Changing Direction & Letting Go

Design Leadership Forum Newsletter, Oct ’06. Revisited.

Design leaders often extend boundaries because appropriate operating terrains constantly shift and ‘comfort zones’ soon end up stunting progress. Change may also open new vistas, refocus attention and generally stretch colleagues. Gaining their support – and extra efforts – tend to follow a demonstration that stepping into new territory, though significant, need not generate the feared discomfort or disruption.

Equally important, resetting boundaries can have a major impact on perceptions of design and how it relates to other disciplines: not the ‘Cinderella’ in business, but a driving force to extraordinary achievements.

More Flesh On The Bones Of ‘Leading Through Design’

The DLF (Design Leadership Forum) has consistently promoted the role of design in leading change and innovation. This involves somewhat more than encouraging organisations to adopt ‘design thinking’ and a ‘designerly approach’ in core activities.

Design consultants who cross over to client organisations, and designers who move into other disciplines, tend to experience considerable change. But what of the transformations that occur when design consultants take the helm of client organisations? These are of great interest, not least as exemplars of ‘leading through design’.

Brian Smith was Design Director at product design practice, PDD, before his appointment as MD at FeONIC plc – a small, high-technology business based in Hull working with smart materials to create novel products. Brian explained how the move came about, and the effect it had on his thinking and approaches. He outlined changes introduced into the business, and the lessons learnt over the previous five years.

The discussion that followed shed light on other means by which design professionals can lead through design, and may encourage others to plan similar moves – from consultancy and design practice, to client organisations and leading business.

The Open University Business School hosted the session, the 2nd time it extended its hospitality to the Forum.

Indicators That Influence Innovation Policy

Ray Lambert – Deputy Director of Science and Innovation Analysis at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) – was the speaker at the 17th Forum session.

Ray outlined how surveys into innovation had developed on an internationally comparable basis. Guidance on collecting R&D statistics does not require the design component to be identified, though design is well known to make up a crucial part of R&D. So, like other countries, the UK does not separate out design within R&D investment.

Nevertheless, Ray is spearheading development work into the role of design in innovation, so some information is gathered during the broader Innovation Survey run by the DTI with the Office for National Statistics.

The session was a helpful ‘test run’ for a more detailed paper presented later that month in Ottawa, Canada to an international group who guide the development of science, technology and innovation indicators used by governments round the world. Ray makes the case for including better measures of design investment indicators, thus raising design’s profile in Government policy towards innovation. That paper can be downloaded from:

At the end of his presentation, Ray asked for suggestions for a ‘working definition’ of design to guide future surveys. It was sobering to hear that the development of international surveys relating to innovation (and design’s contribution) occurred without consultation with design professionals (although Ray does confer with researchers at the Design Council). Design professionals had not requested any involvement either. One wonders why national design bodies around the world did not make inputs at the time.

It is hoped that the Forum will help in formulating an enlightening definition of design. This will need to be complemented by a range of operating circumstances that give rise to leading contributions by design professionals in innovation. Views expressed in the open discussion were that consumer-orientation and ‘voice of the customer’ aspects of R&D tend to fall naturally within the scope of design.

Ray also asked whether the new concept of ‘transformational design’, coming from the Design Council, resonated with participants. The feedback here was unequivocal: the characteristics ascribed to ‘transformational’ design were essentially those relating to what professional design should be, so no new category was necessary.

The latest DTI report on Design and Creativity can be downloaded from: The session was hosted by InterfaceFLOR at its showroom in Clerkenwell. Many thanks to Amanda Farrell (Client Services Director) and Donna Cummings (Showroom Manager) for their hospitality.

Predicting Sensory Responses During Customer Experiences

The 16th Forum session in May drew one of the Forum’s highest turnouts: after all, stimulating the senses and gauging responses through objective, accurate means will have a significant impact on the design of experiences with products, services and organisations.

Teresa Goodman, Lead Scientist for Human Factors Research at the National Physical Laboratory (NLP), provided an overview of research into ‘sensory metrology’ which seeks to raise our understanding of the relationship between human sensory systems and the physical properties of materials, artefacts and environments. How our various sensory systems interact with cognitive processes, and the ways in which sensory signals are processed in the brain to generate a perceptual response, are both critical in this quest.

Ultimate goals are to predict perceptual responses from physical properties, design to generate specified reactions, and understand how to modify products to draw different responses.

Vision is one of the best understood senses. Touch is gauged through a complex sensory system connected with skin. Intriguingly, ‘wetness’ is felt only through pressure and temperature – an outcome that has still to be fathomed. Devising objective and accurate ‘measures’ for texture and pattern is still a challenge. Our understanding of sound, smell and taste is still at a relatively early stage, though smell was one of the most powerful senses among primitive creatures.

Matters get considerably more complex, and interesting, when dealing with all five senses: how do they interact to reinforce or compete with each other? And how is ‘natural-ness’ achieved? Teresa concluded by speculating on the possible directions of future research.

Several participants expressed unease: was this another area where scientists and business ‘muscled in’ on territory where designers have operated intuitively with a fair deal of success over many decades? These concerns were allayed somewhat by Teresa’s openness about what seems possible and the uncertainty that accompanies all journeys into unknown territory. Even so, significant progress is being made, not least in computer gaming, computer-aided product development and project management software where encompassing more of the senses is firmly on the agenda.

The timing of the session turned out to be fortuitous. NLP has had relatively little contact with industrial designers and the session hinted at considerable benefits to be gained from closer contacts. Furthermore, four Forum participants were among eight ‘outsiders’ who joined a similar number of staff members during a stimulating brainstorming session later that month to help formulate a road map for R&D into ‘sensory metrology’ over the next 10-15 years. NLP is finalising its research plan, and the road map has contributed towards the bid for funding to be submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Follow this link to an interview with Alan Topalian, founder of the DLF & author of this Newsletter: And if you would like to read more from the Newsletter? Simply get in touch with Jason.