The Voice of Professional Design

Posted Wednesday, 9 October 2013

New design pathways, new ideas.

By David Mellonie, for the Design Institute of Australia

New design pathways, new ideas.

Design symposium looks for new ways of thinking about design.

Here's a couple of ideas for designers and design educators to ponder over.

‘What if design awards were conferred based on implementation rather than ideation? What if renderings were replaced with photos of use?’


‘We need to increase designers’ ‘social literacy’ by learning the lessons of past practice. We need to get batter at documenting, articulating and demonstrating the value of design in practice. And we need to radically change design education to better train young designers to be bold (but humble) facilitators embedded in interdisciplinary and collaborative teams.’

These suggestions and many more like them were just a sample of the many provocative concepts discussed and debated at a recent design symposium held in California at the Art Centre College of Design.

The three day LEAP symposium was an invitation-only event held in the Designmatters department of the college examining career pathways for designers in the ‘social innovation space’, and one of those most of us probably wished we could have attended if only we had been invited and if only we happened to be in California at the time.

The symposium brought together 100 national thought leaders, educators, designers and practitioners from business, international development and social enterprise at the college.

Participants were invited to address three major questions:

1. What is design for social innovation?

What are the key practices and drivers for designers doing this work? What are the current professional opportunities available? What are other opportunities that we would like to develop and evolve?

2. How does it manifest? Vital Hypotheses.

What are central values, principles and tools that drive or stifle new modes of professional engagement? What are the barriers and limitations to the current and prospective opportunities?

3. Why it matters? Implications.

What actions can we take to foster these professional opportunities? What do we need to do to better reach potential employers? How can we enhance the preparation design students receive to access these opportunities? How do we better articulate the ‘the return on design’ (ROD)?

LEAP facilitators included Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder and Vice President, Designmatters Department, Art Center College of Design and Host Curator, LEAP Symposium; Allan Chochinov, Chair, Products of Design, School of Visual Arts and Partner, Core 77; Lee Davis, Scholar-in-Residence, Center for Social Design, Maryland Institute College of Art, MICA; William Drenttel, Director, Winterhouse Institute and Editorial Director, Design Observer and LEAP Symposium Editorial Director; Robert Fabricant, Vice President of Creative, frog; and Jocelyn Wyatt, Co-Lead and Executive Director,

According to an article by Andrew Shea about the symposium in Design Observer, participants worked to ‘redefine the standards of design education, reveal the tools that social designers need, better align design with other disciplines, demonstrate the value and benefit of social design, and help to create business structures that make social design sustainable.’

In the process, particpants were challenged to re-examine their assumptions about designers, design, and social design in particular, with statements such as the following, by Jon Kolko from MyEdu and Austin Center for Design:

‘While designers are typically well-intentioned, many lack an ethical framework to guide their practice. The result is an industry of practitioners focused on the most insignificant problems, making decisions that manipulate and coerce, with little regard or responsibility for the consequences of their actions.’

Other inflammatory ideas included:

‘We need to move from a title that describes what we do, design, to one that describes the value we bring to complex systems…’  (Lorna Ross, Mayo Clinic)


‘In order to appropriately address the issues and opportunities of the Human Condition in the 21st Century, design needs to move beyond a product and service orientation and develop a language and understanding of how to participate in and contribute to the politics, scale and sustainability of power, authority and access across multiple social agendas and positions.’ (Sean Donahue, Art Center College of Design)


‘We need to remember that we work in the consequence business not the artifact business. We might be good at making anything we want, but we also need to be responsible stewards of our planet.’ (Allan Chochinov, School of Visual Arts and Core 77)

All good stuff, so where can you sign up?

Well, this year’s symposium has been and gone, unfortunately, but a book detailing the results of the LEAP symposium is promised for early next year, so maybe that will become available to a wider audience.

In the meantime, you can gain lots of interesting insights by reading the full article here or viewing some of the highlights here.

(Images courtesy of and Alex Aristei.)

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