new ways. Socially critical, reflexive makers of change reconnect design with its soul.
Design Thinking is a fashionable term in both design and management circles, reflecting the rise of interest in methods and strategies that embed creativity and innovation within management across public and private sectors. However, it is a concept that must be approached with some caution. As Lucy Kimbell has rightly argued in her paper Rethinking Design Thinking, the concept is undertheorised and understudied.
Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, is perhaps most closely associated with the term. Writing in the Harvard Business Review in 2008, he presents Design Thinking to the business community with an evangelical zeal: “I believe that design thinking has much to offer a business world in which most management ideas and best practices are freely available to be copied and exploited. Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process.”
Writing in 2010 for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Brown extends his case beyond that of commercial innovation, providing a claim that it can contribute to social innovation. The Brown/IDEO model of Design Thinking is presented in terms of “three overlapping spaces” rather than orderly steps: inspiration, ideation and implementation. This is elaborated further in his 2009 book Change by Design. In a review of the volume, Robert Blinn says “Business books tend to be written in a peculiar dialect somewhere between anecdote and allegory, and Change by Design is no exception.” Indeed one way of interpreting Design Thinking is that it is a strategy for companies such as IDEO to be taken more seriously by the business community and by government. Much that is written on the subject by its key advocates is framed in business-speak. And the evidence would suggest that the message is getting through to both business and government, helping to diversify and strengthen the markets of the design industry.
In October 2012, a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled Design Firms Go Beyond Gadgets as Portfolios Expand began thus:
“Bay Area design firms behind iconic technology products like the mouse and the Macintosh computer are broadening their portfolios. Health-care companies, nonprofits and industrial giants are among those tapping these and other designers to conceive not just gadgets but new software, business strategies and even school systems. The expansion has happened gradually but is accelerating as firms seek to connect with design-savvy customers.”
This piece included reference to Tim Brown, IDEO and their more recent ‘social’ design projects that apply their notion of design thinking to development, education and other contexts.
For serious students and practitioners of design it is important to differentiate between two quite different uses of the term design thinking:
- A way of analysing and interpreting the distinctive styles of thinking and approaches to problem solving within design, that has been subject of study and discussion by researchers since the 1960s.
- A business-oriented conception of design that seeks to enhance the value of design professionals and their distinctive expertise.
Design as a way of thinking has origins in Herbert A. Simon’s The Sciences of the Artificial, published in 1969 in which he called for a science of design: “a body of intellectually tough, analytic, partly formalizable, partly empirical, teachable doctrine about the design process”. This developed through Peter Rowe’s book on Design Thinking in 1987 and Richard Buchanan “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” who argued for design thinking to be regarded as “a new liberal art of technological culture”. Buchanan has been particularly influential in the development of design and design thinking, and highlighted its value to tackling wicked problems – those which are ill-defined and complex in their nature.
British design theorist Nigel Cross has contributed perhaps most to an analytical and robust understanding of design thinking, in part through his recent book Design Thinking which pulls together various research approaches in seeking to understand what is distinctive about design. A succinct definition by Cross can be found in a recent interview with him:
“The psychologists and educationists who have gone about classifying different types of reasoning have tended to define constructive or concrete thinking as a sort of lower level of reasoning than abstract or symbolic thinking. This is a mistake. Design thinking is about making constructive responses to practical problems, issues and situations. This type of thinking means being practical, and involves creating solutions and resolving problem areas. Constructive thinking is also about being imaginative, and imagining how something might be, not just how it is. This is what makes design thinking quite a high level and difficult form of reasoning: it must move from abstract requirements to concrete proposals.”
Elsewhere, Cross has differentiated between scientific thinking, which is rooted in analysis, and design thinking, which is based on synthesis. When asked what design thinking can teach business, Cross presented two key ideas. The first is imagination with responsibility stressing the idea that design is not profit driven and is primarily an activity that is mindful of the impact on society and the environment. The second idea is constructive discontent. As he explains:
“Designers usually start their creative process with a feeling of discontent with the way things are. Many people feel such discontent, but designers will draw upon that reaction and try to make something constructive out of it, to focus on the object of discontent and make it better, rather than just criticizing it. This is a healthy habit that might also be cultivated by successful managers.”
When we turn to the business-oriented conceptions of design thinking, then this careful, nuanced and values-driven narrative is eclipsed by a very different vocabulary and agenda. Bruce Nussbaum was one of the champions of the corporate Design Thinking mantra, writing here in Business Week:
“Design and design thinking—or innovation if you like–are the fresh, new variables that can bring advantage and fat profit margins to global corporations. In today’s global marketplace, being able to understand the consumer, prototype possible new products, services and experiences, quickly filter the good, the bad and the ugly and deliver them to people who want them—well, that is an attractive management methodology. Beats the heck out of squeezing yet one more penny out of your Chinese supply-chain, doesn’t it?”
At the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin embedded design thinking within the MBA curriculum, recognising this potential value of design thinking in being applied strategically. In his book The Design of Business, Martin argues that “design thinking needs to move upstream, closer to the executive suites where strategic decisions are made”. In the UK Lucy Kimbell delivered design thinking as part of an MBA curriculum at Oxford’s Said Business School, and she has written about others who have pushed at the boundaries of business education in similar ways.
A number of the ‘old hands’ in design recognised that there was nothing particularly new about design thinking. As Donald Norman has written, it is “what creative people in all disciplines have always done”. So what if it is couched in business-speak and framed as the latest new thing? The key advantage of the concept is that is provides a new timely case for investment in design and, as Norman suggests is ‘A Useful Myth’:
“It positions design in a unique way, forcing companies to view design differently than before. The emphasis on “thinking” makes the point that design is more than a pretty face: it has substance and structure. Design methods can be applied to any problem: organizational structure, factory floors, supply-chain management, business models, and customer interaction.”
The most significant critiques of design thinking focus on two problems: its under-researched nature, and its divorce from aesthetic practices and knowledge. Regarding the first issues, Lucy Kimbell draws our attention to the diverse cultures of practice that we find in design, evolving over time, and involving a variety of actors in various social contexts. She argues for more of a social science perspective in order to both understand this rich landscape of practice, and to help designers address the need to reflexivity which is largely missing from their self-definition:
“By focusing on situated, embodied material practices, rather than a generalized “design thinking”, we may shift the conversation away from questions of individual cognition or organizational innovation. Instead, design becomes a set of routines that emerge in context. Such explorations help clarify designers’ material practices. They also force us to decide if design is a special way of engaging with and acting on the world, unique to designers, or shared by others such as managers too.”
Cameron Tonkinwise begins his critique by asking what is lost when the thinking is pulled out of design to create a consultancy commodity that can be easily understood, ‘demystified’ and marketed. He is quick with his answer: “aesthetics, by which I mean, anything to do with form-giving, the pleasing appearance and feel of a design.” This is, he argues, very problematic:
“This risks concealing the way in which designing is the designing in, with and of styles; styles that make possible existing and new forms of social practices. Designing is a current economic force when it is most explicitly designing via practical styles, as evidenced by brand-driven and persona-based design. Concealing the practice-oriented nature of styles in design in turn risks restricting design to only those styles to which design education unreflectively seeks to naturalize us.”
Both Kimbell and Tonkinwise, with different emphases, highlight the depoliticised nature of design which design thinking appears to promote. Indeed, this is also the position taken by Nigel Cross, albeit in a less critical way, with his reference to imagination with responsibility.
We can read ‘design thinking’ in a number of ways:
- Its emergence over the last decade reflects design’s evolution from the physical to the strategic. IDEO manifests past of this shift, but we can also see much evidence in the emergent field of service design, the application of design to healthcare delivery and other public services.
- It is a useful shorthand term for those methods and processes that enable codesign and collaborative practices. There is not one single ‘true way’ for thinking through design, but a variety of approaches and practices that are evident in different contexts.
- As a contested territory, it has required practitioners and researchers to reconnect with valuable perspectives and theories which have shaped our views of design over several decades.
- While design thinking can be applied by managers, communities, users and others to think creatively through problems in a variety of states of ‘wickedness’ this does not remove the need for critically engaged, reflexive professional designers. Indeed it creates a far greater demand for them to act as facilitators, leaders and enablers. They bring the specialist knowledge and ‘feeling’ that is rooted in the aesthetics and craft of design, without which design is ethically unmoored, and creatively soulless.
My lecture to First Year students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) on 12 October emphasised how the achievement of relevance is a fundamental aim to their four years of study. Find what is relevant to you and to the world around you; use this to guide your creative strategies and developing technical skills. The lecture wove together the themes of relevance, creativity and craft – and at the end of this post are resources to help you explore these themes in more detail.
But why listen to me about how you should be thinking about your next four years at Art School? I asked five remarkably talented individuals to give you their advice, all of whom studied at DJCAD. One graduated two years ago, while another graduated in 1993. Between them they embrace a range of creative disciplines. All of them are inspiring people, who needed no encouragement to share with you their advice on how to get the best from Art School.
James Donald is one of Scotland’s most successful weavers, selling his work all over the world – particularly in the United States. Based in Edinburgh he allies his creative practice to being joint-owner of the successful Concrete Wardrobe retail outlet. Here is a message from James to you:
Johanna Basford is a remarkably versatile illustrator who studied printed textiles at DJCAD. Apart from designing the catalogue for the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she has acquired an enviable client roster across many different industries from Channel 4 to Absolut Vodka. Her blog post 50 things I wish I’d known in art school is required reading. But below is her personal message to new DJCAD students:
Lauren Currie is co-founder of Snook – a social innovation and service design company based in Glasgow. Studying both Product Design and the Master of Design course at DJCAD, Lauren’s career has begun with a remarkable start, and she is now running a company that has the Chinese Government among their clients.
