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A cocktail of childish playing and academic research

Collaboration and direct engagement were the key words when two distinguished service designer specialists discussed the use of creative practices in designing sustainable futures. This inspirational talk was organized by Design Club, on 23rd September 2020.

Associate professor Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University gave an overview of an EU-supported project Creative Practices for Transformational Futures (CreaTures) that aims at bringing in creative practices in the development processes towards socio-ecological sustainability in different sectors. The project is a cross-border and cross-sectoral initiative and includes a consortium of actors such as universities, NGOs and private companies, each of which brings their specific knowhow to the project. The key assumption of the initiative is that collaboration and direct engagement of different stakeholders are key issues when working with transformational processes and planning of different futures.

The results of the pilot project confirmed the immense power of imagination and “thinking out of the box”, that can be best achieved in collaboration with others. Moreover, the process of learning together and seeing things differently has value of its own, as it teaches the participants not only new ways knowing, but also new ways of feeling.

Creative processes have indeed proven to be transformational, but in many cases the problem is that they are fragmented: there are small groups working apart, each of them doing probably the right things but not joining the forces which could give added value to the whole process of transformation. In addition, they are often poorly resourced and not always correctly understood.

CreaTures project includes the whole chain of the design, from the observatory and laboratory to the evaluation & policy recommendations, which are, according to Mattelmäki, vital parts of the process.

Are creative practices under-utilized in developing and transforming societies and businesses?

According to Design Director Zeynep Falay von Flittner from service design agency Hellon, the mission of all service design should be to bring human to the centre of the business. We need more holistic stories about the future, not only technical solutions and processes. We also need tools to help us build different future scenarios and understand the consequences of each of them. The aim of these tools is to trigger conversation and to bring holistic understanding of interdependencies and long-term consequences of the possible actions.

Play!

A tool may sound quite technical and even boring but in fact best tools can be games that are both playful and experimental. One example is the Nordic urban mobility game that Hellon has used in the transport sector development processes together with different cities and communities. The game can be downloaded and printed for free (see the link below). The practice has shown that a game can provoke more and different thinking than normal participatory methods. It being a physical game helps to overcome the time distance and difficulties in immersing oneself into the different futures. A game also triggers action and commitment, as it creates a sense of urgency for the needed change.

Playing games might not cut out all feelings of anxiety and insecurity that are blocking creativity when thinking about different futures. But it definitely gives hope and enables us to see that there really are different pathways we can choose. Hope energizes and focuses actions. Playing games can also make the uncertainty and anxiety that is related to future scenarios more bearable and more fun.

One obvious challenge to using more creative practices is that organisations are often tied to traditional research and ways of working. To overcome that, Mattelmäki suggested to do more prototyping. It brings concrete evidence to even the most skeptical thinkers that there really are different options, and that those options are possible and doable. Like she put it: “the process itself keeps winning the participants”.

Joyful and pleasurable approach is important in envisioning of desirable futures. Designers work as facilitators or midwives in these processes and have an important role in that they help participants to go beyond the “what is realistic” thinking. There is a lot we can learn from children: they are open-minded and it`s natural for them to explore new ways of thinking and doing.

Hard business needs hope

Sustainability is nowadays a hard business, but there is definitely a need to look beyond the normal business solutions and traditional answers. Designers in general have one asset that is needed in the planning of a sustainable future: optimistic and forward-looking mindset. Hope and solution-focused approach is needed, particularly in this field where pessimism tend to take over in many discussions.

One of the biggest hurdles that service designers face in bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts is that managers are afraid of something they see as expensive and unpredictable or unreliable when it comes to producing benefits and fulfilling the cost-efficiency goals. Even among the participants of the event (the majority being designers and students), 0 % chose “saving time and resources” as the main benefit of their work in the field of service design. That indicates how cumbersome and costly the process is often seen to be, and how little trust there is on its cost-efficiency.

Perhaps we need more professional studies on the impacts and tangible results of the creative practices and service design. Evaluation and impact studies have spread out to practically all fields during the past years. Everything is measured and indicator has become the word of the day. To overcome the distrust of managers and directors in investing time and resources in playing games (and developing the business through play and creativity), we need to be able to show the undeniable outputs, outcomes and impacts of that investment.

The close relationship of research and business was pointed out by Mattelmäki. According to her, development work based on scientific research gives more credibility and speeds up the implementation. One tangible result of creative innovation and game playing is that there will be a vast amount of wild ideas and enthusiasm, new innovations and innovators.

