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A couple weeks ago I had an enlightening conversation with designer and strategist Sylvia Harris. Sylvia and I were comparing notes and sharing our experiences in the area of design for the health care industry—her work in wayfinding for hospitals and medical centers has led her into a consulting practice that focuses on user experience issues in health care (click here for a list of articles Sylvia Harris has written on these topics).
As we discovered the common professional ground we have traveled, our conversation began to focus on the emerging category of “service design.” Actually, this is a term that is more commonly used in Europe—here we might call it “design thinking”—but I actually think service design is a more accurate moniker. While both Sylvia and I share a background in communication design (or graphic design), we are both working in areas in which “graphic” design is only a fraction of what we actually do anymore. We’re working on complex projects that involve not the professional network that designers have traditionally worked with—photographers, writers, printers—but rather experts from a vast array of professional disciplines—psychologists, ethnographers, physicians, even policy makers. Likewise, the outcome of these projects is very different from what we might have delivered earlier in our careers—not a logo, brochure, or signage system, but rather a new nomenclature for a medical device, a new financial system, or health care procedure. Of course, this is a transformation that is happening throughout design as the value of what we do and how we do it is more recognized and accepted.
The memory of my conversation with Sylvia was refreshed yesterday when I read Alice Rawsthorn’s essay in the NY Times entitled “Winning Ways of Making a Better World,” which focused on the recently announced winners of the INDEX: Award 2009, the biennial design prize funded by the Danish government to celebrate examples of “design to improve life” (note: our Type1Tools product designs were included in the 2007 INDEX award exhibition). Ms. Rawsthorn pointed out one surprising recipient among the five impressive winners: Kiva, the micro-financing institution which has lent more than $86 million to entrepreneurs in the developing world in the last four years (which I blogged about recently).
As Alice Rawsthorn writes, “By any definition, it is a fantastic project, which undoubtedly helps ‘to improve life’ by raising money for people who desperately need it. But what does it have to do with design?”
I’m equally as surprised by this announcement as Ms. Rawsthorn, but I must say I’m thrilled to see INDEX, a leading force in the design world, making such a strong statement about what constitutes “design.” The definition of design has been morphing incrementally for generations, and I think we are on the cusp of a major transformation of what designers do and for whom we do it. This new way of designing is being exposed through the pioneering work of the London firm Participle, John Bielenberg’s Project M, Design for Democracy and designers like Sylvia Harris.
Ultimately, this change will mean huge opportunity for designers who are ready to seize it.
Check out this video about Kiva from the INDEX site:
There seems to be an endless stream of news stories and blog posts about how eBooks like the Amazon Kindle will revolutionize reading and writing (here’s one from the Wall Street Journal). In keeping with one of the themes of this blog—upheaval and uncertainty breed opportunity and innovation—it’s not surprising that I’ve been coming across examples of some really cool new thinking in the publishing industry. My post a few weeks back about MagCloud, the magazine micro-printer is one example, and Fast Company has a couple other interesting stories in their May issue.
HarperStudio is a new spin-off of publisher Harper Collins that audaciously will offer authors a 50/50 cut of the profits on sales of their book. They will accomplish this by shaking up the publishing business model—instead of pushing out as many books as possible, HS will only publish two books a year, choosing instead to offer a multimedia platform of exposure for their stable of authors, including blogs, DVDs and eBooks with the intent of building readership in a new way.
In another intriguing story, Scholastic sold 2.5 million copies (and the movie rights) to The 39 Clues, a children’s story that strings through 10 books, an online game, and trading cards.
The key to these surprising successes seems to be that publishers are beginning to think of the book as part of a broad, multi-faceted experience for their readers. I see this approach syncing up with tactics being applied by the social media marketers profiled on Merge—like Ria Sharon, who is creating “live” online events like her recent Pajama Party to augment and fuel the conventional online experience of MyMommyManual.com (check back soon for Part 2 of my conversation with Ria).
Publishing is clearly an industry that is desperately trying to redefine itself, and with our strong historical connection to the print world, this seems like a natural area for communication designers to play a valuable role.
In a related note…
I noticed a posting on the NY Times Gadgetwise blog about Amazon acquiring Stanza, the iPhone eBook app. This dovetails with my recent conversation with Terry Anderson about iPhone app development in which Terry commented that we will begin to see the big players in technology, media, and gaming (with their big marketing budgets) entering the iPhone app market soon. I would indeed call Amazon a big player. It will be interesting to see Amazon’s strategy for this acquisition—are they interested in catching a ride on the iPhone wave, or squashing it like a bug?
Follow up to an earlier post
Last month I wrote about Hilary Cottham and her groundbreaking London firm, Participle (post 3/20/09), and yesterday I found this post on the Frog Design blog DesignMind that highlights one of the signature Participle projects. Ironically, it’s a project that has a lot of synergy with the original Type1Tools products that Lisa and I created (the predecessor to HealthSimple).