Design Solutions Can Improve Society

I just read an interesting article in Fast Company about a non-profit firm that’s using design to improve people’s lives. The article discusses how Participle created an environment for seniors called the Peckham Circle that combines technology like Webcams with a new social enviornment that engages seniors in a network of relationships. According to Hilary Cottam, founding director of Participle, “The secret of a happy old age is getting on top of the everyday and being networked. The circles can help.”

What’s interesting about Participle is that it’s not a group of social workers. It’s an interdisciplinary design team with anthropologists, economists, entrepreneurs, psychologists, social scientists, and a military-logistics expert. Here’s Cottam’s mission for the firm, which she calls a social business: “To crack the intractable social issues of our time.”

My take: I applaud Cottam. It’s great to see design being used to solve social issues. I looked for a definition of “design solutions” that captured this approach, but I couldn’t find any that I liked. Rather than continuing to hunt for a codified definition for “design solutions,” I created this one:

An approach for creating environments — including interactions, products, processes, communications, and aesthetics — that are tailored to meet the expressed and unexpressed needs of people who experience them.

Many of today’s institutions were designed based on assumptions that have become outdated or were never designed with end users in mind. So there are many opportunties for design solutions to dramatically improve areas like healthcare, education, elder care, banking, and public safety.

What can design solutions provide?

  • A focus on the true (end user) requirements
  • Innovative approaches that break existing paradigms
  • Efficient solutions that deal with real-world constraints

The bottom line: The world would be better off with more design solutions.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 Responses to Design Solutions Can Improve Society

  1. Great article, insight, and thinking. design purists would say thats just “design”. while many others consider “design” as merely an aesthetic solution.

    We use the term “transformation design” at Two West, coined by the RED initiative – a public service “do-tank” in the UK.
    IDEO has been using “design thinking” – with a book in progress.

    At any rate, or definition, this kind of progressive, collaborative thinking is going to help shape and change systems for the better.

  2. Bruce Temkin says:

    Justin: I like IDEOs “design thinking,” but the word “thinking” doesn’t go far enough. “Transformational design” sounds good as well, but it implies that it can only be used for major changes. The goal is to get more executives to tap into design, design thinking, transformational design, and/or design solutions in a more pervasive, ongoing manner — no matter what we call it. Thanks for joining the conversation on this!

  3. Pingback: IDEO’S CEO Discusses Innovation « Customer Experience Matters

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