After several years in the design industry I lost some memory on the reasons I wanted to become a designer, make things and deliver innovative products. Recollecting my thoughts and having had the time to re-compose my last ten years of professional adventures, a clearer picture slowly came up again.
Asking WHY we design and mass produce hardware and software is still a tough question to answer. Most of designers and engineers are constantly working to make things work, deploy the next version, reduce manufacturing costs, achieve higher retention rates, use as much data as possible to contain marketing failures, gamify the experience as much as possible to have a competitive edge.
Big design firms and a good number of tech companies are integrating Design Thinking practices into their business model, offering a better understanding of what customers really want but still serving the main purpose of creating, expanding or manipulating markets and customers to maximize profit. In a world were optimisms about tech and social innovation sparked by new IT products and services the three main elements of the Design Thinking definition are placed on the same equal plane.
Design thinking “is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” – Tim Brown
As opposed to this very positive vision of today’s society I can probably try to give my personal twist to Tim Brown’s excellent definition, let’s say, for fun:
Today’s Design practice is “a human-centered approach to business success that draws from the designer’s toolkit to exploit the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, for the requirements of business.”
I obviously don’t want to compare myself to the mighty god of Design Thinking is just that I’m always really intrigued by logical substitutions and word play. In this case I felt also that restating a definition of what design was in its ideal state of balance becomes cynically a truth for many of my fellow designers and engineers. If we play with words and meanings we can easily reach a point where business and success must be defined precisely as well as adjusting the weight of the words needs of people. Without an ethical definition of these concepts the entire equation to succeed in innovating for the good of people may end up harming the public or mining the very reason designers and engineers started inventing new products and services.
Navi Radjou, a brilliant scholar and TED speaker, defines 3 points in practicing good frugal innovation:
- Keep it simple.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Think and act horizontally.
It looks simple to apply to our workflows and organization but there’s something in our human nature that tents to always push us back to complex systems where the best we can do is with the most resources and the highest performances – the more with more philosophy. What Prof. Radjou and other notable scholars are re-discovering is instead that we can do better with less, and that as humans we always did.
Designers and engineers, entrepreneurs and CEOs, Marketers and Advertisers, all of the creative staff members involved in sensitive human activities have a growing responsibility towards the public.
Asking ourselves WHY we design something is healthy but we also need to act wisely and chorally to be able to thrive in an overpopulated world.
For the first time we can use technology and innovation to not only do better with less but also create business opportunities that are not harming the planet and ultimately its inhabitants.