Design and the Future of Landscape Architecture

If landscape architects want to remake the world, we can start by remaking our discipline.

A thought provoking critique of the role Landscape Architects actually play in society versus what they believe they do, this very relevant to the current educational and work crisis that Landscape Architecture faces in South Africa and many other parts the world : Here are few excerpts from the long article, quoted and acknowledged, in the interests of generating a similar discussion in other parts of the world: “Design and the Green New Deal” from Places Journal by Billy Fleming who is the Wilks Family Director for The Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Read the full essay here

Aa Dr, Ida Breed, senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria where the undergraduate Landscape Architecture program has been terminated due to poor enrolment numbers, says in a private correspondence: ” I think the article is very right in the money to say that the profession is mostly dominated by neoliberal and elitist project briefs, yet,  landscape architects are often very bad at showing what they are already doing. Relevant work is happening, but as we know we are low in numbers, and there is a need for more volunteers and more participation from industry and practitioners in work that does not only profit our/ themselves… More could be done!”

“It is the main duty of government, if it is not the sole duty, to provide the means of protection for all its citizens in the pursuit of happiness against the obstacles, otherwise insurmountable, which the selfishness of individuals or combinations of individuals is liable to interpose to that pursuit.” 25 Frederick Law Olmstead

Rooftop of the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay.
Wish it were public: Rooftop garden at the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay. [Designed by CMG Landscape Architecture with Gehry Partners; photo by Trey Ratcliff]

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it. The New Landscape Declaration — a book emerging from a 2016 summit attended by the brightest thinkers in our field — frames landscape architecture as an “ever more urgent necessity,” if not the foundation of civil society. As engineers shaped the built environment of the 19th century and architects the 20th, landscape architects have claimed this century as their own. 1 That’s a bold statement for an obscure profession whose 15,000 U.S. members spend most of their time designing small parks, office courtyards, and residential projects for private clients. Yet it’s not just landscape architects who see a big future for the field. Famed industrial designer Dieter Rams has said that if he were starting his career today, he’d focus on landscapes, not machines. And public officials have recruited landscape architects to the front lines of urban development (as James Corner’s High Line and Thomas Woltz’s Public Square frame Hudson Yards) and climate resilience (as the federal program Rebuild by Design ties hurricane recovery to coastal defense). 2

Ian McHarg
The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it.

But if The New Landscape Declaration sought to articulate and elevate our professional ideals, mostly it exposed the gap between rhetoric and reality. The book arrived in fall 2017, a few months after David Wallace-Wells published his alarming article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” with its memorable opening line quaking, “It is, I promise, worse than you think.” That 7,000-word jeremiad was later expanded into a bestselling book, with acknowledgments thanking the dozens of climate writers, scientists, and activists who informed the author’s research. This is mainstream media’s most comprehensive account of the climate movement, and it contains no mention of work by landscape architects. There is no commentary on Rebuild by Design. It’s as if landscape architecture does not exist. Setting aside the justified critiques of Wallace-Wells’s apocalyptic framing, what does it mean that landscape architects are missing from this prominent book on a topic we claim as our own? Is our discipline a necessity? Are we closing the gap between ideals and practice? We are not, I promise, saving the world. 3

SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters proposal for Rebuild by Design

We don’t need playful design proposals; we need high-impact built projects — prototypes for the resilient futures we’ve been promised.

Contemporary practice is focused on sites, not systems; and on elite desires, not public interests. Our work is limited in scale and subordinate to client mandates. Rather than challenging or subverting these core structural constraints, Rebuild merely tweaks the machine of disaster recovery and redevelopment. Such incrementalism has been a key feature of landscape architecture — and much design-based activism — for decades. Though some scholars have credited designers with central roles in social and environmental movements — from the Progressive Era, to the New Deal, to the radical politics of the 1960s and ’70s in America — I would argue that that landscape architects rarely contributed to the organizing and the politics of those movements. 20 By and large, we have been bystanders to progress, not principal actors. If the gap between our ambitions and impact is ever to be narrowed, it won’t be through declarations of our principles. We must rethink how landscape architecture engages with social and political movements.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Ocean Parkway
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Ocean Parkway in New York, which featured the first bike path in the United States. [via NYC Parks]

We seem to have forgotten an important lesson about Olmsted: his eagerness to enter the political arena and challenge the status quo.

ut here again we see designers as participants in, not leaders of, the social movements of their time. In the postwar era, they went through the same cultural realignment as the rest of the country, reorienting away from public works and land conservation and toward greenfield development and roadside parks, away from cities and toward suburbs. Landscape designers also made what was in retrospect the fatal mistake of lending their technical skills to urban renewal programs that reinforced racial segregation. 27 When the backlash to urban renewal began — sparked by Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities — planners and designers lost much of their access to large-scale projects, and those who still worked for public agencies saw their power diminished. As Thomas Campanella argues, they became professional caretakers, “reactive rather than proactive, corrective instead of preemptive, rule bound and hamstrung and anything but visionary.” 28

The environmental movement galvanized by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring achieved great success in regulating pollution — influencing the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency — but it was less successful in compelling a truly sustainable program of land use. Put another way, it had tremendous influence over how we live, but almost none over where we live. It was in this era that Ian McHarg produced the seminal work that would make him the most consequential landscape architect of the last half century. McHarg was a singular figure in the field, a public intellectual who mixed with people like Margaret Mead, Julian Huxley, and Loren Eiseley, moving between academia (as chair of landscape architecture at Penn), government (as an adviser to White House commissions, task forces, and environmental policy boards), and popular media (as host of the CBS show The House We Live In); and through these activities he sought to place environmental design at the center of American life. He aimed to reinvent nearly everything about the discipline of landscape architecture — its methods of inquiry, its scope and scale of impact, and its cultural and political position. For a brief moment, it seemed he would succeed.

Landscape architects have not yet meaningfully dealt with the unforeseen consequences of McHarg’s rational philosophy; with the fact that his technocratic legacy would leave the field ill-equipped to negotiate the major cultural and political realignments of neoliberalism — the hollowing out of governments at every level, the privatization of public services, and a waning belief in the ability of governments to bring about big, positive change. 34 Beginning in the 1980s, urbanists and designers were forced to defend everything from clean air to mass transit to public education through the narrow lens of cost-benefit analyses. Landscape architecture, a small and client-centric profession, with no real institutional or political presence, was overwhelmed by the rise of an anti-government, anti-science movement amongst conservatives. By the end of the century, landscape architecture had become once again a largely project-driven enterprise, dependent upon the elite, private interests that now shape urbanization, even in ostensibly public spaces. 35

At key political flashpoints of the past decade — Occupy Wall Street, the Standing Rock protests, and, now, the Green New Deal — landscape architects have been conspicuously absent. Our field has responded to neoliberalism with ever larger global corporate practices, a proliferation of boutique design firms, and a retreat from public service. We have ceded most government work to engineers. Professional societies have further depoliticized the field, ensuring that landscape architects are locked out of the policymaking process and constrained by the limits it imposes. 36

Chart of annual global temperatures from 1850-2018
Annual global temperatures from 1850-2018, covering 1.35°C. [Ed Hawkins]

The revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New DealIt also presents a unique opportunity to create alternative models of practice in landscape architecture.