The next step will then be how the ideas are taken forward. That will be a topic for future discussions, but for sure collaboration and direct engagement will be key elements in that as well.

Laura Ekholm

More information can be found :

CreaTures. https://creatures-eu.org/

Hellon. https://www.hellon.com/

Nordic Urban Mobility 2050 Futures Game. https://www.nordicinnovation.org/tools/NUM2050

Designers as political changemakers

What are the commonly stated wicked problems and what can we do about them?

A common denominator for the so-called wicked problems is that they all have complex connections to multiple sectors of human societies and they cannot be solved easily, if at all. Wicked problem can also be a problem whose complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point at all (Tonkinwise & Cameron 2015). Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. A common feature is that there are different opinions among the stakeholders on the content of the wicked problem and how it should be addressed.

Examples of wicked problems include climate change, unemployment, healthcare, international drug trafficking, nuclear weapons, waste, social injustice, an also the most recent global threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more difficult than just complex problems and thus require different approach.

To learn more about these interesting macro-level challenges, I participated online in the public defense of Mari Suoheimo`s Ph.D. dissertation entitled ““Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”, in which she examines the challenges that wicked problems pose to service design and proposes tools to fight them. The opponent, Professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University, London, led the discussion with his insightful questions and remarks.

Sometimes you need to say the obvious aloud

We can change normal problem to be a wicked one. As a concrete example Mari Suoheimo mentioned the making of an envelope – it`s a normal problem until we decide to make an envelope without any environmental impact, then it becomes a wicked problem.

There is lots of talk of wicked problems, and also it is common to hear that at the end all problems are wicked, or that a solution exists to every wicked problem. This is not true. Instead, the tools that are used to solve normal problems, are sometimes used in trying to solve wicked problems. Obviously, this doesn`t work, and according to some contributors, too simple tools may even complicate the problem-solving processes if applied to wicked problems. If a solution is found to one part of the problem, it can have deep influence on other problems and their possible solutions. As Suoheimo stated: simple tools seek to find a solution, while complex tools seek to understand the problem.

The most essential contribution of Suoheimo`s Ph.D. research to the field of Service Design is to increase our understanding on how we should deal with macro-level problems and how service design can be used to tackle these big and complex problems. One of the most important findings is that service designers do have a role in combating wicked problems; they know how to facilitate the process, they do understand the importance of collaboration and they do have tools to tackle wicked problems. However, even though you would have appropriate tools, the process is never simple, nor easy, and it always requires the participation of several actors. As Professor Koria cited the dissertation “Addressing wicked problems can lead to painful processes”.

Suoheimo`s most important concrete contribution is the Iceberg Model of Design Problems, that Suoheimo developed together with her colleagues. The model is an excellent visualization and helps service designers to understand the different levels of complexity and to choose the right approach and appropriate tools for each level. Besides service design, this model can be utilized in change design, social design and sustainable development design.

Stop project-thinking!

According to Suoheimo, it became evident during her study that wicked problems are always political. Complex social problems are entering more and more into the field of service design and topics require interdisciplinary approach more than before. Designers are good at zooming in and out of problems. It is not a coincidence that service design and collaboration are strong in Nordic countries where also democracy is highly valued and widely applied.

When trying to solve wicked problems, the role of the designer is to facilitate the collaboration and make sure that the problems are viewed holistically. Professor Koria challenged Suoheimo and asked her what does collaboration actually mean if it is not seeking to find a solution. According to Suoheimo it means doing together, as against doing from top to down. It`s about going against power structures. Designers can indeed be political changemakers.

Due to their nature, wicked problems should not be thought of as short-time projects. Wicked problems are often macro-level challenges and are influenced by political decision-making and regulated by national and international legislation. There should be a long-term commitment to solving wicked problems, and also long-term financing. The question is, how do we guarantee sufficient political and financial support to service design in their work with wicked problems?

As Professor Koria stated at the end: this thesis raises more questions than it answers, which is a positive (but hopefully not wicked) problem. What is does is that it definitely leaves room for more research and contributions from scientists and service designers.

-Laura Ekholm

References:

Mari Suoheimo 2020: ”Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 286, ISBN 978-952-337-223-8, ISSN 1796-6310, Lapin yliopisto, Rovaniemi 2020. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-223-8

Tonkinwise, Cameron 2015: “Design for Transitions – from and to what?”. Academia.edu. Retrieved 9 November 2017.

Wicked, wicked problems

New study in the field of service design!