Joanna Montgomery graduated in 2010 in Interactive Media Design, is Director of Little Riot whose Pillow Talk product has proved a viral sensation on YouTube, as we saw in the lecture. In exchange for her valuable advice, Joanna asks that you vote for Little Riot in a national competition, to make Pillow Talk a reality. I am sure you will support Joanna in this competition. It will take you a minute!
Kate Pickering studied Jewellery & Metal Design and the Master of Design at DJCAD. Since graduating she has established Vanilla Ink, a highly acclaimed initiative to bridge the gap for jewellery students into industry. Kate won funding from the NESTA Starter For Six scheme to launch her initiative. An accomplished teacher in jewellery and design, this is her advice to you:
Why not follow these designers on Twitter? This will help you keep up-to-date with their activities and give you more insights into their professional practices. All of them use Twitter as a key part of their professional practice. Click on their names to access their twitter stream: James Donald, Johanna Basford, Lauren Currie, Joanna Montgomery, Kate Pickering. You’ll also find me on Twitter. Once you have set up a Twitter account, then you can follow them.
Achieving relevance referred to a number of artists, designers and events that you may wish to explore further.
- Brian Eno’s oblique strategies are a proven method of introducing new elements of chance into the creative process. They are available as a box of cards, an app, and as a website.
- Tracey Emin was referred to in terms of her approach to craft and printmaking, views that were expressed in an interview with her in 2010 in The Independent.
- The late Richard Hamilton exemplifies the artist/designer who transcends boundaries, and maintained a highly political and critical approach to his practice.
Today marked the start of my postgraduate module on design research for our new Masters students at Dundee. We have around 40 students from around the world (from Bahrain to Beijing, Romania to Rio, US to UK, etc) covering our three courses in Design for Services, Product Design and Design Ethnography. So far a great bunch of individuals who seemed not to mind about being lectured at for eight hours.
The way we teach at Dundee is to compress the taught delivery into one week blocks, followed by three week projects supported by tutorials. That makes the initial week somewhat intense. In addition to my own sessions, today we had short but inspiring and informative lectures from Catriona Macaulay, Hazel White and Jonathan Baldwin. The lectures comprise a vital element in the module in terms of setting the direction, providing the inspiration and energy and giving the personal insights based on our own experiences.
However, even without the lectures there’s a great deal that you can gain from the module – even if you’re not attending it. In common with most of our postgraduate design modules at Dundee, we make the content and supporting materials all available online. From the link on this post you can get access to the materials we provide our postgraduate students with. Explore the module website and follow up the further reading and links we provide.
Applying design thinking to complex social issues, such as those explored by our Masters students at Dundee, requires a critical, well informed understanding of the underlying issues, a grasp of the broad theoretical approaches and an awareness of where to find current research on relevant themes. This blog post is intended to develop over time into a useful resource on the research that is available. It may evolve into a wiki – but let’s see. To begin with I have grouped useful sources of research below.
Just to make clear – this is NOT a research guide to the skills, methods and perspectives of service design. This can be found elsewhere. The priority here is to equip students (and practitioners) with the contextual knowledge and understanding of social changes and challenges, together with some of the institutional/political issues involved in designing for public services and communities. As it currently stands it is far from comprehensive – and I welcome any comments to improve the scope of this listing. Also note that it is designed primarily for postgraduate students of design in Scotland – which accounts for an overwhelming UK bias, although I think that there is some value here for those outside the UK.
The role of design in public services
Design has a considerable role to play in the development of public services. At the start of your project it is worth familiarising yourself with some recent commentaries which are linked below. These help place your specific project into a broader context. As you will see, this new interest in design’s potential is in large part driven by the need to improve efficiencies in the delivery of services, and is also linked to policy frameworks such as the Big Society. Bear in mind that the Big Society is a highly contentious concept, and you should be familiar with some of the debates around it.
Role of social design in public services - Guardian article
Public services by Design - Design Council initiative
Public services by design - Guardian article
Innovation by design in public services - series of articles and excellent overview.
Public services by design: using design principles to improve local areas - Guardian article
What does it mean to design public services? - Guardian
Blog from the London School of Economics on design in public services.
Social by social - New technologies are changing the way we engage communities, run companies, deliver public services, participate in government and campaign for change – very useful resource.
It is essential that designers approach socially located projects with humility, respect and an admission of their own strengths and weaknesses. Designers have expertise in creative methods, visualisation and problem solving. These strengths can play a vital role in empowering communities, helping stakeholders to solve problems and develop their own creative thinking. However, without an understanding of the deeper context and dynamics of community development, healthcare or social change, then their work can be uninformed, misdirected or even dangerously naive. The inherent danger is of giving people a false sense of expectation.
We do not expect you to be experts in social science, but we do expect you to acquire an essential social literacy that is appropriate to your project domain. This will help you to understand and appreciate the perspectives of those other specialist professionals you will be working with, and the complexity of issues such as healthcare or poverty. A sense of history is also vital.
We recommend making use of the open access learning materials from The Open University as an essential prerequisite of undertaking your project.
Especially for students from outside Scotland and the UK, a basic understanding of social change in British communities is vital. The stories behind our streets looks at social change in cities such as Sheffield, Glasgow, Manchester and Cardiff. There is an archive of articles and learning materials on social policy that is worth browsing for your specific interests.
Understanding Scotland – An introduction to the history of Scotland including aspects of social change and social problems.
Poverty in Scotland - Contributions from leading academics, voluntary sector campaigners and practitioners, highlight the distinctive features of Scotland’s experience of poverty and the extent to which devolved and reserved policies have contributed to progress in tackling it.
The meaning of crime – Explores the attitudes to crime and how it is socially defined.
Problem populations, problem places – The entanglements of welfare, crime and society. It encourages you to think through these entanglements through a focus on ‘problem populations and problem places’.
The limits to primary care – Access to community services.
Introducing public health - Introduces some key elements of public health and health promotion, using a video case study of Coventry. It focuses on the major determinants of health and ill health and the scope of public health work.
Understanding and engaging deprived communities - UK Home Office Report
In addition to the specific recommended materials above, we encourage you to browse the learning materials on social science for areas of more specific relevance to your project.
“A think tank (or policy institute) is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues.” Most of them are non-profit and non-governmental, although there are exceptions to this. They tend to have a political orientation, which you need to appreciate in order to understand the objectives that their research seeks to pursue. A full list of UK think tanks can be found here.
These organisations are a vital source of research on the issues you are dealing with. They are in most cases seeking to explore innovation in public service delivery, conduct high level robust research and – most importantly – make their work freely available. But it is vital that you understand the political and/or policy perspectives that they are seeking to pursue.
Alongside some of the Think Tanks listed below I have given some examples of recent publications as an indication of the type of research they publish.
Adam Smith Institute
A right of centre think tank (in the interests of balance!). Social and community issues is not a priority, but they have produced publications on health service reform that argues for a pro-market approach.
Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion
Claims to be “the UK’s leading not-for-profit company dedicated to tackling disadvantage and promoting social inclusion in the labour market.” They have published research on employment, social inclusion, poverty, welfare and welfare reform and other issues. All research available online.
Established in the early 1990s to address a perceived crisis in politics, it developed into a largely pro New Labour think tank, but has since returned to a less aligned organisation. It has undertaken some vital research in crime, citizenship, education, social mobility and capability building. All publications are online. Also includes the highly relevant Journey to the Interface project.
“Drawing on over 50 interviews with service innovators from the public, private and voluntary sectors The Journey to the Interface makes the case for a fresh approach to public service reform – an approach that is less about competition and contestability, and more about closing the gap between what people want and need, and what service organisations do.
The pamphlet argues that service design can offer policy makers and practitioners a vision for the transformation of public services, as well as a route to get there. It outlines an agenda for action which spells out how service design approaches can be applied systemically.”
Institute for Public Policy Research
Claims to be “the UK’s leading progressive thinktank. We produce rigorous research and innovative policy ideas for a fair, democratic and sustainable world.” Politically influential and broadly left of centre. Very useful publications which are largely all available online. You can also search by current research projects, which include work on communities.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
They conduct and commission research into poverty, housing, inequality, education, healthcare and other social issues. A respected, long established think tank that has respect across the political spectrum and has a comprehensive achive of online research reports and other publications.
“Involving service users in shaping local services, a study by Age Concern London, brought commissioners and service users together to discuss how service users can be involved in shaping local services.
The project reflected on what’s happening at the moment and how user involvement in commissioning could work in practice.”
This is a well established and highly respected organisation that researches and campaigns on health and social care. All publications online and a good search system.
The New Economics Foundation
“An independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. We aim to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.” Publications cover a range of issues, including social policy and well being.
“Creating Stronger and More Inclusive Communities provides some lessons for positive action in the context of austerity.
This report is about innovations which unlock communities’ strengths and recognising that people with support needs can also be assets to their communities. It outlines seven principles for empowerment and inclusion for an age of austerity.”
“An independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life.” A considerable amount of highly relevant research available, including the co-production catalogue, examples of collaborative public services in action, with a particular focus on health and social care.
“The co-production catalogue brings together some inspiring examples of collaborative public services in action, with a particular focus on health and social care.
The purpose of the catalogue is to enable practitioners to reflect on their own practice and the extent to which that represents co-production; and to enable them to learn about co-production practice. It combines a range of case studies, resources and other information on co-production in health settings as well as in other sectors, in the UK and internationally.”
The Nuffield Trust
Undertakes research on healthcare with an extensive archive of research reports.