That means our professional societies need to find ways to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service — or, as the organizers behind The Architecture Lobby have shown us, we will need to build new institutions. Starting tomorrow, the ASLA and Landscape Architecture Foundation could offer awards and fellowships for designers engaged in bureaucratic and political work, as they do for excellence in private practice. They could make the case that truly public spaces and infrastructures are funded by taxes and run by governments, not by corporate partners or the donor class. We need to dismantle the philosophies of neoliberalism and philanthrocapitalism that underwrite many urban development projects, and withdraw support for disruptive urban tech startups. As Levinson writes, “not only are the self-appointed change agents unwilling to push for meaningful action that might threaten the systems that have allowed them to accumulate vast wealth; often as not they’ve caused or contributed to the very problems they are claiming to solve. The modus operandi is not structural reform but personal generosity. The arena is not electoral politics but the free market. The ethos is patronage and volunteerism.” 45 Too many leaders in our field occupy positions of incredible power and prestige, while maintaining that they must make the best of a bad system. But we cannot be content with merely narrowing the gap between our ideals and our reality. The politics of design belong at the center of landscape architecture, and our institutions have an obligation to do more.

We need to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service. Students will need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing.

Educators, too, have a unique responsibility to change the culture of the profession. The students who wish to fill the ranks of the new design bureaucracy need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing. We can offer scholarships and awards for public-interest achievement, and give internship credit for working with political campaigns or community organizations. And we can acknowledge — through our public programs, our scholarship, and other aspects of design education outside the studio — the extraordinary moment we are in, our complicity in creating it, and our responsibility to develop alternatives.

Panel at the Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, Philadelphia, 2016. [You Wu]

Whatever form the Green New Deal eventually takes, it will be realized and understood through buildings, landscapes, and other public works. Landscape architects have knowledge and skills — from ecological management to systems analysis to mapping and visualization — that are essential to that project. Now is our chance to re-institutionalize design expertise in government and, at the same time, to break the stranglehold of neoliberalism that has long undermined the ambitions of landscape architecture. Let’s get started. 46

Billy Fleming, “Design and the Green New Deal,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 20 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/design-and-the-green-new-deal/&gt;

The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

 

It’s a civic resource, an index of inequality, and a requirement for public health. Shade should be a mandate for urban designers – this long essay by Sam Bloch in PLACES JOURNAL could just as well apply to Cape Town as to Los Angeles – where apartheid era planning has made its leafy suburbs of the wealthy the exact opposite of the slum tenements and shanty towns of the poor and squatters. A similar pattern of legislation, bureaucracy and politics seems to make the provision of the seemingly innocuous commodity: shade- a luxury ! Is shade the missing link to environmental, cultural, social and and health – can a focus on shade make a new type of equality a reality instead of the urban deserts that planning now mandates? This impeccably researched and documented article is well worth a read – here are a few small teasers:

Tony’s Barber Shop, Cypress Park, Northeast Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“As the sun rises in Los Angeles, a handful of passengers wait for a downtown bus in front of Tony’s Barber Shop, on an exposed stretch of Figueroa Street near the Pasadena Freeway. Like Matryoshka dolls, they stand one behind another, still and quiet, in the shadow cast by the person at the head of the line. It’s going to be another 80-degree day, and riders across the city are lining up behind street signs and telephone poles.

For years, the business owners on this block have tried to do something about the lack of shade. First someone planted banana trees and jammed an I-beam into the sidewalk well. Tony Cornejo, the barber, swears he didn’t do it, but he admits rigging up a gray canvas between a highway sign and parking lot fence to put a roof on the makeshift shelter. He was just taking care of the street, he said, so that the “ladies and children” who had grown accustomed to waiting out the heat in his shop could be comfortable outside. He dragged wooden crates under the canopy and nailed them together to create two long benches. In the shade, people ate their lunches, read magazines, scrolled through their phones. Can collectors rested. Bus drivers waited before beginning their shifts.

within two miles of Tony’s Barber Shop. 1 Who decides where the shade goes? You might imagine that transit planners call the shots — strategically placing shelters outside grocery stores and doctors’ offices on high-frequency routes, according to community need — but Los Angeles, like many cities, has outsourced the job. The first thousand shelters were installed in the 1980s by billboard companies in exchange for the right to sell ad space, and they tended to show up in wealthy areas where ad revenue surpassed maintenance costs. 2 In 2001, the mayor signed a deal to double the number of shelters and give public officials greater control over their placement. The new vendor agreed to install and maintain shelters throughout the city and offset its losses with freestanding ad kiosks in lucrative areas. But when politically savvy constituents complained about the coming spate of advertising, the city withheld permits, and the deal broke down. As the contract nears its end, the vendor, Outfront/Decaux, has installed only about 650 new shelters, roughly half of the projected number.” 

Bus shelters are installed and maintained by the company that controls the ad rights. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“You can’t install a shelter here without disrupting underground utilities, violating the ADA, or blocking driveway sightlines. On this block, shade is basically outlawed.”

Shade in the Skid Row neighborhood, Downtown Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

Shade is often understood as a luxury amenity. But as deadly heatwaves become commonplace, we have to see it as a civic resource shared by all.

Shade was integral to the urban design of southern California until the advent of cheap electricity in the 1930s.

Top left: Awnings on Citrus Avenue in Covina, ca. 1908. Top right: Craftsman bungalow on Vermont Avenue near 9th Street, Los Angeles, n.d. Bottom left: Pergola and porch of bungalow in Altadena, 1910. [All courtesy of University of Southern California/California Historical Society] Bottom right: Harnetiaux bungalow court in Pasadena, 2013. [Wikimedia Commons]

Look at what happened to Pershing Square, where sunlight was weaponized to clear out the ‘deviates and criminals.’

“Pershing Square set a template for Los Angeles: the park as an open space to walk through, and as a revenue-generating canvas.”

Rendering for the new Pershing Square, with shade pergola. [Agence Ter]

“Shade creates shelter, and Los Angeles is very conflicted about creating shelter in the public realm.”

“Mexican fan palms were the ideal tree for an automobile landscape, beautifying the city without making a mess.”

Avalon Boulevard, South Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]”

“If you see a mature shade tree today, you can assume that a private citizen paid for it and maintained it. Canopy inequality thus follows lines of wealth”.

To the list of environmental injustices in this country, we can add the unequal distribution of shade.

“The city won’t permit the planting of large trees where the roots could rip up sidewalks or destroy underground utilities. That effectively zones shade out of many poor neighborhoods.”

“Surveillance is another concern. When a new pole camera goes up in a public park, the mature canopy around it vanishes.”

 

One study found that the difference in surface temperature between shaded and unshaded asphalt was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The mayor has pledged to reduce the temperature by three degrees by 2050, but sustainability programs will vary by neighborhood.

The grant programs now for urban forestry are crazy. It’s money that we’ve never seen before … [but] they have no idea of the real challenges behind these kinds of projects.’

Imagine what Los Angeles could do if it tied street enhancement to a comprehensive program of shade creation.

What we need is urbanists in and outside City Hall who conceptualize shade itself as a public good.

Drawing by Joyce Earley Lyndon and Maynard Lyndon, from Growing Shade, a brief study of “tree umbrellas” in Switzerland, published in the third issue of Places Journal in 1984. The drawing was presented last week at a discussion of shade equity in Los Angeles convened by Christopher Hawthorne, the city’s chief design officer and a professor of practice at Occidental College.

