Category Archives: Social

Open Design 2015 about to kick off!


“Open Design Cape Town Festival is a 12-day city-wide festival that celebrates the values and impact of design and innovation as key drivers of economic, environmental and social development. The Open Design Cape Town Festival is positioned as the leading showcase of how human-centred design can improve living conditions, build human capital and drive job creation. Through Open Design, the genius of innovative social design, service design, universal design and sustainable design has gained a firm place on the calendar of international design weeks.

Open Design Cape Town brings together all the design disciplines to remove the exclusive stigma associated with design. The programme is designed to educate and empower youth, develop human capital, nurture leaders and activate responsive citizens.”

Open Design 2014

Open Design 2014 festival will come to an end tomorrow, following eleven days of exhibitions, talks, workshops, conferences and performances. The festival is at the heart of design in Cape Town and showcases many project around the city during and after the main festival. I had the privilege of being involved in a number of activities over the course on the festival and have been left feeling intellectually exhausted, creatively inspired and emotionally re-connected. That is the power of festivals I believe – to create a space and time in which we can work, share and imagine the best that we can be. But I find myself wondering where we go between festivals and exhibitions? The powerful discussions, emotive pleas and wild applause for those working on sustainable solutions and social innovations seems lost a few weeks after the main event. As daily routine returns I wonder where our revolutionary spirit goes. Pulled back under, by daily problems like funding, operations, materials, permissions, policy and capacity the dream of a better world is not lost, the waters of possibility simply seem a bit murkier. The passionate advocates for change are still passionate, just also aware that rent needs to be paid. I believe festivals offer us a little time in which we can focus exclusively on our goals and ideals, not bound by possibility or practicality. An occupational dream holiday one could say. And what a holiday Open Design 2014 was! The first Universal Design conference in Africa, daily talks by inspiring professionals, tours for scholars showing the possibilities of design, new technologies demonstrated and a curated exhibition of projects reflecting how South African design is impacting education, environments, sustainable solutions, mobility and communication. Next week, when the familiar daily routine threatens to return I hope I can keep it at bay just a little longer. To remain focussed on the real goal, the one we set ourselves, the one we chase everyday, the one we dream about. If not, I may need to consider another occupational dream holiday.

Open Design | Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Ethics of User Experience Design

A great find via Service Design Network

Design & Making: The Story of Food

Installations reveal how the story of food preservation, storage and packaging over time is vast and complex. From using found objects such as ostrich eggs and gourds, and objects made from clay, wood, grass and other materials, we now store food in freezers, plastic, cardboard, glass and vacuum-packaging.

Food and eating is a basic part of our everyday life, but how often do we stop and consider the impact of our habits and taste on global trends and the environmental cost?  ‘Design and Making: The Story of Food’ exhibition opened its doors in May 2014 and tells the story of food, food production, the impact of consumerism and the world of design around our food. The project is an official World Design Capital 2014 collaboration between  Iziko Museums,  Cape Craft & Design Institute (CCDI) and a few Cape Town based creatives and designers. Working with individuals from both the CCDI and Iziko was an absolute privilege and the curation process was more like a meeting of  friends than work. 

Iziko Museums describes the exhibition as follows:

“Design & Making [the story of food], in collaboration with the Cape Craft and Design Institute,traces the evolution of craft and design through food – in particular, the vessels used for its preservation, storage, packaging and distribution.

Installations reveal how the story of food preservation, storage and packaging over time is vast and complex. From using found objects such as ostrich eggs and gourds, and objects made from clay, wood, grass and other materials, we now store food in freezers, plastic, cardboard, glass and vacuum-packaging. The exhibition story is told through installations and objects: a large group of historic African, European and Asian objects sourced from Iziko’s Collections stands alongside 30 contemporary objects created by designer-makers from the Western Cape. There are also examples of modern packaging. The exhibition also reveals how vessels used for storage, preservation and packaging of food have been radically influenced through human development and technological innovation. These include the discovery of fire, salt, glass, electricity, new materials such as plastic, aluminium and cardboard; the development of fast production methods which has led to the industrialisation of food production, and contemporary challenges created by convenience food, consumerism, waste and the ultimate inequity of food insecurity in the context of global excess – all of which could do with some design solutions.” |

Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving

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Written by Jon Kolko from AC4D this book is available to read for free online or can by purchased.  Inspirational, with a clear focus and easy to read style. As described by the authors:

This book was started with the intent of changing design and social entrepreneurship education. As these disciplines converge, it becomes evident that existing pedagogy doesn’t support either students or practicioners attempting to design for impact. This text is a reaction to that convergence, and will ideally be used by various students, educators, and practitioners

To enjoy this great read, click here.