Mari Suoheimo’s doctoral examination was held on 18th of September in the University of Lapland. The opponent was professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University London and thesis supervisor was professor Kaarina Määttä.


First Suoheimo introduced us to complex and simple problems and made some examples of them. A simple problem is tying shoelaces and complex or even wicked problem is solving the Covid-19 situation. Suoheimo also pointed out that there is a lot of discussion of wicked problems in the field of service design. The talk in the field is that all design issues or problems are in fact wicked or that the concept of wicked problem is already solved. To Suoheimo’s point of view, that is not how ever the case. But she continued that almost any design problem can be turned in to a complex or wicked one. As an example she said that designing a envelope is simple design issue, but designing and developing an envelope that has zero impact on environment is already a complex issue.

An example of a wicked problem.
Source: Google free images.

In the thesis Suoheimo addresses how to approach these questions. And she said that her interest in the topic already raised in her studies in Brazil when her teacher introduced her to wicked problems that are intangible problems, just like all services usually are.

The thesis it self consists of introduction, three articles, discussion and conclusions. First article is a literature review on the Relation and Role of Service Design with Wicked Problems, second is called “Strategies and Visual Tools to Resolve Wicked Problems” and last focuses on how to apply the theory in to practice and is based on case study “Process of Mapping Challenges of Cross-Border Mobility in the Barents Region”, done with Toni Lusikka.

In the thesis she also introduces the new Iceberg model of design problems developed together with Rosana Vasques and Piia Rytilahti, co-authors of the first article. The model does not only help to understand the different levels of complexity of wicked problems but also helps to choose the approaches and tools to use in different levels.

An iceberg. The model can be seen in Suoheimo’s thesis.
Source of the photo: Goole free images.

In the beginning of the event there was a little bit definition of service design it self, like how it has evolved from hands on designing to much more complex service science. The aim of service design is to create better services. This can be done through designing a good service experience using tools like service journey, and mapping it. Suoheimo also talked about Stickdorns et all. five principles of service design. That I would like to stress that are actually newly developed to six principles: Human-centered, collaborative, iterative, sequental, real and holistic. (Stickdorn et all, 2018, 16). Suoheimo also says that the talk originates to Buchanan article on 1973 about wicked problems that started the whole debate and introduced one service science frame.

Suoheimo sees that there are four levels of design: 

1: Graphic design
2: Industrial design
3: Service design
4: System design

And points out that service design actually touches all the four levels. Service design is also not an island, it touches and goes limited with other fields too. And when in comes to complexity some fields actually understand it’s use more deeply, like social sciences. Also action research and design thinking are similar nowadays. The new double diamond process is closer to action research, and Suoheimo points out that all the models start to look the same.

The opponent Mikko Koria said that the theme of the thesis is interesting, topic and valuable if not even essential for the field. But the thesis actually raises more questions than answers, which is a wicked problem it self. He also conducts that there is a loose use of the term wicked problem in the field, it’s now a buzz word, which is a worry.

The problem with wicked problems is that in service design we are using tools that are not designed to solve wicked problems which makes the process even more painful, ’cause the process is anyway painful, not ever easy. And wicked problems can have many sides too (political, social, and so on). You first have to understand the problem to know how to solve it.

An example of wicked problem solution. Source: Google free images.

So what we need is new courses! And programs! Especially interdiciplinary courses with organizational studies and management …and more resources in the service design field.

The good news: Service designer’s role is to be an agent of change because we are able to make the change.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Väitös: Palvelumutoilun ikeät ongelmat

Suoheimo’s thesis

Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess, M. E. & Schneider, J. 2018. This is service design doing: Applying service design thinking in the real world : a practitioner’s handbook. First Edition. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Buchanan (1990) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2, (Spring, 1992), pp. 5-21. The MIT Press.

Playfulness creates savings

I participated on the 23th of September in Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Design club online talk “Creative practices for transformational futures” with Tuuli Mattelmäki, associate Professor and Head of department of Design in Aalto and Zaynep Falay a Partner in Hellon design agency, that does collaboration with Aalto University.  They were talking about their new co-project Creatures.

Picture 1. Logo of Creatures.
Photo by author from the slideshow.

This talk was very popular and international. It was said in the beginning that there were around 70 people from 17 countries around the world, all the way to New Zeeland.  And according to the poll that was held first there were people from different sectors from design to business world.

First Mattelmäki talked about the project from Aalto’s perspective. Aalto is the coordinator of the whole project. The consortium is large and international and includes practitioners and institutes from North to South Europe. There was also a pilot of the project done in the University of Sussex.