 

Sam Bloch, “Shade,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 18 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/shade-an-urban-design-mandate/&gt;

 

Project DRAWDOWN how we can reverse climate change

With all the doom and gloom that talking about climate change in the anthropocene engenders in ones audience, all the hype and positivity I can muster flags when I read about the size of the problems faced and the inadequacies and failings of individuals and governments to act, and in fact my own poorly implemented and limited attempts to do something! It seems as if it is extreme hubris on my part to say we can change our lifestyles, consumerist habits or other people’s desires. I was pleasantly surprised while I was researching on LAF’s (Landscape Architecture Foundation) website for a recent magazine article, to discover Martha Swartz talking about the book edited by Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown The most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming” Having viewed the website’s info and watched the video I am eagerly awaiting the book.

As Martha Swartz says in the interview on LAF’s websiteI was introduced to Drawdown by Pamela Conrad, a Senior Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, while preparing for a conference presentation on climate change with her two years ago. We gave a presentation about the book, why it’s important, and why it’s important specifically for landscape architects. We got up there and talked about what climate change is and why it’s so urgent that we address it. What really struck me about Drawdown is that it gave metrics for its solutions. They weren’t theoretical, but actionable ideas” 


Here is Paul Hawken, the projects instigator, the books editor and the evangelist of the crusade to make a difference, telling us what inspirited him and how it can affect us and what we can do ourselves, more than just lamenting the lack of efficacy of our recycling or our governments alternative energy strategies!

On Advocacy: A Landscape Architects Submission on transforming the world!

Recently I was asked to write a short piece for ProLandscaper Africa on what can the landscape profession do to make difference on environmental and social issues, should we shrink back in our shells and hide in our gated villages from all the problems that plaque Africa and the world or should we become activists and advocates for positive change? So inspired by the work of activists in the Africa Centre for Cities and The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) New Landscape Declaration, here goes with credit to LAF’s Action Plan

MY SUBMISSION:

I have been involved in the practice of landscape design, construction and management my entire life, I love plants and everything to do with the natural and built landscape, while I have had my head buried in the sand of personal interests and passions for many years and I have often been  a poor people’s person, I am now acting positively for change and to not being “part of the problem” but working on co-creating a resilient and awesome future with all of those who share my passion. 

I believe the landscape profession is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in addressing the most important issues of our time and I am positive we will do so. Challenges include: adaptation and mitigation of the impacts of climate change; addressing moral, social, economic impoverishment and inequality; building resilient new infrastructure that runs on clean energy; co-creating and managing innovative urban places that provide social and ecological justice for all peoples and species.   

We can develop a clear vision of our role and capacities, nurture inclusive leadership, embrace advocacy and activism, seek commitment and action from those who feel the same as we do.

To be committed means:

Be more and keep on learning – know the terminology and science of climate change, improve your cultural literacy, read widely, expose yourself to dynamic, uncomfortable circumstances and people; get to see others point of view. Take part, if not in government, then in your local area, PTA or ratepayers association, take part in ILASA, SALI or SAGIC or your own professional or business organisation; assist on an awards committee or organise a function. 

Become a visible exampleof the current best practice: evaluate your personal and business actions and act to reduce your carbon, water and waste footprint and aim to become carbon neutral or better, carbon positive.

Build equitable teams; partner across disciplines, practices and publics; mentor young people towards leadership; encourage involvement in real physical networks and form communities of interest with others who share your passion.

Become invested in where you live, assist those who are less fortunate, advocate for what you believe in, give assistance and support to organizations and people who are making difference. Act where you see social or ecological injustice, get to know your local area and national political representative, advocate for the positive role of landscape to them.

Are exotic aliens species less important than “natives or indigenous” species?

A view  that engenders heated debate and angry responses from ecologists and conservationists is questioned by Yolanda van Heezik,  in an essay on the Nature of CIties. Although this essay adreeeses the topic of exotic versus local fauna, it is equally valid when considering vegetation.

“This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others. Why do they value native species above others?”

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From the Department of Conservation’s blog which provides step-by-step instructions on how to trap in your backyard: https://blog.doc.govt.nz/2017/10/15/how-to-trap-in-your-backyard/

Endemic faunas and floras make a country unique, and it is that uniqueness that engenders among its human inhabitants a sense of place or identity. Those species with populations that respond best to predator control are the most deeply endemic ones; in New Zealand they are species that have evolved for millions of years in an environment with no mammalian predators. The only terrestrial mammalian species native to New Zealand are a couple of species of rather small, insectivorous bats. When urban residents band together to trap rats or possums, it is to protect these vulnerable, endemic, native species — they want to be able to share their living spaces with them and encounter them as part of their day-to-day lives, rather than having to travel to special predator-free areas such as offshore islands to see them. NZ’s Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, argues that native species and introduced predators in New Zealand cannot co-exist, and that it is the indigenous subset of our biodiversity that fundamentally defines us as a nation.

This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities actually think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others, i.e., why they value native species above others? There has been long-standing, ongoing debate in the scientific literature on how introduced species should be managed, with some scientists arguing that the paradigm of native/non-native is no longer relevant in highly modified environments, such as urban landscapes (Davis 2011). Instead, proponents of this school of thought assert that environmental management should involve acceptance of alien species and novel ecosystems. Conciliation ecology is thought by some to be the morally acceptable course of action (references in Russell & Blackburn 2017), but is soundly rejected by others.

While there is no doubt in New Zealand that the introduction of predatory mammals into a fauna that evolved without any mammalian predator has had a disastrous impact on many of NZ’s native species, not everyone in NZ agrees with Nicola Toki’s sentiments or the concept of valuing native species above others. For example, one opponent to the “predator-free” concept asserts that “we can’t keep erasing the fact that the species that we introduced, whether managed or not, are ‘ours’ too — even the ones we later decided were a mistake. They’re our responsibility as well. And a future where people learn to accept the presence of our introduced species is not so horrifying.”

This view is being echoed more frequently in the media; in a recent opinionpiece in The Press, columnist Joe Bennett writes:

“We like our birds here. They’re our signature fauna. No-one else has got them and we haven’t got much else. But among birds we practise apartheid. We distinguish between birds that are — and here’s an adjective that chinks like a gold coin — native, and those that are not. Native birds are first-class citizens who can do no wrong. The rest are the rest and the magpie is among them. It’s an Australian import, loud, boorish, a bird to deride.”

At a more general level, in other countries, criticism has been leveled by social scientists at those advocating for native species, labelling it as a form of anti-immigrant nativism. They claim that the removal of non-natives reflects an anti-immigrant, racist, political discourse (Mastnak et al. 2014). They draw our attention to the Nazi policy of removing non-native plants, and by doing so implicitly associate the protection of native species with Nazism. An alternative perspective is that many current ecological problems are a legacy of colonialism, a process of settlement of plants, animals and people that resulted in the uprooting of native plants and indigenous peoples (Mastnak et al. 2014). This was certainly the case in New Zealand, where we even had an “Acclimatization Society” whose role was to introduce many species from the UK, where most settlers originated from, and create landscapes populated by familiar species. After early waves of extinctions this process was thought to be a means of restoring biodiversity to a depleted environment. Advocating for native plantings then becomes a process of decolonisation, which is ethically appropriate.

Others advocate for the middle-ground; they both question the dichotomy between native and non-native, but at the same time acknowledge that low-impact, non-native species should be tolerated, and that control methods to remove alien pest species can also be contentious if they involve the use of toxins (Shackelford et al. 2011). Some critics have raised the issue of involving children in the process of systematically killing predators, but also the militaristic dimensions of the entire exercise, which uses terminology such as “war on predators”, or “under siege”, and what some consider to be xenophobic expressions (Schlaepfer et al. 2010 ). Simberloff (2003) discusses the claims and suggests that it is impossible to prove that aesthetic preferences for native species are infected by nativism or xenophobia. He points out that those who criticise efforts to control non-native pest species often ignore their ecological and economic impacts, which alone comprise a valid, ethical rationale for managing introduced species.

