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Kathryn's Blog



Design Thinking… and Beyond

In a few weeks I travel to Mexico to trial the ideas in the book Wellbeing by Design within a 350-person design charette hosted in the city of Guadalajara.

I have been asked to take participants beyond design thinking, and so, the charette will be very much about getting participants involved in the journey and the process of wellbeing by design.

By its very nature, design is a noun (with an outcome, for example a product or service) and a verb (for example the journey of designing and crafting a product or a process). To experience the results of design (noun) it is not necessary to experience the process of design (verb).

However, with the increase of collaborative and participative processes within our politics and societies, interactions and ideologies, and the challenges we face as humanity, feeling we have some say in where we are going in life is increasingly important. What kind of world do we want?

What kind of world do we want?

Much of the success of design thinking as an ‘experiential process tool’ within organizations is to be celebrated. However success can often come with unintended consequences, and for many designers, the short-term high of being taken seriously by business (design management 101 pre-2004) may well evolve into a greater awareness of what happens in a world where design has perhaps been up-sold (or down-sold?) so as to make everyone a designer.

In which cases does design thinking put people at the heart of the experience, presumably in order to make things better for all of us and not just some of us?

Are there cases in which design thinking is, in effect, giving morally bankrupt institutions an explicit ‘customer journey’ map with which to dehumanize and reduce the quality of our interactions to the benefit of ‘shareholder value’? Who are these people that design is serving and making things better for – is it for all of us, as humanity, or not?

What is the intention behind a particular project or agenda for change? Is this intention aligned with a sense of shared human or universal values? Do we want to align with this particular way of operating? Are these (short-term) measures the right ones for the nature of design… and humanity? Should we challenge whether (long-term) quality of life issues are even measurable? Do we align to design (an identity and process toolkit) or design to align (a conscious choice and intent for our shared future)?



There is plenty of scope for being both serious and playful in how we can invent the future (our lives, our world, our reality) together and how we can take good care over the input design can bring to management decision-making and strategic direction – which often sets the course for the way companies decide to operate.

Having just written a chapter introduction for DESMA’s forthcoming publication, I can safely say that there is much insightful research being done in questioning our fit ire direction at this time of great political, societal and organizational transition. For example, what are the risks involved at an organizational level and beyond in seeing design as an applied technique? What further opportunities could be explored within the perception, process and practice of design? Should we be researching operational integrity with the same scrutiny as strategic purpose and value creation?

Andrew Whitcomb’s contribution, Spotting Fires in the Wild: Lessons from friction in collaborative designing – a design collaboration, hashes out what shape the future should take. Participatory innovation and the opportunity for design to help change services, strategies and organizations inevitably comes with a daily level of friction between people and practices. This is often a catalyst for ensuring we shape more desirable futures (processes, strategies and structures within organizations) and not just the end result (product/service offer). Andrew reminds us that our differences are cause for celebration, not judgment, and that ‘people bring different expertise and practices into the design process, which influences the outcomes of designing.’

For individuals of course, operating outside of companies, there is much more scope for operating spontaneously, not strategically.

The first step in getting involved in any process of change, whether individually or organizationally, is to see change as a journey of transformation, in which the process or the journey itself changes your perspective, your point of view and your state of being. ‘One’s destination is never a place’ said Henry Miller, ‘but a new way of seeing things’. The willingness to see things in a new way means ‘suspending disbelief’ and unfolding into open inquiry and honest conversation – with each other, with ourselves, and eventually with the wider world. It also means allowing for the friction and the mistakes that are all a natural part of the process of change.

Operating spontaneously does mean sometimes making mistakes. But, frankly, in our current reality, operating strategically often just mean making decisions to achieve short-term quarterly results. A big ‘mistake’ for anyone interested in the long-term survival of the planet and humanity.

What if operating spontaneously was as important as operating strategically?

What if, right now, we all started making different decisions and choices?

What if we decided to put the wellbeing of all at the core of our systems, our structures, our lives and our world?