The point of this EU funded project is to bring creative practices in to design and development in different sectors. Mattelmäki showed us some examples of the meta-projects done with for example soil and environment, see picture.

Picture 2. Department of Design. Photo by author from the slideshow.

Mattelmäki also introduced us to the keys of change when it comes to managing with the problems and issues that we need to change and solve in the modern world. The keys are collaboration and direct engagement. We need to bring people together, one way or another, as the Covid-19 situation has showed us. She also pointed out that the problems and also future scenarios are scary, which can block our imagination and thinking, so that is why we need playfulness and creativity that can help us overcome it. Other keys are experimental qualities and learning together as well as intervention and processes themselves, that can lead to new ways of feeling and being, and also create innovations and knowledge. In addition Mattelmäki shared some research data about the creativity that is linked below.

Falay continued about the subject matter and introduced us to Hellon, an award winning design agency. She said that opposite to many other service design offices that are digital, Hellon focus is not in digital development but human centeredness and they really bring the person in the center. In Hellon they like to do things differently and push the boundaries, see picture.

Picture 3. About Hellon. Photo by author from the slideshow.

They have a history of designing future scenario design game, that is also linked below. In this project they are developing a new game and firmly believe that playing and playfulness is the key to solve problems and develop future design, solutions and sustainability. Falay says that playing makes uncertainty more bearable and more fun. It gives much more than traditional work methods.

The upcoming sustainability futures game creates new ways of thinking and is based on experimental practice. In the game there is no need to win, it’s more about the atmosphere and playfulness itself that pushes our thinking and makes us creative. But developing the game is serious business, you have to have relevant content and the back work that needs to be based on research is essential.

They are already testing the game with different audiences and have had a positive feedback. But sometimes it’s also a challenge to get people to take the playing as a method and the game seriously. The route to get it work is through mature design process and especially prototyping! You also need to have some more enthusiastic and open-minded people in a test environment first on board and rest will follow.

The conclusion is that for the future world, we need hope, co-creation, cross board collaboration to get things move forward and developed. We need to have science and research, designers and people in the business world to work together to create the change.

In the session there was a final poll and the results were clear.  0% answered “saving time and resources” for what is important in their work in design. Which is indicative of one of the biggest hinder we face when bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts and that should be tackled with managers and leaders as well. Mattelmäki stressed that academia is in fact connected to the society. There has to be research behind the work. And one of her favorite things is collaboration, how research can actually help businesses and enterprises. Research brings credibility to development. It helps also to get implementations done faster. Which saves money in the end. Or as Hellon puts it, customer experience design is today’s number 1 driver of profitable growth.

Pic 4. Collaboration. Photo: authors detail of the slideshow.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala

References and to look for more info:

Creatures
Creatures laboratory
Hellon
Hellon’s future game
Survey about creativity

Light et al. 2018. Creative practice and transformations to Sustainability making and managing cultural change.

Light A., Wolstenholme R., Twist, B. 2019. Creative practice and sustainability – insights from research.

A complex conversation over the (business) world

A Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Designs for a Cooler Planet’s program Design Club talk on 10th of September about the topic “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and how does the talk transfer into today’s global business environment with academic researcher Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy and business Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President, Biobased Solutions at Fortum was highly interesting and complex. 

First İdil Gaziulusoy challenged us with her ideas of System Innovations for Business Sustainability. She shared us that the system innovation works in three levels aka Three Spheres of Transformations that are:  

Practical – > product, services, innovations, technology (technological responses) 

Organizational -> New business models (systems and structures) 

Socio-cultural ->  Zone of difficult questions, the role of businesses (beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms) 

What is wrong in the current business world 

Normal businesses function in basic level and need to change to be able to keep in the run but to have the changes done in 5 years is too slow. Innovations are also done separately and system innovation for business sustainability is really hard to accomplish. Innovations happen in boarders, that might be only partly linked to companies strategies. Regulations work differently in different sections. Other problem is those multiple sectors and that sectors themselves are in silos .

A big problem is that we have imagination crises. We are in lack of time and lack of imagination. Innovation policy is made in short time frames in mind as well are political circles and decisions. One thing that’s holding us back is that there is only narrow idea of innovation, that is usually technological, when innovation itself is much more broader concept. We have the old models in our heads that also narrow the visioning. 

Transition to renewable energy resources could have been done earlier, but we have been keeping up funding the past world and old energy sources even though we have known for a long time that it’s not sustainable. Mainstream businesses work different because they have to undo their mistakes in the past.

