Designing for Change

That human society is now capable of altering the climate of our earth is broadly known, but how are these changes going to affect the structure of human society? The UK’s Hadley Center for Climate Prevention and Research at the Met Office recently released a report, Climate: Observations, Projections, and Impacts, detailing the predicted changes in weather patterns around the world and the effect those will have on the economy, geography, and pattern of society.


Higher levels of flooding, extreme heat, and water shortages, all predicted if climate change proceeds unchecked, meaning that more and more people will move from rural to urban areas in search of jobs and refuge from more extreme natural cycles. However, cities too will face challenges, and will need to design infrastructure to cope with the earth’s changes.

 

Traditionally, design for weather has not been a priority in urban planning compared to economic development and maintaining high standards of living. For example, coastal cities, which were established for their proximity to ports and waterways, have evolved with economic intention and have not been designed to face changing levels of flooding caused by these economic activities. While the original urban designs may be achieving their material goals, they do so while creating larger problems. Dr. David Dodman, from the International Institute for Environment and Development told CNN, “In places like Delhi, we’re seeing a growing middle class use their wealth to pay for electricity-hungry air-conditioning units, which contribute to global warming, and this of course creates a negative feedback loop.”

Cheonggyecheon River in Downtown Seoul, part of Seoul's Urban Renewal Project

Some cities are, however, redesigning their urban areas with climate change in mind. Seoul is a notable example, where urban designers have undone prior projects, bringing back to the surface an ancient river that had been buried during South Korea’s rapid economic advancement. Simon Reddy explains that, “This creates a wind corridor to it keep cool, and will also help drain water away in times of high rainfall.” Other urban redesign projects include rooftop gardens, which insulate buildings in the winter, keep them cool in the summer, and absorb rainfall, as well as being an oasis of green in an urban jungle.

Climate change, its immediate and secondary effects, require a redesign of urban spaces to accommodate more extreme weather patterns and subsequent migration and change in social patterns. Some cities have joined to create the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and are already working on projects to simultaneously counter and design for global climate change. The challenge of climate change will take forethought, innovation, and creativity to redesign our cities, our patterns of living, and our societal mentalities.

Apple’s Educational Innovation

Thursday, Apple announced three new apps, aimed at innovating education, specifically the use of textbooks, as well as selling the ipad as the new essential educational tool.

The first app, iBooks Author, allows educators to create an interactive textbook of their own design, which can be perfectly fitted to the course they teach.

iTunes U, the second app, allows educators and students to share entire courses, including all the materials. Video or audio lectures and ebooks would allow anyone to take any class available from anywhere in the world.

Finally, a new textbook store, iBooks 2, would sell ebook versions of high school and college textbooks. CNN reported that, “Apple said it is partnering with several major textbook companies — including Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who will make e-books for the store…” These textbooks have advantages in their ability to be more interactive, advertizing simulated dissections and responsive diagrams, as well as note taking abilities.

While there is much to be excited about, in regards to the more interactive text books or even lower prices of the ebook version, the question of general affordability of the necessary apple products, or the feasibility of a classroom full of ipads are concerns that need to be raised. Apple’s intention, however, to recreate how courses are taught, is an interesting direction in educational innovation.

On the Design of Politics

So often the intellectual disciplines of politics and design are categorized separately, into the realist and the whimsical, assuming policy design and structuring institutions are the only semi-creative outlets for a political scientist. But even in its most artistic meaning, what is the realm of politics without design? Do states not define themselves with visual images, symbolic of the ideals for which they stand?


Remember the successful propaganda of communist regimes in the USSR and Mao’s China. The very style of the art, typeface and color, is now associated with revolutionary struggle.

Paola Antonelli, for Seed Magazine wrote that “Whether we are aware of it or not, design is in everything around us. Every building, park, city, organization and social project is designed. For those who know how to use it, design can be a critical instrument for governance regimes to illustrate power through elegant, imposing monuments and the rebuilding of cities under new ideologies. Design holds the key to persuasion. Totalitarian regimes rely on design to achieve their objectives through sleek propaganda which is not subject to public accountability. A pluralistic Democracy on the other hand who’s mission isn’t to coerce often doesn’t employ a consistent philosophy on design.”

