Denis Weil on the New Frontiers of Design
Denis Weil closed out the 2014 conference in Stockholm with some reflections on the emerging frontiers of design. Formerly an innovation executive at McDonalds, his perspective is that Human Centered Design and Design Thinking are each showing their age (20 years and 10 years, respectively) and that designers are becoming complacent by following these paths. He identified Social Design and Venture Capital Design as the new vanguard.
Social design has certainly established its relevance. Denis spoke about the affinity between social design, service design and public sector design and the book Design Transitions offers a contemporary overview of these developments but if 10 years qualifies as long-in-the-tooth then social design is hardly the vanguard. Ezio Manzini has been writing about social innovation and design since the early nineties with a focus on sustainability. A more direct precursor is the work of Participle in the UK and the RED group from the Design Council in 2004.
I believe that Denis makes a better case for currency when it comes to Venture Capital Design. It certainly caught my attention when John Maeda left the world of academia last year to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley. Denis sketched a few examples of startups that exemplify this model such as Airbnb, Jawbone and Nest but the idea of a community of practice centered around this niche strikes me as fairly tenuous.
Throughout his talk Denis identified the qualities of a new breed of designer and a new model of collaboration. Phrases like “radical empathy” and “outspoken risk takers” stood out to me. He emphasized that these new areas of design require sacrifice and that the patterns are still emerging. He ended by quoting Allan Chochinov from the School of Visual Arts who observed that design has been moving from the aesthetic to the strategic to the participatory. Both the design and content of the Stockholm conference reflect that shift.
I would have liked to see more of an argument about why Denis felt that HCD and Design Thinking had lost relevance and how he sees our ecosystem changing in light of the new frontiers he described. But maybe that’s a question for the next conference.