We should not save the day, but save the future far away! 

We need to think not only if this is good for us but also for environment and society over all since no system innovation can be done alone. To built an ecosystem you actually need a huge network. Like university, regulation, non-governmental organizations, the state, government and so on. 

There is also need for innovations in innovation policy! And that is why we need strategic and creative foresight. That can be accomplished in cross-disciplinary vision workshops. We should get beyond the expert lines and to think over the boundaries. We need to have a real creative foresight! And have responsibility, take the initiative how can we make this happen. 

In circular economy for example new kind of business models are needed. From a company perspective it takes time, more than few years. You need to see what you can achieve from different perspectives and operators. In operational level we need new funding mechanisms, for example for research. University has an important role and should do also it’s basic research. 

Companies need be urged to think about business in a de-growth context. It’s companies who need to push for the regulations! We have to imagine how will our cities look like and have bold policy making since the businesses are ready for this. What companies should do then? Engage with researcher, connect with each other, push the policies, signal the market (like already done in mode) and have futures thinking.  

Some good examples 

To mention some examples of how different disciplines and sectors have successfully been brought together to jointly address global complex systemic challenges are already done in transition context and with collaboration, like urban and energy transition. One good example in Finland is also recycling plastic waste that has accomplished only in few years.

There are systematic changes in Fortum like in excess heat usage. Fortum also started to work for CO2 free products a long before it was regulated since it seemed “a good time to move to that direction”, already in year 2000. Even when the market didn’t support it. Fortum’s vision for the energy crises now is that in the future we will have a lot of solar and wind power and it will be cheap. But then we have lack of material that is hard even to imagine now.   

The micro enterprises are pushing the boundaries first. Nolla (a zerowaste restaurant) is a good example of that and we should not overlook micro enterprises and their power to make the change and create innovations that can be used in many sectors. 

We need innovations! 

Good news for service designers! The traditional role of designers isn’t diminishing. There are opportunities for designers, like role in transition concepts and other collaboration. We always need new innovators and innovations! 

Pic: How to participate in Design club talks during Covid-19. Photo by author.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

To look for more info: 

Info of the talk
Information about Fortum
Nolla restaurant
Certified B Corporation

Two hours in pouring rain in the footsteps of Jane

On a Tuesday afternoon on the 8th of September a little group of people gathered together in front of a Aalto University building to walk two hours in a pouring rain among the Infrastructure of Otaniemi.

Picture 1: Walking in the rain. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The walk was arranged as a part of Helsinkin Design Weeks Aalto University’s program Designs for a cooler planet – Race for the future and hosted by Eeva Berglund and Idil Gaziulusoy, of NODUS, the sustainable design research group in the Department of Design, Aalto University. The philosophy of the walk comes from Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), who was a writer, urbanist and activist who championed the voices of everyday people in neighborhood planning and city-building. The idea is to walk in cities to honor and activate the ideas of Jane Jacobs. Jane’s Walk is a community-based approach to city building that uses volunteer-led walking tours to make space for people to observe, reflect, share, question and re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.

Stupitidy as a designer 

One of the points was to observe what works and doesn’t in Otaniemi, which originates in 16th century but is rapidly built in the last 10 years. Focus was also to discuss about sustainability and what choices to use when building new. The environment it self had a lot examples what not to do. Since it was raining it showed us clearly that water it self is an infrastructure and if the surfaces are not designed with thought, future and climate in mind the water does not go anywhere but creates floods, slippery roads and possible accidents, like seen in picture 2.

Picture 2: Water as an infrastructure. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

It came to me as a surprise that Finland which is often considered a pioneer in technical development is actually not only delayed in infrastructure and environmental design but also traffic and water engineering. Even though the half a year of November weather would definitely need the special environmental solutions. Often pointed out in service design one of the problems is people working separably in groups of experts. And that is also the case in landscape and infrastructure planning where there is a huge challenge of silos.

What to do then

There is a need for long vision workshops and people working together to solve the wicked problems like climate change and sustainability. Also Jouko Lampinen says in the Aalto magazine that radical creativity means getting out of the silos.

The good thing is that many the solutions already exist. There are plenty of Nature-based solution (NBS) for urban stormwater management with Low Impact Development (LID) Methods like Bio Retention, Vegetated Swale, Green Roof and Permeable Pavement (see picture 3).  So it´s only about the politics, city patterns and old restrictions that need to be changed. And not forgetting the hardest part, people, that need to change for example from car-users to bicyclist. There is movement of change and future seems possible for the young students but 30 years that it usually takes to make an over all change is too much time, the development needs to happen sooner. The point is not blame anyone but to find solutions together. The nature it self also has the solutions. Just by mimicking the nature we can built a sustainable infrastructure. It was also said that having just a little spots there and there are not enough but if there is 10% of sustainable building in an area it is enough to make a change. The key is to over all design. And to make effort, keep up the maintenance and care.

