Ten designers who are changing the world
They don’t just make the world look good. Top designers improve the environment, build communities, even save lives. In the lead-up to Design Week we honour those with the brightest ideas.
Next week many of the world’s most exciting designers will be in Melbourne for Ideas on Design, the rebranded agIdeas conference celebrating its 25th year.
No doubt there will be plenty of talk about branding, style and cool. But the most important designers won’t be focusing on the way the world looks; they will be talking about how they have changed it.
Design thinking is now widely embraced by business and society, as well as in its natural home in the creative industries. It uses the creative process to create pragmatic solutions to real world problems, and even assist organisations to boost their social media strategies.
Tim Brown, president and CEO of design company IDEO said what makes design thinking different is its capacity to allow people who are not trained as designers to use creative tools to address challenges. ‘Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success,’ he said.
Designers bring this creativity to their traditional work in communications but also to much broader briefs such as health care, community services and environmental sustainability.
Leah Heiss: Making jewellery that saves lives
Melbourne-based designer Leah Heiss is best known for her diabetes jewellery (pictured), an elegant contemporary pendant and matching ring which allows diabetics to self-administer insulin painlessly and subtly. The principal of Elastic Field, uses nanotechnology to create intimate, usable pieces that people will want to wear because they are also beautiful objects. She is also developing wearable technology for adjusting hearing aids and a neckpiece, which removes arsenic from drinking water overcoming a danger present in India and Bangladesh.
Heiss also produces art works that respond to bodily experiences. Her ‘Thin Skin’ is an on-going experiment in how conductive materials can be used to enrich our experience of physical space. The conductive lycra responds to human presence and can be used to activate real-time visualisations and audio experience.
Dan Formosa: Developing more fuel-efficient cars
A background in biomechanics and ergonomics is behind the ‘human thinking’ approach of Smart Design, the business of New York-based designer Dan Formosa.
Formosa is turning around fuel-efficiency in cars by creating the Ford SmartGauge, an instrument that doesn’t just deliver information to the driver but also gathers information from the driver. Responding to individual driving style, allows Ford to deliver greater fuel efficiency in its new hybrid cars.
On test drives the SmartGauge delivered a 20% increased fuel efficiency as a result of the design change.
John Bielenberg: Designing communities
John Bielenberg is known for his promotion of ‘thinking wrong’, an inversion of normal thought patterns which allows creative ideas. The German-born, San-Francisco-based designer founded Project M, a community design initiative to give creative people a platform to collaborate and generate projects for community good. Bielenberg and his team have more than 20 such projects to their credit from Frankfurt to Iceland.
Common Hoops, for example, works with youth in the Chicago metropolitan area to build ‘basketball art’ from scrap and found materials. Leveraging young peoples’ interest in basketball allows the project to teach design thinking to young people, giving them career-opportunities in design as well as involving them in improving their neighbourhoods with original basketball hoops.
Another project called 100 hammers provided tools to people in Maine on the condition that they used them to produce a piece of art. The expansive thinking project whatwouldyoudoifyouwerentafraid.com simply asked Facebook users to answer the question and dare to dream.
David Webster: Helping people walk again
US-based designer David Webster of IDEO has designed a series of products to improve health outcomes including pill packs, sanitation system for people who don’t have access to proper bathroom facilities and ‘Project Carrot’ to improve childhood nutrition.
But his most dramatic bright idea was a wearable bionic suit which enables disabled people to walk independently. The Eksoskeleton, developed with the bionics company Ekso, fully supports the standing wearer with an external brace and uses battery-powered motors to drive the legs of people who have lost nerve function. The Eksoskeleton is currently used as a rehabilitation aid in clinics but Ekso is working on a viable consumer application and hopes one day paraplegics and stroke victims will be able to use the skeleton as a personal mobility device.
Kelo Kebu: Visualising history
In May 2013, a group of South African designers came up with an idea to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela by collecting 95 exceptional posters from around the world, honouring Mandela’s lifelong contribution to humanity. TheMandela Poster Project is a homage that became an international celebration of social change.
Kebu, TED ambassador for Africa, with a long-time interest in development in the content, is one of the group who ran with the project. It drew more than 700 posters from 70 countries in 60 days. The collection was curated and 95 posters (representing 95 years of Mandela’s life) were selected for display.
David Berman: Improving access for the blind
Canadian David Berman has given his name to the ‘Berman corner’ for the blind. The design was developed to help blind people manage physical documents and find out where they could access electronic equivalents. The corner is simplicity itself. The printed document has a corner trimmed, providing a tactile clue that there is a QR code within 9cm that can be scanned to reach an accessible document. It costs little (often nothing) to add the corner and there is no licensing on the idea.
The Berman corner is part of a portfolio of social responsibilities ideas drawn from design, explored in Berman’s book Do Good
Design, which celebrates and promotes socially and environmentally responsible design.
Adrian Paterson: Identifying criminals
A former Victoria Police officer, Paterson is the creator of F.A.C.E., the world’s first automated facial composition and editing Offender Identification system, which produces full-colour, high-resolution images. Paterson is not a professional designer but he has a knack for drawing so when he was in the police he found himself creating impromptu sketches of offenders and suspects at crime and accident scenes to help investigations. The demand for his work made it clear that more accurate imaging would help track down offenders. The result was the development of a massive database of facial features combined with drawing technology that enables a victim or witness to instruct an artist (he was a bit older/ darker hair/thinner nose etc.) until an image that really looks like the subject is produced. F.A.C.E. (Facial Automated Composition and Editing) is now used in more than 40 countries and is credited with more than 4,000 offender identifications.
Alain Le Quernec: Campaigning for human rights
A poster designer with a political and social mission, French professor and graphic designer Alain Le Quernec is known for driving cultural and social campaigns with his dramatic work. His campaigns include a series of posters to raise awareness of the exploitation of children, a campaign for blood donation and work exposing the damage of oil spills. Le Quernec has become the visual equivalent of a spokesperson for human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Solidarity.
While Le Quernec’s work is now highly desired and exhibited on gallery walls, he has been outspoken in his preference for remaining a street fighter. ‘The gallery and the street are two opposite worlds… My posters, placed in the sanctuary of the exhibition space, appear to be somewhat ill at ease-apart from the present day troubles, away from the urban environment and confined in a closed space. No matter how successful my exhibitions may be, I will always be thinking of the road must face-out in the streets, creating new images-a battle that must be won,’ he said.
Adrian MacGregor: Rethinking cities
Growing environmental awareness has made it clear that the way we live in cities cannot be divorced from the biological systems around us. Adrian McGregor and the Biocity Studio , based in Sydney, have created a way of thinking about cities that uses the way we think about natural systems to explain what a city needs to survive and thrive.
The Biocity health index measures a city on 12 urban systems combining basic needs, infrastructure and human systems in one framework. Using the model, the Biocity Studio has embarked upon the urban genome project, a collaborative wiki, that uses open source intelligence to map the vital DNA of cities and nations. Participants can feed in data about a city and learn how it compares.
John Maeda: Making life simpler
A professor in MIT’s Media Lab and a world-renowned graphic designer, Maeda has come up with a radical philosophy that resonates deeply in the information age: simplify. His book The Laws of Simplicity redefines the notion of improving so that it doesn’t always mean adding another feature. Instead he is driving designers and makers of all kinds to consider the way they can remove unneeded features, listen to emotion and concentrate on the meaningful. Anyone who owns a smart phone is likely to be grateful.