All posts by Bryan Boyer
As we mentioned previously, last month we were working with the Synergize Finland team to run three concurrent studios on the theme of "new work". The details are continually pouring onto the Synergize (Elinvoima) website, so you can hop over there for the updates as the programme continues, but here's a peek at the week in an abreviated form.
After the studio week the teams have had a subsequent session to begin developing some of the action areas into social innovation projects. The trajectory of that work is based on the rapid development of a big picture 'architecture of solutions' in studio and will culminate this fall when Sitra hosts everyone again for a celebration and announcement of the projects that are continuing forward.
As for us, we learned a lot from the week and it was an especially useful experience to run multiple studios concurrently. Exhausting, to be sure, but useful.
By nature of being an internal collaboration within Sitra we also dedicated time to articulating in a more careful way how to put something like an HDL studio together. Part of this was iterating and formalizing the tools and techniques that make each of the days tick.
One example is an 'ethnography field guide' that we developed with the help of WeVolve for the fieldwork on tuesday. On my plate is to finish up the English translation and get that document up here as a download, which will happen before summer kicks in.
In the meantime, there are many more photos of the week on our Flickr account. Enjoy!
All photos by Ivo Corda.
As June begins we've been working on a number of small bits: helping some of them grow into slightly less-small bits, and eventually real projects. In other words, sketching, discussing, calendaring, prioritizing.
On Thursday we had the luxury of spending an entire day to look at only two issues. That much time dedicated to such a limited agenda is nice and by the end of the day we were all exhausted.
What else? Some quick hits:
Dan was at Aalto University to give a presentation in the Pragmatic Utopias seminar
We at Sitra launched a new website in beta form. This has been a long time coming and we're excited to have it as a more fluid way to share our work. You can read about strategic design in English and in Finnish (and more content will be available in English in the fall).
HDL can now be found on Tumblr, where we are blogging things that look interesting and related to strategic design. If this experiment works out we will figure out a way to bring some of that content onto this site as well, but for now it's in a separate sandbox at helsinkidesignlab.tumblr.com.
So let's face it, if you're reading this site and you just thought about clicking that link for the Tumblr blog, then perhaps it's time that we make our friendship official. Luckily, Facebook is here to help us Become Friends. In other words: HDL can now also be found on Facebook, where you can can give us a thumbs up if you're inclined. Or generally follow along with what we're doing.
And finally, the Strategic Design Unit has been talking a lot about street culture, and in particular the way that food helps set the tone of the street. This was aided by a visit to Camionette, Helsinki's first food truck. Tasty.
With the sun glinting off the Baltic and a cloudless sky stretching to the horizon, this weeknote commemorates the beginning of summer in Helsinki. Amazing.
As much as the weather may entice us to spend the afternoons biking around town in search of the perfect corner of park, we've been busy... as we usually are just before summer.
Chrtistian Bason and his team from MindLab stopped by for a visit and a chat about the realities of practicing design within public sector organizations. We've been inspired by MindLab's excellent work in service design for the Ministries of Economic and Business Affairs, Taxation and Employment in Denmark. They're one of the true success stories of public sector design and as we continue our work in Finland we are looking at how to learn from MindLab while folding strategic and systemic opportunities into the mix.
We've also been reviewing and de-briefing after a very busy week with the three concurrent studios that Dan mentioned in his last post. As always, the studios were a great learning experience for us too—as the participants push and pull the boundaries of the studio 'model' we learn where the critical points are.
Riku Siivonen, a journalist who has been working with Sitra on the Synergize Finland programme, prepared a video of the week embedded below. It's in Finnish, but even if you can't understand the words you can get the gist of how things went.
At about 5:25 into the video you will find the beginning of day 5, which is the 'final review' of the studio work. One thing is conspicuously absent as the studio teams present their work: any kind of digital screen or projection.
As we sparred with the teams throughout the week we pushed them to visualize their ideas with the tools at hand. Especially as we all began to think about the final presentation from a goal oriented point of view: the idea is to conclude the studio with a conversation about the systemic understanding of the problem and a collection of action areas that the studio teams have identified as important opportunities.
It's difficult to have a strong conversation about a system when it's presented in a linear presentation (such as Powerpoint slides). What often happens is that the last thing on the screen gets a disproportionate amount of focus or there's an awkward shuffle back and forth through the slides as conversation moves from topic to topic in a nonlinear fashion. For this reason we pushed each of the teams to think about the strategic objective of the conversation and to use the walls around them—aided by giant prints—to create an environment for rich conversation that would help foster and develop their ideas.
