Thursday, January 14, 2010

Designing Solutions to Problems

In the past, designers focused their attention on designing objects. They came up with clever new designs for cars or furniture or handbags, but they rarely addressed every day problems and needs. The situation is changing as organizations are starting to apply design principles to business and social problems.

The Innovation Gap
One of the principle goals of design thinking is to bridge the gap between our knowledge of how to make things and our knowledge of what people want. Design thinking is people-centered as it studies how people live and use objects. OXO Good Grips spent years watching people working in the kitchen in order to design a vegetable peeler that would be easy for people with arthritis to use. They now produce a whole range of tools and utensils.

Design Like You Give a Damn
Designers are also turning their attention to social problems. Architecture for Humanity's goal is to build a more sustainable future through the power of professional design . They work with communities to design and build transitional refugee shelters, schools, and other facilities. The Aquaduct Bike is designed to transport, filter and store water to help communities in developing countries that must travel long distances to collect water, often from unsafe sources.

Embrace Constraint
According to Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer, “When things aren’t working the way they should be, you have the makings of a great design project.” By embracing ambiguity and complexity, designers are forced to come up with new solutions or new combinations.

One Laptop Per Child wants to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children. Their goal is to produce an extremely cheap, rugged, low-power, connected laptop with content and software for collaborative, self-empowered learning.

The Art of Science
Buckminster Fuller said, “If the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player; but they used the technology to design the wildly successful iPod.

I wholeheartedly agree with Bruce Mau when he says that public transit desperately needs a design-focused overhaul: “So far we have failed in designing a real alternative to the car. When you compare the bus and the car as experience, there is a clear winner and loser. Why does my minivan have seventeen cup holders – but my bus has none? Why is my bus shelter not heated, but I can start my car remotely and let it warm up? Why is my bus uncomfortable and noisy when I can listen to Beethoven in my car in relative silence? My bus is a design failure. It’s a stick painted green, and out of desperation or inspiration, I’m supposed to want the experience. In Toronto, the slogan of the transit company is ‘the better way.’ Well, actually no. It’s not the better way, and everyone knows it.”

Working Together
Complex problems don’t fit neatly into categories. Hilary Cottam works on designing solutions to social issues (redesign of the prison system, loneliness and aging). She “has argued that designers today may need to be facilitators above all else: marshalling and integrating the efforts of engineers, sociologists, politicians, social service administrators, community activists . . . And once a solution is found, collaboration becomes even more important, because a diverse skill set is usually needed to turn the idea into a reality.”

Exploring Design Thinking
Glimmer, How Design Can Transform Your Life, Your Business, and Maybe Even the World by Warren Berger is an excellent overview of design thinking. It was the source of the quotes and examples in this article.

I am also looking forward to reading Change by Design by IDEO’s Tim Brown and The Design of Business by Roger Martin. Bruce Nussbaum’s blog, Innovation and Design, is also an excellent resource.

1 comment:

Stephanie V said...

Bruce Mau is right on! Buses are horrible design failures.