Just had coffee with Grant Young, a web consultant who’s working at the convergence of design thinking, social media and sustainability. His company is Zumio and his work includes community-building web sites for WWF and the NSW Cancer Institute. He introduced me to a whole world which, narrow-minded dolt that I am, I’ve managed to remain ignorant of.

So what is ‘design thinking’? It’s a convergence of industrial design and anthropology, in some ways re-invention of good old 1970s Participative Action Research, but applied to the design of products and services. IDEO and Live|Work are firms at the cutting edge of this field. 

The simple idea is, when you’re designing a product or service, spend time becoming intimately acquainted with the lives of users. If possible, become immersed. Then proceed by designing and testing prototypes. This makes perfect sense for designing gizmos and widgets. So why not use the same method to design services and solutions to social problems? Why not indeed!

He sent me some wonderful links (below). 


The most exciting of these is OpenIDEO. It’s so fantastic it makes me feel faint.

Have a look. http://openideo.com

OpenIDEO is a web site that enables a community of collaborators to design new products and services together, sharing their inspirations and concepts as they go. The beautiful thing is – you can use it to solve social problems too. And the community of collaborators can be virtually unlimited.

Just check out the brilliant range of ideas it generated to tackle childhood obesity. http://openideo.com/open/how-might-we-give-children-the-knowledge-to-eat-better/concepting/

OpenIDEO solves one of the biggest problems that bedevil designers of change programs. It’s the small gene pool of inspiration and creativity available to the typical project team/committee. You are always limited by the number of active collaborators x the time they have to think. With OpenIDEO you can invite creative input from a huge range of people and spread the collaborative process beyond the time available for meetings. 

What I also love is the attention to the Inspiration phase. We always cut this short, or forget it entirely. But it’s vital. OpenIDEO requires and enables an expansive trawl for inspirations before we start to assemble solutions. 

Promise to me: I’m gonna find a way to use this!

Grant’s blog is at: http://zum.io

Some illuminating links he sent me after our talk:

http://www.livelocal.org.au/ – the sustainability community developed by Digital Eskimo

http://johnnyholland.org/2010/07/13/mobile-diaries-discovering-daily-life/ – a bit more info on the “Mobile Diaries” process (from Penny Hagen, who I mentioned in conversation, with the article based in part on the work we did together for WWF-Australia)

http://www.rethinkclimate.org/debat/rethink-technology/ – introductory post from Ezio Manzini on the small, open, local, connected concept

has a host of case studies of social innovation towards sustainability.