Having the contents of the presentation on the wall enables the invited guests and the entire audience to walk themselves back through the whole collection of ideas and important points in their own order and at their own pace. Ultimately this helps the final review be more of a conversation and less of a presentation followed by response.
With encouragement (and a tiny bit of arm-twisting) each of the three teams to relied on the strength of their presentations and their public speaking skills to begin the conversation without the aid of a digital screen. This worked great and no one seemed to complain that they were without the PPT-prosthesis!
All in all it was a great week.
If I had a time machine and I could change one thing I would hop back to the beginning of last week and remove all of the post-it notes from the studio space (you'll see tons in the video). The reason for this is simple: post-it notes trick people into being lazy.
Let me explain. The way that post-it notes are commonly used in workshop settings is to capture an idea on a portable piece of paper. This paper can then be moved around at will and eventually accumulated on a bigger piece of paper and then rolled up and put into the closet and kept forever. Ideas captured. Success?
Post-it notes record ideas and allow them to be easily migrated and reorganized, but it's not a good medium for mutating and synthesizing ideas.
One of the reasons that we prefer large sheets of paper or whiteboards is that they encourage collaborative mutation. If you realize that something is drawn in the wrong place, it must be erased and re-drawn or somehow altered to meet the new intent. By drawing and redrawing, writing and rewriting, opportunities to adjust the content and format—to literally re-present the ideas—continually emerge.
When shuffling post-it notes these opportunites are lost.
Choices about how thoughts are committed to paper and in what format are the visual equivalent of tone of voice. Think about the dramatic differences in interpretation between a statement vocalized in an earnest tone of voice or a sacrastic one. The differences in perception are huge!
By literally re-writing a statement one is able to revisit the choice of wording, its relationship to other content on the board, the scale, the color, and many other factors of the format which will inflect how it is perceived both by the author and by others... In effect, to change the tone of voice.
Even when sketching something quickly we obsess over the small details of how an idea is comitted to paper because it's in this process that a new level of richness emerges.
If a person holding a hammer is tempted to see all problems as a nail, what does it say about situations where the answer to everything seems to be a flimsy, sticky-backed square of paper? When doing new work it's sometimes important to test out new tools as well. Next time we'll hide the Powerpoint and post-it notes.
Nevertheless, congratulations to the Synergize Finland studio teams on a job well done (even with some post-its)!
Things reached a state of near-froth on Friday as everyone was zipping around taking care of last minute items for next week's three concurrent studios. Actually no, let me revise that statement after glancing at the clock: this week's three concurrent studios.
We will be located at the Hub Helsinki space all week. It's a wide open floor with plenty of room for three separate teams of 8-9 people. Or so we hope! Last week was the official opening of the Hub so we're helping them beta test the space.
Otherwise things are huming along in the way that they do just before summer. Helsinki is finally starting to show signs of warmth and the snow is banished, with the exception of a few piles that are still lingering in shadowy corners.
Visits this week from WeVolve, who are helping us to produce a small 'field guide' for the studios to use next this week, and Sunkyung Han of the Hope Institute, who we had the pleasure to meet a couple years ago in Seoul. Meanwhile, as Justin and Marco have been hammering away on Low2No, I dropped by the Aalto University Department of Architecture for an end of semester critique with Tuomas Toivonen's students. There was some good thinking about how to design intergenerational spaces as well as Low2No-inspired ideas of transitional design.
We ended #111 with an all-hands meeting of Sitra's Strategic Design Unit, except this one was special because we have a new pair of hands! We'll close this weekntoe with a bit of suspense but you'll find out soon enough: #112 will be written by the newest member of our team.
This week was as pleasant as 110 is round. Progress on many fronts and no emergencies, though we do have a glimpse of a storm that might be rumbling our way.
Two weeks from today we will be wrapping up a round of three concurrent studios. With next week as the home stretch, we've been busy working with the Synergize Finland team to nail down all the details. This includes orchestrating field visits to various organizations as part of the Tuesday schedule, inviting guests for our 'final review' on Friday, as well as coaching the design leads and generally preparing everyone for what is likely to be a very busy week.
This week we're also collecing all of the basics, such as schedule of the week and headshots of everyone who will be in the studio at various times, and making sure they get formatted and printed out as giant posters that will be located near the entrance to the studio. That's right, a poster is one of the tricks of the trade. But it's an important poster!
One of the things we learned from the three studios we ran last year (as well as one in Umeå this January) is that it's important to reduce cognitive overhead as much as possible for our participants. This includes making sure people have easy access the information that they need while they're with us for the week. Basically anything we can do to reduce anxiety is key, because that means peoples' minds are free to concentrate on the task at hand.