The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)
“An enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges.” A long standing commitment to applying design to social issues, and a range of publications and research reports available.
Social Market Foundation
“Cross-party think tank, developing innovative ideas across a broad range of economic and social policy.” Publications available on a range of issues including housing and communities, poverty, education, health and social care.
The Young Foundation
“Brings together insights, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet social needs. We have a track record of over 50 years’ success with ventures such as the Open University, Which?, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and Healthline (the precursor of NHS Direct).” Valuable range of publications that include social design.
“The Open Book of Social Innovation is about the many ways in which people are creating new and more effective answers to the biggest challenges of our times: how to cut our carbon footprint; how to keep people healthy; how to end poverty. It describes the methods and tools for innovation being used across the world and across the different sectors – the public and private sectors, civil society and the household – and in the overlapping fields of the social economy, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. It draws on inputs from hundreds of organisations around the world to document the many methods currently being used.”
The Work Foundation
“Research focuses on innovation and economic change, the role of cities, labour market disadvantage, health and wellbeing at work and how organisational change can promote good work.” Excellent archive of research reports.
Having downloaded reports on relevant aspects of healthcare, social policy, crime prevention or whatever area of literature is most relevant, you need to archive this most appropriately and make sense of it in a way to inform your work. I recommend either Devonthink or Papers as excellent Mac applications for developing a digital library.
I have a problem with design management. I have never really been able to put my finger on it in a decisive way. But today I came closer.
Next week I will be lecturing in Rotterdam to postgraduate students on the excellent EURIB Masters course on design management. My theme is design leadership. This is an established field of inquiry and practice, but has been defined largely by the corporate concerns of management. I have less interest in this than the broader and more challenging question of design leadership in social design, the community and in the new ‘indie capitalist’ start-up culture.
However, there is a literature out there that explores definitions, interpretations and challenges of leadership in design – much of it based on extensive research – which I have been picking the bones out of.
The definitions that exist in the design management literature simply do not fit the new world of practice that many designers find themselves in today. So I decided to crowdsource some definitions. I tweeted: Tell me in a tweet: how do you define #designleadership?
What was sent to me in just a few hours were some great insights and interpretations, few if any fitting the conventional idea of design leadership. This is hardly surprising since design leadership is part of only very few individuals’ daily discourse. But it has certainly opened up some interesting themes to explore in Rotterdam and to write about more fully over the summer. I have clustered the responses fairly broadly. Some obviously fit under a number of clusters, but here we go.
These definitions focus on critical competencies in getting projects done well. Design leaders, it is perhaps inferred, are excellent, pragmatic and efficient managers and practitioners.
@Doubleyouvee – someone who allows me 2 explore the boundaries of a brief but tells me to reel my neck in at the right time.
@First_Angle – design leadership is the ability to take control of a project & clearly portray the end result the client needs without issue
@Clearmapping – Compassion for those who pull off the all-nighters to deliver on time! *Usually day-in, day-out! : )
@FahdMSA – Design leadership is providing your creative ones with an open space in the right direction.
@cjarnold – #designleadership… the concerted act of framing, facilitating, and delivering on the promise of pragmatic creativity.
Given the textbook definitions – which focus exclusively on the strategic role of design leadership – I had expected to see a few more of these. I have included the @wearesnook response here as it accords with one view of strategic leadership which focuses on the ‘designerly approach to solving problems’.
@jsheau – Leadership thru design thinking/approaches applied strategically.
@martyn_evans – Very simply… ‘the strategic deployment of design management’.
@wearesnook – leaders who think like designers
In different ways, these definitions nail it really effectively: connecting, pathfinding and asking why.
@vanillainkUK – #designleadership is about connecting the dots
@DivaDesign – Design leaders are the Sherpas on the mountain of communication
@StuartUnited – By asking why all the time while dressed in black.
Vision, values and determination
Seeing a vision, holding on to values in the face of adversity and removing ego as you lead are the issues here. Putting others first, such as users, seems to be linked to this idea of leading with less ego.
@FDalmau – #designleadership is the capacity of transferring what only your eyes can see to the rest of humanity.
@craftfair – Sticking to your values under economic pressure.
@rbsquarebanana – Leading by example, without an egotistical bent.
@fwalasdair - putting the user / customer at the core of the organisation
Change in the world (not just business)
These two definitions focus on leading change, and in one case specifically regarding social change.
@alamaffan – be an agent of change.
@CharlotteGorse – #designleadership is helping to activate social change for the better, connecting likeminds in a common purpose
In the definitive Handbook of Design Management (in which I am one of many contributors) empowerment is not even in the index. This term comes from psychology and philosophy, and has a close association with feminism.
@EmmaWalkerCEO – Creating space to empower new opportunity and vision.
@jaycousins – #designleadership is empowering people to take the lead, so they can improve the world for themselves and others.
@joannasaurusrex – #designleadership is female!
To be honest, my twitter experiment had given me more inspiration and ideas to mull over than three days of poring over all the literature and research. So why is this?
My contributor @joannasaurusrex has a vital insight. I asked her why female, and she replied: “because women are more emotive – and both good design and good leadership should have a mixture of structure and feeling”.
Much of the literature in design management and design leadership is based on studies of men. Actually, a very specific type of man – a white male designer who works for a large corporation. I have nothing against these people at all. Some of them indeed are my best friends. It is just that basing an entire academic and professional discipline around a really rather small section of humanity is somewhat questionable.
In an influential and highly well argued paper, The Soul of Design Leadership, a number of examples are used to define the essence of design leadership. And they are: Philippe Picaud, former design director of Decathlon; Thorsten Bjørn, senior creative director for LEGO; Chris Bangle, former design director of BMW Group; Chris Hacker, former design director of Aveda; Chuck Jones, former design director of Whirlpool; Stefano Marzano, CDO of Philips Electronics; Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive of Apple. Can you see a pattern here?
Or how about this, another paper on this same theme that lists Jonathan Ive, Bill Moggridge, Chris Bangle, Terence Conran, Tim Brown, Philippe Starck, Patrick Whitney, John Thackara and a few others. I guess you get my drift.
It is not as if we are short of women who work in corporate design or who are highly influential in design: design leaders such as Vivienne Westwood, curators and journalists such as Helen Walters and Alice Rawsthorn, designer/researchers like Helen Storey. But they do not feature as exemplars in the corporate-focussed literature.
A new vision of leadership
We can link this issue to the general crisis of leadership that is now evident in our culture. I have written about this in the context of politics elsewhere in this blog. There is a general failure of leadership in the political, corporate and civic worlds. I would suggest that this failure can be directly attributed to redundant values that are rooted in conventional power relationships, such as patriarchy.
Thankfully there are alternative values evident in the new generation of leaders, and it is these that need to be embraced, nurtured and – dare I say – empowered. UpRising is a leadership programme and a venture launched and developed by the Young Foundation to support and train a new generation of public leaders, aiming to open pathways to leadership for talented young adults. In a survey of UpRisers, people were asked to identify the three most important values/attributes for a leader to have. The UpRisers chose putting community first (44%), emotional intelligence (43%), and commitment and determination (38%). To quote from the UpRiser report:
“When asked what is lacking in leadership, the general public cited honesty (55%), integrity (46%), and emotional intelligence (40%). UpRisers however chose emotional intelligence, honesty, and putting community first as their three top choices. These results indicate that people do know what they are looking for: a new model of leadership that is absent from current British power structures.”
My theory is that there is a wholly new set of values, qualities and practices emerging from a new generation of leaders (in design and elsewhere) and these are evident from my highly unscientific twitter survey. So, let me pull this together and suggest a provisional conclusion.
Design leadership is fundamentally about empowerment, it is about vision, driving change through design in the wider world, and is about the primacy of values. We find it in the corporate world, and we find it in the community. Design leadership helps us to create iPhones, and it helps us to create and sustain knitting groups. We see design leadership in start ups and in schools where teachers empower their pupils to learn and to gain self-respect through design and technology. Design leadership is about focussed determination. And it is about empathy, emotional intelligence, honesty and the primacy of others. Not ego.
Design leadership is practiced by women and men, of indeterminate ethnicity, of all social classes. It is exemplified by amateurs, activists and professionals. So to define such a concept through a partial and selective perspective evident in some current design management thinking is at best flawed.
Does this matter? Well, on one level no, not at all. One of my respondents who I consider to be a remarkable and visionary design leader tweeted in reply to my thanks for taking part to say “You’re welcome, never heard the term till today to be honest.” If anything, that is a far more pressing problem to address: the failure of this research and literature to connect with its professional constituency. But perhaps it is time to initiate a discussion about design leadership with this new generation of leaders.
@jaycousins @EmmaWalkerCEO @wearesnook @joannasaurusrex @vanillainkUK who contributed, are exemplary design leaders. I’m sure the others are too – I just don’t actually know them! So thanks to them all.
Design leaders empower others to creatively connect the dots. And yes, sometimes they wear black.
The previous post argued that politics has failed the people: its institutional forms are defective and the culture of political discourse is both anachronistic and, to be honest, frankly offensive. As a consequence voter apathy is at record levels, and political debate now centres on meat-filled baked pastry products originating from the Cornish peninsula. D:Ream are simply wrong on this: things can only get much worse. So let us consider how design can begin to map a way out of this political slough of despond.
According to Jennie Winhall: “Design is political. It’s about values, power and preferences, about ideologies and consequences.” And it always has been. As I have argued elsewhere ”Designers are value driven. They look at the world, usually just one small part of it, and consider how it could be more efficient, more sustainable, more engaging, more desirable, more competitive, or simply more beautiful. How can that one small part of the world better reflect the values that we consider to be most relevant? Design makes a statement of what we want the world to be like. And in doing so, it is a political activity. Values are political, values express preferences about what problems are worth solving, and in whose interests they are solved. Values determine the degree to which design liberates or empowers the individual and those communities that make up the wider society.”
