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Last month the RSA's Design & Society team launched its new programme. Emily Campbell, our Director of Design, described how although the UK has always produced great designers, (unlike other professions who have lively amateur communities) their skills don't seem to have spilled over into the general public. In a masterful demonstration of this leaving-things-to-the-professionals, I'll let Emily's prose take over from mine to explain the context:

"We all know exactly how the gap happened. In last century designers achieved such sublime exercises of skill and judgement right across the gamut of need – from the toys and baubles of private luxury to housing and transport and labour-saving devices for everyone, and iPods – such sublime exercises of skill and judgement that of course the rest of us are cowed into assuming we leave design to the professionals. The twentieth-century triumphs of designers have led everyone else to forget how much they know." [link]

Design & Society's new programme explores how "non-designers" could benefit from a little bit more of the resourcefulness that designers have. The best designers can look at the detail, but understand the big picture too, they're not phased by messy problems, and they learn by jumping straight in and prototyping.

This was picked up on by Alice Rawsthorn in the New York Times, who pulls together some interesting examples of digital technology allowing anyone to customise products - in the same way that the first desktop publishing systems opened up graphic design to non-professionals. Alice writes about some of the customisation ventures that are out there like NikeID, and also covers Digital Forming, a company that provides an "online platform for the ‘Mass Customisation’ of personal designed objects".

[ As an aside, Alice also uses the expression co-design a lot to describe this sort of customisation, which interested me - as it tends to be associated with design that improves people's experiences of services rather than products, see for example thinkpublic's video on the approach. ]

My suspicion is that although the ability that technology now gives us to customise our own products can be quite cool, it's the act itself of engaging in the design process that is empowering. We'll know more as Design & Society works through the various projects it has planned.

What does resourcefulness mean for Design & Behaviour Change? Some thinkers have suggested that using the ideas behind Nudge and Libertarian Paternalism (which overlap with this work) to develop policy may lead to an immature society, so I think that one of our jobs in the project is to ensure that we design-for-behaviour-change in such a way as to increase people's resourcefulness.


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