22 March 2013

Tonight I saw Liz Ogbu give the keynote address at the Public Interest Design Week hosted by the University of Minnesota Design School. The topic – public interest design – is billed as the intersection between design and service. Ogbu was presented as a designer, social innovator, consultant, and academic.

Ogbu spoke on design thinking, and how she applied this way of thinking to the projects she works on. Design thinking solves problems by considering systems, and seeks to remedy the problem through understanding all parts of a system and how they work together. She used a clean water project she worked on in Kenya to illustrate how she uses design thinking. She starts her project by conducting in depth interviews with the people who should benefit from their project. Then, based on information compiled in the interviews, she put together a prototype business that she could use to test out the ideas she had based on interview findings.

While I was listing to Ms. Ogbu speak, I wondered why I and so many people are interested in design. TED (the D stands for design) talks are immensely popular, and being conversant on TED talks is an important social signifier for the intellectually upwardly mobile. Ogbu’s use of the term “design thinking” made me think of design’s popularity in terms of intellectual history.

Design is synonymous with industrialization and modernity. Of course, industrial design came along with the advent of industrialization. Design was a way that thinkers and artists hoped to make the changes that industrial capitalism wrought easier and more comfortable. Landscape design sought ways to make industrial cities more livable.

Design, today, is ascendant. As evidenced by this week’s Public Interest Design conference, design is increasingly being considered as a way to solve social problems. When the intellectual history of today is written, it seems it will have to consider the ways in which design has influenced our thinking.



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