HDL Global Guest Blog: The Bus Schedule, Not The Building

Editor's note: We offered this blog as a platform to four HDL Global participants who are documenting the event for everyone to get a glimpse of how things are going down. This is one such post by Rory Hyde.

I’ve found myself today continually asking a strange question, ‘where is the bus schedule?’ Marco Steinberg, Director of Strategic Design at Sitra, gave us a compelling example in his opening remarks this morning, which I feel captures a main theme of HDL 2010 so far.

Apologies to Marco, as he tells it well, but the gist goes as follows:

Upon noticing that the patronage of a local swimming pool had fallen unexpectedly, local councillors went to the scene to investigate. They found a dilapidated building, with broken windows and outdated facilities. The problem was clear; people were no longer using the pool because it was too old and tired. Naturally, a new building was the answer.

Or so they thought. The architects commissioned to redesign the facility found in their research another cause which the councillors had overlooked: the bus schedule had been revised to make getting to the pool incredibly inconvenient. The problem wasn’t the building, but the system of transportation that this building was serviced by.

There are a number of relevant layers to this nice anecdote. First is of course to analyse a problem in its next largest context – a lesson Finns know all too well – as it’s famously captured by national icon Eliel Saarinen: ‘consider a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in a…’ you get the idea.

Secondly, is the importance of systems. The world has become an incredibly complex place, and with this complexity we have inherited some incredibly complex challenges. Healthcare, ageing, sustainability and education are issues that do not respect traditional disciplinary boundaries. They require a coordinated and systematic approach in order to understand and manage them. In this case, the bus schedule was a hinge point to this system, impacting the patronage of the pool, which could have flow on effects to the health of the community.

But perhaps the most instructive lesson in this story is that it was the architect who found the bus schedule. The position of the designer as a free-thinking, flexible, creative and integrative figure is recurring one at HDL. As a designer myself, of course I like this idea. It’s a chance to re-integrate ourselves into a process where perhaps we’ve been largely marginalised as ‘stylists’ – pushed further and further down the process chain beyond where our ideas can influence the big picture.

And all in all, there seems to be agreement on this from both ‘government’ and ‘design’. Policy-makers and politicians can see the clear benefits and are keen for new ideas, and the designers are equally keen to be involved. It reveals is a new niche, a demand for the integrator, the ‘strategic designer’, or the ‘professional generalist’. It’s a big responsibility, and I just hope we designers don’t miss the bus.

1 comment

Well said. The sheer difficulty we often face when we communicate the meaning of strategic design is, as Marco mentioned in the opening of HDL Global, that both 'strategy' and 'design' mean very many different things. I like your expression 'professional generalist' that very well explains the attribute of strategic designers.