Assembling Tomorrow

Book by Stanford “…explores how to use readily accessible tools of design to both mend the mistakes of our past and shape our future for the better. It explores the intangibles, the mysterious forces that contribute to the off-kilter feelings of today, and follows up with actionables to help you alter your perspective and find opportunities in these turbulent times. Mixed throughout are histories of the future, short pieces of speculative fiction that illustrate how things go haywire and what might be in store if we don’t set them straight…(More)”.

Design for a “Mess”

Book review by Anirudh Dhebar: “The world is a mess,” reads the opening sentence of the blurb for Don Norman’s latest book, Design for a Better World. Compelled by that phrase, I was left wondering: Does Norman, an influential voice on user-centered design, perhaps best known for his seminal book The Design of Everyday Things, have workable solutions to offer so we can design our way out of the mess?

Thirty years ago, I read Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, which was originally published in a hardcover version as The Psychology of Everyday Things and retitled for the paperback edition. In his preface to that new edition, the author suggested the title change was a “lesson in design.” I could not agree more—many readers may find a book on design less intimidating than a book on psychology. By changing the title, Norman was practicing what he was preaching: making its design more user centric.

In The Design of Everyday Things, Norman preached effectively. He offered a distinctive perspective on something commonplace (everyday things), with an approachable style and a persuasive pitch to casual readers who otherwise may not have given much thought to the good, bad, and the ugly of the designs of the many things they interact with in their daily lives. His message helped bring user centricity to the front and center of product design and was part of a widespread shift toward more intentional design.

In his new book, Norman shifts the focus to something much more ambitious: the role of design in transforming the world from its present “mess” into something “better”—more sustainable, meaningful, and centered on humanity. While I applaud the author’s ambition, a shift from a relatively narrow focus on the design of tangible everyday objects to something as vast as a moral reform of the economy and its relationship to the environment is a tall order and requires more than a call-for-action-on-multiple-fronts message…(More)”.

‘Positive deviance’ and the power of outliers

Bloomberg Cities Network: “Groundbreaking solutions in cities are often the result of visionary mayoral leadership. But sometimes certain communities achieve significantly better outcomes than their similarly resourced neighbors—and the underlying reasons may not be immediately obvious to local leaders. Ravi Gurumurthy, CEO of the global innovation foundation Nesta, believes that this variation in quality of life at a hyper-local level is something worth paying a lot more attention to. 

“The fastest way for us to improve people’s lives will be to mine that variation and really understand what is going on,” he says.    

This concept, known as “positive deviance,” describes individuals or communities that achieve remarkable success or exhibit highly effective behaviors despite facing the same constraints as their peers. With a long history of use in international development, positive deviance is now gaining traction among city leaders as a source of solutions to stubborn urban challenges.  

Here’s a closer look at what it’s about, and how it’s already being used to uplift promising approaches in cities. 

What is positive deviance? 

Positive deviance first gained widespread attention because of a remarkable success story in 1990s Vietnam. Much of the country was suffering from a malnutrition crisis, and efforts to design and implement new solutions were coming up short. But aid workers landed on a breakthrough by paying closer attention to children who already appeared larger and healthier than their peers.  

It turned out these children were being fed different diets—leaning more heavily on shrimp and crab, for example, which were widely accessible but less often fed to young people. These children also were being fed more frequently, in smaller meals, throughout the day—an intervention that, again, did not require parents to have more resources so much as to differently use what was universally available.  

When these practices—feeding kids shellfish and making meals smaller and more frequent—were replicated, malnutrition plummeted…(More)”

Digital ethnography: A qualitative approach to digital cultures, spaces, and socialites

Paper by Coppélie Cocq and Evelina Liliequist: “This paper introduces principles for the application and challenges of small data ethnography in digital research. It discusses the need to incorporate ethics in every step of the research process. As teachers and researchers within the digital humanities, we argue for the value of a qualitative approach to digital contents, spaces, and phenomena. This article is relevant as a guide for students and researchers whose studies examine digital practices, phenomena, and social communities that occur in, through, or in relation to digital contexts…(More)”. See also: Digital Ethnography Data Innovation Primer.