Unfortunately, the evidence of our own eyes would suggest that the values and politics pursued through most design practice meets the needs of vested corporate and other institutional interests, valuing the world only in terms of the commodities that feed unfettered consumerism. But according to Winhall: “The good news is that there’s a growing breed of designers who are political with a small p. They’re not campaigning, but problem solving; they’re not “master-designers,” but democratic in approach. They’re using their skills as designers to illustrate, create and demonstrate opportunities for social change. But the reason for their emergence is that the politics of design itself has changed.” She cites the redesign of public services as evidence for this, in that conventional policy makers, who are used to top-down decision making, are simply ill-equipped to address the needs of an age in which the user is central, and should be empowered to enable change.
Former Design Council Chairman, Lord Bichard, clearly agrees, and believes there are three key ways in which design can make public services better.
- It can redesign the way we deliver our services allowing us to “build or reshape our services around citizens, around clients, around customers.”
- It can help the development of better policy “ensuring that ideas are tested before having scarce resources invested in them on a national basis.”
- “Design can 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…we need a whole new approach to policy over the 10 years.”
There are two areas of design practice that display the qualities and potential of a progressive political design practice: (i) service design in the public sector and (ii) design activism. The qualities in evidence are: user/citizen focussed, participatory and/or co-design in approach, valuing the primacy of local and practical knowledge, entrepreneurial in spirit and ethos, integrating design thinking and design craft, committed to open design principles, progressive in the social values that underlie practice. I will briefly consider each in turn.
Service design in the public sector is well documented in terms of how design is contributing to a democratised public sector through its distinctive methods and approaches. As The Guardian reported: “Design methods fuse time spent in the field and research techniques borrowed from anthropology with an understanding of how people use objects. They are democratic in spirit: designers use workshops that help people contribute their ideas freely. They are just as happy dealing with the currency of experience and emotions as they are analysing trends. And if public service reform is about anything, it has to be about people.”
Companies such as Engine and Scotland’s own excellent Snook are active in this field. Indeed Snook is working with the Scottish Government to see how design, innovation and creativity can be more firmly embedded within the processes of government. Our own Master of Design for Services course works very closely with public healthcare providers, local government and others to explore service design’s potential as a transformative process in public services, such as the current Totally Dundee project led by Taylor Haig which pulls together a team of recent MDes graduates.
The danger of service design for public services is that it becomes incorporated within the institutional paradigm that it has the potential to challenge, and thus becomes just another technocratic tool of the public sector. Simon Blyth and Lucy Kimbell have provided a vital analysis that comes out of service design practice, but which suggests a significant shift of emphasis:
“Rather than claiming to solve social problems, we want to argue for the relevance and value of Design in actively, critically and reflexively contributing to their construction… We want to invite designers to make this more clearly part of their practice. We think there are things about Design that make it particularly good at doing this, although the positioning of design-as- problem-solving tends to have ignored them.” Blyth and Kimbell argue that there are five things that make Design particularly good at helping construct social problems:
- The first thing Design does well is rendering issues as something that other people can experience.
- The second thing Design expertise does well is creating artefacts around which people can gather to interpret and discuss the characteristics of a social issue.
- A third thing that is central to design expertise is staging an open-ended enquiry that actively avoids being closed down quickly in the form of a particular solution.
- A fourth aspect of Design is its role in making trouble and being open to the potentially disruptive side of creativity.
- A final part of contemporary Design expertise is opening up the conventions about who and what can be included in a design project.
Their paper deserves close reading, especially their three specific suggestions about how Design needs to change in order to responsibly rise to the challenges of working on social problems that are often deep-seated and involve conflicting values:
- Firstly, individuals need to be aware what they bring to problem-definition and problem- solving on a project level, and how this amplifies, reproduces or challenges existing ideas about collective problems.
- Secondly, designers working on social problems should set up the possibilities for double-loop learning and reflective conversations.
- Thirdly, designers need to question whether the consultancy model, which continues to be a dominant way that the industry operates, is the right one for working in domains such as public service.
Service design in the public sector contains a variety of practices, but out of theme we can see emerging a political form of reflexive practice in which values are explicit and explored, and social activism becomes a more central element of practice,
Design activism is a very broad field which I have no intention of mapping here. Thankfully Anne Chick and Paul Micklethwaite have done that job admirably well in their book Also, Nicholas O’Donnell-Hoare, Karen Yair and I have documented many examples of design activism through our Change Makers project.
However, one specific aspect of design activism demands attention here, and that is the Open Design movement. Open Design Now is an excellent book that is partly available to access free online. Regretably the part that isn’t available includes Bert Mulder’s chapter on Open Design for Government, in which he argues that open design’s most significant contribution to government could be in terms of citizen involvement.
I have written elsewhere about open design and the maker movement’s possible contribution to a new economy and a new politics. Here I want to finish on Marleen Stikker’s introduction to the Open Design Now book. She centres her analysis on two ways of thinking and interacting with the world:
“Possibilitarians think in new possibilities, and get all excited when things get messy and life becomes disorderly. In disruption, possibilitarians see new opportunities, even if they do not know where they might lead. They believe, with Denis Gabor, that ‘the future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented’. Realitarians are operating within a given framework, according to the rules that are given, following to the powers there are. They accept the conditions and the institutions as given, and are fearful of disruption.”
As she continues to argue:
“Possibilitarians engage in open design as a process, trusting their own abilities to guide that process. And as possibilitarians, they pursue strategies to be inclusive, to involve others, to build bridges between opposite positions: North-South, old-young, traditional-experimental. Possibilitarians represent a sharing culture which is at the core of open design. As such, they trust others to make their own contributions and to build upon what has been shared. Trust, responsibility and reciprocity are important ingredients in an open, sharing culture.”
Not all designers are possibilitarians, but it seems to me that those who are hold the key for defining a new politics. Design is the art of the possible. So was politics, once. Alas, no longer. The change we need to see in our political culture will not come from the realitarians who dominate that culture. Designers therefore have a challenge and an opportunity: to demonstrate their value as transformative change makers.
In a third post I will set out some steps we can take to do this. I will also engage with Tony Fry’s latest book Design as Politics which sets out a highly radical path for the design community.
When Cornish Pasties become the dominant political news story, then either it is a remarkably slow news day or there is something critically wrong with the state of politics. With yet another UK fatality in Afghanistan, and an imminent petrol tanker drivers’ strike, lack of news would not appear to be the problem. But militarism and industrial relations have long ceased to be the stuff of political debate. In our liberal democracy where all political parties jostle for position in the centre ground, ideological differences take on a much more subtle and seemingly bizarre form. So Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – the supposed intellectual heavyweights of the Labour Party – brandish sausage rolls to make their point. Meanwhile in Parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was floored by a question that was not about his failure to manage the economy, but was about when he last bought a pasty at Greggs. When a Greggs pasty is the political hot potato of the day, then we really are in a pickle. Food for thought, eh?
In the last general election, 35% of registered electors failed to vote at all. According to the Electoral Commission, up to 6 million people do not even register to vote, so if we factor them in, then around 43% of eligible voters either don’t register, or stay at home on polling day. Thus, we have a Prime Minister representing a party that secured 19% of the eligible vote in the last general election. None of this is news, as rising voter apathy is well recognised across the political spectrum. But what is equally disturbing is apathy on the part of the political parties themselves to address an issue which, if neglected long enough, will simply destroy the democratic system.
Like just about everyone I know, I vote with a very heavy heart. The party I vote for has no vision, no creative imagination and no ability to engage people about issues that matter to them. My party of choice has abandoned most of its values and has enacted some policies and practices that I actively abhor. But they’re better than the other lot. Not much of a reason to vote though, is it? None of the parties address the long-term issues that our collective future depends on, preferring to focus on short term gains that are politically expedient. Consequently issues such as the ageing population, energy and transport policy, and the whole sustainability agenda are parked to one side. The pasty takes precedence.
There are two issues here. First is the tendency under liberal democracies for a coalescing around the centre ground, thereby removing ideology from politics and any sense of long term vision. As a consequence we choose not political alternatives based on a notion of a world we would like to live in, but technocratic alternatives based on how efficiently we think the world could be run. We vote on the basis of which party we think has the more competent leaders to make the decisions required to steer an advanced capitalist economy. Of course, we are not really qualified to choose on the basis of actual competence, so it boils down to which bloke looks the part. And right now it is all blokes.
Second, the conventions, cultures and methods of politics are wholly anachronistic and simply have no appeal or resonance with the majority of people as the British Social Attitudes Survey suggests (I think the bloke thing is a clue as to the reason for this). The world has moved on. Politics has not. I used to listen religiously to Any Questions on Radio 4. Two weeks ago after it had been on for five minutes, we switched it off. I do not want shouty people who seem incapable of listening or acknowledging other points of view in my house, thank you very much. It’s bad enough when you have to vote for them. I’m with Martin Amis on this one, who argues that British politics is full of ”not very nice people – touchy, vain, power-hungry male politicians obsessed by maintaining face”. And that’s just the good ones.
