Three takeaways from the Designing for the Common Good symposium


This one-day symposium showcased a variety of design thinking methodologies, aimed at solving modern societal problems or as they phrased it, designing for the common good. These methodologies can assist anyone wanting to overcome ‘wicked problems’, problems thought to be impossible to solve because of contradictory, incomplete or evolving requirements.

At Perceptive Ideas, we established early on that we’re a socially minded bunch. So far we’ve undertaken pro bono research and design work for a charity. And we regularly teach design thinking to small and large groups of business and lay-people. The opportunity to learn new techniques for designing for the common good was too good to pass up. I’ll share three aspects of the symposium that resonated with me the most.

Keynote speaker Surya Vanka — Design by billions

Surya Vanka, the ex-head of User Experience at Microsoft, introduced his lean, group problem-solving technique, the ‘Design Swarm’. The process comprises a series of short sprints where regular people create solutions for increasingly complex problems, by being agile, creative and collaborative. This team based approach draws creativity from all kinds of participants. And embraces immediate action, with incomplete information, as starting point for creative disruption.

Who could use the Design Swarm methodology?

Any team looking to solve a complex problem. For example, the Industrial Designers Association of America are hosting a Design Swarm to find sustainable disaster relief solutions.

Presentation on methods by Kees Dorst — Frame Creation

Kees Dorst, the Director of the DOC Research Centre at UTS, shared insights into solving ‘wicked problems’ by using the ‘Frame Creation’ design methodology. It was developed at the DOC Research Centre and can be used by any team, large or small, wanting to “find the problem behind a problem.” It allows designers and stakeholders to fully investigate a problem before working on solutions. Through his research, Kees, found that problems often can’t be solved in the contexts in which they arose.

Who could use the Frame Creation methodology?

Anyone looking to delve deeper and uncover the true problem. By focusing on new contexts and approaches, different perspectives can be found, with a greater chance of generating a solution. He gave an example where the methodology was used in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross to make it a safer place.


Image: Lucy Klippan — Designing out Crime

Combatting wildlife trafficking workshop

This workshop followed on nicely from Kees’ talk. We got to use the Frame Creation methodology to uncover solutions to the ‘wicked problem’ of combatting wildlife trafficking with Vietnam Customs. This methodology can work over varying time frames, we did the rapid two-hour version, and there are versions up to five-days-long. There are nine steps that must be followed in order, as each builds on the previous step. We started with the ‘Archaeology’ step where a group brainstorm session revealed what past actions had already been taken to solve the problem. Step two involved looking at reasons why the problem is so hard to solve, it’s called ‘Paradox’. Each step is quite different, and far too detailed to cover here, but the process was dynamic, fun, and revealing in unexpected ways. Working in small teams, our ending place was vastly different from our starting place. I left wanting to use this methodology on the next project I worked on.

Find out more on the Frame Creation methodology here.

The symposium covered diverse topics and provided insight into thought provoking problems, methodologies and solutions. This was a brief overview of the day. More detailed information can be found here.

If you’re interested in learning new methodologies, we’ll be hosting two design thinking workshops at Vivid Festival 2016, one for kids and another for adults. You will learn how to rapid prototype a solution using an iterative approach developed by the Stanford d.School.

Information will be available on the Vivid website soon.

If you’re interested in learning and implementing problem solving methodologies for your workplace, feel free to get in touch!