How do you accidentally run for President of Iceland?

Blog by Anna Andersen: “Content design can have real consequences — for democracy, even…

To run for President of Iceland, you need to be an Icelandic citizen, at least 35 years old, and have 1,500 endorsements.

For the first time in Icelandic history, this endorsement process is digital. Instead of collecting all their signatures on paper the old-fashioned way, candidates can now send people to to submit their endorsement.

This change has, also for the first time in Icelandic history, given the nation a clear window into who is trying to run — and it’s a remarkably large number. To date, 82 people are collecting endorsements, including a comedian, a model, the world’s first double-arm transplant receiver, and my aunt Helga.

Many of these people are seriously vying for president (yep, my aunt Helga), some of them have undoubtedly signed up as a joke (nope, not the comedian), and at least 11 of them accidentally registered and had no idea that they were collecting endorsements for their candidacy.

“I’m definitely not about to run for president, this was just an accident,” one person told a reporter after having a good laugh about it.

“That’s hilarious!” another person said, thanking the reporter for letting them know that they were in the running.

As a content designer, I was intrigued. How could so many people accidentally start a campaign for President of Iceland?

It turns out, the answer largely has to do with content design.Presidential hopefuls were sending people a link to a page where they could be endorsed, but instead of endorsing the candidate, some people accidentally registered to be a candidate…(More)”.

Designing and implementing mission-oriented policies: Tools and resources from the field

Report by Anna Goulden and Professor Rainer Kattel: “This policy report investigates the tools and resources used globally by practitioners to support them in design, implementation or evaluation of mission-oriented policies. In recent years, ‘policy toolkits’ (often called ‘playbooks’, ‘guides’, ‘resource libraries’ or similar) have become increasingly widespread in policy communities. In the context of policy approaches such as mission-oriented innovation, toolkits and many tools can be a means of bridging the gap between theory and practice by providing practitioners with tangible resources to support them in their work. As part of this work, IIPP engaged with practitioners in its Mission-Oriented Innovation Network (MOIN) to discuss cases of mission-oriented policy tools and toolkits developed in the field – and current and future needs for tool development. 

The work has consisted of three strands, which will be explored in this report:

  • Mapping the external environment: what does the current landscape of policy toolkits and resources look like, particularly for mission-oriented innovation?
  • Understanding practitioner needs: what are the operational contexts, use cases and needs of practitioners in terms of tools?
  • Scoping future priorities: what is the role of IIPP in the field and how is it developing?…(More)”

Design Thinking Misses the Mark

Article by Anne-Laure Fayard & Sarah Fathallah: “Nonprofits, governments, and international agencies often turn to design thinking to tackle complex social challenges and develop innovative solutions with—rather than for—people. Design thinking was conceptualized by designer Nigel Cross more than four decades ago, notably in the 1982 Design Studies article Designerly Ways of Knowing.” The approach was later packaged for popular consumption by global design and innovation consultancy IDEO. Design thinking quickly became the go-to innovation tool kit in the for-profit world—and, soon after, in the international development and social sectors—because of its commitment to center communities in the collaborative design process.

IDEO’s then-CEO Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt, who was then lead of the IDEO social innovation group that became, championed design thinking for the social sector in their 2010 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Design Thinking for Social Innovation,” which has become an important reference for design thinking in the social sector. Embraced by high-profile philanthropists like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cofounder Melinda Gates and Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, design thinking soared in popularity because it promised to deliver profound societal change. Brown even claimed, in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, that design thinking could improve democratic capitalism.

However, design thinking has not lived up to such promises. In a 2023 MIT Technology Review article, writer and designer Rebecca Ackerman argued that while “design thinking was supposed to fix the world,” organizations rarely implement the ideas generated during the design-thinking process. The failure to implement these ideas resulted from either an inadequate understanding of the problem and/or of the complexities of the institutional and cultural contexts…(More)”.

No app, no entry: How the digital world is failing the non tech-savvy

Article by Andrew Anthony: “Whatever the word is for the opposite of heartwarming, it certainly applies to the story of Ruth and Peter Jaffe. The elderly couple from Ealing, west London, made headlines last week after being charged £110 by Ryanair for printing out their tickets at Stansted airport.

