Designers can no longer be kings. They cannot change anything alone. Last week saw the presentation of Design Transitions, a book about the expanding roles of design.

How are design practices changing? Design Transitions aims to find out where design is going. Change is inherent to design, since ‘it’s within design’s DNA’, as co-author Emma Jefferies puts it. As the book mainly focuses on changing attitudes within service and social design and its different approaches and philosophies, aesthetics are hardly mentioned in this thorough research: ‘Aesthetics are not quite so much in transition in design, they are a given element of design.’

Stories from designers and organizations as well as design academics and experts have been gathered in this book, which is the result of a two-year investigation. The goal of Design Transitions is to reveal unheard stories and unseen insights into the philosophy, practices and approaches of the world’s leading and most innovative design consultancies, Jefferies told WDCD after the book launch.

Jefferies: ‘We were particularly keen to capture stories from around the world, especially in countries where design as a service and strategic practice is emerging, for example in China, India and Brazil.’

‘By focusing on how design is changing according to individuals and practices who are operating at the boundaries of design, Design Transitions offers insights into and examples of how design is actually creating value in situations, contexts and spaces that go beyond the design of artefacts.’

‘We also have a number of examples from the Social Design space, such as FutureGov, UsCreates, thinkpublic and Snook, which illustrate this point further. And we have examples from organizations like The Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) in Australia, which is using design approaches in the development and delivery of their services.’

‘These examples illustrate the power of design for people looking to understand its role and value. What’s more, they are anecdotal. Since its launch, designers have told us that the book confirms and reaffirms their belief in where their practice is going.’


And where is it going? The authors indicate various transitions. The roles of designers have expanded towards being facilitators, educators or entrepreneurs. Greater collaborations have been set up. Users are more and more involved in design practice, as is the case in healthcare for example. In addition, business models are increasingly diversified and new partnerships are instigated, resulting in different products and services that are becoming integrated.

It is common for books of this sort to discuss issues on an abstract, utopian level. Design Transitions, however, tries to balance theory and everyday design practice, and it succeeds. One of the featured companies is BERG, a design consultancy based in London and specialized in the relation between product invention and technology. The article on this company offers insight into the way they work, the obstacles they face, as well as the actual projects. Among them is Little Printer, which prints a miniature newspaper consisting of tweets, messages or photographs according to the configuration of the user.

Professor of Design Issues Paul Rodgers points out that ‘there is too much celebration of design, and the suggestion that design can “solve” the world’s problem. Designers cannot achieve anything by themselves’. Rather than considering design as an ‘add-on’ to a firm of consultants, the ‘King Arthur Syndrome’ should be left behind. The authors conclude that design should become integrated into systems, networks and businesses from the start.

Joyce Yee, Emma Jefferies and Lauren Tan, Design Transitions, BIS Publishers, Amsterdam

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