Politics has failed the people. The irony here is that it has been politicians who have driven change everywhere else. We had to get more competitive and weed out the lame ducks. So the mines and shipyards were shut. We had to reform the public sector, so throughout education, healthcare and policing we have seen radical reforms and restructuring. We have all changed. We have all adapted. Meanwhile the political system remains largely as it was in the 19th century. No change there. There is a language and culture of conflict, secrecy and duplicity that has now become so profoundly unappealing and irrelevant to the way that the world works, that radical change in politics is no longer an option but a necessity for its very survival. Apathy becomes tempered when we are offered what appears to be authenticity and real choice in politics. George Galloway and the SNP are at least authentic. But do we really desire a politics based on sectionalism or nationhood?
It is time to design politics better.
In the second part of this post I will look at the inherently political role of design, initiatives by designers to creatively engage communities in rethinking their future, and some recent arguments suggesting that design itself could constitute a new politics.
The Design & Democracy exhibition continues to run at the Scottish Parliament – a unique show that displays how the design students of Scotland are using their skills and knowledge to address a range of social issues. Full details of the exhibition can be found on the Parliament website, including video profiles of the exhibitors.
At the exhibition’s opening I said a few words on behalf of the four Scottish Design Schools whose students are represented. An abridged version of this follows below.
This is an exhibition that tells a story – the story of how design can contribute positively to our civic society on all sorts of levels: to strengthen democracy by doing what it does best – visualising alternative ways of doing things, highlighting problems we need to address, and giving a voice to those who are seldom heard. And behind the exhibition is another story: one of Scotland’s big success stories – the vibrancy and relevance of our world class design education.
Every summer the doors open on our art school degree shows. In Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, the achievements of our graduating students in art and design are celebrated in four sparkling and inspiring exhibitions of creative excellence. The idea developed to showcase some of the very best of our design graduate work here in the Parliament, in an exhibition themed around design and democracy. A broad theme, but one which enabled us to explore how students in design were looking at community engagement, social change, inclusion, sustainability – and other key issues that are essential to a healthy and thriving civic society.
At its best, design has always been about progressive social change – using the power of design to imagine new futures, new solutions and new ideas. At its best design is about empathy, about understanding people, about empowering people. And as we went from one art school to another this summer – we saw so many examples of visionary design thinking at its very best.
My colleagues Robert Gillan from Edinburgh College of Art, Libby Curtis from Gray’s School of Art, Jenny Brownrigg from The Glasgow School of Art, Fiona McDougall from the Scottish Parliament and myself toured the four shows during this May and June. It was a fantastic, and perhaps too rare opportunity for the art schools to work together in this way. We saw different strengths and approaches, different issues being explored, different opportunities seized. By the time we got to the end of our journey – at the Glasgow show – we were literally overwhelmed by what we had seen. And it’s not just about the quality of work – brilliant though that is. It’s about how our art schools are regenerating themselves to address the new issues and challenges of our age.
Art Schools are one of those great Victorian inventions – creative hothouses to drive innovation and to bridge art and industry. And, a great British invention. The art schools not only helped to create competitive well designed products, but they also produced our culture – both ‘high’ and popular: the Apple iPod, The Beatles, Habitat, Punk and the Dyson vacuum cleaner all have their creative roots in the British art school. In Scotland, our art schools are typified by a continuing commitment to craft values – whether in fashion and textiles or in interaction design. Culturally informed intelligent making underpins our educational approach and defines our distinctiveness. And that is what we see in this exhibition – but now married much more explicitly to the social concerns and sensibilities of those who study design in Scotland, and of those who teach them.
We live in troubling and uncertain times. We look, too often in vain, for a vision of how things could be better and different. Design – as this exhibition demonstrates so powerfully – has the potential to provide visions for the future, and tools to make change happen. And a new generation of designers is showing – and indeed demanding – that design has a vital role to play in the future of our democracy.
My current lectures for the University of Dundee’s 3rd year students in design and the market explores the future of work in design.
The first lecture new challenges considered the fast pace of change in work and employment and sketched out some of the broad trends taking place. We looked at technological, economic and demographic changes which are set to transform work practices and structures – but I stressed that this does not predetermine the future. I quoted Karl Marx, who said that people “make their own history” and that there is the opportunity to shape the future ourselves. But as Marx quickly went on to explain “they do not make it just as they please, but under circumstances transmitted from the past”. Yes, we can make our own futures, but we have to understand the preconditions, constraints (but equally, opportunities) that the past gives us.
Generational developments, and the tectonic demographic shifts currently taking place – linked to an ageing population – is perhaps the most significant constraint for the future. We considered how the pre-boomers, babyboomers, generation x and generation y looked at work and identity. The characteristics of Gen Y were explored by Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital. In the UK, the think tank Reform described them as the IPOD generation in their report. Notably, Gen Y is less politically engaged than other generations, which means that they are less regarded by political parties. However, the rise of student activism and protest could suggest a shift, as Laurie Penny argues.
A recent issue of Time magazine has looked at the future of work. In this issue it was argued that “Most of the best jobs will be for people who manage customers, who organize fans, who do digital community management. We’ll continue to need brilliant designers, energetic brainstormers and rigorous lab technicians.” A key argument of the Time feature, supported by other research, is that women are likely to play a far greater role in management and business. A further trend which developments this month support, is bi-generational leadership. The most successful high tech start ups in the US have leadership teams that include both Babyboomers and Gen Y. The lecture dwelt for a short time on the virtues of bi-generational leadership in Universities.
The future belongs to the T-shaped practitioner, by which specialist knowledge skills are balanced by cross-disciplinary inter-personal skills. This all comes together in our context through the Design Council’s work on multidisciplinary design education. As it explains: “Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO, which has been a vocal proponent of the need for ‘T-shaped people’, describes these ideal employees as ‘specialists with a passion and empathy for people and for other subject areas’”. I finished the lecture by suggesting that increasingly we are inventing the nature of work as we do it – a bit like building planes in the sky.
The second lecture creative futures examined how recent research has shed light on the nature of careers and employment for design graduates. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) undertook the “largest-ever study of the career patterns of graduates from UK courses in art, design, craft and media explores graduates’ experiences of higher education, their activities since graduating, the work they are currently engaged in, and their plans for the future.” From the IES website you can download the three major reports that have come out of this study. In short, the research shows that graduates are making use of their creative education, are generally positive about their work, are increasingly pursuing portfolio working lives, and value their education. However, the research suggests that art and design graduates “had less well‐developed IT, networking and client‐facing skills”. Within the lecture we were unable to explore the detail of the research. Students are strongly advised to look at the reports, especially creative career stories.
There is little difference in terms of career patterns between students who pursue craft-based or industry-based design disciplines – both require entrepreneurial skills and involve portfolio working. The Crafts Council has commissioned research that studies the career patterns of craft graduates, which has resulted in a number of reports that can be accessed from their website. The Making Value report by Mary Schwarz and Dr Karen Yair is of particular interest. The survey and report New lives in the making by myself and Alison Cusworth was published in 1998, but shows very similar patterns of employment. The book The Independents by Charles Leadbeater and Kate Oakley published by Demos is also from the late 90s, but it has some highly relevant observations and advice for emergent creative professionals today.
An opportunity for Labour?
It’s hard work being a Labour Party supporter. I suspect Obama supporters feel the same. Indeed, the failure of the left and the centre left (or in the US case, the liberals) to advance any credible progressive alternative is dispiriting in the extreme. What is all the more curious is that there IS the starting point of a progressive alternative staring them all in the face – but since it has not emerged from the increasingly insular world that party politics is now conducted in, then it has simply not been noticed.
The makings of an alternative are to be found in maker culture and active consumerism: in craft cafes, hacker spaces and especially in IKEA. It addresses some profound issues concerning how we innovate, how we create sustainable enterprise, and how we link this to a social agenda. It provides solutions for educational underachievement, models for urban and rural regeneration, and strategies to address critical skills shortages in fields as diverse as plumbing and programming. It demands that we rethink our conception of work, in order to make better use of the one vital resource that humans are provided with: our creativity. It connects with something very deep within us all: an inherent desire to make things for ourselves. And it requires that we ditch the one thing that ties us to redundant notions of our future: our labour. Perhaps that is the left’s problem.
What is interesting and significant is that this ‘new alternative’ has in recent weeks been the subject of coverage in UK and US business media, national media in the US, New Scientist, together with the technology and eco-activist blogosphere – but aside from one or two pieces in The Guardian, the Left’s media appears far more interested in the Occupy movement. Sorry, but I’ve spent time at St Paul’s and all I see is yet another marginal protest that the Left is so fond of.
Below is a summarised commentary on some of this recent coverage, prior to working it up into a more resolved piece of writing. I have emphasised recent writing rather than more extensive academic literature, such as David Gauntlett’s recent excellent book. The argument threading through it is that the emergent maker economy is of critical significance in the development of an alternative economic model that is capable of addressing economic regeneration, social renewal and individual fulfilment. While we have in the past been defined by our labours, in the future we will be defined by our works.
The indie capitalist revolution
In December 2011, The Economist reported on the significance of the maker movement under the headline “more than just digital quilting”. It recognised that its roots lie in digital culture at the confluence of the open source movement and the new technologies such as Arduino and MakerBot’s 3D printers. Setting its scene at the New York Maker Faire, The Economist explained how “this show and an even bigger one in Silicon Valley, held every May, are the most visible manifestations of what has come to be called the “maker” movement. It started on America’s West Coast but is spreading around the globe: a Maker Faire was held in Cairo in October.”
Physical spaces and tools are part of the maker movement’s landscape, along with online communities. There is a rich pluralism as hackers and corporates coexist alongside business startups, social enterprises, hobbyists and venture capitalists. In its conclusion, The Economist draws a pertinent parallel:
“The parallel with the hobbyist computer movement of the 1970s is striking. In both cases enthusiastic tinkerers, many on America’s West Coast, began playing with new technologies that had huge potential to disrupt business and society. Back then the machines manipulated bits; now the action is in atoms. This has prompted predictions of a new industrial revolution, in which more manufacturing is done by small firms or even by individuals. “The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit,” writes Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine.