Even allowing for the exorbitant cost of inkjet printer ink, 55 quid for each sheet of paper is a shockingly creative example of punitive pricing.

The Jaffes, aged 79 and 80, said they had become confused on the Ryanair website and accidentally printed out their return tickets instead of their outbound ones to Bergerac. It was the kind of error anyone could make, although octogenarians, many of whom struggle with the tech demands of digitalisation, are far more likely to make it.

But as the company explained in a characteristically charmless justification of the charge: “We regret that these passengers ignored their email reminder and failed to check-in online.”…

The shiny, bright future of full computerisation looks very much like a dystopia to someone who either doesn’t understand it or have the means to access it. And almost by definition, the people who can’t access the digitalised world are seldom visible, because absence is not easy to see. What is apparent is that improved efficiency doesn’t necessarily lead to greater wellbeing.

From a technological and economic perspective, the case for removing railway station ticket offices is hard to refute. A public consultation process is under way by train operators who present the proposed closures as means of bringing “station staff closer to customers”.

The RMT union, by contrast, believes it’s a means of bringing the staff closer to unemployment and has mounted a campaign heralding the good work done by ticket offices across the network. Whatever the truth, human interaction is in danger of being undervalued in the digital landscape…(More)”.

Design in the Civic Space: Generating Impact in City Government

Paper by Stephanie Wade and Jon Freach: “When design in the private sector is used as a catalyst for innovation, it can produce insight into human experience, awareness of equitable and inequitable conditions, and clarity about needs and wants. But when we think of applying design in a government complex, the complicated nature of the civic arena means that public servants need to learn and apply design in ways that are specific to the intricate and expansive ecosystem of long-standing social challenges they face, and learn new mindsets, methods, and ways of working that challenge established practices in a bureaucratic environment. Design offers tools to help navigate the ambiguous boundaries of these complex problems and improve the city’s organizational culture so that it delivers better services to residents and the communities in which they live.

For the new practitioner in government, design can seem exciting, inspiring, hopeful, and fun because over the past decade it has quickly become a popular and novel way to approach city policy and service design. In the early part of the learning process, people often report that using design helps visualize their thoughts, spark meaningful dialogue, and find connections between problems, data, and ideas. But for some, when the going gets tough—when the ambiguity of overlapping and long-standing complex civic problems, a large number of stakeholders, causes, and effects begin to surface—design practices can seem slow and confusing.

In this article we explore the growth and impact of using design in city government and best practices when introducing it into city hall to tackle complex civic sector challenges along with the highs and lows of using design in local government to help cities innovate. The authors, who have worked together to conceive, create, and deliver design training to over 100 global cities, the US federal government, and higher education, share examples from their fieldwork supported by the experiences of city staff members who have applied design methods in their jobs….(More)”.

Supporting Safer Digital Spaces

Report by Suzie Dunn, Tracy Vaillancourt and Heather Brittain: “Various forms of digital technology are being used to inflict significant harms online. This is a pervasive issue in online interactions, in particular with regard to technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and technology-facilitated violence (TFV) against LGBTQ+ people. This modern form of violence perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and has significant impacts on its targets.

As part of a multi-year research project Supporting a Safer Internet (in partnership with the International Development Research Centre) exploring the prevalence and impacts of TFGBV experienced by women, transgender, gender non-conforming and gender-diverse people, as well as TFV against LGBTQ+ individuals, an international survey was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). The survey examined the influence of gender and sexual orientation on people’s experiences with online harms, with a focus on countries in the Global South. Data was collected from 18,149 people of all genders in 18 countries.

The special report provides background information on TFGBV and TFV against LGBTQ+ people by summarizing some of the existing research on the topic. It then presents the quantitative data collected on people’s experiences with, and opinions on, online harms. A list of recommendations is provided for governments, technology companies, academics, researchers and civil society organizations on how they can contribute to addressing and ending TFV…(More)”

(Read the Supporting Safer Digital Spaces: Highlights here.; Read the French translation of the Highlights here.)