Thinking About Design

This week, we are fortunate to have a
series of events at NESTA with three leading thinkers/speakers from the
world of innovation.

Firstly on Tuesday evening, we are hosting Designerly Thinking with Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO,
one of the most successful design firms in the world and one of the
first to integrate the design of software and hardware into the
practice of industrial design. Then on Thursday, at the launch of NESTA Connect, we have Professor Eric von Hippel,
Professor of Management of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at MIT and
best known for his work developing the concept of user innovation (see
his excellent book ‘Democratizing Innovation’). Finally, on Friday Karim Lakhani
from the Harvard Business School, will be hosting a policy breakfast on
the emergence of open source software communities and their unique
innovation strategies.

In different ways, each of these events for me signals the growing
awareness of the importance of design, or user-led thinking, in the
development of better products, services or processes. By design, I
don’t mean funky kettles or stylish cars, though obviously these would
be nice to have. Rather, I mean innovating from the user’s perspective
to make products, services or processes easier to use through making
them more intuitive. This sounds so blatantly obvious, it is easy to
dismiss and yet we come across bad design in our lives so often we
barely notice it. This weekend I was struck by the appalling (lack of)
design of a local pedestrian crossing that makes crossing the road very
difficult and very dangerous – I’d love the person who designed the
crossing to actually try and use it and I can feel a letter to the
council brewing. On the other hand I am an avid user of Streetcar,
the pay-as-you-go car, which is very convenient and easy to use, and
makes car ownership unnecessary in dense urban environments such as
London. I believe the Streetcar service was developed by one of the
emerging breed of service-design companies live|work.

This week sees the launch NESTA Connect which aims to build the UKs
capacity for innovation through collaboration. Our focus is upon
stimulating new, unexpected or extreme collaborations between different
research disciplines, difference types of organisations and disparate
communities. It is no accident that two out of the first three NESTA
Connect projects have design at their core. I’ll post again soon with
more information about these projects very soon. In the meantime, I’d
be interested to hear of more unusual examples of good or bad design in


  1. Love the website. Very funny, thanks. Funnily enough I took my life into my own hands cycling to my local well known Swedish Furniture Emporium at the weekend.
    As is the way with these places, it was located in an industrial wasteland so cycling there wasn’t just difficult but virtually discouraged. I particularly enjoyed trying to get across a 6 lane A road as cars and lorries were hurtling past at 60mph.
    I was therefore delighted to discover an unsignposted cycle path on the way home but then less delighted that it was completely overgrown and unusable in places due to the odd tree or branch that was blocking it.
    I lived in Berlin for a few years where virtually everyroad has a cycle path complete with their own integrated traffic lights which is amazing.
    So I agree, UK cycle paths a great example of appaling design.
    PS. Reminds me of a joke. A redpiece or tarmac and a green piece of tarmac walk into a bar. The red piece of tarmac says to the barman: “don’t serve him, he’s a cycle path.” hohoho

  2. Indeed the Northern Eurpoeans seem to have cycling in their blood – and it’s not just ‘German efficiency’. On a visit to Helsinki, I was amazed at the dedication the Finnish seem to have to making cycling a viable, safe and pleasurable means of transport. They have conducted cyclist/pedestrian surveys and referenced hours of video footage to ensure their system works. Most recently they’ve come up with a bemusingly named BEPOLITE system of signalling for cyclists. More on Helsinki’s cycling system (including nifty pie charts!) here:

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