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  • GK VanPatter

World on Fire

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Observations of Observations

Welcome back NextD Journal readers. Time flies by and summer winds down here in New York City. As a new round of books begins to appear, on the subject of design futures, all with good intentions, we are journalistically delighted to see Humantific and NextD Journal materials being referenced in several new volumes, even if we sometimes differ in our views regarding the challenges facing the emerging practice community.

Last month we were happy to see our first book Innovation Methods Mapping referenced in “The New Designer / Rejecting Myths, Embracing Change” by Manuel Lima. The essence of that new book is a call for multidimensional change in the design community, a notion that we continue to support and advocate. Of course, there is no one future in the works but rather multiple possible futures. We did notice that the references to Innovation Methods Mapping made in “The New Designer” included several observations/conclusions that differed from those in our book, so we wanted to offer up some clarity to our NextD Journal and Humantific readers in this regard.

1. UNIVERSAL VALUES: In our Innovation Methods Mapping book we state, based on our research, several methods related conclusions differently; among them that prior to the present era of methods design it was common across the decades, for values to be created situationally rather than universally. This applies across multiple methods-oriented intervention communities of knowledge. It’s not that human-centered values were 100% absent but rather it was common for orientations and values to be created by each organization situationally by operational teams. “The New Designer” book does not make that clear. Today, we are collectively on the doorstep of a different kind of era where many among us, particularly the arriving generation want to see a set of universal earth values in all methodology contexts. With the world on fire, it finally seems to be clear to increasing numbers that such a universal statement of earth values is long over-due and needs to be present. Many see urgency there. That is more about striving for being life-centered rather than human-centered so there is a shift for much of the design community as well as other intervention communities. Such a vision, on the table for some time, is not yet universally implemented. How that gets done is not yet clear.

2. METHODS IMBALANCE: In the chapter entitled “Design is the Answer” “The New Designer” book also draws several conclusions from Innovation Methods Mapping related to process imbalance/emphasis that we would like to support with a little more clarification. It is true that among our conclusions in Methods Mapping was that the majority of examined innovation methods spanning an 80+ year period are tilted towards front end creation, however that applies to numerous communities included in the book, not just to design. Innovation Methods Mapping is a broader survey than just design methods. What we found was that regardless of how the processes are depicted with triangles, octagons or circles, imbalance is common. While unrecognized imbalance is an often occurring issue in methods design there is no recommendation in our book to add another diamond to the rather dubious/notorious Double Diamond process. That leap of logic seen in “The New Designer” is apparently directed at its perceived readership. Long story short: Where the Double Diamond community is and where the emerging practice community is remains two very different things. Although several new generation books seem to see design methods history beginning with the rather late arrival of Double Diamond in 2005 that view would not align with the lessons already learned and where much of the emerging practice community already is today….ie: not patching up or building on Double Diamond. That would be going backwards not forward.

3. FUTURE DISCIPLINE: It did occur to us reading “The New Designer” that the well-intentioned book would have benefitted from having the NextD Geographies Framework on-board. Let's not forget that CONTEXT is key so we do not want to be decontextualizing design. Included in our second sensemaking book, Rethinking Design Thinking the frameworks articulation of Design Arena 1, Arena 2, Arena 3, Arena 4 interconnected to the notion of Skill-to-Scale would have helped readers make sense of where “The New Designer” book is focused. Several key passages in “The New Designer” provide hints, suggesting that there is a direct link between the future of design and service design. Quote: “Service design offers a bright future for our discipline…and by unshackling service design from transactional, cost benefit, we have a chance to create a truly systemic practice that embraces network thinking in redefining existing structures and in dreaming unforeseeable ones.” Unquote. Difficult truth is that in methods design terms service design is “shackled” by its up front assumption of service and not by “transactional cost benefit considerations”. NexD Geographies Framework makes it clear that all assumption-boxed Arena 2 methods tend to be not ideal for complex fuzzy contexts such as Arena 3 organizational changemaking and Arena 4 societal changemaking where making up-front assumptions is a non-starter. One could make the argument that with the world on fire it becomes more clear that there is no time left to be going round and round in circles pushing/pretending service design as meta design when it clearly is not. Those days are gone.

From years of engaging with NextD Journal and the subject of design futures we know that when it comes to change advocacy getting the calibration right is difficult and can be politically charged for some. Ethics is in itself multidimensional.

Having said that, it does seem to be increasingly obvious with the world on fire that much time has been pissed away, spent and it is getting rather late. Let’s endeavor to waste no more. If we are going to engage in “Rejecting Myths” and “Embracing Change” let’s not forget to do so within the context of our own community myths, narratives and methodologies. Lets recognize that the always emerging future of design is “shackled” neither to Double Diamond nor service design. That's the good news.

Let’s recognize there is urgency not only in embracing need for robust change around the current state of the world externally but also the state of design methods internally. Not just our characters, our mindsets but our methods often have bias deeply embedded in them as well. One urgency reexamine/redesign without the other seems like a formula for more academic politics, more stalling, more circular conversations and time wasted, time that collectively we no longer have. It's no secret that the mess out there extends far beyond service. Let's get to it.

Hope this is helpful readers. Stay tuned for more on design futures, new books, papers, etc. Summer winds down and a new season gets ready to begin. Good luck to all.


Feel free to join Design For Complexity Group here on LinkedIn.

Images Credits:

The New Designer Cover by Manuel Lima, 2023.

NextD Geographies Framework diagram from Rethinking Design Thinking, Humantific, 2020.

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