21st Century Design

Welcome to 21st Century Design, a project by Engage by Design & Regenerative Design.

Its’ purpose is to collect and distil the knowledge of designers, tech-experts, writers, theorists, academics, activists and campaigners from across the globe into a unified yet contrasting definition of design in the 21st Century. It hopes to engage and support people in conversations on practicing design for positive impact, as such it is a loose map plotting perspectives on design.

The project started life as a podcast in which we asked 5 questions on design to each of our guests, their responses are brought together here. We hope you can use them to better understand the role and definition of the diverse collective practices embodied in the term design.

You'll find a glossary of useful links in the top right of this page.

Explore using links, each one will lead you to a related piece of conversation. There are a few ways to do this.



You can select a particular question.

Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?


Jump to a specific interview.

Or just scroll down and click links you find interesting.


























Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Smarter processes for people

It's finding smarter more convenient ways to solve the problems and goals of today, the last part is very important. Two things, it's a process, so it's not the end result and it's always the way of finding smarter better things to make peoples lives more convenient, it has to solve problems. So it can be a product, a service or a business but the process of finding that solution is what I call design.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Automation

In the past Design was used for finding innovational products, it was mostly local which meant it was solving problems of people in a certain geographic area. Nowadays we see it's not about products alone anymore it's also about services and business models and we really go broader, thanks to the internet or whatever. The local aspect is today seen as a trend again, the local boundaries are disappearing, we're talking about innovative systems, devices and business models.

What I see as the challenge, or what design will be in the future, is that it will be more about connecting people with each other and with systems, and it will also be about automation to make more time for people to do whatever they like. That's a little bit of how I think it will evolve in the future so really about connecting people and individuals.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Buying time

It's all about innovative ways to solve problems. The main goal for people in their life is to have freedom in whatever way they like. It could be that they want to be more self independent or that they want more time to spend with their kids. Time is something that is very important their and I truly think that the biggest contribution that design can make for humanity in the future is interfering with and buying time for people to do the things they really love and appreciate.

So the true meaning can be very very different all individuals and I think that's something that design can contribute to, automation of processes could be one way to do so but of course there are other ways. It's all about time and how we can solve things smart or better to give people time, to find time, but also to spend it in a better way. Technology always influences our behaviour and we are often relying too much on technology, for example GPS location which also conflicts with freedom. If today I want to drive to another city and I can't use my GPS anymore I'm totally blocked and I've created my own problems because I'm too lazy to know the road myself anymore. Maybe it's a duality as you would call it, but I truly believe that we need to find again time for ourselves to enjoy life more and stress out less for work, and technology could be a good way to do so but we have to watch out that it doesn't control us too much. If that's the case then of course we are not free and that's the ultimate end goal.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Personal passion

We have to see people as equal. We should be more open for change because that's slowing the process today, especially in Belgium. I also think that people should be more critical for themselves, because today due to big companies and whatever people try to follow norms and they end up in their 60s or 70s and they regret the things they did in their life. They didn't follow their passion. We also have to think a little bit more about ourselves but not forget that we are all equal.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Co-creation systems

As for people, I don't really have design heroes but I have some companies or products or systems that I really like. When I try to see the common between those I think those systems have proven to be almost self sustaining. Some systems that were designed by a group of people or individuals and that now have found a way to be self sustaining.

One example could be Bitcoin which I, from a technical point of view, can say is really nice design but the way it works and how it still exists is for me something hard to understand but also very interesting to see it has come to a level where it almost can't die anymore. I think the communities and people behind it are so important, when talking about communities and everything with cooperation I really like especially quirky things like the Co-creation Project website. My favourite business models and systems are all about connecting people at the right time and the right platform then allowing them to build something new because it can be cheaper, faster and be more quirky. Co-creation projects do just that, they are innovating like lightspeed and that's something I really admire because the design process is not controlled by an individual anymore than by a whole community from people all over the world. That's about the process, it's not about that local moment anymore where you sit together in a building with five people, one marketing guy, one product guy whatever, all the boundaries geographically are gone and we are starting to build things together with people across the globe. Those systems I find very interesting.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Material culture or design as a process

I see design in two perspectives. As a citizen I see it as material culture, everything that surrounds us is a design object. The other perspective is asking how we got to this point. That's the most important perspective. Design is a process, it's a set of activities that mainly has the goal of changing reality.

By designing we mainly create something new with the idea of changing reality possibly to make it a better place, to bring it to a better state. We stimulate and try to facilitate change. If I can add something on top of that it's that I see this process as an open ended one which is very important. So, as designers we do something trying to facilitate change but then we don't know the end of the story.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Technology or humanity?

Design in the past years was really focused on solution. So the attempt of designers was to find a solution using the technology we had available. Now we're focusing on a more bottom up approach where the community is involved.. The designer is not any more searching for solutions but they are more opening up questions and trying to start a conversation with the user.



This is what I call the reappropriation process that we ask to the user, so we really ask to the person who is going to use our design to take part in it. To give an example, Wikipedia for me is really the mirror of what is happening now in design so we start up with an idea that is mainly an empty box filled with questions and then it's up to the user to make it grow into the optimal state. About the future I see, well in the past I can say that we were focusing more on how to make the things, well now we are trying to understand why should we make them and how can we involve the user. So in the past it was more technological issues which dealt with efficiency for example but now we are dealing much more with behavioural issues. I think the real challenge would be to combine these two to achieve a really solid ethic.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Simplicity and imperfection

Italian author Italo Calvino spanned a few lines in his notebook to describe how grateful he was for a trash bin in his hospice. This solution was simplifying his daily routine. Design's big contribution is to make our lives simple, easy to live, more happy. Designers should start to work with imperfection|Q3 Irene M. So in this way they should be really open to giving responsibility to the user.



What I see is that starting from our material culture we can ask the people to look at it in a different way. Really what I mean when I say designing with imperfection is what I describe as open ended design. The designer should be able to loose control of his own idea, he can suggest something but this something is actually just starting a conversation and therefore if the user is not taking an action these things are not going to evolve. Wikipedia is a good example of that, so that's from my point of view and my own research.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Embrace everything

Indeed there are very new skills according to this perspective. First of all, this is fairly common, a good designer should be able to connect previously unrelated aspects. In this sense they should be able to work with the problem framing, so to really understand the why of the action he's taking himself, or she's taking herself. Then I think a designer should be really humble. In a way that, I read it in a book lately, a good design allows it's own denial.



So we have to be aware that we as designers start a conversation but we have no control in it, and just by doing that we can really ask people to take an action. Otherwise it was always be the old approach that we mentioned before, I give you a solution and you can eventually reject it or accept it but I'm not interested in what you have to say. The other aspect that is fundamental is that a designer should be an optimist and should trust people because if you don't trust some people you're not going to allow them to eventually change your design. These two things work with the last skill which is that a good designer should be able to embrace complexity, to really be deeply aware that there's no right or wrong answer because every answer is changing, contextually speaking, it will change in time, it will change in place. This is what, again, I call an open ended process.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Unintentional products

One example that I find very interesting is a research piece on how to define 'non intentional design' by Uta Brandes. The cover of the book itself is a mirror that someone has written on with a lipstick. So in this case we have two non-intentional designs, the mirror is used as a board and the lipstick is used as a marker. In neither of the two cases did the designer think about this. It's because the user is creative and understands in an intuitive way the properties of the materials, of the products, and therefore can use them in a different way that was not defined by the designer.



Another example, much more technical, is a material developed around 2009 that is called Sugru. This material is a silicone that cures with air, but the clever idea that I like about this kind of approach is that they're producing this material with the intention that the user has to find the function of it. So mainly it's used to repair things, again I said it was developed in 2009 which was a very crucial moment for us because it was the starting of the crisis, so the idea of repairing objects was starting to become something important again. So in that case the designer has also had to be able to understand society, they understand the willingness of people to repair objects. A very small solution, a very small suggestion that can really transform our daily reality.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Situational relationships

Design is the relationship between human and object, design is finding a way to communicate through the intrinsic qualities of shape form and colour so that it adheres to social and cultural tethers.



What do I mean by this? I usually think of a story that I've experienced myself when I went to Morocco and we had to do mobile user experience testing for the people there and we had to adhere to the cultural behaviour there, the social norms there, what are the standards of beauty and those factors determined the shape and colour of form of the design. Design placed at home has a different type of energy when compared to a design object placed in the museum. For example, a toaster at home is just a toaster but if you place it in MoMA with all white walls it exudes a different type of energy and has a different type of meaning. The context of design is something that is really important, as well as the relationship. I believe that designing for people is giving way to designing with people so the act, exchange and experience is one of collaboration.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Staying true to your roots

Design in the past decades has been traditional. I come from quite a traditional school, Rhode Island School of Design, painting was painting, graphic design meant you learnt kerning and leading. The role of design was to dive into a field and explore its potential craft and skill. Design has changed because we've changed. The way we communicate and exchange ideas, through rapid email, Google Docs, moodboard and apps, is the language of design and it constantly adapts to our lifestyles.



So I think the rise of more hybrid design courses, like you've seen today interaction design, user experience design, wearable tech design, functional garment design all of them have paved the way for design to be cross disciplinary and that's what I think is happening now. I think in the future there'll be a need to constantly balance that deep rooted study in a particular field but also have the skills to be adaptable. So how does the foundation of say apparel design provide a solid understanding for the future of wearables is where I see the future.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Reaching out

I see this as three things, efficiency, emotion and new perspectives. Ergonomic product design can provide efficiency, interaction design brings us new gestural experiences on the way we touch and feel objects and visual design gives us different perspectives. Designers should take part in other fields of craft, too many times I've seen my fellow designers in their own worlds. To solve anything takes teamwork, we need to reach out and work with others that are different in order to have these three key factors of efficiency, emotion and new perspectives.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Flexible technology

One is technological skill. Not everyone needs to be an engineer or coding genius but to have the ability to understand or read why websites exist or how mobile phones are made are things that can’t be ignored, considering we give so much of our time to them. Two is the skill for interpretive flexibility. Each person has a very specific way of looking at design and a specific taste, being able to interpret things flexibly given people's advice and feedback is really crucial to self-development.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Other fields

I've been inspired by stories outside of design. Most of my heroes are actually from the more educational field or thinkers. For example Daniel Pink’s, A Whole New Mind, Sir Ken Robinson’s, The Element and Tim Brown from IDEO, all of these thinkers are my heroes because of the way they bring such a fresh new perspective on how we think about design.