When Great Design Works|Boarding Passes & 50 Problems in 50 Days

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There is a great sense of awe and wonder when I stumble across a great example of graphic design. UK designer Peter Smart has redesigned the format and interaction we have with the traditional boarding pass. His design speaks to function and user interaction and proves that small changes can have a great impact.

Fed up with constantly being handed confusing and poorly designed airlines boarding passes, a traveller decided to make his own. What he ended up creating could be the best boarding pass ever and has grabbed the attention of passengers and airlines.

Read the full article here.

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The idea for the design coincided with Smart’s project, 50 Problems in 50 days , which explores social problems and how design can assist. The project is truly exciting and showcases the hope, desire and dedication of one designer. It also shows how much a single person can impact the world around them when the take an interest.

2517 miles, 15 beds, 12 interviews, 10 cities, 38 cups of coffee, 1 adventure

I’m on an adventure – to explore the limits of design’s ability to solve social problems, big and small. To do this I attempted to solve 50 problems in 50 days using design. I also spent time with 12 of Europe’s top design firms.


Tech Trends 2014

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The lovely people at Frog have compiled a great Tech Trends for 2014 in which you can vote for which entries you believe are likely to feature. This is one of many forecast and trend documents popping up online this time of the year. I love it!! Paging through the various forcasts makes me so excited, imagining that the world of early 20th Century sci-fi authors will finally come true (….in truth may may just get more of the same, with slight changes and incremental developments).  I suggest giving yourself over to dreaming about where we can go in 2014….even if it is just for a few minutes!

Click here for Frog Tech Trends 2014

If you haven’t read this, do so in 2014.

I sometimes think our world has become to big. We are surrounded by millions of objects and messages, all screaming for our attention, to be used or to be purchased. I’m a packaging junkie. It isn’t a wonderful thing to admit but if a design spends enough time on the packaging of an object – tasteful colours, appropriate imagery, decently kerned copy and, of course, some textured element – there is a very good chance that I will buy that product. I realised that what draws me to great packaging is the detail and visual story telling. Someone sat and made directed and contextually relevant decisions to create something beautiful with a devastatingly low survival rate (let’s face it, how many of us keep packaging). The human consideration in packaging,  as with product and services, is something that makes me feel connected to the process of production. At the same time it reminds me of how wasteful our world is. The need to feel connected is becoming shockingly more difficult in our world. Books, like great packaging,  make me incredibly happy. When I read a great book about designers or design I feel connected to their process and views. Great authors help one make sense of the world by offering alternative views,  personal interpretation and case based evidence. There are so many amazing books out there on the topics of design and design for development that I often feel sad, as I know I will never be able to fully explore them all. So, in order to simplify things a bit I offer you my top 5 book to read in the new year. Some new, some old, some about philosophy, some about practice but all iconic. They tell the story of creative innovation and design, the need to be connected and the need to really see the world around us…

1. Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand (1947).  This book, published over 50 years ago, captures the philosophy and views of the icon designer Paul Rand. I fell in love with Rand’s Swiss Style of typography. The book explores his views on functionality and aesthetic, and documents his views on design which can clearly be seen in his later designs such as the IBM logo.

2. Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change by Victor Papanek (first published in 1971). Today this book is on the compulsory reading list for my Industrial Design students, and many more I am sure. They usually end up discussing how such a powerful piece of work is still relevant today, even more so maybe. With the provocative start of the book stating: “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few”, the book strips away the covers of consumerism and irresponsible production to reveal Papanek’s views on a more sustainable future. Revolutionary then, necessary now and key to our future.

3. The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman (first published 1988). In this book Norman explores the functional requirements of products and adds a new dimension to J.J. Gibson‘s term affordances. He also explored the term ‘user centred design’ and the importance of putting users at the very centre of the design and conceptualisation process.

4. No Logo by Naomi Klein (first published 1999). This book will change the way you look at your world. I find it hard to believe that it has been than 15 years since this book was published. Klein takes a hard look at the second economic depression (which we have all felt in some way since the publication of the book). The power of capitalism and the ultimate cost is explored. The 2010 special publication is also amazing and well with the read.