We also got a nice surprise in the mail. VOLUME magazine sent us a couple copies of issue 27 which focuses on the theme of Ageing and features an essay by myself with contributions from Justin and Marco. The essay recaps the HDL Studioon ageing and delves into the potential of using the studio as a modelfor tackling similar issues in other contexts.
Although we've had opportunities to blab in interviews, we do not often have the chance to reflect on our own work in written form, so this was a (occasionally frustrating) treat. Thanks, VOLUME!
The issue is highly recommended and includes essays from Indy Johar, who was part of our studio, as well as Martti Kalliala who will be leading one of the studios in May and is also the person behind the New Architect's Atlas.
This was a week of incremental updates. Each of our ongoing projects moved forward in silence, so there's little visible progress that we can share in a meaningful way. When writing weeknotes these are frustrating weeks, but in reality they're important for pace-keeping.
A sizable chunk of Week 109 was spent preparing for, hosting, and processing meetings with various teams within Sitra. A week of meetings sounds like it might be dull, but we're starting to build a nice rhythym out of it. It's important work as we continue expanding the surface area between the Strategic Design Unit and the rest of Sitra. Most of these meetings revolve around refining the big picture ideas into an actionable plan, which includes stuff like spending the time to talk through seemingly obvious terms so that everyone in the room is on the same page. Sometimes we also invent and play games.
Personally, my favorite part is wrapping up a session into a document that captures the essence of the ideas. We've been using something that we colloquially refer to as the augmented reality whiteboard. What this actually means is that we take pictures of the whiteboard and then draw in some lines and words on top of them in InDesign so that the bits which are in chicken scratch come through more clearly. It gets to be a nice challenge to see how much can be left to the marks on the whiteboard and how much needs to be added on top.
Aalto University School of Art and Design professor Tarja Nieminen visited with some of her graphic design students to talk about strategic design. They were especially interested to hear what its like to work at Sitra and within the government more broadly, and I was keen to hear how they think about their role as graphic designers in the context of upstream issues (like usability/legibility). We also geeked out on the way that type design has to contend with variable ink flow on different newprint paper stocks.
Somewhere in between meetings and visits, Marco revealed a shocking statistic: currently his mailbox includes 22,924 unread emails. He would like you to know that he's not proud of this fact (and most of them are from mailing lists).
Some vignettes from these two blurry weeks.
It's monday and Carl Mossfeldt of the Tallberg Foundation stops by for a chat at Sitra. Our two organizations have a region and a culture in common, not to mention a lot of overlap in our respective missions, so how can we work together? It starts—like many things—with a long lunch.
By coincidence, later that day Marco travels to Stockholm to share Sitra's work on strategic design with Members of the Swedish Parliament and the design community at an event organized by SVID.
Marco and I are in a conference room with Sitra's Energy and Landmarks programmes, spending a couple hours on a session to assess our combined activities that touch on land use issues in Finland. We're doing more and more of this lately. It doesn't feel like facilitation, but I suppose you could call it that. It feels more like being a portfolio manager of ideas. That was Wednesday.
Next day same thing, but this time with Sitra's Synergize Finland programme who we are assisting by organizing three studios next month. With about four weeks till the kick off there is a constant buzz of activity. We're revisiting the details that have been confimed for months to make sure they're still supporting the way the plans have evolved. "How much freedom do we have to adjust the space, did you say? Can we put a curtain here to add acoustic isolation?"
This is our first time opening up the operating model of the studio to people outside of our own small team, so it's a good learning experience. The most painful "whys" are the best ones and most important ones to answer—to make explicit. There are alot of "whys," especially around the role of the softer details.
Another Monday: I'm standing in front of 30 people in Bilbao explaining Sitra's use of strategic design as a way to match vision, which can be powerfully vague, with intent, which requires more focus and specificity so that it may guide action and decision. I was delighted to be presenting as part of the 'faculty' of the Young Foundation's Global Innovation Academy (GIA) inaugural programme. We also had a chance to do a quick iteration of the network mapping method that HDL initiated last year in our 2010 studios.
The academy's goal is an important one. If I have to put it into simple words I would say that their challenge is to make social innovation the norm within the public and 3rd sectors. When that happens it will cease to be the buzz-enabled "social innovation" per se and become, more simply, the new definition of good public service. Best of luck to Andrea, Cynthia, Louise, Rob, and the team. We'll be following along!