I try to see design as not only a skill but really a different mindset, I was reading one of Sir Ken Robinson's chapters in the Element and really it talks about honing in to your talents and I really believe that design is very similar to honing into your talents at an early age so those three thinkers and also Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who's a psychologist who wrote the book Flow and also of course I get a lot of inspiration from fashion designers and I really think pushing the context of fashion history that's also interesting. So yeah.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Different process, same needs

I would go back more than a 100 years to talk about the role of design, in fact I would go back 30,000 years when humans first started to mark the caves of Lascaux. We felt compelled to document our day to day reality, creating markers in time to document our humanity. Since then all we’ve been doing is refining that process. It’s all variations on a theme, the walls of Lascaux are very probably similar to the walls of Facebook the way in which we communicated, the execution of how we communicated has changed. But the motivation and the experience have, for the most part have remained intact.

We have this inherent desire to reflect our experiences outward, to share those experiences, to want feedback on those experiences, so we are not just writing to reflect what we’ve experience, but we are also writing or drawing or designing to communicate to others and have that dialogue through images and words and we are the only species that does that and i think that is what makes us human ultimately, as much are other cognitive and emotional abilities make us who we are. This need, this ability, i am not even sure which is more prominent, the need or the ability? Do our needs given the ability or does our ability give us the needs? All of the ways in which we communicate weather it would be Guttenberg, weather it would be steve jobs, weather it would be a Kickstarter campaign, all of these things just enable us to do that better and allow us to reach a bigger audience and have more impact. But all comes i think from the very same motivation. And i think the more evolved we get as species, the more evolved our ability to communicate will get.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

A me too civilisation

Having spent several decades understanding, researching and analysing branding I’ve become fascinated with the way in which we communicate when there is some type of cultural disaster. I read a lot about slacktivism, wherein someone thinks that they are helping to solve a world crisis by liking something on facebook. If we can telegraphically project what we believe in and about others, we then have the power in numbers. It gives you a sense of how many other people out there have like minded values, it gives you a sense that together we can actually make a difference.

It’s not surprising if you look at the civil changes that occurred over the last decade, LGBT rights, marriage equality and reproductive freedom. There are so many things that because we have the ability to communicate with each other instantly, we are able to capture the momentum of the times to make profound changes. And so, while I think there will always be a certain contingent of the population that it is very raisent about getting involved, and they might think that a facebook like is enough, there are a lot of other people that see the unification of emblems, weather it be ”je suis charlie” or the insignias that we created, the marks that we created after human tragedy to mark that tragedy to show a support of the beliefs that are fundamentally against the things that have become ferociously debated that it gives us an opportunity to create a unification that I don't think we ever had before. I think because people feels so helpless they create this ability, to say me too. Brene Brown talks about how the best thing you can say, the most helpful thing you can say when somebody is vulnerable, is being vulnerable to you, with you, is to say “me too”. Here, we get this opportunity by creating this marks to say “me too”, and then all of the sudden we are a band of “me too’s”, we are an army of me “too’s” we are a civilisation of “me too’s” and that’s profound. We have to find a way to channel that even more and I think that that is what design on its best day can do to humanity on its worst.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Empathy, vunerability and courage

Empathy because it’s critical that we understand each other. Being able to see the world through somebody else's experience is incredibly important to create communication that captures the imagination of a large audience.



It’s not surprising if you look at the civil changes that occurred over the last decade, LGBT rights, marriage equality and reproductive freedom. There are so many things that because we have the ability to communicate with each other instantly, we are able to capture the momentum of the times to make profound changes. And so, while I think there will always be a certain contingent of the population that it is very raisent about getting involved, and they might think that a facebook like is enough, there are a lot of other people that see the unification of emblems, weather it be ”je suis charlie” or the insignias that we created, the marks that we created after human tragedy to mark that tragedy to show a support of the beliefs that are fundamentally against the things that have become ferociously debated that it gives us an opportunity to create a unification that I don't think we ever had before. I think because people feels so helpless they create this ability, to say me too. Brene Brown talks about how the best thing you can say, the most helpful thing you can say when somebody is vulnerable, is being vulnerable to you, with you, is to say “me too”. Here, we get this opportunity by creating this marks to say “me too”, and then all of the sudden we are a band of “me too’s”, we are an army of me “too’s” we are a civilisation of “me too’s” and that’s profound. We have to find a way to channel that even more and I think that that is what design on its best day can do to humanity on its worst.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Education is essential

I think that education is critical, lifelong learning is essential for any type of fulfilment. Any opportunity we have to learn, whether it be in a college classroom, or in a continuing edclass, or online, or skillshare, creative life, general assembly, any environment where we can continue hoarn our skills and get feedback where we can become better is a gift, an absolute gift.

For me personally i have a number of heroes, and it is interesting because all my design heroes, are Art directors, or designers and writers. People like Steven Heller who's been one of the most if not the most influential person in my life in terms of helping me define who i wanted to be and how. Also very generously gave so much of his time and connections and so forth. Michael Glaser as well, Michael Bierut, who I think is a genius and I think the smartest person working on design he is a profoundly smart person and he is also incredibly generous, funny and extraordinarily talented.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Designs to design designs

Design is an action, it's a mental fact but also a maker's fact. Therefore you have to look at design as a process. There is man called Jon Heskit, a very wise man, and he said ‘design is to design a design to produce a design’.

So now you are thinking, what's that? That's a very strange definition. In the first design he meant the general concept and field, to design as a verb, as an action, a design, an idea or a solution, to produce a design, a product or a service. We're led to believe that without a strong amount of innovation all companies are doomed these days, but the realities of innovation and creativity are much more complicated than simply wiliness to be creative and to use more design. Design thinking is a way of handling this challenge.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Design managers

Design is an action, it's a mental fact but also a maker's fact. Therefore you have to look at design as a process. There is man called Jon Heskit, a very wise man, and he said ‘design is to design a design to produce a design’.

So now you are thinking, what's that? That's a very strange definition. In the first design he meant the general concept and field, to design as a verb, as an action, a design, an idea or a solution, to produce a design, a product or a service. We're led to believe that without a strong amount of innovation all companies are doomed these days, but the realities of innovation and creativity are much more complicated than simply wiliness to be creative and to use more design. Design thinking is a way of handling this challenge.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Circular sustainability

Making a better world to live in and creating meaning for everybody. For companies, policy makers and universities to strive for a sustainable balance in the way people live, work and deal with the Earth’s natural resources. Companies can achieve economic prosperity without jeopardising the welfare of the people, we have to think about the global economy because everything is connected. I hope that the industry makes complete transition to a circular economy and incorporates more social responsibility into their product development.

You see, in my opinion, waste is the result of products that are badly designed. The German chemist Michael Braungart and the American Architect/Designer William McDonough have fundamentally changed the mindset of the way we produce and build things, if waste would be become food for the biosphere or the technosphere production and consumption could become beneficial for the planet. It's a very strange way of thinking but they proved it can go that way, so we are talking about the design and the production business model that they proposed in 2002 and it's called Cradle to Cradle. Some people say that concept will be the next industrial revolution. Of course there are a lot of other problems that designers can help in to solve in co-creation with other experts and companies, finding answers to wicked problems such as ageing and mobility. I have a strong belief that the future lays in co-creation to challenge these problems. We certainly can't solve them all at once or as a whole, but I think that if everybody and everyone focuses and works towards one goal we can make a really big difference.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Optimistic, holistic, empathic

Everybody has to have the same skills, first of all the will and courage to change and to adapt. We all have to be flexible to embrace the experiment. We need to be empathetic and show a social commitment, not only here but worldwide. Please keep an optimistic attitude, there's a solution to every problem but we have to stay focused and above all passionate.

Sharing is a skill that is really needed, we have to share knowledge and insights and we have to do that on a global level, we don't have to keep things from ourselves. It's very difficult for companies to share but we have to strive for an open source economy that stands for open collaboration and open innovation and in that way we can avoid competitive waste and optimise the production and the distribution processes whilst providing and environmental regeneration and social justice. A lot of skills.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

The blue ocean

There are a lot of best practices and unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, a lot of worst cases which we can learn from. I like to refer to the book the Blue Ocean, it's written by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim and it explains how you can find and create blue oceans. Companies traditionally work in the red ocean, our businesses viciously fight eat other for a share of the market. Organisations should instead work in a marketplace free of competitors, there are a lot of examples in that book such as Apple and Cirque Du Soleil and many other cases that are very appealing to everyone's imagination.

As an example you have the Silence Booth that Nokia created so that people can phone quietly without being disturbed by the noise of busy streets and noisy construction sites. Or the Meal Butler by Studio Dots, it's an integrated warming concept that allows elderly people to heat their meal in the right way and in the right temperature, because elderly people are often not familiar with the operation of electronic devices. The Meal Butler is extremely simple and user friendly because the device has only one button. It enables the to eat whenever they like so there is really a social connection. Currently their food is delivered at eleven o'clock in the morning and people feel like they have to eat it then, if not it will be cold, so now they have the choice, they can eat whenever they want and the food remains really good and tasty which is not the case when it's delivered at eleven o'clock.

An example of how we can use a single device for a very different purpose than that it was created for is the Nintendo Wii and the Wii Fit. I'm fond of this example because you don't have to reinvent things, you can look around you and see things you can use or share. The Wii Fit is not only a game for young people but also for the elderly to keep a good shape, a study has shown that playing the Wii Fit helps elderly people who are too weak to follow the conventional physical therapy and the game helps to keep the elderly on their feet, they don't fall over that easily so it's an economic reality because when they fall over there are a lot of hospital bills involved and there are a lot of fractures, so we can solve that problem just by letting them play a game. It's also a social reality and a very good example.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

The Process of process making

Design can mean anything, but let me try to confine it to the things that I do. For me it kind of evolved towards not just seeing design as something you do to develop a product or a thing but also the design of projects and processes, that is what I'm really interested in right now. Using design to create a process.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Questioning society

Design was an object orientated discipline, with the focus on developing objects of desire. Before designers were focused on developing solutions for other people's challenges, now designers pose their own assignments, questions and challenges. The simplest way to understand design is as a kind of problem solving discipline.

