Alex Van Dierendonck –
In 2022 transition designers won’t accept design assignments, they will make value proposals for both business and public.
Just as Ernesto Gismondi of Artemide states he doesn’t look at markets, the next step for designers is to take the leap to a different role. The design scope is changing towards systems (Hummels & Fens, 2011) This process will continue, strengthened by new methods like Experiential Design Landscapes or Living Labs in which traditional roles blur and shift.
I estimate that the period between 2020 and 2030 will be a crucial period in which sustainable transition will get off. 2020 is a period after which lock-in occurs on many area’s of concern like the accelerated greenhouse effect according to scientists. I invite those who are not convinced yet about the imminence of the transition to read my full report. Transitions can be chaotic and disruptive in which “markets” are unable to guide (Rosa et al. 1999) The good news is however: transitions can be guidable; (Grin et al. 2010) theories like Multi Level Perspective and methods like Strategic Niche Management are available, and i am convinced design(ers) will play an important role in the future.
In times of transition there will be no time for brand-identity, instead the only thing that will matter to the public is your willingness as a company to contribute to a new reality, your ability to provide value and your entrusted authority to give guidance.
Companies will need to be authentically involved in order to survive the scrutinizing power of the public in transitional times. In an open knowledge society brand-identities are not separable from firm authenticity. Even more so in times when things change radically and when the future is uncertain, authenticity will be unavoidable because it provides trust. It is not surprisingly that firms who aim at sustainable development are also carefully trying to be authentic as well.
Future products will be judged on if they contribute and matter in an sustainable society. As Mary Douglas already stated in her paper on poverty in 1970: “What is the Objective of the consumer? To help to create the social world and find a credible place in it” Companies also need to find this credible place, since they are part of the social world. And the judgement criteria for credibility change radically in transitional times.
Design has the power to guide transitions by means of radically transformative innovations and the proposing of new meanings
Design is a feasible means to be really transformative. because of it’s methods and the designer’s capabilities. This is shown by examples from the past where designers operated together with entrepreneurs in more benign transitions (Forty, A., 1992). Just think of the introduction of electricity in households, the rise of the middle class, the introduction of hygiene, the importance and role of washing, and the guided transition to a car based infrastructure in the netherlands (Schot, 2005)
An contemporary example is the crackling noise of bio-based plastics developed at Wageningen University which creates the distinct connotation with biological and environmental food. It is introduced in society and can evolve as a proposition to people to think differently about food and plastics. Designers were involved in the Wageningen bio-plastics developments right at the start because designers can add meaning to materials.
Designers can turn commodities into meaningful products: for example the thermostat (mentioned by Jasper de Kruiff & Patrick Leijte) as an object of connectedness, included recently in our new digital virtual lives, offers opportunities for further meanings of sustainability. Here we can observe the protential role designers can have in sustainable transitions; product meanings are highly correlated with our behaviors.Therefore if It is possible to capture our attention, and enter our area of awareness more opportunities can be created for persuasive technologies and our relationship with the commodity of in-house-heating can potentially be altered in a none-disruptive way.
Designers have dynamic capabilities they are able to change their worldview, -their paradigm- , periodically and thus are able to capture new meanings in an early stage. We can see this capability exhibited in shifts in design philosophies like art deco, art nouveau, dada, bauhaus, pop art, postmodernism. Furthermore they are able to diffuse new meaning and paradigms into society, by means of their ability to capture meaning in solid forms (Forty 1992) and by means of their network.
Designers are trained to take design decisions with incomplete information and work during times of uncertainty. In transitional times radical innovations are necessary in order to attain the 160 fold reduction in co2 efficiency (Tim Jackson TED Talk 2010) that will be needed. I am convinced designers can attribute in this area as well because they don’t only focus on technological solutions but also an more so on social- and system solutions (Hummels & Fens, 2011) It is highly unlikely engeneering solutions alone will be sufficient.
Companies can strategically plan for transitional design
It is not necessary to wait and see; it is possible to position the company in the transition arena by starting a learning process about what this new business is about, what the new rules are, the methods and theories companies could use, which designers they should hire and how they can position designers in such a way that they can provide guidance.
Because the knowledge, methods and theories have not crystallised yet but are under development. It is advisable for those who manage companies to find persons with an overview of these developments and who are also able to asses the possibilities from a business perspective, and are able to set up an in-company learning process.
Governments & Institutions can enhance innovation with transitional design
Governments can provide for the institutional embedding of new design processes in society
and establish new roles for designers by means of public private partnerships, starting projects and facilitating interaction between the creative industries, business and society.
For policy makers that wish to interact with such projects there is a need to see the bigger picture and the question is how to place these developments in their Innovation Policy and how these developments will interact with other policies. For this Innovation Scientists can be of help.
Alex van Dierendonck march 2012