The World Economic Forum--Lost in a Fog. A Design Manifesto for Davos.

I’m heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday and wanted to post, once again, the Design Manifesto a group of us constructed at a recent WEF meeting in Dubai. The upcoming Davos meeting is entitled, of course, “Shaping the Post-Crisis World,” assuming we get to that point anytime soon.

My own thoughts on our troubles are simple. We are in a sustained period of ambiguity, with traditional institutions no longer working and established leaders failing us. This fog of uncertainty requires new pilots and piloting methods. Designers and design thinking methodologies are the best we have to guide us through uncertainty and ambiguity today.

Here is the “manifesto” of our Global Agenda Council/Design group that came out of an amazing day of discussion in Dubai about the financial/economic crisis and what design thinking can do to help reshape the big issues of the day. It is an excellent summary of the state of art of design and innovation.

To structure the discussion among 68 Global Agenda Councils in Dubai, the World Economic Forum asked each to focus on answering two questions on the issue before each GAC:

1) What is the state of the world on this issue and how is the economic crisis impacting this issue? 2) What should be done to improve the state of the world on this issue/region/industry and by whom?

Here is the Design GAC’s response:


Throughout history, design has been an agent of change. It helps us to understand the changes in the world around us, and to turn them to our advantage by translating them into things that can make our lives better. Now, at a time of crisis and unprecedented change in every area of our lives – economic, political, environmental, societal and in science and technology – design is more valuable than ever.

The crisis comes at a time when design has evolved. Once a tool of consumption chiefly involved in the production of objects and images, design is now also engaged with developing and building systems and strategies, and in changing behaviour often in collaboration with different disciplines.

Design is being used to: · Gain insight about people’s needs and desires · Build strategic foresight to discover new opportunities · Generate creative possibilities · Invent, prototype and test novel solutions of value · Deliver solutions into the world as innovations adopted at scale

In the current climate, the biggest challenges for design and also its greatest opportunities are:

· Well-being – Design can make an important contribution to the redefinition and delivery of social services by addressing acute problems such as ageing, youth crime, housing and health. Many designers are striving to enable people all over the world to lead their lives with dignity, especially the deprived majority of the global population - “the other 90%” who have the greatest need of design innovation.

· Sustainability – Designers can play a critical role in ensuring that products, systems and services are developed, produced, shipped, sold and will eventually be disposed of in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner. Thereby meeting - and surpassing - consumers’ expectations.

· Learning – Design can help to rebuild the education system to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Another challenge is to redefine or reorient the design education system at a time of unprecedented demand when thousands of new design schools are being built worldwide and design is increasingly being integrated into other curricula. Designers are also deploying their skill at communication and visualization to explain and interpret the overwhelming volume of extraordinary complex information.

. Innovation – Designers are continuing to develop and deliver innovative new products at a turbulent time when consumer attitudes are changing dramatically thereby creating new and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the current crisis. They are increasingly using their expertise to innovate in new areas such as the creation of new business models and adoption of a strategic and systemic role in both the public and the private sector.”

I was fortunate to be able to work with an amazing group of people in the Design GAC: Chris Luebkeman, director of global foresight and innovation for ARUP, was our chairman. Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Brian Collins who now runs his own ad/marketing company in his own name, Tim Brown of IDEO, Toshiko Mori of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Chris Jordan, a photographic artist, Alice Rawsthorn, design critic at the International Herald Tribune, Milton Tan, Executive Director of DesignSingapore Council, Ministry of Informatin, Communications and the Arts and Arnold Wasserman, chairman of The Idea Factory in Singapore.

Others in the group who couldn’t make it to Dubai were Hillary Cottom founder of Participle in the UK, Kigge Mai Hvid CEO of Index in Denmark, Chris Bangle, director of design for BMW, Larry Keeley of Doblin, John Maeda, President of RISD and William McDonough.

I am drawn more and more to Hilary Cottam’s and Charles Leadbeater’s work in the UK on bottoms-up innovation in public services that utilizes mass collaboration, user-led design, iteration and a focus on results that matter to people.

Here are their general principles:

“Moving from a system focused on needs to one more concerned with capabilities; Moving from services that are targeted to ones that are open to all; Moving away from a financially focused system to one focused on resources; Avoiding centralised institutions in favour of more effective distributed networks; Relaxing the absolute focus on the individual including more of a focus on social networks.”

Hilary will be in Davos on this coming week and I intend to talk to her about President Obama’s initiatives and what the US should be doing.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.