Blog (2011-2014)

Currently showing posts tagged helsinki design lab

  • Architecture Of Change

    Architecture Of Change

    (image via Khooll)

    "What is the architecture of change?" asked Mark Kuznicki of The Moment, referring to what structural needs, supplies, labour, skills and other ingredients are needed to create systemic change. This was one of many big questions served up to SiG guest Bryan Boyer (Helsinki Design Lab) during a private session held at MaRS with a dozen or so social innovation ‘doers’. As part of my work with SiG, I got to be a fly on the wall as Bryan answered questions like this at engagements across the city. SiG hosted Bryan on a cross-Canada tour where he spoke at three public talks and met with government folks, funders, academics, designers, social entrepreneurs and social innovators to share his experiences and insights from work at Sitra and Helsinki Design Lab in Finland. The following is my attempt to unpack my top take-aways (around legibility, dark matter and scale) from his two days in Toronto as well as some great one-liners I was able to capture in my notebook.

    1. Making The Work Legible (through deep reflection)

    'Legibility’ caught my attention. The Helsinki Design Lab (HDL) team puts extra effort into making their work legible to a broad audience; i.e., accessible and digestible, so that it’s easy for people to identify and engage with HDL’s work. This starts by removing jargon and finding useful analogues to clearly communicate complicated subject matter.

    “I wanted to write you a short letter but I didn’t have time so I wrote you a long one” - Mark Twain

    Achieving legibility goes hand in hand with deep reflection. Making time for pondering and for discussion seems engrained in HDL’s culture. For example, Bryan mentioned that the team has ongoing conversations about what they do and how they do it, which often continue as they are leaving the office to catch the subway home. This reflective behaviour is further reinforced through self-imposed incentives, such as the team's commitment to blogging at the end of each week about what they've been up to. I was left reflecting on how to incorporate reflection and legibility into my life. Hopefully I have already begun; is this post legible!?

    2. Running Into The Dark Matter (with an artifact)

    Learning from trial and error has long been the entrepreneurs' edict; however, when trying to connect the dots of an abstract concept or hunch, it can feel like you’re left in the dark. Not knowing where to start can be paralyzing. Acknowledging and labelling the unknowns can be a helpful first step in itself. Dark matter, in the social innovation context, can be used to describe this realm of the unknown (e.g., unwritten rules, rituals, organizational culture, influence, incentives, policies, regulations) that exists within systems (e.g., organizations, neighbourhoods, fields of work). Thus, “running into the dark matter” refers to embracing the unknowns of a system and tinkering there within.

    “Practical information comes for free from doing things” - Bryan Boyer

    An initial 'tinkering', as Bryan suggests, can be creating an artifact: something physical such as a publication or prototype that people can see, touch or connect with. Artifacts can be immensely helpful in structuring where in the dark matter to start prodding and directing ones efforts. For example, when starting Low2No’s Food dossier, HDL threw itself into the dark matter of Helsinki’s restaurant scene by creating a publication about Helsinki’s Street Food. Acknowledging that dark matter exists, and that artifacts can help us navigate the unknowns, helps with embracing uncertainty and the emergent nature of fields like social innovation. (phiew!)

    3. The Right Scale To Get To The Next Scale

    (image via girlhula)

    While HDL is now known for their high-profile systemic change projects (ex. influencing changes to Finland's fire code via their Low2No program), they first built trust and evidence, by starting small. For example, to test the HDL inStudio model (a 5-day charrette-style workshop described in detail in 'Recipes for Systemic Change') with a real world issue, HDL asked Finnish Ministers for challenges that were currently on the backburner. A lower-level issue that emerged was around Finnish high school drop outs, since Finland's high school education system was already ranked among the top of OECD countries, with only 50 or so annual high school drop outs (compared to roughly 190K high school drop outs in Canada that same year). This challenge exempted the HDL team from some of the scrutiny associated with high profile issues. Hence, the liberties of a small-scale issue provided the experimental freedom needed to illustrate the potential of the inStudio model to build solutions to complex social challenges (view the solutions summary and video from the education studio here). The importance of starting at a small scale and building up relationships with stakeholders at an individual level is futher discussed in this compelling TedTalk by Enestro Sirolli. Rather than "go big or go home" we need to think in terms of what is "the right scale to get to the next scale".

