Uscreates had the pleasure of being involved in the judging the next generation of social designers, in three different categories of the RSA Student Design Award this year – mother and baby health, learning for life, and combating lifestyle-related health conditions.
We love the SDAs: it’s so inspiring to see the ingenuity and creativity of young designers turned towards questions of global importance. We believe we’re now in a new era for design, where the skills and methods that were once used to create 2D and 3D ‘things’, are being applied to develop solutions (or approaches) to much more intangible and open-ended questions. New fields are opening up: transition design, transdisciplinary design, social design, design for social innovation, systemic design. The SDAs are a great proving ground and launch pad for young designers wanting to pursue this kind of agenda in their future careers.
At Uscreates, we have been doing non-traditional, ‘post-thing’ design for some time. Over the last 12 years, we have been applying a design approach to social and public challenges in the UK. These days we find ourselves working on increasingly complex problems. Briefs aren’t just about rejigging a discrete service or communications campaign, but about creating change in interdependent systems. Reflecting on our experience of what’s needed ‘at the coal face’, we think there are a few core skills and competencies for young designers wanting to make the transition from a disciplinary focus to a challenge focus:
- Get immersed in the context of the problem – but make sure to come out the other side! Creativity comes from familiarity, not ignorance. But you also don’t want to be completely blinded by complexity and data.
- Bring together and make sense of multiple different kinds of information. Be critical about sources, biases and perspectives. Seek out the signal in the noise.
- Home in on the valuable and productive insight – and use it well. Check your interpretations. Are you really solving a problem? Or are you projecting your beliefs about what constitutes a problem for someone onto them?
- Keep shifting between different perspectives – and try to appreciate different points of view. Remember there is often a difference between what you think someone might want/ need/ think – and the reality. People are often surprising. There is no single or definable user.
- Be ruthless about deciding when not to intervene. Move on.
- You need to be able to work at a strategy and detail level, and everywhere in between – look at different scales to understand the system in which your idea is intervening. Sometimes this can feel baffling – so use your design skills (visualising, materialising) to find ways of making it graspable.
- Test your thinking and ideas as early, and as often as possible.
- Be aware that impact starts at the beginning of the project, not the end. Everything you do – including research – is part of a change process.
- Communicate clearly. If no one else understands what you’re thinking, it’s completely irrelevant. But don’t be put off if it’s complicated – just try harder to explain it. Different people understand things in different ways too, so vary your approach.
- And be social – you won’t be able to do it on your own.