Where before design was more focused on developing solutions for clients it is now moving more into the field of developing solutions for societal problems. This is also a kind of choice that you make as a designer for sure, the focus on the more commercial and client based solutions will stay there and is also important but I see this evolution towards designers that are focused on society or trying to develop solutions for societal problems. I have been seeing it now and I guess it will also start evolving towards the future.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Potenial solution components

Designers alone are not the answer, I sometimes get the feeling that people think designers can solve the world's problems. They're just a part of a chain of people who can make a difference. In a transition towards a more sustainable society designers can translate our ideas into tangible things, testing them, getting feedback on them and reworking them until they really start to have true potential to change things.

So I guess they're role is really focused on that, and switching from ideas that come from a number into testing things and making them a bit more real then getting feedback on them and reworking them until they start becoming part of a solution.

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Q4 what skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Visualing and making

Making skills are important, visualising skills are really important as a way to render abstract scenarios into concrete forms, quite quickly with good knowledge. The ability to translate an abstract idea into a visual system allows critique to take place whilst making the future tangible. Another important skill is learning to communicate with different stakeholders, it's really important that visions of the future are not developed from the point of view of the designer alone.

I think they should increasingly be aware of different perspectives and taking these different perspectives into account, from policy makers to end users and so on, they have to make a synthesis between these different perspectives and make up their own idea of how they see the future. I think they should be really really informed by involving experts from different backgrounds into these projects and so mediating different opinions and trying to translate and use them in the design process.

Of course it can happen where the designer alone has an idea and uses it as a provocation to start a debate but that can also sometimes be a little bit naive. I think these proposals about tangible futures should be informed by experts of different backgrounds. Some research skills are really good for designers, to pick up on different influences and to translate into proposals that have real potential for the future.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Product scenarios

For me some designers that are really really good at making some new futures real are for instance Studio Swine, you probably know them. I like them because they are a design studio with a product design background but they kind of made a switch from the product as the end goal to more focused on a scenario around the product which could be an end goal.

I'll try to exemplify it a little bit, in one of their projects they developed a scenario for recycling aluminium in the streets of Sao Paulo in Brazil. Of course this is a scenario about recycling which has a really material aspect but I think what is important is not the artefacts that are produced, chairs which are put into a gallery, the most important result is the video that they made of this process where they gathered the materials, where they used really local resources to build some kind of new product in the streets. I think this scenario as a kind of communication instrument has a lot more potential to trigger other people to think about different ways of using local materials than the object itself. For me this is a really interesting example where a kind of shift happens from designing a product towards designing a scenario and really literally making a movie out of it and then using that as a communication tool to trigger awareness but also new forms of possibility. It's something to really be inspired by.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Communication translation

It's about communication. Designing pieces that create a connection between me and my audience.The ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person is very important. Design has always been, and still is, about being able to communicate.

It's translation as well, being able to take one idea and translate it for multiple different audiences.

That applies quite directly with communication design but in something like service design or product design that manifests as an experience or multiple different touch points that you're actually designing. You have to think about how you're communicating through all of those elements and I think that's why a lot of people come into service design from graphic design and communication because they've actually honed that ability to translate before they take it into that discipline.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Designing for the whole

I've observed a diffusing of the meaning of the term design, I've seen a wider range of different design titles. We really do have any kind of design title that you can imagine, from business designer to designer of the world to ninja designer and all of these kind of things. I think that kind of distributed interpretation of what design means is a result of design spreading into different areas and being accepted by different disciplines.

The rise of design thinking and the way that is being really taken up by business and by other areas is really fascinating and I do wonder why it has that level of success and I think my best reason for why that is is because it allows people to frame the work that they do in a different way. I think that if you have a role of business development officer or something like this vs business designer it's quite a different thing and one allows you to see yourself as a creative person with a practice and I think that makes a huge difference to how you approach a role and what you then do with it. I think we'll continue to see this in the future, over the next decade or so we're going to get some even more exciting designers, you know, drone experience management designer or whatever it's going to be.

We’ve been talking about this a lot recently, for me it actually comes down to something quite unexpected I think which is wisdom. I feel like we've been doing this amazing work in design thinking and saying yes we can change so many things and yes we can do it and I think the momentum is amazing. It's almost like now we're just cooling down and building the foundations to make sure that it's a sustainable sort of change that we're creating and not just you know, hype. So I would like to say that we're moving into an area where you are still doing the same amazing stuff but we're doing it with thoughtful action as much as we can.

I've thought a bit about human centred design and the fact that most of the time in reality, people disagree with me, but I think human centred design is customer centred design and it's about providing value that you can charge for so it's commercial. Which doesn't mean that it's not really connecting with people and not really co-designing or any of these things but that's where the motivation comes from. It's interesting to think about humanity centred design, what does it mean when you broaden your user from the individual and their needs and their wants? When you start thinking about what society needs because then you can think a lot more long term and you have to consider environmental implications and all of these things as well and I think that's where design and sustainability or design and system innovation begin to meet each other. Because system innovation by it's nature is all about thinking a lot more long term and thinking about society as a whole or a community as a whole and what the need is there. I don't know what the tool kit is for humanity centred design but I think it would be a really interesting thing to explore, how can we design for a whole rather than just for the individual.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Designing for the whole

I'm very excited about designing for learning and for learning experiences, for the systems that support people to access those learning experiences. If we think about sustainability as a goal then learning has to play a huge role in that goal because we're talking about huge mindset shifts, cultural shifts, shifts in business and shifts actually across everything. I think we have to start from the bottom up and that involves intervening in education all the way through people’s lives.

I'm coming from a similar position, we started Enrol Yourself together and it started from a point of shared frustration in the sense that we wanted more. Our education stopped after university right, since then we've both been working, which has been great, but we just feel the creative development that we are after hasn't really happened in the way we wanted so we want to take action on that. I think that as designers we bring something very valuable to that space. How do you continue learning throughout your life and alongside work? Anything we also talk about is that maybe it's not about solving, it's about keeping a humble attitude in the sense of "we're just going to do our best at approaching this issue" and not expect to see anything structurally solid.

Joel from MIT published around a month ago a paper about design as participation and why designers today are much more humble than our predecessors, people in the 70s and 80s who were the rock stars of design. In architecture that's still happening with such prominent figures and the way architecture as part of a design practice has a role of the hero, the guy that leads the whole team to make things happen. In part of the article they mention this aspect of are we more humble because we understand that we are part of a system, that system is a living system and you can't solve something just by creating one product that will change the world, normally it doesn't happen like that.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Perspective duality

Humility. Duality, to be able to recognise your tiny part within the bigger system but still have the confidence and audacity to think that you can make a difference. Being able to be two things at once, that's not really a skill is it. I don't know what that is and I would struggle to know how to help somebody else learn how to do that, I definitely have a huge amount of learning to do myself.

It's about not feeling like you have to come down on one side or the other it's almost letting go of the idea that you have to form an opinion sometimes and allowing yourself to be something that's actually quite changeable and adaptable depending on the context that you're working within.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Collaborative method

Right so, what comes to mind is not actually called design but it's called KJ-Ho and it's a creative problem solving technique I learnt about it while at Snook, I went to a workshop organised by some teachers from Japan, this method started in the 60s I believe and it was started by an anthropologist. The whole idea behind it is very similar to what we're doing now in service design just there's a bit of difference in the grouping. What I love about this method is that it starts with the local community, they work a lot on regeneration projects right, they look at what is already in existence. I'm not going to fix something if I'm just wishful thinking right, I just want to start with what's there. How can I use the resources here and how can I do it in a way that talks to people and their values there. So for me that's always been very inspirational.

Actually one of the teachers I met has designed a skeleton, the ones you use in anatomy classes that you usually can't really move the pieces of it, but if you want to show a student how the shoulder blade moves with his skeleton you can do that. It uses water based magnets, it's a very interesting technology but very new so as he was making it he was getting a lot of criticism. He decided he wasn't going to ignore it, so he was creating charts every day with that negative criticism and feeling really uncomfortable to hear those things, but he said 'I'm going to sit with it, I'm going to look at it, I'm going to map it out and these amazing charts with clusters that weren't necessarily based on obvious groups. In service design we use groups such as transport, medicine but these clusters looked beyond to avoid putting things together because they fell in the same theme, it went beyond you were comfortable to contribute a post-it note even if it didn't relate to something else. It's about taking everything into consideration and not leaving things behind because of the method.

And it's about grouping by intuition, they make space for intuition in this method. By instead of saying fork has to go with fork and spoon has to go with spoon it's kind of what do you feel should go together and that goes against the way we think a lot but I think it's really valuable. Actually it's really relevant in terms of the EU referendum coming up, there's really interesting discussions happening around that, around values and people feeling instinctively like they want to vote in but they don't know the facts, they don't know the things that are going to support their view necessarily but it's an instinctive feeling. Why do we not value that? Because your intuition is a combination of everything that you're learnt through your life, everything that you've seen, everything that you've witnessed about politics, all the people that you've talked to. That all collates together to provide you with your intuition and instead we'd rather trust one isolated fact, it's kind of crazy when you think about it like that.

In terms of design heroes, again this is someone who would not consider themselves a designer, but this is sort of a learning experience I suppose that was designed for me and that has stuck with me for a very long time. Whilst I was at primary school, so I must have been about 8 years old at the time, and we were learning history and we were learning about the Romans and archaeology and how people have learnt about history and the way that civilisations worked in the past. I had a teacher that in order to really demonstrate this stuff collected a number of artefacts and went outside and dug them into the ground. So spent quite a lot of preparation for this class. He took us as a class of kids out to discover this stuff in the ground, and we believed it was real because we were young enough that we didn't know it wasn't real and he didn't tell us is wasn't real. We were digging up bits of pot and talking about what that means, he'd tell us "so this means that people in the past were using this to collect their water". It was only later on when I must've thought about it or reflected on it with a little bit more knowledge about the way things work under my belt to realise that it wasn't real. He never revealed this but I think the reason for bringing it up is that he designed that learning experience, it was memorable it was engaging, it was participative and it has stuck with me vividly, I can remember the feeling of it. That gives me conviction around the fact that you can design learning and although it's not a distinct discipline at the moment maybe it will go in that direction. I gives me conviction in what I'm doing.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

The nessecity of tools and tech

Design became interesting during mass production, before that design grew in the workshop whilst the maker made his thing. The most interesting designers now study ecological footprint and appriciate the work of the hand. People want to get back to the tangible realm, where they can touch, feel, use and make things. But we don't need to go back to the hammer and whatever. We can use our contemporary technology, like 3D printing, CNC and laser cutting, to make things that are tangible, that you can live with and that you have put your mind and spirit into. Not to be romantic haha.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Better products

One of the specific capacities of a designer is that they makes connections between items or elements that were never connected before. So in this way they are very creative and innovative and have a view which other people don't have. The main thing about a designer is that they are probably a solver of problems. They're a problem-solving person.