Picture 3: Example of a NBS. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The other good news is that also the knowledge and skills already exist in Otaniemi, in the Aalto University and work in deed is in progress. There are development departments and open innovation house for example (see picture 4). The new designs and innovations of Aalto are done first in small scale and then moved to to bigger development and infrastructure. Just like in prototyping in SD is usually done!

Picture 4: Aalto Open Innovation House. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Designs for a cooler planet
Jane’s walks
Department of Built Environment
NODUS – Sustainable design research group
Aalto University magazine Unfolded #4, Radical creativity

Pushing the boundaries of innovation

I participated on 10.9.2020 in an online event hosted by Design Club, a business community within Design Museum Helsinki, and Aalto University. The topic of the event was “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and featured a presentation by Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy, an Assistant Professor in Aalto University and a panel discussion with Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President of Biobased solutions in Fortum.

The event tackled interesting, necessary topics regarding sustainability challenges and the need for large transformations in the field of innovation and business. The urgency of the changes cannot be overstated as we are already very late in the game. Businesses need to be on the forefront of the change and be able to radically adapt their views and ways.

Transformation zones

Gaziulusoy discussed the three transformation zones that we need to understand and explore in order to fully embrace sustainability innovation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Three Spheres of Transformations”

The inner circle is the practical zone that consists of mostly technical solutions and the usual product innovation. Gaziulusoy stated that in this area most focus is put today but the innovation process needs to be extended further.

The second layer shows organisational aspects such as systems and structures and while it gives more depth than the practical sphere, it is not enough for an overall, radical change.

The last layer is the socio-cultural level which includes beliefs, values and existing worldview of all societal factors. According to Gaziulusoy, this level has the least attention from businesses and policy makers. She called this area the “zone of difficult questions” due to the importance of challenging existing, deep-seated views and beliefs.

From operational to visionary

As the old saying goes: “easier said than done”, so how do we actually start the change? How can companies realistically transform their “business as usual” without compromising their position? The question is not simple nor is there an easy answer, but there are methods available.

Gaziulusoy suggested that companies implement a shadow-track strategy, a transition strategy where they simultaneously operate in their usual area of business but also invest time and money for new innovation areas. Gaziulusoy urged companies to boldly step away from their reactive role and reach for a more profound transformation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Strategic and Creative Foresight”

Panelists were asked for examples of companies that were engaging in truly sustainable innovation. In general, micro-enterprises were mentioned to be the leaders in the field as they have the ability to find their niche and ask the question: “How can we do business differently“. A local Helsinki zero-waste-restaurant Nolla, was mentioned as an example of this.

Needless to say, more established companies have a different strategy than micro-enterprises. Antila mentioned that the burden of old traditions might be a reason for older, more established companies to be held back. Change is happening, but still slowly.

Collaboration is key

Gaziulusoy encouraged companies to push the boundaries of doing business by engaging policy makers and collaborating with researchers, stakeholders and even competitors.

Antila emphasized the role of universities in making change happen as they commonly have the resources for basic research in different topics and by working together with companies, they could reach even more concrete ideas.

The key is the change in mindset and values, and the overall signal to the public should be “We don’t cater to mindless consumption”. Showing that more determined businesses are ready for the challenge, is both a competitive advantage but also the only way forward.

For more inspiration:

  • Story of Nolla, a Helsinki-based zero waste restaurant
  • Design Club’s next event on 23.9.2020: Creative practices for transformational Futures
  • B-corps, list of businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance
  • Designs for a Cooler Planet Exhibition by Aalto University video:

From ego to eco

I participated on 27.8.2020 in an online event hosted by Reach Network. The online webinar focused on the importance of life centered design, sustainability and ecosystem. The panel discussion consisted of Reach Network’s four design research experts: Bas Raijmakers from STBY in UK, José de la O from delaO Design Studio in Mexico, Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne in Denmark and Babitha George from Quicksand in India.

Photo from Unsplash

The resources of the planet aren’t endless and crises like climate change have changed design thinking from individual to ecosystem. It’s a shift in thinking: from not only focusing on how people can benefit to how the entire ecosystem can.