Read the full essay

Awareness of the Importance of Public Spaces is Increasing—Here’s How We Can Capitalize On It

1280px-siena__piazza_del_campo_02_2017

This article was originally published by Common Edge as “How Public Space Can Build Community and Rescue Democracy.”

Public spaces are having a moment. People from outside the field of urban planning are beginning to notice the vital contributions that they make to our quality of life: inserting nature and cultural memory into the everyday, reminding us of our collective responsibilities, supporting democratic expression. People are also beginning to notice the subtle ways in which those contributions are being eroded by threats of privatization, corporate appropriation, and apathy.

Most acutely, this moment is brought to us by Apple, which has begun an aggressive retail rebranding effort to re-conceptualize its stores as “town squares,” and wrought a wave of well-founded concern. Technology continues to beckon us away from the need to leave our homes or interact face-to-face with other humans. If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, it would follow that opportunities for such interpersonal interaction become a luxury we begin to seek, a call to remember our origin as social beings.

Not to give technology too outsized a role in this moment, politics also plays a part: political progress often demands a physical place to exercise our first amendment rights (or to fight for them). Large, visible public spaces are a natural home. Americans in particular have recently discovered that places we treat like public spaces—airports, for example—are, in fact, the domain of private companies, or are at risk of being ceded to private companies. When we see public spaces as a physical extension of our rights, we begin to approach their true value to our society.

greenville_sc_downtown_16584220864

I can distinctly remember, during a cross-country bus tour in college, stepping off the bus on Main Street in Greenville, SC. We were greeted by wide sidewalks with bountiful street trees, well-paved crosswalks that invited us to surf from one row of shops and storefronts to another, punctuated by public art, and terminating in a park overlooking the river. With places to sit and some protection from the elements, the street invited people to interact and to linger. This was my first personal “aha” moment that a street could be more than just a corridor for the efficient movement of automobiles—if its physical elements were designed well, it could be just as vital to the health of a place as a park.

Continue reading

introducing mixed reality

via designboom’s TECH predictions for 2018: mixed reality

THE future ..its already arrived but it definitely not evenly distributed yet ….

four decades ago, virtual and augmented reality were the future. fast forward to the present day and they combine to create a 21st century passport into an alternate universe in mixed reality. merging the digital and the physical, tech giants everywhere are recognising the value in bringing together the immersive capabilities of a head-mounted VR set and the ability of AR to place data into the real world environment. mixed reality reinvents the storytelling process. it merges narratives with reality and presents viewers with a wholesome experience that’s perpetually indistinguishable from real life. this cultivates a fertile ground for increased contact between all participating entities, ergo fostering the creation of shared experiences.

 

google invested in ‘magic leap’, an allusive mixed reality company. now, apple are getting their teeth into MR which means only one thing – world domination. but back in 2015, microsoft launched hololens, one of the first devices both popularising and merging AR and VR. and the evolution of this device provides an interesting framework with which to navigate the future of MR.

 

‘computers used to be flat?’

2018 tech predictions mixed reality
microsoft hololens enables you to interact with content and information in the most natural ways possible.
image courtesy of microsoft

 

 

microsoft’s creator of the hololens, alex kipman, thinks headsets could be the successors to computers everywhere. its no surprise when MR extends current limits of presenting data, making physical screens a thing of the past. simple 2D analytics tools seem old school when you can project renders as large as the environment allows. employees of the future could even don company-issued mixed reality glasses as their PCs, releasing employees from the chains of their desks as well as their desktops – read more.

 

hello holoportation

2018 tech predictions mixed reality
holoportation looks set to transform the way we communicate with each other from afar
image courtesy of microsoft

 

 

heard of holoportation? well as MR evolves the advent of holographic images talking to us becomes ever more real.microsoft’s hololens uses a new type of 3D capture technology allowing 3D models of people to be transmitted anywhere in the world in real time. that means talking to your friend who lives miles away from you in a hologram – read more.

 

 

shop till you never ever drop

2018 tech predictions mixed reality
tenants will eventually have the option to view their potential accomodation in VR
image courtesy of airnbnb

 

 

mixed reality could transform the way we shop, creating a productless experience where consumers get to try items and services in real-time without breaking a sweat. furniture giant IKEA already saves couples all over the world by letting them skip flatpack fury, placing furniture in-situ via their PLACE app. and airbnb just recently announced it’s in the early stages of adding VR and AR to its services, predicting their own use of 360 photos and 3D scans to let tenants explore homes and cities before they arrive.

 

 

entire ecosystems made of sound

2018 tech predictions mixed reality
a shot of what magic leap and sigur rós’ tónandi looks like in action
image courtesy of magic leap

 

 

the secretive mixed reality company, magic leap, made waves back in 2015 with a huge investment from google which many people doubted would ever come to anything. well apparently it has it’s an alternate sonic universe… the company has been working with icelandic rock band sigur rós on an audiovisual project called tónandi which projects waveforms of the music into the physical space. this immersive way of releasing music could either be the future of music as some are predicting – a flop similar to the google glass – read more.

 

and there’s more…

2018 tech predictions mixed reality

magic leap one’s lightwear which comes with a lightpack and control

 

 

if the internet is a virtual, infinite universe, then the ‘magic leap one creator edition’ (the company’s main focus) may be the first step in exponentially multiplying the size of that universe by colliding it with the physical world. it’s an AR headset for developers (‘built for creators’) that according to an interview with rolling stone will ship in 2018. the technology is supposed to accept multiple input modes including voice, gesture, head pose and eye tracking whilst mapping persistent objects onto the environment.

Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy?

Interesting alternatives living and working typologies for co-living examined with background on a possible history

via Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy? | Features | Archinect

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Last month I attended a SPACE10 forum led by New York-based design duo Anton and Irene on the resurgence of co-living. They suggest the financial squeeze of modern life combined with an upsurge in digital nomads is bringing the ‘sharing economy’ into the home. As 40% of the urban areas required by 2030 are not yet built—which means a city the size of New York needs to be constructed globally every month—it is crucial architects stay up-to-date with contemporary living patterns to respond appropriately to shifts in housing requirements. My last Archinect feature of the year will provide a short overview of the history and challenges that co-living has previously faced, discuss trends emerging from the ‘ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030‘ survey and speak to Dorte Mandrup, architect of the Lang Eng Co-housing Community, on how to approach the challenge of designing successful spaces for co-living.

‘Co-living’, an umbrella term for different types of ‘co-housing’ setups, can loosely be defined as a home where two or more people live together who are not related. While ‘co-housing’ is an intentional community created and run by residents, ‘co-living’ may also encompass shared accommodation initiated by an external agent, such as a developer or entrepreneur.

Aside from the investor rush to fuel co-living startups, concrete figures on the international co-living boom are not yet available. However, early indicators such as the UN now offering support to co-living initiatives within their sustainable development goals and last year’s prestigious Harvard Wheelwright architecture prize being awarded to a project innovating in co-living, suggest it is gaining traction. While it is indisputable that young people strapped for cash have always had roommates—think Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords—co-living is now simultaneously becoming part of everyday urban life and billion-dollar business.