Tuesday: an SMS arrives heralding a successful decision in the Helsinki City council with regards to bicycle lanes around Töölö bay. This came after a breif chat with Martti T. wherein he took it upon himself to visualize the issue using Sketchup, and in doing so change the nature of the debate. We hope to have Martti contribute a guest post on the decision in the near future. Until then we take it as a positive sign that even simple visualizations can have a transformative affect on decisions.
Friday. Finally Friday. It's all hands on deck for Sitra's Strategy team and we're huddled around the 14th floor conference room to learn some tips on design ethnography from Ville and Nuppu of WeVolve. This is one small part of the on-going changes at Sitra. It feels good. It feels like an exciting way to end week 108.
It feels a bit like an air traffic control tower in our corner of Sitra-house these days. Between various physical comings and goings, we've also been in the thick of routing projects to and fro.
A big item for us was getting the first 100% text draft of the HDL Studio publication out the door. It was a bit later than we had hoped, so it's nice to have relief from the pressure of being behind schedule. Now that we're receiving feedback from a couple people who have been enlisted to be critical readers it's starting to feel more real. Soon TwoPoints will be doing layouts and then it's truly off. Throttle up.
Marco has been spending his time between Low2No and exploratory meetings for a new (and yet to be named) project. Early feedback is positive but we're still awaiting clearance for take off.
Meanwhile we've been continuing our in-house collaborations as well. In the past month we have really begun to dig into what the Synergize Finland studios will look like. Stuff like securing the studio leads, nailing down key bits of the schedule, and also taking the time to revisit some of the core principles and renew our shared commitment to them. Boarding completed. Requesting clearance to push back from the gate.
On Tuesday I was in Brussels to share Sitra's work with the guests of the SEE Project at their Policy, Innovation, and Design conference. I left the event feeling optimistic that the economic advantages of design+business, the so-called creative economy or ceative industries, is broadly appreciated. Design was also being used in multiple presentations as a way to bring the needs of users back into the center of decision making, particularly in the public sector.
It was nice to see the launch fo the Service Design Toolkit, for instance, because it gives tools to people who might already have the desire to work in a more empathetic way but are struggling to find a structured way to do so.
The mixed content of the event brought to the fore a point which seems unclear at times, particularly when "design" gets introduced to policy contexts. Does "design policy" focus on increasing the demand for design services in a "policy for (to support) design" sort of way? Or, on the other hand, does "design policy" refer to the use of design methods to deliver new or improved services, systems, or strategies?
The latter we think of as "policy by design" and that's squarely where we put our focus at Sitra through initiatives such as HDL. Both 'policy for design' and 'policy by design' have important roles to play, but being specific about which one is on the table at any given moment helps an audience to evaluate the value proposition of design. Thanks to Mark Vanderbeeken of Experientia for putting together a well-rounded lineup that succinctly crystalized these thoughts. Cleared for landing.
I suspect that our week ended the same way that yours did: in utter shock and dismay over the events in Japan. Between the floods in Australia and the ongoing crisis in Japan, the Pacifim Rim has already had a difficult 2011. It has been hard to do anything without checking the news regularly. Half a world away there's little we can do but hope for the best and give what we can.
Before the crisis began, last week was split between writing and sharing.
We continue to draft a document describing the HDL Studios in more depth and detail. This involves a lot of conversations about metaphors, sometimes visual and sometimes not, that can be used to explain abstract concepts like "working with uncertainty." In my brain that equates to the difference between navigating in a forest and navigating on a body of water. In the forest there is a long delay before a trail fades, but a wake disappears as quickly as it is created. Not exactly sure what this means yet.
Marco had a good meeting with the World Design Capital team and a group of representatives from various ministeries to see what's in the works and how public institutions might be involved in WDC2012. We are working on some aspects of this and hope to have some concrete plans to share before summer. Broadly speaking, we want to make it easier for government bodies to use strategic design. Surprise!
Elsewhere, Marco gave a presentation to the Creative Metropoles group about Low2No, using it as an opportunity to look at the new kinds of pressures that today's innovation challenges put on designers and new skills that designers need to develop if they want to be involved in strategic processes.
Coincidentally, friend-of-HDL Paul Nakazawa shared work from RioStudio, a series of architectural design studio that he has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, first with Bjarke Ingels and now with Jorge Silvetti and Gabriel Duarte. The studio is exploring the connections between strategic design and architecture by looking at ways in which Rio de Janeiro's build up in advance of the World Cup and Olympics can be focused to create a more lasting, positive impact. This video by one of the students gives a hint at the way they're integrating ideas about phsyical infrastructure with the development strategy:
But yeah, time to check the news again and then get back to writing.