You ask them a question, for example make a new thing to write with. If they are a good designer they will ask you how do you want to write, what colour do you want, are you allergic to certain materials, how long does it have to last, if it is to be produced and sold on the market how much can it cost etc. and all those things. They will put all these elements together and then of course they have this capacity of drawing and thinking. Then I think in most cases they look around for companies that have a special way of working or are very skilled in a certain material or technique and then they bring those things together. Eventually there is a new product, if it is successful on the market that's another question, but there will be a new product that should be better than the product in the same niche that is older. That's the whole idea, you make new products to be better than the older ones. It doesn't always have to be on the technological level, I think they add also the emotional thing, the social/emotional thing is an added value.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Discovering connections

Well the major capability of designers should be a broad view on society. They have all kinds of elements to their training, from sciences to art or psychology. When they finish their studies they are not specifically equipped to focus on a certain niche area in science or whatever. They can make a chair, they can make something hi-tech, they put things together that I or you or whoever would never see.

They would discover the connection that brings them to new products that are better, I think that's most essential. I mean of course it's very good that they can draw, but today it's better that you can draw on the computer. It's also good to know the machines, to renew your knowledge all the time. It's also very good to have old knowledge and to have a certain intuitive knowledge, I think a designer should have that too. I mean everybody has it but they should develop that to be quicker and to foresee certain things that we won't, that we wouldn't even think about. That's it. And also I think I'm an artist so this aesthetic thing is always there for me too, there's no design without beauty in it, that's for me very important.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

The history, the unknown

I remember that I was in the 80s very much in favour of Memphis and Alchimia. At that time design was Scandinavian design, the northern design that was very functional and warm in wood colours and pale tissue colours, and very boring. They were good but very boring. Memphis had colours and extravagant forms and wasn’t very well made. They broke through this very sterile idea about design and they put some humour, the laugh in life and I think that's important. And then of course you have the serious guys before and after the Second World War, the Modernists. With Le Corbusier, he's an architect. They wanted to transform all those emotional aesthetic things through a technological concept and everything should be rational etc etc. It did work very well and we still have those buildings that were made in that way.

Bauhaus is a very nice example, they started from the crafts and ended up with real industrial production. I hadn't met such a movement nowadays that was as important as I figure Bauhaus is in the whole history of design. And then I went to this exhibition of young designers and discovered collectives and certain studios that are made up of one or two or three or even something five young people with all different backgrounds and skills, some of them are designers some of them are crafts people, and they work together and they make things together. The rent is high and it's expensive to buy machines but they buy small machines and they rent space in a big workshop to make their own things. And I don't want to put any names on that for the moment.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Designing ourselves out of existence

There’s design with a big D and design with a small d. Design with a small d is the profession of design. You receive a fee for doing a project for a client where you improve performance, functionality or visual aspects of a product, service or piece of communication. The other interpretation is much wider and that's the activity of designing, design with a big D. Put simply that's about anybody changing a situation from a current state to an improved state. Basically trying to make improvements to the world. It can be as simple as rearranging the coins in your pocket from the smallest to the largest or taking a test to improve your diary or time management. It's a much broader definition and it's more about the activity of design, you wouldn't necessarily need to be paid for any of that stuff it's basically taking a current situation and making it better through design thinking.

There's a really interesting debate about the role of the designer and if anybody can do professional design or design thinking. It's a little concerning for us guys who get paid for this stuff, we're designing ourselves out of our existence, of course I think what the conclusion is that it's useful to have a designer almost at the centre of facilitating that process with people. I guess it's the co-development or do-design idea. There are some core skills that we've got, but we don't need to be doing the actual designing and in some cases we shouldn't be doing it. People should learn skills to make their own lives better and make their own choices because that helps them buy into ideas much better than if someone else dreams them up for them. I think and hope there still is a role for design, even if we do decentralise it in this way.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Ecological care

I guess that activity of design that we've talked about will have gradually become a part of the human psyche and human nature, to make the world a better place. But I won't touch on that too much as I don't think it's changed much since we came down from trees onto the plains and Savannahs 2 million years ago. I think it's more interesting to talk about how the profession of design has changed and I think that for example the area that I work has been recognised as a profession for about 100 years. The turn of the 20th century is probably the beginnings of industrial design.

Throughout that century it was largely, as a profession, seen as being linked to economics and the commercialisation of ideas and products, in most cases to increase consumption and increase sales. In that role the story of design in the 20th century is pretty much about business of design, there's a really great book book Adrian Forty which talks about how we tell the history of design as an aesthetic movement but actually we never tell it as an economic force to stimulate production and get people to buy more stuff. Certainly when we created that idea of design we thought it was great for people as well because they improve their standard of living through better products that work better and give them access to material consumption. Probably the one thing that has changed maybe in the last 20 or 30 years is the idea of making products that are better for people, human centred design is still driven really by the economics and business priorities but I guess that does that us into a slightly softer interpretation of design which is about improving quality of life through people using the products and services that we design. Whenever we talk about good design at the moment it tends to be stuff that's good or business and good for people, stuff that's better to use. That can take you into the whole handicap, design for the disadvantaged, all those areas. I guess one of the issues that's emerging maybe on the peripheries of design maybe around the edges is the idea of designing for sustainability, stimulated very much by the rise of the environmental movement. I think, well I'm the Head of Sustainability so of course I would say this.

I'm sure quite enough of the design world sees it coming and is completely open to accepting this big change. If you ask me what the big movements going to be in this century they're probably information and ecology, and in our field we've seen the digital revolution really really change the way we do design. There are entirely new design practices that have grown up as a result of that like interaction design and web design. I think ecology has been a little bit slower, businesses are now starting to look at ecological models for running their businesses, adopting all sorts of interesting ideas like biomimicry and cradle to cradle. I really think that design is going to catch up with all that stuff, the idea of ecology and sustainability being one of the fundamental models for the way we organise the world in the future is absolutely true for design too. We won't drop all of the things that we used to do and it will still have a quite important role in business, certainly in human factors and making the world better for people. The dominant new force of design is going to be sustainability and ecology.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Real challenges

There are many, you only have to watch the news to see that the world is facing some really thorny challenges. The rise of refugee issues, displacement of populations through to water scarcity, climate change and resource scarcity. It feels like it's quite an exhaustive list to tackle but I would still come back to three or four issues that feel like they haven't properly changed in the last 30 or 40 years.

These are probably too big to solve with single design briefs which has always been the problem with the sustainability world, it feels like you've got to boil the ocean but the number of really great design challenges in climate change is daunting but it's also really exciting. I think it's the same with resource scarcity, resource availability and waste issues are really a massive challenge and opportunity for the design world. I'm going to put poverty and inequality together, that only seems to be on the increase, more social than environmental issues but of course they are inevitably linked. I still feel those are probably the dominant challenges for humanity for our time.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Ecological education

There are a lot of skills we have already that will be useful in this sustainability revolution, abilities to iterate and explore solutions together. We're a few skills missing though. There's one very obvious one, ecological literacy. That's the use of ecological models for design. Schools should learn all of this stuff and output well rounded designers who know about the impacts of the choices they make on ecosystems, you know, how things interconnect.

We might solve that in projects by actually having a biologist at the table. Of course the model for design is that you don't have to do it all yourself. I think there's a couple more I'd like to mention if that's ok. These too might be the same but I think the sort of empathy and humility. Empathy is coming through quite a lot already with empathic design being quite strongly linked to human centred design process. But I think our view of design at the moment tends to only be empathy for the user, I think that's got to expand a little bit to empathy for all people across the supply chain of what we do. I think humility is a good one, we're just coming out of a phase where we've got the idea of the super star designer, you know the big name, the big famous designers are at the centre and it's quite celebrity driven. I wonder how useful that is to us in the 21st century, I think having a bit of wider humility to other designers as well as the rest of the world and future generations would be beneficial. We don't need to be superstars and we're not the centre of the universe and actually we're just providing a sort of service to make the world better.

I guess the final one is probably for the design world to be a little bit more entrepreneurial, it still feels like a tiny voice in amongst business and society. We're sort of putting our hands up and trying to get our voice heard amongst the clamour of lots of other voices. In general we're trying to improve our profile and voice but certainly in the sustainability world to even be heard amongst all the other noisy voices of the strategists, supply chain people and scientific experts is very difficult. It feels like a way to do that would be not to sort of passively sit around and wait for this to come our way, it's probably to be a little bit more entrepreneurial on this stuff and actually get the design world to start promoting some new ideas and initiatives rather than waiting for it to happen and come to us but actually being at the forefront of change.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

21st century activism

Well I can talk about one in really a lot of detail and I hope it doesn't seem like such a shameless plug because it's something we just worked on but I'm really in awe of what the Fairphone guys are doing. I think chiefly I like it because they are design guys, it is a design driven approach, and when I look at what they're doing which is essentially trying to take what would fit comfortably as a campaign against unethical mining that would fit well with Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

They've said in a very practical way, 'it's going to be much more convincing if we just do this', so we don't campaign and beat the drum to stop existing organisations from doing this badly or even to try and work with someone to do it better because those tactics would probably have not been that effective. What they've done is set up their own business and just gone and done it, we started talking to them when they were promoting the ideas and I thought they had no chance, guys that had never worked in an electronics industry, getting a phone produced and out into the market and even if they did nobody would buy it. But they've gone and done it and they've got this loyal crowd of advocates, 60,000 people who love what they do who are an amazing voice for them, it feels like a community that actually isn't owned by Fairphone it's owned by the all the users and all the advocates. It's not a perfect phone, it's not a perfect product, but as you know working in this field it's impossible to design a perfect and sustainable product and if you actually ever tried to do that you'd be really frustrated and you'd never get anything out there for the first 25 years.