“It is easy to laugh at the idea that hobbyists with 3D printers will change the world. But the original industrial revolution grew out of piecework done at home, and look what became of the clunky computers of the 1970s. The maker movement is worth watching.”
Also writing in December, Bruce Nussbaum – a former editor of Business Week – presents four reasons why the future of capitalism is homegrown, small scale, and independent. Indie capitalism, Nussbaum argues, is “a maker system of economics based on creating new value, not trading old value. It embraces all the strains of maker culture–food, indie music, DIY, craft, 3-D digital fabrication, bio-hacking, app enabling, CAD modeling, robotics, tinkering. Making is not a rare act performed by a few but a routine happening in which just about everyone participates.”
In contrast to The Economist, Nussbaum differentiates the culture of this new movement from the West Coast start up scene of the 70s that spawned Apple and Microsoft. He favours the term indie capitalism “because it captures more of the social context and values of this new economy. I think it is sufficiently different from the entrepreneurial, startup culture of Stanford/Silicon Valley to warrant its own name. The term feels more 21st century, while ‘startup’ sounds, well, 20th century. It’s socially focused, not technology focused, more designer/artist-centric than engineering-centric. I especially like ‘indie’ because the indie music scene reflects many of the distributive and social structures of this emergent form of capitalism. It’s no accident that Portland and New York have vibrant indie music scenes and are the centers of a rising new indie capitalism.” In Nussbaum’s, view, the time is right for this indie capitalism to usher in an indie economics and indie politics given that – from Occupy to the Tea Party – finance or ‘predatory’ capitalism is under attack. And so is high street retail capitalism.
In a blogpost entitled why 2012 will be year of the artist-entrepreneur, Michael Wolf argues that with distribution chains collapsing vertically across video, music and books, as online storefronts become the entire distribution chain, so this expands the role of the artist-entrepreneur who distributes themselves. “No doubt, the vast majority of economic wealth is still distributed through large corporate media, but as new technologies enable artists to reach consumers directly through push-button creation and distribution, there is a movement afoot. Expect this movement to expand in 2012 as more artists take control of their own economic destinies and become part of the artist-entrepreneur generation.”
Writing recently in the New York Times, William Deresiewicz frames this development even more profoundly: “The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.”
The Left almost certainly has a problem with the maker movement because it is bound up with entrepreneurialism. Which is strange, because many of the new entrepreneurs seemingly have no problems with politically progressive concerns and ideals. Yes, this is is the age of the business plan and the start up. Young people especially are doing it for themselves in terms of employment creation. Now, in part this is because many have no other choice; around 30 percent of new entrepreneurs in the US go into business because there is no other option for work. But whether reluctant or willing, increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are doing it less for the money and more to make a difference.
Danny Alexander, a design entrepreneur writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, takes issue with those who see entrepreneurship as purely in terms of wealth creation: “For many of us, entrepreneurship is our anger, our edge, and our ego. It is our social movement… I’m an entrepreneur because I see fundamental problems with society and want to be active in creating solutions.” Closer to home, there are dynamic new enterprises such as Snook which are pursuing a new politics and social vision through entrepreneurial action.
Labour isn’t working – the value of doing it yourself
Throughout the world, there is a generation of highly educated, aspirational young people with a strong sense of a social vision who have been failed by both labour markets and labour parties. Put simply, there are no jobs and no political vision about how to change the world in a progressive direction. The only solution to both problems is to do it yourself. Entrepreneurialism also addresses a third problem: most jobs suck.
In a piece entitled How British workers are losing the power to think, Guardian correspondent Aditya Chakrabortty has drawn on research that strongly suggests an erosion of autonomy in many occupations. “Since the mid-80s, academics have been carrying out regular skills surveys, asking detailed questions of thousands of employees. In 1986… 72% of professionals felt they had a great deal of independence in doing their jobs. By 2006, that had plummeted to just 38%.” Some researchers are suggesting a future workforce in which only 10-15% will have permission to think. “The rest of us will merely carry out their decisions; what the academics call ‘digital Taylorism’, in which graduates will end up on the white-collar equivalent of a factory line.” The options appear to be useful work (through creative entrepreneurialism) versus useless toil (by selling our increasingly devalued labour power). Put simply, whether creating a livelihood or building bookcases, people value doing it themselves. If you want proof – go to IKEA.
The IKEA effect has been documented and argued by behavioural economist Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School. In this month’s New Scientist, an article entitled The hard way: Our odd desire to do it ourselves explained how Norton and his colleagues set up experiments in which people were asked to assemble IKEA furniture or fold origami or build Lego sets. “The participants then had to bid small sums for the products of their labour, or for a custom- or expert-made equivalent. The results were impressive. People bid considerably more for their own creations, even when they were plain old IKEA boxes. When it came to origami, they stumped up nearly as much for their own forlorn frog or bird as for the same animal folded by an expert – even though other participants subsequently rated their efforts as ‘nearly worthless crumpled paper’”. The New Scientist piece describes other research that cumulatively demonstrates that the things we make we value far more – regardless of how well we make them.
Crafting the creative society
One of New Labour’s many problems was the incredibly narrow way that it viewed creativity, reducing it to the questionable notion of creative industries. The whole point was that the UK was to build up a particular set of consumer industries that required specific skills and knowledge that would be supplied through the labour market. Built on a theoretical bedrock that drew heavily from Richard Florida’s Creative Class thesis, this drove policy at both national and local government. There are three central problems with the creative industry emphasis. First, it is highly centralised: necessarily London will act as the key focus for such industries. Second, it is very fragile: the experience of the computer games industry in Dundee is evidence of that. Third, it is culturally defined by Florida’s Creative Class: DIY culture in north Wales or knitting in Shetland does not feature in its metropolitan landscape. As such, the creative economy as defined is exclusive.
Crafting an inclusive creative society demands a wholescale rethinking of education, work and the processes of civic society. Libby Brooks, writing in The Guardian, makes the following case:
“A recession invites fundamental reassessment of the place of work – and leisure – in our lives. Practically, this means recognising that teaching a tradable, portable skill is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty. Philosophically, it invites an acceptance that a trade-off between hamster-wheel presenteeism and mollifying consumption has never been good for us and is not feasible in this economic climate. Crucially, craft is egalitarian. While some in the Labour party appear bent on resuscitating the canard of meritocracy, which divides the gifted few from the unexceptional mass, craft reminds us of the significance of equality of outcome, rather than of opportunity. Everyone shares the capacity to develop a skill, based on decent teaching, application and time – not raw talent.”
The question is, can Labour (or indeed The Left) envisage an egalitarian future in which people craft their own lives?
The Wedgwood Museum faces selloff to pay £134m pension debt after court ruling
You don’t need to have a passion for pots to appreciate why the Wedgwood Museum represents the crown jewels of our industrial heritage. Josiah Wedgwood was responsible for some of the key innovations that drove industrialisation and design, and whose vision for technological progress went hand-in-hand with social progress. His was a vision of socially responsible capitalism that we could benefit from revisiting today.
The Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent is a unique factory-based collection and archive that tells the story of Wedgwood’s contribution to our age. And what precisely is that contribution? Well, to get well made, durable, beautifully designed crockery onto tables Josiah Wedgwood undertook painstaking materials research into new ceramic bodies, he invented new decorative techniques, he created the profession of the designer, he built one of the world’s first factories, he invented the idea of market segmentation and pioneered many of the essential principles of today’s marketing. ‘Buy one, get one free’ was a Wedgwood innovation. Not many people know that. He brought science and art into industry in a unique, powerful and visionary way.
He invested his wealth in Britain’s canal system, and built proper homes for the new working class he had created, driven by a paternalistic concern for his employees. A passionate slavery abolitionist, he produced cameos with an enslaved black figure on a white background above the legend “Am I Not A Man And A Brother?” Soon becoming the fashion of the day, Wedgwood was the first to enable us to wear our issue-based politics on our sleeves, or around our necks. After Josiah’s death, his granddaughter married Charles Darwin – the Darwins being longstanding family friends – and the Wedgwood inheritance bought Darwin the time to write his theory of evolution.
His ambition, to give pottery “an elegance of form” embedded craft aesthetic and processes within the new technologies of his age – in much the same way as Steve Jobs achieved two centuries later. Like Jobs, but far more fundamentally, he redefined design and its management for a new age of change.
Today, every innovator, designer, industrialist, scientist, craft maker and entrepreneur is standing on the shoulders of this giant. His significance cannot be over-stated. To achieve his “elegance of form” required building a whole new infrastructure for manufacture, commerce and culture. “Father of English potters” is an epithet that tells only a fraction of his story and significance.
The company that bears his name went into administration in 2009, and the brand is today owned by a New York based private equity firm, with Wedgwood employing only a few hundred workers producing top-end products. This followed some catastrophically inept management in the company in its latter years. I should know: I spent an interesting lunchtime in the company of Wedgwood’s Board. They hauled me in because I had said on BBC TV some fairly damning (but very true) things about the paucity of their design management, and how it was leading directly to factory closures. In short, Wedgwood’s problems in the mid-1990s was nothing to do with cheap imports, rather its key challenge was with expensive imports. Analysis of trade statistics showed that they were losing market share in the top-end, design-led markets. This of course they denied. While they employed some exemplary designers, the skills of these talented individuals were being exercised in a strategic black hole. A passion for pots? It was my view that the bosses knew the meaning of neither.