The event focused on the importance of looking beyond having the human in the middle of design and focusing more on the ecosystems that we largely depend on.

Shifting between the levels

The panelists discussed the complexity of the issue and the multiple levels that must be taken into consideration with life centered design. Rikke Ulk talked about shifting through individual levels, social levels and organizational levels, and understanding everything in between.

“The way we have been thinking about sustainability has been rather limited by not acknowledging all these levels. Especially in industrial design it’s been really focused on optimizing things and making everything more efficient but what we have forgotten is to look at how it all adds up.” – Bas Raijmakers from STBY

The designer mindset should be switched from “we have a problem that needs solving” to “how can we make better decisions for a sustainable future”.

Photo from Unsplash

The challenges

With the added dimensions, the challenges involved are also more complex. José De la O talked about the core challenges of life centered design and the expectations that people have from design researchers in general.

“Sometimes when people ask your help as a design researcher, they always want to have tangible solutions that has to work on the get-go. You have to be aware of the consequences of the solutions that you propose.” – José de la O from delaO Design Studio

The work may seem endless, but in order to be successful you need embrace the complexities, and to be always learning, observing and sharing knowledge. De la O emphasized that it’s not so much as theory learning but interactive learning.

The panelists discussed a lot about finding an overall balance, that sweet spot of all involved levels. You need to be more humble but also embrace much more complex thinking, for example in terms of biodiversity.

Community support

Photo from VisitSamsoe

Rikke Ulk talked about a life-centered project she has been a part of in a Samsø, Denmark. Samsø is an island that is completely self-sufficient in green energy after the building of 21 wind turbines that were mostly funded by the island’s inhabitants. Now all of the island’s electricity comes from the wind turbines and any excess is exported to mainland Denmark.

Samsø has become a pioneer community, being part of green energy counseling in a global scale. Ulk talked about a new project she’s involved in which is another community based project in Samsø, where they want to move one of their two schools into a forest area where the school would have more ability to experiment. The idea of being in the woods and having new kinds of teaching facilities is not just about teaching the children about sustainability but more so installing them the ideology of it and offering them better learning opportunities.

“We think children have the ability of being sustainable. It’s natural to children to be curious and know that they are a part of everything.” – Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne

Ulk emphasized the importance of community support and how Samsø residents have embraced all the new changes. The citizens had the option to buy a part of a windmill which is how the island was able to become energy-positive in the first place. Additionally Samsø is striving to be fossil fuel-free by 2030.

For more inspiration:

The art of design research

Photo by Unsplash

I participated on 20.8.2020 in an online event focusing on design research. The event was hosted by Reach Network‘s Bas Raijmakers and featured a panel discussion with two experienced service design professionals Geke van Dijk from STBY and Babitha George from Quicksand, both part of the Reach Network organization.

Both Van Dijk and George discussed their projects, the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field, with an active participation from other participants.

Iterative process instead linear

The design research process of Reach Network is described as more iterative than linear. New ideas often come up during fieldwork, so quick adaptation is key. The process starts with immersion phase where they usually study people in their own environments. Afterwards in insight creation the design researchers identify problem spots and opportunity areas. Last phase of idea generation includes workshops, brainstorming and modeling of strongest ideas.

Photo by Unsplash

George started the discussion by explaining a project she had been working with which dealt with public healthcare in India. She discussed the difficulties of when dealing with an intimate, hard topic and how to overcome these obstacles. She mentioned that the ability to adapt your methods and getting people comfortable were vital, for instance using hypothetical scenarios instead of asking direct, intimate questions for a softer approach. She listed building trust and offering a judgement-free-zone as key to the success in her project.

Both George and van Dijk discussed the importance of design research. They were asked during the panel discussion on how to get clients to understand the importance of design research and pay for design research. They emphasized that when design research is done right, it is very informative and helps with implementation longevity. Engaging with stakeholders and having a thorough, mutual understanding and clear communication is vital.

Qualitative research vs. design research

The panelists briefly talked about differences of qualitative research and design research. With design research, you have creativity included and you’re always looking for opportunities. It’s rich in storytelling and bringing a design aspect via persona posters and images from field, for example.

A participant in the event asked for tips on how to transfer complex data to a more understandable, audience friendly format. George and van Dijk mentioned that having key insights, summaries and lots of illustrations is a good starting point. They emphasized finding a balance with complexity and clear storytelling because you also don’t want to lose the richness of your findings.

