The changing nature of design

This morning Janna and I attended the launch of Lauren Tan’s new book. Design Transitions looks at the changing nature of design practice through the eyes of 42 design studios from around the world.

One of the key themes from Lauren’s research is the way that design has become more collaborative – designing with not just for organisations and people. Lauren spoke this morning with Chris Vanstone from TACSI about their collaborative approach, particularly that of their excellent Family by Family programme.

We’ve been experiencing this transition to a more collaborative approach over the last few years and our projects are all the better for it. With our clients’ and their customers’ involvement we are creating work that is more sustainable and accepted within the organisation because, as Iain mentioned in his UX Australia talk, this approach helps to break the connection between idea and ego. Moreover, as each new staff member is exposed to the design process they become advocates for design – and the outcomes of design – within the organisation.

This more collaborative way of working could be seen as an amalgam of a traditional consultancy model with the style of embedded design practice that Dan Hill* is an advocate for. It brings the good of consultancy (independence, objectivity, outside knowledge, authority) with the positive aspects of being an ‘innie’ (access, deep organisational knowledge, responsibility for the project’s future).

One aspect of traditional consultancy that Dan Hill sees as problematic is the lack of responsibility that consultancies can have (or are permitted to have) for the work that they do. Perhaps this is the next frontier for the changing role of design – designing ways of working that allow consultants to have more skin in the game. How might we have more responsibility for our work?

The long-term ‘partnership’ model that Meld Studios is fostering is one way to design more sustainability and responsibilities into projects, but there are other methods we are experimenting with. Reverse embedding, for example. This is where a client sits in our studio to take more of an active role in the design process. This can be a short or a long engagement, depending on the project.

As I type, I am watching Jo and Janni working with a client, one of six from that company who will work with us each for one day over the next few weeks (watch out for a blog post from Jo or Janni about this soon). In a more long-term approach, last year Chris hosted a team member from the Sydney Institute for 13 weeks at our studio.

With both of these engagements the client has taken part over the entire design process rather than just one section (eg research or analysis). This develops a more complete picture for them of what is involved in design and, hopefully, means they have more appreciation for the effort and rigour involved in a design-led project.

Thanks to Maureen Thurston from Deloitte for hosting the event this morning. This is part of the Design as Strategy series put on by Deloitte in partnership with Good Design.
Design Transitions

Janna was the lucky winner of one of the Design Transition books. Yay business card raffle!


* Dan Hill (2012) Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary. Thanks Ben Hoh from Digital Eskimo for asking the question around this essay!


  • richard arnott

    November 20, 2014 at 2:30 am Reply

    Hi Kimberley, thanks for sharing your thoughts on how Meld is making clients part of the design process. I like the ‘reverse embedding’ approach you describe too. This is very much where I think work needs doing (engrained ways of working need reimagining and design needs to step up!) your 4th Para nailed the stakeholder engagement challenge.
    I went to the launch of this excellent book last year at fjord, London. It raises some interesting questions about how design as positioned as a strategic business tool and also how more collaboration and engagement with cross functional client teams is key to designing solutions to complex problems. I have ordered Dan Hill’s book today and want to share something with you too. Keep your eyes on the email! Richard

  • kimberley

    November 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm Reply

    Thanks for your thoughts Richard. Will have a look at the Fjord book (if you can send the link please!).

  • Richard Arnott

    January 21, 2015 at 12:53 am Reply

    Hi Kimberley,

    Sorry for the delay I wasn’t emailed with your question automatically, so this re-visit is the first opportunity I have had to see your posted reply. There is no Fjord book, the event to launch Design Transitions was hosted by Fjord London.

  • […] Design Transitions launch in Australia, Sydney, 11th November 2014. Hosted by Deloitte as part of the Design as Strategy series put on by Deloitte in partnership with Good Design. Lauren Tan hosted the discussion with special guest Chris Vanstone from TACSI. Here is a more detail write-up of the event by Meld Studio. […]

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