    "It's more meaningful to be incredibly successful at a small scale than mediocre at a bigger scale" - Bryan Boyer

    If you missed Bryan's public talks while he was in Canada, you can view his MaRS talk here (the OCAD talk was also filmed and should become available soon, stay tuned!). As well, here is a blog post by my colleague Geraldine about his visit. I would love to hear your perspective and take-aways and invite you to share them in the comments section below.

    Also, what other elements do you think are important in the architecture of change?

    - Satsuko

    Other memorable lines
    • There is a scarcity of patience not of capital
    • The right scale to get to the next scale
    • Compose truth without scientific fact (to counter "truthiness")
    • Issues in the no-mans land (referring to wicked problems)
    • We don’t have enough data to know if our choices align with our values
    • Cost of failure is cheaper than the cost of planning
    • BETA suggest "we need your help in how to develop this"
    • When a music note is wrong, move on and treat it as an interesting fact

    Related posts: 3 Problems with Design Thinking (conversation with Bryan Boyer in Dec 2010), Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (reflections from the ALIA Conference), and Social Innovation Musings (things I was thinking about at the time I started at SiG).


  • 3 Problems With Design Thinking

    3 Problems With Design Thinking

    (Image via The Danish Design Centre)

    [Also published on the Rebel Academy blog on April 2, 2012 | The links and recent projects at the end of this post were updated Nov 8th, 2012]

    “Design Thinking” has overtaken “Sustainability” to become the latest business buzz word; however, there are flaws in the way it is being adapted to corporate settings. In a conversation with Bryan Boyer, Architect and Strategic Design Lead at Sitra & Helsinki Design Lab, I gained a designer’s perspective. Below are the three reasons why we need to re-think Design Thinking.

    1) Thinking is important, but the biggest challenge is the actual “doing”

    Design Thinking can create holistic, innovative, out-of-the-box solutions; however, if a brilliant solution is followed by an inflexible execution plan to roll it out, we miss the whole point of thinking like a designer. Bryan points out that one of the key parts of being a designer is to steward something from the first sketches to the final implementation because “there is a big gap in the plans that you draw and what actually gets built”. Making a solution work requires tweaking and changes as-you-go to account for the unexpected and unpredictable realities of everyday life.

    2) Design Thinking is inherently short term

    The current literature and conversation around Design Thinking focuses on the short-term. For example, when we look at standard consulting projects by the big players (for ex. BCG, Bain or McKinsey), their mandate generally includes 1) analysis, 2) recommendations, and 3) a report outlining the implementation plan. In other words, sticking around longer term to smooth out the kinks and make sure it all works and is implemented correctly is seldom part of the contract. Why not?  There are a lot of reasons. Some point to the financial incentives (the low-cost/high-yield nature of focusing on the planning phase) or the desire to associate with success (implementation is often blamed for failed projects). On the other hand, sometimes it’s not possible to stay on a project long-term due to confidentiality or security conflicts (for ex. with certain public sector projects). At any rate, Design Thinking is only the beginning and must move past the short-term to reach its full potential.

    3) Design Thinking is over-hyped and ignores the complexity of the design process.

    “If design is like a magical seed that you can drop into the board room and after a couple of days workshop suddenly the executive suite is transformed into a design facility, that pretty significantly under values what designers bring" – Bryan Boyer

    Understanding and respecting the design process is necessary before we can attempt to gain from its insights.

    So what does this all mean? Design Thinking is a powerful and useful tool but it is only one part of the equation. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it is what you do with them. Plans are important but the real legwork is in the re-jigging and adjusting of ideas/solutions to make them fit with the real world.

    Bryan is working to help the public sector create it’s own design capacity and advocates for placing designers within teams inside the ministries and municipalities, which his team is bringing to life via Sitra’s Design Exchange initiative. Other initiatives Bryan started with Sitra include Brickstarter (see what WIRED had to say about it) and Open Kitchen (hear Finnish celebrity chef Antto Melasiemi explain the concept in this video). One of the main questions his team at Sitra and Helsinki Design Lab attempts to answer is: how do we help the public sector cope with the challenges it faces more effectively? To learn more about what Bryan is working on these days, visit his personal blog and the HDL blog.

    - Satsuko