Tracey Follows
Aug 19, 2015

The future of design: will not be big-ego individualism

Social and collaborative innovation and participation will change the way we approach design, says the author

Donatella Versace is pushing collaboration by working with rival fashion houses
Donatella Versace is pushing collaboration by working with rival fashion houses

Over time, social and collaborative innovation and participation will change the way we approach design, shifting the focus away from big-ego individualism.

In June, Donatella Versace appeared in Givenchy's autumn/winter 2015 ad campaign. It was a shock to see the designer of one house wearing and endorsing the clothes of another. "I believe in breaking the rules," said Versace. "I want to get rid of the old system, work together and make fashion a true global community."
It struck me as a watershed moment in branding, fashion and design; it represented a shift away from the cult of the designer, and the heroism of product design, toward something more socially and collaboratively innovative.
Ezio Manzini takes up this theme and explores the nature and future of design in his book Design When Everyone Designs, expressing this future as "design for social innovation". He brilliantly makes the distinction between two modes of design thinking: first, problem-solving design, which traditionally relies on technology to provide the solution. It's quite rational and linear, with a mindset of "solutionism". It is about clarifying the question and identifying the sole answer. Second is sense-making design; more about finding meaning.

In essence, he believes that more collaboration will take place between these two approaches, combining "solutionism" with more meaningful "value systems". A new wave of radical, bottom-up social innovation will emerge. Or, to put it another way: solutions will be based on social participation and collaboration.
Now, you might think that social design is not a new thing and collaboration is old news. But collaboration has not yet broken through, or undermined the big-ego individualism in design; much of that is still very present. What would the House of Vivienne Westwood be without the icon that is Vivienne Westwood? We can't imagine. Of course, there have been product collaborations between designers and retailers or designers and brands. But we have not yet seen truly collaborative, co-operative design at scale and intended for social innovation. We will.
Everyday life projects
Another way to think about the output of design for social innovation is as 'everyday life projects'. These could be social housing, city planning, access to quality education for all; anything that involves designing a way of living that is more sustainable for society, over time. For the past 15 years, design discussion has been obsessed with the overlap between technology and society; but the shift is toward the overlap between nature and society, with technology as an enabler. As we start to reconsider the resources of our world, human creativity and participation will emerge as one of those precious resources, encouraging us to design for living experiences, rather than consuming products.
Traditionally, design has been about standardisation, but, increasingly, it will come to be about socialisation.
Live in a less stupid way
How do brands get involved? Probably by better understanding their role in people's everyday lives, not just at the end of a purchase cycle. The designer Aitor Throup talks about the need to replace the egotistical shield of designer-creator with "something better". Likewise, Manzini points out that everyone understands there is another strategy for food production, other than the industrialised, chemical process-driven one we currently have. "How could we live in a less stupid way than the way we are?" is the design question he suggests we ask ourselves continually. Maybe some global brands owners who want to become more socially innovative should ask that question of themselves, too.
Professional futurist Tracey Follows created the planning foresight team while chief strategy officer at JWT. She now runs her own strategic foresight consultancy, and is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Society.
(This article first appeared on


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