March is a good name for this month. That's what it feels like: a march. Summer is already just around the corner but there's a lot to be done between now and then. These past two weeks have mostly been about sharing.
Sharing with other teams at Sitra, sharing with the world via writing, and sharing with similar organizations who are developing new ways of working on comlex problems.
Marco and I continue to work with the Synergize Finland team as they will be using the Studio model this May. I gave them a brain dump on what a Challenge Briefing is, what role it plays in the studio, and how you structure a similar document. They're off and running on briefings for their studios and it will be cool to see the concept reflected back to us through their experience with it. Marco has been recruiting designers to play the role of studio lead.
During the past two weeks we've also submitted three article for publication on three continents. Two of those discuss the Studio model in greater detail, and the third looks at strategic design vis-a-vis the practice of architecture. We'll post links here when they are available—I believe the first will be the forthcoming issue of Volume Magazine on Ageing.
It feels great to have these deadlines behind us, and I wish I could say that the typing hands can rest now, but no! We soldier on with another big deadline for a draft due in the middle of March. This one is a self-imposed deadline to more thoroughly document the Studio model and our three studios last summer.
"In a world of constant change, [design is] the ability to imagine, the ability to take close assessments of where you are versus where you want to be, and figure out how to move from here to there. Design was a nice thing to have in the last few hundred years in a world of stability, but really the form of productive inquiry underlying design is now critical in a world of constant change.
Basically we're living in a world now where our skills have about a 5 year half life. when I started out doing stuff it was a 30 year half-life, so today we have to be at any age able to pick up brand new skills... The studio is one of the most concrete ways of working with the real, working with the concrete, letting the imagination fly, and then collectively with folks around you and mentors actually produce new knowledge."
We were out and about too. I gave a talk to Aalto University's Creative Sustainability course. Marco was in London to participate in the Ecobuild conference and share some of our experiences with Low2No. Afterwards he and I spent a morning catching up up with Nick Mabey at the HQ of E3G. They've just published Degrees of Risk which I haven't had time to read, but knowing Nick and his team it's should be thorough and insightful.
Degrees of Risk is the output of a multi-year process working with climate scientists and security experts to flesh out a framework for moving to a risk management approach to climate change, in contrast to the singular focus on migitiation. Doing so implicates a much wider array of decision-makers, from security to infrastructure, each with established ways to plan for future risk. The framework is an intensely clever way for hacking the climate debate to put it into terms that a larger group of people—everyone—gets: risk.
And now for an abrupt transition: from climate risk to sea ice. Under an unusually bright Sunday sky, I went for a walk on the sea ice last weekend to do a bit of research on Helsinki food culture.
One of the delightful things about northern cities is the degree to which their geography changes during winter. Helsinki comes alive with recreational opportunities all across the frozen sea. Suddenly the isolated boat gas station becomes a winter cafe, with a new arrival path across the iced-over harbor. Remote coffee shops have new streams of guests who come to roast sausages on outdoor fire pits. Or have a curling match. This won't last for too much longer, given the warm weather we've been having, so I'll have to wait for next year to corral my colleagues into starting the Sitra Curling team.
Week 102 closes with a steady hum—and the clickety clack of more writing.
This momentous week (100!) passed as a flurry of early-stage discussions on emerging areas of work in Sitra Strategic Design land.
Three of the many plates spinning, offered with little or no context:
Right now we're interested in food culture in Finland's major cities, and especially street food. This means we've been thinking about Grillis, Snakkeris, and Kahvilas. Olli from the Sitra's Energy Programme has been drafted to help Justin and I bite into this new topic.
It's still surprising how much interita simple terms can posess, and similarly how freeing it can be to rephrase known terms in new words. As the Strategic Design Unit begins working on project with two other programmes in-house, we're devoting a lot of effort to figuring out how the internal collaboration should work, and the basic vocabulary that we all use is first on the list.
Marco is working with the Synergize Finland team to bring the HDL Studio model to one of their projects this spring. Whereas with HDL we ran three studios in sequence last summer, the Synergize team are going to do three at the same time. We're curious to see how this creates new potentials and new stress points. It's always nice to work with another team because it the process of sharing forces us to be more articulate about what we do and how we do it. This adds a welcome level of rigor.
Here in the strategic design corner of Sitra we continue to noodle on a collection of related topics that have been stewing since last fall.
The topics in play during thse last weeks have now bubbled up at different times during the evolution of HDL. We're in the middle of fleshing out the documentation of the HDL Studio in an attempt to describe it as a model that may be useful to others. There's also an increasingly apparent lack of a strong strategic design literature, or even a single regular publication that covers strategic design. Our case studies are not enough! And as always, the difficulties that offices experience in building a practice around strategic design still persist, even in a design market as developed as Finland.
