United Nations World Urban Forum

January 18, 2020 9:21 PM

Peter Scupelli is presenting a paper titled “The Faster Ones Don’t Always Win: Dexign Futures Thinking for Innovation in Urban Contexts” at the United Nations 1oth World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

“We live in the Anthropocene Era. Change is exponential. Design and the impact of design is everywhere around us. Human beings are a force shaping the planet’s geology, ecosystems, and weather. Our times are often described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA).

Products and services are developed faster, hold a shorter shelf-life disrupted by new offerings, and exist in the wider environment with existential challenges such as climate change and sustainability. What specific value sets embedded within product and service innovation processes help or hinder the achievement of long term sustainable development goals?

Rapid change contrasted to relatively stable times, can be confusing and may catch many unprepared. Ways of designing that until recently worked, now are questioned. While speeding up the development cycle can solve short term problems, rapid prototyping alone does not guarantee alignment with long term goals. Thus, within dynamic and rapidly changing environments where long term goals matter, designers need new paths forward and perspectives to shape sustainable product and service innovations.

Design that considers the complexity of sustainable lifestyles differs from the development products and services that are indifferent to local contexts. For one, societal problems situated in context require multiple perspectives to inform processes. Yet commonly taught human-centered design processes can easily default to a narrow version of customer-centered design that ignores varied contexts and values. Under time pressure, designers’ focus can default to customer needs, ignoring the richer perspectives that explore what it means to be human and to lead a meaningful community life.

While it is helpful to consider customer needs and product opportunities, it can be problematic to stop there. The type of Human-Centered Design Thinking that worked in the past to understand customer needs for the design of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and services, needs to be adapted when used to accomplish sustainable development goals.

A service design framing allows designers to consider both customer needs and service provider needs. But sustainable lifestyles involve more stakeholders than customer and service provider. One must consider multiple levels of the Socio-Ecological context (e.g., individual, group, organizations, communities, public policy), and differing value sets (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Tools and methods that allow for different views and perspectives where innovation is grounded, afford designers finding new opportunities for economic development. In other words, new ways of looking at problems can provide solutions to previously ignored problems and new opportunities for development.”

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