Semi-Permanent 2017 — Designing for Change

If there’s one thing that’s constant in this world, it’s change. Saying the world today is changing rapidly is as obvious as saying it’s round.

As designers, we not only need to know how it’s changing but how to design for change. Semi-Permanent brought designers, strategists, journalists, artists, typographers, architects and film-makers together with change in mind — or more specifically, how to design for it.

The conference spanned over 3 days, with more than 100 speakers sharing a wide range of ideas, concepts, and insights. With a focus on change, it was no surprise that AI, VR, AR and other assorted futuristic acronyms were heavily featured on the agenda. After three days of Semi-Permanent something stood out — designing for change is like designing for the future. The future is uncertain. Instead of trying to solve what we don’t know, we need to create, make mistakes, evolve, and be open to ambiguity. As designers, we should make ambiguity our canvas.

Instead of doing a deep dive into all three days I’ve captured a talk that stood out to me.


Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Embracing optimism with 72andSunny

Perhaps one of the most unorthodox talks of the conference, but easily one of the best, came from Glenn Cole, founder of the global agency 72andSunny. Glenn didn’t show any work or talk about insights and trends but rather focused on a mindset that designers should adopt. Spoiler, the hint’s in their name. 72andSunny is a statement of optimism and as an agency, they’re committed to finding opportunity in every challenge.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

First Glenn gave some advice on optimism and how to foster it

  • It can be learned
  • It requires patience
  • It’s driven by purpose and certainty
  • Optimism makes you resilient
  • It makes you dangerous — optimism helps you turn problems into unexpected success
  • Leaders should align themselves to optimism. It makes them less scary, more open to ideas, fun, influential and more consistent.
  • Optimism gives access to reasoning skills

He also defined what it isn’t. Optimism is not:

  • Being a cheerleader
  • A mood
  • Wishful thinking
  • Blind faith
  • Ignoring discouraging signs
  • Only focusing on positive aspects
  • Overlooking the need for risk assessment
  • A luxury

“Optimism is the ultimate creative act. It’s a mindset that breeds creativity.”
Glenn Cole, 72andSunny

Most importantly, Glenn gave the following steps on how to practice optimism:

  1. Acknowledge the bad, focus on the good. 
    Assess all risks and opportunities and then explore the possibilities.
  2. Look for partial solutions. 
    Little wins create a shift, they draw people to your ideas and create momentum. Let the optimism snowball.
  3. Plan for play. 
    Play fosters a sense of creativity. Make it a regular part of your work.
  4. More “Yes and…”, avoid “Yes but…”. 
    “Yes and…” gives permission to explore possibilities. Whereas “Yes but…” kills anything before the word “but”. Just say no.
  5. Give yourself and your team room for optimism. 
    Intentionally giving yourself and your colleague’s room for optimism allows, promotes and cultivates positive morale.
  6. Believe everyone has the best intentions, even if they don’t. 
    It can be hard to embrace the idea that everyone has the best intentions because everyone has their own agenda. But if you approach every situation believing that everyone is trying to make the final result better, chances are that the final result will, in fact, be better.
  7. Try it
    What’s stopping you?
  8. Ask for it.
    If people say no, talk it out. Keep asking…

At its core optimism makes us more adaptable to change, allowing us to design with change, not against it.