5. The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic (2009). Sudjic, the director of the Design Museum in London, explores our world and the human desire to fill their world with objects. He reflects on a world ‘drawing in objects’. Witty, humorous and sometimes personal Sudjic exploration of this topic is unmissable.

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The Value of Design

I was recently asked what my views are on the ‘value of design’. I spend so much time reviewing the work of others and finding links between current design theories that is refreshing to stop, and spend some time thinking about my views on the subject. One of the most important things we need to acknowledge is the difference between design as a profession and design as a process. I often speak to recent graduates and I’m intrigued when they all say “I’m a designer” and never “I design”. Semantics some may argue, but I believe it highlights an important duality in design. On the one hand design is a professional occupation – grounded in the needs and wants of clients. For me the statement “I’m a designer” describes this. The aim of design in this context is to produce object, messages, environments etc. that addresses user needs. The second option, “I design” refers to design as a process, an iterative and methodical problem solving technique.

A Brief History of the Chair in Design, Denver Art Museum, 2012

A Brief History of the Chair in Design, Denver Art Museum, 2012

The apologetic nature of the new (and only slightly different) chair.

I should state upfront that I love chairs. For me, there are few objects that can so succinctly depict the evolution of design through the ages better than seating and chairs. However, if we are honest, many contemporary chair designs are only slight variations of existing designs, offering nothing new to the user except possible colour changes, surface decoration and maybe something a bit special in the leg department. One may ask then why new chairs are being designed and produced.  This is the realm of “only slightly different, but completely new” design.   It is the mind set and design practice that contributed to the consumerist world we inhabit. Yet, we can’t move away from this form of design completely. It is through gradual development that users engage most successfully with new technologies. Users also require more individualisation and personalisation of products and environments, creating demand for “only slightly different, but completely me” design. To say that this stream of design does not offer significant value is unfair.  The objects and environments around us evolve and adapt through this design stream. And, through more sustainable and ethical practices the manufacturing and distribution of designed objects have less negative environmental impact. I spent the first few years of my career in this stream, as I believe most do. Learning my trade, developing my skills and developing that slightly elusive designer intuition (which is by no means always correct). During the last two years my passion within design has shifted and I am now passionate (read, slightly obsessed) with the larger design environment and the connections between design, people and technology.

Thinking for design

Design thinking. The phrase causes a cold shiver down my spine. Mostly because I have sat in more meetings than I would like to remember during which design thinking was describes almost as a magical spell that would improve business, operations and ultimately the financial bottom line. As a designer I was expected to wave my magical ‘design thinking’ wand and shazam! The amazing writings of Richard Buchanan, describing the power of design to address complex, or ‘wicked’, problems had in a few decades been twisted into a parlour trick, required to deliver innovation and organisational rejuvenation. I appreciate the candid discussion of Paul Pangaro on the topic during his Picnic presentation, Rethinking Design Thinking, in 2010.  Today I am back in the world of ‘design thinking’, only this time it is from a user centred perspective.  The potential within the design process, to detail and analyse complex problems and develop through creative, critical and reflective thinking a context appropriate solution, is for me the real value of design. Service design is an area I am particularly interested in. As an approach Service Design encompasses all design disciplines, focused on the improvement of development of user centred service experiences. It’s about people – their world, their technologies, their experiences, their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Design for social development, design for the other 90% and similar movements share a core focus on context appropriate solutions for real users. What is the value of design? Strategic change for an improved situation – a better walkway for children in rural areas to get to school, a more streamlined process in clinics, improved channels of communication in police stations for victims of abuse and food growing projects feeding entire communities. What is the value of design? It can empower us to see problems as manageable, to imagine a better situation and help us do something about it.

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Jacque Fresco on Larry King WTVJ Miami 1974

I keep coming back to this interview… 1974. Fresco talks about a marriage of science, design and technology to solve complex social and environmental problems. Watching this interview reminds me of the genius of Fresco, and at the same time I am frustrated that we still struggle with many problems highlighted in the interview, nearly 40 years later. A bit of a long interview but well worth the watch!

“What is happening to man is, that his technological society, the newer value systems that dominate our times, that are pressing onward, are leaving behind hundreds of thousands of people who cannot make the transition.”

“The future can not be stopped by anyone.”

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