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Designers will no longer destroy the world

The designers had a blast at the international Joint Futures conference in Helsinki last month. One of the most memorable speakers was Mike Monteiro, known for his ability to shock the audience.

Petra Tarkkala / October 08, 2019

His message, amplified by his enviable presentation skills, was bleak: Designers have destroyed the world. If things aren't going well, that's our fault for designing them that way, he argued.

Of course, Mr Monteiro didn’t come just to lament. His message was also a rallying call to us designers: pursue our craft with passion, integrity and ethics and ultimately we’ll be doing our bit to ensure the world develops in a more favourable direction. 

When I look at my team of bright-eyed designers working at the Tieto Keilaniemi office, full of goodwill and ambition to help anyone who wants to be helped, it’s hard to think designers have destroyed anything. But Mr. Monteiro does have a very solid point. Just like everyone else in the world, we, the designers, should do whatever we can to build a better world for everyone.

Designers, in fact, have better chances of changing things than many other professions do. Our work is all about being trusted partners to our clients, advising, coaching and guiding them. There’s nothing stopping us from focusing on sustainable business models and designing economically, environmentally and socially sustainable systems and services.

We can – and, indeed, have a responsibility to – bring these aspects to the design table in each phase of the service design process: Insight, focus, ideate, prototype & test. Allow me to walk you through the double diamond of service design!

Insight. All design driven projects start with gathering insight as widely as possible, ranging from user needs to business needs. Economical sustainability is an important factor for most clients, and on the top of their list. Many aspects of social sustainability can only be figured out by truly listening to the end users of the service.  

Focus. It is impossible to solve all challenges at once so it is essential for us to focus – that is, we must make choices what to focus on. Our client is the one making the decisions on the matter, but we can gently remind them that being a sustainable business comes with a competitive edge. Regardless of the motivation behind it, setting proper focus is very important. If the focus is off or not set at all, we wind up solving challenges that are irrelevant or perhaps even non-existent - where’s sustainability in that?

Ideation. Personally, this is one of my favourite parts in the process. It’s the time when we start co-creating solutions to the focused problem. Sustainability should be an angle for ideation in each co-creation workshop regardless of business domain. After creating loads of ideas, we have to start choosing the most promising ones. Social, economic and environmental sustainability factors related to each of the ideas are relevant in making that choice.

Prototype & test. Prototyping and validating the design ends a design iteration. Since no idea is fail safe, we need to test them. When we build light prototypes that are super-fast to test with end users, we look for problems in the interaction, usability and functionality of the service. We also evaluate service acceptance with means of interviews and walk-throughs and should include topics related to sustainability every time.

Creating innovative and enjoyable digital services or systems is never a waterfall project. The approach described above is totally iterative in nature, so the process should be kept light. At any point, it may be wise to move backwards and rethink something. The purpose is to quickly validate different kinds of approaches to solve some real-life problems – and help make the world at least a little better. 

Mike Monteiro’s message shocks the designer community, but it’s just the wake-up call we need to hear. We do have responsibility as designers. We need to include relevant sustainability factors into each design project as a theme, be it gathering insight, focusing on a problem, ideation, or testing the ideas. I look forward to envisioning a sustainable future with our clients!

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I'm eager to hear your comments and experiences about service design! Connect with me on LinkedIn for more discussions >>>

Petra Tarkkala
Head of Design

Petra leads the Design Studio at Tieto's Customer Experience Management business. She is an experienced service designer with a desire to make a difference with her work. She has successfully led tens of projects for clients of different business domains during the past 19 years. Petra is a big fan of design thinking. She believes that success follows when you gather proper insight before designing anything and put the users into the center  rather than technology.


Petra Tarkkala

Head of Design

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