Interview: Prototyping life-centred innovation
Simona Maschi is co-founder and CEO of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design — a world-renowned school, research group, innovation consultancy, and startup incubator. Her craft is service design, scenario design, and design methods, and she has used those skills to create an innovation culture that acts as a conduit between industry, academia and entrepreneurship. Recent projects have explored topics such as private and public transportation, health and wellbeing, sustainable housing, and smart cities.
What do you consider to be the most urgent issues to address within your field?
For the past 12 years or so, we have been practicing human-centred design, but actually we call it people-centred design and innovation. We focus on people as a source of inspiration to learn and co-create the solutions we want to see applied. The idea is to make people part of the process, so that we make sure we design something that fits with their lives and creates value. But within the past two years, we have started to talk about our practice as life-centred innovation, where we focus on people and the planet. If we focus only on people we might end up in the wrong place for the planet — both from a sustainability perspective and considering shared resources across the world. Our work is grounded in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and we are firmly committed to achieving the targets of the goals by 2030.
We want to make sure, as designers, that we not only focus on people but really embrace the complexities of designing for life — for any kind of living organism.
This means including evaluation of what is good for the ecosystem in which we exist. This is one of our key areas: learning much more about how designers can integrate the knowledge, tools and processes of scientists, urban planners and other experts so that we can work on a systemic level.
Another interesting outcome of the 17 goals is the notion of adaptation. As designers, we believe we have the responsibility to build opportunities out of catastrophic changes, so we have started an initiative called the Adaptation Studio. Instead of complaining about climate change, calling on policymakers to save us, or throwing up our hands and saying this is too big for us to tackle, we are asking questions such as: How might we develop solutions, products, or services that will help us adapt to climate change? Adaptation doesn’t mean giving up on more sustainable practices, it means recognising that we may also need new behaviours, new values and new ways of thinking about the changes we are facing today and will face in the near future — things like extreme weather patterns, mass migration and diminishing resources.
Finally, inclusion — from a gender, economic and social perspective — is one of our main focus areas. The main goal of the 17 sustainability goals is to not leave anyone behind. It is about reducing the barriers between individuals and organisations in a way that creates more inclusion across countries and so on. Personally, I look at inclusion as one of the key motivators for my work.
What are the most important skills or practices in your work and why?
For us, it is all about prototyping. Building a mock-up enhances the creativity within everyone — so that you can co-create with the people for whom you’re designing. Design skills and tools offer a way to prototype and test and continually refine the innovations you’re bringing to market. Build, test, repeat. Learning by doing is key. And this process never really ends. Today, data is the new material to play with, rather than plastic, wood or glass. Having data at our fingertips allows us to change and adapt our solutions in a way that was never before possible.
And by the way, prototyping isn’t just a specific phase, but rather a mindset that allows everyone to be part of the process of shaping new ideas.
That only happens if you open up the process to include more than just one specialised design team who bring only one part of the knowledge needed to the table. Right now, we are facing systemic challenges that can not be addressed by a single product or service. Systemic thinking calls for cross-disciplinary teams that can come together around a shared vision of how to tackle the big picture, rather than individual problems or challenges. Cross-disciplinarity is key.
This interview is an excerpt from “Urgent.Practice — Culture design and design culture in the 21st century”. Click here to download the full publication.