 

However, as she continues to say, even liberal democratic states are giving more attention to the design of their symbols and institutions (see for example The Hague Design and Government, based in the Netherlands). European Union currency, for example, was a modern adventure in the power of symbols and their implication. Unable to choose historical figures to stand for a united Europe, they settled finally with ambiguous bridges and buildings.

 
 
 
 
 

Design!publiC III asks about the changing relationship between the public and the polity. Can the designs of the public inform states in flux to the needs of the people? What can graffiti from the revolutions of the Arab Spring say about the desires of the people and the redesign of their states?

(source: Foreign Policy Magazine)

Design!publiC 2 at NGMA, Bangalore on October 14!

We hope you’re looking forward to the Design Public Conclave as much as we are. This note is to provide some orientation and preparation for the intense day we will spend together, as well as some background reading that might help you get more out of the day.

As you will see in the Conclave Agenda, we will begin with a discussion of innovation and the Indian corporation, moving on to Public and Social innovation, and then discussing how design might accelerate Start-Up innovation.

Lunch will be in beautiful spaces of the National Gallery of Modern Art. We have taken some care to figure out how to design the space to best encourage and enable conversation.

After lunch, there will be final panel discussion on the actual practice of innovation, followed by breakout sessions on three selected Grand Challenges of Indian Society, namely inclusive higher education, quality maternal and child healthcare, and toilets and sanitation for all. Participants will divide themselves into three groups based on their interests, and will spend the next hour and a half developing innovative solutions to these wicked problems.

Several participants have requested background readings in advance of the event. You might start with this light parable on innovation. Then check out this discussion of innovation and its relation to design. We have also undertaken a survey of innovation theory in India that you might find helpful. Then read this article as well this post, which talk about whether and how innovation can be routinized.

You might also be interested in the subject of the public, and what constitutes public interest, check out this article, which attempts to understand these large subjects.

Finally, you might also be interested in reading Aditya Dev Sood’s thoughts in a New York Times Blog called India Ink on whether there could be a Steve Jobs in India’s future.

Several participants have contacted us asking about the event and how to reach the venue. For your convenience, we have prepared this map, which will guide you to the Design Public Conclave at NGMA.

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Design!publiC – The Background

The problem of governance is perhaps as old as society, as old as the rule of law. But it is only more recently — perhaps the last five hundred years of modernity — that human societies have been able to conceive of different models of government, different modalities of public administration, all having different effects on the configuration of society. The problem of governments, of governmentality, and of governance is always also the problem of how to change the very processes and procedures of government, so as to enhance the ends of the state and to promote the collective good.

Since the establishment of India’s republic, many kinds of changes have been made to the policies and practices of its state. We may think of, for instance, successive stages of land reforms, the privatization of large-scale and extractive industries, the subsequent abolition of the License Raj and so and so forth. We may also consider the computerization of state documents beginning in the 1980s, and more recently, the Right To Information Act (RTI). More recently there have been activist campaigns to reduce the discretionary powers of government and to thereby reduce the scope of corruption in public life.
While all these cases represent the continuous process of modification, reform, and change to government policy and even to its modes of functioning, this is not what we have in mind when we speak of ‘governance innovation.’ Rather, intend a specific process of ethnographic inquiry into the real needs of citizens, followed by an inclusive approach to reorganizing and representing that information in such a way that it may promote collaborative problem-solving and solutioneering through the application of design thinking.

The concept of design thinking has emerged only recently, and it has been used to describe approaches to problem solving that include: (i) redefining the fundamental challenges at hand, (ii) evaluating multiple possible options and solutions in parallel, and (iii) prioritizing and selecting those which are likely to achieve the greatest benefits for further consideration. This approach may also be iterative, allowing decisions to be made in general and specific ways as an organization gets closer and closer to the solution. Design thinking turns out to be not an individual but collective and social process, requiring small and large groups to be able to work together in relation to the available information about the task or challenge at hand. Design thinking can lead to innovative ideas, to new insights, and to new actionable directions for organizations.

This general approach to innovation — and the central role of design thinking — has emerged from the private sector over the last quarter century, and has enjoyed particular success in regards to the development of new technology products, services and experience. The question we would like to address in this conference is whether and how this approach can be employed for the transformation public and governmental systems.