I expect most people reading this who have lived in cities during their 20’s have experienced a houseshare, myself included. I rented a terrace with friends in Sheffield, moved into a Danish kollegium when I started my masters in Copenhagen and had a stint in a family attic while working in London. But rather than remaining a student necessity, increasing numbers of families and professionals are now opting to co-share. This also reflects a surge in the rental market, which in the US has jumped from 52% of total adults in 2005 to 60% in 2013. This is perhaps unsurprising with soaring urban property prices and take-home wages barely rising across the country, a pattern which is echoed in cities worldwide.

Last year Anton and Irene initiated ONE SHARED HOUSE as they became fascinated in how co-living seemed to be experiencing a cultural resurgence. The documentary maps Irene’s childhood experience of growing up in a communal house in Amsterdam. In the early 1980’s Amsterdam was facing an acute housing shortage so the government enacted a law ruling that 1% of all apartments had to be communal. In 1984 Irene’s mom responded to a newspaper ad for a co-share and moved their family into Kollontai, a communal house with 8 other women and their 3 children designed by the new brutalist architect Sier van Rhijn. In the film, Irene explains “they were feminists and non-conformists […] and many were rebelling against the traditional 1950’s families they had grown up in.”

Amsterdam co-housing showing Kollontai. Image: Anton and Irene

“Whenever I would tell people I grew up in a communal house”, Irene explains to me, “it inevitably turns into a 30-minute conversation about the pros and cons of communal living.” To delve deeper into the subject, she contacted architect Sier van Rhijn about his experience of designing Dutch co-living spaces during that period. “It was fun,” he explained, “even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.”

It was fun. Even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.” Sier van Rhijn, architect

Modern co-living can be traced back to thoughts emerging from Denmark in the 1960s, which crystallized in Bodil Graae’s 1967 newspaper article ‘Children Should Have One Hundred Parents’. There was a consensus at the time that modern housing was unable to provide adequate wellbeing for occupants over their lifetimes, and that ‘bofællesskab’ (living community) should instead be the aim for future housing projects. In 1972, a group of families were inspired to create the Sættedammen co-share, realized by architects Palle Dyreborg and Theo Bjerg. The project is generally accepted to be one of the first contemporary co-shares, favoring both autonomy from powerful landlords and the Danish government. The living community approach was introduced to the States in 1989 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their book ‘Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves’.

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Spotting the Patterns: 2017 Trends in Design Thinking

via Spotting the Patterns: 2017 Trends in Design Thinking | Stanford Social Innovation Review

More insights in alternative design methodologies

Creative leaders and innovators are thinking about design thinking in more mature ways. Moving away from a sole emphasis on language and learning, they are increasingly focusing on questions of application, ownership, and impact.

(Illustration by John Kutlu)

Design thinking: It started as an academic theory in the 60’s, a notion of starting to look at broader types of challenges with the intention and creativity that designers use to tackle their work. It gained widespread traction as a product design process, has been integrated into culture change initiatives of some of the world’s most important organizations and governments, and has been taught in schools kindergarten to grad school. It’s been celebrated, criticized, merged with other methodologies, and modified for nearly every conceivable niche.

Regardless of what side of those perspectives you fall on, it’s undeniable that design thinking is continuing to grow and evolve. Looking across the social innovation landscape today, we see a few patterns that, taken together, suggest that social innovators continue to see great promise in design thinking. They are working to find ways to make it yield real performance gains for their organizations and clients.

From design thinking to design doing

Creative leaders have moved beyond increasing people’s awareness of design thinking to actively seeking concrete opportunities for using it. One of the principal drivers of this shift has been the need to demonstrate value and return on investment from design-thinking initiatives—something people have talked about for years. (Ever heard the question, “Is design thinking just the next fad?”) Social sector organizations, in particular, stand to benefit from the shift from design thinking to design doing. Timelines for getting things built in the social sector are often slow, due to legitimate constraints of responsibly doing impact work, as well as to legacy practices and politics. As long as organizations use design thinking responsibly and acknowledge the broader systems in which new ideas live, some of the emerging models can help them move projects along more quickly and gain greater stakeholder participation.

At The Design Gym, we have seen this eagerness for results show up in the form of Design Sprints—fast, iterative, user-focused project cycles that tackle a problem over the course of several days or weeks. Design Sprints emphasize seeing problems in smaller chunks, and encourage users and stakeholders to play a central role in problem solving, moving projects forward faster and cheaper than “business as usual,” and leading to more concrete and tested outcomes.

This year, our team led the FSG Impact Hiring Innovation Lab’s cohort of companies through design thinking sprints to gain insights from stakeholder groups, generate unique ideas, and prototype solutions. Such projects allow organizations to put design thinking to work on high-priority, strategic challenges. They often produce outcomes impressive enough to influence larger organizational and team design strategies, project scoping, and internal culture shifts—approaching problems with design thinking sometimes becomes the norm. We expect the next question for leaders who have seen the benefits of “design doing” will be how to continue designing their teams and cultures to show not tell—showing stories of real outcomes, not telling of their new training toolkit, and making design thinking more than a side-of-desk project.

Building cultures around design thinking

As design thinking has proliferated, many organizational leaders have moved from replicating the design thinking programs of academic institutions like the Stanford d.School or foundational agencies like IDEO to adapting the methodology to their own goals, external environments, and organizational cultures.

One organization that has particularly inspired us is Beespace, a New York City-based social-impact foundation. Beespace has designed a two-year program that helps new organizations not only get off the ground, but also create the conditions for breakthrough innovation. To create this program, which combines deep thinking, impact assessment, and rapid prototyping, Beespace’s leadership asked itself what tools it would need, and came up with a mix that included not just design thinking, but also disciplines of behavioral science and systems thinking, and tools stemming from emotional intelligence and theory of change.

This shift from replicating approaches to fashioning ones that serve a particular organization’s unique needs represents movement to a more mature, sustainable way of employing the methodology. It is a shift away from copying and pasting toward something more introspective, customized, and hopefully impactful. Leaders should not get too caught up in stories of success, but instead push their organization to dictate what success means and how it should show up. Given that these practices overlap so deeply with mission, people, organizational structure, and definition of impact, no two programs should look the same.

Empowering the few to shift the many

We have seen a lot of interest this year in “train the trainer” programs, particularly from organizations realizing the value of developing their internal capabilities to reduce reliance on outside consultants. Such development often entails focusing on the few people in the organization who are highly capable of instigating major change, as opposed to spreading awareness among the many. It takes time and resources, but the payoff is well worth it from both cultural and operational perspectives.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative (100RC) takes such an approach to its mission of working with cities around the world to help them become more resilient. 100RC has focused on training a relatively small group of change agents, called Chief Resilience Officers (CROs), in the cities in which it works. CROs are senior-level city employees tasked with developing strategies and initiatives—with significant support and guidance from 100RC—to bring about long-term transformation.

Although the concept of developing internal advocates is surely not new, as an approach to adopting design thinking, it is generating a conversation we believe will continue to get smarter. We expect to see different models for building internal expertise, as the work of introducing design thinking into an organization can be done by lots of different people: expert facilitators, workshop trainers, creative leaders, designers and design strategists, or even just that brave soul who suggests approaching a 30-minute brainstorm slightly differently. We’re excited to see how different organizations explore the possibilities and find which ones work best for them.

Looking at the creative community holistically to tackle larger societal issues

No beating around the bush here—it’s quite a political climate here in the United States. But, out of this has come an absolute groundswell of creative activism and some really unexpected collaborations. Among the creative community, the boundaries around problems that fit within our scope of work have expanded. Individuals, nonprofits, government agencies, start-ups, and huge corporations alike are asking what it means for them, where they can (and should) put a stake in the ground, and who else out there can help make it happen.

