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Designing for Change

A society that ceases to wonder, is a society in decline. But good design can spark wonder. And wonder is good for everybody, including business.

Design and its effect on people, society and business, is one of the hottest research topics these days, because design is rapidly becoming the heart of all successful business ventures.

We are surrounded by design every minute of the day, from the room we sleep in, to the handle of our faucet, the layout of our kitchens, the packaging on our milk and coffee, the coffee machine itself, the lamps and lighting, to shop signs, shops and stores themselves, street signs, buildings, roads, schools, classrooms, offices, desks, computers, software, services, websites.  All of which have been repeatedly shown by research to affect our moods and thoughts.* 

  • We have all been frustrated by poorly designed websites, and poorly designed shops – from harsh fluorescent lighting that makes us want to leave the store as soon as possible, to crowded isles where it is difficult to move without bumping into people or things.
  • We have also been delighted by the pleasure of using a well-designed tool, eating in a well-designed restaurant, purchasing a product in gorgeously designed packaging, working in a well-designed office or building, or receiving well-designed customer service.

                       Apple’s iconic design incorporates the golden ratio.

Poor design can distract. We recently went to a lecture on the future of design that was put on by CZECHDESIGN in partnership with the Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyThe lectures were good, however what unfortunately got our attention the most was the poor design of the room in which it was held in the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design, in Prague, which, like many such educational buildings in Prague appears to have had little or no interior design updates since at least the 1970s, if not the 1950s.  

The room was poorly lit with harsh fluorescent lighting only from the front, it was drab, claustrophobic, worn looking, uncomfortable and cramped. And it occurred to me that this might not be the best setting for developing creative design thinking.*

 A claustrophobic lecture hall in the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design, in Prague.   

Good design can spark wonder.  For example, on a recent trip to a sustainable design product exhibition in Frankfurt, I stayed at a hotel that demonstrated elements of Design Thinking. In the room, the door to the bathroom swung in, and became the door to the WC, thus allowing someone else to use the sink or shower while someone is in the WC.  The moment of wonder I experienced when I recognized not only was this a cool idea, but it also reduced the number of doors the hotel had to buy by half, and saved a lot of wood, trees and money, and – and this may be the most important part – made a stay at an otherwise unmemorable highway-side chain hotel, a remembered experience.  And, as you know, that is a major factor in building brand loyalty. It was marketing, with no cost to the marketing budget.  Well designed products market themselves.

A study we did for Rajec mineral water, finding moments of wonder, undigitally.

Design is a powerful and productive medium that can positively affect a society's outlook and help to build a better life, society and world, while also createing excellent products that bring profits. To do this we need the best possible designers, but we also need a public that is design literate. After all, what use is writing a book for an audience who can’t read it? 

Therefore, anything we, as designers, can do to increase the design literacy of the public, will benefit all of society, and generate higher profits.  

One possible place to start that process would be to look at the design of the schools and classrooms in which design students are taught, and reconsider them as human spaces that should aid and be conducive to creativity. The venue for any functions to spread design literacy should take into consideration of the venue.  

 Our design for Kofola.

The Point: Good design is evidence that change is possible, that things can be made better, and that this is something done by people.  Good design has integrity, humanity, care and love at its center. As designers we share a responsibility to guide the public to design literacy.  Businesses and producers also share in this responsibility and will benefit from greater sales and brand loyalty from better-designed and packaged products, which can in turn actually lower marketing costs, while increasing profits.

* A good summary article in support of this is, “How Room Designs Affect Your Work and Mood”, in Scientific American.

** In support of this see our summary of Ray Anderson and his global sustainable carpeting company, where he discusses the marketing value of designing for sustainability. “No amount of advertising, no clever marketing campaign, at any price, could have produced or created this much goodwill.”

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