THINKING ABOUT DESIGN is a publication on design and related interests.
Articles by contributing authors are listed under Authors and Articles.
Click on their names to see more.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

If you wish to contribute, please subscribe to design notes - see below right.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Design the 'little' things - Deepankar Bhattacharyya

There has been a trend towards looking at design in terms of planning, especially when it comes to design for social needs like delivery mechanisms in education, health, water, sanitation and other civic amenities. 

While there can be no doubt about 'design as plan' being a legitimate understanding of design, it is equally useful to look at design in terms of relationships between the user and the desired function. 'Design as relationships' is more subjective, more immediate, more human centred and more process driven. This approach is not usually considered strategic in nature because it is based on extension of and emanating from the user. 

It becomes a process of bringing desire, creativity and imagination as prime movers and leaders in the problem solving process. We have seen this approach work wonderfully in markets which are consumer driven and is becoming the norm in markets where competition is fierce and choices are plenty. 

Can we learn to find common ground and develop similar approaches in areas dependent on central planning and execution where a one size fits all approach necessitates solving for a median level of defined function? 

Most of our approaches to problem solving were developed in the industrial age and we have carried them over to this information and communication age. Technology drives 'game changing' design and contemporary technologies demand that we look at problem areas with fresh eyes.

The area of health delivery is waiting for innovative approaches that is not wholly dependent on the Allopathic system and the pharmaceutical complex. Focus on health rather than cure may allow us to deliver holistic approaches that can bring knowledge to people, knowledge that helps prevent disease and affect cure from the vast database of information in the realms of the many different approaches to medicine including Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Herbal etc. Work is being done in several research centres on systems medicine and alternative medicine. Approaches that focus on decentralisation of care and reduce dependency on large investments in hospital infrastructure. This is not to say that hospitals with leading edge research and equipment will not find a place in the scheme of things, but sustainability and affordability could drive delivery mechanisms to bring health care to everybody. Multiple layers of diverse health professionals who interact with each other across systems of medicine and whose focus is 'health' not 'cure' is possible in this day of the Internet and the ability to tap into vast reservoirs of knowledge at the click of a mouse. 

What happens when the human being and his/her relationship to health is put at the centre of the design and planning process? 

Enabling individual access to knowledge from all streams that contribute to wellness at the level of family and community can lay the foundations. Links between sanitation, life style, food and health need to become visible. Professionals who are versed in the ways of multi and inter-disciplinary knowledge about health can catalyse this approach to enable access to health delivery to everyone. 

When added to the existing infrastructure of hospitals and big pharma this approach can take the load off our overburdened health services.

Another area that can benefit hugely from an alternate viewpoint is education, especially in those places where resources are severely limited. The current approach tends to look at the education delivery mechanism as planning for the various components of the system and delivering on each as optimally as possible. 

You have the buildings; the curricula; the teachers trained to 'teach' in a certain one-way dissemination of knowledge kind of way; the amenities comprising sanitation facilities, playgrounds, mid-day meals etc. One then assumes that all of this together will educate a curious child. 

Sugata Mitra's work on minimally intrusive education has shown us what can happen when children are left alone with a computer and an Internet connection. 

You can download his Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) Toolkit here

This kind of problem solving starts with the child and her/his relationship with learning. Understanding of this relationship gives birth to a system that nurtures and enables it. Design in this context focuses on the process of learning and the solutions that emanate are also in the nature of processes; emphasis is not so much on the components as on the relationships therein. 'Design as plan' takes on a whole new meaning and new interpretations are possible with human centred relationships acquiring primacy even at the strategic level. 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) are beginning to revolutionise learning and demands re-evaluation of the university system and over-reliance on traditional degrees from reputed institutions as entry level requirements for our young. I have been studying some courses offered on the MOOC platform and the experience has been eyeopening. The level of collaboration with an international peer group that is possible, was for me, astonishing. This has led me to begin working on courses that I can offer in this way.

Design institutions in India should take the lead in democratisation of India specific design education, there are some fine examples of design courses coming out of some of the online centres of learning around the world. These courses permit high levels of collaboration and group learning. Most of them are free. 

This approach can be extended to all areas of interface between us and our environment and completely change the ecosystem in which we spend our lives. Services that are built around our essential attributes of curiosity and imagination can lead to creative and innovative interactions that deliver much more than our current systems ever can. Our present systems are outdated that are collapsing under their own weight, they are unaffordable to most and they are extremely harmful to our natural environment. 

Newer technologies and post-industrial thinking that shifts focus from objects to information and communication driven service, from centralised and one-way monologues to interactive multi-dimensional dialogues and conversations will help evolve problem solving methodologies that deliver results which are more relevant to our times. 

What happens when we adopt similar approaches to the justice system, to mass transportation, to people friendly responsive models of governance? 

The tools available on the Internet including collaborative spaces and knowledge bases are asking for facilitators who have the vision to harness them towards changing the very essence of our built world and the way we live and interact. 

The design and planning taught in our institutions depend too much on an idealised view of what is desirable and ways to achieve such a state. This to a large extent depends on a desire for 'perfection'. This approach has its roots in the complex mechanistic needs of an industrial society, ideas of perfection and beauty that made palatable the world of mass produced objects that it spawned and later reflected a disenchantment with a world that was increasingly separate from nature as the ecosystem of all living things including homo-sapiens. 

Current leading edge technologies in nano, bio and digital including ones in the realm of information and communication promise a radical re-visualisation of the world we build and the systems that we put in place. Algorithms and sensor technologies are on the verge of creating artificial intelligence and smart objects that will further change the way we can deliver on design goals. 

Human-centric relationship models built on individual capacities for thinking and imagining and accessing information and building knowledge can become the foundations for systems in all spheres of our lives. Individual choice and control become drivers for collective harnessing of resources to power a society that is equitable, just, responsive and creative. Quality education; universal access to health services; equitable delivery of justice; responsive governance; universal access to clean energy, water, air and natural resources will need rethinking at a systemic level. 

This paper attempts to articulate a possible approach to it. An approach that brings centre-stage the little things that are of concern to all of us at an individual level. The little things that make us human; that harness our minds, our imagination, our deepest selves; and enable creative and fulfilling lives.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Deepankar:
    Many thanks for your comment, I found your site also a great design resource. I will add to my design thinking page, and as you have a link to my site, you are at the front page also. If you have a post about design thinking in India, history, past and present I would like to post it at my portal, please send me the link. Feel free to add more info at your portal from my resources, sites.
    Best wishes and regards, great 2014 twitter @maducao


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.