Over the past few years, there’s been greater cross-pollination between different industries and types of organizations—collaboration that’s creating wild innovation bigger than either political party could achieve on its own. As Paola Mendoza, artistic director for the Women’s March on Washington, recently said, “We, artists, inspire people to love when it is easier to hate.” Now is the time to begin looking beyond our traditional boundaries of for-profit vs. nonprofit, public sector vs. private sector, and one mission vs. another. The time is ripe to call for collaborators rather than competitors to tackle some of the larger creative challenges facing society today.

FSG Impact Hiring Innovation Lab, for instance, is bringing together nonprofits such as The Aspen Institute, Fortune 500 companies such as McDonald’s and T-Mobile, and creative agencies like ours to develop innovative strategies in hiring, retention, and advancement of opportunity youth and other populations facing barriers to employment.

We anticipate that collaboration between governments, nonprofits, individuals, corporations, and startups will continue to increase. And, there are few greater motivators than a sense of passion and purpose—something individuals and organizations alike can amplify to energize their cultures. We have yet to see what true beauty can blossom from these dynamic and often trying times. What we do know is that complex problems require new ways of thinking, new ways of working, new types of partnerships and conversations, and radical forms of diverse collaboration. And the creative catalysts inside all of us are best positioned to address them.

Shifting the storyline

Social innovators have begun thinking about design thinking in more mature ways. As some of the concept’s novelty wears off, the social sector is increasingly focusing on questions of application, ownership, and impact. The theme of the story is shifting from “What is design thinking?” to “Look at what we did using design thinking.” For practitioners and creative leaders, it is a good time to ask what these trends mean for your ability to tell your own future success stories.

The New Science of Designing for Humans

via The New Science of Designing for Humans | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Beyond Human Centred Design methodologies using behavioural science is proposed as more rigorous way to extend solution based design

The days of privileging creativity over science in design thinking are over. The rise of behavioral science and impact evaluation has created a new way for engineering programs and human interactions—a methodology called behavioral design.

(Illustration by Mike Austin)

Today the design of things that involve human interaction, such as programs, product delivery, and services, is more art than science. Here is how it typically works: We use our creativity to brainstorm a few big ideas, experts decide which one they like, and then investors bet on the winner, often with billions of dollars at stake.

This way of design thinking should be replaced by a superior method that can enable us to innovate with more success and less risk. Specifically, we can use scientific insights to generate new ideas and then systematically test and iterate on them to arrive at one that works.

Advances in two academic fields afford this opportunity. The first is behavioral science, which gives us empirical insights into how people interact with their environment and each other under different conditions. Behavioral science encompasses decades of research from various fields, including psychology, marketing, neuroscience, and, most recently, behavioral economics. For example, studies reveal that shorter deadlines lead to greater responsiveness than longer ones,1 that too much choice leads people to choose nothing,2 and many more observations, often counterintuitive, about how people react to specific elements of their context.

The second academic field is impact evaluation. Economists have used randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and other experimental methods to measure the impact of programs and policies. Such impact evaluations are becoming more and more common in the social sectorand in government. These methods allow us to test whether an innovation actually achieves the outcomes that the designer sought.

Taking a scientific approach also solves another common problem: Sometimes we do not even realize that there is something in need of rigorous, thoughtful design. When we look carefully, the success of most of what we design for people depends as much, if not more, on the human interaction as on the physical product. For example, the first iPhone offered essentially the same functions (phone, calendar, address book, etc.) as a BlackBerry, but it totally changed the experience of using those functions.

In the social and public sectors, programs and services are made up largely of human interactions. And yet anything involving human interaction can be designed more scientifically, and more successfully, when behavioral science and impact evaluation are applied. For instance, a vaccine is a technological product, but how and when parents get their children vaccinated, and how they are reminded to do so, is as much a part of the innovation as the vaccine itself. Poorly designed interactions make products less successful and can also underlie serious social problems.3

By putting behavioral science and impact evaluation together—a methodology we call behavioral design—we can design more like engineers than like artists. We can use behavioral science to develop ideas that are much more likely to work than those relying entirely on intuition. And we can rigorously test those ideas to determine which ones truly work. Following the model of engineering and scientific progress, we can build on prior success to make enormous advances that, under previous approaches, would not be possible.

A Better Methodology

At ideas42, the behavioral science innovation lab I co-lead, we encounter many different approaches to innovation among our partners. I have also spent considerable time comparing notes with experts in design thinking, attending design workshops, and reading about design methodologies. The typical approaches for innovation range from quickly brainstorming some ideas in a boardroom to using some version of human-centered design (HCD). Fundamentally, all of these approaches aim to generate “big ideas” that appeal to the intuition of a few decision makers considered experts in the area where the idea is to be implemented.

HCD appears to be the methodology of choice for a significant, and growing, number of organizations. The most advanced version begins with defining the problem or design mandate, and then conducts qualitative research with potential users and proceeds through a series of structured exercises to promote creative thinking. The design team may also test some crude prototypes to get feedback along the way. This approach is called “human-centered” because it focuses on users’ and other stakeholders’ needs and preferences.

In the qualitative research phase, designers use ethnographic techniques such as qualitative interviewing and observation. They not only interview potential users but also may talk to others, such as program administrators and front-line staff involved in delivering a program or product. In the design phase, HCD employs several techniques to enhance creativity (which remain useful in the next-generation behavioral design methodology as well). Finally, HCD ends with trying a few prototypes with a handful of potential users. Some ethnographic research methods are incorporated into HCD, but on the whole the approach is still much closer to an art than a science.

It is time to build on HCD with a better method. Let us begin our investigation by comparing how engineers invent new technology. Two features stand out. First, engineers rely on a rich set of insights from science to develop new ideas. Every invention builds on countless previous attempts. For example, the Wright brothers are credited with inventing the airplane, but the key parts of their design leaned on previous inventions. The wing was based on science that went back to 1738, when Daniel Bernoulli discovered his principle about the relationship between pressure and the speed with which a fluid is moving. The engine design was borrowed from automotive engines invented more than 25 years earlier. They were able to test model wings in a wind tunnel thanks to Frank H. Wenham, who had invented that critical apparatus 30 years before that, in 1871.4

Second, contrary to popular belief, inventions do not come simply from a single flash of insight, but rather from painstaking refinement in small steps. Sir James Dyson, the famous vacuum cleaner tycoon, went through 5,126 failed iterations of his new wind tunnel design to separate dirt from air before he landed on the right one.5 Inventors sometimes iterate only on particular components before working on the complete invention. For example, the Wright brothers tested some 200 wing designs in a wind tunnel before settling on the right one.

Why do engineers work so differently from those of us who are designing for human interactions? Until recently, we did not have a sufficiently large body of scientific insights that describes how humans interact with their environment, and each other, under different conditions. True, the field of user-experience design offers some insights, but it is very new and is still restricted to certain elements of digital interactions such as Web-page layout and font size. Direct marketers within for-profit businesses have experimented with letters and phone scripts for years, but those findings also cover a very narrow set of interactions and are often not public.

The second engineering feature—experimenting and iterating—is also hard to replicate, because measuring whether something “works” in this case is more complex than simply turning on a piece of technology and playing with it. We must first clearly define what outcomes we want from the design, devise a way to measure them, and finally run a test that reliably tells us whether our design is achieving them

More Rigorous Testing of Ideas

The problem with HCD and similar approaches to innovation is that they depend too much on intuition. Research has repeatedly shown that our intuitions about human beings are often wrong. Take the commonsensical idea that penalties always help prevent people from engaging in bad behaviors; this notion may have intuitive appeal, but it has proven false. For example, in a study of Israeli day-care centers that sanctioned parents for being late to pick up their children, researchers found that penalties made parents even more likely to be late.6 This is because they viewed the penalty as a cheap price for the option to be late, versus feeling bound by a social obligation to be timely.