So many aspects of what Fairphone are doing I genuinely love, in presenting a new model in the form of a campaigning product. I look at it as a designer and I think, 'I could do that', this is a sort of inspiration for designers to say you don't need to be a kind of Harvard graduate or and MBE trained entrepreneur to start your own business and try to create some change. Design guys, people who are doing the same work as me could quite easily do the same, take their approach which is basically to say that you can rethink every product that you use on a daily basis through the principles of sustainability and fairness to start to improve it. I really like what they've managed to do and I'm slightly in awe of it. I think it's a massive inspiration to myself and the design world.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

The Holistic Viewpoint

Design is the process of creating something new, the complete process of problem solving. It starts with having a very open mind and not getting stuck in a certain day to day reality. It's really important to look at a problem from a very systemic point of view, a holistic point of view.

Again, it's kind of that main starting idea of opening up your mind then looking at the challenge and really breaking down the challenge to work out what's really involved. Your one product is probably part of a bigger system, so you've got to really start thinking about that complete holistic system and then break it down into sub challenges and in the end combine all the best of those sub challenges into one.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Balancing the facilitator

Design has mostly been an aesthetic and cultural expression of the zeitgeist. However, if you look back you’ll see more holistic design approach, the solving of complex challenges. Leonardo Da Vinci was a great designer. He thought about complete, whether technical or societal, solutions to challenges. We are faced with real systemic failures in our society. As an evolution of that design will also probably become more and more systemic in itself.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Rethinking products

I think design has a very important role to play in taking us forward and overcoming many of the crises we currently face, that's because designers should be able to challenge society's business as usual attitude. Of course a lot of design which is portrayed in the media seems to waste too much attention on how to create the next houses, the next chair… And what's the next sofa going to look like?

Designers have become fashion heroes, certainly more well known designers of course are known for designing that next chair or plate or whatever. Now there's a new generation of designers who do think more holistically and are able to challenge the current way of working. The main role designers need to play within a company is actually to challenge that business as usual, challenge business models, look into, with the whole circular economy being a bit of a thing now, how can we design our products not just to improve them and make bad stuff a little bit better but just completely rethink how that product was made.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Knowing the system

Systems thinking, you need to be able to understand and anticipate what's happening around you and not just where you're working. I'm working for a soap company, but it's not enough to just know what's going on within the soap business, you need to open up your mind continuously for new evolutions, new technologies that might in the first instance have nothing to do with your core business but might trigger you to come up with solutions that you can link to your core business.

I get my inspiration from ecosystems because whether it's products or services that we design they are always part of a bigger ecosystem. That's something we’ve forgotten when we design new products and new ideas, we look at functionality and aesthetics quite a lot but we have forgotten they are still part of a bigger ecosystem and that ecosystem can become more environmentally or socially focused. We should think of how products fit in that complete ecosystem not just the beginning of the chain but also at the end of life how does it get reintegrated in that ecosystem.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Ecological systems

A designer which I had in mind that does implement biomimicry thinking or system design thinking in his work is Michael Pollan, he's more an architect maybe than a designer but he has done projects that go beyond pure architecture. He designs buildings as living things, as a complete ecosystem that fits into the whole. Whether it's a city or environment they exchange all the materials they use, like the air that's coming into the buildings, it's exchanging it with the rest of the environment.

He has done projects looking at complete circular business models. For example the Caviar Project where the growing of the fish was linked into a cardboard manufacturer and a restaurant chain. He had built a whole chain around that to have a one way stream of the other linking to the other, I think that for me is really inspiring.

Another design that I had in mind which is definitely not known probably to many people is a Belgian guy Johan Berte who designed the Princess Elisabeth Research Station in the North Pole, Belgians designed or set monitoring station. To build such a building in such an extreme environment he had to really look at everything, so the complete system of how a building can function in these very extreme conditions and again he's done really well in every project he does in looking at it in a very holistic and systemic way, not just bringing business as usual and I think with that building I think he has really shown that even in these extreme environments having that existing thinking capability allowed him to build a really cool station in the North Pole.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Towards a sharing future

Design means designing products or services, that always has some kind of connotation because it means creating a lot of stuff that people don't need and then pushing to sell them, so I don't necessarily have a positive view of design in that context.

Now in my work; which is observing the emergence of a new mode of value creation and production which we call peer production, it's based on open systems so everybody can join to contribute, I think design takes another meaning which is all the invisible infrastructures and architecture that rules our behaviour in these environments.

So in that context I developed this thing that you might have seen which looks at for-profit vs for-benefit orientations from a centralised control point of view or a distributed control point of view. There are many different systems, one I call Metrical Capitalism which is hierarchy of the network. Facebook has a very specific design, where we don't own the data, where we're nudged to certain behaviours and not towards others so they can go deeper and deeper in this connection to our neural system. So I think the value of sensitive design is that we spend way more time working together exchanging and communicating all kinds of things which I think is very linked to the kind of work that I do.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Unpacking society

I work a lot with a bunch of bio urbanists. Their work is heavily influenced by the work of Christopher Alexander, looking at and defining patterns. So they're saying there's two extremes which are dangerous, one is the star designer who thinks they know everything and who is designing the systems for you using their biases, forcing certain lifestyles on people.

Another danger is full participation, people having the skills to actually take decisions and actually make those designs for themselves. So these bio urbanists like that because people come with patterns and say ok, what do you want and what they know is that in order to achieve certain goals in the past these patterns have been very successful. So I hope that you understand what I'm getting at it's this kind of facilitating role, and intermediary role. it's not full top down design but it's also not lowest common denominator people who don't know anything about the subject deciding on things which require expertise, there must be some kind of golden middle way.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Peer to peer

In the kind of work I do we have a requirement, we say what we need is a mode of production, a mode of value creation that is sustainable, solid and at the same time based on sharing. It must be in balance with nature, not extract value from people who create it without returning value to them and the third part is no enclosures of knowledge. So how can you design systems that at the same time have these three qualities. That's not just a service, it also questions who owns the thing so what are the property mechanisms what are the governance mechanism.

There is one big danger today which is especially strong in kind of the libertarian ideology which is the discounting of the fact that we are working with unequal systems to begin with. How do we maintain peer to peer systems that create commons. We cannot assume they will stay the way they are, we design against the power law, against monopolisation and today these things have to be embedded in the software. One of the things we're using in the P2P Foundation is called Loomio and it's an open source decision making software, if you are in an organisation but it is not bound by location it is very hard to make decisions because we're not always physically together. This kind of software embeds the values of democracy and we can vote for each particular topic, it's transparent enough that it gives us a number of choices. We can say, this we'll do by consensus but this and this we don't need consensus, easy majority is good enough. This kind of system is very important because we can look at the patterns, especially the successful patterns, and we spread them around so that more people can copy them, I think transparency is very important. I want to give you some examples, in Facebook you have no insight into what's happen behind the scenes, you don't have any say on it, you don't have any access to it. If you can't see it you can't have a dialogue about it so this hidden design is so important.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Towards a sharing future

Let me answer this in a roundabout way, I read some month ago a survey of design students in Finland. It was a set of questions about sustainability and for example it showed that 95% of these students are concerned about sustainability. Now of course when they are designing for the market they are going to be designing for planned obsolescence and artificial scarcity, this is why there is a structural problem.

If you are young and you have these values of sustainability the challenges that you can actually tackle are very small in number. One of the skills is being able to break away from design as it exists today and to create your own socio entrepreneurial entities, to create a livelihood around a form of design which can be sustainable. One of the important things is that you can't really have sustainable design in a private research environment because you have to design for scarcity, so planned obsolescence is not a bug it's a feature. Join the commons, join a community of design, hardware or software and then become some kind of social entrepreneur or open cooperative in which you can be sure of the freedom of design to be sustainable.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Crowd sourced

As soon as you are in a public situation where people know who you are and you are seen there is a huge disciplinary effect on your behaviour and I think educated people have a desire for this. May 1968 was two things, it was a revolt by students and middle class people against the hierarchical system they were being educated in but it was also 10 million workers on strike in Paris. Basically young workers at that time were no longer willing to work in the Fordist system, or Taylorist system, and so the decision was then made to outsource industry to the global South and to make a compromise with young middle class people.

Today we have a new step which is that a lot of the driving force of peer to peer is young people who no longer want to do unsustainable things, their authenticity demands that they do something meaningful and then the question is does the system as it exists today actually offer them a possibility to do this? The answer I think most of the time is no. And then what do you do? So I think this is the big change, we have now technologies of self organisation which allow us to create contributory systems, open and transparent, and then to create entrepreneurial activities around these shared commons. A lot of these designers want to do this, we want to join in this dynamic rather than be forced to do unsustainable design.

Well I mentioned one which was Loomio, that's a group of people in New Zealand called Enspiral and it's a coalition of social entrepreneurs. It's about 50 people all linked around their commons, they have invented lot's of things, like co-budgeting whereby 5% of their income is put in a common pot (it's still theirs) and every member can propose investments. They can say "I want to do this I need $3000:" and then they just decide how to invest in which projects. This is a really interesting coalition that does everything in a transparent and open way.

Another group is the Nutrient Dense Project and it's kind of a mutualising of research between farmers, civil engineers and scientists. Farmers with a similar biotope in Nepal and Peru can try out different seeds and then share their results. These are maybe not the kind of design that you think about but these are projects that I find exciting because they are designing everything, not just the product. They are designing a mode of production. We need people to do this for telephones, like the Fairphone project or the Fair Trade Electronics project, we really need people to redesign the mode of production. From the ethical mind up to the consumer, every step of the way.

If you are young and you have these values of sustainability the challenges that you can actually tackle are very small in number. One of the skills is being able to break away from design as it exists today and to create your own socio entrepreneurial entities, to create a livelihood around a form of design which can be sustainable. One of the important things is that you can't really have sustainable design in a private research environment because you have to design for scarcity, so planned obsolescence is not a bug it's a feature. Join the commons, join a community of design, hardware or software and then become some kind of social entrepreneur or open cooperative in which you can be sure of the freedom of design to be sustainable.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Life enhancing change

Design is about change. It's about enhancing the parameters of life, making changes which will improve quality, make things faster, makes things warmer, make things more comfortable, make things better. That's what design has always tried to do. But, when we talk about design in the sustainability context, we ask what is actually meant by better.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Total care

Design has very much been established over the past century as a means of generating economic growth and prosperity. Today design is still very much plugged into that world. It's actually about reinterpreting things like healthcare, social provision and our experience of wildlife or education to make them more sustainable. The future role of design will be as a force in and of itself, one which will engage equally with social interests, ecological interests and economic interests. If we think ahead 50 years hopefully it will form effective synergies between all of those interests and we won't talk in such mechanistic, separate terms.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Reconnecting with ourselves

Design can help us reconnect with who we are as people. You know as individuals, as societies, as families, as clusters of friends, I think design has been misused over the past century to give us everything apart from ourselves.

