Design DIY

Until the late 20th century, the process of design was mainly top-down: design was being made by designers, produced by manufacturers, and branded by corporations. In the 21st century, these processes of production and consumption are being rethought. The design process has to become circular.

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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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The 5 C’s: 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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Beyond affordance

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”.

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Envisioning communities

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. Mario Gagliardi, CEO at Qatar Foundation at the time, 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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Like friends, follow uses: The construction of social media

Digital machines such as smartphones frame behavior and instill new cultural and social practices. ‘Liking’, ‘sharing’, ‘following’ are relational activities which have been defined by social media and established as new normal in the shaping of human relationships. The phenomenon of communication devices prompting new behaviors and expressions is not new: for instance, the word “hello” did not exist until the development of the telephone.

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Analysing the Digital: Transformations, Territories, Frames and Uses

While the digital is explained in itself by computer science, important questions for the humanities – such as how the Digital affects human behaviour, or how it impacts society and economy – are outside its scope. Different disciplines have provided answers, but there has been no integrated concept bridging these insights.

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