Not only do the social and behavioral sciences give us better starting points, but it also enables us to prototype and test ideas more readily, because we can measure if they are working using impact evaluation methods as well as lab testing procedures from experimental psychology. We can then iterate and improve on the idea until we have a solution ready for implementation.

The behavioral design methodology incorporates HCD’s fundamental approach of being human centered and thoughtful, but adds scientific insights and iterative testing to advance HCD in three significant ways. First, it applies observations about people from experimental academic research. HCD’s reliance solely on self-reported and intuitive insights presents a risk, since so much human behavior is unconscious and not transparent. Also, psychology research shows that people’s self-perception is biased in several ways.7 When we do supplement academic insights with qualitative research, we can use behavioral science to make the latter less vulnerable to bias. For example, we can get more unvarnished answers by asking subjects what their peers typically do rather than what they themselves do. When asked about themselves, subjects may be embarrassed to admit to certain behaviors or may feel compelled to give what they assume the interviewer thinks is the “right” answer.

Second, behavioral design can enhance HCD in the design phase. The behavioral science literature can contribute ideas for solutions based on previously tested interventions. As behavioral design becomes more widely used, more and more data will become available on what designs work and under what conditions. In filtering ideas, we can use behavioral science to anticipate which solutions are likely to suffer from behavioral problems such as low adoption by participants or misperception of choices.

Third, this new approach improves upon HCD by adding more rigorous testing. Many HCD practitioners do test their ideas in prototype with users. While helpful, and part of behavioral design as well, quick user testing cannot tell us whether a solution works. Behavioral design leverages experimental methods to go much further without necessarily adding considerable cost or delay.

Using this approach, we test whether something works—whether it triggers a desired behavioral result—rather than whether the subject thinks something works. We can also test a single component of more complex designs, such as whether a particular piece of information included on a Web page makes a difference, in a lab setting with subjects from our target audience. This is analogous to aeronautical engineers testing wing designs in wind tunnels. By testing and iterating in the field, we do not need to bet on an untested big idea but instead can systematically develop one that we know works. Testing is also what makes it possible, in the design phase, to build on previous successful ideas.

ideas42’s work includes many examples of using behavioral design to invent solutions to tough social problems. For example, we recently worked with Arizona State University (ASU) to encourage more eligible students to apply for a special federal work-study program called SEED. In fall 2014, before we started working with ASU, only 11 percent of eligible students were applying for SEED jobs, leaving nearly $700,000 in financial aid funds unused. ASU wanted our help to increase this proportion.

Diagnosing the problem through a behavioral lens, and interviewing students and staff, we learned that students mistakenly believed that SEED jobs were menial and low-wage. Some thought that a work-study job would interfere with their education rather than complement it. Others intended to apply but missed the deadline or failed even to open the e-mail announcing the program. We designed a series of 12 e-mails to attempt to mitigate all of these barriers. The e-mails dispelled the misperceptions about workstudy jobs by stating the correct facts. They made the deadline more salient by reminding students how many dollars of aid they stood to lose. Behavioral research shows that losses loom larger than gains, so the loss framing promised to be more impactful than telling students how much they stood to gain. The e-mails asked students to make a specific plan for when they would complete the work-study job application to reduce the chance that they would forget or procrastinate past the deadline. These behaviorally informed e-mails were compared against a control group of 12 e-mails that contained only basic information about how to apply to the SEED program.

With the redesigned e-mails, which ASU has now adopted, 28 percent more students applied for jobs, and the number of total applications increased by 56 percent. As we were sending 12 e-mails, we used the opportunity to test 12 different subject lines to try to maximize the number of students who opened the e-mail. In five out of the 12 cases, the rate of opening increased by 50 percent or more, relative to a typical subject line. A subject line that increased the open rate from 37 percent to 64 percent made students feel special: “You have something other freshmen don’t.” The control in this case was commonly used language to remind the recipient of impending deadlines: “Apply now! SEED jobs close Thursday.”

The Behavioral Design Methodology

Efforts like this one may sound like nothing more than trial and error, but a systematic and scientific process underlies them that tracks the success of engineering or medicine more closely than HCD. It begins with defining a clear problem, diagnosing it, designing solutions, testing and refining the effectiveness of those ideas, and then scaling the solutions.8 It also starts from a body of knowledge from behavioral science, rather than intuition and guesswork, so that the solutions tried are more likely to succeed.

Let us take a closer look at these steps:

1. Define. The first step is to define the problem carefully to ensure that no assumptions for causes or solutions are implied and that the desired outcome is clear. For example, organizations we serve commonly ask: “How do we help our clients understand the value of our program?” In this formulation, the ultimate outcome is not explicitly defined, and there is an assumption that the best way to secure the outcome is the program (or product) in question. Say the relevant program is a financial education workshop. In this case, we do not know what behaviors the workshop is trying to encourage and whether classroom education is the best solution. We must define the problem only in terms of what behaviors we are trying to encourage (or discourage), such as getting people to save more.

2. Diagnose. This intensive phase generates hypotheses for behavioral reasons why the problem may be occurring. To identify potential behavioral hurdles, this approach draws insights from the behavioral science literature and what we know about the particular situation. For example, in the ASU work-study project, we hypothesized that many students intended to apply but failed to follow through because they procrastinated past the deadline or simply forgot it. Both are common behavioral underpinnings for such an intention-action gap.

After generating some initial hypotheses, the next step is to conduct qualitative research and data analysis to probe which behavioral barriers may be most prevalent and what features of the context may be triggering them. Here, “context” refers to any element of the physical environment, and any and all experiences that the consumer or program’s beneficiary is undergoing, even her physical or mental state in the moment.

Qualitative research usually includes observation, mystery shopping (purchasing a product or experiencing a program incognito to study it firsthand), and in-depth interviews. Unlike typical qualitative research that asks many “why” questions, the behavioral approach focuses on “how” questions, since people’s post-hoc perceptions of why they did something are likely to be inaccurate.

3. Design. Having filtered down and prioritized the list of possible behavioral barriers via the diagnosis phase, we can generate ideas for solutions. Here many of the structured creativity techniques of HCD prove useful. When possible, it is best to test a few ideas rather than to guess which solution seems best. Solutions also change during their journey from the whiteboard to the field, as numerous operational, financial, legal, and other constraints invariably crop up. Such adaptations are critical to making them scalable.

4. Test. We can then test our ideas using RCTs, in which we compare outcomes for a randomly selected treatment group vis-à-vis those for a control group that receives no treatment or the usual treatment. Although RCTs in academic research are often ambitious, multiyear undertakings, we can run much shorter trials to secure results. An RCT run for academic purposes may need to measure several long-term and indirect outcomes from a treatment. Such measurement typically requires extensive surveys that add time and cost. For iterating on a design, by contrast, we may only measure proximate indicators for the outcomes we are seeking. These are usually available from administrative data (such as response to an e-mail campaign), so we can measure them within days or weeks rather than years. We measure long-term outcomes as a final check only after we have settled on a final solution.

When RCTs are impossible to run even for early indicators, solutions can be tested that approximate experimental designs. A more detailed description of these other methods is outside the scope of this article but is available through the academic literature on program evaluation and experimental design.