Tom Peters thinks that ‘business (at its best) is about adventures and quests and gold medals and booby prizes and service and care and character’.

So, in Guadalajara, later this month, the design charette on wellbeing by design will be spontaneous and full of mistakes along the way, and that’s ok. Because the end goal – a world of wellbeing for all – is what this ‘adventure’ is about.

As Humanity, we have the right to wellbeing.

As Humanity we have the right to wellbeing.

As Creatives, we have the power to bring better visions of life into reality.

As Designers, we have the ability to prototype better ways to organize our lives and our world.

As Makers, we have the skills to bring into form only that which serves the wellbeing for all.

Design Thinking is an invaluable tool for introducing design processes and methods into organizational strategy, operational planning and service innovation. But for what end?

It is time to put the wellbeing of all at the core of our systems, our structures, our lives and our world.

What kind of world do you want?


Design Management 2.0/3.0

‘Design management is about the management of design.’ (K Best 2004)

‘Design management is about the successful management of the people, projects, processes and procedures behind the design of our every day products, services, environments and experiences. Equally, design management is about the management of the relationships between different disciplines (such as design, management, marketing and finance) and different roles (such as clients, designers, project teams and stakeholders).’ (K Best 2010)

2015 is a time of great change, and design management may well need a considered redefinition so as to be in tune with the times in which we live. One of the shifts happening in several countries is the drift away from ‘old’ management (the organization, coordination, command and control of activities and people) and towards ‘new’ management (self-organizing systems and reliance on agility, communication, collaboration and co-creation). What would a self-organizing, design-led entity look and feel like, and how could you manage design to maximize value creation?

People are naturally creative, if they are allowed to be, and within self-organizing systems, we are all creators, designers and makers of value. If design is about putting people’s lives at the center of experiences and decision-making processes, then the opportunity for design (to conceive, invent, plan and build) management (to organize and co-ordinate) is to conceive and organize in new ways so as to empower more people to become creators, designers and makers of value. Whether we act as individuals, employees, citizens, or members of humanity, or operate within a ‘system’ called an organization, a locality or a global community called planet earth, we could say that:

Design + Management = Conceiving + Organizing in new ways.

Will it be easy to envision and implement how this might work? It will be spontaneous and messy for sure. It may also be quite a lot of fun. Rebuilding, restructuring and reorganizing means getting your hands dirty. What will make it easier is to have a clear vision and sense of purpose (for example improving lives) and a destination (for example the wellbeing of all). Then, design management tools and processes could very well catalyze new and courageous concepts, behaviors, visions and innovations… through the actual building and doing, not the thinking and envisioning. For example, how can we best facilitate and harness the innate talents and capabilities of anyone and everyone involved in a dynamic and creative process of change… in the moment?

Perhaps this is the territory of design leadership, not design management? The Design Management 2.0 blog brokers the connection into design leadership:

Physicist Stephen Hawking states “Leadership is daring to step into the unknown” and as designers we have an opportunity to be daring in our visions for the future. Business leaders are increasingly looking to designers to invent the future, but the challenge for designers is to respond to this opportunity in ways that are humane, visionary and wise. That’s what Design Leadership is all about.

If all the visionary progress is in design leadership (where we are going), that may well leave design management (how we get there) out in the cold, and out of touch with the notion of self-organizing systems and, critically, managing toward the right (humane, visionary, wise) goals.

Perhaps the spontaneous evolution of design management…happens in the doing (insight) and in the moment (intent), and the not so spontaneous evolution of design leadership is in the envisioning (foresight) and the reflecting (hindsight). With the world we are moving into (systemic imbalances, shattering of traditional structures, the desire for new forms of reality),  getting your hands dirty and doing things with intent in the moment might just be the more interesting place to be. This aligns somewhat with Management 3.0‘s actionable leadership and how seemingly small steps can set in motion rather big changes, with  John Hockenberry’s TED Talk about the idea that We Are All Designers, and Ezio Manzini’s book, Design When Everybody Designs (design for social innovation).