These categories loosely map to the triad of knowledge (available approaches), capability (available business models), and achievement (success stories) that we identified as key targets when we crafted the first HDL mission statement one year ago. Our activities in 2010 were weighted towards developing and testing the studio model, so we have some activity on development of useful knowledge. We also dedicated a lot of time and effort into getting out to meet people and see who is acting in this space and learn what their experiences have been.
Now in 2011 we're tilting a bit towards fostering capabilities, both internally within Sitra as well as within Finland more broadly, and thinking about ways to share and communicate the achievements of the entire strategic design community.
Elsewhere in strategic design at Sitra, the Low2No team held a day-long seminar 'opening the books' on the development of Sitra's block in Jätkäsaari. Not a lot of questions were asked after each presentation, but there was lively chatter during the coffee breaks. That's when people ask the tough questions anyways, so we were happy. Design work continues on that project with an impressive international collaboration spanning between Finland, the UK, Germany, Italy, the US, and Australia.
Meanwhile, Justin and I are taking a moment to focus on architecture. Thanks to the kind invitation from a respected journal of architecture in the US, we're taking a stab at applying the precepts of strategic design to the practice of architecture. With reflections from the Low2No process and our other work, combined with our individual backgrounds in architecture, it's a gratifying challenge to develop a meaningful criticism of architecture as it is typically practiced while using what we've learned about the possibility of a strategic design role to point at future possibilities. What do new models of architecture practice look like in that area?
Kevin Slavin's talk at Lift '11 brings up the question of new models of practice through a brilliant exploration of the role of algorithms in contemporary life, and especially in financial markets. Slavin discusses the role of genetic algorithms in contemporary computation and highlights the critical difference that these algorithms have self-learning capabilities which allow them to "write things [that] we can't read anymore." The 'Flash Crash' of the New York Stock Exchange last May is a very palpable example of how much impact these un-readable writings can have.
Kevin illustrates this in another way by showing two exmaples of pathways used by floor-cleaning robots. One follows a familiar logic of cleaning around the edges while the other appears random and chaotic to human eyes, yet it's intensely calculated and intentional. As we are increasingly forced to confront the wicked nature of some problems before us, I'm expecting that we will find ourselves developing solutions that look more like the Roomba and less like the Neato. In other words, when designing for the unpredictable, we should not be surprised to arrive at the unexpected.
Calendaring and planning work continue here in the strategic design corner of Sitra as we start to lock into place commitments for our various projects this year. One of our focuses is 2011 is beginning to transfer some of our findings in strategic design methods, ability, and content to our fellow teams at Sitra. This means we're spending a lot of time in the elevator buzzing from floor to floor visting people in the Energy, Landmarks, and Public Leadership programmes as well as our communications team. Doing this has spurred much self reflection as we try to articulate how we work and be more specific about what the tools are and when they are best utilized.
What seems like endless planning and prep is now beginning to gel (really!) and Marco will chime in soon with an update about strategic design's role at Sitra, but until then we're happy to direct you to the full dossier of our studio with Umeå Institute of Design that we mentioned last week. The students did a great job or having zero experience with strategic research and analysis, let alone merging that with their design background. Have a look at the Growing Västerbotten dossier.
We've also begun a number of writing projects including a couple articles for publications here and there, as well as a summary of the HDL Studios we conducted in 2010. More on this soon. Good night, week 97!
We're back from a week (#96) in Umeå, Sweden, home to the Umeå Institute of Design, and location of a courageous experiment in Prototyping the Future. Anna Valtonen, HDL Global 2010 participant and Rector of the school, decided to shut the place down for a week to pause and consider what the future of the design school may be. All students, staff, and even Anna herself put aside their course work to participate in special workshops taught by guest faculty. Marco, Justin, and myself brought the HDL Studio model to Umeå as an example of how designers might begin to play more strategic roles, especially in service to government.
To demonstrate this concept we teamed up with the county government of Västerbotten, the second largest county in Sweden and administrative region that includes the city of Umeå. Governor Chris Heister and Deputy Governor Birgitta Heijer issued a challenge: How can we make Västerbotten more attractive so that it attracts new residents and retains existing ones?
We asked the students to develop ways to rethink traditionally difficult aspects like the far northern location of Västerbotten as assets that could be utilized to develop a new vision for the county. Governor Heister described the unofficial slogan of the county as "In Västerbotten we have it all" which the studio flipped around to be "In Västerbotten you can have it all!" This highlights the county as a place of opportunity that benefits from diverse natural environments, geographies, urban densities, and lifestyles, where it's easy and comparatively cheap to take root.
