Back Soon

I am taking off for Christmas. And have promised myself I will not blog over the break. I will spend all my time with my family and be available for the kids. In a non distracted fashion. So this blog is on ‘away’ mode for two weeks (atleast).

Meanwhile – go on take a look around

(Iceberg image ©Ralph A. Clevenger.  Any additional usage must be licensed)

I leave you with an image of the iceberg – not as a reminder of global warming. But as a nudge – that the bit that we see of society is just not very relevant. That the hidden stuff – the faint and marginal – is huge and powerful.

Merry Christmas.

Social Design it is

I have just come back from India. And from Presenting the School of Design vision. For now its all go – and that is really exciting. In short the vision argues for three new kinds of courses:

1. Social Innovation: Where the key focus is upon a people orientated project that uses methodologies more attuned to the social. The vision here is that the problems of the world cannot be solved by technical intervention at the tip of the pyramid only. And trickle down is often ineffectual as it dries up before it gets to the bottom.

2. Service Design: Where the key focus is upon changing existing services which are doing such a bad job of ensuring a decent quality of life for all – or of coming up with new service ideas.

3. Social Design: Where the undergraduate curriculum in design is proposed – as a social one. Where the discourse is post professional – where specializations ought to be seen as things of the past. For specializations were a feature of a technological society – as in compartments and efficient units. In a post industrial society the profession of design too changes and becomes disengaged from the material and technical.

The school vision acknowledges the existence of the two dominant/existing paradigms of design – as the art and design construct and the technical innovation construct – and proposes an additional paradigm the social. Which is a sense makes then the case for the existence of three meta discourses: the 1850s onwards dominated by the Art and Design rhetoric in the words of Ruskin-Morris, then Gropius and Muthesius; the 1950s onwards where the technical-industrial is privileged in the voice of Banham, with Pevsner sitting on the fence; the 1990s onwards where the third discourse emerges in the voice of Manzini and the post-sustainability texts.

Sustainability has a post attached to it as design was to leave the technical in sustainability to the labs, TU Delft and the clusters that went too far into LCA, the quantitative and the rhetoric that was then called eco-design. But as the suits moved in to sustainability discourse – the poetics got marginalised and the aesthtic in sustainability was relegated to the material manipulations. So the ‘save the planet’ brigade in design opted out and found social innovation.

This is succinct picture – just done to distance social innovation from sustainability. Where sustainability is about the dominant discourse and the social is the inclusive marginal.

In short there is a possibility that the discourse of design i about to get a fresh lease of life – atleast in India – in the guise of the social.


Word Spy – netroots

n. A grassroots movement that uses the Internet to communicate, organize, and raise money. Also: Netroots.

Example Citations:
Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner … followed her husband to Washington state in 1998 when he was hired at Microsoft; she landed a job there in 2000, working as a marketing manager dealing in network architecture for software developers. …

What has made Burner different from other political newcomers is her ability to attract campaign contributions (she’s outraised her opponent, a rarity for congressional challengers). And she owes a good part of her fundraising success to her links to the netroots.

“She’s one of us,” Seattle blogger David Goldstein, who has solicited contributions to Burner on his Web site,, said earlier this year. “Down deep, she’s a geek.”
—Gregory Roberts, “Darcy Burner’s interest in service started early,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,” October 29, 2008

What is the methodology for Base of the Pyramid Innovation?

I found this interesting blog – where the aim is to come up with a ‘practice’ and method for designing and developing products for the BoP. I will be watching this blog from now on.

I am very excited to embark on this new combined research and consultancy project about People Centred Innovation with Base of the Pyramid. For the next six months I will be exploring how we can create new products and business models to improve the life of the half of the world’s population who is getting by on less than 4 usd a day (in comparative purchasing power as if they were living in the US), and how we can put people first and include their needs and aspirations, and their knowledge and resources in this. The UN calls it Growing Inclusive Markets.

Design Education for the future

Now Imagine a Design School that offers courses at three levels: Bachelors, Graduate Certficate and Graduate Degree. The key focus of the courses is Design for Social Change. The primary context of practice is India – and the location of such a school if New Delhi. What this conjures up is design that focusses primarily upon social change as an outcome. Where the object and the profit is not what defines design.

Such a design school then offers design education along two lines: Service Design and Social Innovation.

At a level of School Leavers the school will have a course labelled Social Design. Now Social Design is an accepted and widely used term – such as in the Social Design Network. A 4 year course the social design programme will be an integrated course which builds design thinking and the ability to do projects as a designer. The projects and themes of exploration would be aligned to the social change agenda – and thus have a flavour of service design and social innovation.

The designer is in this way charged with agency – and the intellectual discourse would privilege Sustainability and collective well being issues. Though the individual would constitute a potential focus of design exploration – this would not be in the domain of self image, consumption and gift giving.

If there were a design school offering such courses – now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

A New School for India

Imagine a country where by many estimates 70% of the population is rural – with poor access to work, services and the benefits of technology. Where life in a sense is a curious mix of the ancient ways-practices and contemporary in the mobile phone and shampoo sachet. This context has energised many different responses –

  1. William Morris asking for it to be locked away as pristine and perfect.
  2. The Indian state initiating a central planning strategy to obliterate the past.
  3. The social activists setting up NGOs in rural contexts to bring modern management practices to the hinterland.

Design joined in to focus upon the rural as a manufacturing locale and designed objects and tools to make money and prosperity flow to the rural.

To be fair all of this had some effect. In pockets. And much much more needs to be done. I find the ‘design for the other 90%’ deeply irritating, in the same way I found Papanek problematic – technology and more products will not materially change the situation. Neither is income generation projects in rural areas the total answer. All this has been attempted – and its just not enough. Something else is needed.

So I ask the question – can a design school be set up which lets go of its professional anchorings (in the art and design framework ) to focus all its energies upon this population of people?

Integrated Design

I have been looking at the Bachelors in Integrated Design offered by the Koln International School of Design. This means I have considered it from many angles and there are many things I like about it.

1. I know many designers who trained as one kind of designer and then went on to practice as another kind of designer. So in a sense traditional specializations are transmutable or convertible or – check this out – all the same.

2. The specialization in design is not at the level of design method, it is not at the level of aesthetics and it is not at the level of marke and branding. It is only in the knowledge and ability to work with technology. So textile designers learn a completely different technology to that learnt by other designers.

3. There is another level of specialization – that at the levl of skill, in that motor skill – so ceramic design in throwing pots, textile design in weaving and knitting. But the other disciplines are a bit removed from their material manipulation.

Now where Integrated design begins to make sense to me is in the absence of a charge or agency in the designer – in this I refer to the herding by schools of designers to channel them into sectorially defined professions. You are a product designer – and you will work in the manufacturing sector making appliances. There was probably and time and place for this – but that time is past. Some will disagree here  for that is the ‘real world’. But let us leave that aside – for there will continue to be enough design programs on this planet who will continue this kind of chanelling.

I am looking at a program where the ‘agency’ of the designer is to take on ‘intractable’ problems. A designer who does not feel compelled to go off and work in an office in a city or for a big multinational. One who is told in design school – that their role is to change the world and solve its problems.