If design leadership is about setting the strategic vision, then maybe design management is about making it up as we go along.

 “It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean, how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.” 

J.D Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Wellbeing by Design

It has been a while.

In July I am launching a new book, you can find details here. The book is the result of having taken some time off to explore new directions. In the words of Susan Cain, solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

‘Wellbeing by Design: An Operating Manual for Humanity and Beyond’ is an invitation and a call to action for a new generation of change makers to put wellbeing at the heart of our systems, our structures and our lives. The current state of our world merely reflects the level of consciousness of how we are encouraged to operate. It does not have to be like this. We have the right to imagine a better way of life. We have the power to bring better visions of life into reality. We can take back control of our systems, structures and selves and begin to consciously shape a different world and a reality of wellbeing for all.

Please join me on a journey to #wellbeing #wellbeingbydesign #therighttowellbeing #wearethetechnology.

WBD_Final Covers


Design Innovation and Transformation

D esign, Innovation and Transformation: where are the opportunities for design and enterprise today?

With the growing power of ideas – and how people make money from ideas – we are witnessing many new forms of enterprises and collaborative ventures, particularly within the industries that generate value through knowledge and through creativity and innovation – what is commonly known as The Creative Economy. The rise of ‘creativity’ as an asset is because it is one of the best ways to increase competitive advantage in (1) countries (through growing a creative culture, economy, enterprise, skills and talent) and (2) commercial companies (through the provision of innovative products and services). All over the world, governments are supporting creative enterprises as a way to enable innovation and drive the discovery of new ideas for the products, services and propositions that keep clients, users and customers coming back for more. Creative ideas are important to economic wellbeing – individually, locally, regionally and globally.

Design as the connector between creativity and innovation is of particular interest now, especially with regard to our daily ‘quality of life’ experiences. Why is this?

• Design is familiar. Design surrounds us in our everyday life, and we experience design through our daily interactions with products, services, spaces and systems.
• Design gives form to ideas, both through the process of design (design as a verb = design thinking) and the outcome of design (design as a noun = form and function).
• Design puts people first. With rising demand to take a more holistic and responsible approach to contemporary world challenges, design (as a people-centred problem-solving process) is well positioned to help.

The application of design in enterprise is evident in several ways:

• Design as a process for developing products and services
• Design as a generator of new innovations and propositions
• Design as a facilitator of new collaborative processes and conversations
• Design as an enabler of organisational or cultural change

We live in interesting times, and there are some clear shifts taking place: from competition to collaboration; from protection to expansion; from value to values; from corporation to co-operation; from employment to engagement; from confusion to clarity; from profit to people, planet and profit; from business as usual to conscious business; and from consumers to creators. As organisations worldwide attempt to do more with less and adapt to new models, new economies and new realities, we are also experiencing:

• An increased sense of community and responsibility towards the environment and society.
• An increased demand for more transparency and active participation in politics and the economy
• An increased familiarity with the technological tools that enable people to connect, share, collaborate and communicate in new ways – and have their voices heard.

Future growth in these challenging times will come from taking the risk necessary to imagine things differently. This is, in fact, one of the defining characteristics of successful creative entrepreneurs: the ability to think ‘outside the box’ and embrace a ‘spirit of innovation and risk’. For designers and enterprises working together, the opportunities lie in looking at (1) how to make things better (through quality of life), (2) how to give form to new ideas, new visions and new realities (through visualisation), and (3) how to package new ideas and ‘alternative futures’ in a way that is both inspirational and aspirational (through new propositions).
People are naturally creative, if they are allowed to be. If design can help enterprises by presenting alternative visions, and by making available the processes and tools that allow people to participate in the creation of these alternatives, it just might help to unleash even more human creativity, to open even more minds, to see things even more differently and ultimately to transform what we believe is really possible. Human ingenuity is not a skillset that belongs to the ‘creative class’; it is the birthright of all, not just the gifted few.