The Governor issued the challenge, Sitra brought the HDL Studio model and played the role of facilitator, and UID students did the hard work. It was a hectic week, but a good one. We certainly learned a lot about what makes a studio tick and this is invaluable knowledge as we continue to hone the HDL Studio model.
The students had a tall order ahead of them. With only five days to deliver they had to dive into new territories such as economics, public policy, and demographics; make sense of this tangled mess of perspectives; and propose a framework for developing a course of action for the county.
The presentation went well and sparked a lively discussion with the Governor and her guests. While the students are gathering up their presentation material I'll leave you with a cliff hanger, but as soon as the files materialize we'll prepare a dossier of the week. In the meantime, there are a pile of pictures up on Flickr.
Week 95 was spent in London catching up with some other HDL Global 2010 participants in between meetings related to other Sitra business. It was especially great to catch up with Indy Johar of Research 00 Architecture as well as our friends at the Young Foundation.
First and foremost, we want to wish everyone a happy new year. 2011. 2011!
We ended the year with a bit of chaos. We're putting the finishing touches on our work plans for the next phase of strategic design at Sitra and Helsinki Design Lab. It has taken longer then expected, but it finally seems as though the end is in sight.
Just before Christmas Marco was off to Moscow, while I was in Brazil to present our work at the Foresight International Seminar hosted by CGEE, a Sitra-like organization in the Brazilian context. I was presenting to a group with various backgrounds in foresight, forecasting, and futures. Not being terribly familiar with that discourse, it was interesting for me personally to learn some new things—OK, a lot of new things—as well as to see some new opportunities for the strategic design approach we've been developing at Sitra.
The conversation touched on many similar points: how do you measure ambiguous efforts? How do you convince people to invest upfront in work that will pay big dividends later? And whereas many of the foresight presentations were incredibly rigorous in their application of quantitative methods to back up their assertions, as a group we struggled with the question of balance between rigor and speed.
One question I took away from the event is whether strategic design, and specifically the HDL studio model, can achieve this balance between rigor and speed. As we look out across the vast expanse of 2011 and think about the work we will do this year, one of our goals is to test the studio model in different contexts. We begin in a couple weeks with an experiment in Umeå at the Institute of Design. Details from that in a few weeks.
Helsinki is under a heavy blanket of snow which has added a lovely bit of chaos to the streets. We're happy to accept the occasionally frightening skid-stop of a lumbering bus if the weather also brings with it amplified levels of daylight reflecting off the ground cover.
Last week Marco was in Brussels sharing HDL's work at the Design and Learning conference. I was away in Madrid doing the same with a group of innovation researchers sponsored by the Spanish National Research Council. The participants were a mix of academic and professionals which resulted in some productive friction as we adjusted to the language and concerns of our peers. I was particularly interested in Steve Flowers' work on defining different categories of user-led innovation. So often this term is treated as a homogenous lump of stuff, but Flowers breaks it down into five different levels of involvement that scale up in their innovation potential.
- Users provide feedback
- Users produce content for existing products
- Novel use of existing products
- Modification of existing products
- Creation of novel products
As he pointed out, not all user innovation is bound for the market. Sometimes (a lot of the time?) innovation, user-led or not, produces weird results. Such as a disused MiG mounted on a train used to clear snow off of train tracks.
Drew Hemment shared his work on the FutureEverything festival which he sees as a vehicle for social innovation. The broad range of activities they're conducting is too much to go into here but it includes bubble races (PDF) used to measure urban heat island affects. Drew gave us a peek at an almanac of sorts which FutureEverything is now working on to share their methods with others looking to do something similar. It's encouraging to see such an open sharing of experience. We try to do the same thing with our How-Tos.
Meanwhile, Justin was in Germany with part of the Low2No team. He's been keeping weeknotes over at the Low2No site and I highly recommend reading them for the full scoop on how that project is coming along.
I'll close this update with a hearty congratulations to the SIX Social Innovation Exchange for their successful bid to create and EC-sponsored Social Innovation Initiative for Europe. HDL is happy to be part of the advisory board for this project and we look forward to being part of it.
The fact that this weeknote is a triple edition is testament to the fact that we are ending the year at a steady clip.
Week 086 was mostly spent in Israel, where Justin and I were on site to visit the Alexander River Restoration project. As a cross border, cross disciplinary collaboration that has been delivering successful results for more than a decade, the project is an exciting one for groups like HDL who are interested in how to work on large scale challenges.