We're constantly agitated, uncomfortable and dissatisfied with our present moment but filled with this hope that through consumption we can move closer to this utopian place which we're continually promised but never quite get to. One of the greatest things I think design can do is begin to change that story a little bit, start telling a different story which is that actually happiness and wellbeing is the default setting of a human being, it's what happens to a human when you leave it alone. Just like in most cases health is something that should happen naturally whereas we're sold the idea that health is something you have to consume your way into. So I think we need to retell this story and it doesn't mean we need to stop producing objects and stop aspiring to things and stop buying things, it doesn't mean that at all. It just means that the expectations we have of these material things and these experiences need to shift, it's very interesting when you help a person see that the things that they have and the qualities and skills that they have rather than the things they don't have and the qualities and skills they don't have. You can talk to the same person but in 2 entirely different ways and the results are profoundly different, when you think about the endeavors and activities of design over the past century they're largely focused on what you don't have but could have so I'd like to see that story change.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Towards a sustainable future

Well essential skills for designer in the 21st century, I think first of all to be very good at problem framing and to be able to actually know what the problem is that we're engaging with. I think very often we notice something that appears to be wrong or out of balance and as designers or as businesses that pay designers we tend to create these knee jerk reactions.

So people are really agitated in queues in a supermarket and they're not very happy to be in this queue, so we'll put chairs there. That's not really what's going on in that situation, that kind of suggests that we're not really looking at what's actually happening on the level of human experience, social and cultural norms, we're not really looking at the situation fully because if we do then we begin to realise that something quite different is going on, so only really when we look at situations properly can we then know what an appropriate plan of action would be or what an appropriate design response would be so very often even in so called sustainable design we develop really convincing, complicated and sophisticated responses to the wrong problems. Not always, there's some fantastic work out there but it's risky if you haven't really effectively identified the problem and so I think that comes down to context, it comes down to having good research skills and it comes down to knowing the right questions to ask and how to go about finding out what's going on and why people are behaving and acting in the way that they are doing.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Brains and Braun

I'll only give one example, I mean there is lot's of good work that goes on but one thing that I'd like to talk about is the Braun approach to industrial design which, perhaps pushed forward by Dieter Rams, but now carried on branched out and leading to the inspiration and practice of a whole range of industrial and product designers all over the world.

You know I think there's something very interesting about that and the thing that's interesting is the philosophy of last but better which was certainly what changed me when I learnt about this idea that impact, which is what we really talk about when we talk about sustainable design, we're not talking about doing loads of things badly, I think we're talking about doing something really well in a way that's successful and that works, so as an individual, you know myself operating within this hugely complicated and diverse sustainability space, I think the Braun approach is really interesting, where you say "let's do less things but let's do them better and to a much deeper and more complete level", we already have a world smothered in things and full of things, full of theories, full of design toolkits, full of products, full of people, but still somehow it's not quite right or something's not working out. I think that's a great example of just a very different way of thinking about what objects can mean and what they can be and then I also think that links to an idea around consumption as well which is where again I believe that we will always have a need for a material world and a world of physical things that we own and covet, I just think there's something very human about that. Thinking back to the Braun way of thinking then let's the make sure the things we do have then, perhaps there are fewer of them, that they are better and they last longer and we cherish and keep them in a more meaningful way and then when they break for example we're more inclined to repair them or upgrade them because we had that connection with them in the first place. So for me Dieter Rams and the work through Braun is a really great example, but having said that you're not going to immediately eradicate all human impact on the natural world simply by adopting that philosophy but I think each of us needs to consider what field we're in and what way we work and where the heroes and good stories are within that angle, for me it all falls apart when you perhaps come from a discipline, fashion and textiles, product design, urban planning, you try to have such a global overview that you attempt to be everybody, because then I think in the end you don't actually do anything, don't actually achieve anything.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

A succinct definition

Basically I would define design as the iterative process that gets you from the problem that you're facing or the idea in your head to the solution for people or a finished product.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Hybridising practice

Design in the past decades was very much limited to the concept phase which was define the problem, find a solution, and the solution was often very much manufacturing agnostic, at that point the designer did a hand off of the design to an engineer and it was the engineer's problem to solve that. At the moment I am seeing very much an overlap at that hand off situation, which means that the design is often far more involved in the engineering process because the product life cycle is a lot shorter and there are iterations even within the production process.

Previously when a designer handed off and the engineer iterated the design you often got to a phase where the function of the design got lost in the engineering corrections, very typical examples are the super fancy concept cars that get launched. By the time it comes to the engineer's desk all of the design elements get tuned down and the car ends up being more or less the same car as the previous ones. At this moment designers are far further involved into that process when at engineer makes an engineering correction to the design, it is still validated by the designer to see whether it still fits the solution that they were offering. Where I see this going into the future, and again here my role as an educational innovator comes in, is that you would get a lot more crossover hybrid in people's education; engineers with design skills, you would get designers with healthcare skills, design would be not really a disparate function anymore, at any given time people would consider "does this still solve the problem that the product was initially built to solve?" Right now everybody thinks that's the designers issue, they don't think they need to validate or check it anymore and I think in the future that validation process will be more immersed or more infused into every aspect of manufacturing.

I would compare it to the concept of a calculator. In olden days you had people who were only there to add figures up and you gave your balances to a calculator to sum up the totals, that function is gone, everybody is a calculator. The same thing with designers, I hope that ten or twenty years from now you will not have designers anymore as you don't have calculators any more but that everybody is a designer.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Tools to help others build

I think the biggest contribution that design can make right now, seeing for instance the maker movement and the digital fabrication tools that are available, is that they can solve the problems that mass manufacture has ignored. Tools like 3D printing and digital fabrication allow for anybody with design skills to find a solution to a problem that they are facing.

That problem could be a problem for one but it could be a problem for billions as well. The funny thing is that most of these interesting solutions started out as solution for one where the person just tried to solve their own problem, only to later realise that there were a lot more people facing the same problem and that is solved something for a large group of people.

I think the era where you had a problem and you said "somebody else will fix this for me" is going, if you have a problem you have the tools on hand to solve that problem, the problem solving power is with the people not with the big brands and corporations. Don't expect the Nikes, the Coca Colas and the Googles of the world to fix your problems, start fixing your own problems.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Empowering youth

What we're doing right now with kids in education is actually bringing basic design skills into the equation, we do that with simple CAD software, to help them build rudimentary solutions to their problems. I've been doing that in several schools where 7th graders learn the designer tools and at the same time start critically looking around and seeing problems that are not being solved.

I think one of the skills is the design skill, the pure "getting your idea into the computer" kind of skill. Another very critical skill is being able to analytically go from recognising the problem to making a solution. Often because that skill is not available people tend to put the problem aside saying "I'm not the person who can fix this", whereas once these 12-13 year olds realise that they can see a problem and it's actually very easy to fix it, to build a product that solves it, that enabling moment makes them very powerful.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Inherited ingenuity

If I have to look for my favourite design example and my design hero I really don't need to look far, the most perfect example is my 15 year old son. When he was 10 years old he enrolled in a TEDx Kids here in Brussels and got in touch with 3D printing. Actually a few months before that he was diagnosed with Myopia and needed a pair of glasses, so we started going to shops and looking for a frame and he was extremely disgruntled by the fact that we couldn't find something interesting.

As a 10 year old kid there's not a lot of choice, eventually out of frustration he said "this one will have to do", he wasn't convinced. So when he discovered 3D printing he was offered a design tool to start building his own things. The first thing that came up was making his own pair of glasses, that was a purely digital process, the point when he saw the physical glasses printed in the workshop was a huge impact for him…

That led me to fuel his interests and pursue it further. At one point he started teaching other kids about these things and then he started getting in touch with people who were trying to bring eye-care to kids who could not really afford eye-care at all. There was this very innovative solution by Eyes for the World to make adjustable lenses so that you just needed to bring them to the kids once in their lifetime and the strength could be adjusted as they grew. Through his own perception he realised that he needed to do something to help them and that this hobby of making eyewear and 3D printing could have a far bigger impact than just being a hobby, it could help him to help other people. He started out solving his own problem, only to later realise that the solution he had could also impact lots of other people, he's now working out a line of eyewear to not only help people find a good fitting pair of glasses but at the same time raise funding for this charity Eyes for the World to bring eye care to kids in Asia and Africa who cannot afford to have eye-care.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Academic recognition

Design has traditionally been in the service of market economy and commercial interests, it emerged as a profession from the dynamics created during the industrial revolution. Design focused on creation of artefacts and mostly served the interests of businesses looking to make profit regardless of associated social and environmental costs. The design knowledge that was more valid was technical and the attitude in designing was a top down ‘I know what you need and what's good for you’ attitude.

There were of course several movements that were exceptional but I'm talking about the general attitude, a lot has changed and very very rapidly in the past 10 years in the mainstream practice as design always responds to the context and the context within which design practice takes place now, especially in post industrial societies, has changed dramatically, both at the micro and macro scales. One of the most significant changes that happened over the last 10 or 15 years I think is the emergence of a type of design practice that is less output oriented and more process oriented and a realisation that design can add value to all sorts of organisations and not only businesses. This resulted in design practitioners finding a voice and a place in social innovation, social innovation being quite critical for creating societal transformations that are necessary for achieving sustainable resilience and just societies.

The other change that happened was the increase in the perceived value of design for business success, on one hand this resulted in what I call design consumerism in business but on the other increased the visibility and importance of design in the eye of the general public, so we can say that the agency of design increased. Of course this created an opportunity for design to influence the society and societal change processes like never before although we will see this opportunity be used to it's potential still but it's great to see courses emerging in design schools like design for government or redesigning society. I think these are very exciting developments.

Design, at least some of design practice, started to shift its focus from creation of individual artefacts to systems, so now design can be involved in making all sorts of longer term strategies, from business modelling to strategizing for transitional cities for example. And finally participatory practice has become almost the norm, on one hand with human centred design proving to add significant commercial value to product and services on the other hand because design has started to be more active in politically charged projects which of course require extensive stakeholder engagement and continuous democratic deliberation.

