Three approaches to the design process

The design process as it is usually taught and applied at the beginning of the 21st century is concerned with goals, aims and targets. It is dealing with business and industry, target groups and financial targets. It is looking at the often “wicked” problems found in all areas of life. It is, in general, working with – or trying to work with – the world, its structures and problems, including its systems, its territories, its politics and power struggles. But is this the only way the design process can be approached?

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Silicon Valley, Monopolies and the Model T

Silicon Valley is perhaps the most iconic place narrative of the late 2oth century. Politicians in numerous countries including Malaysia, China and Saudi Arabia tried to copy the model, without much success. They didn’t get it right, because Silicon Valley was not about office space in glass-clad corporate headquarters. Silicon Valley was about a particular place at a particular time. It was a place in people’s heads rather than a place on the map.

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This was 2017

Every two years, penccil offers a year in review with a selection of projects. This year, the penccil team asked me to curate this review by selecting 12 projects, 3 projects each in the areas of art, design, architecture and photography: This was 2017

IQ and the 4th Industrial Revolution

James Flynn, the author and namesake of the Flynn effect, published a new paper investigating recent losses in worldwide IQ. Fewer and fewer people can think in terms of abstractions and develop their capacity for deductive logic and systematic planning. At the same time, according to the World Economic Forum, complex problem solving has become the foremost needed skill for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

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Models of Innovation in Japan and Korea: MITI and KIDP

Korea’s strength in the creative industries, together with the strength of their multinational brands, is regarded as a model by other Asian countries. How did this model come about?

The Korean Ministry of Trade, Energy and Industry was at the heart of Korea’s industrial and economic development efforts. It was initially modeled after the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Tsusho sangyo sho or MITI), Japan’s central institution for industrial policy, research, investment and development. MITI supervised and led economic policy together with the Bank of Japan, the Economic planning agency and other ministries. Created after World War II in response to Japan’s problems with rising inflation and falling productivity, MITI was a supra-institution influencing all aspects of domestic and foreign economic policy, holding close ties to Japanese companies. Its advantages were largely organizational: Instead of disconnected units with differing agendas and different layers of red tape, MITI was one integrated organization with one goal.

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The 5 C’s: The most important design skills for the near future


Since the first introduction of CAD and 3d modeling systems, code is behind most products. With generative design, the code becomes the design itself. Big data about user behaviour in combination with machine learning and adaptive production methods (Industry 4.0) will make highly personalized and adaptive design solutions the new normal. To master code, designers should be able to write it.


With the Internet of Things, the division between interaction design and industrial design is about to disappear. A designer should know how to code, prototype, and build intelligent products with embedded applications. Starting points are the Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Nanode.


Global economic, technological, social and environmental issues are getting increasingly intertwined. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. The ability to navigate complexity will be a key skill for the designer of the future.


In a globalized world, cultures can adapt, mix, or clash, and differences can be hard to handle. Deep-seated assumptions rooted in a designer’s own culture can lead to products which do not work in other cultures – psychologically or in terms of use. Openness, the ability to emphatize, and an understanding of different cultures and users will be as important as understanding economy and technology.


In a world of limited resources, knowledge of recycling technologies, biodegradable materials, and the ability to design for a circular economy – by considering disassembly and recycling already during the design process – becomes increasingly important. Designers should be able not only to conceive new products, but to plan the way these products are made, unmade, and recycled. What comes around goes around.


This post was originally published in February 2014.

Design and Myth

In his 1957 book „Mythologies“, Roland Barthes analyses the Deesse (The nickname of the Citroen DS car, “goddess” in French) as a mythical object, and plastic as a mythical material. Plastic interests him because of its transformability, the metamorphoses it contains, being able to imitate everything. He finds it remarkable that plastics are given mythical names of Greek shepherds (Polystyrene, Polyvinyl) and writes: “The public waits in a long queue in order to witness the accomplishment of the magical operation par excellence: the transmutation of matter.”

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The “perfect” machine?

There is often something in an artifact which does not conform to the cognition and working mode of humans. Take, for instance, a glass door without handles. This door, in itself, opens and closes just as it is supposed to be. But people, searching for visual and tactile clues, for protrusions or moulds suggesting how that door is intended to be opened, have, in the absence of a clue, troubles with it. Donald Norman labeled this phenomenon “affordance”. But there is a deeper philosophical dimension. By not providing a clue, this door demonstrates the ontological distance between a human and an object.

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Designing better communities: The Design Zone project

The vision

In 2008, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser wanted to explore designs for better communities in Qatar and the region: Diverse and responsible communities which would invite independent thinking and creativity. I was tasked with providing proposals and consequently organised a workshop to explore innovative approaches to urban design which could inspire better building practices.

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Tools to think with

Concepts and assumptions determine how an organisation and its environment are seen. When plotting a course of action, managers implicitly rely on them. These concepts are the foundation for both daily decision-making and long-term planning. Once concepts are taken for granted, they are held implicitly, possibly impeding innovation efforts. Leonard and Straus found that thinking style preferences are becoming “hardwired” into brains and reinforced over years of practices and self-selection. When, in the course of an organisational change, the new outlook does not conform with held assumptions, these concepts can be the reason why people are reluctant to change.

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Art, Design and the Elements

Aristotle explained the elements in terms of what we might call sensual qualities: hot, cold, wet and dry. His main thought was that all materials are manifestations of different compositions of the elements. This idea – that the world consists of underlying elements – was fundamental in several ways. It implies that the world is not what it outwardly seems: A stone is not just a stone – it is composed of a mixture of elements which we cannot see. If the world consists of underlying elements, then materials could be transformed by changing their underlying composition.

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Korea’s most successful luxury brand


Whoo (后), the cosmetics brand designed by Mario Gagliardi, is now Korea’s most successful luxury brand, selected by the Seoul Economic Daily in 2017 (read more about its creation). The brand exceeded 100 billion Korean Won in annual sales in 2009, 200 billion Won in 2013, 400 billion Won in 2014, 800 billion Won in 2015, and annual sales exceeded 1 trillion Won last year. Whoo’s parent company LG Household & Health Care, part of LG Group, expects the annual sales of Whoo to surge to 1.6 trillion Won (US$ 1,4 billion) in 2017, making it the best-performing Korean luxury brand in history.

Designed at a time when Western cosmetics brands dominated the Asian market with narratives of Paris and New York, the brand was revolutionary in being the first cosmetics series to focus instead on Asian culture and history.

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