Does design or design thinking change the world?


I completed my Ph.D. in 2015. In my Ph.D., I applied design thinking as a research process, with the aim to understand humanitarian action. The main message became, during my research, that the humanitarian system is a wicked problem. It is currently a barrier in itself, because it currently is made up by donor countries’, humanitarian organizations, companies’ interests;  and not the disaster victims’ needs. Design thinking helped me refine how we could understand it better; in order to do something about it and to make a system where it might be possible to have impact on ‘the real needs’.

Now, I am applying design thinking as a transformative research methodology, on smart cities. On one side, I apply design thining as an approach to retrieve insights into the challenge of designing more integrated and smart energy communities. On the other hand, I try to design new tools and approaches, based on excisting practices, to help city planners achive their goals of bridging social needs with environmental objectives. Currently, city planners find it hard to both meet the high technological standards of zero emission neigbourhoods and keep a socially sustainable neigbourhood, while avoiding urban sprawl. Through a series of design thinking workshop, we design a new planning approach for multiple stakeholders and a broader objective.

If we succeed, was it design (thinking) that makes this change happen?

After studying and applying design thinking for a while now, and observing who and what makes change happen, I must admit that at the current moment I am not so convinced. I mean, I am not so convinced that it is our methods or approches that make things more likely to change.

Let me take an example from smart cities. In the studies of strategic measures for smart city planning, the discussions in the network Annex 63 Implementation of Energy Strategies in Communitieshave centered around this core issue; that we currently cannot find a set order of implementing measures that will ensure the success over one project rather than the other. Instead, success seems to come down to a person, a coordinating office, or a composition of people who are commited, have a shared vision, and a passion. This or these people are very active, look for lessons in other municipalities and connect people who need to talk to each other across cities and nations.  This relationshop and the ability to find them makes the big difference for a city or a district, and its development. These passionate and ambitious people (with a feeling of ownership), do apply strategic measures, of course. But they do not necessarily do it in a ‘right’ order or apply specific decision support tools that make them better.  It is what I some years back decided to call ‘Relational design’ – being close to understanding how people’s relationships shape a phenomenon or how people together solve problems. I later found the term applied by an architect firm in Stavanger, Norway, and they describe it pretty much the same way that I do:

“relational-designs and design capacities”– meaning conceptual, organizational, structural and material propositions that are allowing feedback loops to influence while at the same time guiding us through a process towards a more sustainable project. Design is then not merely a solution but a vehicle for an interdisciplinary process that could lead to a more sustainable development, and which necessarily includes a learning process for the parties involved” (Helen & Hard)

I am convinced that the same may be true in design and design thinking. A passionate and ‘driving champion’ or a ‘driving champion’ group of people that come togheter to solve something with a true drive, will make stuff happen.  It doesn’t really matter which tools they have in their pockets; but that they apply them with confidence.  We can see the same approaches as in design, in many research and professional practice fields, it is just not coined as ‘design’ or ‘design thinking’.

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We who have a design background with design (thinking) tools in our pockets, however, are a group of people who together have this ‘design mindset’ in common that makes us feel a bit like Harry Potter wizards. The wish to change and shape, at the same time as understanding, is a common denominator for design thinking methods.  And it’s important that we have confidence in our approaches; they are after all, our magic wands. Perhaps it is this inner drive in designers or design thinking that make them think that it is design itself that makes the difference. It’s just so very difficult to pin down and put in a box. But if we do, we’ve failed.

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Green walls and economic opportunities to migrate


During my work for UNIDO, I used to have a pretty good overview of Latin American projects in the GEF, the global environmental facility. Today, I read an editorial piece about the unintended impacts of ‘green walls’ made to stop desertification, financed through GEF.

This piece is impressively reflected and balanced, and reminded me very much about the insights and many questions that I arrived at during my Ph.D. research.

asks the question, if the added income opportunities provided to people through international projects such as the building of a green wall, will actually motivate people to stay, of if it will actually facilitate their move to Europe?