Photo by Unsplash

The art of the craft

The panelists discussed the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field. Design research is about constantly reiterating and customizing your methods. It requires a lot of experience and openness to learn new. It’s about learning of complexities but also keeping things simple. “It’s about constantly zooming in and out”, one panelist explained.

The needed skills include observation, conversation, creative listening, ability to adapt, motivation to always learn new things, but also being reflective and self critical of own biases. It’s not just about learning tricks of different tools but learning the craft and adapting those tools to own projects.

During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that design research is much like the Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, which featured Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo and his relentless pursuit of perfection, who even after three Michelin stars was always striving to be better.

In a way, a design researcher is never finished with learning their craft but instead always reiterating and customizing their approach.

For more inspiration:

Trailer for Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

Innovation and human centered design in the fight against HIV and AIDS

The International AIDS conferece, AIDS2020Virtual was organized 6-10 July 2020. Thousands of scientists, activists, policy makers, people living with HIV and others came together to share the newest information on HIV and AIDS. I attended the virtual conference and in this post I will discuss one of the sessions on human centered design.

Innovation has fueled medical advancements

Innovation has shaped the course of the whole HIV epidemic. In the 1980s getting an HIV diagnosis meant a certain death. Since then we’ve come a long way through several crucial innovations in HIV treatment and prevention, one of the most crucial ones being antiretroviral medication. Today thanks to effective treatment, a person living with HIV can live a long and healthy life.

Through further innovation, we can reach the end of this epidemic. There is much research in the pipeline around an HIV vaccine, a possible cure and preventive treatment, such as different options for PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a medicine that people who are at a high risk of HIV can use to prevent infection. Read more about PrEP here

Reaching the most vulnerable through human centered design

Although medical advances have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, the development has been unequal and many people have been left behind. Therefore, HIV service provision is now gaining more attention, so that the ones that have been left behind during the past 40 years of HIV work, can be better included in the response in the future. This is where I believe that human centered design can play an important role.

During the #AIDS2020Virtual conference I attended a discussion on human centered design and how it can be utilized in HIV prevention and testing. Throughout the conference, the importance of empathy came up in discussions with people living with HIV, key populations in terms of HIV, activists and specialists. As human centered design is grounded in empathy and since it puts the person at the center of the service that is designed for their benefit, it brings a lot of value for designing HIV services and programs. Human centered design does not only take into consideration what people say, but beneficiaries of services can actually impact the final service through their actions, based on their needs, motivations and desires. The session included speakers from USAID, JSI, Matchboxology and Ideo.org. They all introduced case studies in advancing HIV treatment or prevention through human centered design.

Designing an HIV prevention program with and for young women

I will share with you the case study introduced by Matchboxology. The case study focused on young girls in South Africa, as women and especially young girls have a higher risk of HIV infection than men in the country. (Avert 2020)

A multidisciplinary team came together to develop the methodology, conduct user research and in the end develop a concept and brand to increase PrEP use among young girls in South Africa. One of the main successes in the human centered design project was that they flipped the script and redefined the patient as the consumer. Through the user research they found that the young women did not see themselves as patients and they did not feel like they needed medical interventions. Taking a strictly medical approach to preventing HIV would therefore be challenging.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Redefining the patient as the consumer in an HIV prevention campaign.

The team redefined the paradigm of HIV prevention as something that focuses on self-empowerment rather than on the message of not getting HIV. They collaborated with young people across South Africa and the private sector to create a brand that presents PrEP as something equally as fun and desirable as makeup and fashion. The successful project developed the brand V, which included visuals, messaging, packaging and brand ambassadors to help young women protect themselves from HIV by using PrEP.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Branded materials used in the South African HIV prevention campaign “V”.

When you understand consumers better, you can disrupt, innovate and generate behavior change!

When asking one of the participants in the design process what she thought the best part of the human centered design process was, she fittingly described the process as follows: “It’s about what I like, how I define myself, not about how others define me.” 

Additional resources and references

Resources:

The AIDS2020Virtual materials, presentations and cultural exhibitions are now available for free at: https://cattendee.abstractsonline.com/meeting/9289/meeting-info

Read more information about the “V”- campaign and the design process here: https://www.prepwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Research_and_background.pdf

References:

Avert. 2020. HIV and AIDS in South Africa. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa#:~:text=South%20Africa%20has%20the%20biggest,and%20people%20who%20inject%20drugs.

Hivpoint. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV. https://hivpoint.fi/en/hiv-and-aids-information/pre-exposure-prophylaxis-hiv-prep/

Written by: Michelle Sahal Estimé