Design is a familiar concept. Industrial design brings together utility and beauty in award-winning products. Similarly, good design is evident in buildings and architecture, where form and function are harmonized with environmental fit and sustainability.
But, there is more to design than remarkable products and buildings. Design is a powerful, but largely unrecognized, tool to enhance the lives, jobs, prosperity and well-being of ordinary people. This can result from embedding design practices in public policy-making and business strategies.
How does this work? A neat summary of the practices of professional designers is often presented as the ‘Design Council’s double diamond’ of design thinking. This is used to identify and address big, complex and significant challenges facing business, government or community decision-makers.
The key features of the design thinking ‘double diamond’ are as follows:
- Twin processes, one that delves deeply to understand the problem from all angles, and one that explores alternative plausible solutions.
- Priority is given to the perspectives of those affected by the problem, not those charged with fixing it. Sometimes referred to as a user or customer-centric approach, focused on unmet needs or demand, rather than the supply of ready-made services, information or technologies.
- Avoidance of jumping prematurely to solutions before the problem is well-understood.
- Caution about embracing the first preferred solution without exploring other imaginative options.
- Ensuring that both problem framing and problem-solving tasks benefit from the input of diverse people with differing interests, expertise and disciplines.
- Rejecting the conventional linear approach that moves in a straight line from problem framing to problem-solving until it reaches a single conclusive answer.
- Rather, the approach is iterative, looping around between problem framing and problem-solving, testing different ideas and solutions at small scale, and prototyping and validating incrementally to build up answers that work in practice.
What do we know about the impact and benefits of using design practices to boost the prospects and resilience of Australian communities, industries and enterprises?
The Australian Design Council and Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) are piloting a series of National Design Challenges in the food and agribusiness sector, as one of Australia’s growth industries with a presence in regional Australia. The first project is underway in the NSW Bega Valley. While it is still at an early stage, some emerging insights warrant attention.
The Australian Design Council’s mission is to engage Australia’s world-class design sector to help grow more globally competitive Australian firms, and in turn, national prosperity. The National Design Challenge is a framework to scale the impact of design by embedding our world class professional design capability into Australia’s Modern Manufacturing Strategy as a key enabler.
The Bega Valley project introduced teams of world-class professional designers to work alongside local business leaders and partners, who had already embarked on a strategy and initiatives aimed at transitioning the Bega Valley region to a circular economy.
What are the lessons so far about the role of design in adding greater value and impact to the Bega Valley’s efforts?
Design practices seem to be having the following effects:
- Challenging assumptions about the scope of circular economy projects and driving those involved to think differently, in particular, to be more aligned and impactful in their vision.
- Inspiring and motivating managers and workers by expanding otherwise mundane business proposals and cost-benefit calculations into new initiatives with community-wide benefits and social purpose. Serves to make jobs more meaningful and the employer’s contribution to the local community evident.
- Making collaboration a natural mode of operation, even if projects are initiated by individual business enterprises or government agencies.
- Making sense of a diversity of perspectives and expertise, without key messages getting lost in the cacophony, or voices from the edge being drowned out by the mainstream.
- Fostering rapid experimentation, with small scale testing of ideas, to learn fast and fail fast. This mirrors the approach of agile entrepreneurs, not the slower research methods and systems which are common practice in the corporate world.
- Demonstrating that complexity and clarity can co-exist, by finding ways of addressing contentious issues that defy obvious answers, and developing and implementing imaginative solutions. Complexity is, therefore, not overwhelming and overly simplistic answers recognized and rejected.
Most importantly, the use of design reinforces curiosity as the norm. It provides the legitimacy and opportunity to trial bold ideas in practice, without putting the entire business or political outcome at risk.
In short, the hidden power of design owes much to its ability to make progress by nurturing both innovation and ‘business as usual’ practices simultaneously.
Magda Lechowicz and Qi Xuan Lim, Design Thinking and the Double Diamond: FAQs, Foolproof, 22nd July 2020, https://www.foolproof.co.uk
Design Council’s Double Diamond – https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/double-diamond-universally-accepted-depiction-design-process
Food Innovation Australia Ltd, Capturing the Prize, https://www.fial.com.au/sharing-knowledge/capturing-the-prize
Australian Design Council, National Design Challenge—Food and Agri Sector, Bega Valley, February 2022, https://australiandesigncouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Australian-Design-Council-Bega-Valley.pdf
Thanks to Sam Bucolo, Executive Chairman, Australian Design Council for his assistance with this article.