It adds the discussion that right wing conservatives seem to hate. Can we actually stop people from moving where they want to? And is this really something we should aim at? What does even having this aim, lead to? Are all our short-sighted efforts simply adding to the ever increasing global socio-economic divide which makes it stupid to even ask why people will come to look for better oportunities?

Filipovic’s writing is a deepening of the discourse led by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier also in the Guardian, highlighting the need to work on local industrialisation and work opportunities for refugees in the neigbouring countries of countries at war. Her trying to identify a more nuanced view of what makes people migrate and what income does, illustrates a need to work even harder to develop global solutions. Most refugees I interviewed during my research, simply wanted to live in modern cities, for example. While increasing amounts of research funding is focusing on urban areas, the call to ‘leave no one behind’ highlights that the poorest and most vulnerable people are left in agricultural border areas, while these want to migrate to western cities due to family ties and increased standards of living. Dealing with the enormous differences in standards of living for people in urban and in agricultural and pastoral areas, is a major issue to deal with development potential for countries such as Ethiopia, for example. In order to deal with deforestation, lack of water and to make these areas prospereus, we need to focus more on country level strategies as a humanitarian community. Our research efforts need to take this into account also as measures to end chronic emergencies in certain areas.

It is facinating, how humans build large systems such as the humanitarian system and global environment alliances, thinking that we can impact something very presicely. And it is even more facinating, the unintended effects these short-sighted actions have. But as this piece very well illustrates, we can often find the most fundamental insights about human behaviour and abilities if we study these unintended effects. For example, that people will always look for opportunities to live in safety. Understanding that economic stability and equal distribution of wealth is one of the core aspects of safety for individuals, families and communities, is one of those.

 

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Lecture on Design without Borders Uganda by Kathinka Hasselknippe


Dear all designers and non-designers interested in the power of design in all contexts; and particularly in design for development and humanitarian design,

Industrial designer Kathinka Hasselknippe

will hold a lecture on

Design without Borders Uganda

At 12:30 on Tuesday the 16th of May in room 137, first floor of the Department of Design, NTNU

Kathinka has recently returned from a one year design experience working for Design without Borders in Uganda.kathinka

She will give a lecture about

  • her own work in Uganda,
  • work opportunities for designers in the new DwB
  • the transformation process that DwB has gone through, by moving from being a Norad funded project onto being a separate foundation with an independent business model.

 

More information about DwB can be found at http://www.designwithoutborders.com/

Or contact kathinka.hasselknippe@gmail.com

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Design without Borders designs a low-cost medical device for administering safe IV-tranfusions


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Congratulations on the great example of rapid prototyping for human centred design for development contexts!

 

From their FB page:

Exciting times; the first prototype of the ECGF infusion set, a low-cost medical device for administering safe IV-tranfusions, is ready for clinical piloting! DwB has collaborated with the Instrumentation Division at Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) since February, and the prototype was officially commissioned at UIRIs 10 year anniversary the 24th of October. @pippamak #uiri #designwithoutborders #uganda #design #medicaldevice Paul Büttner Philippa Ngaju Makobore

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Reflections from human-centered design research in Uganda; by Lina Aspen


I asked Lina Aspen, industrial designer, to write some reflections following her trip to Uganda where she mapped end-user needs for Picterus. Here is what she wrote:

  1. Empathy for the end user and who is really the end user?

To make a successful solution for health workers in low resource settings, I needed to truly understand and empathize with the problem at hand and the people experiencing it every day. Designing for a context and users located 4.5 thousand miles away is both risky and difficult. One thing is to obtain a more correct understanding of the context and its limitations, and the end users and their needs and motivations. In addition it evolves around empathy for the user through personal interaction with the end user and acquiring firsthand experiences of the user context, which all add up to a better foundation to base design decisions on.

After my first visit to the national hospital in Uganda, I learned so much about the challenges and daily life at the maternity ward that my perspective of the whole project itself shifted. The national hospital had the equipment for diagnosing jaundice, but not the time to complete the procedure due to staff shortage and crowded wards. Instead they resorted to clinical methods causing uncertainty and discussions. I concluded our solution should present a streamlined process providing quick and accurate results. My next visit to a regional hospital on the countryside challenged this perception though. Getting to know the health workers and the shortcomings of rural health services, called for a solution focusing on educating and guiding the entire process of diagnosing and treating jaundice. A lower standard of medical training amongst the health workers, in addition to little experience with smartphones, required a tool providing assistance rather than one that saves time.

