Sustainability and Design Thinking: it’s a hope thing

I made something of an off-the-cuff remark in a meeting with Richard Eisermann and his team at Prospect the other day – one that was greeted with enough smiles around the room to suggest that I might (unintentionally) have said something quite profound!

In chatting about the book, and what I see as the critical role of Design Thinking in imagining and realising more sustainable futures, I observed that Martin Luther King had had a dream, not a nightmare.

You probably get what I meant, without me needing to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that, when so much talk about sustainability revolves around limits and sacrifice, it’s shouldn’t come as a huge surprise if people clap their hands to their ears and start yelling “Lalalalalalala!”

We need a more optimistic message to really engage people and that’s precisely why the gathering momentum of Design Thinking is to be welcomed. Design as a creative thought process is fundamentally idealistic, and it completely changes the tone and focus of the debate.

From “What is” to “What could be”.

From “Growth or no growth” to “What do you want to grow?”

From “Look what we’re going to have to give up!” to “Yeah, but have you considered the possibilities?”

Infinitely wiser people than me have said it before. Albert Einstein:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Likewise Edward de Bono:

“You can’t dig a new hole by digging the same one deeper.”

It’s why Design Thinking is absolutely a philosophy of its time. And it’s why IDEO’s Living Climate Change site and the recent launch of The Living Principles (a new sustainable design framework from AIGA) are exciting developments. These guys are cottoning on to the idea that sustainability is fundamentally a design problem, and they’re bringing a completely different way of thinking to help solve it.


2 thoughts on “Sustainability and Design Thinking: it’s a hope thing

  1. Mario Vellandi

    Design thinking is desperately needed to address sustainability, largely because we’ve expanded the scope to consider the systemic picture and the long-term. Designers are in a unique position to first concept better ideas, then help see them through with the help of specialists who can see the financial/market feasibility side of the equation. Yet, they too need to take that extra leap forward into “what can be” otherwise great concepts will be shelved.


  2. Dan Gray Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Mario. Agree with you 100%, particularly the emphasis on thinking in systems. (You’ll notice from previous posts that it’s a bit of a recurring theme – and not just in relation to sustainability.)



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