Newsletter 07



Thank you reviewers!
Ezio Manzini
(Conference Coordinator), Politecnico di Milano
Jorge Frascara
(International Advisory Committee Coordinator),
Carla Cipolla
(Advisory Committee Secretary), Politecnico di Milano


The blind review process of the abstracts submitted is now complete. One hundred and sixty three abstracs have been selected, after sifting through more than twice that number.

It was a very interesting process that proves that the topic of Changing the Change is present in the design researchers agenda across all continents. The conference will be a celebration of that interest, where the best ideas that are being developed internationally will find a place to be exposed and discussed, with a view to strengthening the international effort toward a sustainable society.

The organizers of Changing the Change want now to thank the work of all the reviewers that so generously dedicated their time, expertise and attention to analyze and select the best abstracts submitted.

We all look forward now to a great event!


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Posing Critical Conundrums- the Value of Zebra Questions
Geetha Narayanan
Founder Director of Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, India


The Zebra Question is a poem by Shel Silverstein in which he poses the conundrum of order and causality embedded in our contemporary view or perspective of life. Is a zebra black with white stripes he asks or is it white with black stripes? and so on!

Perhaps we might ask, in a similar vein, if it is design and design thinking that will allow us to build a sustainable and fair world beyond 2020, or will it be that dominant visions of the world of 2020 will determine the scope, nature and field of what design is today in the year 2008?

Or perhaps we need to move beyond such simplistic and reductionist conundrums to some essential and core realizations that must underpin substantive dialogue on change.

A beginning might be to realize and accept, as David Orr and others put it, that all education, including design education must pivot around the human condition, the human prospect and the human spirit.

An addition to this would be the realization that the human condition, prospect and spirit is linked closely to our home -our mother ship, our Gaia, our earth. The earth defines the material, the matter that forms the fundamental core of our existence. It plays a big role in defining both the human condition and the human prospect.

A third realization could be centered around the understanding that contemporary discourses on matter such as the ones on sustainability, slowness or on change omit a vital part of what makes each of us human- our spirit-that which endures beyond matter and is what defines each of us as living beings on this planet- described by Carl Sagan as "the pale blue dot".

All of us, who are engaged in being critical about our societies and our futures, must learn to pose serious and challenging conundrums around these and other similar critical realizations. Using the power of the conundrum to generate genuine, equitable and critical dialogues, ones that do not focus on the generation of a series of reassuring lies but which deals with "impossible things" and "inconvenient truths" would result in powerful conversations on change. It will play a vital and informative role, at conferences such as Changing the Change in generating both the skeptical and the critical view of design enabled futures.

The Changing the Change conference offers an opportunity to question dominant paradigms in design, including contemporary paradigms such as sustainability thinking and green design. There is a real need today for designers, educators and thinkers to question the idea of development, not in isolation but together with notions of equity, of social and environmental justice and in doing this consider carefully the needs of both the people and the planet.

To me that would imply Changing the Change!


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Geetha Narayanan
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Changing the change: a perspective from business strategy
Roberto Verganti
Politecnico di Milano and Harvard Business School


One of the most acknowledged (and so far unquestioned) theories of business is that competition is based on distinctive capabilities: something that one organization has and others haven't. For years this theory has been the basis for contending the value of design for business: design makes a difference. And this approach of justifying the value of design because of differentiation has succeeded indeed. The number of companies investing on design is soaring.
Good news? Definitely. Surely for students and professionals, with an increasing demand for design skills and services. But unfortunately there is a downside: as an asset diffuses to every company, it inevitably loses its differential power. It becomes mandatory, not distinctive. It happened 20 years ago with Total Quality Management. In the late '80s firms considered quality as a top priority; the best quality performers were succeeding, and other companies started to invest in quality improvements with similar models and approaches: each adopted the principles of Total Quality Management, each had a manager responsible for Quality, each adopted six sigma or control charts. Two decades later quality is not among the top corporate priorities anymore. It is mandatory of course, and there are still quality managers in each firm, but quality is not considered a strategic differentiator. Is design bound to a similar destiny in business: to be mandatory, but not strategic?

I know this claim could sound awkward and outlandish to many. No one would nowadays dare to claim that design is marginal for business and competition. But as all companies around the globe are investing in design, and as all are investing in a similar way (all adopting user centered processes and techniques such as ethnographic analysis, brainstorming, rapid experimentation cycles) design in the next future is at risk to be perceived by managers as something necessary, but not differential. Design researchers, who have the attitude and the duty to look forward, have something to think and worry about. What's next?
The rationale of the CtC conference comes from observation of the challenges that are faced by society and its implications for design researchers. Our discussion above points out that there is an additional reason for changing the way we have been thinking about design. A reason that is pragmatically rooted in the dynamics of competition and of strategy. Also businesses will be shortly looking for a radical change in their processes of change. Design needs to propose a new paradigm if it wants to stay high in the agenda.


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They where once know as avant-gardes
Marco Susani
Vice President, Global Digital Experience Design, Motorola


Well known for their iconoclastic power, they were recognized as major driver of linguistic change in the arts and in architecture.
They also had the stronger, although less direct, role of anticipating and catalyzing major socio-cultural and political change.
In design and architecture, it was their ability to "give shape" to change that allowed them to have a revolutionary role comparable, if not larger, to the one of "true" politicians.

At the end of the last century, the independent exploration of designers grew inside large companies, and took a different format, combining the scenarios of a future life with a potential vision for the whole company and its strategy. In this case, the culture that designers try to change is both the external one, the user culture, and the internal one, the one of the company.

Today, the role of Design Research, or Strategic Design, is giving to designers in a company the responsibility to represent the transformation of the world "Out There" and bringing it inside the company. Among the many "sensors" that a company tries to develop to get in touch with its users, Strategic Design is the one that has the most visionary role: rather than asking users what they may like in the future, Strategic Design needs to imagine the future before taking it in front of users. Designers in this case need to be involved in a sort of mutual "seduction" with their audience: designers need to be "seduced" by the desire for change that people is about to express, but they also need at the same time to create visions that are so exciting, tangible and plausible that can catalyze this desire for change and spin it into demand for new products and services.
To be so concrete and credible, designers cannot just rely on ideas or concepts. They need to develop a new aesthetic, an innovative language that can at a time render anything past obsolete and uninteresting, and open new iconic references for the future.
In this sense, visionary designers today wouldn't be much different from the "constructive iconoclasts" of the original avant-gardes. They just work in an environment much more integrated in their company.
But there is another dimension that makes this job today way more complex that in the past: the eco-system dimension. Eco-systematic approaches are not only limited to environmental eco-systems: it seems that any major innovation today needs to face the complexity of large systems that no designer, or even no single company, can control. Any innovation in digital communication, for example, such as social networking or mobile communication, touches multiple points of contact with the user and multiple networked systems that support them. In the same way, an innovation in manufacturing, like a new material or manufacturing cycle, touches many globally sparse components and suppliers.
Under these circumstances, any design vision needs to be supported by a certain degree of feasibility that spans across the whole ecosystem, which translates in the opportunity to steer the whole ecosystem toward a better balance.
And this is what makes visionary design today so exciting and important: never before the culture of design has been so strategically necessary (for companies), so socially relevant (for the users), so impactful (for entire ecosystems) and so communicative (of new aesthetics). It has also probably never been as difficult before, but this challenge is what makes it even more interesting.



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