To start the walkabout I knew I would have to explore the current context of design practices and see where I could add value. I made a trip to London where I had an inspiring conversation with a leading Director of Innovation who told me that design as we knew it had reached an end point, and was now moving towards co-creation (designing with as well as for people), merging with businesses, and developing social enterprises – where engaging people in the process is as important as the design outcome.
I did not expect that from this one conversation, everything I had been thinking about for the past few months would suddenly come into focus. During our meeting the Director pointed to an image in my portfolio. The image was from a workshop I had run with Masters students at Northumbria based on my PhD, where I asked them to draw how they felt during the design process – the drawing showed a woman trapped inside a box. The Director told me this was what I should be doing. He went on to explain that design and innovation teams often don’t have time to step back and review how they get from A to B. By getting everyone in the team to share how they feel, and using metaphors to allow people to dream about the future, everyone could be helped to reframe what they see. Too often design is seen as a process, and no one looks at the human journey of the people within that process. So, he said to me, your role could be enabling a design team to understand where and how to look, to ask the right questions about their processes. The Director felt that large design teams would find this of great value.
During this meeting, in the back of my mind I was thinking that our conversation was leading towards the idea of enabling designers to use their own tools ‘back on themselves’. This may sound quite strange! But it’s illustrated by the fact that I have always found it really hard to design for myself. It’s difficult because you are almost too close to the subject and cannot see it afresh. It takes an outsider to see things in a different way and provide you with a truly independent view. Also I found during my PhD project that the development of design practices happens in an informal and social manner. People mostly like to use their creativity to solve their own problems, but the students in my research project came together and formed a shared language (metaphor) to communicate with each other about their development – they were using their creativity collaboratively and, as a result, they progressed faster.
The Director’s last advice to me was that, if I wanted to pursue this line of work, then I would need to find a way to communicate it simply and frame it as a business proposition – what an exciting challenge!
I want to thank the design professionals in London who took time to share with me their insights into how design is changing – and I would also like to give a special thanks to the Director. I took some time to reflect on what we had discussed, and these great conversations helped me to not only understand where I could add value to the design industry, but also clearly articulate my ‘Why’ – - Helping people to come together and use their creativity to better themselves and others.
Somehow I knew there would be a lot more inspirational moments during my International Design Walkabout – but wow, what a start!