Weeknote 443

May 19th to 25th

Let me start with something that made everybody in the studio happy: We bought a new coffee machine. The old one wasn’t bad, but some of us critized the consistency of its extraction, especially when in heavy use. When 15 people begged for coffee after lunch last week at our workshop, we had to bring some in from the coffeeshop down the corner. To avoid this situation in the future the espresso delegation visited our trusted coffee machine dealer and test-drived some heavy-duty equipment. Two hours later we had a shiny new machine in the studio kitchen, marveling its full and rich crema.

Unfortunately Michael wasn’t part of our coffee machine inauguration. It was the first week of his two-month parental leave. Florie, too, was on vacation for the better part of the week.

When not honing their barista skills, David and Christophe worked on Puichon. David was also preparing and conducting a training workshop for a client’s in-house design team with me. I immersed myself in the challenges of a restaurateur, writing user stories based on Florie’s research. I must admit I don’t know what Svenja’s main accomplishments were, as we didn’t have weekly review.

On Friday and Saturday, Christophe, Florie and I went to the “Social Design” conference at MK&G. There were some interesting talks, but overall we left with mixed feelings. Probably due to the fact that the conference was organized by the Gesellschaft für Designgeschichte (society for design history), there where too many talks about the historic contexts of social design, only a few showing current projects and almost nothing about how technology could be leveraged now and in the future to tackle social issues.

During the conference – and in the discussions it instigated – I realized that my definition of social design may was a bit too narrow. To me, social design was something like morethanshelters do. Their founder Daniel Kerber gave in interesting and inspiring presentation about how they are trying to solve problems in a Syrian refugee camp using design methods. Also the exhibition “Design for the other 90%” shaped my image of what the term social design stands for.

But during the two days of the conference some books where quoted and referenced multiple times – and I realized that I read most of them. However I didn’t read them as books on “social design”. Sure, Victor Papanek’s “Design for the Real World” is clearly about using our skills as designers for "the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the aged, the obese and the Third World” (blurb from my UK edition of the book). But to me, Lucius Burckhardt’s essay “Design ist unsichtbar” (Design is invisible), or John Thackara’s book “In the Bubble” was about designing systems or “service design”, although I wasn’t aware of this term neither when I read those texts 7 or 8 years ago.

All those books taught me that design can be more than just the visible artefacts; that we should think in a holistic way. And that with design comes responsibility.

These believes are in precious’ DNA. We always strive to find projects that address people’s needs, rather than their wants. We often think beyond the client's briefing and consider our work in a broader context. But so far we only have worked on projects for the 10%, not the “other 90” (though we would love to!).

Still, that doesn’t mean that our work doesn’t touch the realm of social design. Florie brought up the notion that some projects we are working on right now do have the potential for real social change: Designing tools that help small, independent business will not just affect their owners. If local shops can survive and even thrive alongside the big guys, it’ll impact whole neighbourhoods. A renaissance of specialised local business would change our cities and thus society.

It might sound overly ambitious and optimistic. But I consider this a necessary trait of a good designer. It’s what drives us (fueled by the coffee of our new machine).

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