Justin and I will be in 'bubble mode' writing this case in the coming weeks to have it up on the site here before the end of the year. That will make four cases in the first nine months of this website's existence. Not as many as we had hoped, but we hope it's enough to start outlining a particular idea about what design is capable of. Onwards!
087 and 088 have been spent revisiting collaborators from the HDL Studios, Global event, and our other activities to gain a bit of perspective through peer evaluation. It's part of a larger task of figuring out what worked well and what needs to be rethought. Always nice to hear feedback, especially when you have such smart peers.
When he was in town last week Patrick pointed us to an article in the Economist discussing Obama's Social Innovation Fund which launched this summer. Although small money from the perspective of the US government, 50 million USD is a substantial vote of confidence for the social innovation community. The Obama initiative is aimed at ramping up existing projects, a necessary tool as members of the SI community attempt to prove the viability of their methods at scale.
Obama's fund has a lot of potential to enable groups delivering new efficiencies in situations where a problem is known but not well solved. Solution X, a better alternative comes along, so let's find a way to make sure Solution X has the capital it needs to get started. This includes privatization with an emphasis on competition and new social ventures positioned between the market and 3rd sectors, in effect augmenting both (think microfinance or the Omidyar Network).
But what about those situations where the problem itself is unclear? This is the context of systemic failures—all parts might be functioning very well, but they're not sufficiently coordinated as a group. The glue is missing, and maybe some key parts too. The American healthcare system (if it could be called that) is a prime example of this.
To create strategic impact in these areas there are three critical dimensions which need to be addressed.
- Team: problems that exist at the intersection of multiple areas of interest always require teams of multiple expertise.
- Money: good will only lasts so long.
- Legal and regulatory support: Stephen Goldsmith, now chairman of the group that oversees the Social Innovation Fund, hit the nail on the head: “I can think of 1,000 innovations. I have not yet had an innovative idea in any meeting that was legal.”
To work on those kinds of problems a different approach is needed because they are 'pre-market.'
This is kind of thing that our brains are churning on these days.
Our mind has been on investments this week. Monday started off at full clip with Patrick and Kipper from Social Investors Partners visiting Sitra, and we ended the week with David Wood from the Institute for Responsible Investment here to contribute to Low2No.
Through a conversation that has grown during the past couple months, Social Investors Partners has been helping us think through some of the current barriers to strategic design particularly from a funding perspective. At the moment this is just a collaborative brainstorm but we're hoping to be able to turn it into something more in the near future. We'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out Social Investors Partners' new website, especially the succinct success stories which tell the story of their work for foundations and philanthropists looking to put their money to work for the common good.
Elsewhere, Marco has an article about the fate of universities and the potential of design in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Justin has been here in Helsinki for the week, working with the Low2No team. He and I depart to Tel Aviv this weekend where we will be making a case study visit to Amos Brandeis and the Alexander River Restoration Administration. We're looking forward to learning first hand from their ecological restoration work which has been guided by strong multidisciplinary collaboration over the last twenty years. Great stuff.
The case study library has not grown as rapidly as we had initially hoped, but in a way this has been a nice reality check. With a grand total of zero submissions since we launched this site earlier in the year, we now realize that there are very few projects out there which are exemplary strategic design efforts. I'm optimistic that this will change!
A quick post for a quick week. We were strewn about again. Marco was in London presenting at the European Future Energy Forum and Justin and I were in Boston charretting on Low2No.
It's always nice to hear other people's thoughts about our work, which is why I enjoyed Thomas Lockwood's post at the Fast Company Design blog reflecting on his time at HDL Global 2010. Thomas runs DMI, whose annual Design Management Conference starts today.
Boston is as gray as Helsinki this time of year. The lack of dissonance between their skies is actually more odd to adjust to than if both cities were distinct.
Speaking of weather, the results from last week's photo shoot are back and they look stellar. Here's a sneak peek:
This week we particularly enjoyed an 'op-chart' in the New York Times depicting strategic changes to a high school lunch line that resulted in healthier eating habits. Here's the key line from an article in another paper:
How much... would a school need to cut its prices for apples, oranges and bananas to increase sales by 5 percent over a year?
Brian Wansink was called in to play detective. But... soon discovered he had been hired to answer the wrong question. Price wasn't the problem. It was the presentation.
By making small tweaks such as changing the order that food items are presented in, offering more descriptive names, and changing the containers that food is kept in, Wansink and his team were able to effect positive change in the diet of those who used their test cafeteria. The interactive illustration in the Times is great, check it out.