I knew I was right when lunch was served. It was horrible; the kind of fare that even University caterers would avoid serving. Put simply, if you do not appreciate the joy of eating, how on earth can you create the world’s best tableware to share that joy with others? Clearly the days when pottery managers were people with “clay running in their veins” were over. These people were accountants, and they didn’t do that very well either.
Allowing Wedgwood to fold was above all damning to the generations of Stoke pottery workers and their families who had invested their working lives and their craft skills in the company. To be honest, the best pots in the world count for nothing if the people who make them, who believe in them, whose lives are defined by them, are simply thrown onto the industrial scrapheap. They deserve far better.
And that is the dilemma here. A blackhole in Wedgwood’s pension fund has led to a court ruling yesterday that the Wedgwood Museum should be sold off to raise the £134 million needed for the former employees’ pensions. Their jobs were taken away, and with it their dignity and self-worth. Their pension is all they have left.
But as important as their pensions, is our history. History only becomes meaningful if we study it, learn from it, draw lessons out from it to guide our future. It is the mark of a civilised society that we invest in understanding our past. The Wedgwood Museum is in UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register as, according to UNESCO, it represents a vital and significant part of our documentary heritage. It enables us to better understand and appreciate, not only Josiah Wedgwood’s remarkable innovations, but also those made by other potters and artists in creating an industry that defined its age and laid the ground for other industries to follow.
Without Josiah Wedgewood, it is doubtful that the UK ceramic and textile industries would have become the engines for industrialisation and world market dominance that they became. Without him, design would doubtless have gained a far lesser role in the UK economy, removing the foundations that today’s creative industries are built on. Without him, all the tricks of retail marketing we use today would have been pioneered in other countries. Without Josiah Wedgwood, who knows how we would earn our living in today’s world? I suppose we would always have slavery to fall back on.
THAT is why the Wedgwood Museum matters. And of course because it celebrates all those working people who gave their working lives to the pottery industry of Stoke-on-Trent.
As I’m not an accountant, I cannot answer the question of where the £134 million can be found to save the Museum and to pay the pensions. I understand such sums of money are trivial small change in the trading rooms of the City of London; perhaps it represents a couple of bankers’ bonuses. Perhaps some of our iconoclastic entrepreneurs could dig deep for the Museum? Step forward Sir Richard Branson. Shelve the tourist spacecraft, we have a time machine for you that will tell you far more about the world than 10 minutes in outer space will.
But I can answer the question of what it means if we allow this Museum to dissolve into private collections worldwide. It means we don’t really give a damn – about our history or the people who made it. I think we should. And we owe it to them to save it.
“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
“Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”
“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
On 16 September I gave a keynote address to the Create Debate event at Glasgow School of Art. The title of my talk was Design as an affirmation of values and its is available here to download. Create Debate was a showcase for postgraduate students at GSA, but the audience also included students from elsewhere (including DJCAD Dundee), design professionals, and others from local government and health services. Organised by Sarah Drummond, the event centred towards the end on the question of whether it was time for evolution or revolution in design. I go unequivocally for the latter.
The central argument in my talk was that design is driven by values and, as such, is an inherently political act. Given the nature of the crisis we are now facing then it is necessary to define with speed and clarity what the values are that the progressive design community should champion. While some at the event cautioned us not to ditch capitalism, I rather fear that it is capitalism that has ditched us already. We appear to be seeking security in the idea that “everything is basically OK” – just shave 25% of public expenditure and it will be back to the good old days of spend, spend, spend. I rather think we are deluding ourselves. As I said at the event, so too does Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman who only today wrote: “Future historians will marvel at the austerity madness that gripped policy elites in the spring of 2010.”
The task facing us all – clearly not just in design – is to rebuild from the bottom up a vision of how we want our political economy to serve us – as in us the people. We do this by understanding the current crisis, and looking back into our history for those values that champion, express and pursue our humanity. In Danger and Opportunity: crisis and the new social economy, Robin Murray argues that the early years of the 21st century are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of social economy. His analysis of the economic crisis is readable and extremely useful for those of us working in the broad area of social design. Once we start our understanding of the crisis, then how do we move out of it? Charles Leadbeater poses this question: “Where might we turn for inspiration for a comprehensive programme for radical change on the scale required to match the crisis we are in?” His answer is perhaps surprising: “A good start would be with a bunch of men in southern England, in April 1649, led by Gerrard Winstanley who started digging common land to create a self-governing, cooperative and productive community as the basis for the new social order.” In his book Digging for the Future, Charles Leadbeater draws insightful parallels between the 17th century Levellers and Diggers, and the 21st century social entrepreneurs, environmental innovators, open source hackers and grass roots campaigns. I agree wholly with Charles Leadbeater that we need to look back to move forward.
This was a timely invitation to speak in Glasgow, following the sad death of Jimmy Reid this August. This Glaswegian trade unionist was one of the leaders of perhaps the most inspiring and successful campaigns waged by the labour movement in living memory. The work-in of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in the early 1970s inspired many throughout the world, including myself as a teenager far away in the south of England. But as important as the struggle itself, was Jimmy Reid’s articulation of those values that it sought to further. His address to the University of Glasgow in 1972 was hailed by the New York Times as comparable to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and they put an edited version of his speech on their front page. I encourage you to read it.
In Design as an affirmation of values, I focus on his speech and draw out some lessons for those of us working in design today. There are lessons about values, and about the importance of creativity. But perhaps the greatest lesson we can draw from this great man is the need for us to explain our position in clear ways to people out there. Design as a force for positive social transformation will be taken seriously when we engage with the public, with politicians and policy makers in ways they can clearly understand. We need new approaches and tactics for reaching out. And we need them soon.
On 15 July 2010, Vince Cable – the coalition government’s Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – set out the choices facing the UK higher education sector in a speech. This included extensive reference to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines, and how they are vital to economic competitiveness, research and scientific and technological progress. Then, in passing, he said that “what my father used to describe as ‘arty farty’ subjects feed into the rapidly growing and successful industries like creative design, publishing and music.” Really? Well, he is Secretary of State, so I am sure he has pored over the evidence on the subject. But here is some evidence that Vince Cable may be less familiar with.
The annual Morgan Stanley ‘Great Briton’ awards celebrated the highest achievements in the arts, business, sport, public life, and science and innovation. Each year four people were shortlisted for each of the awards. 2007’s shortlist for the Great Briton in Science and Innovation included a theoretical physicist from Imperial College, an international expert in the pathology of dinosaur bones and John McGhee, an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded research student based in an art school. His digital animation research on 3D visualization strategies to improve disease understanding among patient groups has twice featured on BBC News and secured the front page of the Guardian’s education supplement (30 October 2007). John is an animator with a background in 3D design.
When crop geneticists provided printmaker Elaine Shemilt with their DNA data, their expectation of the science-art project was that it would result in some striking decorative prints that would liven up the walls of their research institute. However, the resulting prints revealed to them the occurrence of new elements and data patterns that they had previously been unable to perceive. The prints led directly to a whole new externally funded research project examining gene progression in pathogens. Within the decorative patterns, new knowledge became visible. Vital research in crop genetics was triggered by the work and insights of a fine art printmaker.
With a background in craft-making and product design, Graham Whiteley brought a highly idiosyncratic approach to his doctoral research on prosthetic design. To begin with, the medical physics specialist who was part of the supervisory team saw dubious value in Graham’s emphasis on life-drawing and model-making as his key research methods. Six years later, his research contributed to a new bionic arm and hand that has been hailed as one of the most significant breakthroughs in prosthetics.
We look to our art schools to produce great art and design, and their broader value is always pitched in terms of their contribution to Britain’s Creative Industries. However, their recently emergent research culture is producing something else as well: unique contributions to science, technology and innovation in fields far removed from ‘creative industries’. The examples above are taken from a book chapter I am working on that will be published later this year on The Hidden Value of Art & Design. The chapter explores art and design’s contribution to other specialist disciplines, to industrial competitiveness and innovation, and to social policy. In exploring this value, the chapter ventures from hospital wards to the suboceanic world; we will examine the role of designers in defining advanced manufacturing processes and the role of artists in scientific research; we will see how art and design researchers can contribute to crime prevention, prosthetic technologies and urban planning.
The cases I draw upon are not particularly new – but as Vince Cable’s comments suggest, this message on the wider value of art and design is simply not getting through. Recent research by Mary Schwarz and Dr Karen Yair for the Crafts Council is one recent addition to a growing literature on the wider economic and social value of creative disciplines, in the case of their research, craft specifically. So we need to marshal more evidence, more positive cases, and tell the story more effectively. Comments to this post that include other cases are most welcome, so that we can begin to assemble an up-to-date broad based and accessible listing that can help to strengthen research on this issue, and help tell our stories in a more powerful way.
Two recent publications. First is a small piece in Homes and Interiors Scotland, May/June 2010 as part of their “I Love This….” series. I was asked to write about a Scottish building that I love. I chose to write about the red telephone box, which is an iconic and highly effective example of public design. You can read the piece here. The second is an interview with me entitled designing a better world – a profile piece in a newspaper.
Tony Blair may have dragged the UK into an illegal war, undermined faith in the democratic process and driven morale in many public services to rock bottom levels, but as he finally leaves office he does leave behind a legacy of spearheading Britain’s shift to a knowledge-based creative economy. Who says? Well, to be honest, mainly Blair himself together with his supporters such as Lord Puttnam who claimed that the UK was transformed from an “island of coal surrounded by fish” to “an island of creativity surrounded by a sea of understanding”.
The evidence, however, does not stack up, and in particular the UK’s design industry is beginning to exhibit some acute structural vulnerabilities. Those of us who have an interest in design education and the future of design in the UK need to carefully assess the implications of recent studies and commentaries that suggest a potentially bleak future for the UK’s creative industries if current problems are not addressed.
