Monthly Archives:February 2016

The role of the designer in a changing society

13 Feb , 2016,
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The design of everyday products and services is one of the key factors that shapes the evolving nature of societal change. It is a complex issue whereby new innovations may spark social structural change, or social change sparks new innovations. One example from  Hans Rosling’s brilliant TED talk is the invention of the washing machine, which dramatically changed society by radically reducing the manual, time-consuming task of doing the laundry, allowing women the opportunity for education.

Household behaviours are learned by cultural norms from other family members. Energy intensive household behaviours get passed down from generation to generation, with users unlikely to alter their habitual behaviours unless there is a significant or disruptive change in their environment or the tools they use (for example the invention of the washing machine). Incremental changes to household behaviour may be slow and costly because the advice from other family members will have a greater impact than advice from corporations.

Designers have a responsibility to monitor shifts in social structures and innovate accordingly. Single occupancy, smaller living, urbanisation, and an ageing population are just a few of the major social changes that affect energy intensive household behaviours and designers need to be integrated into the structural and social decisions that affect these changes. Will smaller family size and urban living affect the use patterns of the washing machine? How will the gender imbalance around household chores be affected by more single occupancy homes? These are questions that designers need to be aware of when looking to innovate in new markets where the social and cultural norms of family life may be unfamiliar to the environment the designer is used to.

Feminine Values Driving Sustainable Business

Feb , 2016,
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I recently attended the Sustainable Brands conference in London and was impressed by the turnout and quality of the presentations. One of the things that was evidently clear from the presentations over the two days is the prominence of feminine values in businesses that take sustainable growth seriously.

Within my own research I have used the notion of masculine and feminine values with relation to Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. As defined by Hofstede, feminine values relate to compassion, cooperation, modesty, and quality of life compared with competitiveness, material reward, achievement, and assertiveness of masculine values. In the recent design competition that I ran, many of the successful entries managed to lower resource use in the products they designed by tying in emotional attachments – often relating the behaviour to other family members.

People are demanding more from the brands they buy from, rather than green PR stunts. People are intelligent and want businesses that are respectful, resilient and empathetic – all female values. Chip Walker introduced this ‘spendshift’ in his presentation, and businesses that are adapting to these new values are the ones gaining the most trust from customers.

We’re People, Not Consumers!

Feb , 2016,
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As a designer I’ve always been taught to understand people as users. People use the products and services they purchase. They interact with them at various stages throughout the product-person relationship. I don’t consume my smart phone, I use it. I use my coffee percolator, not consume it. I use Starbucks (the service), not consume it.

Consumption, in my mind, deals with a person at one specific point in the product-person relationship – the point of purchase. Trying to understand ‘The Consumer’ is therefore always going to be a challenge if you have such a narrow window to investigate behaviour. Yet big business and marketers still deal with ‘understanding the consumer’ and grouping ‘consumers’ based on their purchasing decisions.

Dealing with consumers in this way is, in my opinion, outdated, traditional and incorrect in today’s society. In reality there are several disruptive shifts that challenge how businesses should be viewing their ‘consumers’;


1) People interact. They add content. Consumers purchase, People add & exchange.


2) People create and adapt the design. Consumers buy products, People create experiences.

3) People Use, Share and Re-use. Consumers are individuals, People build communities










So brand managers, researchers, marketers and strategists:

– Concentrate on people, not consumers.

– Put people before statistics.

– Involve people. Give people control. Let them imagine and create. Let them build associations. Let them add value.