I think the changes I mentioned will continue to mature in the coming decade or so, design is now acknowledged as the third academic culture in addition to STEM which is science, technology, engineering and mathematics and HASS which is humanities, arts and social sciences so this acknowledgement as the third academic culture means there will be more recognition of design in academia and design will become one of the fundamental knowledge bases taught to everyone in universities at first year at least in applied disciplines so designerly approaches to problem identifying and problem solving will become more mainstream which will of course increase the impact of design, hopefully.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Life centric design

Well, to me the biggest problem that requires the concerted efforts of not only designers but everyone really is transforming our unsustainable society to a sustainable one. Distancing ourselves from an anthropocentric design practice to a design practice that's empathic to life and all components in nature that create and support it. So maybe we will move from human centric design to life centric design.

Human centric design is way too anthropocentric to remain relevant on it's own if we are to design for rewilding, biotheria and cohabitation which are what we are talking about particularly in the context of urban change but I think the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity is to engage with the rest of the society in attempting to create transitions to sustainability.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Critical synthesis

Well, hard technical design skills have always been very important and will remain important. If all others are equal they become the determining factor in who’s a better designer or what's a better design. But rather than hard skills I would like to talk about soft skills, the skills that are hard to teach at schools as they don't develop as a result of knowledge transfer but require a lot of reflective practice to cultivate.

First is collaboration, because the problems that we are attempting to solve are systemic and highly lucid and very very tricky. We really cannot rely on designers knowledge solidly to address these problems so collaboration of disciplines of different backgrounds, different ways of thinking and different types of knowledge are very important, this is of course easier said than done. A second soft skill is self-awareness, everybody in these days is a change maker, change maker in quotation marks, and everybody wants to make the world a better place, again "better place in quotation marks". These really need to be articulated, what kind of change are we talking about, what does it mean to make the world a better place, better than what? These are politically charged questions and they really require self-awareness in designers to be able to be addressed without arrogance.

And third is a design skill that's quite crucial in doing all of this which is critical synthesis, designers are really good in synthesising knowledge that is relevant to a problem from many different areas and in doing so a critical awareness is really important.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Paradigm shift

I would like to discourage people from trying to be design heroes. I think we should really shift away from a culture that's pumping individuals egos if we are trying to cultivate a culture of collaboration. The kind of work that's highly valuable to me is very very collaborative and so no single person can be appointed as a design hero, it's always teamwork that creates impact. This is also aligned with the current creativity theory which explains creativity as a product of a system rather than a gift of an individual, although I have projects that speak to me as examples that come to my mind right away.

One project is Hillary Cottam's Moaning Prison project which was never enacted due to political reasons, the reason why I really liked that project is because the problem was framed as a system and particular actors and relationships between those actors were identified in order to find the core issues that need to be tackled as intervention points so transforming prison from a place of punishment to a place of rehabilitation has of course been in the agenda for centuries but I think the interventions were conceived previously were a little bit palliative. Another project was an unofficial Architecture for Humanity project which was building a shelter at the USA Mexico border for illegal immigrants so they could protect themselves from bullets etc if they were sighted by border security people, I liked that project because of its political and rebellious nature. It's a project that is counter to establishment in a way that's very very very empathic to human condition. That's why I like that project and I'm sure, well I'm not sure but I think, Architecture for Humanity wouldn't necessarily want me to promote it as an Architecture for Humanity project but it's an unofficial project of Architecture for Humanity. So I think the projects that speak to me have a systemic approach to framing and solving problems.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Specualtive Regnegotiation

Speculative Design is about the reconfiguration and renegotiation of the future and the present. Design is having a problem and thinking about how that problem could be solved and what you'd like the solution to be in the future, then it’s the process of getting from the present to the future to solve that problem that is for the present.

In my work I create a future and then problematize that future, I create a problem in that future then I create a solution in that future and bring the solutions from the future to the present as a critique on the present so a lot of my work is about trying to re-understand what the future means and by re-understanding what that future means we can then reconfigure the present to align with that.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Social Documentation

In the past it was very structured, very prescriptive, we had a problem so we built a machine to fix the problem. Now we have machines that could need fixing themselves, at some point we'll realise that machines don't always fix the problems, sometimes you need to reengineer societies. Out of that comes the notion of empathy within design and human centred design, a lot of that has been very useful to humanity.

We are now digging deeper into empathy and human centred design, now I think we need to move design with that. It needs to be inclusive, it can't just come from one perspective, you can't talk about human centred designed from just say a white male perspective, you need to include different people in the production of those designs and the process of those designs, by doing that you reach a more diverse outcome. I think that's where the future is going, I think the future is inclusivity in design, not only in hiring people to design but then as a result of that the products that come out of that. Whether it's government policy, engineering, I believe will tend to include more and tend to serve the population better. For me, I deal a lot with Afrofuturist and Speculative Design with regard to Afrofuturism and I think that that idea of design coming from the ground up as opposed to the top down allows people ownership of the design and as a result of their future. It allows them ownership of the way they reconfigure their present to yield a better future for them.

I think design does come from, in a sense, the ground, the land, because your history, your background builds into whatever you design. So you can imagine different communities approach different problems different as a result of their experience, the communal history as it were. I think that history then is imbued in the objects themselves, one of the projects that I'm doing now is creating objects of African futures and what I argue is that by observing these objects in an anthropological way we can then understand those cultures. So in the same way one could think about objects that are designed from a ground up approach of different cultures as saying something about those cultures and I think that when we have multiple objects, multiple design solutions from multiple cultures we get a better sense of those cultures and those design solutions also address particularly those cultures, they're objects or design solutions that come from the outside, that have nothing to do with the culture themselves. Part of that too, if we're talking about the future of design, is the ability to manufacture, so with open source Arduino or Makerbot, that is really really very important. You can see that happening in quote unquote third world nations where the idea of repurposing is so important that taking trash and reorganising it, taking fabrics and reorganising it and now the ability to reorganise all of that with rapid prototyping methods and open source methods, all of that is very key to what I think the future of design would be.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Setting a tragectory for the future together

In the past it was very structured, very prescriptive, we had a problem so we built a machine to fix the problem. Now we have machines that could need fixing themselves, at some point we'll realise that machines don't always fix the problems, sometimes you need to reengineer societies. Out of that comes the notion of empathy within design and human centred design, a lot of that has been very useful to humanity.

We are now digging deeper into empathy and human centred design, now I think we need to move design with that. It needs to be inclusive, it can't just come from one perspective, you can't talk about human centred designed from just say a white male perspective, you need to include different people in the production of those designs and the process of those designs, by doing that you reach a more diverse outcome. I think that's where the future is going, I think the future is inclusivity in design, not only in hiring people to design but then as a result of that the products that come out of that. Whether it's government policy, engineering, I believe will tend to include more and tend to serve the population better. For me, I deal a lot with Afrofuturist and Speculative Design with regard to Afrofuturism and I think that that idea of design coming from the ground up as opposed to the top down allows people ownership of the design and as a result of their future. It allows them ownership of the way they reconfigure their present to yield a better future for them.

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Q4 what skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Coding empathy

Industry and capitalism have had a lot to do with design, the design of empires and wealth that one was able to extract from unknown lands and bodies through design systems. Now we need something a lot more empathetic, something that takes into consideration the desires of people and ecology as well as future repercussions of all these activities. The ability to take care of an environment and the people within, this is a basic human skill that every designer should have when approaching a problem.

In terms of the hard skills I think that rapid prototyping and learning to code, even if it's a basic language, are essential and also critical thinking, that one is very very very important. Designers that want to learn those skills, but I'm not exactly waiting for normal academia to teach that. Most times people just realise they can just do it and they just go and do it. These skills are not even necessarily just for designers, they are human 2.0 skills, skills that we need now, just like back in the day I'm sure riding a horse was a skill that everybody needed. Everybody needs to know how to code. You read, you code.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Afrofuturism

Well from me I come from the arts, so my reference for all of that is mainly going to be artists. This idea of Afrofuturism is a very broad field but there are certain artists that have done pieces or have done pieces that address some of that. For example, Wanuri Kahiu, see made a film called Pumzi and it's about ecology, it's a sort of future sci-fi film about a ecology. You have people like Mendi and Keith Obadike that do quite a bit of work with the notion of blackness so Kieth sold his blackness, or tried to sell his blackness on ebay, very speculative, very conceptual.

They respond to this notion of the extinction or existential threat of black bodies in the future, what I mean by that is not only a removal of these bodies psychologically or in terms of late of representation but also in terms of misrepresentation and also especially now with black lives matter and the police involved shootings, they respond to the removal of these bodies physically from the future. What I argue is that with these three, you know the physical, the lack of representation, the misrepresentation what you're actually doing is you're removing these bodies from the future and by removing those bodies from the future it poses a threat to the present, so these artists deal with that in a myriad of ways using art, using speculative design, using Afrofuturism, they're not designers, but they embody the process of investigation that I like to see in my work.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Observation is key

Design starts with the intention to make things better. That's what it is now and maybe what it's always going to be. It starts with the need, the temptation, the urge, the obsession, the aim or the purpose to make things better. Looking at the world and observing how things are happening, how people behave, how people do things and seeing a potential to make it better. That's the basis of design.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

The digital facilitator

Design was largely focused on products how to make them perform better, there was big competition between products and the key to win was design. Next to this functional vision there were aesthetics, since the 60s people have consumed symbolically, people buy things because they have self expressive benefits.

We talk about brand and brand design adding symbolic value to products and making them different by adding a sense of self. People buy watches, buy furniture or a car because it helps them to identify themselves and build social status. If you buy design magazines you still see this taking place. But now we are in the digital atmosphere we see that design now means more and more that you think of utilities, you think of total solutions, we create platforms to make things happen. Think about smartphones, think about platform based apps that help individuals meet and deliver each other analogue services. Not just Uber but also peer buying, and ownership systems. So that's where we are now, when you ask about the future I hope that the global planetary challenges will more and more become the next family of business opportunities, I hope that after new business models there will be more and more next practice platforms that will disrupt the way we eat, the way we move, the way we make use of materials. I hope that this is largely what will define design thinking in the future.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Next practice platforms

The biggest challenge is to find the next practice platform for everything we do, when thinking of the circular economy we are not designing a product anymore. We design a loop, a cycle, we think of what the product will do when it's worn out and where it is coming from. I hope we will find similar systems for food, energy, materials and mobility. There are different models popping up, when thinking about mobility there is big belief in on demand mobility, there is a big belief in car sharing and seeing individual mobility as a kind of service, there are big models coming up but we are only at the start of it.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Platform power

We see new kids on the block, for example bio scientists, coming in with optimism which I think is a very important skill. Thinking over the edges of classic industries, artists working with scientists, entrepreneurs working with ethical minds, I think these are the new skills that are necessary. I think we enter a world that everything is possible, where every industry will be disrupted, but in the end I think ethics make a difference. Because from a technological or a scientific perspective everything will be possible. So the main difference will be made by ethics.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Ethical context

The Genetic Barcelona Project from Genetic Architecture makes a very complex process very easy, there are some animals that are bioluminescent and these guys have isolated this function and integrated it with trees to make trees that produce light in the dark. It's a project from an architectural agency so already you see this consilient thinking, architects who think about the future of our cities, who are working together with bio chemists, that's very consilient. The end result is of course fantastic but it needs ethics, it needs an ethical context in which these new radical things are possible.

