Great Outdoors of Design Conference 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Great Outdoors of Design conference.

The theme was design research with an international dimension. The key three parts of what I do. Here's a brief write up of the day.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Great Outdoors of Design conference.

The theme was design research with an international dimension. If you follow my tweets you’ll know that’s 3 things very close to me heart.

Session 1 – Breaking down organisational silos

Dan and Jo from Apogee gave a great introduction to the day. Talking about the current state of design research and how it can (and can’t) make change within an organisation.


Very nicely summed up in the phrase “Be water my friend” from Bruce Lee

Session 2 Moving beyond the technical to embrace the emotional

From Nicolas Gaudron and Virginia Cruz of IDSL in France.

Empathy is where design & research meet.Get inside the people of the company. The people side of them.

Their focus is on designing empathetic tools. Translating technology in human.

They gave a great example of navigating the video of a football game. They visually mapped crowed noise onto the interface. This made it easy to navigate to the exciting bits as indicated by louder crowd noise.

Football noise graph

They finally talked about turning insights into recipes that can be applied across the organisation. Recipes for design innovation. A nice idea.

Session 3 Community involvement in sustainable energy use

From Rikke Ulk an applied anthropologist at in Denmark.

They talked about community involvement in promoting sustainable energy use.

Understanding culture and putting people at the centre of change.

Dong flex project which is a longitudinal study looking at tools and approaches to reduce electricity usage. A common theme across the day.

The research participants and the client share the same shared project space. A great way of including clients in the research. Breaking down the barriers between researchers often can create and not getting in the way of customer client dialogue.

Podio was the online project space used. Looks really useful.

Research participants can comment on each others’ experiences as can the client. Participants can steer the research & the project through the time it’s running.

Also mentioned was working alongside qualitative researches to create business & financial models. Linking the stories and the numbers.

Session 4 – Design & research a love story

From Lekshmy Parameswaran & Laszlo Herczeg at Fuelfor who specialise in experience design in healthcare.

They used the analogy of a love story, the ups & downs & building a relationship.

They asked design and research practioners to talk about the relationship between design & research and they came up with the following key words:

Respect, acceptance, playfulness, passion, trust, seduction, time alone together.

Words all associated with a relationship.

They also looked at the terms that describe each discipline.

They suggest both disciplines work together from the start.

  • Design your research for and with your designers
  • Best research systematic & playful

A couple of great quotes:

Create frameworks that honour the research

Good research should seduce everyone in the room

Session 5 – Local insights affect shifts in global organisations

From Klebel Puchanski from Feel the Future.

Klebel talked specifically about the Brazilian market, an important one for growth (and somewhere I’ve researched twice already this year).

He talked about Brazil being a dynamic paradox. How there is no such thing as a typical Brazilian –
to be Brazilian is to be a mix of people. Brazil is a true multicultural nation.

Who is the new Brazilian consumer?

The middle class in Brazil, the C class, is different to the middle class in other areas of the world. There is less of an aspiration to become say upper class. A real feeling of being happy in the middle. The middle class don’t care about prestige. He talked about Brazilians being the happiest people in the world.

Klebel then went on to discuss the approach he came up with for his PhD and has put to the test on recent projects:

Process // branding = consistency
Don’t respect the global attributes too much
People // flexibility = new ways of thinking
Flexible country & people
Design // vernacular creativity = intuitive
Cultures have developed their own aesthetics, respect these in your design

Session 6 Thinking big by starting local

From Daniela Hammel, Jan Schröder, Martin Beyerle minds & makers, Germany.

They described a recent service design project a highly participatory approach to design services for street kids.

Session 7 The Power of Many & the power of one

From Indri Tulusan & Fumiko Ichikawa Spur, Singapore & Tokyo.

Fumiko talked about the recent earthquake in Japan. She told some interesting stories about life immediatly after the quake. The technology we rely on in modern life no longer worked & how the society coped.

  • How there were large (and orderly, being Japan) queues at public phone
  • No more heels (everyone had to walk)
  • No more virtual cash as no ATMs
  • Board games sales went up

Indri went on to to talk about Kenya and how people live off the electricity grid.

  • TVs + generators sold together
  • Charging up mobile phones from generators & solar panels

Fumiko then went on to talk about the electricity forecasting following the shutdown of the Fukishima reactor.

This screen from the Tokyo underground shows electricity usage. How much electricity the country is using:
Energy usage at 73%

They concluded by looking at how technology has changed in Japan following the quake. They talked about a rechargeable TV. The battery is charged overnight then used in the day when no electricity.

The parallels between the evolution of technology in Kenya and the recent changes in Japan were stark. For the world to cope with future energy shortages there are lessons to be learnt from both Kenya & Japan.

Session 8 – Defining the global by exploring the local

(I was getting hungry at this point so excuse me if I don’t do this session justice)

Bas Raijmakers STBY,  UK & Netherlands.

Bas talked about recent research projects across multiple countries.

He discussed how the regional teams need to be story tellers not data collectors How the teams need to be agile to adapt to findings coming out of their country.

He further discussed the importance of collaborating with clients.

The following quote from Bas outlined a key theme of the day:

You need as a researcher a strategic view of the organisations to make your findings useful.

Obvious but sadly not always done by many researchers.

Breakout sessions

After lunch we split into groups based on topic. I attended the ‘How can global perspectives encapsulate an increasingly complex world?’ stream.

Bas from STBY led the workshop. We started by looking at how technology is often used in unexpected ways to solve immediate problems.

We then discussed some of the major themes of the day.

  • Sharing vs owning. Sharing is more sustainable but needs a strong trust network to succeed.
  • When technology no longer works how can an individual and society prepare for this

We discussed a research approach to look into this second theme.

Bas suggested giving participants in each country a Japanese survival kit. Getting them to explain the usage of each part. eg plastic bags to hold water. Specifically looking at cultural items in the kits. The Japanese kits contain slipper for example – the slippers help reduce the dust carried around on the feet.

We then discussed what items would be specific to other cultures survival kits and what this tells us about that society.

Themes for the day

Wrapping up the day the following key themes emerged:

  • Design can solve many of the problems organisations have however it often fails to speak the language of the organisation so has a lower impact
  • Build on the local to develop the global. Strong local foundations mean projects can succeed globally
  • Don’t be dogmatic in the research approach chosen. Be agile.
  • Many of the solutions to modern problems are present in other cultures. Research can identify these and design can show how to adapt them.

Overall we as design professionals need to adapt to the organisation & the culture we are working – as Dan Szuc said while channeling Bruce Lee we need to “Be water my friend.”

Thanks to everyone I met and talked with. Please add a comment below if you feel I’ve missed anything.

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