Anne Miltenburg aka the Brandling

Designer and brand strategist Anne Miltenburg empowers social entrepreneurs with her mobile brand agency, the Brandling. Sshe designed the Children’s Design-a-Thon identity. Here is an interview with Anne on design and social change.

What’s the importance of design for social change?

Design is a way of thinking and a process: to design something means to look at the world and signal a problem, come up with an idea, to test it, and to execute it. Compared to all the other mind sports (philosophy, business strategy, etc) it has the great advantage of involving the actual person who’s life is impacted by a particular challenge, and it is not complete until a solution that actually has a direct impact on solving that challenge, has been executed.

What do you know of Emer Beamer’s work and why did you support her?

Emer Beamer is a rare breed. She has a lifelong commitment to social change and a big dream of where we should be going, combined with an in-depth expertise in design thinking & tech, and the entrepreneurship to make her ideas scale beyond the tiny niche. She could have easily started an organization that develops one-off events, but Emer took the high road and decided to create a method out of her approach, so that many others can now benefit from her thinking. And yet, when I see her at an event, she is completely into a child’s project, helping them to make their ideas work, tinkering with some led lights, laughing with them. Emer is real. I admire her beyond words.

Why should we educate children to become designers?

I have been a guest lecturer at some pretty famous design institutes across the world. The one thing I always notice is that we have to teach students back into the creativity that they had when they were children. That seems like a big waste. And it is not just the people with a degree in design who need to be creative. Now that we are facing a wildly unpredictable future, we can’t afford to leave creativity to a select group of people. To design something; to look at the world and signal a problem, come up with an idea, to test it, to execute it, is not just the professional dominion of designers. It’s a creative capacity we all have, regardless of where we were born, what our parents did, and what our education is. We all need to be more creative: whether you are a farmer, a teacher, a journalist or a banker. Well, maybe bankers don’t need to be more creative. Maybe they need a little more empathy. So that’s covered by design too.

How can brand design help the creative brainpower of kids to have more impact?

For the Designathon brand, one of our objectives is to prove to the world that the creative problem solving abilities of children hold real actual value. It is not just cutesy play that should disappear into the bin after the session is done. We can build an entire brand strategy around the Child Chief Creative Officer and take that to big organizations across the globe, and get them to work with children to solve some of their innovation challenges. Sign me up to make that happen, I’m all for that.

In your Ted Talk you refer to ‘a third way’ of successful social entrepreneurship and with your mobile brand agency you show lots of change makers the way: what could children learn from your approach to lead the way in the future?

“You can be anything you want to be when you grow up” is one of the most common pieces of advice to children. And it’s often followed by the phrase, never give up on your dreams. I always felt that stuff to be so useless, while at the same time its so true. I have spent 33 years trying to figure out who I wanted to be when I grew up, what my dreams were. And now I’m there, looking back, I can see all the essentials were already there at age 10. I loved making reports; I wrote about Apartheid, endangered animals, Kenya, the Dutch women’s rights movement. I loved to design the reports, to make illustrations and design the fonts. I have been very lucky to have created a dream job that fits exactly who I am, combining design, writing, and social and environmental engagement. If I had a child of my own, I would tell them that what they will be is already locked into them, it’s only waiting to come out. And that if you cannot find it, to stop looking inside of yourself, but figure out what you want to mean to others. I’ve found it’s like a sum: what you most want to get out of life + what you can mean to others = your dream job. And it is completely up to you to design it.