Engaging with the health workers through interviews and observation, allowed for a deeper understanding of the problem and richer insights of user needs. On another level, user engagements presented me with personal relations and experiences to relate to when facing design decisions, as well as an increased personal motivation to succeed.

  1. Get physical – bring a prototype

When addressing a problem in a foreign culture, obtaining user empathy can be a challenge in itself. Language barriers can complicate and mislead when interacting with end users. A tool to better initiate and steer a conversation is to bring a physical representation of the concept at hand. A prototype is not only valuable in terms of usability investigations, but also as a means to carry out an explorative conversation. Whether you bring a prototype of a new concept or a product of an existing solution – a physical item to revolve the conversation around will help the interview objects in remembering and relating your questions to relevant experiences. In addition, it enables for interaction with the product which can substitute insufficient oral communication. It is easier to discuss something that is tangible, than a situation or concept that is not present. In Uganda this proved to be valuable when health workers had trouble understanding the concept I was developing, until they could experience a prototype of it themselves. Then they quickly got more talkative and started comparing my prototype to existing solutions and practices at their workplace, sharing interesting stories and opinions I wouldn’t have gotten from a prepared question set.

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  1. Being a white researcher

 

Together with language, cultural differences and practices can also complicate user engagement. Preparation and research can get you a long way, but being a foreigner can in itself be a challenging role to inhabit and can affect the research. The Hawthorne effect, when research participants or interview objects modify their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed, is a common challenge in design research. When striving for genuine insights, it is key to establish a trusting relationship where the participant feel safe and reassured so that they want to share their thoughts and experiences with you. Entering a foreign culture adds complexity to the researcher or designer role, and in my experience it was unavoidable to reflect on my identity as a young white female from a rich country. Mostly I experienced a curiosity which lead to people being helpful and interested in me and my project. In those cases the Hawthorne effect would be reinforced due to people having a lot of respect for foreigners and wanted to please me with nice answers, or they believed they could get something in return if I was happy with their responses. Such instances called for increased observation rather than conversation, and follow-up questions on how they for example interacted with a tool or the prototype, to ensure a certain rootedness in authenticity. On the other hand, I also experienced difficulties in gaining trust either due to my young age and sex, or related to their mistrust to foreigners in general. Being white reinforced the fact that you are a stranger – many have never personally engaged with white people before, and a natural reaction for many is to feel insecure and unwilling to share their thoughts with me. This was easier to handle if I brought a long my contact person of the premises I visited, who always was a respected and familiar person to the health workers I wanted to engage with. Then again, this could make it difficult to obtain genuine answers as the health workers did not want to upset their manager.

Despite the many challenges of doing field work in a foreign culture, the project I worked with gained crucial insights by making use of design thinking principles. The insights from Uganda on user needs and context constraints, are used to ensure a useful tool that creates value for its end users.

Lina Aspen

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“This will be the battle of the century” – City of Amsterdam on Smart Cities


Design Thinking

During the Annex63 meeting on energy in urban planning in Amsterdam and Leiden, the City of Amsterdam shared some of their experiences and concerns. They have recently gone through an organizational change and say that they overarching trend is that people and politicians want to see more impact and less processes. This means that, as they put it,

“The biggest challenge is ourselves. Specialists cherish their own craftmanship, but more integrated solutions will require more generalists”

This conclusion fits with the observation made by the Norwegian Art and Design Association DogA, which also explains that companies and management look to Design Thinking for ways to integrate and connect in a general and innovative way. Further, social inclusion is, according to the City of Amsterdam, the core challenge when we develop SMART Cities:

“If you are only talking about density, you are making a mistake. (…) We need to talk…

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Humanitarian design – YouTube lecture 


My lecture at Big Design 2016 symposium

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