If the solution is complex, we first test a crude prototype with a small sample of users to refine the design.9 We can also test components of the design in a lab first, in the way that engineers test wing designs in a wind tunnel. For example, if we are designing a new product and want to refine how we communicate features to potential users, we can test different versions in a lab to measure which one is easiest to understand.

5. Scale. Strictly speaking, innovation could end at testing. However, scaling is often not straightforward, so it is included in the methodology. This step also has parallels with engineering physical products, in that designing how affordably to manufacture a working prototype is, in itself, an invention challenge. Sometimes engineers must design entirely new machines just for large-scale manufacturing.

Scaling could first involve lowering the cost of delivering the solution without compromising its quality. On the surface, this step would be a matter of process optimization and technology, but as behavioral solutions are highly dependent on the details of delivery, we must design such optimization with a knowledge of behavioral principles. For example, some solutions rely on building a trusted relationship between frontline staff and customers, so we would not be able to achieve a cost reduction by digitizing that interface. The second part of scaling is encouraging adoption of an idea among providers and individuals, which itself could benefit from a scientific, experimental process of innovation.

A Closer Look at the Methodology

To be fair, it is sometimes impossible to go through the full, in-depth behavioral design process. But even in these cases, an abridged version drawing on scientific insights rather than creativity alone is always feasible. Notice that the define, diagnose, and design stages of the behavioral design process apply the scientific method in two ways: They draw on insights from the scientific literature to develop hypotheses, and they collect data to refine those hypotheses as much as possible. The first of these steps can be accomplished even in a few hours by a behavioral designer with sufficient expertise. The second component of data collection and analysis takes more time but can be shortened while still preserving a scientific foundation for the diagnosis and design. Field testing with a large sample can be the most time-consuming, but lab tests can be completed within days if time is constrained.

Two sorts of hurdles typically confront the full behavioral design process: lack of time and difficulty measuring outcomes. In our experience, time constraints are rarely generated by the problem being addressed. More often, they have to do with the challenges of complex organizations, such as budget cycles, limited windows to make changes to programs or policies, or impatience among the leadership. If organizations begin to allocate budgets for innovation, these artificial time constraints will disappear.

To better understand working under a time constraint, consider ideas42’s work with South Africa’s Western Cape to reduce road deaths during the region’s alcohol-fueled annual holiday period. The provincial government had a small budget left in the current year for a marketing campaign and only a few weeks until the holiday season began. The ideas42 team had to design a simple solution fast; there was no time to set up an RCT with a region-wide marketing campaign. The team instead used an abridged version of the first three stages to design a solution grounded in behavioral science. Quick diagnosis revealed that people were not thinking about safe driving any more than usual during the holidays, despite the higher risk from drunk driving. To make safe driving more salient, ideas42 designed a lottery in which car owners were automatically registered to win but would lose their chance if they were caught for any traffic violations. That design used two behavioral principles coming out of Prospect Theory,10 which tells us that people tend to overestimate small probabilities when they have something to gain, and that losses feel about twice as bad as the equivalent gain feels good.

Applying the first principle, we used a lottery, a small chance of winning big, rather than a small incentive given to everyone. Using the second, we gave people a lottery ticket and then threatened to take it away. Since an RCT was not feasible, we measured results by comparing road fatalities in the treatment period with road fatalities in the same month of the previous year; this showed a 40 percent reduction in road fatalities. There were no known changes in enforcement or any other policies. While ideas42 was not able to continue to collect data in subsequent years, because its contract ended, the program saw success in subsequent years as well, according to our contacts in government.

Adopting Behavioral Design

If you were convinced of behavioral design’s value and wanted to take the leap, how would you do it? There are resources available, and many more are still in the works. Behavioral insights are not yet readily available in one place for practitioners to access, but are instead spread out over a vast literature spanning many academic disciplines, including psychology, economics, neuroscience, marketing, political science, and law. Results from applications of behavioral science are even more distributed because many are self-published by institutions such as think tanks, impact evaluation firms, and innovation consultancies.

To mitigate this problem, ideas42, in partnership with major universities and institutions that practice behavioral design in some form, is building an easily searchable Web-based resource as well as a blog that will make it possible to find ready-to-use behavioral insights in one place. In the meantime, some of these organizations, including ideas42, also offer classes that teach elements of behavioral design as well as some key insights from behavioral science that practitioners would need in order to do behavioral design. As the practice of behavioral design is adopted more widely, and its use generates more insights, it will become more powerful. Like technology, it will be able to continue to build on previous discoveries.

Organizations and funders would also do well to adopt the behavioral design approach in their thinking more generally. Whenever someone proposes a new approach for innovation, people scour the methodology for the secret sauce that will transform them into creative geniuses. In this case, the methodology applications of behavioral science, in themselves, do have a lot to offer. But even more potential lies in changing organizational cultures and funding models to support a scientific, evidence-based approach to designing interventions. Here are three suggestions about how organizations can adopt behavior design:

Fund a process (and people good at it), not ideas. | Today’s model for funding innovation typically begins with a solution, not a problem. Funders look to finance the testing or scaling up of a new big idea, which by definition means there is no room for scientifically analyzing the problem and then, after testing, developing a solution. Funders should reject this approach and instead begin with the problem and finance a process, and people they deem competent, to crack that problem scientifically. To follow this path, funders must also become comfortable with larger investments in innovation. The behavioral design approach costs a lot more than whiteboards, sticky notes, and flip charts—the typical HCD tools—but the investment is worth it.

Embrace failure. | In a world where ideas are judged on expert opinion and outcomes are not carefully measured, solutions have no way of failing once they leave the sticky-note phase and get implemented. In a new world where ideas must demonstrably work to be successful, failure is built into the process, and the lessons learned from these failures are critical to that process. In fact, the failure rate can serve as a measure of the innovation team’s competence and their bonafide progress. To be really innovative, a certain amount of risk and courting failure is necessary. Adopting a process that includes failures can be hard to accept for many organizations, and for the managers within those organizations who do not want their careers to stall; but as in engineering and science, this is the only way to advance.

Rethink competitions. | The first XPRIZE for building a reusable spacecraft rekindled the excitement for competitions, which have now become common even outside the technology industry. However, competitions to invent new technology are fundamentally different: With a spacecraft, it is relatively easy to pick the winner by test-flying each entry. In the social sector, by contrast, competitions have judging panels that decide which idea wins. This represents a big-idea approach that fails to motivate people to generate and test ideas until they find one that demonstrably works well, rather than one that impresses judges. Staged competitions could work much better by following a behavioral-design approach. The first round could focus on identifying, or even putting together, the teams with the best mix of experience and knowledge in behavioral design and in the domain of the competition. Subsequent rounds could fund a few teams to develop their ideas iteratively. The teams whose solutions achieved some threshold of impact in a field test would win. Innovation charity Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre has been using a similar approach successfully, as has the Robin Hood Foundation, with the help of ideas42.

Revolutionizing how we innovate presents a huge opportunity for improving existing programs, products, and policies. There is already sufficient scientific research and techniques to begin making the change, and we are learning more about how to better devise things for human interactions every day. The more we use a scientific approach to innovate, and construct platforms to capture findings, the more science we will have to build on. This immense promise of progress depends on changing organizational cultures and funding models. Funders can and must start to bet not on the right “big ideas” but on the right process for solving challenges and on the people who are experts in that process. They must also not just expect failures, but embrace them as the tried and true means for achieving innovation.

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