Transformative Design, what other way is there?

Recently, I read a dissertation on “transformative design” by a British design group called RED. They are crucial members of the United Kingdom’s Design Council, which is the nation’s strategic body for design in the UK.  It actually was started in 1944, as the Council of Industrial Design. It was founded by Hugh Dalton, President of the Board of Trade in the wartime Government, and their objective was “to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry.” As you can see this group was created out of wartime practices, however it’s goals where refocused in the 1970’s. Sir Paul Reilly and the subsequent director Keith Grant changed the name to the “Design Council.” With the name came new focus, educational and business practices. Then after a few more directors their vision finally came into the focus it is now. The commercial publishing, service delivery and revenue-earning activities were done away with. And a new purpose was given: ‘to inspire the best use of design by the UK, in the world context, to improve prosperity and well being’ ( Then about 5 years ago RED was included into this council. Through this council they have been able to develop and work in a new type of design.

Design Council

They call it “Transformation Design.” This name derives from the transformation of old design practices to the new ones, ones that this world so desperately needs. But some designers have some serious problems with this. According to Mike Dempsey, the new Master of Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, the word designer is being abused. He says, “Can we please have our name back?” First off all the word he is asking for is not designer it’s product designer. And I’m not just talking about objects, but rather the way of thinking about design. Secondly what is the problem with the people involved or affected by the problem being apart of the solution? Wouldn’t they know the situation as well or better than an outside “designer?” Another problem “traditional designers” have is that this new design process shares what we do, with those we do it for. Therefore, kind of putting us out of job. Some might say anyone could be a designer. But in my short professional experience that’s just not true. I’m not saying that only designers can be designers. After all design happens all the time. When people re-purpose object to something else that is the simplest and sometimes the best design. But sometimes people don’t know how to address their problems systematically. And that where designers come in. Hello that’s why they are paying you. And most importantly including them in the process will create a better relationship with you and client. And in the end might have them coming back to you for further assistance because our work is never finished.

I agree with all the philosophies and processes that RED presents. However, this is not new news to me. Smart designers have been working this way for years. And I guess those of us at the Industrial Design Dept at Uarts have been fortunate to already be on board with this. My educational experience with design has been nothing but what RED is professing.  So in my mind its like “this is all I know.” At Uarts we always have been taught to approach design the way listed in RED paper on Transformation Design. For example, a major part of this is user-centered design. Designing from the perspective of the user. When designing how can you even start to design anything if you don’t understand at the very least consider the user. Another example is the first step of transformative design, defining and redefining the brief. Whenever presented with a brief and or problem to solve you don’t just go and solve it. You have to research the situation then begin to ask, is this even the real problem. What’s the source of this situation, what’s really behind the problem? That is how my colleges and I use this process address every brief we are given. But my favorite factor is how we must be able to work with others outside our field. If I’m going to address a city’s public transportation system I have to know everything about the city, permits, city policy, unions, workers, the users and etc etc. But how can I know everything, I can’t so what do I do. I bring in the people who know these things. How else would an appropriate solution be found? So I say all this to say I know no other way to do what I do.

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