How can design transform the economy? What impact can design have on innovation?
As a Glasgow-based agency, we're incredibly lucky to work in a city with so many first-class design institutions and events on our doorstep. Huge fans of The Graphic Design Festival, we jumped at the chance to attend their ‘Impact by Design’ event held in partnership with Design In Action this month.
Billed as ‘an evening of exploration that aims to unpick the true value of design’, the speakers discussed how creativity can tackle everything from complex social and environmental issues to helping companies ‘make things look better so they can sell more stuff.’
If you missed it, here’s a quick summary of the evening’s highlights and soundbites:
1) Cara Broadley & Brian Dixon of the Institute of Design Innovation, Glasgow School of Art. Michael Pierre Johnson of Design in Action
'Design as a method of problem-solving'
With a focus on start-ups and healthcare, Cara and Michael described how innovative design methods can bring about organisational change. By applying Design in Action’s ‘chiasma’ or ‘sandpit’ technique of gathering stakeholders together for 2-3 day workshops, complex ideas can be mapped out visually and used to redesign service solutions around user experiences.
As Cara explained, these methods work because they give service designers a deep insider knowledge as well as an objective understanding of issues. By building trust, barriers are broken down and stakeholders are put at the centre of the design process.
To find out more, all Design in Action’s Chiasma-funded projects are on their website.
2) Kerrin Lumsden – Design Leader for Global Brands at DIAGEO
Design Manager for Diageo’s luxury portfolio, Kerrin Lumsden discussed why Diageo invests so heavily in design.
‘We process visuals 60,000 times faster than text’
With thousands of alcohol brands competing for consumer attention while providing the same 'functional benefit', how does Diageo persuade consumers to buy their brands? Simply put, it’s by creating emotional bonds between a consumer and a brand.
‘I want one of those. What is it?’
By tapping into the emotional (and irrational) side of human nature, Diageo can connect with their target markets. As Kerrin demonstrated, there are three design-led elements which reinforce this:
- Be distinctive
Using the example of the Johnnie Walker ‘walking man’, square bottle and slanted label, Kerrin showed that a well-known icon can be stripped away from any other advertising context and still be instantly recognisable.
- Be consistent
Guinness is a great example of how re-using the same assets turns symbols (such as the Guiness gold harp) into a quick design shorthand for a brand. This brand shorthand can be applied to any context from a TV advert to a bar tower and still be easily recognised.
- Be creative
The danger of always using the same brand elements is that consumers may get bored. The trick is to keep changing and be creative within the ‘brandworld’ of every product.
How the design process starts at Diageo
The first step is to develop a brand’s positioning - its look, feel and personality.
It’s not about ‘will this work?’, it’s about ‘how does this feel?’
Whereas this process once started with words, Diageo’s creative teams now use images to define brand positioning from the outset. This enables them to work faster and generate instant emotional responses.
‘If design isn’t profitable then it’s art ‘ - Henrik Fisker
Overall, Kerrin was passionate about the competitive advantage of design-led business solutions. With design-led business outstripping traditional businesses by 223%, great design can give companies a massive competitive advantage.
3) Rob Holdway, Co-Founder of Giraffe Innovation
‘Unless we reduce emissions by 80%, we’ll need two planets by 2050’
A familiar media face for sustainability issues, Rob Holdway is one of the UK’s leading eco-design consultants. While leadership from our politicians is still woefully lacking, he works with companies to ‘design out waste’. He told us that while businesses aren't persuaded by the environmental agenda alone, they are always keen to make cost savings. Using his work with Virgin Atlantic's in-flight meal services as an example, a simple modification to packaging design delivered a weight saving of 129kg per aircraft and a fuel saving of 2,400 tonnes of CO2 a year.
‘People deal badly with numbers’
Although, environmental awareness-raising usually involves alarming statistics, there are more compelling ways to encourage people to change their habits using design. To illustrate, Rob discussed a couple of projects which use visual representations rather than statistical data.
- The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Man
Commissioned to raise awareness of how much electrical waste we get through in the UK, The WEEE Man is a seven metre high, human figure composed of three tonnes of electronic waste. Representing the amount an average person in the UK is likely to consume in their lifetime, people are able to look at it and easily conceive the scale of their own consumption.
- Changing Habbits
Changing Habbits is an online programme to encourage pro-environmental behaviours. Using humanoid forms, body parts are distorted according to the environmental consequences of an individual's personal data. Like The WEEE Man, it allows people to see the scale of their contribution to an environmental issue and prompt them to make changes.
‘There’s an astounding amount of greenwashing and bullsh*t’
Statistics still have the power to shock though. Telling us that the world population is growing by the number of people who inhabit London *every 38 days*, Rob is passionate about the need to re-invent, re-think and re-define how we use materials. The current ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to production is unsustainable. Circular design, which recovers and regenerates materials at the end of service life, is the future of a resource-efficient economy.
‘There’s no such thing as blue-sky thinking’
Demonstrating that constraints are at the heart of creativity, Rob describes good design as an 'inspired riff on something deeply understood'.
As an example, one of Giraffe’s designs for The Co-Op to reduce the UK’s chicken waste is a simple, divisible tray which enables consumers to leave half the contents sealed. With around 42,000 tonnes of raw poultry waste thrown away each year in the UK, this design modification has the potential to have a huge impact on protein waste reduction.
Overall, Rob left us feeling positive that there is an alternative to our disposable, high-waste world and, crucially, there are strong incentives for businesses to innovate. As Rob says:
‘No organisation, no matter how adroit, can make money from a poisoned population and a dead planet’