Same with close to Belgium, in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands we have PlantLab. These guys are researching all food crops in order to find the most performing formulas to grow them in a digital and an artificial way. So the main thing is that the crop is not genetically modified but the environment is modified, it is the environment that is artificial, using monochrome LED lights to grow food much faster than in a natural environment. This is great because it gives the potential to grow foods in a hyperlocal way, in your basement, on your roof, on the roof of a supermarket. It gives a fantastic potential also to disrupt classical value chain. But what are we going to grow? Thing technology is by definition morally neutral, it's only the intent of the people and what they do with this technology that will reveal new possibilities that will be for good or bad. So talking about PlantLab and the genetic Barcelona project, these are big examples of consilient thinking where ethics are fundamental and very important but think about Yoni as well. It's the brand of two entrepreneurs in the Netherlands who develop biological feminine care products because they thought it was necessary, in the classical brands of feminine care products they found some residue of pesticides from the cotton and they were convinced it's necessary to have biological alternative on the market, and that is Yoni. Ethical and next practice platforms are important to big corporations but it provides a new context also for small start-ups who come up with new things.

It's a technology driven view within an ethical context, if we really enter a time where everything you think of becomes possible then an ethical context is the bare necessity to make sure that it provides us with a healthy and balanced future. So when thinking about every technology and every development that is really exponential, think about bio design, think about GMO, think about nanotechnology, think about smart materials, all those evolutions are hyper fast and ethics can never follow at the same pace. So there is a need for a big ethical universal context that is universal and that can always be the reference for every fast evolution. So between technology and evolution, innovation and ethics, there will always be a kind of friction but I think it's a human responsibility to always make the difference from an ethical perspective. This is going to be more and more important and as far as I know it's only a thing that humans can do.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

People, Proof and Purpose

It’s the conjunction between people, proof and purpose. What I call the three P's. People because design has to be people centred, it must consider people's experiences and behaviours as part of what it does. Purpose because everything we do needs to be meaningful. Proof is the measurement of what you do, so what then is left as the value.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Proving design’s value to others

How design has evolved over time is very strongly attached to context. Recognition for the value of design started from the industrial revolution, when aesthetics became valuable. That is still the focus of design in most countries, in some countries design has evolved dramatically to become a more meaningful and integral part of how we manage problems.

In my own pathway I discovered this and it got me really hooked on the idea of exploring the reach of design right now. So going to the now it's again depending on context but if we talk in the context I've been for the last 6 years which is the UK and Europe right now there is a very clear consolidation of design, so the word across businesses, across universities, across professionals has a very different meaning of what it had 20 years ago. Most people understand what design is about, what the value is about, to the extent that governments are including design as part of their agendas. Businesses understand that they need to design things properly in order to be better businesses and create more value for the users. So it is for me a very interesting in design in which people are really analysing what it could do. On the other hand, you know looking a little bit more towards the future, the future of design and the way i see it right now, it has two angles. One is the consolidation in its implementation, so here right now it's very widespread what design can do for you, your business, your institution and people and societies and so on. But we are struggling with or we are starting to explore the biggest challenge right now which is how do we implement it and then how we prove its value. So it is very exciting to see that the future may lay in actually proving the value of design and hopefully this example will serve to then spread to the rest of the world.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Understanding each other

For me personally I think that the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity right now is empathy. We need to consider, in order to design things, how other people might feel, what other people might experience and empathy is key to understanding these kinds of things. There is little subjectivity and everything is based on research and objectivity of how things are perceived for others so if there is a contribution for humanity right now for humanity, for me it would be empathy.

Then what do I think is the main problem for designers to solve in this century? I think that is almost impossible to answer because in this exploratory phase when design is making allies in areas where it was impossible that design could contribute before the challenges start to arise in kind of sectors and are relative to different sectors. But if I had to say one answer I think that designers need to solve how then you can define design in a more broad scale, not only as part of different sectors such as healthcare, digital, branding, business or service design but what design will be at a broader scale, how people might understand it and more importantly how we make this definition accessible in the same way that when you say I'm a doctor or I'm an accountant nobody asks you what that means. Designers face that question every day and almost everywhere, "what do you do as a designer?", "what does that mean for me and for my business?", "what does that mean for my clients?", "what does that mean in general?".

I think it's within it's own consolidation that design will find a broader meaning and then get specialised. So architects are specialised in many types of building and many types of spaces, and you know designers will start consolidating these things. But right now it is a race to really define what the specialisms of design are and it's almost like a provocative gesture of saying things like product design is dead, and that's common to read across blogs or across reflections of the professionals in the sector. So definitely there is a versatility of design and that's why it's valued so big, but we need to sit down and agree what is going to be it's new form that has begun to emerge over the last decades and how can we make it accessible for people without giving them a lecture of what service design is or what design thinking might do.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Intuitivity beyond limits

Tools to create a link of empathy. Understanding those blurred barriers when it comes to collaborating. It's not about design only anymore, it's not about the design stars, it's not about one person it's about the work and the outcomes that you might achieve by working with a variety of people who think differently. You need to be very humble, open and flexible and at the same time very focused on what your true strength and true value for the process is.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Non designers

Funnily enough, and probably it is a reflection of what design is going through and has gone through and where it's going, my favourite examples of design are those that are not created by designers. So it's where desperation of people is beyond any possibility of functioning normally and they will adapt something in order to make it work the way they need it to work.

Examples are around us everywhere of that, say how do you make your plug work in a hotel that has the plugs very low and you cannot plug your computer in? Those things are for me truly fascinating examples of how relevant design work is in the context we live in and for our quality of life. Definitely the design heroes that are recognise are the people who are willing to do something about it and again examples are everywhere. Yeah, those are my favourite ones.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Learning and Teaching

For me design is all about learning and teaching. When designing we try thousands of different experiments and what we learn we put into an object. The user doesn't need to go through the process of experimenting they just take the object and can use it straight away without understanding all the difficulties that go with the design of that object.

For me design is both a verb and noun, as a verb it's the process human beings use to transform their environment so design is the process by which we learn which actions work for us. What we ultimately want is actions that are reliable and repeatable, we have to learn what actions are useful to us. As a noun it's the tools we need for the process of design.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

Flourishing sustainability

I think at first design was a necessity, we needed design for our survival. Then we learnt how to build a secure environment for ourselves design became more something we use for art or to express ourselves. So design was not only for our survival but it became also something to communicate with, when we learnt to design good art it became a status symbol so the role of design changed to design and reflecting people's ambitions, and I think it's still the case that design reflects what people think and do.

Unfortunately the most important way to show your status is money so at this moment I think design is kind of a slave of money. Where there is money there is design, I hope for the future that it will change, that design will be more about caring for other people and the planet. I really hope design will be able to make people and other species flourish on this planet. So the role of design in the future should be about sustainability.

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Q3 What is the biggest contribution that design can make to humanity and what is the main problem designers should attempt to solve?

Active awareness

Good design should make people act, not react. They really understand what they do and what the influences are of what they do. And that is the most important challenge on a meta level. The first shift in this mentality I guess will happen in agriculture, in my opinion agriculture has always been the first sector to change because it fulfills our basic needs. So I think something to focus on is how can we design really sustainable agriculture.

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Q4 What skills are essential in the 21st century to have a positive impact?

Open systems

Designers should learn to design in open systems, the past decades we have been designing in companies in structured and standardised methods but I think we should learn to design in open complex systems and one crucial skill for designers will be empathy. We need empathy to understand how other people feel, too often designers design from their own perspective, not understanding the choices other people make and why they make these choices. I guess empathy is a skill that needs to be practiced quite a lot by designers to make systems that work.

Empathy can help us understand every stakeholder involved when designing a process or a product. I think it's really necessary to learn how to design stuff to be easily adopted, adapted and improved. It's very important when designing efficient systems that the information needed for the design process is available to everybody who wants to use or participate in the project process. So an essential skill will be to learn how to set up open source projects, to make design accessible to as many people as possible. I will be a huge challenge but also a very needed skill for successful design.

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Q5 Could you share with us some of your favourite design examples or design stories?

Design as care

My favourite design stories are about the reforestation of desert areas, just changing the landscape to collect the rainwater can change the entire country, just by making deserts into fertile ground. So those are really the design stories that speak to me, just by changing little stuff on such a huge scale that's for me, really really good design. Changing as little possible as possible and letting the systems already at work do the rest, that for me is design at it's best.

My design heroes are those people who are designing these kinds of things out of care, not for fame but just because they care about changing their environment for the better. There are a lot of people that help people flourish but they are not famous so I can't name these heroes, but for me they are heroes because they contribute small things, they contribute what they can. It's the same for people who build and write on Wikipedia, they are all small contributions but all the people who help build it are heroes. They've taken the time to make an altruistic act and that is something to celebrate because this helps shift our focus from big and famous to small and flexible. I think the power of these people is underrated.

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Q1 How would you define design and what does design mean to you?

Future orientation

Design is a process rather than a field of knowledge or a professional activity. I would define design as a future oriented process which is open minded, thinks in non-traditional ways and is non-conformist with the present. So, it's always aiming at developing something that is better and future oriented.

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Q2 What was the role of design in the past, what is it now and where is it going?

A move to facilitator

Looking for something better and future focused has been stable in design over the years but what has changed is the definition of ‘better’ in different times. What it will mean in the future. In relation to that the ways in which you can get this something better, so the process, the method and the role of the professional designer, have also been changing.

So if we consider the classic design design times, for example the Modernists, better for them was