In their book Fantasy Island, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson describe the state of Bullshit Britain – the country that has begun to believe the post-industrial hype that obscures its significant economic problems. “So what is Britain good at?” they ask, “where does the UK fit in this world of changing economic geography, in which nations will increasingly concentrate on the things they do best? The answer is simple. We count the money and we do the bullshit.”
An extract of their book is online at The Guardian website. Here is a section from it:
“In the days of Cool Britannia back in the late 90s, Blair called the UK the ‘design workshop of the world’, while three years later, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport noted that ‘Britain is a top exporter of design worldwide and many design consultancies earn a significant portion of income from work outside Britain’. Not, however, as much as they did. Overseas earnings from design fell from £1.4bn in 2001/2 to £699m in 2004/5, while the number of people employed in the design workshop of the world fell from 82,000 in 2000/1 to 71,000 four years later…. Some of the claims made for the new knowledge economy are nothing more than hype, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of the creative industries. There are three times as many people working in domestic service as there are in advertising, television, video games, film, the music business and design combined; the creative industries represent around one in 20 of the people working in Britain today.”
Recent data and research strengthens this case. The British Design Industry Valuation Survey 2005 to 2006 makes the following points:
- Turnover for the industry has seen a 6% fall on last years figures, from £4.6bn to £4.3bn
- Growth this year has been in the mid-sized companies, suggesting that smaller, newer companies and freelancers are struggling.
- 2005/2006 employee numbers are down overall by 8.4%
The Government’s own Creative Industries Economic Estimates contains statistics on gross value added, exports, employment and numbers of businesses within the Creative Industries. This shows that whereas the creative industries accounted for 7.3% of Gross Value Added in 2004 (as compared to 7.8% in 2000), only 0.5% of that comes from the design industry (a 50% drop from 2000, when the contribution was 1%).
Nesta’s recent report Creating growth: How the UK can develop world-class creative businesses argues how “the UK’s creative industries are facing increasing international competition. In particular, creative businesses and policymakers need to appreciate the scale of the competitive challenges now facing these sectors in the UK.”
One key factor that creates vulnerability in the smaller design firms are a lack of business and entrepreneurial skills. This is highlighted by the report Creating Entrepreneurship: entrepreneurship education for the creative industries published in May 2007 by the ADM-HEA Subject Centre. It argues as follows: “The creative industries account for more than seven per cent of the UK economy. But many are now struggling in the face of unprecedented overseas competition. Stronger entrepreneurship education is needed to equip graduates with the skills to create commercial opportunities for themselves – and to contribute to the growth of larger, more sustainable businesses.”
Last week in the House of Lords, Lord Patel raised this issue in a debate on the creative industries:
“Despite their growth, in the UK creative industries related to design remain a cottage industry dominated by small businesses that are also very young. The sector is unable to take up the new opportunities offered by sustainable design. Design graduates need business and financial planning skills, which they are not taught adequately because of the lack of resources. Postgraduate courses are needed, and Cox’s report recommended them in order to create design-literate managers and business-literate designers. It is important that the Government recognise that more funding is required at higher education levels and at universities if we are to see greater growth in the creative industries so that they can make a greater contribution to economic growth.”
I for one would not disagree that more funding for higher education would help in addressing this. But in addition we require actions on a number of levels. First, we should acknowledge the spin, hype and bullshit that has obscured the reality of the creative economy, and take a long hard look at the emerging data on its structural weaknesses. Second, we must address the requirements of management for design and design management for the small firms sector: this we must place more firmly on the educational agenda. And third we must explore more fully the business tools required by the design industry, as my colleagues Tom Inns and Emma Murphy are doing. We should also be doing this much more on a European level rather than limiting our perspectives to those of the UK.
This post follows up references made in the craft research lecture.
The following books were referred to:
Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capitalism includes references to craft working, from the context of industrial sociology in a highly readable analysis of labour process theory.
E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class provides a spirited and highly rigorous case for how craft skills and knowledge provided the foundation of industrial culture and development.
David Pye’s The Nature and Art of Workmanship provides the argument on the workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty.
Jeremy Rifkin’s The End of Work, argues for the emergence and significance of the Third Sector.
Malcolm McCullough’s Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand is an excellent read which argues for a correspondence between digital process and traditional craft.
Randall White, based at New York University, was one of the first to recognize the evolutionary importance of personal adornment and its critical role in the organization and demographic expansion of modern humans – in other words, how jewellery was a defining issue in the development of human culture. His book on Prehistoric Art, argues this more fully.
Learning through making
The Crafts Council sponsored Learning Through Making Project brought together research teams from Loughborough, Middlesex and Sheffield Hallam Universities to explore and define the value and nature of craft learning. The research also tackled the nature, relevance and value of contemporary craft practices. The project, which was conducted as three separate but related strands, has produced a considerable number of publications. Some of those that are available on-line are listed below:
The Craft’s Council’s own extensive end of project final report.
A transcript of the two day conference held at the British Library which included presentations by the research teams and other invited speakers on the theme of learning through making.
A follow-up report published by the Arts Council: from learning to earning.
The Sheffield Hallam project was concerned with exploring the value of higher education in crafts, providing data on employment destinations (including the first longitudinal study of the employment of craft design graduates) and an analysis of the nature and value of craft learning at degree level. Publications include: an executive summary of the whole project, a paper presented to a conference of EAD held in Stockholm, and a more polemical piece – A New Vision in the Making – published in Crafts Magazine.
Design and Technology Education
There is significant theory and research that arises from the field of pedagogy research in design and technology. This has considerable application to research in craft, as Peter Walters’ recent thesis demonstrated. Here are some links:
- design and technology in a knowledge economy, by Richard Kimbell and David Perry
- Unorthodox methodologies: approaches to understanding design and technology by Kay Stables & Richard Kimbell
The Recycling Exhibition
Curated by Louise Taylor when she was at Craftspace Touring (before becoming Director of the Crafts Council), the Recycling Show opened at the Crafts Council gallery in 1996 before touring the UK. At the time it was the most visited exhibition that the Crafts Council had held, securing media coverage that included a half page in the FT, and reviews and features in much of the popular and specialist media. In many respects it was a significant show, demonstrating how makers can engage with the issue of recycling in different ways, and engaging the public in a highly imaginative way. An extended version of my essay for the exhibition catalogue is the only on-line record of the show.
Recycled glass research
The research project conducted at Sheffield Hallam University under the direction of Jim Roddis, is an exemplary project on how craft research can define a research agenda and develop new insights and applications that have more widespread environmental and commercial value. It has resulted in a material – Ttura – and there have been a number of papers published that describe the research process, including this one.
Craft-based research degrees
My paper – It’s Research, Jim… – drew heavily on the work of Carole Gray and Julian Malins, in particular this: Gray, C., & Malins, J. (1993). Research Procedures / Methodology for Artists and Designers. In Principles and Definitions, Winchester College of Art, on behalf of the European Postgraduate Art and Design Group (ISSN/ISBN: 095-159-043X).
Below I have grouped some links to work and publications by current and former research students whose approach could be classified as “craft-based”, although the extent to which they would agree on such a definition is another issue. This is clearly far from exhaustive and focusses on those who I have either supervised or examined. However, they are all outstanding researchers who have in different ways brought considerable innovation and insights to craft research.
Katie Bunnell, a research student at Gray’s supervised by Julian Malins, and currently based at Falmouth College of Art. Her research explored the integration of digital process within studio ceramics. Links include: summary overview of her PhD research, a further summary that has more detail on the visual nature of her electronic thesis, the transcript of an interview with her, and her current research project.
Graham Whiteley‘s PhD was entitled “An Articulated Skeletal Analogy of the Human Upper-Limb” – essentially he was tackling prosthetic design research through a methodology that made considerable use of craft techniques such as physical prototyping and drawing. The research output comprises a thesis which was structured as an annotated sketchbook and a series of models and components. On-line are photographs of his work, a Yorkshire Post article that explains how his research contributed to a 2005 Space Shuttle mission, and his current project. Chris Rust, his supervisor at Sheffield Hallam, is a highly significant researcher and writer in the field of pratice-centred research. Two papers that the two of them co-authored are available on-line: knowledge and the artefact, and experimental making in multi-disciplinary research.
Jayne Wallace‘s continuing research is in the field of digital jewellery. With a background as a jeweller, craft making has been an integral element of the methodology, which has also incorporated cultural probes research. Her research homepage provides a summary of the project, together with links to a number of publications. Like Graham, her research has demonstrated the value of craft research far outside the traditional domain of craft, in her case arising in publications in the field of HCI. Significant publications include the experience of enchantment in hci, co-authored with specialists from that field, craft knowledge for the digital age, and her keynote address to the 2004 Challenging Craft conference – sometimes I forget to remember.
Peter Walters has recently completed his PhD in human-centred design, that explores and demonstrates the value of physical prototyping to contemporary design practices. Weaving together theoretical and practical research, the thesis represents an epistomology of making. Again, as in the case of the two researchers above, Peter’s craft-based research has application outside the field of craft, having application to the problem of medical misconnection errors in healthcare. Peter’s research home page includes links to several publications and a summary of the research. There is also a link to the paper he presented to the EAD conference in Barcelona.
Other research students include Sarah Kettley, Jenny Downs and Katherine Townsend, and of course Jane Harris. It is only lack of time currently that precludes elaboration on the work of these (and other) excellent researchers.
Craft and digital process
This will also be expanded when there is more time. The essential links (referred to in the seminar) are: