A very insightful story by Geraldine Bedell in today’s Observer explores the latest thinking on the role of design as a means to develop solutions to services, business models and social issues, and the controversy this has generated in the UK. Yet she argues, “we could all benefit from this new thinking.”

As an example of the new approach she points out that “tomorrow the UK Design Council will announce its biggest initiative to date: a 10-year project [lead by John Thackara] to design solutions to social problems in five regions of the country, starting in the North East. At the end of each two-year phase, the region concerned will be left with up to 10 new practical public projects.”

The controversy stems from the fact that some believe that this is “strategic planning, or project management, and should not be confused with design” and that the “term designer is now [being] abused”.

However there is increasing openness to the new thinking: “Politicians and chief executives are starting to recognise that design can offer a more sensitive approach to social problems than their old, rather crude methods of information gathering, assumption forming and top-down solutions. Starting from users, they believe they can create more personalised, responsive, human, elegant and efficient solutions to social problems and business.”

Concluding, she argues that “establishment designers should relax, feel less threatened.” […] “The rest of us, meanwhile, should be delighted, because new design opens up the possibility that we could all begin to apply design thinking, become much more involved in devising solutions to the problems that plague us. Which ought to be a lot more interesting and rewarding than just having more designer stuff.”

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